The Neville Southall problem returns to Bury as City draw a blank in the FA Cup third round

Bradford City fans saw the end of Neville Southall’s career, Bury fans saw the start. Southall – who many regard the best goalkeeper of his era – played 39 games at Gigg Lane and presented manager Jim Iley with a problem.

Southall’s predecessor John Forrest had kept goal for the Shakers for twenty four years but such was the new goalkeepers nascent ability was such that that Iley’s strikers – who included future PFA chairman Gordon Taylor – were struggling to beat the him in training.

So much so that Taylor and his team mates got used to spending training sessions putting their best efforts at Southall and seeing them saved.

They got used to not scoring. And they lost confidence.

The Phil Parkinson era

Southall had been gone seven years, Iley four, when Phil Parkinson made his debut for Bury. City manager Parkinson played 145 games at Gigg Lane most of them as the position of midfield spoiler that he would make his hallmark at Reading.

There is an adage that one can trust a manager to know his own position. The suspension of Nathan Clarke following a sending off at Gillingham that also saw Reece Burke injured and then returned to West Ham United had given Parkinson a problem in the middle of his back four. Rory McArdle needed a partner and while Christopher Routis had returned to fitness Parkinson had previously dropped Gary Liddle back from the holding midfield berth to he him in the role.

And that approach had failed. It had failed at the end of last season and failed at the start of this and – to my estimation – it had failed not because Liddle can not play the position (he spent a season in central defence at Notts County before arriving at Valley Parade) but rather because he was missing from the middle of midfield.

Phil Parkinson decided he would not be without his Phil Parkinson.

The best from the worst

Liddle in central midfield presented the problem of using Christopher Routis in the heart of the defence – a role he has not played since Joe Garner spent fourteen minutes ripping him apart before he was sent off – in front of a keeper in Ben Williams with whom there is a direct correlation between McArdle and Burke being in front of him and him keeping a clean sheet.

One recalls with horror Williams struggling to set the defensive line at the start of the season and the number and type of goals conceded as a result.

Looking over the field and almost half the City players: Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Kyel Ried, James Hanson and James Meredith; had joined the club as it struggled in the bottom half of League Two. Bury are a peer at of City in the top half of League One and all those five players are worth their places a league and a half above where they were when they first got on a training pitch with Parkinson.

Which is something to describe in assessing the skills of Phil Parkinson. He picked up the players signed when CIty were (arguably) at their worst and got the best out of them.

And so it proved with Routis, and so it proved with Williams, who both performed superbly. I would have written off Williams as not worth the work to improve but when Andrew Tutte got behind McArdle in the first half and was in a one on one situation with the City keeper my heart was not in my mouth as Williams narrowed angles, made himself large, and ended up pushing the ball away.

Likewise Routis kept le coeur from la bouche most of the afternoon matching McArdle for vigour and showing the physical strength that was missing from his game previously. He went too far and one two footed tackle in the second half should have seen him sent off.

Parkinson had decided that the way to battle Bury was to battle Bury and City were physically robust bullying the Shakers into the playing the game as the away team in the own stadium a fact made easier by the decision to put Bantams fans behind both goals. They do not like it when you suggest away fans outnumbered the home around these parts but that seemed to be the case from my corner of Gigg Lane.

What did John Iley do about that problem?

Having been bullied onto the back foot by a City team pressing high Bury struggled to create a tempo to their play and while they had two chance to snatch a lead it would have been snatched. The Shakers best moment ended with Darby and McArdle taking control of the ball between them in a six yard box scrum and wandering away with it as if it were a training game.

But at the other end of the field the Bantams struggled to convert chances. Tony McMahon hit the post with a free kick, Liddle headed wide when everyone expected him to score, and Hanson scooped over from inside the six yard box in the last minutes of stoppage time. Confidence is obviously low and shows with all City’s players.

Difficult to score against but labouring at the other end with strikers. What did John Iley do about that problem?

The Iley way

Iley effectively banned Southall from training – albeit with a smile – and in doing so allowed the 1981 vintage Bury strikers to get used to scoring in practice again. Southall’s rise was inexorably unaffected.

The Shakers ended the season blasting in fours and sixes, clearly with confidence recovered, and finished above City in the 1981 Division Four table. Southall left for Everton and glory at the end of the 1981 season and so the problem solved itself the next season having been fixed on the training pitch before.

And one suspect that it is on the training pitch that Parkinson will solve his team’s goalscoring problems. The team are defending well, are creating chances, are controlling games. The ball will not go in and confidence has suffered as a result but Parkinson (and I) believe that it is easier to add goals to a team that defends well that stop a free scoring team conceding.

This is Parkinson’s way. He builds teams that are hard to beat and capitalises on what can build the confidence. Sixth choice striker off the bench against Rochdale blasts it in and he becomes Nahki Wells. Middling League Two team beats Arsenal and Parkinson galvanises the club around it. City bob along in League One, beat Chelsea, and end up a a place outside the play-offs.

Parkinson takes a clink of the light of confidence and bathes the players in it. How that is done will probably not become a part of football folklore like Iley and Southall have but everything we have seen from Parkinson in the last five years suggests it will.

The Ben Williams season continues with City facing Aldershot Town in the FA Cup

Williams from Williams

The first time Ben Williams became known to Bradford City supporters was during the first round of the FA Cup when – minutes into the game with Halifax Town – he was picking the ball out of the back of his own goal.

An inauspicious start to a campaign that would see Williams keeping goal at Stamford Bridge but his afternoon at The Shay better when Phil Parkinson switched formation and Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke turned the match and the season around.

Jon Stead scored – he always scored in the FA Cup – and Williams’ role was largely forgotten but he did make a very good save from a Williams’ close range header. I’d describe it as memorable but it seems that not a lot of people remember it.

Ben Williams save from Steve Williams. Steve Williams is a former Bantam who exited Valley Parade around the time of the change from Peter Taylor, to Peter Jackson, to Phil Parkinson . In the words for former Chief Scout Archie Christie when asked why the talented Williams had left said that the player “did not want it enough.”

Wanting it enough was big for Christie, and is big for Phil Parkinson.

Wanting it

The last three weeks of Bradford City have been the definition of “wanting it”. A trip to Millwall, a visit from Blackpool, a trip to Aldershot for the 0-0 draw that brings about this reply, and a 2-0 win over Crewe Parkinson’s team had dug in hard to turn a few good wins into an impressive unbeaten run.

Parkinson’s has taken his Bradford City back to the most simple of building blocks creating a team which fetishises not conceding in the same way Barcelona lust for possession. Parkinson’s City will not concede – so the thought goes – and as a result the result will take after itself.

One has to go back to 24th of October when Wigan Athletic took the lead past Ben Williams for City’s last concession. Williams could have done better with that strike, and he got lucky with a shot from Crewe on Saturday that slipped greasy off his body and flew back into play but Williams has earned his luck with his graft.

My issue with Williams’ goalkeeping style – that he allows too much of a gap between the defensive line and himself – is addressed by Parkinson compressing his defensive unit at the expense of his forward line leaving the forward line lacking numbers. It is meat and potatoes and City are criticised for a negative approach to the game.

Criticism is always relative though, and relative to the criticism one gets for losing.

The work

The work which Phil Parkinson’s team have put into the last two months is transformative. Players have developed pairings where previously there was confusion. Stephen Darby has found an unlikely partner in Tony McMahon while James Meredith probably thought reuniting with Kyel Ried was unlikely too.

The central midfield pair are of two of Lee Evans, Gary Liddle and the much improved Billy Knott are a product of days at Apperley Bridge. Knott would be the poster boy for improvement with his push back from the Ghetto of being an “attacking midfielder” into a genuinely useful box to box player.

Would be if it were not for the backline of Rory McArdle, Reece Burke and Williams himself. Calm has replaced barked blasts. Control has replaced scrambles. Stern has replaced soft when running at the heart of the Bantams team.

There is a significant need for a collective improvement. It has happened.

A Ben Williams sort of season

Bradford City’s season has become a Ben Williams sort of season. Capable of slips, and at times doing things wrong, but improved with hard work and no better/no worse as is shown on the field.

I’ve always found this aspect of football as – perhaps – the most understated joy in football.

To support a Liverpool in the 1980s, a Manchester United in the 1990s, a Manchester City now is to experience football top down where expectation is winning and winning is everything. Bristol City supporters last season – with a team outspending its league – expected the same. It is rare to have that in football, I’m sure most at City never will have had it.

For the rest the drama is in watching teams which are – and I struggle to find a better description – only as good as they are on the field. City are in a morass of teams in League One who are in a similar situation. The FA Cup against Aldershot Town offers the kind of assumption which the Bantams seldom get, and can never enjoy.

Aldershot Town are struggling for form in the National League but so were City when City rolled up at Chelsea last year – everything in the FA Cup is set in the Chelsea context for a while at least – and while the Bantams should win they will only do so with the same hard graft that has turned the season around.

Hard work, and hoping the mistakes go unpunished. A year on from his debut and we are all having a Ben Williams sort of season.

Reading, writing and arithmetic

The FA Cup sixth round draw presented a home game against Reading which would not be televised on the BBC.

After being giant killing heroes against Chelsea the tone of the build up to the Sunderland game was questions as to if players would be able to repeat the achievement. Emphatically the answer was a Yes.

Yet BBC avoided the incongruousness of asking if the giant killers could kill another, smaller, giant when it dodged the Sunderland tie. They also opted against City’s sixth round tie which will be shown on BT Sport.

Bradford City vs Reading is not so much David vs Goliath as David vs Avinadav. Who wants to watch that? Elsewhere the Titans of Manchester United meet the Behemoths of Arsenal, making them both seem normal sized.

The complaints that have emanated from Valley Parade (and the surrounding area) about the lack of television coverage are financially motivated – City wanted the money that comes with hosting the Sunderland game – but much of the newspaper coverage about the decision that fed from City fans being upset was a part of a lengthy war between the Press and the BBC.

The Murdoch press has been attacking the BBC for years. The question the validity of the licence fee in what is a politically and business motivated campaign against the public funded body by an arm of News International, which in turn owns BBC rival Sky Sports. The Times is just The Sun writ respectable and serves the same ends. The business of Murdoch’s business is promoting Sky over the BBC.

The Daily Mail needs no excuse to attack the BBC in the same way and for the same reason as they attack asylum seekers. A mix of politics and the business of giving their customers what they want or what Paul Dacre thinks they want at least. The rest of the newspapers follow along with the line.

Flip the decisions around and the same newspapers who are mock-amazed at Bradford City being “snubbed” would be talking about how the BBC ignored the millions of United fans who wanted to see their heroic comeback at Preston in favour of showing a game at a ground that most weeks is half empty, so little is the Great British public’s interest.

None of these newspapers were demanding that a deal be worked out to show Bradford City vs Swansea City on the BBC in the 2013. If the public deserve to be shown giant killing why was The Sun, The Times, The Daily Mail et al not beating a drum to have a deal struck so that game could be seen live on the BBC than being shown “live and exclusive only” on Sky TV?

None of the acres of back page coverage of City not being on the BBC is about viewers getting to see remarkable football. None of it is about Bradford City fans. None of it is about trying to make the cup more “magic”. None of it cares about clubs like Bradford City at all.

It is all about newspapers using Bradford City as a stick to beat the BBC with.

And do I like my football club being used like that? Do I like my club being used by The Sun, or by The Daily Mail, or whomsoever wants to, to batter the BBC?

No, I do not.

96

I would rather that Bradford City had nothing to do with The Sun at all.

At Bradford City we praise other clubs for leaving a wreath at the memorial to the fire of 1985 or donating a cheque to the Burns Unit and we do this because it shows kinship with the people of Bradford and Lincoln who died that day.

To show kinship with the people of Liverpool I think Bradford City should have as little to do with The Sun as possible.

If possible I’d like Bradford City to have nothing to do with The Sun at all.

Outside of Bradford City fans

Which is not to say that a person cannot believe that Bradford City would have made great television just that outside of City fans (who were, mostly, at the game) but I do not trust the people are “upset” about this BBC snub and magic of the cup.

Their ire does not add up.

I think that most of the year all I read in the same newspapers which talk about the BBC snubbing City is seemingly endless coverage of the minutia of the top of the Premier League. Every day in every newspaper football from the Newcastle United/Spurs position down is treated like runt cousins of the beautiful game.

Teams at City’s level can win games, lose games, sack managers, set records and on and on and have their news fit on the inside back pages after puff pieces about Premier League players and speculation about transfers that might happen rather than the results from games in League One that have happened.

The media which are now demanding Bradford City are the same people who, at best, could not care less about the club the rest of the time and, at worst, actively work against the interests of clubs like City creating a football culture which minimises clubs outside the Premier League.

In 2004 the same newspapers who now are suggesting a BBC bias against Bradford City barely even reported about the fact that Bradford City came within minutes of being liquidated. I remember Look North (for all its failings) did give the Bradford City fans trying to save the club a voice.

How many newspapers who are demanding giant killers be rewarded suggested that the £5.1bn deal should be shared through the football community? How many back pages are devoted to the club’s who struggle against administration in the football climate they create? How many sports editors run stories which tell people to turn off the subscription to wall-to-wall Sky Sports TV an go see their local club?

The supporters of Bradford City are cynically and deliberately being used by newspapers who are faux friends of fans of clubs like ours. We are being used to bash the Beeb and sell some of the newspapers. And those newspapers next week will be using their power to stop going to games at clubs like Bradford City, to stay at home with a subscription to Sky to watch Premier League or La Liga while choosing when to “cash out” on a gambling app.

Our supporters will go to the game, and take their friends, and their families, and sell out Valley Parade.

But – I hope – not buy the papers the day after.

City beating Dartford in dressing rooms, manager’s offices and boardrooms

Bradford City beat Conference side Dartford 4-1 in the second round of The FA Cup with an ease which would suggest that the Bantams were old hands deposing of lower teams in knockout football.

It was hard to remember that three years ago around half the number of people here tonight saw City beat Burton 3-2 AET in the League Cup that concluded at Wembley in a game which less than half the first team played. Or so it seemed at the time when Gary Jones, James Hanson and Nahki Wells sat out the match.

If one were to look at the litany of failure than was Bradford City in knockout competition in the 2000s one would recall half teams being half interested playing in front of half full grounds.

The very obvious result of 2013’s run to the League Cup final and the transformative effect it had on the club has been convincing Bradford City that using games like this to rest players is a poor idea. Whatever one gains in freshness one loses – or perhaps just fails to gain – in the positive effects of playing teams in knockout football.

Winning games brings confidence. Confidence is what makes groups of footballers in football teams. One recalls how Phil Parkinson’s side found itself after Aston Villa and Arsenal, or indeed after Burton, and one cannot help but think that if anything is to come from this season over and above the middle of League One then it will come from a similar path.

So Parkinson prepares the team properly and sets out the team properly and one can expect that in the dressing room the team was told to take Dartford as seriously as any League One side faced and one also expects that that message has been repeated in at the training pitch. One also doubts that the chairmen will have questioned Parkinson’s decision to push the club forward in Cup competitions. The days of vague mumblings about the cost of progression either on legs or bank balances are over.

The club is changed. When walking onto the field the City team was noticeably unnoticeably changed from last week. Jon Stead was favoured over James Hanson who made a late appearance that would see him cup tied. Billy Knott and Gary Liddle were given the opportunity to continue what looks to be a fruitful partnership in central midfield and Filipe Morais was given the chance to replicate on the right what Mark Yeates does on the left.

Watching Phil Parkinson’s return to 442 the most obvious deficiency is a lack of pace in the side and the most obvious place to add that pace is on the right wing or in the player who plays off the front man. Which is to say where Kyel Reid or Nahki Wells played.

This creates a situation in which Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke approach games attempting to show how useful both can be almost to point to the other as being where the change should be made.

In fact today when City were leading by three or four goals Billy Clarke was upset with Morais for not finding him in the penalty area when Morais bulled away on the flank. The criticism of Clarke is that he does not threaten the goal enough – good approach play in Mark Stewart was the first thing that Parkinson was not satisfied with at Valley Parade – and so the striker looks to add to his tally wherever he can.

Today he did, a close finish after a scramble on ten minutes that set the tone for an afternoon where City would be largely untroubled. Jon Stead got a second twenty minutes later after turning in a low left hand cross from Yeates and all was going well at half time.

Morais’ third took a deflection to take it past Jason Brown in the visitors goal and Yeates finished off which a curled finish after delighting and tearing into a right back Tom Bradbrook who was never able to cope with the Irishman’s direct running and control of the ball. Lee Noble tucked in a nice back heel for the visitors who deserved something for their trouble and approached the game with a good spirit.

City’s back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith coped with a new keeper Ben Williams sitting in for Jordan Pickford who Sunderland would not allow to play. The back four have joined together strongly and Andrew Davies is the keystone. There are rewards for progressing in this competition and Davies’ contract needs renewing. One hopes the one begets the other.

Bradford City go into a third round draw as a reward for the approach to knockout football which seems to have taken root at the club, at least in The League Cup and The FA Cup.

Dartford were treated with respect and respectfully beaten. There will be hope of what we might call “another Arsenal” to follow of course but seeing the club having learned something from the last few years one might thing we might settle for another Dartford.

Beating Halifax Town by returning to a Phil Parkinson team

Two years ago Giantkiller. Now giant. Brought down to size. Three minutes and everyone was getting what they wanted.

Bradford City’s trip to Halifax was a defeat waiting to happen and when Lois Maynard ploughed in from close range following a series of corners needlessly conceded defeat seemed to be worryingly unavoidable. It was what the BBC, BT Sport, and a lot of the local media coverage had sharpened pencil for.

The team that conquered Arsenal, have themselves been giant killed.

The overdog role with a depressing ease

A cliche like that proves irresistible even to the subjects of it.

Halifax Town – OK, FC Halifax Town if we must – took the role of the underdog with a lot of the gusto which City took showed in the cup run of 2013. Town made things were difficult for the Bantams. Throw ins were launched long and were hard to head out. Midfielder’s were chased down. Wide men were pushed wider.

The home side made the most of set plays which led to the goal after three minutes and to the general sense that Halifax took their role in a way Phil Parkinson would have been proud of. Parkinson’s City took the overdog role with a depressing ease.

Starting out with a flat four with two in front of them, then a three sitting behind a single front man were disparate and far too easy to play against. Filipe Morais, Billy Knott and Mark Yeates were a line behind Jon Stead but ineffectual and quickly parted, separated, and not difficult to counter. The onus was then put on holding two midfielders Jason Kennedy and Andy Halliday but they failed to provide that and both seemed to be guilty of waiting for someone else to make something happen.

There was a moment – following City’s cup keeper Ben Williams’ save from former City defender Steve Williams’ close range header – where another narrative wrote itself. It was about the decline of a manager in Phil Parkinson and how in the future we would talk about how one could tell that things were over for the City boss when he played that Andy Halliday in central midfield in a 4231.

The rapid switching between formations, picking players in ill-suited positions, and lifeless performances or cup exits are the stuff of the last days of a manager’s time at any club. What happened to the Phil Parkinson who used to so love his 442?

It may have been that that thought occurred to Phil Parkinson at the same time as it did to me. His Bradford City team were not playing very poorly – chances were being created – but the story of the season has been sporadically creating chances without patterns in the play.

Former Italy manager Arrigo Sacchi said of Mario Balotelli that is was “not a player, because a player moves as part of a team. He’s just a footballer.”

City had a lot of footballers, just as Arsenal had, but Halifax had a team.

Giantkiller/giantkilled

Perhaps that realisation stung Parkinson.

City had so easily fallen into the giantkiller/giantkilled narrative and responded accordingly. I like to think that the City manager thought that if this game at Halifax was going to be the start of the final days of his time at the club then he would go out on his own terms.

Parkinson of old. Four Four Two and the big man/little man combination of substitute Billy Clarke alongside Stead. Billy Knott – wandering in the first half – was given a place in the midfield engine and the full backs Stephen Darby and James Meredith were given the support of wide men in front of them.

Clarke threatened goal within a minute pulling a good save from Matt Glennon and carried on his direct, provocateur play by pulling the Halifax backline wide and creating a hole that Jon Stead appeared in when Morais had played a fine ball forward. Stead walked the ball around the keeper to equalise.

And two minutes later Morais had been found by Clarke and blasted across Glennon to score.

More dangerous, more determined and stronger at the back Parkinson’s team started to look like a Phil Parkinson team. Halifax huffed and puffed but City looked like a solid unit again and for the first time this season – maybe this year – seemed like they would score more goals. Pressure, directness and confidence. I do not know if it is what the boardroom call attacking football but it was Phil Parkinson football.

Reshaping the squad

City go into the second round, and have beaten a second West Yorkshire club of the season, and move on to face Preston North End next week with Parkinson mulling over which way he takes the City squad.

By returning to his favourite formation Parkinson seemed to free his City players from thinking in terms of their personal displays and enable them to focus on a team performance. The English footballer’s DNA is 442 and as soon as Parkinson switched to it the players seemed to switch to inbuilt positional play.

Morais – lost on one flank in the first half and playing the sort of game Sacchi would comment on – was more effective in a right wing role not only because he knew where to go (Note to pedants: his football education is that of the English footballer) but because every other player knew where he would be. When Billy Clarke flicked the ball forward to him for his goal it was in expectation. It is not that Morais found Clarke in a good position for the first goal or that Clarke found Morais for the second it is that both knew where to expect to find each other which will have pointed a way for Parkinson.

All of which questions the shape of the City squad. Next week Phil Parkinson takes his team to Preston and Kyel Reid who’s pace is lacking from the Bantams squad and seems to prevent City returning to 442. Perhaps when the transfer window opens Parkinson needs to find someone who can add the pace if he wants to return to his way of playing.

Because after avoiding the obvious narrative at Halifax Town Parkinson will probably be afforded the chance to reshape the squad once more.

The first time Bradford City reconsider being the overdog as Halifax Town look for a giantkilling

Of the 79 other balls in the FA Cup First Round draw, few would have been as warmly met as the ball that signified a potential trip to FC Halifax Town – after comprehensively vanquishing Chorley in a replay – for the Bradford City supporter and, indeed, the wider TV audience: but there is more than geographical proximity that adds import to this fixture. This is the first time since the cup run of 2013 that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City are forced to bring the mirror to themselves and see what gazes back at them.

First, dear reader, let me make no apologies for referring comprehensively to “that season” – any article anyone at all could write about Bradford City in 2014 and beyond has the potential to lazily fall back on using that cup run as reference: but in this case, I feel it is truly the first time introspection has a real reason to be made.

The diversion of cup competition while City are in poor league form a welcome one for Bantam fan, player and manager alike: it is fair to say that in the forest of League One trees, not many are being pulled up by anyone in a claret and amber shirt this term. Nor, to stretch the metaphor to the point of abuse, are they lost in the woods.

The team remain resolutely mid-table, overall neither excelling nor failing, and this in itself is cause for the mist of doom and gloom to become increasingly lower. The natives are restless, and they demand satisfaction.

With the FC Halifax Town game, the opportunity is rife – Sunday’s opponents are two divisions beneath in the pyramid: their team is partially made up of players who never made the grade at ours – and would never get in our current side, and add to that, the cameras will be watching as our bumper crowd shifts a further 20 minutes down the A58 (or A647 if you like your air thinner and your weather more extreme). Foregone conclusion: rub your hands together and wander off into the sunset.

At the risk of pointing out the clearly obvious: apart from the slight distance between our ground and The Shay, this is what Arsenal and Aston Villa both thought – and Watford and Wigan must have both thought it was even more of a relatively closed-door formality.

We are no longer the independent coffee shop outselling the Starbucks next door: in this particular dynamic, it is us who is the Tesco looking to flatten a third-generation cornershop. No neutrals will be looking to cheer us on from their sofa – our Cinderella story is very much over.

The great cup run of 2012/13 was built on standing against adversity, on steel, on being greater than the sum of our parts, and on steadfast terrace support. On Sunday, the likelihood of any of these things being present is slender: even if the fans do sell out the allocation – which, at the time of writing, is not being projected – what is the atmosphere amongst fans going to be? It is not, “We are here through thick and thin and Oh my we’ve done it”, it is, “If we do not score within the opening five minutes we will make our ire known”.

Only three players, and the manager, remain present from the team that started Capital One Cup Final – the same number of ex-City men in the opposing squad. It is going to be as much, if not more so, of a challenge of their mental strength as it is for newer cohort members. They have tasted success because they had belief in themselves as a unit against the odds: how can Phil Parkinson, who told Rory McArdle, Stephen Darby and Andrew Davies in the dressing rooms of Vicarage Road, the DW Stadium, Valley Parade, Villa Park and ultimately, Wembley, that if they galvanise and believe in themselves as a unit, they can accomplish great things – and then principally delivered on that promise – now turn around and make those same players believe that others who are now in the equivalent position cannot easily do the same?

As much as these three and the rest of the team will utterly embrace the diversion from the frustrations of the league campaign; will they be as excited, as invigorated, as out-and-out ready for the proposition of facing FC Halifax Town as the players of FC Halifax Town will be of facing Bradford City? The three players who have been rejected at Valley Parade will have, no doubt, watched the 2013 Cup Final and thought, “I could have had that moment” and whereas the stage on Sunday is very different, their motivation will be clear.

19 years ago was the last time Bradford City faced non-league opposition against a then- relatively-unknown Burton Albion and only the rear-end of Gary Robson could save our blushes, awkwardly bundling in with a part of the body few have ever scored a goal with, much less a midfielder who would usually have struggled to tell you the general area of the goalmouth, to sneak a 4-3 win. I have no doubt that the team of 1995/96 did not conceive they were going to be so closely-ran – in May that year, they were celebrating promotion to the Championship-equivalent at the Old Wembley.

Two years prior to that, Old Halifax Town of the Conference were beating Championship-equivalent West Brom in a televised match in the First round of the FA Cup, and I likewise have no doubt that that team of 1993/94 did not conceive that such a thing was possible, no matter how hard they believed.

Of course, the Bradford City of 2014/15 are not the Bradford City of 2012/13 or even 1995/96 any more than the FC Halifax Town of 2014/15 are the Halifax Town FC of 1993/94, and on Sunday none of these histories should matter. Whether the squad of 2014/15 use the parallels of 2012/13 as a curse, or a warning, remains to be seen.

Never Forget

About a year ago, John Dewhirst, David Pendleton and John Ashton (apologies if I’ve missed other people out) started to hatch a plan to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Bradford City winning the FA Cup. All of their hard work came to fruition on the exact date 100 years after our most famous victory over Newcastle United in an FA Cup final replay at Old Trafford. Over 200 people packed one of the many function rooms at the Midland Hotel to come together as one. John Dewhirst stressed that this was a supporters evening and the organisers were very aware of the difficult financial pressures faced by many of Bradford City’s supporters today and that they had tried to offer tickets at an affordable price of £25 for the evening which included a three course meal. In my opinion, the evening was worth every penny.

The presentation of the room was classy yet professional with claret and amber very prominent colours throughout the room. The Gawthorpe Brass Band played their instruments to great effect to generate an emotional atmosphere on an emotional night. Apart from the many supporters in the room (many of whom could probably remember games from the 70s and even further back), others present included past players such as Ian Cooper and Joe Cooke, former player and manager Terry Dolan, members of our existing Board and even a descendant of Peter Logan who formed part of the 1911 winning team.

In his opening speech, you could hear the pride in John Dewhirst’s voice as he thanked everyone for attending. He did however pass on apologies from Stuart McCall and Greg Abbott who at the last minute couldn’t attend. However, this didn’t takeaway the gloss from a wonderful evening. It was noticeable however that there were none of the existing team present or interim manager Peter Jackson which I thought was disappointing. A friend of mine who attended the dinner had managed to see the Bradford City juniors draw 2-2 on the same afternoon over in Hull. (Apparently we were 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go but we salvaged a draw through some inspired play from up and coming winger Dominic Rowe.) My friend asked David Wetherall if he had inspired our junior team with a half time team talk highlighting the fact the it was 100 years to the day that our club won the FA Cup.

Unfortunately, Wetherall replied “no” and said that he would have liked to have attended the evening if he’d been aware of it. This says to me that our existing team and management were unaware of the the importance of 26 April 1911 and the event taking place at the Midland Hotel. This notion saddened me and highlighted the poor communication that exists between the players and supporters today.

However, not to paint a gloomy picture of a fabulous evening, we tucked into our three course meal with many of us enjoying the fine Glorious1911 Ale brewed by the Saltaire brewery with sales from the ale being donated to the Bradford Burns Unit. During the meal it was great to talk to fellow Bradford City supporters about all things City related. A couple on our table now lived in Kendal but still have season tickets to attend games at Valley Parade and also told tales of their away game experiences. I got the feeling that those of us who were fortunate enough to pay for a ticket all hold Bradford City close to our hearts and wanted to ensure that our FA Cup victory should not be forgotten. History is important. It was great to see die hards like Mike Harrison, Mark Neale and Board members of the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust in attendance.

The meal over and David Pendleton, author of the superb book Glorious 1911 explained some of the tales behind our famous victory like how the replay was played only four days after the final at Crystal Palace so only about 10,000 Bradford City supporters travelled to Manchester for the replay owing to financial constraints placed on supporters (sound familiar?). Also, owing to the fact that there were no floodlights meant that the replay kicked off mid-afternoon. The victorious team, thanks to Jimmy Speirs goal after 15 minutes, arrived back into Bradford in the evening to be greeted by about 100,000 Bradfordians. This represented about a third of the City’s population and it took the team about 45 minutes to cross the city and finally end up at the Midland Hotel. John Ashton replicated speeches that were made on that evening of 100 years ago and you could hear the sportsmanship that existed in the speeches that by and large is no longer in our game.

John Dewhirst then presented a cheque for £5,000 to Professor Sharpe who has been so instrumental in the development of the Bradford Burns Unit. This money had come from the sales of historical memorabilia including scarfs and badges. Ian Cooper then made a toast to suitably round off a wonderful evening.

Following the formalities, this young(-ish) supporter who only witnessed his first Bradford City game at Valley Parade in 1988 approached some of the former players to sign his copy of Glorious 1911. All who I approached were more than happy to sign and came across as genuine people who still have an affinity with Bradford City Football Club. Many posed for photographs and chatted to supporters which was lovely to see. Once again, a personal thank you from me to all those who put so much unpaid time and effort into a memorable night. We must never forget where this football club has come from.

City supporters invited to enjoy the FA Cup

Seven months of celebrations to commemorate the centenary of Bradford City’s FA Cup triumph of 1911 begin on Sunday when the book ‘Glorious 1911’ is officially launched at Bradford’s National Media Museum.

Bradford City supporters will have the rare opportunity of seeing action from the 1911 FA Cup Final when the Bantams became the first winners of the Bradford designed FA Cup. The official launch of the book ‘Glorious 1911’ will take place at Pictureville, National Media Museum, Bradford this Sunday 21 November at 8pm.

The books author, David Pendleton, the curator of Bradford City’s bantamspast museum, will give an illustrated talk on the writing and research of the book as well as the 1910/11 FA Cup winning season when City established themselves among the elite of English football. The talk will feature rare footage of Bradford City’s Rugby League predecessors, Manningham, in action at Deswbury in 1901; a tram ride from Forster Square to Manningham Park gates in 1902; Bradford City’s first ever Football League home game in 1903; footage of the scoreless draw with Newcastle United in the 1911 FA Cup Final; and the replay at Old Trafford when Jimmy Speirs scored the games only goal to win the FA Cup for Bradford City.

Copies of the book (price £12) will be on sale before and after the event. Additionally a limited number of enamel badges and a special scarf have been made to commemorate the 1911 FA Cup triumph and these will be available at Pictureville along with a specially produced souvenir programme. Tickets for the event are available from the Pictureville booking office, price £6.50 each.

The Pictureville evening marks the first in a number of events that have been organised to celebrate the centenary including a dinner at the Midland Hotel on 26 April, 2011, an exhibition at Bradford Industrial Museum and a visit to the graves of City’s fallen heroes in the Great War – including that of Jimmy Speirs who scored the club’s winning goal against Newcastle United in the 1911 FA Cup Final replay at Old Trafford.

Further details from www.bantamspast.co.uk and glorious1911@paraders.co.uk

The modern day FA Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being There

O.K, so the trip to Crewe seems a life time away by now. But, while I was looking forward to a break from the football, I’m ready to get back in there. And, since there’s a competition where every game is live on TV, what better way to meet the need?

Well, lots of better ways, actually. I could take up watching some dry paint get even drier. It’s not just that the games are pretty rotten so far; it’s the atmosphere I miss. Back in the Midland Road, there’s the same voices, the same cheering and the same referee baiting that have been together for years. If the game gets a bit dull (Dull? Bradford City?), we always find something to talk about, even if it is the price of bottled water. And there is a genuine atmosphere a Valley Parade. The volume goes up and down with the ebb and flow of the game. We may not like the booing of our own team – indeed we hate it – but it does at least reflect the ups and downs of the team we support.

Watching the World Cup on the TV is a poor substitute. There’s all that incessant background noise. No, I don’t necessarily mean the vuvuzelas, although they create such a monotone that they are the very antithesis of an atmosphere. I mean the commentators and their sidekicks.

Did I want to be told, as the first game was about to start, that we should all be South Africa supporters now? Why??? Still less was the first goal ‘a goal for the whole of Africa’. You ask the Ghana supporters, the Ivory Coast lads, the Algerians and the rest of the African tribesmen. And who thought it even worth saying, as we watched a village jumping up and down to celebrate the goal scored by their local hero, that ‘football is for people’? There I was thinking it was for sheep.

So far I’ve heard only one decent joke, from Barnsley’s very own Mick McCarthy, and he could have improved on his wit if only he’d said that a Nigerian defender was so bad they named him twice. The defender, by the way, is called Odiah and if you pronounce it as though he were Irish and the ‘i’ was a double ‘e’, then you might see the joke. But we deliver better lines than that in Block B.

Of course, the one time the persistent background noise went away, it took the picture with it, unless you count the advert as being anything worth seeing (which it wasn’t). Only England could be so cruel as to score at that moment. I bet down on the pitch somebody threw up another advert right in front of Rob Green. But did he want to buy a new car? Or perhaps it was an ad for Specsavers. No, too cruel.

Anyway, with the World Cup so far failing to satisfy my need for proper football, I’m not waiting for England’s next game with bated breath. No, before then there is the much more important day when the new fixtures are released. I shall be charging up the sat-nav, digging the road map out of the car boot and getting on to those websites where cheap hotel deals are advertised.

I shall be reminding myself of how to get to the football ground nearest to the River Mersey (useless fact, except for those who thought it was Anfield, Goodison or Prenton Park) and the best M5 junction for Cheltenham. I shall especially look forward to going there, in the hope of meeting the same steward as I met last year and whom I assured, having seen City fail to score all season and then leave both Thorne and Boulding on the bench, that the game had nil-nil written all over it.

Torquay will be a must, no matter what time of year, since it allows us to see friends and family. Hereford’s another good excuse for a weekend away, if you can forget about the inside of Edgar Street.

And this year there are two new grounds. Stevenage (no longer ‘Borough’, apparently) play just down the road from my old mate John. And Oxford might be on the cards, even if the memories it will bring back will mean less to Herself than to me. In truth, any Oxford football memories do not include the Kassam stadium. The few professional games I watched there were at The Manor Ground and included a dodgy encounter one evening with some Millwall fans.

I can still claim one little bit of football history from The Manor with a game a few of us went to only because we knew it was making history. So, for the anoraks, what was (and, with the arrival of penalty shoot outs, will probably forever remain) the longest F A Cup tie on record? Now, do you dare put a comment to this piece, thus revealing yourself as an anorak (join the club)? Or do you just Google it and sit in silence? Or do you hope that our editor rescues you from your dilemma by putting in his own, doubtless correct, answer as soon as he posts this piece?

So, forget about Algeria, Slovenia and the inevitable loss on penalties to the Germans. Concentrate on Thursday morning and work up your plans for being there. Just don’t bring one of those bloody vuvuzelas or any of that lot off the telly!

In twelve months time what is the minimum you would consider to be success for Bradford City?

The season at Valley Parade wends towards a disappointing end without much to play for and with minds focused on next August and the start of a new campaign. Much work is to be done between then and now by the club and management to get City into an improved position which we all hope to be in in one year’s time. In one year from now many hope the Bantams will doing much more than playing out until the end of the season and so The Barry Articles ask…

“In twelve months time what is the minimum you would consider to be success for Bradford City?”

Richard Wardell Fundraiser in times of trouble and former BCST man

Success means different things to different people. Personally, I think that I have lower expectations than most supporters so success in my eyes might not be success in another supporter’s eyes. For me, on the playing side of matters I would like to see two or three home grown players established in the first team following in the footsteps of Luke O’Brien;

I would like to see us produce a giant killing in the FA Cup as we celebrate 100 years since we won this magical trophy and I would like us to be making a strong push for the play offs by playing some attractive passing football. Off the field, I would like to think that the club would own Valley Parade again and that our finances are in the black. I would also hope that the club will be offering cheap season ticket prices again for the Bradford public. One final thought; I hope that we have the same manager as we currently have to offer some medium to long term stability for the club.

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

The minimum expectation for me next season has to be a strong promotion push – otherwise the decision to allow Stuart McCall to leave in February would have to be re-questioned.

Last season the club gambled heavily on promotion and lost, with the result a severe slashing of playing budgets. Nevertheless the expectation from many fans and some of those in the boardroom was McCall still had to do better this season. With limited resources, I believe McCall began building a squad that could grow and develop in time, helped by clever acquisitions along the way. It wasn’t the quick win though; hence the pressure for McCall to walk when it became obvious promotion was beyond us this season.

Under Peter Taylor the goalposts have shifted and greater resources are available, subsequently realistic expectations of what can be achieved must rise. I personally hope Taylor doesn’t release too many players this summer, but if he chooses to undo McCall’s initial building work it has to be for the purpose of speeding up progress. At least one of the two owners and many supporters advocated the abandoning of long-term to the point it’s almost become a dirty word, so next season we need to see the fruits of this different approach.

Not that I believe failure to be promoted should lead to Taylor’s dismissal; but with greater resources and experience than McCall, he should be able to take the club forwards next season. We have to be looking back in a year’s time and agreeing progress has been made. We have to be looking back in a year’s time and agreeing the decision to abandon McCall’s team-building attempts was the right one.

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

I think with Taylor in charge, his pieces of the puzzle in place like facilities and pitch surface, promotion should be achieved. If however Taylor isnt in charge, who will come in? Largely it is an unknown until the manager is nailed down to a contract, so its a little bit chicken before egg at the moment.

I think we will manage to keep a lot of the good young players we have and they can have a good crack at the league next season, but I worry that if we dont go up next year, the crop of youngsters we have will get snaffled up by other clubs. There are easily 4 or 5 young players who could play in a league above L2 (Hanson, Williams, McLaughlin, O’Brien and Neilson) and you cant expect them to stick around for another season in the basement. Taking these players out of our squad would dessimate it. Look how toothless we have been up top without big Jimmy recently.

Its hard as a City fan in the league we are in to say what would be the minimum level of success. We cannot afford as a club and financially to be in this league any longer, so the sooner we get out the better. We have the best chance of acheiving this with Taylor at the helm and with his methods and track record. Lets not expect pretty football. Lets not expect us to be beating Liverpool in the 3rd round of the FA Cup (just getting there would be nice). Football that gets results and gets us out of this league is fine by me.

Paraders Glorious 1911

A shame that with the 100 year anniversary of the formation of Bradford City passing with such little fanfare – for fairly obvious reasons with the club facing a battle for the future rather than a reminisce of the past – and one hopes that someone at Valley Parade can seize the opportunity in an official marking on the centenary since the club won the only major honour it has – the 1911 FA Cup.

Won in a replay against Newcastle United The Bantams claimed the trophy that was made in this City and it was said that “there was no finer team than Bradford City.” Those were the days.

Those days are recalled by The Paraders book and exhibition Glorious 1911 which celebrates this triumph. More information on said event – and a chance to order the book – can, no, should be gleaned from The Paraders website.

Everything changes

Ninety nine times have Bradford City entered the FA Cup since the 1910/1911 season – give of take the odd World War – and ninety nine (well, ninety really) times we have failed to win the competition once more. Next season it will be a century since the Bantams – Jimmy Spiers et al – picked up the old trophy and considering the club’s centenary was something of an horrific damp squib with staying in business put above celebration perhaps the club could look at throwing a proper party in May 2011 to mark that anniversary.

Bringing the FA Cup to Valley Parade as anything other than a visitors seems a remote prospect to say the least though. City are in the bottom tier and the height of our ambitions at present ranges from getting though the season without a visit from the administrator to starting a return up the leagues which some would say will cap out in the Championship.

The ambitions of League Two clubs are simply not that high.

Aside from Notts County the huge spending of which City caught the eye of the storm in a 5-0 defeat at Meadow Lane. That day marked something of a low which the Bantams went on to recover from slowly until a point where we sit in the middle of the league waiting for consistent victories or the return of Omar Daley – or perhaps both.

Since that opening day City have recovered while County have done well although probably not as well as expected. The likes of AFC Bournemouth and Rochdale battle out at the top of the division and County’s idea of rolling over the division with Premiership stars came unstuck when Sol Campbell wandered away from a defeat at Morecambe never to return.

The were asked to name the people behind them beyond “Middle East Investors” and they did citing themselves as packed by various people who would not be named in public – although the FA knows and approves of the people named as The Munto Group – although it did emerge that they were from Japan and Pakistan neither of whom are in the Middle East.

Campbell left and rumours had it that director of football Sven Goran Erikkson would follow until the Swede saw manager Ian McParland replaced by Sven’s former assistant Hans Backe. The club seemed to be waiting for McParland to do something the merited the sack and – the 2-2 penalties defeat to City aside – the manager was doing well enough to keep the position. Without a reason to sack him County seemed to just decide to get rid of him anyway.

The Bantams are talking much about a desire for revenge following that 5-0 defeat but one expects that that revenge for an obnoxious club who lionise a man in Lee Hughes who definitely does not deserve lionising and in Luke Rodgers have a player who is as skilled at cheating as he is at football will come further down the line when the Munto Group’s flexible definitions of truth come back to haunt the supporters.

Stuart McCall is expected to keep faith with Simon Eastwood – providing Huddersfield Town do not mind his being cup tied – in goal despite mounting and justified criticism. Jon McLaughlin would take the clubs is Town seen Eastwood keeping goal after Alex Smithies leaves in the transfer window.

Jon Bateson – who was sent off in City’s last trip to Nottingham continues to fill in for Simon Ramsden at right back in a settled defence of Simon Williams, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien.

Chris Brandon is out with a hamstring strain allowing Lee Bullock to return to the side in a midfield three of Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien the latter of which is becoming an unsung hero of the Bantams side. Scott Neilson drifts between midfield and attack on the right.

James Hanson – who Stuart McCall justified pumping the ball to at Macclesfield with the immortal line “Well, he was winning everything” – continues up front alongside the hard working Gareth Evans.

The luck of the draw

Watching the Bantams go out of the FA Cup 2-1 to Leyton Orient two frustrations of this 2008/2009 season struck me but only one left me surprised.

The Bantams interest in knock out competitions ended after a header former Leeds man Danny Granville headed home a well placed corner leaving City – who had got back into the game following going behind in the first half – tired and heading for the exit.

City had started slowly – a problem of late – and Graeme Lee’s continuing problems with TJ Moncur maintaining a position to his right hand side saw the skipper foolishly following the wrong man leaving time and space for Jason Demetriou to turn and pick out a fine shot to beat Rhys Evans from range. It was a deserved reward for the team from the division above having the better of the opening exchanges and there was a worry that as with Tranmere Rovers 3-0 win in a previous FA Cup tie that League One would just have too much quality.

Credit then City for clawing back into the game to such an extent that the first half ended with the Bantams in the ascendency much of which had to do with the Bantams midfield – second choice and second best – adding a needed steel to proceedings.

The quartet of Nicky Law Jnr being anchored by Tom Clarke with Kyle Nix on the right and debut loan winger Steve Jones replacing the injured Omar Daley were bullied out of the opening exchanges but added perhaps a little too much of the tough stuff with Clarke picking up a booking and Nix pushing in two challenges that had they connected could have resulted in red cards.

Nevertheless the muscle matched the visitors from the league above who’s robust style of play had seen a heavy challenge on Barry Conlon in the first ten minutes result in the in form 100 goal man coming off after twenty minutes with a back injury and considering that none of the midfield four would be in Stuart McCall’s all squad fit team then credit is due for the resurgence that bore fruit after an hour when a smart through ball allowed Michael Boulding – who ran tirelessly all afternoon – to get behind the immense Alton Thirwell who had a superb game for the visitors and equalise for the Bantams.

At that point City looked the team most likely but the goal galvanised the visitors who stepped up and within ten had taken the decisive lead. The Bantams had chances to equalise – Peter Thorne uncharacteristically heading the best of them wide – but Thirwell, Jordan Spence and midfielder Adam Chambers kept a strong spine to restrict City who lost by an edge, but just an edge.

Curious then that a decent turn out despite pricing villainy by the Londoner’s boardroom did not get behind City more. The Bantams battled with a team a league above and battled well. A nicer drop of the ball or a slice of luck and City could have been through yet the atmosphere was once again strangely muted. Hardly a surprise but whatever a crowd can do to push a team through we do not seem to do it, at least not at Valley Parade.

Surprising and disappointing has been the rumbling of balls around Bradford City this season. Four times the Bantams have been drawn out of hats and every time we have faced a team in the highest division possible. Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Milton Keynes Dons have previously faced City in the cup this season all from League One.

With the Bantams doing well in League Two we could assume that a draw against anyone below us – and in every draw we have been in most of the teams have been below us in the league structure – would have been more beatable but rather than Grimsby Town away in the Johnsons Paint we end up with Leeds and rather than Chester in the League Cup we went to Huddersfield. Of course there is no guarantee we would have won those hypothetical games but City should not be down hearted about being out of all the cups but rather surprised at the bad luck that saw us get four tough games.

Leyton Orient was a winnable game – both in theory and during the match – but it was not Histon Town 1 Leeds United 0 and as we look to the league now and the next five months of trying to ensure promotion we should do so knowing that in all four of those games – save the second half against Huddersfield – the Bantams gave as good as they got against the teams we want to be playing week in week out.

Four times we played league one clubs. Once we learned a lesson, once we got an apology, once we played and won and once we played and lost. We are ready for that league.

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 no pressure game as City beat MK Dons in the FA Cup

Who wants to go to Stadium:MK? Who even knows where it is? Or what it is? “Is it a hockey stadium” Ian asks and then we have a debate over if hockey is a big enough game to have stadiums anyway. “It is something you do down the park” says Dawn, “or at school. It isn’t a grown ups game.”

This argument rages over the team news which sees City without a load of players and without Peter Thorne. “Perhaps we can lend his stick to Barry” says Noel breaking from shouting at us for not being able to stop arguing about having a colon in the middle of a phrase and find this stadium:mk thing. We are going to be late and we are. We get into the ground to see footballer:od (Omar Daley) messing around in the box and hitting a shot that sneaks in past Lewis Price in the home goal. “F*ck Barrack Obama! We’ve got Barrack O. Daley” is both idiotic and hilarious and as we look over the pitch to see how isn’t playing rather than who is. Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon in front of a midfield with Daley, and Leon Osbourn on the wings and Paul McLaren and Nicky Law in the middle. Law got off to a good start setting up the goal.

And City had a good start. Away games have long since been better than home for atmosphere and sure enough the Bantams fans buoyed by an early goal were in good voice. WimbleMKDons most dangerous man Dean Lewington started to warm up and I remember how he smacked Joe Colbeck over the back of the head in the second to last game of the season which resulted in Colbeck being sent off for a horrible tackle back. Colbeck, like Conlon, has come out of the other side of the tunnel of booing and Barry running about this afternoon is proof that while it is pretty stupid the players that come out of the other side tend to do so as better players.

Not that that is a good reason or anything.

Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee had the throats warming up but stuck back together today they were impressing in the first half blocking MK Dons as they tried to drive through the middle of City. If Roberto Di Matteo had had City watched they came back with the wrong info because City looked stronger in the middle today. Away from home and leading we could park a bus in front of the goal but we need to be careful on the flanks were TJ Moncur and Luke O’Brien still amazingly keep out the Paul Arnison and Paul Heckingbottom combination.

Able to sit deep City enjoyed a good share of possession against the Champions of League Two who look less of a team than they were last term. Lewington still looks like the best player in the Galaxy when he faces City and manages to get above Graeme Lee as it looks like the City skipper could put in number two. Some Bantams make a decent shout for a penalty but of course it is given the other way. I wonder if I’ll live long enough that City ever get one of those games where we are the underdogs and everyone loves us and we get let off with two footed tackles and the News of the World want to talk to us but then I remember how much I hate clubs like that and the managers who play up to it like last week’s Barnet manager Paul Fairclough when he was manager of Stevenage when they played Newcastle ages ago. As I’m thinking about this I start to worry about how often Ali Gerba is getting caught offside cause at some point the linesman will let him go and he will equalise. He doesn’t but Jemal Johnson does hitting the ball in from miles away from the goal.

“That was a great goal” Ian offered at half time, “You couldn’t do that in hockey. The ball never leaves the ground.” Sometimes you wonder especially when it is really clear that you are nowhere near the National Hockey Stadium but it does turn out that stadium:mk is next to arena:mk where the Milton Keynes BasketBall team who they might have nicked off Chicago but probably didn’t play. “Rory Delap would be great at that, he should play for them” says Noel.

Half time is a different mood. What can Stuart McCall do? He is without a load of quality players in the midfield and almost every option that is suggested seems to be taking a punt on a player in the hope that while he might not do much most of the time he will be stunning today. Oddly enough this is not just applied to Billy Topp but Luke Sharry and Rory Boulding who as far as I can tell have done nothing to say they are the guys you play when you want to beat a team in the league above you.

Then again they have done nothing to say they are not. Sharry is a big lad and fills a midfield hole but we seem solid enough and have a good chance of taking these back to Valley Parade if we don’t throw Rory, Toppy and Sharry up front and take off everyone who is ever in our half.

The second half started in our half with Omar Daley’s long runs and Barry Conlon’s head being the only way that City could find to get out from the cosh. The home team won corners that were cleaned out by Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke who were both having great games. “The second corner should be a short corner” Dawn said and we all agreed that was a good idea really and that football could learn a lot from Hockey. “You could get two goals for shots from outside the box” which was a Basketball thing and could have had City losing at this point so probably wasn’t a good idea. “Imagine what Deano would have done with the stick, heads would have rolled.”

The Milky Dons started to use the flanks more with former Town flop Kevin Gallen running the channels for them and Michael Boulding starting to do the same for City. The defence which is never lauded of late did not buckle and Stuart McCall seemed to have settled for whatever this stiff rear guard and occasional counter-attack football would produce be it replay at Valley Parade or narrow defeat. We were all surprised when what was produced turned out to be a goal from Graeme Lee.

Boulding was fouled on one of his enterprising runs and while had Lee not blasted the free kick in then we would probably be asking why the fouler was not sent off but the free kick saw Lee step up like Marco Flaming Sas and belt the ball in hard and low to the back of the Dons goal. Like Marco Flaming Sas. I mean, who was expecting that? “He slam dunked that with his chuffing stick!”

Then it was attack and defence with Lewington wandering around the field trying to do everything and Matt Clarke looking as strong as he ever has. The Referee blew his whistle and we were through to the second round six fielders out and no Peter Thorne and everything.

Which says something about Stuart. Belief was thin on the ground today for us all and most of us who had come expected very little and chattered through the game about nothing much like the management team enjoying a trip with no expectation to win. Following City this year is about getting three points every week and the two cup games have been local derbies. We came here with hardly any midfielders against a team that beat us twice last year. This is the least pressure of the season and probably the most fun.

Stuart always clenches is fists and punches the air after a win but today he did so without that feeling that he had stuck it to his doubters but with a smile that he might have not expected it either.

The second round awaits. I doubt it will be as much fun.

Where we want to be – MK Dons v Bradford City – FA Cup 1st Round preview

The chances are that those of us at Stadium MK this Saturday will witness a City defeat – but I hope to still make the 162-mile journey home feeling happy.

I will be happy if I see commitment from those who don Claret and Amber for this FA Cup 1st Round tie. Injuries, in midfield in particular, are severely limiting Stuart McCall’s options. There are already plenty of excuses which can be made if defeat occurs, but if those who are fit to play show anything less than full commitment towards the cause of City’s name appearing in Sunday’s 2nd Round draw those excuses will lose credibility.

I will be happy if Stuart is able to learn something from the game. Those injuries allow others their opportunity and, with seven substitutes allowed in the FA Cup, there will be plenty queuing up to take it. Injuries to Dean Furman and Kyle Nix – added to Joe Colbeck and Chris Brandon – open up a hole in midfield. Stuart may move Nicky Law across to partner Paul McClaren in the centre, which should leave Leon Osborne or Willy Topp battling to take the vacant right midfield role.

Osborne made his debut for City against Millwall in May 2007, but got off on the wrong foot with Stuart that summer which hindered progress. Topp’s contribution this season has been two appearances from the bench. He played reasonably well out wide during pre-season, through Stuart may wish to bring him in up front tomorrow.

If Law is kept on the right, Luke Sharry could make his much-anticipated debut for City having impressed in pre-season and for the reserves this season. At the back Huddersfield’s refusal to let Tom Clarke play should mean a return for the other Clarke; though Paul Arnison could be recalled and TJ Moncur moved to the centre to partner Graeme Lee. Luke O’Brien, who made his senior debut in the FA Cup this season, will hope to recapture his promising form at left back, with Rhys Evans keeping goal.

Up front it seems unlikely Peter Thorne will be risked into action, with City’s top scorer seemingly picking up as many niggling injuries as goals. The in-form Barry Conlon should partner Michael Boulding, although don’t rule out the 4-3-3 formation adopted against Leeds in the Johnstones Paint Trophy which would see Boulding and Omar Daley assume the wide forward roles. Otherwise the latter will return from suspension in his familiar left wing role.

The MK Dons are far from unfamiliar opposition and it’s barely six months since they sealed the League Two title with victory at Valley Parade. Currently 4th in League One, they are nicely set up to achieve Julian Rhodes’ ambition for City of back-to-back promotions.

And that’s where the real happiness could be gained, even if City make it a hat trick of first round cup exits this season. They are not there yet, but we hope this City side can be as good as last year’s MK Dons and follow their path towards the Championship. That doesn’t mean we’ll be good enough to win, particularly with significant injuries, but we want to at least see our team compete with them.

There were many impressive facets to the MK Dons side which beat us at home April, right up there was their resilience. We travel South in the hope of an upset, but even if the best our patched-up side can achieve is to run the Dons close it would speak volumes of the character and strength of this squad. There’s no excuse for the players who’ll get a rare opportunity to show anything less than their all, but that should go for the remaining regulars too.

View from the dugout

Cup football presents certain opportunities. A chance to see the Bantams face someone different from usual (although for City that’s largely not been the case recently), reading a match day programme filled with contributors’ sentiments of how “it’s about time City went on a good cup run” and, largely unnoticed, the prospect on an entertaining cup tie. The Tranmere 1st Round FA Cup tie two seasons ago was one of the better games of that season while the 4-0 thrashing of Crewe, which took place exactly a year ago, was probably City’s best performance of a forgettable campaign.

It’s also an opportunity to be there when so many others fail to bother and bask in the smug satisfaction of labelling yourself a ‘loyal supporter’ when the pitiful attendance, in this case less than 4,000 City fans, is announced. With even more empty seats than usual, there’s also an opportunity to watch the game from a different place.

If you include the live beamback of the Newcastle United FA Cup tie in 1999, I’ve watched City play from each side of Valley Parade. There’s one view point I’ve been especially interested in watching a game from and, with all seating up for grabs, I took the opportunity on Saturday. I wanted to watch the game from how the dug out sees it.

Arriving half hour before kick off, we made our way to the front row of the Main Stand and took a seat just behind the home dug out so that we could see and hear how Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs behave during matches – something I couldn’t possibly tell from where I usually sit, on the opposite side of the pitch.

Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

We were also able to witness a hilarious argument with Bobby Williamson and supporters. During the week the Chester manager had somewhat bizarrely made public comments that Bradford City don’t have any outstanding players, a view that surely fired up people in the home dressing room. As Williamson came to the away dugout, one supporter stood and began angrily barracking him for his comments. Williamson responded by turning away and laughing. The fan continued shouting, prompting a member of the Chester backroom team to tell him to shut up. Another City fan then shouted at this Chester coaching member, who replied by inviting the City fan to ‘take this outside’!

Attention soon turned to Stuart and Wayne walking down the touchline, both of whom received a round of applause from fans nearby. The game kicked off and both spent the whole 90 minutes stood on the touchline barking encouragement. It’s a cliché but true, they really did appear to kick every ball.

Both Stuart and Wayne were continuously giving instructions and demanding more from certain players. In particular they were shouting at Eddie Johnson and Omar Daley. They had clear ideas of where on the pitch they wanted Daley to be, going forward and defending. Eddie was called over to the bench for instructions on several occasions. At times Eddie’s face was that of someone fed up of being told what to do, but he always appeared to take on board the instructions and enjoyed another decent game in the hub of midfield.

He missed City’s best chance in the opening stages when he failed to connect to Paul Evans’ brilliant free kick. Soon after City were in front with an excellently worked goal. Daley was ordered to take up a good position from a throw in and he and Darren Williams worked the ball along to give Evans a chance to cross. His delivery was perfect for Peter Thorne who headed the ball into the far corner for his first City goal.

Viewers of Thursday’s Yorkshire TV Soccer Night will have seen a clip of Stuart and Wayne hugging when City’s second goal on Tuesday had gone in, a celebration perhaps wilder than usual. Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

Joy soon turned to anger at the referee’s inept performance. Just before half time Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu challenged for a loose ball which he appeared to win. At worst, he slightly tapped Chester’s Laurence Wilson in the process, but the full back collapsed as though he had been shot. The referee sent G off for two yellows. It was a moment strikingly similar to Steve Schumacher’s incorrect dismissal against Blackpool last season. Naturally Stuart was livid and ran over to the linesman and referee to tell them so. He later revealed, on radio, that the linesman had agreed with Stuart that it was wrong to send G off.

In the second half it was backs to the wall again as City sought to hang on. Like on Tuesday, Chester piled on the pressure forcing City deep but again the home side largely defended well. The substitutions, who I enjoyed getting to know about before everyone else by being able to hear Stuart tell them they were coming on, were also highly effective. Scott Phelan should be feeling especially pleased. He’s become somewhat forgotten since the Accrington debacle but he has some promise about him.

For all their pressure, Chester had only one real chance with Donovan Ricketts saving well. At one stage Ricketts’ came rushing out of his goal for no reason. Hearing Stuart mutter “what’s he doing now?” made me smile – proof that Stuart is thinking the same as the rest of us! It’s been a great week for our recalled keeper and a second clean sheet of the season will only increase his confidence.

At the final whistle Bobby Williamson turned to clap the fans in the main stand with a curious smile. You get the feeling he had enjoyed the banter he had experienced with City fans, but will probably be glad he doesn’t have to visit us again this season. I wonder if he still thinks we have no outstanding players?

As for Stuart and Wayne, it was hugely enjoyable to observe them from close quarters. Both spent the match barking instructions and Stuart clearly has belief in his assistant Wayne to allow him to shout out his own views. Occasionally they chatted to each other, but both seemed happy to watch and talk to the players on their own initiative. Stuart is clearly his own boss and he has already perfected those bizarre managerial finger movements and hand signals which don’t appear to mean anything.

It was also quite bemusing, midway through the second half with the game stopped due to injury, to observe Wayne call Paul Heckingbottom over and give him instructions for a few minutes. During his first spell at the club Heckingbottom won the left back spot over Jacobs. Clearly no lack of respect from Hecky, as he took the advice of a bloke he used to keep out of the team!

In the pub before the match I was asked that, if a non-legend had been in charge, do I think he would have been sacked for the results so far this season? If some people really believe that’s the case it shows what’s wrong with fans expectations sometimes. Legend or not, should any new manager be dismissed so quickly? It’s still very early days in Stuart’s managerial career and some of the criticism he has received in recent weeks has been undeserved. It’s going to take time to turn around a club which has been falling for so long. Hopefully these two victories over Chester point to an improvement which will continue.

As for the dug out view, it would be wrong for me to write that Stuart and Wayne showed themselves to be a great management team. I don’t know what’s good touchline behaviour, or what’s bad. What I did see and hear was how they wanted City to play and what certain players should be doing. I also saw a decent performance – not as good as elements of Tuesday’s, but also not as bad – where everyone in Claret and Amber contributed. I will return to my usual seat in the Midland Road stand for the Stockport game in two weeks continuing my backing for a management team who, legend or not, I believe can eventually turn round the flagging fortunes of this club.

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