Changes

In September 1959, thanks to parents who bought me boots (and they were boots!) and to teachers who gave up a Saturday morning, I played my first competitive game of football for the under 11s of Harehills Junior School. I can’t remember the opposition or the result but I do remember pulling on a real football jersey – blue and red quarters. I also remember that after the game we were all given concessionary tickets to watch the rather unfashionable professionals in blue and old gold across the other side of the city. Although I didn’t know it then, I was hooked! Football would remain a constant despite all life’s other changes.

Now, in September2009, I am once again eligible for some concessions yet still watching and still playing –albeit friendly 5-a-side – every Sunday morning.

During the intervening years I have experienced ecstatic highs and depressing lows with the two clubs I have supported at different stages of my life. Success at Wembley with both never tempted me to quit whilst ahead, humiliating defeats with both never led me to give up in despair and regular acquaintances with psychotic full backs never made me want to stop playing. I love the game. I have got so much out of it and in some small way put a little bit back.

For many years I, like so many other teachers, was involved in running school football teams at my south Bradford school. Success in hard fought derbies against the likes of Buttershaw, Priestman and Woodroyd was rewarded by “Champions League” knockout stages that involved travel to such exotic locations as Swain House, Belmont and Thornbury. Finals, if you made it, were held at superstadia such as King George fields, Manningham Mills or even….Valley Parade!

But pressures on management are nothing new. School teams were, by their very nature, made up of those in the school. No oil-rich headteachers could attract stars from other schools with the prospect of higher grades and inflated reports. Agents, sorry, parents, did not tout their offspring around to find the team capable of taking their sons “to the next level.” The only hope of strengthening your squad was if someone moved into the area bringing an addition to the school that filled the gap on the left that had always been a problem – which was where I put a young Ian Ormondroyd when he arrived one term!

However the biggest pressure came through the organisation. Because the teams were age-based it meant a new team every year. Whatever success had been achieved the previous year counted for nothing as players were now ineligible for that league as they were a year older. Achievement fluctuated. Highs and lows were experienced. But few managers were sacked because of bad results and the kids were always keen for the next game. Now school football seems to have gone. Maybe better things such as academies, football in the community and local youth teams have replaced them but for those of a certain age school football will be fondly remembered despite all the changes.

So what has all this to do with Bradford City and BfB? Well a glance at the team sheets for September 08 and September 09 have the marked changes in personnel that school teams would show. The change is almost wholesale. Pay packets, personalities and petulance have combined to rid us of much of last September’s team. Luke O’Brian, last year’s youngster, is now the only regular from the last campaign likely to command a regular spot this season. Replacements are like the new school team, mostly inexperienced at this level. Some have played but for “smaller” sides but few have had the set up that Valley Parade has to offer in terms of both facilities and support. And this is the key to how the season might unfold.

For the first time in a while we have the opportunity afforded to few league clubs – the chance to watch a team grow – and what happens…some “fans” are on their backs already. What do they come to City for? What do they come to football for? Does a T.V. diet of Premiership and European leagues raise expectations to an unrealistic level? Is Flynn expected to be Fabregas, Bullock, Ballack or Neillson, Nani? Even superstars make mistakes but rarely face the vitriol poured out by some of our “fourth division fans” who expect perfect passing and first touch control every time.

Recent postings and comments on this site (my own included) have tried to focus on positive support, vocal encouragement and, when necessary, quiet understanding. The boo boys must not hold sway. Personally I am more interested than ever because of the “new” team. There is a sense of excitement, unpredictability and, dare I whisper it so soon, the faint prospect of success – all the things I come to football for.

There is also the challenge of managing a new team. I really can’t believe the criticism levelled at Stuart McCall at the start of this season. Having written in support of him staying just a few months ago I see no reason to change my mind. What I do see is enthusiasm, cooperation on the field and all round effort. Give the manager credit where it is due. The failings of last season in these areas have been addressed quickly this season. Lessons have been learned. Players’ efforts can easily be seen, manager’s efforts are often harder to spot – especially for those blinkered to them in the first place. But for those prepared to look there is a lot of good to see in what has happened this season – and that was just in August!

So, apologies if I am sentimental, excuse the nostalgia if you will ,but please join me in celebrating my 50 years in football by showing pride in those who wear the current City shirt (jersey?) and giving due credit to all involved in making V.P. the place we want to go to enjoy our football. Here’s to the future!

Moans, groans and negativity

It was a warm Tuesday evening in late September 2009 and as the City supporters trudged away from Valley Parade, there was much talk about whether the appointment of Dave Penney in the summer had been the right move by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn following Stuart McCall’s exit at the end of the 2008/2009 season. City had narrowly missed out of the final play off position after failing to win their final game at Chesterfield and thus as McCall had stated in April he quit the club that he loves as he felt that he had failed owing to the fact that Bradford City were still a Division 4 side. Now that Penney and City had suffered their third consecutive home defeat, this time to league newcomers Burton Albion which left them in the bottom half of Division 4, many City supporters were questioning Penney’s appointment.

Obviously, the above paragraph is made up but a similar scenario could occur later on this calendar year. City fail to make the play-offs, McCall is true to his word and departs from the Valley Parade hot-seat, another manager is appointed and City begin the 2009/2010 season in a poor fashion. What will the so-called City supporters be moaning and groaning about then?

The negativity inside Valley Parade on Easter Monday was disgusting. I’m sure that Joe Colbeck, last season’s Player of the Year, would be the first to admit that he had a shocker and when McCall went to a 4-3-3 formation bringing on Mullen for Boulding, many people near me were shouting “You don’t know what you’re doing” at McCall. Now whilst I’m not the greatest supporter of Mullen (I believe that he looks and plays like Conlon) and I would have kept Boulding on the pitch, I didn’t start hurling abuse at a person who has experienced promotion as a player, scored two goals in an FA Cup final, won numerous trophies with Rangers and scored in the World Cup Finals. I’m not saying that a great player makes a great manager as shown by Bryan Robson (in my eyes a superb player but a poor manager) but McCall is still learning the managerial role.

Calls for Mark Bower to return from his loan spell at Luton could be also heard on a day. This is the same player who has been abused in previous seasons. The negativity inside Valley Parade spreads like a cancer and it makes me sick! I for one kept shouting encouragement at our players and I still believe that we can make the play offs. And if we don’t I’ll be back at Valley Parade next season supporting the men in claret an amber. That’s what the difference is between a supporter and a fan. A supporters offers words of support during the difficult times which is what our team is experiencing at the moment as our winless run continues.

So to all you moaners and groaners out there, if you want to follow a successful club, go to Old Trafford and join the thousands of others who have no connection with Manchester but who want to follow a successful team. Or go to Stamford Bridge and watch loads of foreign players where local home grown talent has very very little chance of making it into the first team.

For me, it’s the delights of Division 4 at the moment, watching the likes of Colbeck and O’Brien, special home grown players. And who knows, it could be Colbeck scoring the winning goal at Chesterfield on 02 May. Now where’s that ticket for Saltergate…

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