How we will all be sorry after Bradford City drew 2-2 at Port Vale

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Christopher Routis, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Andy Halliday | Billy Knott | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Mark Yeates, Ben Williams

Football, not football

Writing about football is difficult.

Writing about writing about football is easy.

In fact I would argue that the vast majority of the coverage of football is, in one way or another, the coverage of the coverage of football. The most viewed BBC Sport page is an abstract of a lot of newspaper stories of “gossip” – which is to say stories which no one even attempts to claim are true – while picking up the collection of local papers after the 4-2 win over Chelsea revealed column inches of reports on what City fans had said about the game on Twitter.

It is reaction to reaction, and while it is often confused for writing about football it is not. Football is that thing that happens on the field between three and five on a Saturday.

This is a preamble as to why the week of accusation followed by apology at Bradford City has been both the most and least interesting subject of conversation.

It is interesting because it concerns two of the most fundamental considerations at a football club that impact on football.

Most obviously the pitch. Literally the core of a football club Phil Parkinson pointed out, rightly, that the pitch was in very poor condition. Colchester goalscorer Chris Porter said it was the worst he had played on.

Worse Gus Poyet, manager of next Sunday’s opposition Sunderland, suggested that the forthcoming FA Cup tie between the two clubs might be moved to The Stadium of Light to provide a decent playing surface.

He did not mean it really. It was a joke but the butt of the joke was Bradford City’s ability to maintain the basic needed for a football match – a pitch – and so the butt of the joke was Bradford City.

Bradford City are a laughing stock.

The lack of blame game

Parkinson had pointed the finger squarely at Roger Owen and his co-director Graham Jones for failing to do anything about the state of the pitch which the manager had believed was within the remit of Mr Owen. He later apologised for mentioning any specific director and agreed that the quality of the pitch was a collective problem.

The club – in turn – issued a statement which read that Mr Owen and Mr Jones had no specific responsibility for the pitch but iterated through things that the pair had achievements including “sourc(ing) funding for equipment and improvements through the connection with fans group, Friends of Bradford City where they are the link to the Board” which would seem to be an act of receiving, rather than raising, funds.

Other achievements of a similar scale were mentioned and as the statement made it clear that they were responsible for small achievements but carried out those responsibilities without any remuneration. The message from Bradford City seemed to be that Parkinson was wrong to think that the pitch was the responsibility of Mr Owen and Mr Jones because the pitch was a little above the pair’s pay grade to be involved with.

Parkinson had thought that it was Mr Owen’s job at directorial level to look after the pitch but he was wrong. It was nobody’s job, at least not specifically, and so no specific director deserved any specific criticism for not doing anything about the pitch because – as a collective – all the directors shared responsibilities and thus – one assumes – any criticism shared between the directors too.

And Parkinson had made criticism, albeit pointed in what the board of directors said was the wrong direction, but that criticism was not responded to. Not responded to in in public at least. In public had been where Parkinson’s apology was made. It was carried on the club’s website which seemed to have misplaced the City manager’s original criticism from the news section.

Without portfolio

I think at the time they thought I was making excuses because the home form was poor but I don’t make excuses. Nothing was done, no help was given to the groundsman and now he’s the one with all the stress of us playing on probably the worst pitch I’ve ever seen.Phil Parkinson, 2nd February 2015

So one considered the second point which was Parkinson’s apology to the Directors without Portfolio for suggesting that they had responsibilities they did not have. Parkinson had said that he had been left with the impression that it was considered the problem of the pitch was an excuse for poor results. In Parkinson’s apology he did not, nor did the club, attempt to put right the statement Parkinson had made about the directors believing that the manager was making excuses.

Indeed there was no clarification from any specific directors or the whole of the board as to if Parkinson was right to think that it has been considered he was excuse making, that he was wrong to get the impression, that the board would perish the thought that the manager who had taken them from the bottom of League Two to the fifth round of the FA Cup via Chelsea, Arsenal, Wembley, Twice might incorrectly walk away from a board meeting thinking that he was doing anything other than a near unprecedented superb job as manager, at least from the business’ point of view.

So the picture was complete. The manager who beat Mourinho had walked into the boardroom to complain about a fundamental problem with the pitch but left having his judgement on football questioned and with the impression that it was thought he was making up excuses.

Football has a right history of managers clashing with Directors. Sam Longson got his own way at Derby County against Brian Clough and that is why Nottingham Forest ended up with two European Cups and not The Rams. You either think that football managers should be second guessed by local businessmen or your don’t. Most managers do not believe they should and some find a place where they are in harmony with the boardroom. One wonders what Phil Parkinson spent the week considering.

And so to Saturday

All of which is 1,016 words that are only tangentially about football in that they threaten the club’s ability to play the game well at home – the pitch – or under the successful manager in Parkinson who has attracted admiring glances from clubs in the top two divisions. The grass at Port Vale allowed City to settle quickly into an easy pattern of attempted ball retention against a Valiant’s side which looked as poor as any City had faced this season, Millwall aside.

Nestled in lower mid-table Rob Page’s Port Vale allowed Parkinson’s Bradford City as much time on the ball as wanted – at least in build up play – and there was something about the ease on the ball which concerned the Bantams. The popular diagonal pass between Rory McArdle and James Hanson went unplayed as McArdle enjoyed the time to pick a pass to central midfielders who moved forward uncomfortably.

With too long in possession City were indecisive and allowed the first half to all but peter out without a chance. At times it seemed like there was a game being made of attempts to play the perfect pass into Jon Stead, other times City looked like they would dominate in the box only for the ball to go unfinished for the want of players looking for flick downs.

In such situations one always worries about Filipe Morais. As a player Morais is alternatively impressive in position and undisciplined in action. He suffers a tendency to try shortcut build up play with a lashed shot at goal or an attempt to dribble from the centre of the midfield which fail but is a key part of build up when he succeeds.

For Parkinson this must be frustrating because of the frequency in which when Morais goes “off-message” fortune favours him. Forty minutes into the game and Morais decides that it is time for him to lash a low shot from outside the box which is easily charged down but the same player – doing as manager and team mates would want him to – grasped the ball and took it to the byline to cross to the waiting James Hanson who headed the first goal.

Filipe Morais squandered possession with a daft shot but got the ball back and made the opening goal. The tendency to do the former seems symbiotic to the ability to do the latter. In the second half when a good run from James Meredith saw Hanson test Vale keeper Chris Neal again and the ball fall to Morais, exactly where Parkinson would want him to be, to finish smartly, exactly what Parkinson would want him to do, and make the game 2-1.

2-1 because minutes before Vale were allowed to cross in with ease as Morais allowed the left back all the time he wanted to make his cross. The problems with a wingless team are the number of crosses that come in. Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle deal with a lot of them but not this one which was rolled in by Achille Campion from a flick down which both central defenders would probably wish they had attacked more firmly.

Who then does Parkinson charge with the responsibility for the goal? Morais for not cutting off the supply? McArdle and Davies for allowing a flick down? Billy Knott for having seen a close range chance which would have made the game 2-0 earlier saved by Neal who would do the same to Hanson later on?

By the time the game entered injury time City should have been leading by some margin and would have been but for Neal. Vale’s goal was a rare foray forward in a game which was increasingly about City coming forward. The late entry of Mark Yeates for Knott was Parkinson putting on a player who could make the most of late possession but Yeates was caught on the ball and a few seconds later Jordan Pickford was being sent off as the rapid counter-attack saw the keeper slide Greg Luer’s legs away.

All Ben Williams did was pick the ball out of the back of his goal.

The reaction to the reaction

And so back in Bradford blame was assigned.

It was the fault of Jordan Pickford for the foul, or of Mark Yeates for losing the ball in midfield, or of Hanson/Knott for not finishing the chances that Neal saved, or of Parkinson for not going for the win but the game ended level and a point away is always a good result at any level.

The disappointment – it seems – is that there was a growing consensus in support in the reaction to the Chelsea win that City were upwardly mobile and making a surge for the play-offs. This may still be true and this result may be a part of that but the narrative is not about conceding goals in the last minute.

The problem with the growing consensus is that it is based on reaction to the reaction.

City beat Chelsea, and so should be able to beat anyone in League One, and if not then there must be a reason for it and if the reason is at all mitigated then that is “excuses” and not tolerated. Anything other than a victory is because the team failed to do something they should have done, and failure is something that should not be tolerated.

And the people who fail, and who make excuses, should be told that they have failed and made excuses.

It is through this bastard child of logic that one can come to the conclusion that Phil Parkinson is the reason that City are not successful rather than the reason they are. People with that way of thinking honeycomb the support of football and get far too much attention for my tastes. These people flatter themselves that they present an alternative view of a situation but what they offer is a twisted view based on misunderstanding and ignorance. They should be pushed to the edge of the community of Bradford City support with the other trolls.

However, and this is worth considering, if a person was able to do it without pay there would be nothing to stop such a person with such a twisted view of how football works and the reasons for success from joining the board of Bradford City, from not have any specific responsibilities of any note, and from using board meetings as a place to let Phil Parkinson (or any other City manager) know he is making excuses for his poor performance face to face.

And let us hope is not something that happens or we all really will be sorry.

Archie Christie Day: Part 3/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 2 and started in Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember the name: George Green.


The stereo remains off on the journey from Woodhouse Grove to Valley Parade, enabling us further opportunities to ask Archie Christie more about why he is here at all, given he is unpaid. “Julian Rhodes said last night ‘if nothing else, just get things done for the club’,” revealed Christie. “I can make money off the back of the club but I don’t make a penny. And the club know that and they like that.”

We talk about a description of Christie that has been repeated by almost everyone we’ve spoken to that day – he gets things done. “That’s what I do well. I get things done,” he nods. “I get the preparations done, I get the opposition done, I get the budgets done and I get the deals done. I get things done. I don’t have any arrogance and I don’t have any ego, I don’t take the criticism so I don’t take the praise. The plaudits are for the players and the manager. I just get things done for the club.”

But why this club, and what possesses him to take on such a massive challenge? “I want to do it because I want to turn Bradford City into a giant. At Dagenham we went from the bottom of the conference into League One. We beat Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Colchester. Bradford City can go to the Championship, and we can compete with Leeds. And on an equal footing. Not as second term neighbours, but as equals. Our 20,000 against their 20,000. Our 11 versus their 11. That’s what I want and believe.”

The conversation turns to young players at the club that he rates, and how far they can go at City and beyond. For someone who has been at City for such a short time, his level of knowledge of all the players – from first team to junior – is impressive, and one wonders whether previous first team managers would have such a detailed overview of the club. As we tell him the stories of Geoffrey Richmond and the excesses of that era, he is interested but unsurprised having already been filled in by Julian Rhodes.

“If we got back to the Championship I would then come up with a new strategy,” he comments as we pull into the Valley Parade car park. “So that we never have to worry about the bad times ever again.”

A first Bradford pint

The 1911 Club inside the Main Stand is marketed as a venue for business lunches during the week, but today (1pm) the beautifully decorated restaurant is empty of customers. Julian Rhodes is talking to the Yorkshire Post’s Richard Sutcliffe, with the pair about to head off somewhere so the Chairman can be interviewed. Julian is warm and welcoming to us both, trendily dressed while sporting a pair of beach sandals. “I’ve never seen him without sandals,” quips Christie.

In the corner sat reading the paper is another director, Graham Jones; a kind and softly-spoken man who is very friendly as we chat to him for two minutes. There’s a Board meeting at Valley Parade due to start in half an hour, which Christie has to attend. We don’t have much time left with him, so we follow him as he takes us outside into the padded seats that provide a terrific view of Valley Parade.

“I’ve not had a beer in Bradford up to now” Christie reveals, as he hands us each a pint that he’s just bought for us from the bar and begins to sip his own. The sun is beating down and the view feels familiar yet always engaging. We talk about recent games and about the potential crowds we could enjoy if the club was to climb back into the Championship. The here and now – getting some results quickly – is clearly vital, but Christie’s ideas and plans are more focused on further down the line.

“We’re starting to put together an infrastructure and mechanism into place that will stand this club in good stead for years to come,” Christie explains. Do you feel like when you joined you had a blank canvas? “Totally. Before I joined I wrote the Chairmen a 16-page report, on ‘if we want to change this is how we have to change’. Doing the same things and expecting different results, that’s a sign of madness, someone once said. We have to change, and this is how we change.”

Selling young players is clearly going to be a vital part of that strategy, but Christie doesn’t believe it should detract from the bigger picture. “Dagenham sold three players this year for one million and fifty thousand pounds,” he points out. “Who did we sell?

“We need to bring in boys that we can sell on and sell on at the right price. Along the way we have to sell some of our kids to generate revenue, in order to get to the Championship. By putting mechanisms in place, we can build sustainable income for when we are in the Championship.”

Of all the things we’ve seen and heard, the fact Christie joined a club with no scouting structure remains the most shocking. “Every Saturday we’re now watching games, and then two or three nights a week. We’ve got scouts covering the whole UK now. We’ve even had a fan from Romania who wants to set up a scouting network for me in Romania. A fan! We’ve got a proper scouting network now.”

And suddenly he jumps to his feet and leads us back into the 1911 Club, where he’s arranged lunch. It’s a good job we can eat fast, because in no time at all he’s back to work.

“I look like a fat Fabio Capello!”

Past the club shop and beyond the ticket office booths, a small door take us into the Bantams Business Centre where the offices of the joint Chairmen, youth development, finance and other admin staff are based. On the opposite side of the long and narrow corridor are small businesses that are providing vital rental revenue to help the club, and you get the impression City’s own staff will be moved to alternative rooms inside the stadium itself as and when demand for their small-but-homely offices increases.

Archie’s office is at the end of the corridor, and around five other staff members share it including the club’s press officer, Mark Harrison. Christie’s desk seems small and humble – amongst the other staff, rather than hidden away on his own in plusher surroundings. He clearly gets on well with everyone as they swap catch up stories, while he logs into his computer to check emails. These emails include a written transfer bid for George Green from a major Premier League club which he needs to print out and take to the Board meeting. He’d quickly spoken to Julian Rhodes about this offer – which had been made on the phone earlier – back in the 1911 club. We were witness to the surprise in Julian’s eyes regarding the bid’s size.

The sheer number of letters, emails and DVDs Christie receives from footballers looking for a trial at Bradford City is mind-boggling. CVs run for three or four pages each, coming from players stuck in reserve teams at other League Two clubs to kids knowing they are on their way out of a big Premier League club and in need of a break. And those are just the applications from players in this country. There are others from as far away as Australia.

Kath Brown, the club secretary, pops in to finalise the Dominic Rowe paperwork and discuss a range of different queries for Christie to sort out. “When are you back in?” she asks. “Not until next week” is the answer, as he lists the range of tasks he’ll be undertaking around the country on behalf of the club (mostly related to Green and securing the best possible deal for the club in view of the number of clubs chasing him). It seems he does not do days off.

Julian calls him twice. The Board meeting has started, where are you? He’s heading to the door with various bits of paperwork to show them, but all the while having banter with staff, who seem to enjoy his company and are giving some back. A fresh-faced work experience kid is helping Mark Harrison with content for the official website. “Please do me a new stock image to appear on the website, will you?” orders Christie. “The one you use at the moment, I look like a fat Fabio Capello.”

“This is my Manchester City”

We walk out with him as he heads to the Board meeting back inside the stadium, and we head home feeling utterly exhausted. Christie thanks for us for coming, and hopes we’ve got plenty to write about. Hopes that fans will have the chance to appreciate what he actually does. Hopes the criticism will recede. “People keep saying I’m just waiting to move to Man City. I’m not, this is my Man City.”

He starts to walk off, before turning back to us and pointing upwards at the giant Main Stand that towers high into the blue Bradford sky. “This place is a cathedral. I want to turn it into a fortress.”

And then his phone rings yet again.

In conclusion

It was 11:30pm on a Wednesday evening two weeks ago when I – Michael Wood – first talked to Archie Christie about myself and Jason spending a day with him. I was watching some a really bad movie on ITV4, he was still working. That is the first recurrent theme you pick up when dealing with Archie.

He works hard – to a level I’ve never seen before in any of the businesses I’ve worked with or for – and he is entirely focused on Bradford City. Only once during the entire day did Christie involve himself in something other than Bradford City – a thirty second call about a problem at his home – and unless directly asked he would not talk about anything other than Bradford City, his plans for the club, and how he intends to achieve those plans.

It was startlingly single-minded and it was exactly what I want at Valley Parade.

Hard work is a virtue of course but it would be wrong to let you, dear reader, go away with the idea that Christie brings only effort to the club – although do not doubt that he brings that and in abundance. There is an efficacy to Christie’s efforts and an aim to everything he does. During the day we were able to see deals (and other structures) put in place which will help City for years to come and I can put hand on heart and say that without Christie some of those deals – and one especially – would not have happened. Or had it done, would not have happened in the massive way it has.

All these deals will come out in time. Scott Brown will play for the club, as will Terry Dixon and Andrew Burns, and other people at Bradford City will have taken a share in those achievements, but from what I have seen, and who I have talked to, Christie is the start of those things. General George Marshall once said “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Christie would appreciate that point. BfB has talked in the past about the need for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to bring a football expert to the club and so – as our day wound down – I asked Christie if he would consider himself that football expert. He flatly rejected the term. “I bring business planning to football, that’s all.”

Football businessmen – which is to say people in the boardroom of clubs – have a reputation for not being the sharpest you will meet, but talking to Christie he shows an intelligence at odds with the profession he is in. When speaking about the criticism and abuse he has had from a section of the City “supporters” (quotes mine) he offers us the explanation “I am Jean Valjean.”

Christie speaks five languages, and has fluency in four of them. “English is the one I’m not fluent in” he jokes in a gnarled Scots brogue. He has built up and sold his own business – retiring at forty – and been a part of £800m deals to sell one company. His last board meeting, before joining City, was with NCP before that multi-million pound sale.

At some point one’s cynicism has to admit defeat.

Archie Christie does not need Bradford City as much as – and I mean this most sincerely based on ten years of decline and having seen plans coming to fruition in the course the day – Bradford City needs Archie Christie.

Which begs the question as to why is he involving himself at all? He could have been a Premier League scout – “I’d be bored” – so he is not looking at moving on. He seems financially well enough off to not need money from the club and does not get any anyway working for expenses as he does. He confirmed that he does not get a commission for selling players, be they Development Squad, youth or first team. When his achievements bubble to the surface – and they have so far – they often do with someone else’s name attached.

How to get to the core of a man’s motivations? Why does Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan own Manchester City? What does Abramovich get out of Chelsea? Neither make a profit. Why does Sir Alex Ferguson carry on at Manchester United having already done everything he could ever hope to?

Why etch your name in stone? The restoration of Bradford City offer someone a great work to carry out which is beyond the scope of what could be offered as a cog in the machine of a Premier League club. No other club in football can match City’s potential while being so obviously in need of new ideas. After watching fifty years of football perhaps Christie just thinks he can do football better. I know I would do it.

Swimming lengths and treading water in the shallow end at half seven in the morning we talked to Christie about Carlos Tevez who had refused to play for Manchester City in the week – he was none too complimentary – and later at breakfast in front of the gathering of young players he looked with disdain at the headlines about Titus Bramble.

Looking out over Valley Parade later in the day he talked about moral absolutes. His most offended moment is when he talks about having read that following Craig Thompson’s suspension for Hearts for sex offences against children that City would soon see Christie draping a City shirt over him and announcing him as a new signing. “I have daughters,” he says, “why would someone say that?”

There is a morality to the man but it is not worn falsely. After talking about Marlon King we ask him about Jake Speight who was jailed after signing for the club for assaulting his former girlfriend and who was not in Jackson’s plans. Christie sold Speight on his first day at Valley Parade after the club had had no interest in him previously and got back what Peter Taylor had paid for him. We asked him how he did it and his answer is matter of fact. “I knew Dean Saunders needed a striker.”

Another player – signed to the Development Squad and talked about by Christie when he arrived – was sacked on his first day having been arrested for an assault, and lying about that assault on a woman. Christie checked out the situation and tore up the contract just signed. “A seven stone lassie,” Christie says, “but the fans don’t see that. They say ‘He promised us this player.'”

Perhaps that is why he is involved at City. Essentially a blank slate on his arrival, Bradford City offers a chance for someone to build a club almost from new, and to do so in a way which does things the right way.

“Spend a day with me…”

Archie Christie made us a promise before we started this endeavour. “Spend a day with me and if at the end you don’t think that I’m the hardest working man, working so hard, for the good of Bradford City then I’ll walk away.”

He is that hardest working man. But it is not just an appreciation of the effort which one takes from a day next to Archie Christie – it is the purposefulness of that work, and how utterly convinced we were that what he is doing is absolutely what needs to be done at Bradford City if the club is ever to turn around.

The things which I (Michael) have been talking about for the twelve years I’ve been writing this website Christie is doing. Everyone involved with Bradford City since Geoffrey Richmond has talked about wanting to get promotions, wanting to turn the club around, but until Christie none have ever had the objectives to go with those aims. No one has ever convinced me that they know how to do what they are setting out. Until now.

It is a great credit to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that they saw Christie and recognised that he could bring to the club what had been lacking in the past decade (and no slight on them) and we applaud them for taking his advice.

If, reading this, you are thinking that the acclamation is coming a little too thick, we would appreciate that – without experiencing the day we have – it is not easy to see just how hard working, and smart working, Christie is. You will just have to take our word for it. If you have been waiting for Bradford City to return to direction of the mid-to-late-1990s then the wait is over, or at least I am convinced it is.

If you seek to criticise Archie Christie then we’d wonder what you want from a person involved in Bradford City? The man works very hard and – on the basis of what we saw – gets a very good return on that work which without him we would simply not have. And he does it for expenses only, while generating the club in his first three months (by rough maths) enough to pay for the Development Squad five or six times over. Any idea that Christie and his Development Squad cost the club money is a lie. Any idea that Christie had Peter Jackson sacked is a lie. Any idea that Christie is taking money out of the club is a lie.

Christie’s origins before Bradford City have an element of mystery in them. There is talk about how much he actually did for Dagenham following some clarifications the Essex club issued, but their manager John Still talked on the phone to us about the long standing relationship the two have had and he was not alone in his admiration for Christie. From City’s young players to our manager to the manager of a top Premier League club to that manager’s chairman. The meshing together of the day told its own story.

We could understand people saying that Christie could be difficult to work with by virtue of the fact that in the late afternoon we were shattered and knew that he was carrying on working for another half a dozen hours or more. He demands commitment from the people around him but we have no problem with that, and in fact we’re glad that someone who will not put in that effort finds it hard to work at Valley Parade.

Conspicuous by its absence during the whole day was the sense that there was any disharmony around Christie’s role at the club. Director Graham Jones – who we bumped into at Valley Parade – could not speak highly enough calling the job that Christie was doing fantastic. The three young players – when talking about Christie – did so with a genuine affection and did not flinch from saying how much Christie had done for them. Scout Nigel Brown and Youth Supremo Peter Horne both talked about how Christie had given them remits to work and – in the case of Horne – that Christie made his job easier by taking some of the tasks he did not feel he was as well suited to on.

We’ve seen with our own eyes what Archie Christie is doing for Bradford City, and in turn for us supporters, and we could not fail to be impressed.

Third bottom of the Football League, no win in six games and we have reason to be optimistic.


With special thanks…

In addition to thanking Archie Christie for being so welcoming and open to Michael and Jason, BfB would also like to thank everyone else who kindly took the time to speak to us over the course of the day. In particular this includes Andrew Burns, Scott Brown, Terry Dixon, Peter Horne, Alex Llevak, Steve Parkin, Phil Parkinson, Nigel Brown, Julian Rhodes, Graham Jones and also the staff who share an office with Archie.

Everyone we talked to we were given the chance to talk to without Archie Christie being present and everyone we talked to was as open as you could hope for. There is a level of privacy which had to be respected but that was not especially stringent or out of keeping with any professional environment.

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