Millwall, Yeovil Town, Chelsea and the most important thing in life

Before we begin

Ask me who I think the best manager is I say Brian Clough. Ask me who my favourite is I say Bobby Robson.

There are many reasons I have such high regard for the former England and Newcastle United manager and I am not alone in holding him in high esteem. The Brazilian Ronaldo was signed by Robson’s PSV aged seventeen and considered the manager a Second Father.

Robson brought a dignity to his football. When asked about Diego Maradona’s handball in 1986 he said only “Well, he knows he cheated”. When asked if he thought about what would have happened had his England side not lost on penalties to West Germany in 1990 his reply was a haunted “every day.”

When he watched his Newcastle United team beat Bradford City 4-3 and was asked about the poor defending on display he told the journalist who asked him that he has seen a brilliant game of football between two great teams and that he should go home to his family happy.

“That is what I’ll be doing.” he said.

Only one team in it

Shall we clarify how much of a favourite Millwall were presented as before the FA Cup Third Round. There was a chance of an upset at The New Den on the Saturday morning but when the game kicked off the media focus was elsewhere. The City game lurched back and forth with one team taking the lead, then the other. One wondered if there could be a cup tie giving more entertainment.

Two goals for Billy Knott and a couple of defenders struggling to cope with James Hanson who – if City lost – would probably have been the player sold in January to balance the books. The game seemed to matter.

At 3-2 with ten minutes on the clock it seemed that Bradford City would have something of an upset but Ricardo Fuller scored late and in the reply it was considered that City would have more of a chance.

Favourites now then. Valley Parade bustling after a successful campaign to hashtag-be-the-difference based on the anticipation of a fourth round trip which would take City to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea.

Chelsea were and are top of the Premier League. It was anticipation. The chance to be against the best.

And then it began

And it was over very quickly.

The sixth minute dismissal of Mark Beevers was already against the run of plan. The Bantams had put in three corners before Andy Halliday put a ball forward to James Hanson who outpaced Mark Beevers. Beevers who pulled him back and the Referee did as they do.

Two minutes later Hanson was heading a flicked on corner in to suggest that City should start preparing for the trip to Chelsea. Ten minutes later and another ball in was loose in the box watched – watched – by three Millwall players. Jon Stead had time to cross oceans and acres to put the ball into the goal. He did.

The rest of the story, dear reader, you know. Halliday, then Knott again and Millwall ended up paying their supporters back for turning up.

And so we asked the question

Were Bradford City good or Millwall bad?

The question did not dare suggest itself until after Saturday’s trip to Yeovil Town. Millwall gave up but – it must be remembered – they gave having started from their position of strength in the first game.

When Lions manager Ian Holloway talks about how he has never seen a team collapse in that manner he excuses himself of amount of time which passed in which the advantage in the tie – not just the replay – past from South London to West Yorkshire.

That a team has a poor performance is almost always the result of a good display by the opposition. Bradford City had got into a habit of making games difficult for opposition sides from the divisions above in the League Cup. Make every free kick difficult, make every throw in prompt, run for every ball to make the defender run too, make every passage of play into something that presents a difficulty for the opposition.

Bradford, 2000

When Bradford City beat Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League on Benito Carbone’s home debut the performance represented something of a high watermark.

I once saw David Wetherall – defender in that side – asked if he thought that City had only won because Chelsea were so bad that evening that they beat themselves. Wetherall could hardly understand the question and struggled to answer.

He mumbled “erm, not really.”

Bradford, 2015

As Millwall manager Ian Holloway kept his team in the dressing room for an hour following the game Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side took the plaudits.

There was a crispness to how the playmaker midfield – abandoned of late but reasserting itself – worked with Billy Knott in the forward midfield position and all over the pitch players could be proud of great performances.

The pitch was covered with high watermark performances. Filipe Morais’ ability to find the rhythm for the inside midfield role as distinct to that played when on the wing seemed like a justification for his two and a half year contract. Morais is a more useful player than first he seemed and his ability to play simple football most often sets him apart from other players who show off tricks to try convince all that they are more useful footballers than they are.

Andy Halliday was praised for his steady work ethic. The back four for their solidity. When Alan Dunne throw James Hanson into a wall and goalkeeper David Forde punched Billy Knott in the face City were even praised for how they all stood together in the brawl that followed.

For City talk moved to a game with Chelsea of course, but also to play offs and possible promotion. By contrast Holloway was telling his charges that eight changes would be made for Saturday and a new captain would be appointed as they prepared for something like a slaughtering.

And that night I remembered my favourite maxim of Bobby Robson.

Having won European trophies with Ipswich Town, and having been knocked out without a win of Euro 88. He had taken England to semi-finals but been the subject of very personal criticism Robson had experienced enough of football to advise this:

“You are never as good, or as bad, as people tell you you are.”

Yeovil, 2015

Perhaps it was the idea that the club he was playing was selling tickets for another match on the day they faced his side but Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson sense that his team which had not won since September would get something against City.

It was in the air.

The Bantams too light in the tackle perhaps fearing suspension, too slight in the challenge perhaps fearing injury. Or perhaps a ten minute game against Rochdale followed by a mid-week cup tie on a heavy Valley Parade pitch just took it out of the team. Either way City were a shadow.

Gozie Ugwu scored the only goal of the game and Parkinson will have been pleased with a second half where his team pressed more but City suffered a second league defeat in two. This one was against the team bottom of the league.

And so in an atmosphere of discontent over tickettng for the Chelsea game Parkinson’s side were driving back into ill temper.

Not good enough was the general tone and in fact not good. The unexpected high watermark was expected to be the new standard.

Here comes the fear

Chelsea manager José Mourinho described the game against Swansea City as “the perfect game

The Londoners were magnificent in putting five goals past Swansea City without reply. They have a fluidity in their forward four which one doubts Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle will have faced before and they have John Terry and Gary Cahill ready to go man for man with Hanson and Stead.

It would be a folly to suggest that Chelsea have all the ability by City have character because without character Chelsea would not be the top of the Premier League.

And they are top of the Premier League, and they are playing well.

Chelsea are playing the best football in the country at the moment and they have won every league game at Stamford Bridge this season.

One wonders what to expect next week in West London. One wonders what we will go home and tell the family.

Lisbon, 1992

When he was appointed Sporting Lisbon manager in 1992 Bobby Robson appointed José Mourinho – then a scout at another club – as his interpreter. Robson took Mourinho to Porto, and then to Barcelona.

When paying tribute to Robson following his death Mourinho said that Robson had told him the most important thing in life:

“You are never as good or as bad as people say you are.”

Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

There is a view of history which holds that if there had never been a Genghis Khan, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot, then the course of the world would have been drastically different. No Mongol hordes, no Cold War, no pogrom.

This is the individual view of history.

There is a competing view that suggests that those three people, indeed any person of history, is only of history because of the rising and falling of collective events. That if it had not been Genghis Khan then someone else would have been credited for leading the hordes, and history would have remember their name instead. That large groups rather than an individual caused the world to turn.

This is the collective view of history. It is less exciting, but probably more accurate.

From Pol Pot to Pulis

Stoke City’s rise to the place of mid-table in the Premier League is largely down to former manager Tony Pulis, and Pulis puts any success he has had down to a recruitment policy based on character.

When speaking about Ryan Shawcross Pulis commended the defender’s character – which is to say his desire to win football matches – saying that a team was built on players such as Shawcross.

“You can have other players who don’t have that (character),” Pulis added, “but only for eighteen months and then you have to move them on.”

The heroes of failure

Why do Bradford City supporters not curse the name Benito Carbone? Why is Ashley Ward’s time at the club given a light disregard when the memory of Mike Duxbury can cause grown men to froth at the mouth? What is it about Darren Morgan that has some City fans reserving a place in the inner circle of failure which even Aaron McLean – seemingly leaving City this week – need not fear reaching?

And what is this word scapegoat which is applied in defence of McLean? Has his treatment been unfair? What are the mechanics of failure at a club like Bradford City that can lionise one player and condemn another.

And let me start by saying…

When Aaron McLean leaves Bradford City, few will be upset. McLean has done well in the past proving his ability but did not do well at Bradford City. The sort of ability McLean is credited with is rare for Bradford City players over the last decade. Few players have been criticised for want of motivation rather than ability.

More common in the last decade have been the players who have shown a level of effort that defined their abilities. The words “give everything” are used about James Hanson, Gary Jones, and Andrew Davies. Players like Barry Conlon, Matthew Clarke and Lee Crooks were never said to be shirking, just that they were poor footballers.

McLean gets to nestle his name alongside Ashley Ward, Nicky Summerbee and Bobby Petta in the players who idled away their talents rather than had no talent to begin with.

In the worst possible way

Aaron McLean arrived to replace Nahki Wells. Wells enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bradford City. His speed and eye for goal were impressive and he played a role in taking City to Wembley twice in three months. After an early exchange of distaste for his choice of clubs following City it seems that Wells has settled back into his place in the hearts of City fans.

One might speculate that the fact that Wells has joined a Huddersfield side in the year they have achieved next to nothing is his saving grace for City fans. Were Town in the play-offs and Wells the architect of that, then things may be different.

But Wells is not an architect. The type of player he is – they are called “finishers” for a reason – puts him at the necessary end point rather than the engine room of a team. Wells was the end of a team of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson et al. Those players were the big characters who pushed the team. Wells, Nathan Doyle, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh were (seemingly, and by virtue of their exit) the “eighteen monthers” that Pulis talks about.

Being Phil Parkinson

Losing Gary Jones was inevitable. Phil Parkinson probably joins with the rest of City fans who watch the skipper playing for Notts County and wonders if there was another year in the now 37-year old midfielder, but giving him that extra year is a delay of the inevitable need to replace him.

Losing a player like Gary Jones from your team – be it from age or transfer – matters more than losing a player like Wells because of the type of strong character he is. Bringing in or building a replacement takes time and may not be achieved. Those old enough may remember the attempt to replace the massive presence of Stuart McCall with Iain Banks and wince at the memory. If you are younger, read “Gary Locke” for Banks.

It is Parkinson’s hardest job and while developing Billy Knott may be a long term solution, one suspects the City manager has concluded that he needs to bring a character into the side and is working to that end. At the moment though Parkinson puts out the team he has and that team has some qualities, although is lacking in others.

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

Who was the scapegoat in David Wetherall’s relegation side which was the worst team Bradford City have fielded in my lifetime? Who carries the can for those feeble months? Not Wetherall, and not his players. Spencer Weir-Daley’s many misses against Leyton Orient and Omar Daley’s giving up of the ball on the wing are critical memories but on the whole the players are not criticised. Kelly Youga (injured during his time at the club) is fondly remembered. Who does not a place in his heart for Xaviar Barrau?

Wetherall’s side were simply too poor for scapegoats. To single out one player is to allow a club and a culture at a club to be freed from blame. No one points the finger because no one has enough fingers to point.

Likewise relegation from the Premier League is never assigned to a group of players, and the likes of Benito Carbone are heroes of the club. Circumstances dictate that a scapegoat will not be found, at least not on the field.

Parkinson’s team are not so outgunned as those two examples. The are far better than Wetherall’s side for sure, and the rest of League One is – in relative terms to City – not as good as the rest of the Premiership was in 2000.

Phil Parkinson’s team are closer to success. Indeed at the moment City win and lose on the basis (seemingly, but probably not in the opinion of the management) of individual actions. Billy Clarke puts the ball an inch lower and Oldham away is a good point; Christopher Routis heads a ball into the stands against Sheffield United then City get a battling point with ten men and so on.

Just as two years ago Rory McArdle’s determination was the difference between winning and losing against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi-final. When the difference between success and failure is small there is a temptation to assign it to individuals and individual actions.

Stevie Gee

Importantly though one can only justify assigning success to individuals when margins are small. A scapegoat is the player who did not apply the marginal difference. The opposite – a player who applied the individual difference between success and failure – is what he call in football a hero

Watching the career of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is watching that that theory in action. In European Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which ended 3-3) he has been heroic because he has been the individual difference between success and failure.

Last season his defensive slip against Chelsea – an individual mistake – seemed to cost his team the Premier League title. “If he had not slipped” is said with a misty eye by many, but few ask what would have happened if (now Liverpool’s) Dejan Lovren foul on Daniel Sturridge in November 2013 in a Southampton 1-0 win at Anfield had been given as a penalty.

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

Aaron McLean’s first game at Sheffield United for City – a 2-2 draw – had the striker almost score the goal which almost built his confidence and almost put him on a run of goalscoring, and so on.

McLean is in poor form, and plays like a player in poor form, and many people (not me) consider that the problem City face at the moment is the need for a finisher. The logic follows easily that McLean, a finisher, could be difference between wins and defeats.

My view of football is increasingly more inline with Pulis, and it is more inline with the collective view of history. When Nahki Wells was scoring for City it was not because of his abilities so much as because of the team’s abilities (which he was a part of) and had you dropped Aaron McLean in then, McLean would be the “Goal Machine” his name so cruelly rhymes with. If you put Wells into the current City team, he would struggle.

The team struggles because of the recrafting job that is needed on its core following Jones’ departure. and the wider break up of the “History Makers” team that Phil Parkinson built. The eighteen months were up, and now Parkinson starts again. The manager is not back at square one, and the fact that the gap between success and failure seems bridgeable is a frustration, and causes this illusion.

Nahki Wells was a hero of Bradford City’s success.

Aaron McLean, because of his place in our history, is a hero of failure.

Parkinson’s hardest job as Gary Jones leaves City

The biggest job Phil Parkinson has had since he got to Bradford City is to replace Gary Jones who will leave the club during the summer.

What is more Parkinson’s ability to replace Jones will be the decisive factor in if he is Bradford City manager this time next year.

Parkinson’s tribute to Jones vocalised exactly what City will miss about the captain. “Enormous contribution”, “right mentality”, “character”, “superb role model”, “heart and soul”, “I cannot speak highly enough of him both as a person and as a football player.”

Jones’ ability should not be understated – a League One club (like Rochdale) might judge from his performances last season that he was still worth a place in the team – but Parkinson will miss his leadership. Not since Captain McCall left had City been left with such a significant hole in the dressing room.

A good captain improves the players around him, he pulls them through games, and he inspires them to find something which without him they would not have. Stuart McCall was the example for his and anyone who watched him dragging a City team to the Premier League would have recognised those qualities in Jones at Villa Park, at Burton Albion, at Wembley.

Jones ensured performances from the players around him. After years of watching a team with the nominal leadership of David Wetherall, the withering leadership of Tommy Doherty, the slight times of Simon Ramsden, the shouting ineptitude of Guy Branston City had a player who led on the field and led well. Every great team has an avatar of the manager on the field and Jones did that for Parkinson.

Which leaves the manager with a problem. No matter who gets the armband next season Parkinson needs someone who shows Jones’ leadership. Someone inline with the manager, who can be the manager’s voice on the field, and can give Nathan Doyle a kick up the arse when needed.

Without that leadership any team stop being greater than the sum of their parts and then when parts start to misfire they become less still. We saw this as Stuart McCall’s side faded away for the want of the on the field character that, as a player, he shared with Jones.

That team was – and one could argue this at length – man for man “better” players than Parkinson’s side last season but they were a worse team and much of the construction of that team was in “right mentality”, “character”, “heart and soul” which Gary Jones brought.

And without that City – mid-table last season – cannot expect a better return next year and one doubts that a same again display from Parkinson will be considered acceptable for a boardroom which twitches more than not.

As Gary Jones exits Phil Parkinson has a lot of work to do.


Aside, from Michael Wood, on Gary Jones There was no way to fit this into the article above but as a story I think it says much about Jones. Before Wembley City were approached by The Sun to ask for single game on shirt advertising for the League Cup final. City would have worn The Sun logo on the shirt but at sometime before a decision was made the idea was presented to the two Liverpool born players: Gary Jones and Stephen Darby.

And it was Jones who replied that he did not want the club to take The Sun’s money.

Carlisle United defeat leaves City thinking about the punitive sacking

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

I shall ruin the surprise. I think he should

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The friends of Bradford City welcome back that rarest of thing

Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.

Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.

Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.

O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.

Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.

Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.

Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.

To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.

McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”

An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.

A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.

Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.

One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.

Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.

For once, the fitness question has a different answer

Readers of long-time Bradford City fan John Watmough’s outstanding Counsel and Criticism column for the City Gent will be only too aware of the number of occasions a new Bantams manager has complained about the fitness of the players. And, as the players returned for pre-season today, at improved training facilities, latest manager Peter Jackson has taken his turn in bemoaning  the condition of the squad he inherited.

So often has the Telegraph & Argus relayed such sentiments from City gaffers that one can’t resist feeling as weary and cynical as John when reading them. If every new manager really had gone onto improve the players’ fitness when they arrived, City should be putting people forward for the Olympics. It comes across as a cheap shot, a chance to talk down the past and propose that behind-the-scenes training exercises they have instigated – which we’d otherwise never notice the fruits of – will make a positive difference.

Though Jackson has at least has gone further than some of his predecessors in his plan to address the supposed problem – with the appointment of Nick Allamby as fitness coach. Allamby, former head of fitness at Middlesbrough where he worked with City assistant manager Colin Cooper, will help the players through pre-season and then two days a week once the campaign gets underway. His arrival is the latest dot in a more joined-up thinking strategy that seems to involve finding experts and letting them run their own areas of the club, rather than the manager controlling and taking responsibility for all.

After all, what does a football manager know about fitness? As a player they would have been required to follow exercises set out by their club’s coaching staff and their own focus would have been on building and maintaining their own. When undertaking the necessary coaching badges that all managers have to complete these days, learning about fitness and how to build it in players would have undoubtedly figured on the courses. But that hardly makes them an expert in an area that almost every City manager seems to take pleasure in deriding their predecessor for.

At lower league level and City in particular, fitness experts are rare if ever used. When taking over as caretaker manager in 2007 David Wetherall did employ the outside help of Sports Scientist Ed Baranowski to improve the players’ fitness levels, but the results of Wetherall’s attempts to implement a high tempo playing style were poor. With managers before and after, the fitness side of matters has apparently been down to the manager and coaching staff to implement. There’s probably little wrong with this if all of City’s rivals are doing the same; but in a league where the tiniest of percentages can make a huge difference, Jackson and Cooper’s move to bring in Allamby could make a tangible difference.

Allamby’s arrival follows Archie Christie’s appointment as Chief Scout, with his very own budget to work with and objectives to achieve. And suddenly Bradford City’s future does not quite seem solely the responsibility of the manager, but a number of different experts working towards a universal goal. A well qualified person to pick the first team on a Saturday, a specialist scout to unearth hidden gem players that can form part of that selection, and a skilled fitness coach to ensure each and every player is at their physical peak. Other key figures at the club such as Peter Horne will also have a big role.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that it is difficult to place the credit for this developing off-the-field strategy on one person. Cooper has brought in Allamby with Jackson’s approval, while it appears Christie’s arrival is more the work of the joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. There is apparently some like-minded thinking in Lawn, Rhodes and Jackson’s vision for next season, and hopefully with it will be a better chance of achieving those goals.

A year ago it seemed Peter Taylor was the only person with a plan, with Lawn and Rhodes bending over backwards to help put it into action. Taylor’s superb track record meant this was understandable, but the fact he didn’t see out his one-year contract left the club struggling for direction when he departed. Perhaps the pair have learned from this experience and are consciously doing things different now instead of devoting almost every penny to signing players – the new training facilities, after all, were their initiative.

This time around, it can be argued the buck for failure won’t rest solely with the manager. Those who have access to the bigger picture will be able to look at every area and assess where it might be falling down. That way the long-term planning doesn’t need to end when the manager departs.

Wishful thinking maybe, but if and when Jackson is relieved of his duties in the dugout it would be nice not to have to read other staff being placed on gardening leave and for everything to be torn up yet again.

David Wetherall and the measure of a professional

Before they started sleeping in a comedy bed as manager and chairman at Sunderland Niall Quinn had made an erudite and unequivocal damnation of Roy Keane following the midfielder’s walk out of the 2002 World Cup.

Paraphrasing Quinn he poised the question as to how professionalism was judged in football. Quinn’s contention was that it was not in the medals won or the bowls of pasta eaten – a culinary metaphor to match Keane’s prawn sandwich brigade – but how the footballer dealt with less than ideal circumstances. In 2002 Keane – it seemed – had fallen short of Quinn’s judgement.

Keane’s path crossed with David Wetherall – who announced he was leaving Bradford City after 12 years – on the pitch at Elland Road. Keane wanted to end Wetherall’s career in the same way he maimed Alfe Inge Haarland but never got the chance. Perhaps Keane looked at the decline that Wetherall’s career took as a kind of justice. I do not like Roy Keane’s way of thinking about football, or life.

David Wetherall is taking up a job at the Football League as Director of Youth Development having had a behind the scene’s role at Valley Parade for the three years since he retired. Think of David Wetherall and Bradford City and one thought comes to mind.

Go on, watch it on YouTube, we will still be here when you come back.

14th of May 2000 and David Wetherall scores the goal which kept Bradford City in the Premier League. It capped a season to saviour, his first year for the Bantams, and Wetherall lists that and his goal against Manchester United in a 1-0 win for Leeds United as the greatest moments in his career. They were golden days for the two clubs who – it might be nice – could invite him along to the League Cup First Round so that both sets of fans can celebrate that rarest of thing – pan-West Yorkshire hero.

Wetherall’s highlights are impressive but – to me – the are not the measure of his professionalism. A glorious season with Bradford City in the Premier League was the end of the good days for Wetherall in his career. From then on it was years of decline for him and for us.

Season on season of decline – every year finishing lower than previously – but a decline which Wetherall did all he could to arrest. His guidance of Mark Bower made a good player out of a player on his way to the non-league, his displays showed a level of performance which proved and example to his team mates, his leadership of the side was constant. None of it seemed to turn around the slump. He was inducted into the Show Racism The Red Card Hall of Fame for his work against racism.

He was called on to manage the side, we were relegated.

The measure of his professionalism was not in that one afternoon in May 2000, it was in his efforts after which might not have reached the same heights but showed a player ready to fight for the cause. Dealt with less than ideal circumstances, not medals and bowls of pasta.

I struggle to think of a better man to develop young players for the Football League, and am proud to have had him on our side.

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.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

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.

Fleeting success

Sadly it seems that success in football – as in life – is always fleeting.

An ethereal thing almost as soon as it is grasped then success is gone, dissipated in the desire for a better success. We look back a decade to Bradford City celebrating staying in the Premiership only to set sights on European football and a “kicking on to mid-table finish” the next season. That year Manchester United won the treble and since have never been happy with domestic success alone since.

It is in our reach that we define our tragedy and doom ourselves to discomfort, or so it is said. Wycombe Wanderers under Peter Taylor were promoted from League Two two years ago and seem on course to celebrate similar success this year having seen this sojourn back to the fourth tier as an unwelcome diversion from progress. There was a time they were happy to be in the League.

What we have we do not value, and we want more or so it seems, and to this maelstrom we welcome Dominic Rowe and Alex Flett.

The (new) boys are back in town

Two of David Wetherall’s junior side Fleet and Rowe have been given squad numbers and the chance to claim a place in the match day squad. At the moment City’s new numbers 31 and 32 are welcomed to the first team squad with open arms and optimistic smiles. “These two,” the mind trots to thinking “could be big players for us.”

The mind is right to do so. That skinny sixteen year old who filled in for Ces Podd in 1982 was in Flett and Rowe’s position and and he turned out well. Watching the progress of players like Don Goodman, Andrew O’Brien and Dean Richards was a source of pride and joy for City fans in years gone by. Soon though this joy of the first team squad will fade.

Because then they will be required to be substitutes, and then “impact substitutes” who change games and then when they start they will quickly be required to make manifest difference on the field. Each time what was considered an achievement would be relegated to being a kind of failure. The rapidity of which this happens is always astounding.

However it is a natural thing – and often a good thing – to press all the players for more. There is a disappointment that comes when a player seemingly plateaus. When he gets onto the bench and is in and out of the team, or when he gets into the team but does not excel in it.

The diary of a journeyman footballer

This situation has repeated itself in City’s recent history. Names like Danny Forrest, Craig Bentham, Tom Penford come haunting from our recent past and no sooner do they than someone advances the ill-advised words “not good enough” evidencing that with the fact that one struggles to find a young player released by City who has come back to League football. Jake Wright and Emile Sinclair spring to mind, few others.

In his diary of a journeyman footballer Left Foot Forward Gary Nelson talks about the effect of releasing young players and how it breaks not only their prospects but their career paths. Nelson ponders on how such players could be expected to turn around their careers after such a sudden and grinding halt advising then team mate Kim Grant to stay at Charlton because the facilities are better and moving down never promises anyone a first team place.

Looking at the current Bradford City team which is besieged with often vitriolic criticism it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have gone had Tom Penford and Craig Bentham been in the the midfield. Football would be a lot better if everyone stopped looking as players as discreet replaceable commodities and started looking at them as raw materials to be crafted with.

Not that Bradford City behave in a way which differs from the majority of football clubs but the majority of football clubs – and Bradford City – are not successful after the traditional close season squad purge and replace. Perhaps this squad purging is generally counter productive for football as well as for the players involved.

Had City decided that we fans would be denied the delights of watching Steve Claridge, Moses Ashikodi, Ryan Kendall, Willy (Not Billy) Topp, Mark Cullen et al and decided that they would retain Danny Forrest since 2005 when he was released would the action of working with and giving the assurance of continued football to the same player then, again, one wonders how would have turned out any different. Ashikodi did not stop relegation, Topp did not fire us to promotion.

The received wisdom in football is that players – and young players – excel or move out and that process is successful in ensuring the best prosper but perhaps the input and development of a football club could see that the players who are under this cream of the crop grow into good squad members and, in time, more?

One wonders if Rowe or Flett will make the bench on Saturday – Peter Taylor is talking about welcoming old heads into the side so probably not – but if they what impact they will be expected to make. Certainly it could be said that this is not the time for throwing in new faces to a struggling team.

The line up

Taylor’s side have not recorded a win since Monday the 3rd January 2011 surrendering play off hopes to relegation worries in the process. The solution to this is – it is hoped – arriving in the form of experienced professionals replacing younger players. Richard Eckersley and Mark Cullen have returned to Burnley and Hull City respectively as the Bantams welcome back to starting line up contention Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Michael Flynn.

That trio’s return – and the possible recovery of Steve Williams and the delayed debut of Scott Dobie – could give the City side a radically different look to the previous game.

Jon McLauglin seems to be recemented into City’s goal with Lenny Pidgeley missing presumed “a bit injured, maybe.”

The back four would seem to be set for an overhaul with Lewis Hunt at right back and Simon Ramsden taking Shane Duff’s place as defender and captain alongside either Luke Oliver or a fit Steve Williams. Luke O’Brien is expected to stay at left back.

The midfield three of Jon Worthington behind David Syers and Tom Ademeyi is hard to break up – Syers plays well and Ademeyi retains his place regardless of performance – but Michael Flynn might be expected to return their of in the attacking three.

Flynn’s ability to add to the forward line could see him in place of the departed Omar Daley alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans but such a move would not open a slot for Dobie or fellow new arrival Kevin Ellison. Taylor has rarely used Flynn as a midfielder.

A word on Daley

A word on Daley who – it would seem – has played his last game for the Bantams. The players inconstancy has been mentioned after his departure and in a way that is somewhat unfair on the winger assuming firstly that constancy is a base requirement rather than a rare thing in professional football and secondly making a criticism of the times he was unplayable on the field. “Constancy” and the pursuit of it is perhaps is the most ludicrous of all football terms. I kid you not, dear reader, when I tell you that I could be Bradford City’s most constant player were I to be given a shirt. I would be constantly very, very poor.

There is something unpalatable about the criticism of players – and Omar especially – for inconstancy. The demand seems to hem players in. Is it better that a player try nothing which may result in something good for fear of looking bad? One of the most encouraging things about watching David Syers this year has been his willingness to be brave in his play, is he mistaken to do that for fear that when something does not come off he will be labelled inconstant?

Which is not to say that players should approach the game in a random manner – there is a constancy of play which is not to be confused with constancy of performance – but rather that the heart of improvement is the ability to try and risk failure.

Give me, for one game, Leon Osbourne leaving players for dead and rifling the ball into the goal and I shall be happy to worry about his ability to repeat that later. I would have players who have a constancy in doing the brave thing, rather than ones who succeed every time at doing the easy thing.

These notions are thoughts of the future and the immediate problem of Daley’s exit is more mundane. Chief in his duties was pressure applied to defending players who attempt to recycle the ball. An opposition corner cleared long by City and Daley chased defenders into an early ball. Without Daley able to apply that pressure – often a facet of his ability to get to the vicinity of a clearance in quick time – then I fear that recycled possession will but the Bantams under increased pressure.

In short that without Omar to chase the ball down, and the threat of his pace, City will end up without a release ball and under pressure more. One of Ellison and Dobie may be able to provide an alternative outlet ball for defenders lashing it away because a failure to do so will result in City defending upon defending, and that has been a problem all season.

Riches

And so – for once – City have some riches (if riches is the right word) of resource to be embarrassed by and Peter Taylor gets a chance to field Flynn in one of a few positions while all Flynn needs to do is return the team to the type of form it was in before his absence and avoiding relegation should be a success.

But a fleeting success at that.

Blackpool near the right way of doing the Premier League

Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston is doing his job so well that he has offered to resign from the newly placed Premier League club.

You may recall the Oyston name from his Dad and the massive collapse the Seasiders had on an off the field when City beat them 3-0 in the play-offs in 1996. The son has been at the club since 1999 and seemed as surprised as anyone when Blackpool got to – and won – the play-off final finding themselves £90m richer and in the glare of the most watched football league in the world.

From that day to this Oyston has seen his stock drop to the point where he offered to resign charged from all sides with a failure to be able to bring in new faces to bolster Ian Holloway’s promoted squad. Indeed with the highly rated Seamas Coleman returning to Everton after a year at Bloomfield Road it is said that the Tangerines are the first club in the history of the Premier League to have an obviously weaker side than the one which saw them promoted.

Oyston’s issues are caused by a refusal to over pay for player, and to over pay players. The chairman vocalises a problem that Geoffrey Richmond also noted in his “King Canute” speech which denied Robbie Blake and Darren Moore five figure salaries but ended up offering such rewards to the ill-deserved collective of Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete, Ian Nolan, Peter Atherton and David Hopkin.

Oyston – it seems – will not be drawn into valuing what the club does not have more than what it does.

It’s been an eye-opener for us when we’re told by agents that their client wants to play in the Premier League, then they’ll go off and sign for a Championship club, but on more money.

One can almost see the idea forming from Richmond to Oyston through Derby County’s errors and Hull City’s problems that is almost fully formed. Oyston has the actions, but not the reasons. Put simply when a club in the position of Blackpool – or City – is promoted to the top division they should not make any Premier League signings.

Which is not to say that a promoted team should not try buy players – but they should be the same players who they would have signed were they not promoted. City – for example – were locked in bidding for players like David Wetherall with clubs from the league below. Indeed Paul Jewell missed out on signing Clyde Wijnhard because they were not able to match Huddersfield Town’s financial offer for the two players the defender opting for the top league, the striker for more money.

Make the same signings and say on the day that you are promoted that the players who took you to the top flight will keep you in the top flight. After all the Blackpool players have – in that play-off way – proved themselves better than the division below, why not assume they are good enough for this division.

The act of backing the players in such a public manner could – in itself – be decisive. There is much talk about money in football and money is not unimportant but ultimately the majority of money in football is wasted. Manchester City are the riches club in the world, but Manchester United are better and they are better because they have a manager who understands that the game is more mental than it is technical and games are won in the head before they can be won on the field.

Tell the players that you do not want to replace them with any Carlos Kickaball who’s agent has sent you a video, tell them they are your Premier League quality players and let that set of players grow into the roles. “Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given to you.

The price of failure – the relegation which could follow – comes with the sweetener that the money you got for going up has not drained away to players and can be used for genuine long term club growth. This summer – once again – one is forced to curse Richmond’s decision to spend money on Nolan, Atherton et al that could have paid for a training facility the club would be using today.

The benefits of success are multitude. Should the squad that some would have thrown away retain Premier League status then they will do so well rewarded no doubt but without the financial costs of recruitment and paying Premier League wages and they will have a connection to the club which comes from experience wearing the shirt. This is true in failure too. the illustration which showed how few games City’s players had played said much about the connection between fans and players.

Say to all that these are our players, the players we cheered to promotion, and build the belief in the squad that having earned their position in the top division they are good enough to build on that. Oyston is near, but not there yet. His instinct is right though. Why should Blackpool pay more for the players who have achieved less than their squad which achieved promotion last season?

Money seduces all in the Premier League – in football – but the biggest betrayal of that seduction is the idea that one can shortcut hard work and mental belief that brings initial success by throwing around the cash that results from it.

Another season of despair

On The 2010/2011 Season

I met a traveller from an antique land.

The modern history of Bradford City – which is to say the everything from the return to Valley Parade onwards – shifts on a fulcrum moment which happened ten years ago this month that City kick of a fourth consecutive season in the bottom tier of English professional football.

August ten years ago and – with bare faced cheek and a brassneck – I went to my boss and asked him if I could leave half way through the day because I wanted to go to the press conference that unveiled Benito Carbone as a Bradford City player. Carbone – at a cost of just under £55,000 a week – was the pinnacle of something that rose at The Bantams and – in the last ten years – fell.

Much has happened in that last ten years – two administrations, three promotions, BfB has had 112 more writers doing about 3,500 articles, the hole in the ground, a riots, the boss in question now is chairman of Bradford Bulls – but nothing has matched that moment. Geoffrey Richmond sitting at the head of a room of supporters and journalist proudly proclaiming the promise that his new recruit represented.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.

Valley Parade played host to former tenants Bradford Park Avenue and – soberingly and as a result of that time ten years ago – its current tenant Bradford City and is a transformed arena. The main stand rises high and is most often half empty or half full (your point of view on that) ready to host Premier League football which is a distant memory now.

Rippling away from Valley Parade the effects of City’s rise and fall fade. Peter Taylor tried to prepare for this season in different training facilities but that proved impossible – for now at least – and Apperley Bridge continues to be the host for the club’s day to day activities. Carbone said of City on his arrival that “nothing resembled a football club” including Apperley Bridge in his swathe of comment.

Players have come and gone most notably Dean Windass who partnered Carbone up front in the Italians first game. Windass returned but left the club after death threats following a sending off.

Managers have come and gone most notably Stuart McCall who was the captain and assistant manager when Carbone was signed. He, along with other players of the day Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall have reputations tarnished not by the continued involvement with the club but by the club’s decline from that day onwards.

In the wider football world though that day – and Bradford City in the Premiership – is a footnote. The other team in Paul Scholes’s wonder goal, the prototype for the likes of Hull City and Blackpool and a step on the evolutionary ladder from Barnsley’s single season in the top flight. Not forgotten but hardly remembered and remembered as one of many teams who tried and failed.

An ebullient Geoffrey Richmond stood on the field – a dozen City fans around him – in a blazing eyeball to eyeball argument with a Daily Express journalist who questioned his motives and motivations. It was a rare sight. The Empire builder questioned, raging against the coming tide which he would not be able to keep back.

He resurfaced briefly at Notts County and Leeds United, and then he was gone.

And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

So ten years on Bradford City under Peter Taylor prepare for the new season and it is hard to imagine being further from that August press conference. The pitch – sun drenched on that day – has been improved at last but little else can be said to have.

Pre-season was low key to a point of hardly being considered during the tour of Essex which saw four games in seven days. The jailing of one former striker and one new one provided the news and perhaps there was a sense that nothing else from the club would match that so – other than the progress of the new grass – little emerged from the club. There is no good news, so there is no news.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

The best which can be said about Peter Taylor is that he has augmented what he found on arrival at the club rather than trying to rebuild salvaging some of the last two and a half years of work that Stuart McCall had put in. A look at Taylor’s assumed first eleven shows that the keeper Jon McLauglin, defender Steve Williams and striker James Hanson were all plucked from nowhere to be key members of this season’s side.

Indeed it is to Taylor’s great credit that one can skip through the team: Right back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman at centreback, left back Robbie Threlfall was a target of McCall and co at left back, Lee Bullock was converted to a deep role by McCall, midfielder Michael Flynn and striker Gareth Evans brought in by the previous manager. Taylor has recruited Tommy Doherty for his three in midfield while Omar Daley – with 97 appearances for City – pre-dated the previous manager.

Rather than start again Taylor has taken what he found and added to it giving City a rare route to having some stability at the club. That he has only a one year contract is a matter of great worry – for every prediction which tells you City will be promoted you can find one which says we will end in mid-table which would result in the board not offering a new deal to the manager – with City highly unlikely to find as good a replacement for this manager as was found for the last.

His football is pragmatic to a point of unattractiveness at times but Taylor is perhaps the only reason for optimism at the club this season. A man who appreciates the value of building while standing in the bare, lone and level sands.

Taylor’s arrival sparks more questions than answers

The appointment of a new manager is almost always a time for optimism; but despite today’s confirmation Peter Taylor is to succeed Stuart McCall in the Valley Parade hotseat, I’m left with some uneasy feelings.

It’s not that I didn’t want Taylor to get the job. In an encouragingly strong shortlist, he stood out as the most capable candidate. Instead, it’s the length of contract he’s signed – until the end of the season – and the short and long term question marks which it raises. Just what are Taylor’s targets between now and then? What are his ambitions beyond this summer? There’s a danger the 18 remaining games this season could be among the most irrelevant in the club’s history.

Imagine the scenario of Taylor managing to turn around the recent poor form. City accelerate up the league table and threaten a play off spot, but the season’s end comes too early and they narrowly miss out. In between agonising over the what ifs, there would be loud calls for Taylor to be awarded a longer deal. Yet other clubs – in a division above and closer to his southern base – show interest too. Taylor leaves, City are back to square one.

Or, imagine the scenario of Taylor doing nothing to improve on what’s so far been a disappointing campaign. The Bantams finish little higher than they are now, or even drop lower. There are few fans willing for him to be given a new contract and so Taylor departs. Again, City are back to square one.

If there’s another managerial vacancy advertised at Valley Parade this summer, the eventual appointment would find out of contract players – Matt Glennon, Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Michael Flynn, Matt Clarke, Lee Bullock, Peter Thorne, Chris Brandon, Steve Williams, Jon McLaughlin, Michael and Rory Boulding, Jon Bateson, Leon Osborne, Luke Sharry and Steve O’Leary –  had all probably departed, or Taylor had made a decision for them. Even if these players were still around hoping for a deal, would the new manager be able to adequately judge which ones to keep with no competitive action?

In the meantime there’s also the uncertain future of the existing coaching staff, the potential for the youth set up to be ignored, the threat that loan signings Taylor may make quickly departing having done little but block City’s fringe players from the opportunity to step up. The brief for Taylor seems to be little beyond steadying the ship, but does that mean we suspend considering the ship’s ultimate course?

Perhaps this is a clever approach. If Taylor doesn’t impress during his initial contract, we may be thankful the club is not committed to entrusting him for longer and having to consider an expensive sacking. It may be also be Taylor isn’t 100% sure about committing himself to the Bantams, and so working at the club for a few weeks wins him over and he becomes eager to sign up for longer.

The other consideration is whether the club has a long-term successor to McCall and Taylor firmly in mind, who isn’t available until the summer. BfB has previously reported how Paul Jewell is still being paid by Derby County, but come the summer he is more likely to be in need of work and may relish a return to City.

Joint Chairmen Mark Lawn has also been quoted on a number of occasions recently about a current League Two manager they wanted to speak to, but were denied permission. The smart money is this being Accrington’s John Coleman, and perhaps the club are prepared to hold out until the summer in order to get their man.

Whether Jewell or Coleman are in the long-term sights or not, Taylor’s arrival is at least reassurance the club isn’t repeating old mistakes. Three years ago last weekend, Colin Todd had been sacked and it was no secret Chairman Julian Rhodes was holding out to get McCall. With the City legend making it clear he was to see out his contract as assistant at Sheffield United so wouldn’t join until the summer, Rhodes resorted to David Wetherall as caretaker and the club slid to relegation. Handing the role to the City captain was not only costly for his inexperience, it meant one of the key players had their mind occupied on far more than his own game.

By appointing Taylor this time, the chairmen should have ensured a short-term boost of the team delivering at least the 10 more points needed to avoid relegation – but this is not a time for the pair to relax. There has to be a plan that goes beyond the final game of the season at Crewe, and then there has to be a plan B and a plan C. They simply cannot allow the club to be in a position of not knowing what to do if Taylor doesn’t work out, or they risk next season as well as this one being wasted.

The worry I have with Taylor coming in is the chairmen might increasingly look at managers as easily expendable and believe that, just because their mailbox was jammed with managerial CVs this time around, there’ll be as big a queue next time.

If they consider Taylor to be the man to guide the club over the next few months, what about the next few years? If they consider Taylor to be a stop gap, the search for a new manager must begin now.

The saddest of endings

Stuart McCall’s farewell lap around Valley Parade applauding supporters was a heartbreaking sight – but it was also a beautiful moment.

His actions at the end of the 1-0 defeat to Bury said everything that is fantastic about the City legend. He knew the game was up and that, whether on Monday it will be announced he has resigned, left by mutual consent or been given the sack, it was no longer up to him whether he could stay. But there was no quick retreat down the touchline; he showed typical courage and respect in going out to applaud his supporters.

And the reaction back was equally fitting. Sure there’d be typical murmurings of discontent about McCall during the match and many had exited the stadium before the final whistle, but this was a time for  putting aside misgivings and showing appreciation for the man, the legend, who will ultimately always retain the respect and adulation of City fans.

It was the saddest of farewells, handled with the greatest of dignity.

There’s been a fear among many of those fans who’d been demanding a change that, if action wasn’t taken swiftly, McCall might be subject of the sort of unpleasant abuse other managers have received in the past. No one wanted it end ugly, and it sums up the bond between McCall and supporters that the parting of ways is as amicable as can be. I was close to tears as I applauded McCall’s farewell lap, and I have so much respect to him for taking the time to do it.

Once the farewell had been competed, Bury manager Alan Knill walked over to McCall and hugged him. He was humble in victory, as is easier to be, admitting that, just like at Gigg Lane a fortnight earlier, the Bantams were unfortunate to lose. Undoubtedly City, who hurled everything including the kitchen sink at the visitors during the closing stages, deserved to take something from the game.

Yet I don’t agree that City – and McCall – had been unlucky to lose this time. I was disappointed with McCall’s formation and tactics. And though I wanted him to remain as manager, there is something troubling about the evidence presented in front of us over the lack of progress this season.

Even before kick off, City seemed to have a whiff of desperation about their approach. Playing 4-3-3 is not new this season – the merits or otherwise having been debated on this site only a day earlier – but 4-3-3 with James Hanson, Gareth Evans AND Michael Boulding? Three up front worked earlier in the season due to those employed to take the two wide slots of the front three – Evans and Neilson – been able to play out wide. But Boulding and Hanson are largely better through the middle and leaving Omar Daley in the middle three meant the balance to the team wasn’t right and the style of football suffered.

It reminded me of then-Shrewsbury manager Gary Peter two years ago, realising the season wasn’t going to plan – and therefore his own future was in doubt – and just deciding to “go for it” every match. He picked a team at Valley Parade full of attacking intent, but City tore into them with two of the four goals coming on the counter attack. Peters was shortly afterwards sacked.

Playing 4-3-3 like City did yesterday suggested a lack of confidence in the players. Even in a must-win game, McCall and City needed to show patience and have a greater game plan than just going for it. It was a contrast to the visit of Bury last season, where a more measured and composed approach eventually brought a late Bantams winner.

At the back at least, recent defensive problems were partly addressed with Simon Ramsden moving from right back to centre back alongside Matt Clarke – and the pair put in as outstanding and assured defensive displays since David Wetherall and Damion Stewart dominated at the back in 2006. Luke O’Brien had a tough afternoon, but characteristically stuck to the task.

However the decision to play Zesh Rehman  at right back was curious and ultimately flawed. Zesh is a good player, but has not had a good season and there’s frustration and even unfair suspicion over why McCall is seemingly unwilling to leave him out. At right back, Rehman kept losing his man and unnecessarily diving in for challenges when he just needed to stand up and block the path to goal – often leaving him on the floor and out the game, while the winger charged on.

Rehman played at right back towards the end of last season with limited success, but that was due to some disappointing performances from Paul Arnison. As well as Ramsden, City have the able Jonathan Bateson as a natural right back who gets forward well, and he should have been included instead.

City nevertheless competed well and were unlucky to go behind, but then the desperation was too strong again. On a difficult pitch and with Hanson competing well, playing a more direct style of football had been tolerated if not approved. Yet with 25 minutes to play Daley was withdrawn for Peter Thorne, and we had the sight of four City strikers and just two midfielders. As intentions go it was clear there would be no passing and running down the flanks, but that the back four would simply be charged with launching it forwards.

This long ball football would be understandable with 10 minutes to go, but with over a quarter of the game still to play it was premature panic. Thorne added a much needed touch of class up front and his link up play saw the ball begin to stick in the final third, but for a period it seemed as though the players had lost heart, couldn’t find a way back and were at a loss of what to do next. Heavy pressure belatedly commenced in the final stages, but the team set up suggested the manager didn’t believe his players could come back by playing football.

It was perhaps the ultimate of ironies. That a manager who made his name as a player for his combative and inspirational skills in the middle of the park, had resorted to abandoning having a midfield in order to save his job.

And yes the argument goes that on chances, possession and territorial advantage, City did not deserve to lose. There’s an argument that the referee should have awarded a penalty and sent Bury’s Afe Sodje off. There’s an argument Bury didn’t look anything special. But ultimately the difference between the sides was the composure and organisation of the visitors and the fluster and anxiousness of City.

I don’t believe this is typical of McCall’s reign, but perhaps why we’re now saying goodbye to the City manager is because it is typical of McCall’s reign when things are going wrong. In his first season there was the autumn collapse of form that saw eight winless games and promotion hopes up in smoke. Last season the collapse came at the end of the season, lasting nine games, and this season’s recent run of poor form since December has been strikingly familiar.

At these difficult points we see too much indecision in the team selection and tactics. We see what initially seems a couple of set backs become a crisis of confidence. We see a slow and stuttered speed to the recovery. We see a manager trying to put a brave face on matters, but taking the setbacks too much to heart instead of instilling confidence into others. We see a football club quickly dropping down the league table.

Ultimately, as Stuart has acknowledged repeatedly in recent weeks, it’s a results business. No matter how much we supporters want him to be a success, the results simply haven’t been there. It is incredibly disappointing that it has come to this and it will take some time for many of us to fully recover and be enthused with City and football again, but if there’s a consolation it is that it has ended more painlessly than it might have.

Indeed the tone of McCall when speaking on the radio after the defeat was almost that of a relieved man. Acknowledging the circumstances of the game been so typical of the season to date, he even allowed himself a chuckle about his own misfortune. He seemed remarkably relaxed – but sad – and perhaps that was because the pressure could now be released off his shoulders. On the BBC One’s Football League Show last night, he even texted in to thank supporters again and to apologise he couldn’t have done a better job.

The special bond he has with the club and supporters remains in tact, and while for many that would always be the case the memories are at least not going to be added to by the sight of ‘McCall out’ chanting and the visible type of abuse which many of his Valley Parade dugout predecessors have endured.  It still sickens me that, after a 1-0 defeat to Doncaster in 2006, then-manager Colin Todd found his car had been attacked by City fans – I can’t imagine how I’d feel if such acts of horror had been inflicted upon McCall.

Nine months before that boxing day incident, I’d written an article for this site about why I didn’t want McCall (or Peter Beagrie) to become our next manager. My reasons were that I feared the souring of the special bond we supporters have with McCall, and that it would end with the usual suspects reigning down the boos.

A year later and, with the club in dire straits, I was prepared to abandon those fears and believe McCall’s installation as manager could have the romantic ending we all felt it would. As he prepares to clear his desk on Monday I feel devastated it was not worked out, I remain unconvinced it is the right move to part ways now, but I’m also happy that is ending relatively agreeably.

The City legend has given so much to this club across four decades, his lap of farewell at Valley Parade yesterday was yet another unforgettable Stuart memory.

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.

Sack the manager? It just doesn’t add up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions on the captain as Rehman bares the armband

Zesh Rehman is not the Bradford City captain although he wore the armband during yesterday’s game – a draw with Accrington Stanley – which saw the defender attract some criticism.

Rehman – and this is a personal opinion – put in as good a performance as any in the match and certainly did nothing to suggest that faith should be lost in his abilities as a player. His performance as a captain – however – is harder to measure.

Harder to measure because on the whole – and ignoring the fact that Rehman is standing in for the injured Peter Thorne – it is hard to create a set of criteria to judge a captain against.

The finest captain I have ever seen of any side in a good thirty five years of watching football is Stuart McCall and in saying this I recall how I would tell any and all how McCall’s abilities with the armband were defined by the fact that not only did he turn in a performance to inspire but he made the players around him better.

David Wetherall took the armband from McCall and used it to show a steady leadership. His was a less obvious improvement of his peers than McCall but in setting a high standard of professionalism and performance he provided leadership by example for the side. Mark Bower was proof of this developing and slowly improving year on year.

Graeme Lee’s year as skipper post-Wetherall showed little leadership and lack of harmony in the run in was there for all to see. Pre-McCall captains like Eddie Youds or Lee Duxbury showed some abilities but nothing to mark them out as above and beyond the regular progression of skippers which suggests that the inspirational captains are the exception, rather than the rule, and City fans were spoilt with Stuart and Dave and that most of the time the guy with the armband is just someone to pass a pennant and shake hands with the Referee.

Not that were I Rehman I would have shook hands with Steve Cook after the Accrington Stanley game in which the man who could hold the hard to achieve title of Worst Ref of The Season booked five people for talking out of turn during the game like the weakest substitute teacher handing out detentions rather than instilling discipline. To get respect one must give it and Cook certainly did not.

In such conditions – Accrington’s staff laying siege to Cook at half time and a City side who got nothing from the man in the middle in the second half (the linesman gave the penalty) – the Bantams showed an admirable fight long after I had told all around me that “we might as well go home ’cause (The Referee) has decided the result today.”

City kept battling and should have won the game. Gareth Evans and Michael Flynn both fancied the penalty – one suspects Flynn will get the next one – and the players did not shirk the fight which would seem to be one of the qualities that many found lacking from Peter Thorne’s skippering against Notts County at the start of the season and begs another question.

If the team keep going in what many would say were utterly frustrating circumstances then should the captain not take credit for that?

Compared to Wimbledon 5-3, Luton 4-0, Sunderland 4-1, Barnet 4-1, Notts County 5-0, Rochdale 3-0 and so many other collapses that came from things going against the side then Rehman deserves some credit.

The quality of a captain tend to be linked to the success of the team and probably some fine skippers are dismissed because they were part of teams who did not excel but certainly nothing in what Rehman did yesterday would exclude him from that bracket.

If we say a measure of the man with the armband is if can keep his team going in adversity then Rehman is doing a captain’s job as deserves to keep the job.

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.

Lee exits having not touched the sides of the hole

City captain Graeme Lee has joined Notts County on a tree transfer and will line up against The Bantams in the first game of next season with supporters wondering why the defender failed to make the impression expected of him at Valley Parade.

Lee’s new manager Ian McParland praised his new signing talking much about his abilities in defense that would be echoed by Bantam fans. As a central defender Lee put few feet wrong all season and for the winter months was part of a back four that seemed to forget how to concede.

His abilities were at the top of this league and – as with Michael Boulding who offered to take a pay cut to stay today and others at the club – he is only moved on for financial reasons but Lee’s position at City as captain and senior player required more than simply doing a good job at the back.

McParland talks about Lee the leader and it was that side of his game that was sadly lacking over the last twelve months.

The Bantams sided floundered for the want of a firm hand and an open mouth on the field having moved from the calm control of David Wetherall and the Imperious McCall. If Wetherall struggled to fill the hole skipper Stuart left then Lee was positively swamped by it.

So as a player he will be missed but for a team that looked so rudderless for the last two months of the season a change is mandated.

McCall needs to find a captain of character to build a team with strength. He tried to make that captain Graeme Lee. Addressing that failure is a step forward.

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.

McCall’s next City squad starts to take shape

Pakistan skipper Zesh Rehman has been offered a deal by the Bantams but longest serving player Mark Bower has been freed as Stuart McCall starts building his squad for 2009/2010.

McCall’s side’s failure to make the play offs has led to budget cuts – that is the short and not especially representative version of long story – and as a result four senior players have been freed with Bower joining out on loan Barry Conlon, oft injured Paul Heckingbottom, bit player Keith Gillespie and – surprisingly – Rhys Evans out of Valley Parade with the goalkeeper being rumoured to be interesting League One clubs including Leeds United.

The City boss has also prompted Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding to try find other clubs – something they can do owing to oddly one sided clauses in their contracts – but worries that should they not do the wage budget will be restricted. With times tough for many, if not most, clubs at the moment it is hard to see who will take the players on. Michael Boulding was not short of offers this time twelve months ago but traded from a position of being the leading scorer in League Two, likewise Paul McLaren negotiated with City as the most creative man in League One. Now these players go to a depressed market with a line on the CV that is read as a failure to make the top seven in League Two.

Do not be surprised if we have not seen the last of this trio.

Another trio who McCall would like us to see more of are Nicky Law Jnr, Dean Furman and Steve Jones whom the manager is trying to recapture on loan. Matthew Clarke, Lee Bullock, Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck, Leon Osborne Jon McLaughlin, Luke Sharry and Matthew Convey have been offered contracts while Kyle Nix is welcome back to preseason one assumes to await news of an exit for Lee, Boulding or McLaren. McCall will talk with Peter Thorne tomorrow.

All of which leave City with a weakened version of this season’s team should these machinations come off. McLaughlin seems to be fancied to be the new keeper having kept a clean sheet in the final game of last term. At 21 he is young but League Two is – increasingly for City – a learner’s league.

Paul Arnison has a two year deal and one assumes will stick at right back although his unwillingness to relocate from the North East is rumoured to have caused problems for McCall. Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke in the central defensive roles with Luke O’Brien at left back is an inch worse than Graeme Lee partnering either one – Lee came out of the season with more credit than most in this writer’s opinion – but Rehman is a cultured player and one who one could have confidence in. Clarke will continue to have his critics for both not being able to spray a Glenn Hoddle pass – which defender can? – and for his defensive lapses but since he replaced Bower in the side City have stopped being bullied by the usual big men forward lines we face.

Without wanting to delve into the stats of how many six foot two plus players have won headers in City game against Clarke vs Bower anecdotally one would suggest it is obvious that Clarke has plugged that gap. That he has other failings is a problem but in a League where physical prowess – bigness, if you will – is often the route to goal it is that no being bullied which is important rather than Bower’s more intelligent style of defending.

As with Andrew O’Brien before him Bower’s style suits the club less the further down the leagues we are. O’Brien’s man marking is superb on Thierry Henry but wasted in the Championship and Bower’s foot in play could – and would – do a lot at a Barnsley but does not at Valley Parade. One would have confidence that Bower could nick the ball from big men frequently but McCall obviously worries that the long serving defender would spend the rest of his time on his backside having been flattened and getting little sympathy from Referees.

Hearts are heavy though when a player with a service record like Bower’s leaves a club. He has given the lion’s share of his career to Bradford City having signed up on the 13th of May, 1999 four days after promotion and broken into the side a few years later with honest displays. He did his bit in administration and beyond and few City fans would not hope that he can establish himself somewhere else for the five or six years he could have in the game.

Uniting Dean Furman and Lee Bullock would seem to be the key to McCall’s midfield for next season with the City manager keen to see the Rangers midfielder back in the position he dominated last term – he played few games than Paul McLaren but made a more significant impact and was certainly more memorable – but Ibrox boss Walter Smith may have different ideas. Bullock is a useful player who has only shown his effectiveness in short spells while at Valley Parade. Next season McCall seems set to offer the former Hartlepool United midfielder the chance to make the position his own.

However McCall has struggled thus far in his management career to find a player to fill that number four shirt and role which he himself took at Valley Parade. Furman won the place from Paul McLaren whose season could be described as “middling”. McLaren did not take the mantel of senior professional with enough zeal and as a result on occasion looked a peripheral figure – especially when compared to Furman – just as Paul Evans the season before had failed to make the McCall slot his own.

Returning to Hoddle momentarily it is said that when England manager Glenn was frustrated with the players inability to match the magic feats of his own passing and one can only imagine the frustration that McCall – a player who lived by taking games by the scruff on the neck – has watching two players who have no shortage of talent in Evans and McLaren failing to control matches. Is Furman a better passer of a ball than McLaren or a better tackler than Evans? One could argue not but he has more cunning, more guile and it seems a stronger character that allows him to have more of a constant effect over a ninety minutes.

Defensive midfield – Furman’s nominal position and the one McCall had – is perhaps the most crucial role on the field and Furman represents a safe bet for City. We have seen that he will not shirk in the role unlike the previous two candidates who were on the face of it excellent choices for such a position and thus he is a tried and tested option for a job which I would argue the failure to fill correctly has cost us over the previous two season, and probably longer.

It should be noted that Luke Sharry has had a productive season and while not ready for the number four role should be expecting to feature in a dozen or more games next term.

The scenario on the flanks remains as it was this season: Joe Colbeck, perhaps Chris Brandon, Omar Daley when fit, Nicky Law should he return and Steve Jones if he is interested. Returning Colbeck from the jaws is poor form and the critics that wait for such to attack him is of paramount importance for McCall as establishing Omar Daley as a threat on the left was this term. McCall flits between preferring a pair of wide players such as Daley, Jones and Colbeck and wanting one wide and one more tucked in as Chris Brandon or Law offers and one can expect that method of trying to fill the middle of the midfield to continue.

Brandon has been unable to provide much of an indication as to his effectiveness this season and – based on last season – given a choice between him and Law one would take the younger man from Sheffield United. Should Brandon be edged out of Valley Parade – and indications are that the club would be able to keep him – then Kyle Nix would be an able replacement and I for one am surprised that the young Rotheraussie has not been offered a new deal offering the heart and ability the former of which was often lacking last season.

In August Stuart McCall would hope to line up with Joe Colbeck, Dean Furman, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon across the middle and few would suggest that represents a major shift away from this term with improvement inferred from consistency with all four players having spent long periods injured. Allowing whoever is in the number four role to build up a relationship with the defenders to feed the ball in ending the long hoof of the end of last term and with the three midfielders around him who would take the ball is crucial and Furman can be trusted to do that. If he is not retained we re-enter the lucky dip of trying to bring in a cog to be the most important part of our machine. Like good goalscorers – they don’t get given away.

Peter Thorne will talk to Stuart McCall in a conversation about “legs” and if the striker still has them and McCall will hope to move Michael Boulding on to no great distress from I. For all his hard work Boulding failed to build a partnership either with the forward he was alongside or the players supplying him from midfield. Barry Conlon officially left the club and Willy Topp is long gone leaving the City boss looking for three or four strikers for next term.

In this respect McCall is in the hands of the trio of players who may leave. Should Lee, McLaren and Michael Boulding all exit then pressure on his budget would be loosened and the City manager could get to looking for a goal getter or two – one would suggest he tries to find a fast one, a skilful one, a big one and one who can finish again but that is how we entered this year – but should this not happen then the Bantams manager will be left looking at scraps to find a feast. The ramification of Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke’s fall out with McCall obviously preclude Conlon’s return despite a half dozen goals for Grimsby Town and one wonders if allowing the fighting Irish to leave is not going to haunt the Gaffer as he starts looking for players with passion, strength and a good track record and finds that Barry’s name comes top of the searches.

In such a situation Rory Boulding becomes an option although reports on him are mixed on the little brother while Leon Osborne and Sean Taylforth are no one’s idea of the player to lead you out of League Two. All three could be world beaters but the fact that they are – should Thorne not be retained – all that is in the cupboard for next term shows the problem Stuart McCall will have in building a side for next term.

In the season John Hendrie talked about the need for another striker and McCall tried Chris O’Grady and Paul Mullin in that role but ultimately when cutting the cloth to keep the club in business the side suffers and the forward line would seem to be where City are to take the hit.

So McCall is charged with three summer tasks. He must get the players he has offered new deals to to sign – some are given reduced terms – and will use the carrot of a smaller squad and a guaranteed place in the starting eleven achieve that with the likes of Lee Bullock.

Secondly he must work on ensuring he has the right man for the number four role with Dean Furman being nominated as the prefer choice. Filling this position is or paramount importance.

Finally he must find a set of strikers who want to play for the club and who have the ability but for some reason – probably as with Thorne it would be age – are not at a higher level and do not expect massive wages. Rumour has it David Wetherall is being moved to youth team coach. Wetherall never really got on with Dean Windass…

A bad time to change

Stuart McCall has to stay on for another season as manager, simple as that

It’s got nothing to do with whether you’re pro or anti McCall. Before some of you begin bellowing at your monitors, let me explain by outlining the alternative scenario and it’s timeline.

At 5-00pm on the 2nd of May Stuart seeks out Julian Rhodes amd Mark Lawn to confirm his resignation. the season’s just ended and we’re now managerless. Now I’ll make only one assumption that neither Wayne Jacobs nor David Wetherall is going to get the job. So we’re looking for a new man.

With any luck the chairmen already have someone in mind so an appointment is confirmed by mid May. If not, with newspaper adverts followed by sifting through replies and organising interviews, City would be lucky to have someone in place by the end of May.

Either way, we’re into the close season and the playing staff are on their (undeserved) holidays.

So the new manager is faced with a choice…bring in players “blind” or keep on most of the existing playing staff. Hardly an appealing choice.

Any experienced manager will tell you that the only time the boss begins to know what he has (or hasn’t) got at his disposal is when he sees actual competitive matches… at least
3 but preferably more. I agree. as a fan who’s watched countless pre-season friendlies over too many years, I know what they tell you which is nowt! We’ve had great friendlies followed by terrible seasons and vice versa.

Competitive matches only begin 2nd week in August. by the time three or four are played and the manager has some idea of the team’s needs we’re almost at the close of the signing window and looking
at the dreaded loan signings to make up the numbers till the turn of the year and the re-opening of the signing window. By then we’re all in “hoping” mode. hoping that what we want is available.

We could, if they’re not, be looking at another season of marking time and planning for 2010/2011.

Now football success is a young man’s pastime and I’m not getting any younger. I do not want another wasted season marking time.

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.

Getting back on the bike – Bradford City vs Grimsby Town – League Two preview

Those of us at Kenilworth Road on Saturday and at Gigg Lane on Tuesday will fully appreciate the range of emotions which supporting a football team can inflict upon you.

We left Luton ecstatic after an action-packed afternoon of football – one of this writer’s best ever – which threw up the improbable plot twist of Barry Conlon’s late penalty that left us cheering wildly and hugging each other. Minutes earlier we were in despair as it appeared we were on the wrong end of football’s cruellest way of losing – the last minute winner. Barry made the journey home that little bit quicker and the manner of City’s second half performance left plenty of optimism for the rest of the season.

Then came Tuesday.

In recent years we’ve all had to become battled-hardened to the despair of defeat and the frustration when things go wrong – but consolations can be taken when the team was unlucky, the referee let us down or some players still gave us something to cheer. On Tuesday there was nothing as we suffered from the most galling way of watching your team lose – because they simply didn’t show desire, passion or commitment to the cause.

And that’s why Tuesday hurt so much.

It hurt to see players you’ve spent much of the season sticking up for when others have criticised appear unwilling to put their body on the line when the chips were down, such as Paul McLaren. It hurt to see players with unquestionable talent look disinterested, like Omar Daley. It hurt to see players you’d seen do a good job Saturday fail to repeat what was asked of them, like Steve Jones. It hurt, because other than Rhys Evans no-one should have walked off the Gigg Lane pitch with their head held high.

The arguments over what went wrong are wide-ranging and see many accused but unsurprisingly the guy in charge, Stuart McCall, is at the centre of the criticism. How could a man who would never have given anything but 100% when a City player, who if we cut open might just bleed claret and amber, allow such a shambles to happen? What about his coaching staff Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall who, while not without their critics on occasions during their playing career, were never accused of lacking effort? 1,800 City fans packed the away end and backed the players ferociously for 90 minutes, and while that doesn’t mean we deserved to watch a winning team it should at least have been rewarded with a committed one.

But that was Tuesday and just as quickly as the mood turned from euphoria to exasperation it’s to be hoped it can be changed back tomorrow. There is nothing that Stuart and the players can do about what happened at Bury now, but they can at least begin to repair the damage. The recent good run of form of visitors Grimsby – unbeaten in three – may make this less of the home banker it looked a fortnight ago, but just like City’s one win in nine it ignores the bigger picture. This is a bunch of players which have lost 13 of their 26 league games so far, scoring fewer goals than anyone else in the division.

City simply must be targeting three points.

Team selection was a huge bone of contention on Tuesday night and the only thing which can be said with certainty about tomorrow’s team is that it will feature Evans in goal. Luke O’Brien missed Tuesday through illness and should reclaim his left back spot with loan defender Zesh Rehman eyeing up the place of either Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke or Paul Arnison but probably having to settle for a place on the bench for now.

In midfield Joe Colbeck is pushing for his first start since getting injured at Grimsby in October and looked more sharper when introduced on Tuesday than he did Saturday. That should mean Daley, outstanding in the second half at Luton, is switched back to the left and Law moved into the centre with either Dean Furman, McLaren or Lee Bullock alongside. My vote goes to Furman with a message sent to McLaren that one excellent performance should not be followed up by an average one.

Up front Stuart must play one of if not both Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. Thorne was not great at Luton but is never going to recapture his form if he keeps been brought in then dropped again while Boulding, facing an old club, was unlucky to lose his place too. I’ve written several times over the last 18 months that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency and relegation to the bench should be the only reward for such a sub-standard display at Bury. Many fans, and Stuart, have kept faith in the likeable Irishman and he has some making up to do. The fact Jones was hauled off at Bury adds doubts about his loan spell from Burnley been extended when it runs out on February 9, which few City fans would argue for.

Grimsby’s leading marksman only has four goals but we all remember Adam Proudlock’s hat trick at Valley Parade seven years ago. After a slow start to the season former City loanee Mike Newell took over as manager but his influence has been limited and the Mariners are one of a clutch of clubs grateful that Bournemouth and Newell’s former employers Luton aren’t making a better fist of overturning points deductions. A ‘real’ league table would show Grimsby propping up the rest.

In many ways 3pm Saturday cannot come quick enough as we get climb back on board the emotional rollercoaster. No one wants to feel as bad about their team as many of us City fans do right now and such hurt and anger needs heeling. It won’t automatically make everything right again in the world of Bradford City, but a home victory tomorrow would certainly be a good start.

We badly hope to experience that ultimate high of achieving promotion this season, it’s now down to the players to show they want it too.

Changing teams – AFC Bournemouth vs Bradford City preview

This game has been called off because of a frozen pitch.

A pitch inspection at 12:00 today will tell Stuart McCall, Bradford City’s players and the supporters if a trip to AFC Bournemouth will be needed this weekend and while weather on the South Coast is questionable City’s desire to put right the only home defeat of the season is not.

The Bantams were bested by Darren Anderton’s inspired display for the Cherries as they had new manager Jimmy Quinn installed. Since that day both Quinn and Anderton have left the club and with them seems to have gone the form that saw them win 3-1 that day. They have suffered three defeats in the last three games and previous to that were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blyth Spartans. Struggling with a deduction it is hard to see where the points will come from to keep them in the Football League.

All of which is demoralising and something that – when the game is played – City will hope ot take advantage of. The Bantams are looking more in race trim of late but with a 4-0 and three no score draws in the last four are obviously struggling to find the net. News that Peter Thorne is back in training is heartening as is the word that Joe Colbeck will play a reserve friendly game next week. Thorne’s finishing is always welcome but the added thrust from the flank that Colbeck added in games like the 4-1 defeat of Exeter has been missed and should the trip South be called off then Colbeck’s presence in the rearranged game could be significant. Certainly the team are more dangerous with the young winger in than with Steve Jones whom McCall is said to be signing from Burnley once his loan deal expires.

Thorne is not expected to return to the starting eleven – the hard pitch and a bad back being a poor combination – leaving Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding up front. Omar Daley and Steve Jones take the flanks alongside Paul McLaren and Nicky Law Jnr with Dean Furman cooling his heels. One must feel sorry for the impressive Furman who has much to suggest him for a place in the side however the form of McLaren and especially Law is such that McCall has to stick with them.

Also impressive in the run of four games without conceding is Matthew Clarke who continues to be underrated as a presence in the City side and has given the Bantams a commanding edge. Also underrated is Graeme Lee’s organsational abilities which while never getting to the level of the Master – Noel Blake – are certainly better than the majority of defenders who have worn claret and amber including the man who preceded him as skipper and central defender David Wetherall. Paul Arnison is rated by fewer than he should be put clean sheet for defensive players should be impressive and he will look forward to the return of Colbeck and renewing the combination they had developed. Luke O’Brien has come on a million miles from the day he was skinned by Gareth Grant at Farsley Celtic and is being talked about as a player of the season.

No one’s player of the season is Rhys Evans but in the last month the goalkeeper has found his bit shouting voice – something Gary Walsh had over Matt Clarke and the reason the former was a better keeper than the latter – and the defence looks all the better for it.

The mid-point report questions the defence

As we approach the mid point of our season and the turn of the year heralding the opening of the transfer window, it might be a good idea to look at the story so far…..

Things are beginning to sort themselves out just a little bit. The top 10 teams are, well, the top 10 teams.

Wycombe are clear with a game in hand but the chasing bunch are pretty fluid. City are established in the top seven, which is good, but not in the top 3, which is not so good.

Stuart’s determination to bring in a first team striker is great news. A replacement for Willy Topp who, even his biggest fans should admit, wasn’t going to be a regular first team frontman this season.

We should get a player who is not just competition for Thorne, Boulding and Conlon but could fit seamlessly into the side if one or more of them is injured.

The goals should then keep flowing.

In midfield we should finally have everybody fit. competition right across the park can only be a good thing and, when you throw Furman (and possibly Law) into the mix as well, it will be really intriguing to see who become the regulars. Each fan probably names a different midfield four.

Now to the back four. Their school report would read “must try harder” as, a quick look at the top seven’s goals against reveals. We’ve conceded quite few more than the rest and this has definitely cost us points… games drawn we should have won and defeats which should have been draws.

To me personally this is the most mystifying fact – that the defence isn’t as solid as it should be. Our assistant manager Wayne Jacobs is a former premiership experienced fullback and our chief coach David Wetherall a Premiership experienced central defender. Between them they should have been able to sort out the current back four or, if they thought any player/players weren’t up to the task we should have got someone else in by now probably on loan at first to have a look at them.

Just a quick word about the keeper Rhys Evans. He is solid if not spectacular he’s made few mistakes and pulled off some great stops. while I had my doubts when he came in he’s certainly got me convinced.

To sum up, I can’t do better than echo John Hendrie’s comment of a few weeks ago that City are currently a top seven side but if we can tighten up the defence on a permanent basis a top three berth is there for the taking.

Just a quick word to those few people I’ve already heard in their darker moments saying “Well, I’d settle for the playoffs”. What rubbish! No team in the top half should be settling for a playoff position now or any time soon!

Only if – perish the thought! – it eventually becomes mathematically impossible to finish in the top 3 should any fan be even talking about the playoffs and the lottery they entail.

Overcoming the margins – Bradford City vs Leyton Orient – FA Cup 2nd Round preview

We remember Ben Murihead stupidly running down a blind alley with 10 minutes to go, losing possession and Barnsley racing up the other end to crucially equalise. We remember Jermaine Johnson’s incredible dribble from his own half before shooting wide when reaching the penalty area, then a Nathan Doyle own goal gifting Millwall an undeserved win. We remember David Wetherall hitting the crossbar with a header before, erm, Tranmere proceeded to play us off the park and win 3-0.

The previous three Bradford City seasons have featured progress past the First Round of the FA Cup, before each time falling at the Second. We’ve allowed ourselves to dream of City’s name being included in that illusive 3rd Round Draw with the opportunity of a lucrative tie. On Saturday we dream again that this could our year as Leyton Orient rock up to Valley Parade – will it be fourth time lucky?

The so-called “magic of the FA Cup” will be duly hyped all weekend and City could, by some stretch of the imagination, be considered one of the giant killers of the last round after the impressive win at MK Dons – a result which looks more impressive each week as the Buckinghamshire club climb League One.

It’s doubtful whether the magic really will touch Bradford this weekend though, the stadium will be barely a fifth full and there’s a convincing argument that, unlike the last three seasons, an FA Cup run is an unnecessary distraction. Nevertheless as memories of recent disappointments remind us of the often thin line between success and failure it’s worth noting that City have twice this week been on the right side of such margins – Rhys Evans’ wonder save at Rotherham and Jack Lester’s miss at 2-2 on Tuesday – and it’s the sign of a good side when they’re the ones regularly benefiting from such fortune.

A good side. Worth emphasising to some of our supporters who still can’t manage to do anything but criticise and moan. Tuesday’s comeback win against Chesterfield was a fantastic game of football – arguably the most entertaining of our season so far. Yet still all some can do is focus on the disappointing first 25 minutes, pick on a couple of players who didn’t reach the heights of others and, perhaps most stupidly of all, moan that City we’re hanging on during the final 10 minutes. Let’s imagine our team had fallen 3-2 behind and had a man sent off with 10 minutes to go, wouldn’t we still expect our players to force pressure in the closing stages? Why shouldn’t Chesterfield fans expect any less of their side?

We witness an injury hit City side show tremendous character and commitment to recover from an awful start and win against an impressive visiting side, why can’t we enjoy it? All some people can do is look for negatives; there’s been some over-the-top moaning about Matt Clarke (who apparently was booed by some ‘fans’ in the Kop whenever he touched the ball on Tuesday), the medical experts amongst us have managed to blame Omar Daley’s injury on Stuart McCall and there’s a certain balding Irish striker who some attempted to argue was one of our worst players. I am staggered how any City supporter could have left Valley Parade on Tuesday feeling unhappy. As Alan Hansen would say, “it’s unbelievable.”

Of course there were things which didn’t go so well and Stuart will look to address these on Saturday. I’m full of admiration for the way he stuck to his guns with the line up on Tuesday. At 2-0 the diamond formation he’d employed did not look a clever decision but, rather than panic, he got the players doing the right things and the improvement was vast. It won’t work every game and may not be used tomorrow with no Daley, but Stuart has a lot more faith in his team than many of us supporters do and surely it’s time more of us got behind them, particuarly when they’re struggling.

Stuart is unlikely to make many changes for this tie. Nicky Law and Tom Clarke have both had their loan spells extended and both arguably enjoyed their best games in Claret and Amber so far on Tuesday. They will make up the centre of the midfield with new loan arrival Steve Jones, taking Daley’s place, on the right. Kyle Nix, who did reasonably well Tuesday considering it was his first game back from injury, will push his claims for a regular spot on the left.

The back five will be unchanged with Matt Clarke still causing concern but Graeme Lee winning fans over. At 2-0 down and in real trouble on Tuesday, strong leadership was needed and Lee stepped up to the mark in more ways than just his impressive free kick. TJ Moncur must improve on his recent showings while Luke O’Brien will reflect that it was a year ago this weekend he made his debut and how far he has come. Rhys Evans keeps goal.

Up front Stuart has a real dilemma. At last Valley Parade got to see what a talent Michael Boulding can be and it would be difficult to rest him with confidence improving. Same with Barry Conlon, who’s popularity is surpassing the ‘cult hero’ status of last season into genuine ‘fans favourite’. That could mean Peter Thorne is left out again, which might not be a bad thing with a busy Christmas coming and injury niggles. FA Cup rules allow Stuart to name seven substitutes, which will give some fringe players a chance – will Willy Topp be one of them?

Of course the last time Leyton Orient were in town they cruelly smashed our hopes of avoiding the drop with a two-goal burst which had people around me crying and the boo boys curiously gloating. That day City battered Orient and wasted a hatful of chances to be out of sight by half time.

It’s those margins of success and failure that good teams invariably benefit from and poor sides are left cursing about. If City are the beneficiaries on Saturday we supporters just might start to believe in magic again.

The back up waiting for the call

Reserve team manager David Wetherall’s pre-match team talk would have played heavily on it.

Barely 48 hours since the first team had suffered its first significant setback of the season; this was an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim. Manager Stuart McCall, watching in the stand, has repeatedly talked about how the strength of his squad means those in the team have to maintain standards or lose their spot and, while a radical revamp is not expected nor encouraged, this performance may help lead to that theory being tested ahead of Shrewsbury.

Despite the game ending in a 1-0 defeat, it was a decent performance by City’s second string against a youthful Leeds side; with chances and territorial advantage stacking up in favour of the home side. After his decent substitute cameo against Bournemouth, Barry Conlon continued where he left off impressing with his hold up play and passing. Strike partner Rory Boulding matched his work rate and was at the heart of City’s two best first half chances. The best of which resulted from his excellent hold up play which allowed Blackburn trialist David Ryan – who showed promise, if a little rawness – to cross the ball and Sean Taylforth to strike an effort against the post after Leeds keeper Alan Martin had fumbled. Minutes before Boulding had cleverly flicked the ball into Conlon’s path, who fired over.

That chance had also been created by Luke Sharry, who had a promising game in the centre of midfield. Tenacious in the tackle and strong going forward, the 18-year-old was at the heart of much of City’s best play. He consistently sprayed passes across the pitch to spark attacks and his only weakness was his failure to play the simple ball when the opportunity allowed. The fact Dean Furman did not figure suggests the on-loan Rangers midfielder features in Stuart’s thinking for Saturday, but a first team debut for Sharry cannot be far away.

In the second half Willy Topp replaced Conlon and impressed on his return from injury. As with his first team appearances to date, the Chilean can be guilty of taking too much time on the ball and causing moves to break down through lack of awareness; but his touch and dribbling skills excite and it’s to be hoped he can finally get over the little niggles which have blighted his City career and make an impact in League Two.

The chances still mainly went City’s way, with a glorious pass to Luke O’Brien by Sharry allowing the left-back to charge forward and cross for Topp, who couldn’t plant his header beyond Martin. Kyle Nix looked industrious as ever, alongside Sharry, though Taylforth and Leon Osborne will not be threatening Colbeck and Daley’s places in the team on this showing.

Neither will goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, who inexplicably fumbled Sam Jones’ long range shot into his own net for the game’s only goal. The former Harrogate Town player will be hoping Stuart wasn’t paying attention at that point, particularly as he had little else to do to all evening as he tries to convince that he could be called upon if Rhys Evans gets injured.

City continued to apply pressure and Boulding forced a great save from Martin when through on goal, but the visitors defended well. Perhaps it wasn’t as strong a performance as many of the players would have liked to have put in, but when it’s Stuart’s turn to deliver his next team talk he may be warning a few to watch their back.

The storm before the calm

It is raining.

It is raining so hard that the roof at the stadium cannot cope. It is raining so hard that the end of the pitch is in a spray haze fog.

It is raining so hard that one cannot help but get excited about the idea of Omar Daley running at David Unsworth.

Local pride – the right to brag – is at stake tonight but of equal importance perhaps is the right to maintain the belief in the season.

For Town a poor opening day needs augmenting. For City belief – that slightest of all things – is to be maintained.

Certainly the travellers have belief. Seeking cover before the game the make an impressive noise.

In the midst of this noise it is announced that Peter Thorne is benched for Michael Boulding as McCall tests the strength of his squad. The PA man gets a round of applause for wishing all the best to “Our friend Jacko”. “Didn’t they sack him twice?” someone comments. With friends like these.

The PA wishes us all the best in our quest to get out of the fourth tier of football and is booed as the scoreboard flicks through images of Town’s past. Three years running precedes television.

The attendance from City is healthy despite the barb from said announcer which only serves to highlight how few of the 15,000 who saw Saturday’s draw here had the will to return.

Everything is booed that is contrary. Everything not of our colour is bad as the noise raises and the teams emerge.

Omar wears a sweatshirt in kicking in. David Wetherall – tasting defeat badly last time – looks studious. Danny Cadamarteri is jeered.

With that one of the most humourless derby games in English football kicks off.

What we learn from pre-season

It was once said of a group of young footballers who went on to big things that “you won’t win anything with kids” and perhaps as Stuart McCall prepares his team for the start of what is expected to be a promotion season this motto has been taken to heart with the City boss arriving at Farsley Celtic with a collection of major signings who were all aged around thirty. McCall is not going to stand accused of trying to make youngsters do men’s jobs.

However if they warn that inexperience will not beget results then lifelessness is an even bigger ailment and it was that which was Bradford City’s undoing tonight.

We should remember that one should not read too much into pre-season – City ended with game with David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs and Physio Adam Cook on the field – but the approach to a game at Farsley Celtic could be a telling factor. Paul McLaren arrived at Valley Parade to gasps and delight but he and Lee Bullock at the heart of the Bantams first half midfield put in little application. Throstle’s Nest is not a million miles from Christie Park or many other League Two grounds and every game in claret and amber is important.

That the Bantams trailed 3-0 at half time was an indication as to how little McLaren and Bullock had got stuck in and the turnaround in the second half was entirely down to the hustle brought to the game by Kyle Nix and the impressive Luke Sharry. If one was to read anything into pre-season games then it would be that Craig Bentham and Tom Penford might be at Celtic because of the abilities of Sharry who is very much one to watch.

Certainly if City are to get anywhere they are going to need more application in winning the ball than McLaren or Bullock showed and one worries that that pairing could be another Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson.

Also a problem – in the first half at least – was defensive struggling by young pair Adrian Bellamy and Luke O’Brien who were at fault for a goal each as they dallied on the ball rather that putting the David Wetherall boot through it.

The other goal came from one of those offside decisions which drive you nuts. Paul Arnison had half a good debut having to do much to cover Bellamy next to him and Kory Nix – brother of Kyle – in front both missing. Kory Nix started well tucking in and taking the ball but after a half hour went missing up front although this came after a distressingly high kick to his chest from a defender that shook the new Australian.

Up front Peter Thorne hit the post with a header and Willy Topp looked lively until he was moved to the right wing second half although it was from the right that the cross that saw Barry Conlon fouled to win and score a penalty that got City’s goal came.

Conlon was partnered by Michael Boulding’s brother Rory who played the second half. Shoudl he sign then Michael Boulding, as with Graeme Lee and Chris Brandon, had to slot into this team and one can be sure that at no point did the eleven on the field resemble those who will start the season.

However regardless of the players on the field should anyone in claret and amber turn up without putting effort in then we will not win. It is pre-season and not much can be read into it but that much I know and can guarantee.

“You won’t win anything without effort.”

Every noticed how Darren Moore gets what he wants?

Darren Moore has just signed for Barnsley after City boss Stuart McCall told everyone that he wanted to bring the big man back to Valley Parade and for the second time I’m left feeling a bit used.

Moore is a good guy cause he is a Christian and knows Wayne Jacobs and everyone will tell you that he is a good bloke.  In fact footballers like him so much that they elect him to the PFA.  He sits around the table with Gordon Taylor when the footballer’s union make sure that no one get get anywhere when they suggest that players need salaries capped.

He is a good bloke and never made a noise after having his request for £15,000 a week from City turned down nine years ago.  He went to Portsmouth and on to a great career that we all followed and cheered with only a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth about the way it all ended.

Great guy but when City came in for Moore how come it got out to the media so quickly?  And what was the effect of it getting out.  To us it said that City had high ambitions but to the rest of the game it said two things.  First that Bruno was on the move and secondly that to get him you needed to compete with big spenders.

So the likes of Leicester City and Nottingham Forest all start to be interested and soon it looks like City’s hope if plucking Moore’s heartstring and pushing a bit of extra cash in his pocket to get him but when a club two divisions higher want to offer the chance of a fifth promotion to the Premiership of course he is interested.

So fast forward on the month and Bruno has got a move to the Championship probably on the money that City offered him and no one can blame him but for the second time City have figured in a deal that ended up with Darren Moore getting what he wanted and us being left with egg on our faces.

Graeme Lee is not Darren Moore in our hearts but neither was David Wetherall when he was signed the last time Moore decided he wanted to be somewhere else and maybe in nine years time we will look at Lee like we look at Weathers now.

Will Paul Arnison solve that right back problem?

Stuart McCall is making his second signing this afternoon when Paul Arnison joins the Bantams from Carlisle on a two year deal on a free transfer to play right back as the City gaffer looks to make the deals to bring in the players he thinks can play in League One.

Arnison played his last game for Carlisle in the play-offs against Leeds and you can see what Stuart is thinking in signing players like the former Newcastle United defender and Chris Brandon who joined from Huddersfield last month. Get a team of players who are League One quality together and then you will be a team good enough for League One.

Arnison has knocked back his old club Hartlepool United who are in League One to come to Valley Parade which suggests the ambition that McCall wants in his new faces not wanting any of them to get to used to the idea of playing in the bottom division.

He comes recommended by Stuart’s old mate Greg Abbott who is number two at Carlisle and replaces Darren Williams who only was at Valley Parade for a year after replacing Darren Holloway who never really had the best of times in the position. In fact it is hard to remember the last right back City had who looked the part.

Holloway got ripped apart more by fans than by left wingers but no one would say he commanded the position. Gus Ulhlebeek was nothing to get excited about and Gunnar Halle was not the sort who stopped people going by him. In fact the last time City looked like they had a solid right back was Stephen Wright.

Wright never played in the Premiership but the change of number two was probably not as important as the guy alongside him. For the last nine years City have struggled to get a right back to look good next to David Wetherall. Wetherall was a cracking player but perhaps he never supported the man to his right enough causing this constant problem with the full back?

In football you do what the guy behind you does.  Goalkeepers tell central defenders where to stand and central defenders tell full backs and holding midfielders and Wetherall always pulled his right back too far inside giving them too much work to do to close down left wingers.  It is probably something that has stopped goals going through the middle but the result is that we have been weak on the flank.

Left wingers have a field day at Valley Parade and they cross for big centreforwards who head in passes from the left.  Paul Arnison gets to be the first right back in a decade to play alongside someone other than Wetherall.

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2007/2008

www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk Player of the Season

  1. Peter Thorne
    The If Only… Had Peter Thorne been fit all season and the Bantams been scoring and winning then who knows what the result of Stuart McCall’s first season would have been? He is the predatory poacher we missed without Dean Windass and as soon as he returned to full fitness with his intelligent play and able striking abilities City started to win. More please.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Plucked from the season string at Sheffield United Nix has everything that a young player should have. He plays with equal measures of heart and skill and is a joy to watch with his vivacious and effective style. The finish on the end of Willy Topp’s turn aganist Shrewsbury lives long in the memory.
  3. Joe Colbeck
    To say opinion was divided on Colbeck last season is an understatement with blows almost being exchanged over the winger who after returning from a loan Darlington ripped up League Two. Getting that form out of Joe Colbeck again next season is key to City’s promotion push. Keeping him long term may prove difficult.
  4. Barry Conlon
    How many players turn around the Valley Parade crowd from the angry mob to the appreciative whole who may have debated his abilities but saluted his commitment and effort. If anyone has ever deserved a contract extension it is Barry Conlon.
  5. David Wetherall
    The sentimental vote? Perhaps but David Wetherall organised a back four as well as he ever has done. The legs might have struggled but the brain was in full effect and it is that brain that will be behind the Bantams next year.

BfB poled eight contributors to get these results. The follow top fives are written by (one of) Jason, Roland, Michael, Omar and Paul.

The five best results and performances of the season

  1. City 3 Rotherham 2
    Oh what a Tuesday night. We proved in this game that we can actually play well against a very decent side.
  2. Darlington 1 City 3
    Stunning away victory against a promotion chasing team
  3. City 3 Notts County 0
    One of the most comprehensive victories we have seen in some years.
  4. City 4 Shrewsbury 2
    Another excellent Tuesday night, with Mr Willy Topp annoucing his arrival in Bradford with his first start, and setting up Nixy for the first goal.
  5. Dagenham and Redbridge 1 City 4
    Superb away victory – what a reward for those of us who made the trip down to London down. Nicky Law Jnr made sure of the points with an excellent late brace

Five moments when we thought we might be going up…

  1. Beating high-flying Peterborough at Valley Parade in September to go seventh.
  2. Stoppage time at Bury in January, City are 2-1 up and they have a harmless looking throw in…
  3. Luckily beating Macclesfield when they dominated second half. “Sign of a good team playing rubbish and winning,” we thought. If only…
  4. Billy Topp beautifully setting up Kyle Nix to score, six minutes into his full debut.
  5. When Joe Colbeck broke through to net the third goal at Darlington.

…and five moments when we knew we weren’t.

  1. Watching Accrington play us off the park at Valley Parade in October.
  2. Being the better side at home to Brentford but watching the Bees have two shots and score two goals.
  3. Half time at home to Rochdale, somehow it was 1-1 but the opposition were on another level.
  4. Barry Conlon’s penalty miss against Dagenham.
  5. Must-win game at Rochdale in April, 1-0 down inside 24 seconds.

Top five that the gaffer got in – McCall’s best signings

  1. Barry Conlon
    The example for everyone. Put in effort, get rewarded.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Skillful, talented, young. Fingers crossed we keep hold of him.
  3. Peter Thorne
    Showed class.
  4. Ben Starosta
    Looks like the sort of full back who can defend well and then add to the attack.
  5. Scott Loach
    They say that he will be England keeper one day. A way to go but impressive so far.

No Thanks – Five disappointing signings McCall made

  1. Paul Evans
    What gives Evo?
  2. Alex Rhodes
    Caught in the act of making Omar Daley look like a winger who tracks back.
  3. Willy Topp
    So much fanfare, so much wait ’til next season.
  4. Darren Williams
    Good, but like having Darren Holloway back.
  5. Nathan Joynes
    Barnsley said he was great, he was not.

We will miss you – Five players who impressed but have gone

  1. David Wetherall
    A legend.
  2. Donovan Ricketts
    Capable of making blinding saves.
  3. Tom Penford
    A favourite of this parish
  4. Nicky Law Jnr
    Who looked like a very good player. Better than his Dad for sure.
  5. Eddie Johnson
    Because the lad deserves credit for effort.

That went well – Five great things about 2007/2008

  1. The atmosphere, and home performances, at Valley Parade improved thanks to proper priced tickets.
  2. Stuart McCall back is great. Having him answer critics in the second half of the season is better.
  3. Barry Conlon turned around the fans with some gutsy displays proving that it is possible to turn around the fans with gutsy displays…
  4. …and nowhere was this better seen than Joe Colbeck who tore down the right wing brilliantly for four months.
  5. We broke even for the first time since the Premiership. Now that is progress.

Next year – Five things to get excited about

  1. Stuart McCall is up to speed.
  2. 20,000 supporters in Valley Parade? Would be great if it came off.
  3. Willy Topp is resting in Chile as we speak and raring to go at League Two next season.
  4. Should Joe Colbeck continue his form from the end of this term then expect dewy eyed thirty somethings to compare him to John Hendrie with every other breath.
  5. Promotion. You know its gonna happen someday.

What It All Comes Down To – Wycombe Beat City in the Final Game of the Season

The first thing to say about this game is that it is proof that City should have got out of this league at the first attempt.

Well perhaps not should have but could have. Wycombe Wanderers are in the play offs but they are no one’s idea of a good football team and if they do go through the play offs I wouldn’t expect them to last a season in League One.

If only… is the theme of the day.

If only City had not had had that really poor spell in October. If only Stuart McCall had got to grips with managing earlier. If only Mark Lawn and McCall had been installed before Darlington had signed nine players. If only…

Delroy Facey’s goal in the first five minutes was a big if only. If City are to move on then this venerable naivety needs to be stamped out by McCall. Leon Knight got a second and City were not that the races. A penalty came when Diddy David Brown was thrown to the ground and Luke Medley scored but next season if City don’t want another season of If Onlys then we need to make sure that when we come to places like this that we put up more of a solid defence. Teams that go places don’t concede in the first five minutes.

But this is end of the season and who cares? We have been in preparation for next year for a while now and this was the Bantams more of less on the beach for the summer.

Eddie Johnson already is away somewhere now we have released him. I’m going to miss the idea that Eddie Johnson more than watching him. I always got the feeling watching Eddie that he was at 80% and that he had no idea how to unlock the other 20% and nor did Colin Todd or Stuart McCall. It was probably because he had come through Man United. Had he been Eddie Johnson signed from Farsley he would have been “could be good”.

Next season McCall has to bring in a good quality of player if the likes of Eddie Johnson get turfed out. He needs two new keepers and I liked Scott Loach but I won’t miss him if he goes for good. He flaps at crosses too much and I don’t like loan players. I like Ben Starosta and I hope he can sign for us next year but if he can’t then I don’t see Simon Francis’s name on the team sheet as often at Southend as I should do…

Mark Bower and Matt Clarke at central defense? Ok then. Paul Heckingbottom? Sure. He is good enough if the players around him are good enough and no one ever didn’t go anywhere because of the full backs. Stephen Wright after all.

Joe Colbeck on the right hand side and Lee Bullock in the middle are not a midfield. Stuart needs to pull out some impressive signings here. He needs to find a Peter Beagrie to supply crosses and he needs a Stuart McCall to win the ball and without wanting to put too much stress on the Gaffer that is the most important position on the field. Whoever he get there needs to work out a Hell of a lot better than Paul Evans.

But if McCall can get a McCall and a Beagrie in then the sky is the limit cause City have an attack that no one else in the league can match. Peter Thorne is smart and finishes brilliant, Barry Conlon has the effort, Willy Topp the skills and Omar Daley who is more of a striker than a winger cause strikers should be greedy has the pace to beat anyone in the league. Something to beat any defence in League Two next season.

So it call comes down to if Stuart McCall can find a Stuart McCall…

Good Luck in the Dug-Out David Wetherall

When David Wetherall plays his last game for Bradford City at Wycombe, professional football will lose one of the few honourable men left in the game.

Throughout his long career, Sheffield-born Wethers has always played for Yorkshire clubs. Although he never broke through into the first team as a trainee at Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United paid £125,000 for him in 1991. He went on to make over 200 appearances in the Premier League and European games for Leeds, captaining the side under George Graham.

A change of manager persuaded him it was time to move on and, in the summer of 1999, he joined the Premiership new boys, Bradford City. Little could he have known about what he was letting himself in for!

In that 1999-2000 season, when all the pundits, most famously one Rodney Marsh, gave City no chance of staying up, it was Wethers who scored the only goal of the game on the last day of the season against Liverpool. Bradford City stayed up; Leeds United beat Liverpool to a Champions League place; Wethers was a true Yorkshire football hero. Or was everything that followed all his fault for scoring that goal?

From then on Wethers could be forgiven for thinking he was jinxed. A groin injury kept him out of action for almost half the next season and without him City dropped to the foot of the table. Relegation – and a lot worse – was to follow. Having never played below the top league, Wethers could have commanded a substantial fee and salary at any of the Premiership clubs who expressed interest in him. Instead he dropped down with City, a mark of loyalty that was to be often repeated.

Injury struck again and he missed large parts of each of the next two seasons. Following the departure of Stuart McCall to Bramall Lane in 2002, Wethers was appointed as club captain – just in time to be made redundant! Bradford City were placed in administration and it was Wethers, as captain and PFA representative, who led the way in agreeing a deferment of wages that helped keep the club afloat.

A further relegation in 2004 was followed by a second administration. Having turned down a chance to move to Coventry City, Wethers once more helped out his employers. He extended his contract for no extra money, effectively offering to play for lower wages each season. How many top players can lay claim to that sort of deal?

When Bradford City came back for the 2004-5 season with just a handful of first-team players, it was left to the ‘Skip’ to lead the way. He played every game but one that season and didn’t miss a game the next season. He almost certainly wouldn’t have missed a game in 2006-7 either, but for yet another change of manager at Valley Parade. This time the new manager dropped him from the team. That new manager, albeit on a caretaker basis, was none other than David Wetherall.

It was all too late to save City and a third relegation followed. But Wethers played on, creating record after record. He is one of only six players to have played for the same team in all four divisions. When he plays at Wycombe, he will have played in every match in each of three different leagues for Bradford City and his last game will see him complete over 300 first team games for the Bantams before he becomes first team coach next season.

But all that is only a small part of why Wethers should be remembered by football fans up and down the county. When the back pages are full of stories of players cheating and arguing with referees, Wethers is still first to the scene of any possible set-to on the pitch, placing himself between potentially warring players, calming things down and ushering his own team away. Maybe it’s all the practice he had captaining a different type of Yorkshireman, a certain Dean Windass!

When allegedly top players declare their allegiance to the pay packet rather than their club and its supporters, no better example of club loyalty exists in modern times than that set by David Wetherall. But the man who never mentions his first class honours degree from Sheffield University always was going to be that much more thoughtful than those who admit to making a habit of kicking out at a solid wall in frustration at losing.

The word ‘legend’ is used far too freely these days. For Bradford City there is the legend that is Stuart McCall; there is the legend that comes in the form of Bobby Campbell; there is the legend that comes in the form of Ces Podd; and now there is the one more name to add to that short list of Bradford City legends. Thanks for everything, Wethers, and good luck in the dug-out.

The Confession

I have a confession to make. It’s probably going to lead to ridicule from some, while others will question my sanity; but it’s been bothering me for some time and I think I’ll at least feel better for saying it.

I’ve really enjoyed this season.

There, I’ve admitted it. Chuckles from some, accusations I’m some sort of clap-happy supporter willing to embrace mediocrity from others; but I’ll go even further and say I’ve not enjoyed a season this much since the first Premiership campaign eight years ago.

I know that many people, not least Stuart McCall, continue to refer to this season as ‘disappointing’ and finishing 9th or 10th after such high pre-season promotion expectations isn’t good enough. I accept the team have ultimately failed and that another year in the basement league is a sad state of affairs. I understand all of this, yet I can’t bring myself to feel as miserable about it as others appear to be.

So what have I enjoyed? Well certainly not the numerous disappointing home defeats. The Mansfield debacle can be summed up by the pathetic winning goal conceded, the Bury performance was that of a team over-confident from a six game unbeaten run and watching Rochdale run rings around us for the opening 45 minutes left me embarrassed to celebrate Peter Thorne’s underserved equaliser. Since relegation from the Premiership we’ve seen so many lame home defeats which, while the opposition has consistently changed, have felt remarkably similar.

I’ve not enjoyed it that we couldn’t make a better fist of challenging for promotion. Many have pointed out that Stuart had the fourth biggest wage budget at the start of the season and should have done more with it, but it’s obvious his lack of knowledge of League Two when taking over set us back. Having only six senior professionals on the books to start with meant a lot of strengthening was required, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t be repeated this summer.

Of course the biggest reason City haven’t mounted a meaningful promotion challenge was that woeful eight game winless run in autumn. With the pain of the previous season’s relegation not fully healed, it was particularly depressing to see City struggle so badly. This run of form included the 3-0 Accrington shocker and the memory of Eddie Johnson carelessly giving the ball to a blue shirt to score inside two minutes that evening is still vivid.

For real heartbreak though, the 2-1 defeat at Morecambe a week later takes some beating. We should have won, but the careless efforts of certain players that night cost us with the Morecambe winner coming in injury time. Five defeats in a row, the journey home that night was almost unbearable and is undoubtedly one of the most painful moments of my time supporting Bradford City.

But for all those disappointing moments, the number of brilliant ones has been greater for me. From the moment Stuart walked to the Valley Parade dug out for the first time, on the opening day of the season, to a rapturous reception against Macclesfield, you felt we were in for a special season. It may not have worked out that way but, the huge crowd that day, repeated at the other 22 home games, has been. One day I’ll stop staring at the Kop to my right, when at games, and not be thrilled by how full it looks. If next year’s season ticket offer comes off and it’s even fuller, it’ll be a nice sight to get used to.

The largest crowds in the division haven’t always resulted in a good atmosphere, but there have still been some hairs-on-the-back-of-neck moments. Apart from the Barnet game a few weeks ago, the Tuesday night kick offs have all felt special. The superb atmosphere in the Kop while City surrendered to Accrington should have brought shame on the players, and the atmosphere for the midweek wins over Chester, Shrewsbury and Rotherham was also fantastic. It was great to end the home season against the MK Dons, with plenty of noise emanating from both ends.

And it’s the atmosphere on the road which is ultimately why I’ve enjoyed this season so much, with performances undoubtedly better than at home. It’s been great fun travelling the country to visit the various League Two grounds and the chanting from our fans during the games has often been non-stop, from the moment the players came out to warm up until the final whistle, regardless of the result. If the evidence of visiting supporters to Valley Parade is anything to go by, our fanatical away support must stand out compared to most other League Two clubs.

This has helped produce many special moments, such as the second half at Darlington where City played their promotion-chasing opponents off the park and we celebrated each goal wildly; chanting non-stop through the half time break at Stockport, despite being fully exposed to the strong wind and rain; Scott Loach’s miraculous double block from a penalty against Macclesfield; the comeback at Notts County; Wetherall Day at Rotherham. I’m sure those who were there won’t forget Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu’s 95th minute penalty equaliser at Grimsby, which prompted manic celebrations that spilled onto the pitch and saw Stuart run over to us and appeal for calm. It was one of those moments supporting your team where you completely lose it and temporarily forget where you are.

Quality football might not have been in as regular supply as we’d have liked, but there have been some great moments to enjoy. Luke Medley’s first touch in professional football; Omar Daley’s performance at Accrington; Willy Topp’s promising debut against Shrewsbury; the transformation of Joe Colbeck; Peter Thorne’s hat trick at Notts County and brilliant goal in the Meadow Lane meeting; Barry Conlon’s penalties (until he missed); the emergence of Matt Clarke into a solid defender; the superb second half of season form from David Wetherall that leaves you wondering why he is calling it a day.

My ultimate highlights of the season both centre around Lincoln City though. The Boxing Day Valley Parade game was an emotional afternoon carried out superbly by both clubs and sets of supporters. Barry Conlon’s late winner may have been comical, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went crazy when I realised the keeper had improbably allowed it in. Emotions also ran high at the Sincil Bank meeting in September and the atmosphere in the away stand that evening makes it one of my all-time favourite away games. The singing was non-stop, so passionate and so enthusiastic. It might have become the norm since, but that evening was particularly special.

The 2-1 victory that night lifted City to 9th at the time and the final league table will suggest little progress has since been made; yet the potential of what City can achieve remains and there will be strong optimism it can followed through next season. It often appears to be the case we spend the summer believing it’s going to be our year, but in Stuart we can be confident we have a manager quickly learning and with a huge passion to lead this club to glory in 12 months time.

A better season hopefully awaits, but I hope I’m not the only supporter who’ll take fond memories from this one.

Not fit to referee

I shall be clear, dear reader, from the offset.

Joe Colbeck deserved the red card after 37 minutes for a violent tackle on Dean Lewington which saw the 2-0 down City’s performance against the Champions of League Two but aside from ordering the Bantams player of the season off the field Karl Evans put in a shameful, disgraceful, unfit for purpose refereeing display.

All of which stops the match report I would like to have written about City’s man of the hour and about the prospects for next season and forces me to write once more about the appalling state of officials.

First things first though this afternoon – the final home game of the season – saw David Wetherall’s last match at Valley Parade and the penultimate of his career. Wetherall led City’s players in the minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the fire of 1985 and as he did my mind drifted back to May 2000 when Wetherall’s header kept City in the top flight and relegated our opponents the Dons. I recall that on that day the Liverpool supporters observed the silence with not a decibel before joining the Bantams fans in roaring through a pulsating game of football. The visitors today paid similar respects and held a banner to commemorate. They are much criticised – these Milton Keynes Dons – but as supporters they did themselves credit today.

Paul Ince’s team deserve some credit too and obviously can play a bit. They go up as champions largely on the strength of the away form that make this the eighteenth win on the road of the season but the Dons win at all costs attitude is best summed up with a casual phrase thrown around in the second half. “Paul Ince will make a good Arsenal manager one day.”

The Dons took a lead early on with after City had started the brighter and Barry Conlon should have given City the lead but Willy Gurrett loomed large the in the goal after good work had put the Irishman through and Conlon hit the ball wide. The Dons lead came from a ball crossed from the left – Darren Williams did not have a good game and left Colbeck out wide to cope with Lloyd Dyer – which travelled too far untouched by Bantams to be not considered a mistake by the back four when Jude Stirling headed home. Ince fielded a 352 which was effective while the Bantams soft pedalled.

Dyer scored the Dons second after powerfully converting a long throw which bounced over Wetherall’s head and it would be tempted to chalk that goal off as being a mistake by the man who is a little too long in the tooth but Williams once again allowed Dyer free reign to come in from the flank and Eddie Johnson simply watched the winger run past him to score. Johnson seems set to be a good twelfth man for the Bantams should he stay but one suspects that promotions are not made of displays as he puts in all too often. His inclusion at the expense of Tom Penford seemed unjust and up until the sending of off Colbeck which was to follow Johnson did not show enough desire. Not enough by half and he was not alone in that.

Colbeck’s sending off on 37 minutes was just. He trolled into Lewington who he had tormented with his pace earlier in the game as he steamed in anger. That Colbeck’s fury was caused by Dons skipper Keith Andrews elbowing him in the face in the pattern of play that preceded it is no excuse just as those managers who moaned that Dean Windass had squeezed testicles or niggled their players before retaliation had followed. The likes of Cheltenham’s John Finnegan painted themselves as wronged heroes following retaliation against Windass and were allowed to do but to be they were over angry and needed to allow the referee to take control rather than giving out what justice they saw fit as should Colbeck. That Karl Evans was a pathetic referee is not a reason why you should be allowed to take your anger out on another player so violently and Colbeck blotted and impressive copybook.

Nevertheless a strange fury surrounded the deserved red card and City to a man increased the levels of performance. Wronged – supposedly – the Bantams roared into the Dons and began to create sustained spells of pressure with Kyle Nix prompting in the midfield and Barry Conlon making himself a nuisance up front. Omar Daley’s dazzling run and left footed finish gave City a glimmer of hope at half time and the half ended in farce. A visitors corner ended up in disgusting two footed smash tackle on Kyle Nix by Jordan Hadfield which was much worse than the attack that had seen Colbeck sent off and went unpunished as Evans called a halt to the first half with former Bantam Aaron Wilbraham holding Scott Loach in a headlock and trying to shake him to retrieve the ball.

Colbeck deserved sending off. Football has no room for retribution being taken out in that way but it has no room for players grabbing each other in headlocks – the thin end of a wedge that ends with violence – and it certainly has no room for the type of two footed lunge that sent Nix spinning from Hadfield. The Bantams went in at half time 2-1 down to a chorus of boos for Referee Evans who would come out to perform so much worse in the second half with the words “You’re not fit to referee” ringing in his ears and such a phrase is true. Referees have a duty of care to the players written into the rules of the game in in ducking the decision to punish Hadfield or Wilbraham Evans hid from that responsibility. I would not like to have been a player on the field in such a lawless environment.

Evans made a litter of mistakes small and large in the second half missing the most obvious corner seen in football, allowing a waist high wrestling move on Darren Williams when he came through, giving a random set of decisions against Barry Conlon and Dons man Danny Swailes as the tussled all afternoon and at one point allowing Wilbraham to sneak back onto the field of play after going behind the touchline and rob Loach of the ball which he pinged off the bar of an open goal.

Your average football fan can be forgiven for not knowing that player who leave the field – go over the white line – have to ask permission to come back onto the field and that it is only a convince to allow them not to return to the pitch at the halfway line (as substitutes do) but Karl Evans is paid to know the rules of football and rather than stopping play and booked Wilbraham he allowed play to continue. It is Law 12.6 if you want to grab your copy of the rules and check it out and it is right above the rule that he used to send Colbeck off.

What can you say about a situation where the Referee knows or applies on the rules he decides at that time? I hope he is just a pathetic referee rather than a bent one but I can not accept that he is neither.

The frustration with Evans’s display was matched by that of City’s knocking on but never breaking through the MK Dons defence – David Wetherall’s header wide went in in a more romantic world – and in the end a ten man Bradford City were better than the eleven of the champions. Paul Ince had four months at StockportMacclesfield (an impressive five months) before he started at the Dons and one cannot help but wonder if after four months of learning at City Stuart McCall had have been able to start the season at the beginning of January would the Bantams be in the position that Ince’s men are?

McCall has got a City team that try play a bit, that can play a bit, that are naive in places but very exciting to watch. The team needs a tweak here and there but not wholesale change and one hopes that Colbeck will have put off potential suitors today and that should he start for the year long loan that seems to hang on Watford getting promoted then Scott Loach does not have to many games as he did today but the Bantams should be considered serious promotion contender next season.

This season though is full of what ifs. What if Peter Thorne had been fit at the start of the season? What if Joe Colbeck had found such scintillating form earlier? What if that run of not winning all through Autumn had not come? What if? The Dons take the championship but one cannot help but be reminded and paraphase of the famed comment of John Bradford – there, but for the grace of God, goes Bradford City.

The grace of God and a better referees maybe.

Soon to be someone else’s day

As he walked off the Millmoor pitch at the final whistle with away fans loudly chanting his name, David Wetherall could be forgiven if it began to hit home.

With a backdrop of appreciative supporters using the day to pay tribute to City’s retiring skipper, this derby draw may have all but ensured there will only be nine games left of his distinguished career. He applauded fans back while trooping off, visibly touched by the fantastic reception, but probably also feeling a tinge of sadness from knowing his days as leader on the pitch are almost over. Soon he’ll be helping shape City’s future in a different way as a member of the coaching team.

That the final furlong of Wetherall’s career is taking place with apparently little to play for is a source of much debate. No one would want to swap places with Rotherham at the moment, but it must be nice to be in a position to have 10 points deducted and still be in with a good shout of promotion. While the points penalty the Millers have suffered from returning into administration may have improved City’s remote play off hopes, there is little evidence to suggest the sort of run that could end in a top seven position is achievable from the current squad. The majority soon to be out of contract, the biggest remaining question is how big the summer rebuilding job will need to be.

On Saturday’s evidence City aren’t as far off as was feared in the wake of the previous week’s Mansfield debacle. Up against a decent outfit determined not to let off the field worries affect their game, the Bantams put in as good a 90-minute away performance as they have managed all season. Omar Daley was recalled to partner Barry Conlon, presumably with the view that two games in three days would be asking too much of the benched Peter Thorne. Tom Penford and Kyle Nix were also brought in and made a huge difference to a midfield which had been badly out fought against Mansfield. With Eddie Johnson enjoying one of his better days, City pressed from kick off and played some decent football.

They should have been in front during the first 45 minutes. From a dangerous free kick, Johnson was left with a free header but could only manage a tame effort which was comfortably saved. Soon after a scramble in the penalty area left Conlon one on one with Andy Warrington, yet incredibly he hit the ball straight at the Millers keeper with the goal gaping. Rotherham also had their chances with Chris O’Grady having a goal disallowed and a decent penalty shout turned away, but on possession and chances City should have gone in leading at the break.

Fortunately they put that right within three minutes of the restart. Joe Colbeck, once again in impressive form, charged at the full back before playing a ball into Penford, who cleverly returned it into the young winger’s path to fire home via the post. There have been calls for Stuart to start putting kids in the team with an eye for next season and seeing two of the more ‘mature’ youngsters combine brilliantly for the goal should act as inspiration to any young Bantams who get their opportunity before the season ends. City continued to attack with purpose and Nix missed a glorious chance to add a second. Daley’s run and low cross left the Australian-born winger with a seemingly empty net to slide the ball into, but somehow he only diverted it into Warrington’s arms.

Rotherham pressed, but City largely looked comfortable and it came as a surprise when O’Grady headed the equaliser from a free kick. It was a bad moment for Mark Bower, making his first start since before Christmas, who hesitated when it appeared he could have headed the ball clear before it reached O’Grady, though he might have expected Scott Loach to come out and catch it. It was the only blot of an otherwise solid return for the club’s longest serving player. Clearly it’s been a disappointing season for Bower, who lost his place due to poor form last November, but his days at Valley Parade are far from numbered and, with his senior partner hanging up the boots, it seems likely he will become a more regular part of next year’s backline.

The goal didn’t appear to upset City’s approach and Nix wasted another glorious chance, shooting over when cleverly put through. Then, with 20 minutes to go, the initiative was handed to Rotherham as City were reduced to ten men. Daley went in for a challenge with Graham Coughlan before appearing to kick out at the home defender. It was difficult to see from the away end, but the Jamaican also seemed to push the referee just before he was shown the red card and left the pitch to a mixture of chanting and boos from City fans. Daley had enjoyed a reasonably effective game back in the striker’s role, often stretching the home defence superbly by drifting out wide, but his actions left his team with little option but to hang on for a point.

It meant the outcome rested on City’s defence who worked hard in withstanding frequent home pressure. Loach was the busier keeper but only had a few comfortable saves and catches to make as the Millers were frustrated. Thorne replaced Conlon but the rest of the team were unable to support him adequately. The final whistle came as a relief.

A draw does little to help either team’s play off chances, even if City’s remain decidedly distant. On their day this team has shown it’s as good as most in this division, but stronger leadership and better consistency is required to get City truly among the front runners in 2008-09. As next season’s squad is built from retained players and new signings, it will need to include a replacement for the one player who has embodied both these qualities more than anyone in recent years.

Something which Wetherall will no doubt be influencing in his new role. Until then, he’ll be one player at least making the most of the nine remaining games. He’s being part of City’s backline for so long and we’ll miss him performing on the field. So to, I’m sure, will he.

Just not good enough

This weekend was the first anniversary of one of the more painful moments in Bradford City’s recent history. It was this time last year that nearly 4,000 of us travelled to the Galpharm Stadium for an incredibly important local derby against Huddersfield Town. With the battle against relegation becoming increasingly desperate, a good result was vital.

We were ‘rewarded’ with a feeble and pathetic performance, going down 2-0 to a mediocre Town side. Falling behind inside two minutes, there was just one woeful effort from Steven Schumacher which could be counted as a City shot on goal. The players showed a shocking lack of commitment and, considering it was a derby and we were fighting for our lives, it was unforgiveable.

12 months on and, while the bigger picture has undoubtedly got worse, thankfully we’ve not seen a performance as poor from City since. There will no chewing of the nails and worrying about relegation during the final 12 matches of this campaign, although Saturday’s defeat to Stockport has ensured we won’t be feeling any butterflies at the prospect of promotion either. And as the season drifts away it might be worth showing the current players the video nasty of that Town defeat to help them contemplate whether they’re currently doing enough to remain a City player beyond this summer.

If the players were to look in the mirror and ask that question following the Edgeley Park defeat, the majority of responses are unlikely to be positive. Yes Stockport showed they were a decent side and the conditions were difficult to play in; but with 700 or so City fans singing non-stop to spur you on, even through the half time break, and the knowledge that a new contract this summer is far from certain for many of them, you’d expect them to show a lot more than this. Stockport now lie sixth in the division, a place where we’d expect City to at least be this time next year. It was an opportunity for the players to demonstrate they are good enough to reach this standard by competing against a side with a decent chance of playing League One football next season. Sadly too many fell short.

Omar Daley and Kyle Nix were punished for bad performances the previous week by losing their spots to Eddie Johnson and Paul Evans as Stuart lined City up in the 4-5-1 formation which has caused heated debate amongst supporters this season. Whilst criticisms about its negativity may be valid, this tactic relies on runners from midfield supporting lone striker Peter Thorne. Unfortunately City failed to find any rhythm going forward and, considering we had five in midfield, it was concerning how easy Stockport passed the ball through us as they enjoyed territorial advantage.

Joe Colbeck and Alex Rhodes were too isolated, though at least Colbeck showed willingness to come central for the ball and worked hard defending. The same can’t be said of Rhodes, one player desperate for a new deal this summer. Rhodes recently returned to the side with two impressive performances against Notts County and Rotherham, but we need more than two good games followed by two below average efforts and Rhodes has a lot to do in the final weeks to convince he should be part of next season’s plans.

Stockport, with Shaleum Logan and Liam Dickinson looking lively, dominated the first half and only Scott Loach prevented them going in front with a string of impressive saves. Defensively City played reasonably well with Darren Williams, recalled after Ben Starosta was ruled out through illness, looking solid on his return. There were some impressive blocks and defensive headers which showed commitment was not a quality lacking at the back at least. A couple of wild shots from distance were the only attacking response from City and the half time whistle was a relief.

Many of City’s away games this season have featured dull first halves, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when we took the lead seven minutes into the second. A long ball forward was cleverly controlled by Thorne, who then did well to lay it into the path of Colbeck. The in-form winger charged into the area before been tripped by County keeper John Ruddy, leaving the referee with no choice but to award a penalty. With Barry Conlon on the bench and most City fans desperate for Thorne to take over duties, City’s top scorer looked nervous as he placed the ball on the spot. He duly despatched his 11th goal of the season to set up the platform for a fortuitous win.

Yet City still couldn’t get going and continued to invite County to apply heavy pressure. Loach made a string of impressive saves and Stuart brought on Daley for the ineffective Rhodes. The Jamaican has previously shown he’s a useful player to give the ball to when City are in a narrow winning position and the opposition are throwing players forward, unfortunately the defensive side to his game is still inadequate. Daley half-heartedly tracked back but failed to deny Logan space and his low cross was fired home by Anthony Dickinson.

Ten minutes later County edged in front through Michael Rose’s superb free kick from the edge of the box. It was rough on Loach, who seconds earlier had made his best save of the afternoon by denying Dickinson when through one-on-one, yet no more than his team mates deserved. Surely City now had to start forcing some pressure to get back into the game? Yet attacks in the final stages remained sporadic. Colbeck, who put in another decent performance, sent over a superb cross after Daley’s charged down shot had fallen to him and David Wetherall, thrown up front in desperation, had a free header and the whole goal to aim at. Incredibly he put it wide.

As we trooped out of the ground while listening to the odd City fan muttering that Stuart “hasn’t got a clue”, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of County. The final whistle was greeted with huge cheers from home fans and their players and manager Jim Gannon savoured the moment by staying on the pitch for a few minutes to soak up the applause of an important win. I wasn’t just envious that they can still dream of an extended end to the season, but of the spirit around the place which was evident. They had some decent players and their determination in battling on even after they had fallen behind impressed. They kept playing the right way and were ultimately rewarded. It’s a spirit which is sadly missing with City at the moment.

It’s easy and predictable to blame all of this on Stuart, but where’s the personal responsibility from those paid to play for Bradford City? The reality is that Stuart is stuck with this bunch of players until the summer, only then can he bring in better players. Sounding characteristically downbeat in defeat, an honest Stuart took responsibility for the tactical switch of bringing on Daley which failed to work. It’s another hard lesson to take on board; but if Stuart is going to make mistakes he’d be as well to do so now and learn from them for next season, which is surely the time to judge him. The manager left no doubt he will be making changes for next season and those players who wish to remain part of his plans will need to prove themselves in these final 12 games.

Not just prove they are committed, but that they have the ability to take this club forward. As Barry Conlon came on with ten minutes remaining to be met with a chorus of boos from some fans in the away end, there was a timely reminder that 100% commitment, woefully missing a year ago at the Galpharm, is only the minimum requirement. There are big question marks hanging over whether a number of current players are good enough to help City to a better shot at promotion next year, they’d be advised not to start dreaming of their summer holidays yet.

The worst move for Wetherall

I’ll admit it. When David Wetherall signed for Paul Jewell’s Bradford City in 1999 for £1.5m I was dead against it.

I wanted Darren Moore at the heart of my Bantams Premiership back four and thought that Wetherall was too slight a guy for the job of trying to keep Bradford City in the top flight. Not only that – I thought – but he was too slight a man and paled next to the leadership of Stuart McCall or the increasing feisty influence of Dean Windass.

Wetherall was not the man.

I was wrong – obviously – and on the day that David decides that at the end of the season he will hang up his boots it is worth reflecting on his time at City.

His first season – playing an unbeatable every minute of the 1999/2000 Premiership season – was famed for culminating in the headed goal against Liverpool that kept the Bantams up. The next day Julian Rhodes was holding court in a restaurant describing Wetherall as the reason that City stayed up and it was hard to argue that thought his honest endeavour and not unskilful defending he had move into the pantheon of players.

Wetherall was missing for much of the season we were relegated and struggled with injuries for years. He could have left the club for Southampton, Manchester City or Coventry but stayed loan to the club that showed little loyalty to him. He blasted the club after he was made redundant in 2001’s administration and took the players on strike rather than let them risk injury in a friendly over at Hull City which could have cost careers considering the precarious position we were in at the time.

As much as any incident in his career this was Wetherall’s steel showing through. No endless love for the Bantams gripped Wetherall’s heart but rather a calculation of the effort that went into saving the club – twice – which he would not turn his back on.

He then turned his hand – to management on two occasion’s caretaking after the sackings of Nicky Law and of Colin Todd the latter of which resulted in relegation showing the biggest problem for Wetherall the manager was replacing Wetherall the player. A problem not lost on Stuart McCall.

McCall invites Wetherall to join the coaching staff – Wetherall’s contract allows him the job until 2010 – and rightly so. His calm defending and his attitude to the game are perfect.

They would have been perfect for any club. Indeed was one recalls the great times and great performances of David Wetherall – and while both may wane of late they are more than just memories – one is forced to wonder how much the man himself regrets coming to Valley Parade back in June 1999.

In many ways after the first season it could not have gone much worse for the man who has been City skipper for years. He has suffered three relegations and two administrations – hardly the route he planned for his career following the ill advised exit from Elland Road.

Wetherall wears such pains well. Any plaudits that come his way are deserved.

A Tale Of Two Halves

City were made to pay for a lethargic second half performance by an Andy Bishop double, that inflicted our first defeat of 2008.

All seemed well in the first period, especially when Peter Thorne nodded home a brilliant left side cross from Tom Penford to give City the lead on 23.

But, in truth , somewhat surprisingly , Bury quite often looked like a threat – even more so than when they played City in their home game a couple of weeks ago. This threat was highlighted in the first half, when Wetherall was forced to head against his own post in the early exchanges, as Bury forced a few corners and put the City defense under some pressure which we never looked too convincing dealing with.

When Thorne opened the scoring, the odds would seem to favour City finishing the game with the 3 points and climbing into the top half of the table in good form.

However, then came the first of three key incidents that shaped this game. On the stroke of halftime, City attacked down the right with a through ball that looked certain to catch Bury out, after some smart play by Omar Daley. The through ball played looked to have City with 4 attackers facing just two Bury defenders, and with all the City attackers appearing yards onside (as was clearly viewable from all sections of the Midland Road stand) – the linesman flagged, seemingly for offside.

This decision incensed the home fans and particularly Stuart McCall, who was enraged at this appalling decision. A goal at that key point would have surely settled this contest, and a chorus of boo’s rang out around Valley Parade, not due to the performance, but more due to the poor officiating once again.

But as the home fans tucked into their half time Steak and Kidney, there weren’t many who would have predicted an unlikely second half comeback from lowly Bury.

City came out in the second half without any conviction whatsoever. Stuart’s halftime team talk seemed to have a completely adverse affect on the attitude of the players in this game. Omar Daley was hardly in the match, Eddie Johnson did not stamp his authority on the game whatsoever, and Willy Topp flattered to deceive before being substituted for last weeks match winner David Brown (who shocked the home fans with his infantile like appearance!) on 65.

Early in the second half David Wetherall was adjudged to have pulled Andy Bishop to the ground in the area and the referee swiftly pointed to the spot. The decision seemed slightly harsh and soft – but Wetherall was guilty of the exact same offense at the end of last year away at Mansfield, when the referee also pointed to the spot. On both occasions, Wetherall definitely did tug the shirt of the opposition player, and you would think that a player of David’s experience would have understood that you simply cannot get away with that in the modern game – even in League Two. Any contact in the penalty area or shirt tugging almost always results in a penalty.

Bishop stepped up and smashed in the equalizer from the spot.

And so the game continued, with City never really testing the Bury defense. Any saves were having to be made at the other end, from the on-loan Scott Loach in the City goal.

Then came another shocking decision. Statrosa was adjusted to have fouled just on the edge of our own area – a decision which beggared belief. What followed was a moment of class from stiker Andy Bishop – who is, by far, the best player I have seen play in this league. A smart free kick routine ended with Bishop curling the ball into the top corner which left City distraught and Bury heading across the M62 with all three points.

This was an expected defeat which left a sour taste in the mouth after the horrendous officiating display. But nevertheless, the players need to take responsibility for this one. The second half display was truly appalling and certainly was not one worthy of picking up three points. Having been on such a good run recently, why was the desire not there to finish off one of the bottom teams in the league at home?

Next week Rochdale will certainly not be any easier an opponent, but lets hope our game gets raised accordingly and keep the belief alive. The playoffs are not out of reach, but any more reversals like this at home will see us finish in mid table obscurity come May.

Avoiding the Brown Stuff

On occasions this season, it’s been difficult not to arrogantly believe that we’re better than this.

I refer not only to playing in the basic surroundings of opponents like Macclesfield Town, who’s tiny and unremarkable stadium is a different league to our Valley Parade home, but of the quality and manner of football we play. It’s not that we don’t produce pleasing on-the-eye passing that belongs in a higher level than League Two, the first half of the midweek Shrewsbury home win a perfect illustration, but on other occasions we can be reduced to playing the limited kick and rush style that England’s bottom professional division is reputed for.

Saturday’s fortuitous victory over Macclesfield was certainly a performance more about hope than confidence, haste rather than control, fluster rather than fluency. It‘s very easy to be critical of so many elements of the performance and most things Stuart will have learned from a cold February afternoon will probably be negatives.

Had City lost, and they could so easily have, the journey home for us 900 away fans would have been largely spent complaining and telling each other how the season is over. Yet for all the criticism City’s performance might justifiably warrant, the fact is we won. As the final whistle blew the players were warmly applauded from the pitch and I couldn’t help but have a mischievous grin thinking of how the victory had been earned.

How many times in recent years, particularly last season, have away teams rolled up to Valley Parade and undeservedly won? As our season went so badly wrong this time last year, I would often read through the Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match reports and look at the stats. City would invariably have had more shots and corners and I knew we had deserved to win, but the only statistic that would alter the league table was the final score. We can acknowledge some familiarity in thinking how Macclesfield fans would have gone home cursing their side’s luck and bemoaning the lack of firepower.

On Saturday that lack of firepower could be squarely blamed on former City striker Michael Symes. The on-loan Shrewsbury man would have been keen to show us the talent we rarely glimpsed during his two year Valley Parade stay, yet the hat trick of chances he squandered in quick succession midway through the second half could all be characterised by the weakness of the attempt on goal. Each time Symes had the time and space to do better and each time Scott Loach was able to make a comfortable save. When Symes burst through again and sent over a low cross that should have been a tap in, he misjudged the situation and the ball rolled harmlessly across the goal.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else.

All this came during a strong period of home dominance following an uninspiring first 60 minutes from both sides. City never seemed to be able to get going and force a spell of pressure, other than the occasional flurry of corners. Macclesfield played a high defensive line which largely succeeded in stopping City getting forward. When we would win the ball and attack, too often we would lose the ball just inside the Macclesfield half.

Part of this was down to the unnecessary level of urgency when we have possession which is regularly seen away from home. It’s as if we must be on the attack instantly as long passes are launched forward hopefully or balls released for our wingers that they have little chance of reaching. We usually seem to be able to play in a much calmer way at home and you wish City would try to execute their tempo on the match. Surely it’s better for us to be passing the ball around in our own half, rather than letting the opposition do so?

A lack of a target man also didn’t help. We badly needed the ball to stick when our forwards received it but this is less Peter Thorne’s and certainly Willy Topp’s game. The latter produced some good touches and looked a threat, but ultimately we’ll need more from him as he learns the English game. In hindsight Barry Conlon might have been a better option to start the game.

Without a target man, we could still have succeeded with wingers stretching the game and running at the home defenders so they drop back. Joe Colbeck’s display, easily his worst in recent weeks, ensured that the suspended Omar Daley was missed. It’s not Kyle Nix’s game to beat opposition full backs for pace and it all meant that City’s attacks were sporadic and limited. Topp had the best chance when he forced a mistake and had a run on goal, only to be crudely chopped down on the edge of the area. A couple of headers from corners were cleared off the line but the first two thirds of the game had 0-0 written all over it.

Cue Macclesfield’s sudden onslaught which left City hanging on and pushing their luck. Remarkably, in the middle of this heavy period of pressure it was the Bantams who scored. Again it was a long hopeful ball up the field which substitute David Brown, on for Topp, willingly chased. Macclesfield keeper Jonny Brain ran out to clear but complexly missed the ball, leaving a grateful Brown to fire it into the open net. It might not quite have been the way he dreamt it last night, but new signing Brown could not have asked for a better start from his first six minutes of professional football. The young striker impressed with his pace and was a nuisance to the opposition. He’s certainly a small lad and won’t win many headers; watching him play alongside fellow substitute Conlon looked the ultimate little and large partnership.

But if one keeper’s bad mistake handed the win on a plate, it was the other keeper who sealed it. Loach earned many admirers following his midweek debut but his performance at Moss Rose was something else. Macclesfield continue to apply heavy pressure after the goal and Matt Clarke, who’s not looked as solid the last four games, got away with a bad miskick in front of goal. From another attack Loach produced a superb reaction block from a low shot only for Macclesfield to be given the ultimate opportunity to score after Colbeck fouled Danny Thomas in the area as the ball ran loose.

Loach might have only been playing his fifth ever senior game, but he’d been here before saving a penalty at Macclesfield while on loan at Morecambe. He made history repeat itself by getting down low to push away Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield’s penalty and, even more impressively, reacted to block Neil Ashton’s powerful rebound attempt. Cue wild celebrations on the terrace behind and City players rushing over to congratulate their new team mate. A week ago none of us had heard of Loach, but after another good save we were chanting his name.

Those saves spelled the end to heavy pressure and, despite one late scare where City scrambled the ball off the line, we held out with David Wetherall once again outstanding. Conlon and Colbeck, who curiously improved after giving away the penalty, both went close to adding a second. A lucky win no doubt, which ended with Loach hugging fans at the front of the stand, but it was a game that City would probably have lost earlier in the season and this alone can be judged as progress.

Suddenly the table makes far better reading; City are 10 points from the play offs and still have a couple of games in hand over most teams, there was even an optimistic chant about City going up this season. Recent form has been excellent and, with four of the next five games at home, sandwiched between a trip to struggling Notts County, there’s a great opportunity to push on.

So I now look forward to reading Monday’s Telegraph and Argus match report and noting that the shot count will not be in our favour, but that the scoreline appearing at the top of the page is all that matters. We’ll need to be better than our efforts at Moss Rose but, if we’re celebrating any achievements come May, it’s winning games like this which will have provided the platform.

Pegged Back At Bury

Despite leading twice, City were pegged back by a late equaliser that denied them a third straight win.

City started the game much the brighter, forcing numerous early corners and creating a couple of half chances. Barry Conlon had an excellent first half – really rising to the challenge of this game in testing conditions. He held the ball up brilliantly and was a real presence up front.

Neither team really stamped their authority on the game until a key moment late in the first half. Omar Daley picked up possession on the right, darted forward, and whipped in an extremely dangerous ball, which looked destined to pick out Peter Thorne at the far post – but it was stopped from reaching its target by a blatant handball by a Bury defender inside the penalty area.

The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. There seemed to be some debate about who was going to take the penalty, with Thorne and Conlon both eyeing it up. But it was Conlon who stepped up and drilled the ball straight down the middle, and whilst the keeper got a touch with his legs, it wasn’t enough to stop it nesting into the back of the net, much to the jubilation of the City fans behind the goal.

The second half got underway with City looking comfortable. The pressure was very much on Bury to come out and start showing the form that they did last week in beating Championship side Norwich.

There were no real signs of being City’s lead being under threat, until a shocking mistake by Matt Clarke. He released a kamikaze backpass that immediately forced Wetherall and himself to backtrack rapidly, but Bury striker Andy Bishop capitalized by outpacing them both and slotting the ball past Donavan Ricketts. This type of mistake from Clarke was so uncharacteristic of his recent City form, and it was clear to see he was devastated in the immediate aftermath of Bury scoring.

Unfortunately for Clarke, that goal really changed the game, as City went from being comfortable, to having to really pull out all the stops in an effort to grab the three points.

The game faded away midway through the second half. Both teams showed no real signs of having enough to grab a late winner.

But on 80 minutes, City broke with Colbeck feeding Daley, who seemed to hesitate, before releasing a brilliant pass that picked out substitute Kyle Nix. Nix took a touch, which seemed to have taken him too far wide, but he unleashed a deadly low strike with his left foot which he planted at the keepers far post. Celebrations in the away end were euphoric as it seemed certain that we could hang on to pick up a precious three points.

A special mention needs to be made for Omar Daley’s contribution tonight. He was my man of the match with his assists for both goals and whilst he wasn’t always at his scintillating best, he backtracked and helped out the defense on numerous occasions. His workrate was a breath of fresh air. There was one instance (halfway through the second half) where he had just ran half the pitch during a run on the attack on the left wing, and when Bury broke on the counter attack, he cover the full length of the pitch to come back to help Heckingbottom defensively. Maybe with his new contract, this is hopefully a sign of things to come?

But an away victory tonight wasn’t to be. City never looked convincing or confident enough in the last 10 minutes to see the game through. And when 18 year old midfielder Dale Stephens unleashed a stunning strike from 25 yards that gave Ricketts no chance, the game seemed destined to finish as a draw.

And in typical City fashion, after Bury equalized, we had to endure more nervy defending and it even looked like Bury could snatch a late winner, as they finished the stronger.

But the referee blew his whistle with honours even. And once again, City succumbed to a late goal. Its seems to be a trend this season that the team don’t quite have enough conviction to “ shut up shop” with 10, 15 or even 20 minutes to go. We can think back to Barnet away (conceded a late winner that cost us a point) , Morecambe away ( a point thrown away, that should have been 3) , MK Dons away ( 2 late goals conceded) , Stockport at home ( late goal that cost us a win). This type of play is especially hard to accept given the number of experienced campaigners in the team – but I don’t necessarily think they are 100% to blame. It is more of a team mentality , that we sit back and invite pressure, and away from home teams come at us, and we don’t know how to cope without panicking.

We have a good enough footbaling side in this division to have to talent to play the ball to feet to get ourselves out of trouble when we are under pressure. But too often this season, we have resorted to playing it “long”, Wimbledon style. And that doesn’t just apply to defending, we often attack in the same way. And how often to these high balls up the pitch result in success? Hardly ever. Yet, the management team insist on playing this way. Most probably because they think that it could be the only way that we can play to get out of this division.

But I personally, wholeheartedly disagree. We have enough players that are decent with ball to feet, running a passing game, that would surely be more effective, as playing flowing football generates confidence and allows us to confidently pass our selves out of trouble when pressure mounts on us – especially away from home.

Bantams In Partnerships

Football teams play good football when partnerships work together. Teams may be made up of individuals but that’s no good if they’re not working together. In the past we have had the SAS (Sutton and Shearer), Cole and Yorke, Bruce and Pallister etc. These have all been great partnerships – and all for successful teams.

Even at City we have known a few good ones. Mills and Blake and Jacobs and Beagrie are ones that stand out for myself. We’ve had the odd great individual, such as Windass and Carbone but, without a partner for them, the team suffered. And this is what gives me great optimism for the current City side.

Watching us play this season has been frustrating. We have the players who have the ability to do well, they just haven’t delivered on the pitch. There are many reasons being given as to why, but I think the most obvious reason is “lack of partnerships”, and especially ones that work. Watching the City side on Saturday against a poor Notts County I saw a side that was littered with partnerships.

First of all, at the back you have the captain Wetherall and Matt Clarke. Wethers looked rusty at the beginning of the season and Clarke wasn’t even in the side, but now, Wethers is back to his best and Clarke has become one of the vital members of the side – who can imagine the defence without him? They are solid.

On the left side you have Heckingbottom and Daley. Heckingbottom has been on and off this season, although mainly on, and the last few matches have seen good performances from him. Daley is you’re Marmite – you either love him or hate him. He frustrates at times, but against County got forward, got back and the inter-play between the two was good.

On the right it’s much the same story. Colbeck, having come back from Darlington, looks like the player from two seasons ago. Things may not go right all the time, but some great runs and crosses have seen him become the right winger for us. Backing him up is Williams. A bit like Wethers he started slowly, but is getting better all the time. His link up play with Colbeck is good and gets forward to support Colbeck, just as Heckingbottom does with Daley.

Up front, after nearly 30 games, Stuart seems to have stumbled on what most fans have wanted to try for a while – Conlon and Thorne. Fans favourite Conlon may not be scoring, but does the “donkey” work to great effect. Make no mistake though, Conlon is no donkey. He has a great touch, good vision and puts 100% effort in. Just a bit more composure in front of the net and goals will come. Composure is something his strike partner Thorne has in abundance. Injury has meant a delayed start to his City career but, now he’s with someone who can hold the ball and take the hits, Thorne is reaping the rewards. His hat-trick on Saturday showed that if you set him up, he’ll take the chances. Together they are making defending hard work for the opposition.

You may now expect me to go on about the partnership in the middle, however, as we’re 17th in the league everything cannot be rosy and this is the case in the middle. Although the Bullock/Evans partnership is in its infancy (like the Thorne/Conlon), it hasn’t been as effective. Bullock comes across as a decent player. On Saturday he didn’t seem to be involved much, but when he was he did everything well – certainly good to have in the side and a much needed spoil for his partner in midfield. Evans, however, has a question mark over him. Yes, we all know he does have a good touch, good passing ability and a great shot – but that’s not much good if it isn’t working. If Evans can get it right then the partnership in midfield could prove to be the best of the lot. If it doesn’t, Kyle Nix – my favourite of the season so far – stands on the sidelines waiting. He may be a left winger, but has shown can cut it in midfield and is dangerous going forward.

So, all in all, the City side is nearly there. We have a great square of partnerships around the pitch, we just need the centre one. If that can be built on, then 2008 could be more than we hoped for than at the beginning of December.

The Resolution

I have on a scrap of paper a list of things I want to achieve for 2008 – as close as I get to writing a list of resolutions – which tells about wallpapering back bedrooms and fixing bathroom leaks. About going to more gigs and about creating different websites. It is the things I’m doing next year.

When I was a teenager I used to make new year’s list that would include the phrase “Go to 20 away games.” Not anymore and this 3-1 defeat to Hereford United is a blinding example of why.

This is the build up part of the match report. After the details of the game I’m going to tell a truth as I believe it and you can believe it or not. Here is the build up.

Having let GNN leave and shifted Omar Daley up field Stuart McCall put out a raw midfield that included Scott Phelan and Tom Penford with Kyle Nix – so impressive a player Nix – and Joe Colbeck wide and the young four – five following Alex Rhodes’s entry replacing an injured Penford – performed well against a much fancied Hereford side that arrived and exited Valley Parade second in League Two.

Indeed on the field there was very little to separate the Bantams from the Bulls but the 3-1 win for the visitors was entirely down to Referee Graham Laws and his two assistants. The opening goal came when Theo Robinson was allowed to handle down a free kick and lash home and by free kick I count the most curious award when Omar Daley was pushed to the ground in the rain and penalised. In driving rain and on a pitch that bordered on unplayable any team would want free kicks given on the flanks to be hoisted into the area and poked home.

Second goal and Trevor Benjamin held Donovan Rickets around the waist as Dean Beckwith headed in. For a minute before I watched Benjamin, Matthew Clarke and Ricketts jostle. I watched Benjamin put his arms around Ricketts and I watched the ball headed in.

Stop. Let us step back to May 1981 and my first ever football game – Bradford City vs Hereford United. We lost 1-0 that day but I was hooked. 26 years on and had I seen this game I would never have stepped in a football stadium again so unjust was the game.

Back to the future and I can not believe that the second goal was given but I doubted the first one would be. After David Wetherall had followed in a rebound to get one back for City Hereford “regained” the two goal lead when they tonked another curious flank free kick in to three offside players in the eight yeads in front of Ricketts goal. When the rules of football were modified to include the concept of interfering with play it was never supposed to be that players would be allowed free reign to wander offside in the six yard box in front of the goalkeeper.

I assume this because if this is the plan then the game is really, really in trouble.

Second half and City introduce Billy Topp who looks good but in this pantomime the game is behind him. The rain stops but the game was over a long time before.

So to the chase rather than the build up. Referee Graham Laws took charge of this game in a biased way understanding that the word bias means “A particular tendency or inclination” which was most obviously seen in the giving of bookings – a yellow card for Paul Heckingbottom’s first and minor offence while Ben Smith was visibly told that his third offence had gathered him his caution – and then seen in the blind eye turned to offside players at one end while Matthew Clarke’s attempt to covert a corner which saw Benjamin push him to the ground did not garner the obvious penalty. It was one set of rules for one team and another set of rules for the other.

At this point I should bring forward my oft given comment that either the referee was so bad that he randomly gave a set of bad decisions which totally perverted the game because he was having “a bad day” rather than anything more sinister or that he had somehow created the result himself because he had been bought or betting or something of that ilk.

After that I would say that I was not sure which of the two options I would prefer and muse on either the idea that I would rather they be bought than the officials be that inept or I would wax lyrical about Juventus and the idea that if corruption can exist in the highest level of European football isn’t it a given that it could in League Two in England?

I’d say that in both of these scenarios the Football Authorities are ready to turn a blind eye. They brush off the idea that bad officials are ruining games and refuse to make public referee’s post-game reports that would at least tell supporters. We are the guys who pay the wages after all. The Authorities of the game mount a bizarre high horse to the idea of corruption in the English game and will reply with angry to the suggestion that there should be so much as an investigation into bent officials and bought wins. From the top of my head I can think of Lou Macari and his betting on his own Swindon team to lose, of Tony Kaye and the 1966 match fixing scandal of Aldelecht being found guilty of bribing Referees to beat Nottingham Forest in the European Cup in 1981, of the Italian titles won by Juventus which appear on the CV of the man that the Football Association have made England Manager.

I could rant about all these things but I’ve done so too many times now and write up my new year’s list without the ambition to go to as many Bradford City games as I can because – simply – as a fan I can’t trust the result of a game like Bradford City 1 Hereford United 3.

I believe that for whatever reason Graeme Laws wanted a two goal win for Hereford United and made sure he got one. Perhaps he had money on it? Perhaps he had been paid to get it? Perhaps he just wanted to see if he could make a result? I’d love an investigation into this game, into the Joe Ross game at Luton three years ago, into last year’s defeat to Blackpool at Valley Parade but I will never get one and while I make no suggestion as to why Laws created a result I do believe he did.

So without a sense of clarity and justice in the game I drift and I drift away. Many things can be done on a Saturday that are not watching perverted football games and often I do them and I doubt I’m alone – 13,000 at Valley Parade and about 2,500 when we go away from home – not because of a lapse in love for the club but for the game that reveals in turning a blind eye.

26 years ago I watched Bradford City lose to Hereford United and fell in love with the game, now I am very much out of love with football but as a man who has given a quarter of a century to the game I believe I – we – deserve a game which is clean and is seen to be clean and we deserve officials who can be trusted to be honest and not inept and until we get those things interest in football at this level will wane.

Hereford United’s supporters at Valley Parade wandererd away singing that they were going up – they are if they get Graeme Laws every week and they may make sure they do – but there is a hollowness to football when trust – as it was today – is missing. it was today – is missing.

Rock bottom?

During City’s post millennium slump from the riches of the Premier League to the slums of League Two, the club have always retained that special capacity to prove us wrong. Just when we don’t think they could possibly sink any lower, they go and surprise us yet again.

Ever since Southampton recorded a 1-0 Premiership win at Valley Parade in September 2000, we’ve had matches described as the ‘worst ever’ with increasing regularity. The worst City performance ever has since become an annual event – Southampton was followed by Stockport, then there was Sheffield United, Sunderland, Wimbledon, MK Dons, Oldham, Huddersfield and Chesterfield. All moments in recent times when it was felt, performance wise at least, that City had hit rock bottom.

On Tuesday the latest rock bottom moment occurred but the fall out and awful taste in mouth that this defeat left will take some time to forget. It’s all very well getting stuffed by Sheffield United or Sunderland – but Accrington Stanley? Let’s be honest, they played us off the park and the 3-0 scoreline probably flattered us. But with the greatest of respects we were playing Accrington Stanley, not a team of world beaters. And while the current crop of players wearing Claret and Amber wouldn’t get near those who lost to Southampton seven years ago, they should be far better than the school boy efforts they provided us on Tuesday.

There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.

Defensively we were a complete mess. Only two-and-a-half weeks ago City earned a clean sheet and defensive plaudits after a hard thought win over much fancied Peterborough. Since then eight goals have been conceded in just three games. Donovan Ricketts has taken most of the blame and our Jamaican keeper’s Valley Parade days appear numbered with Stuart McCall announcing a new keeper is being sought urgently.

Ricketts was undoubtedly at fault for the second goal when he came out and allowed a five foot striker to out jump him and head the ball into an empty net, but his back four must shoulder much of the blame too. Paul Heckingbottom was looking an assured player up until Hereford and his performance on Tuesday was dreadful. Time and time again he was caught out of position, continually beaten by wingers and cheaply giving the ball away. His free kicks were awful and, on one occasion during the second half, his feeble free kick effort almost turned a chance for City into a goal for Accrington.

In the centre the lack of pace was badly exposed. David Wetherall, the only survivor from that Southampton defeat, will always be loved by City fans, but doubts about his ability have been surfacing for a while. He is ageing fast and is simply not the force he was even two years ago. A tough decision over the captain’s place in the team may have to be made by Stuart and Jakes.

Wetherall has seen the whole sorry slump over the last seven years first hand. As he kicked the ball up pitch in frustration when the second goal was scored, I wondered how many times he has watched opposition put the ball into that net over the years and whether the psychological affect of been part of such an underperforming club has taken away some of his dogged determination. Mark Bower also had a poor night and some fans are calling for both to be dropped now, although I still believe that our longest serving player deserves a chance to redeem himself.

Midfield? What midfield? Eddie Johnson’s careless back pass that allowed Stanley to score after 90 seconds was the worst moment of a forgettable night from those in the middle of the park. Eddie continues to split opinion among fans with some believing he simply isn’t a midfielder. Scott Phelan has followed the Steven Schumacher path to City but has failed to make the immediate impact his predecessor managed. Some times Phelan has been excellent, but he too set the tone for an awful night by giving away a free kick five seconds into the game. To say we missed the injured Paul Evans is an understatement.

Omar Daley was awarded ‘Man of the Match’ by the sponsors. What game were they watching? The one I witnessed included a City number 7 who put in minimal effort and was wholly ineffective. No tracking back to help the often outnumbered defence, dribbles that led no where and no awareness or thought to pass the ball to a team mate. On the few occasions that he did look to pass, he played balls so ridiculously ambitious and risky that attack was turned into defence. I don’t know where Daley thought he was playing but his first half performance in particular was nothing short of disgraceful. Alex Rhodes at least started brightly but the front two were both starved of service all evening.

Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the six minutes of first half stoppage time and final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.

As for where it leaves the rest of the season, Stuart has plenty of work to do. A trip to the league leaders is arguably the last place we want to be heading and we travel to the MK Dons on Saturday as genuine underdogs for the first time this season. A fourth defeat in a row seems unthinkable but highly plausible. Yet perhaps facing opposition that has played such a significant part in City’s darker days (both as Wimbledon and MK Dons) can be the launch pad for brighter moments.

The players ears will have recovered from the boos, the anger of Stuart and Wayne will have had some form of impact. The players will surely have realised they have let a lot of people down. Through all the misery of such a horrible evening, the fantastic backing that many fans (Kop especially) still gave the team should act as a spur to get their act together. This level of support only reinforces the belief that Bradford City are too big for League Two. That doesn’t guarantee us promotion and it certainly doesn’t guarantee wins over Accrington, but playing for this club comes with responsibility that those in the dressing room need to face up to. There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.

Is promotion a forlorn hope? Not yet. City may be 19th as it stands, but are only four points off the play offs. Now is the time for those being paid good money to represent Bradford City to show their mettle and prove their worth. Speaking on the radio after the match, Stuart sounded as devastated and miserable as the rest of us who suffered such a wretched display. He can drop half the time and try to bring in new faces, he can shout and rant that they are disgrace and haul them in for extra training. Ultimately it’s down to those players who continue to represent us to ensure that they don’t let down their club and its supporters down so badly again.

So surely this is what rock bottom feels like and hopefully this is the last time City prove us wrong. I don’t want to find out how we can possibly sink any lower.

The Result Is All That Matters

Harrogate Town 0 Bradford City 1 – Friendly Game 2007/2008

David Wetherall got back to playing matters as Bradford City bested Harrogate Town 1-0 at Wetherby Road in the opening friendly of the 2007/2008 and with the Bantams using twenty two players during the game one found it hard to read much into the result or the performance save the idea that everyone is a half a game fitter.

Wetherall headed in Paul Evans free kick – how good it is to have Evans back – in the first half and trial kid from Everton Scott Phelan looked good. Nothing else much to note and most – despite the assurance that the result does not matter – will look at the score line and think not of the heavy rain but of the limber new progress of the McCall regime.

Confidence comes from this.

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.

The Real McCall Begins The Third Coming

From The Real McCall which was written in 1998 by by Alan Nixon and Stuart McCall

One day, in the distant future I would love to manage Bradford City. If I had the choice, that would be where I would start. I would like to repay the Bradford fans for all their support and courage for those years ago. There is some unfinished business to be done as far as I’m concerned. I have never meant to put pressure on the manager in charge of Bradford at the time, I am talking down the line…

Andrew Stuart Murray McCall will begin his third spell at Bradford City with a weight of expectation. His first spell saw triumph and tragedy in the same afternoon in 1985. His second saw the hugh achievement of Premiership promotion and the subsequent fall into administration. His path is littered with success.

As the ink dries on the two year deal to manage the Bantams there is no idea of anything other than a replication of those glories.

Julian Rhodes has stood alone over the past few years keeping the club together – let history record that and damn the doubters – but now he is joined and in pursuing McCall so fervently that he was prepared to knock back a job two divisions higher to join City he has made the decision Geoffrey Richmond failed to.

Back in the summer of 2000 when Paul Jewell left the job at Bradford City the invigorating force of McCall should have been employed as manager with Chris Hutchings kept in the role of number two. Bygones. A mistake is only a mistake if it is repeated.

McCall takes over City and immediately has decisions to make. Dean Windass is keen on a transfer to Hull but the return of McCall may see the striker rethink. Windass is McCall’s second call.

McCall’s first call no doubt will be to the man he has in mind to be his assistant. Some think Terry Dolan, others Terry Yorath. Do not be surprised if McCall pulls out a name from his time at Rangers – do be surprised if that name is Paul Gascoigne. Also do not be surprised if David Wetherall’s coaching is rewarded with a place on the staff.

Once his backroom is in place and the Windass situation is resolved McCall will look at the out of contract four of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Steven Schumacher, Richard Edghill and Xaviar Barrau and make some decisions. No, Yes, No, No.

After that McCall begins to build and he could start that building at Southend United although not (just) for target man Billy Paynter but for former Bantam and Blade Simon Francis.

Lincoln City’s play off defeat means Spencer Weir-Daley favours us over them. It remains to be seen what McCall thinks of him.

Had we been two years ago then McCall’s side would have no doubt included If McCall gets a call from Italy from an excited Benito he should take it. If he gets one from Lancashire from a bloke called Ashley he can hang up. Players want to join clubs where they can see good things happening and this is Bradford City’s Keegan to Newcastle.

Decisions to be made. McCall is understood to have cancelled his family holiday to start work and what glorious, what long awaited, what wonderful work it should be.

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.

We will always have Barrau

There was something refreshingly ecstatic about Xaviar Barrau’s reaction to both his goals at Valley Parade in this 2-2 draw with Millwall on the final day of League One for Bradford City for a year at least. Barrau wheeled away twice in delight after twice giving the Bantams the lead in a game which could not have had less meaning had it been played as a friendly but still seemed to warm the heart.

Heart warming first was the immaculate silence for the 56 supporters of 11th of May, 1985 observed at both ends of the ground. Whatever reputation Millwall supporters have they got some marks in the plus column at 2:58 on Saturday afternoon.

David Wetherall’s reputation seems to have survived his first spell in management. In the post game walk around he is applauded for his efforts over the past fourteen games and the past seven years and should this be his final game in management at this club then one hopes he can get a go elsewhere at some point. Wetherall is backing his predecessor as captain to be his follower as manager saying

“I would be absolutely delighted if we got Stuart McCall here as manager. I haven’t got a clue if it is going to happen, but I think that it would create such an interest in the club and around the city that it could only be good for Bradford City. With Stuart McCall in charge we could get the club going in the right direction and I could play a part in that on the pitch and not from the dugout.”

Wetherall’s last act as City gaffer was to use a 433 formation – unseen since the days of Jim Jefferies and Bryan Robson – to make up for the holes left in the side when Wetherall calmed down following last week’s fury following the Chesterfield capitulation. Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley were absent leaving a forward line of Joe Colbeck, Omar Daley and Barrau in front of a midfield of Steven Schumacher and Tom Penford sitting atop Craig Bentham who protected a back four of Edghill, Mark Bower out of sorts and position on what could be his final game for the club, Matthew Clarke and Ben Parker. Donovan Ricketts kept goal.

The result was a City team more capable going forward than has been seen in recent weeks but susceptible at the back. Twice Barrau gave the Bantams a lead which was pegged back in short time by the visitors who punch for punch looked no better than the team that will start life as a League Two club next term.

None of which is to suggest that City unveiled a prototype for promotion next term but rather that given the chance and without the pressure it could at least be enjoyable to watch the Bantams again. The first half was satisfying until Joe Colbeck knocked in a low cross just before half time that Barrau muscled a defender for and blasted into the bottom corner. Barrau charged to the bench to celebrate with David Wetherall and as he ran a season of frustrations seemed to drift away behind him.

At some point we have to zero the clock on this club and start from even. Let it be now.

Millwall equalised a minute after half time after making a sly substitution and slipping on an extra forward without telling anyone. The extra man snuck in behind Mark Bower as the left footer played on the right hand side and the annoying but reasonabiliy ammusing Darren Byfield beat Donovan Ricketts.

Nevertheless City had a sort of dominance attacking with some flair down the right and pace down the centre. Omar Daley charged at centrebacks all afternoon and at one point freed Joe Colbeck who slipped the ball into the path of Barrau for the Frenchman to fire into the top corner and celebrate equally exuberantly as Lenny Pidgely in the visitor’s goal blasted a poor linesman suspecting offside. Within two minutes Millwall were level following a cheap free kick poorly defended and a low shot by Tony Craig.

City had the chances to win the game notably when Steven Schumacher – more on whom later – blasted over following good work and when Barrau was felled in the box sparking a scuffle that saw the Frenchman booked and butted by goalscorer Craig. Wetherall gave sixteen-year-old Leon Osborne a debut in the place of Daley and withdrew an injured Joe Colbeck who despite setting up both goals was lightly booed by a section of supporters than shall henceforth be know in a knowingly supercilious manner as “The Idiots”.

“The Idiots” will always have a voice at City – the have not learned after forcing Dean Windass on his way – but hopefully the more bums on seats Julian Rhodes and his cheap seats can get next term the more they will be marginalised to a point where their voices are counter-productive whimpers not destructive shouts. “The Overtly Sensitive” can join them for all I care. Yes Steven Schumacher used some shop floor language to City fans last week but having been in football crowds for the last twenty five years I can guarantee he has had worse said to him and frankly to use his slip into effing and jeffing as a stick to beat him is the worst kind of politicking.

If a person does not care for the way Schumacher players or the performances he has then say it. Anything else I pretty much could not care less about.

Next season will be different. Different team, different manager, different supporters, different atmosphere hopefully – more like the backing off the post lobbing a ball around ten minutes at VP today please – and different heroes and favourites. Exuberant knack for goal scoring and joy at getting a goal? Different Dean Windass too by the look of things, and this one is a Frenchman.

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.

Another Barmy City Summer

With events off the field proving far more dramatic than that on it in recent years, it appears we’re all set for yet another summer where we won’t be able to keep our eyes off what’s happening at Valley Parade.

Fortunately this summer is unlikely to be as traumatic as others, but still hints of carrying far too much significance in shaping the season ahead then what goes on during the winter months at Appleby Bridge. And as we supporters prepare to say goodbye to another season on Saturday, it could potentially be a very different Bradford City we welcome back in August.

A change in manager seems highly probable. Julian Rhodes has had to be careful with his words this week, but his hopes of still luring a certain Premiership assistant manager betray any firm belief that caretaker manager David Wetherall is the man to revive this ailing club. Wetherall remains in contention, but his chances depend on others saying “no”. He has already hinted that a full time appointment might lead to him hanging up his boots and, with Mark Bower rumoured to be catching the eye of The Dingles; Wetherall the player might be needed more than Wetherall the gaffer.

What of the chances of Stuart accepting an offer to manage his first love? The story I’ve heard is he was prepared to take the job should City have survived, so it remains unclear what appeal the job now has. Last September, Stuart spoke of his aim to leave Sheffield United at the end of this season and take the plunge into management. No one could argue taking the reigns of City would require his heart to rule his head, although news of potential investment might make his ears prick up.

According to Julian Rhodes, talks are taking place with a few interested parties. It remains to be seen who these people are, but one potential investor could even be prepared to buy out the Rhodes family. Given the never-ending struggle to pay the bills and recent criticism from some supporters, few could begrudge Julian for handing over the reigns and reverting back to being a supporter like the rest of us.

Even if nothing happens, City hardly face the stiffest of opposition next year. Some of the headlines this week have focused that City won’t have much money to mount a promotion bid. Who does at this level? We had a wage bill ranked midtable for League One this season and even a reduction in this area shouldn’t handicap City’s chances too severely. Our ability to attract decent League Two players should also be greater than that of some of our new rivals.

Dean Windass won’t be staying, but City should still be able to command a decent transfer fee for him. There is pressure from the Hull fans for the Championship club to sign up their old favourite and City should enter the negotiating table in a strong position. The only worry is if there are any agreements in place for knocking the original loan fee off any future transfer fee, which we will suddenly get to hear about.

That leaves just six other professionals still in contract, giving the manager plenty of room for manoeuvre. There will be a few goodbyes after Saturday and, given how poor the team has played this season, certain players won’t be missed should they be looking for a new club this summer. The squad that begins life in League Two is likely to be very different, with new heroes and new villains to get used to.

So come August, City could be starting a new season with a vastly revamped squad, a new manager and new owners. Even the crowd won’t feel the same with an extra couple of thousand turning up each week. There’s still one last game to go and it’s not clear who we should be biding farewell to against Millwall. One last singsong, one last dismal defeat (probably), one last flourish of boos or cheers and we will all go our separate ways.

We supporters are the only ones definitely coming back next season. It’s doubtful we will be switching off from events at Valley Parade in the meantime.

Which Way Now For David Wetherall?

David Wetherall looked a forlorn figure after the Chesterfield game as he prepared to all but rounded on those in claret and amber around him in his post match comments.

I feel a degree of anger. We just weren’t good enough, it’s as simple as that. We got exactly what we deserved and that was nothing at all. I’m hurting. It’s sad for myself and for the club and it’s an understatement to say I’m very, very disappointed.

If it was it was never supposed to be like this for City – one recalls the booming that we would be back in the Premiership some six years ago – then David Wetherall’s start in management was also supposed to be wildly different.

Always cutting a studious figure there was a common assumption that the player with a degree – albeit one in Biology – would take to the coaching and management side of the game naturally yet at present Wetherall’s record reads 13 games played, 2 won, 3 drawn, 8 defeats. It is not how it was supposed to be.

Which is not to say that Wetherall has hamfistedly failed in the Bantams job – up to half time last weekend it looked like he had taken a dozen games to get the side playing his way and would then take them on to some spirited escape. Certainly up to that point performances had been improved and the football was good but – as with most situations in the game – results are what mattered.

Going forward it is hard to see the next move for Wetherall. It seems unlikely he will stay as a player having been the boss although his contract suggests he will be doing and the majority of his charges will be nowhere near Valley Parade next season. It is also hard to see anyone offering him the role of manager on the strength of his two wins in thirteen but that is a possibility. Wetherall puts over the air of an Arsene Wenger off the field – a thinker rather than a thunderer – and that is a rarefied commodity in the game and often an attractive one.

However that cerebral air is easily turned into a stick to beat the City skipper turned manager. The lifelessness of the Bantam performance yesterday begs for comments on the need to add some passion to the club. Hard to imagine Wetherall banging his fist on the table, hard to imagine him hairdrying.

City are a team flattened. The majority of the squad will drift away in the summer and that shows in the display on the pitch. Too many players setting too much of a mood that City is only until Summer and when that mood takes hold the likes of Steven Schumacher sink down with it. Nine determined professionals and two loanees or kids or guys soon out of contract works. Reversing the ratio does not and regardless of Wetherall’s abilities as a manager it was never going to.

Of those abilities it is hard to make a judgment and given a steady club the man who kept City in the Premiership may be able to make a fist of things but – it would seem – it will not be at this club.

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.

So This Is It. City Doing Bad Doing Good

In a nutshell anything other than a win for Bradford City at Chesterfield will see the Bantams relegated.

David Wetherall’s side go into the game without Kelly Youga who joins Mose Ashikodi and injured back to the Premiership following his stay at Valley Parade and looking for results and miracles. If wishing made it so City would stay up but football is hard and our own mistakes have been compounded by refereeing point stealing leaving us where we are now.

Should the worst have happened at five on Saturday then City will not go into administration but will be starting next season with the cheapest season tickets in football after Julian Rhodes decided to honour the pledge for the 7,000 fans who have applied. City fans will pay £136 next term. One can only hope that this signals a turn around in the fortunes and atmosphere at VP. Julian Rhodes deserves it to – his actions today should be followed throughout football. As City falter on the field the ideas off it are laudable.

Rhodes says

As I keep stressing, the club’s future depends so much on the backing from the fans.

That is laudable too.

Also worth backing is City fan Nick Kitchen’s campaign to Bradford Council to get them to financially help City out. The title of the campaign is “Campaign Backing For The Bradford District Council To Help Support City Financially” and already over 600 Signatures.

If you see Nick collecting signatures around Keighley shopping centre, in the Bantams Bar, at the club shop before a game or in Chesterfield then give them a sign if you agree. If you get doorstepped in election week next week then you might wants to ask red, blue, yellow or “other” what they think before voting.

The Aftermath

The eyes clear on a Monday morning and the table at the foot of League One does not make good read as it suddenly becomes apparent that just as with a different set of result on Saturday city could be out of the drop zone wins for other clubs that afternoon could have cut the Bantams adrift permanently.

Next week the Bantams face Chesterfield and even a win could see us drop out of the divisions. This is the edge of the edge.

David Wetherall is trying to rally the troops with his call to not give up until the Maths says so – Professor Wetherall’s last act is scientific – but the body language after Leyton Orient’s two goals on Saturday said it all. Prepare for a trip to Rochdale, to Accrington, to Dagenham.

Yet before the last clarion call is made after a look at the table it is worth recalling how David Wetherall – seven years ago The reason we stayed up (In The Premiership)” – approached and won the last day game with Liverpool that saw City retain a place in the top division.

On the way to Sunderland that year the talk was all of the inevitability of relegation, approaching the last game it was of how Wimbledon would win at Southampton. Neither happened and City that year approached every game, kicked every ball, knowing that it is the points missed and not those won which governed who would go down.

Chesterfield away is where The Bantams will probably fail but to paraphrase Thomas – The Bantams can rage, rage against relegation – and leave the division with the kind of pride lacking from displays too often this season.

As for restoring that pride the job would seem set to fall to Peter Beagrie with reports that McCall’s interest in City only streches as far as League One and not below. Passion, willingness, character. All characteristics that Beagrie shows, surprising that in what is a real hour of need these characteristics could be found wanting in our former number four. Say it ain’t so.

For Those Who Care To Know

And for a while everything seemed to be going to plan. Spencer Weir-Daley was putting the Leyton Orient defence under huge pressure, Omar Daley looked likely to waltz to glory should his running with the ball continue and the 10,000 strong support were going to be entertained and take City on to safety and victory.

It was all going to work. It was all going to plan. Bradford City could have had three or four in the first half when Weir-Daley made the home back four – defending high up the field – look flat footed. Just before half time he sprang forward with only the goalkeeper to beat with a chip and agonisingly the ball bounced wide.

Before Omar Daley had surged forward and – after beating enough men to justify not passing – hit a shot saved by Glyn Garner in the visitor’s goal. Garner had stopped Billy Paynter from giving the Bantams a lead earlier on and tonight is the man who won the game for the Londoners.

At half time – or so it seems – Leyton Orient won the game. The Bantams left the field having controlled the game but emerged to a visitors side with more of an eye on nullifying City and whatever it was that Martin Ling said to his charges it worked. Ling’s team got the ball and kept it away from the Bantams pressing down the right flank and troubling Ben Parker or the left where Daley could scarcely be troubled chasing the ball and slowly the game slipped from the Bantams.

And surely the game turned away from The Bantams and fittingly for the season it was more Refereeing nonsense that marked the moment. Ling must have fared the worst when Luke Guttridge – booked for a challenge on Steven Schumacher that was so later it was practically from next season – body checked Kelly Youga as the left back went past him. The Referee ignored Guttridge’s second yellow card offence, Youga went off on a stretcher probably never to return and a minute later Orient’s Gary Alexander had scored.

At this point it is worth thinking of how Joe Colbeck – not the most talented player but no shirkers for sure and someone who would cover every blade of grass for the Bantams every day of the week if asked – watched from the sidelines as Omar Daley ignored a ball running out. Colbeck might have been thinking about how he would – and he would – have surged the ball and he might not have thought he could have done much with it but as Daley’s indolence was punished with the ball in City’s net seconds later he must have wondered and grumbling about Daley’s play was verbalised he must have wondered what City fans want? Colbeck gives his all – gets booed. Daley gives very little effort but has skill and pace if he uses them and increasingly gets the same treatment.

Such thoughts was vanquished by a second Leyton Orient goal leaving City looking at two wins and crossed fingers to stay in League One. Even if we do then things need to change – many things – not least of which is the reliance on loan players and players with short term deals at the club.

Ben Parker, Spencer Weir-Daley, Billy Paynter, Kelly Young, Nathan Doyle, Carlos Logan, Moses Ashikodi, Lee Holmes, Bruce Dyer and many more have pulled on the City shirt as loan players and have put in some great, some not so great, performances but a team can not be built around players who have no future with the club. We cannot continue to ask for huge effort for our cause from players who will be at Charlton, at Watford, at Leeds next season. We have to put the future of this club in the hands of player who will be hear in the future of this club. We need to stop letting the tempo of the club be set by players who almost by definition have less passion for Bradford City than those they displace. Nathan Doyle did a great job, Richard Edghill has years of experience in the game as he sits with two haves left on his contract but the energy and effervescence of John Swift should have been rewarded with a place in the team a long time ago. That is a tone to set for this club. That and not the idea that your place will be taken by anyone who comes from a Premiership or Championship reserve side.

Leyton Orient enjoyed a two goal but the Bantams had twenty minutes plus six of injury time to strike back. A look around the field at bowed heads and shoulders slumped and eyes could find no one to drive the Bantams on. There is no Stuart McCall. There needs to be a Stuart McCall if one cares about the club because League Two is by no means as low as a club can go.

Steven Schumacher, Mark Bower, Donovan Ricketts, David Wetherall. The list of players on the field who one could build a team around was woefully short. We need senior players who can and will take responsibility for the team, the game and the ball when on the field and for sure those players can be augmented with a loan signing or two but those players pick up a tempo from the senior members of the squad. One cannot help but think that this season the converse has been true.

All of which is discussion for another time. This game was a must win – a must win – and we did not and we all know what means.

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.

Ben Back As Wetherall Looks For the Answer In The Most Obvious Place

The answer to all football’s problems is the next manager away.

Either that or it is the guy on the bench, or the guy coming back from injury, from suspension or – in the case of Bradford City at the moment – the guy coming back from loan.

Ben Muirhead is returning from Rochdale to cover the suspended Joe Colbeck and immediately the hopes of a City – well 1% of a City – are heaped on his shoulders.

I find Muirhead a curious player. Initially his brand of blind alley run with no end product drove me mad but everyone else seemed to love Ben!!. When Bryan Robson and Colin Todd had had a word with the former Manchester United winger he seemed to rid his game of some of the more wasteful parts and began to realise that charging at the full back and losing the ball might look good but winning a throw seventy yards from goal with infinitely preferable and so he did that.
Ben Muirhead got some end product to his game and was all the better for it but at this time Ben!! was replaced to Grrr Ben and finally Muirhead and his popularity wained. Loan at Rochdale was assumed to be the last we would see of the quiet Doncaster lad.

But now he is back and charged with the job of contending with the hot and cold blowing Omar Daley for the right wing role in four games that could shape the future of the club. Absence has made the heart grow fonder of Muirhead and big things are expected.

And at once one recalls the player ripping through defences a league above and looking oh so impressive. When Chris Waddle left Valley Parade City were in relegation trouble despite his entertaining play but it was Shaun Murray – the oft forgotten mid-1990s midfielder – who took the role that Waddle enjoyed and made it matter to the team. Sometimes – and David Wetherall will hope this time – it is about the shape of the peg rather than quality.

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…

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.

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.

Just who is good enough for Bradford’s Title Challenge 04/05? Part 1 of 2

As we all prepare for the advent of Second Division football, looking ahead to the sheer amount of local derbies (even Huddersfield, please) and the fact that we will not have to pay as much cash for burgers and tickets. The noises coming out of Bradford City are positive: Robson talks of “playing with pride”, Wetherall points to “silly results at this time of the season” (the only silly result that I can see is us actually winning any more than 3 games). This is always to be expected, however the realists have prepared themselves for 2nd Division football next season, where (the way things are looking) we will meet Doncaster who 5 years ago, were in the Conference whilst we watched goggle eyed the slick passing of the Arsenals of this world. 5 years down the line and we are meeting in the same division, if football wanted an example of how it can all go wrong, this is surely it.

The second division is a funny division, there are some cracking teams in there who have spent a few quid strengthening their squads, also there are some awful teams who would struggle in Division 3 should they ever be relegated. The division also has its fair share of “sleeping” giants; Sheffield Wednesday, Q.P.R and Bristol City. All these are big clubs and we could meet a couple of these next season; however we will no doubt be up there in the bookmakers thinking when the Title odds are released. The big question is, do we have a squad worthy of challenging?

The present squad is clearly not good enough to sustain a place in the First Division, bolstered by loan signings which did add some quality to the team, but we always knew that they weren’t actually our players. Obviously this is based upon either Robson or Todd staying with the bantams, and also that Administration is survived and we have funds available (not necessarily transfer fees, wages will do) so that new faces can be brought in:

Goalkeepers
Alan Combe and Mark Paston

The crazy Scottish madman is good enough for Division 1, not shown anywhere near his best form, many sympathize with his rants at the (sometimes) non existent defending that has gone on, on his day the kop will sing “Scotland’s Number one” and he will stop shots that seem destined to go in, however on his frequent days off that Combe has experienced, the Kop will have not even cleared its voice before he is walking down the tunnel after a red card. Paston is a strange one, a big keeper, brings back memories of Schwarzer, in that he’s from Oceania and he’s tall. That’s where the similarities end however, doesn’t command his box as well for someone who is 6″4. Not the greatest kicker either, however he is a challenger to Combe and certainly both of these are good enough for Division 2.

Defenders
Gareth Edds

Don’t want to be too harsh on the lad, but simply Gareth, you just aren’t good enough, you would struggle in the Bradford Sunday League’s Second Division, lack of pace, unconvincing, positional and defensive play poor (Kilbane v Sunderland). You may have a long throw but well, that’s it. And it’s not even that good

Jason Gavin + David Wetherall

I will admit I thought Gavin was abysmal earlier in the season, but just before the ban he received he looked the part playing alongside Wetherall. Any good side that hopes to achieve success has a solid defensive partnership and Gavin and Wetherall would be just that. I still have worries about Gavin especially the fact he makes some awful mistakes and wears ridiculously long shorts. Wetherall is typical club captain material, honest pro and works hard (I’ve seen him at the gym); just a different class, injury free and these two are the rocks that will earn us clean sheets against the lower class forwards that they will face.

Paul Heckingbottom

The best summer signing that Law made, very consistent and surely a likely winner of the Players of the year award. Looking remarkably like Frodo (L.O.T.R) and my mate Tim, he has been impressive and probably the only player we could seriously worry about losing in the summer. Critics would say that perhaps he suffers from a lack of pace but again 2nd Division is a lower standard so good positional play would make up for that weakness.

Wayne Jacobs

“Jakes” a veteran of many a Bradford City season, probably shocked himself at how he is still at Bradford City after 10 seasons. Most fans feel the same; sadly not played much during his testimonial season however was placed at Right Back when Francis left. This proved how poor Edds must be if a left footed, left back, 35 year old can claim a place ahead of him. Probably good enough for the 2nd (just) a lot depends on how much “Father Time” has affected him regarding fitness and pace.

Mark Bower

Jury out for me, I really am not sure, my abiding memory of Bower is him stooping then falling over when he misjudges a horrible bouncing ball, not a bad defender by any means but then again not a world class one. Good cover for Wetherall and Gavin but apart from that he probably has too many weaknesses to be considered for one of the first team berths. Not a bad man marker and often a great bet for the first goal at 50 / 1 or something equally ridiculous.

Midfielders

We are short on the ground for midfielders, this is a massive problem area for us, especially when you consider that we have had loanees (Wallwork and Farrelly) playing in there most of the season.

Peter Atherton

Good old Pete hasn’t had that bad a season, usually injured for 85% of the season he’s done well this season in the holding role. Looked better when having to protect a creative lightweight player (Farrelly), sadly though he has had to run the midfield in recent weeks and therefore his weaknesses have been highlighted especially the fact that 1 ball in 10 that he plays is a good one. A very experienced player that is useful to have in the side. Useful for Division 2.

Tom Kearney

The darling of the kop; embraced because he plays in the same position as Stuart McCall and came from Everton. Sadly the similarities stop there, actually that’s a little harsh. Before his nasty injury against Grimsby, Kearney (like Standing) looked the business. A Cheap and hungry midfielder with talent and age on his side, Fast forward 12 months and he cant even get into a poor midfield, seemingly incapable of playing a 12 yard square ball to a team mate, an example of how injury can change one player so much. I am not too sure whether he is good enough for Division 2, maybe under Law at Grimsby.

Robert Wolleaston

“Afro Man”, well I didn’t even know he was playing against Reading until 20 minutes such was his contribution, however by all accounts he played well against Derby, scored and received the M.O.M from the T+A. Also it shouldn’t be forgotten that he smashed the ball at Combe’s head causing the ball for divert into our goal to cost us the game. Agreeing with Robson about his laziness, if he had that extra yard of thought and pace, well he would be challenging Claudio’s boys for a first team berth, hope for the future though with Rob.

Nicky Summerbee

His pace has gone and he looks as if he really couldn’t care less, but he is slowly but surely changing the masses opinions, he can play a fair bit and true he can’t run but he can spot a pass and has more talent than the rest of our midfield put together. Definitely good enough for Division 2, maybe a swansong season at Division 1 level?

Strikers
Dean Windass

Came back for his swansong 2 years vowing to bang the goals in, has failed in that respect, spent more time getting silly bookings, diving and making silly faces to the crowd. Hasn’t had a bad season, still well worth his place up front because you never quite know how he will play, Deano is the man you need up front for a promotion fight in Division 2, has experience to mix it and likely to get a goal out of nothing.

Danny Cadamarteri

Now is rated as good, before this season he was “waste of space”, “overpaid waste of space” and “fat b*$£*d”. However he is now the darling of the kop, running at defenders like Blake used to. If we had Cadders fit all season we would have been mid table boredom. Sadly though, any sort of good fortune stays well out of City’s way, with this in mind Cadamateri has had more injuries than any other City player I can remember. He is good enough for the 1st Division maybe even higher than that but he must get fit in order to be any use to City or anyone for that matter.

Michael Branch

Never quite there is Branch, always a yard short, misses too many chances to be a 20 goal a season man, then scores to many to be classed as a creative player. A frustrating player but at the same time a crowd favourite, will run all day, force mistakes and scare people with his pace. Good enough for Division 2, any good side will be built on goals from the front two, and I believe that Branch would be a part of that. A very good outside bet for the Divsions top scorer too, should he find his level and also his shooting boots.

Lewis Emanuel

Not utterly sure where the lad should go, he was the great hope at Left Back, I remember watching him out of window when I was in History at Hanson, he was superb. Also on Championship Manager 01/02, he was England’s future Left Back, however with City lacking a wide left midfielder ( Law overlooked when signing the 6 strikers, he forgot about how we would get the ball to them) Lewis (through no fault of his own) found himself playing on the left of midfield. Although he has one trick, cant cross and isn’t the paciest player, however when we were desperate for points he found himself up front as part of a front three. Chips in with the odd goal and still has talent, eventually will reach the top and good enough for the title challenge.

Thus concludes my review of the squad, I am sure that I have missed some of the players that have conspired to get us relegated. In part 2, I will be showing how much of a life I don’t have by scouring the P.F.A’s list of players that currently have no club, indicating who would do us a job or more importantly (using CM as a guide) who we could realistically afford.

Roy Keane should never be allowed to play football again

Roy Keane ghostwrites

“I’d waited almost 180 minutes for Alfie, three years if you looked at it another way. Now he had the ball on the far touchline. Alfie was taking the piss. I’d waited long enough. I fucking hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that, you cunt. And don’t ever stand over me again sneering about fake injuries. And tell your pal David Wetherall there’s some for him as well.”

This article would not be on BfB if the Manchester United skipper did not mention the Bradford City skipper but the sentiments expressed are no less valid for the connection. Wetherall’s inclusion is a motivation but the truth is that all football should be speaking in one voice on this issue.

That voice should say: “Roy Keane should never be allowed to play football again”.

The book is Keane’s mea culpa. He looked like a thug, he played like a thug and now we see he has the prose style and attitude to match. It is unnecessary of course. I have watched Stuart McCall play the holding role in midfield with as much aggression as anyone, but he was only sent off once in over twenty years.

You could trust Stuart McCall never to try hurt another player. Trust is a key factor.

Football is a game built on a trust that players will play with a single motivation of trying to win games through fair means. Yes it is not true, we have all seen foul means used to win games and on occasion we have seen City use those means to win, but the trust is there.

Roy Keane breaks that trust.

Kevin Gray does not. His assault on Gordon Watson was the worst thing I had seen on a football field I would not be upset if the guy had gone to Armley but what he did was out of anger. It was clearly not premeditated.

The likes of Diego Maradona and Diego Simeone both cheated England in the past but they did it out of an all consuming desire to beat the old enemy. That does not break the trust.

Premeditation does. Keane stepped on the field with the aim of hurting a player and for me that should be the end for him.

Football can forgive mistakes, it can forgive acts of passion, but it should have no room for the vicious malicious targeting of opponents for assault.

Of course Roy Keane will not be thrown out of football. He is too valuable, he is too well paid, he is too Manchester United but what if the third round of the FA Cup throws up Manchester United coming to Valley Parade. What do you do with a player who has threatened to try end the career of another?

It’s not fair on the others to suspend Keane for games against David Wetherall so the only conclusion is to stop him from playing because there is no way that you could ask a professional like Wetherall to take the field knowing that one of the other side wants to break his leg.

Are City the real deal?

The papers were full of it, “OK 4-0, but don’t think this makes you any good”.

It seems that the boys of the press are sticking by the mid-table, 10th, bottom half, probably not go down predictions that they had tagged City with despite the thumping of Barnsley on the first day. No surprises there. The paper don’t need a memory, if they had one they might ask why the man who they said would not be at the club at Christmas if things were going bad scored an overhead kick for us in division one.

But the question remains. Are City the real deal or is this just opening day delight before the averageness that awaits?

Personally I thought City looked a class above Barnsley and I did not think Barnsley looked that bad. The discipline that saw Gareth Whalley on the goal line to clear Kevin Gallen’s shot just after Ashley Ward had scored his first penalty was the best example of what City have got and the other sides have not. Barnsley attacked pretty well, but defensively they and a lot of other teams in the division are a shambles.

David Wetherall, Robert Molenaar and on his day Andy Myers are good enough to get into any back four in this league but there is more to it than that. City are post-war London. The blitz has gone but the spirit is still there. The oneness that repelled some very good teams for the past two years is a sponge for the Nationwide league’s better forwards.

Whoever the members of the back four are, now that the cursed Ian Nolan has gone, will not matter because the motto and the mindset will be the same. For all the headlines of Benito Carbone’s overheads or Ash Ward’s Man of the Match display, its at the back that City separated themselves from Barnsley.

So if you are going to stay strong at the back and your forwards are likely to create you something, and lets face it Carbone, Ward, Blake, Jess et al are all creative Peter Beardsleys before they are deadly Gary Linekers.

The next 45 games are going to tell us if City are the real deal or not, but yesterday should have seen the guys at the papers reassessing the Bantams. They have us pegged as a Watford, bounced out of the Premiership with tails between our legs, but we had confidence build up by the solid back end to the season (Leeds excepted). It will take winning until March before they sit up and take notice of us on Fleet Street.

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