How we let a good season become bad and what we can do about it

The Team

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

The 2-1 result against Tranmere Rovers that saw the Birkenhead team relegated to League Two meant more to the home side than it did to us.

The less said about Tranmere Rovers this season the better. A manager sacked for gambling on his own club and players deliberately sent off probably including a time at Valley Parade when Ian Goodison hit Kyel Reid.

Thinking back over the season that Sunday afternoon – it was moved for a EDL protest back before all their voters jumped ship to UKIP – saw the end of City’s promotion push this term. Matthew Bates made a debut but proved to not be Andrew Davies and when Ryan Lowe scored the only goal of the game there was a start of the end of the form that had taken us to Wembley twice.

We came into this division on a high and started very well. That start faded away as did Nahki Wells who joined Huddersfield Town and so City started a slow climb to a performance target which was easily reached.

“Easily reached” being my opinion, but also the opinion of the Tranmere Rovers supporters who would no doubt have looked curiously at you if you had told them that this both our teams had battled relegation.

If you had been following Bradford City this season then you might have been excused in thinking that the season had been a lot more difficult than it has. In fact depending on which part of the chorus of Bradford City supporters you were closest to you might have thought that City had a terrible season.

Not for those lads and lasses at the back of the Kop who make such an impressive noise. They are this season’s poster people for backing a club through thick and thin. At their lowest ebb – Walsall at home – they still made a better noise than Valley Parade heard during our last season at this level.

If you listened to the majority of City fans who mainly did not allow the Bantams to occupy their minds then the club did “ok”. By virtue of the fact that you are the sort of person who is reading this article you may not appreciate just what a small part the club can play in the lives of some people who are proud to self-identify as Bradford City fans.

Mark Neale – he of The Friends of Bradford City and many other Bradford City supporters associations – is convinced that the club has around 2,000 supporters who get involved in the club between games (apologies to Mark if that figure is not accurate, I’m pretty sure the spirit is)

And while that figure might go up or down in small movements over years it is importantly not a percentage of the attendance. If 10,000 turned up they would be 20%, if 3,000 turned up they would be 66%. They are constant.

Which means that this season eight or nine thousand people have been coming to Valley Parade this season having read a bit about City, and talked a bit about City, and largely taking a lead from the two thousand who involve themselves in City between the games.

Which is becoming a problem.

If you are in that two thousand you probably know #bcafc, and Width of a Post, and Claret and Banter, and even the quangoesque Bradford City Supporters Board. If you do know these things, and pay attention to them, you’d think that Bradford City had had a terrible season.

Which is not to say that all of of this coverage have been negative or has all been suggesting that we have been terrible. Far from it. You can find Bradford City supporters who are pathologically positive and can find silver linings on the biggest clouds but when one attests that one is 100% in one’s support for Phil Parkinson one is being drawn into a conversation about a lack of support for Phil Parkinson.

And that has been the conversation this season for the two thousand. That Parkinson should be sacked (or that he should not), or that some (or all) players are not good enough (or that they are), or that City are battling relegation (or that they will win that battle)

Which would make sense if one were in the opposite end of Prenton Park watching our team be relegated but we are not.

At the end of March City dipped to 15th place for a week in a league of 24 teams but for the majority of the season City have nestled in mid-table.

(You can, if you want to be as asinine as it is possible to be, suggest that this is mid-table mediocrity but when Jon Stead and Aaron McLean scored in the last ten minutes left to ensure Tranmere Rovers would be relegated the idea that it is the Bantams who can be termed “mediocre” would not have been well received by the home supporters.)

So why has this season of an expected return – a newly promoted club should plan for retaining their position in their new league – become characterised as being one where City struggled against relegation? When City were in either the top third at the start, or the middle third for the balance, why has the context been that City have been in the bottom third?

Let me draw a line here between the context of this season and the idea of being negative. The problem this season has not been that people have looked at the events and looking at them concluded a negative view. It is that they have looked at them and, ignoring the facts, created a worst view of the status of the club.

You and I, dear reader, can draw a positive or negative view of a season after which City finished in 11th position with 59 points but saying the season was worse than that is just lying. And that is what the conversation has been around all season.

The conversation has been a lie.

It has been that Bradford City are doing worse than they were, and that Parkinson was performing poorly when he was not, and that the players at the start of the season were not good enough when objectively, as a group, they were.

And this has caused a problem because as the two thousand argue a false premise the eight thousand have their support framed in that context. That the people who “know more” than them are telling them that (either) things are terrible (or that things are not as terrible as other people think they are).

This sets a mood. You can have your own view on if the mood around the club and its fans affects the players on the field but I’ve observed that that relationship is symbiotic. Indeed if one were to believe Messers Lawn and Rhodes (and there is no reason why one should not) then they are supporters of the club in the boardroom and thus the fans are the player’s bosses.

Defender Shane Duff – one time Bantam – made it very clear that the mood of one of the chairmen used to directly affect the players in his time at the club.

Mr Lawn sat in with the Bradford City supporters today signing autographs for other supporters and it is hard not to wonder where the chairman – who during the two trips to Wembley could not have been more visible – had been all season? His warm and friendly face has been noticeable by it’s absence since the sale of Wells in January and during the time. When the context of the season needed to be stated he and his partner Mr Rhodes were not to be seen. Not that Mr Rhodes ever is but if there was a benefit to the team of Mr Lawn’s appearances around Wembley then surely there would have been a benefit of the club’s boardroom firmly stating that Phil Parkinson’s team were performing well, despite poor form, and that this season was on track.

Is not the prevailing view in the higher echelons of Valley Parade? If it is why not say it? I worry that it is because of this false premise being argued by the two thousand and the belief that appearing to be on the wrong side of that conversation would not be desirable.

Perhaps it is additional credit to Phil Parkinson that not only has he taken Bradford City to promotion, and then attained a very good 11th placed finish, carrying the mantle of leadership of the club alone and without public support from his employers especially if that support could have addressed the two thousand and challenged the false premise?

One wonders though where City – and specific the two thousand – go from this season? This was a good season but the discussions between the core of two thousand have contextualised it as a poor one. I believe that that has been a part of a feedback loop which has fed the eight thousand which has got to the pitch and by affecting the players made the season worse.

What is more I would suggest that this is a problem for much of modern football where the reality is that 80-odd teams at the end of every season will not have any silverware to celebrate with. That the majority of supporters are suffering this problem of their own two thousand being dragged into conversations based on false premises by sections of that support.

If next season takes the pattern of this then will we see a repeat of this year? If so what can be done about it? Does anything need to be done about it or are we, as a community, happy with the way this season has been discussed?

Those questions need to be considered by football supporters up and down the country, but at Bradford City we have the backwash of two trips to Wembley and what good what good will remains from that. We could use that to try form a community which better understands how a good season has been made bad by a small percentage of a small percentage who really should have been told they were wrong sooner.

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.

Be a friend of Bradford City

Friends of Bradford City has been relaunched because, quite frankly, the club needs help.

Friends of Bradford City has been relaunched with organiser Mark Neale underlining how the club need assistance in the Summer of 2011. Assistance was to be the theme of the summer. Collecting money in buckets, auctioning off items, raising the funds to keep going in administration. As it was that assistance was not needed.

Neale – a friend of BfB going back some time – is experienced at dealing with chairmen at Bradford City having seen them come and go in his various roles with supporters organisations which has has manned with dedication over the last two decades or more. He took a list of requirements to the club to get Friends of Bradford City up and running and independent of the club itself. The club agreed to them.

The Friend’s first aim is a practical one – they are raising money for a bus for the Youth Team – but there is a desire to go further that meets up with the way the club needs to go after four bruising years.

The years of affordable pricing – a fine and noble thing – have coincided with four season in the fourth tier of English football and this with other factors (many out of control of the club) have combined to make a detachment between club and supporter.

More and more we are consumers of the Bradford City product rather than the supporters of the Bradford City cause.

We pays our money, or so the thinking goes, and the club puts on the football. When that football does not pass what a person considers to be acceptable then the ire flows. It is vandalism – in my humble opinion – but I understand the motivation behind it. Because the supporter does not feel as if the club needs anything from him other than his money then club becomes a product.

Neale says of his Friends of Bradford City scheme “If these fans can help the club in some way – be it carpentry, marketing, whatever – then it will ultimately save the club money.”

Bradford City fans represent a multitude of skills and many of them will be deployed in fund raising for the projects which Friends of Bradford City are involved in but fans have other abilities which the club could call on.

Skills which run further than the snow clearing from the field or the painting of pipes at the club which fan involvement projects often are viewed as. David Baldwin believed he had the skills to run the Christmas campaign for Season Tickets last season (one would have one’s own view on if that was successful) but supporters have experience, talent and ability which could be deployed in projects like that.

Take – as another example – the data capture BfB ran to plot post codes onto a map. The club’s season ticket data and someone with expertise in data mining could identify areas of lapsed season ticket holders, someone else could look at shaping an offer for those people, someone else at a mail shot all of which would be designed to get more bums on seats.

One of the most pressing problems – it is said – with the club is that their simply are not enough bodies to do everything. The club could look at Friends of Bradford City for experts in various fields who would give experience and abilities. The pay off for this is a better club and supporters who are more engaged. Supporters who are not just consuming the product, but are creating the club. A Bradford City of the willing and the willing credited, rewarded and thanked. There must be space in the match day magazine to credit (and give business contact details) of those who have mucked in.

We constantly hear how City’s boardroom is full of Bradford City fans, and the virtues of that, the key question the club must ask itself is how much control it is prepared to hand over to other fans who get involved for the love of the club.

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