Come / Grayson / Go

Simon Grayson came and went from Bradford City so quickly that one might excuse him making few friends.

The manager was hired after Stuart McCall was sacked – and no one liked that – with a brief of turning around a slump which saw McCall’s team go from inconsistent play-off contenders to very consistent team heading for a middle of the league finish which would be finalised in May 2018.

Grayson failed in this. He failed for many reasons.

The squad had been split following one of the more serious disciplinary issues that a dressing room can face in January which McCall was ill-placed – and perhaps ill-equiped – to to counter. McCall was everyone’s friend but you cannot be everyone’s friend when sides have been taken.

The manager who can claim to have been promoted four times from League One seemed have enough of a grasp of a game to see what was going wrong both with that squad and during games and some of the time he could do something about that but not often enough to make a difference.

The chairman Edin Rahic had the finger pointed at him as the reason for Grayson’s failure. He has not paid Charlie Wyke a bonus that Wyke was due in the haste when Wyke had wanted it, or so we were told, and because of that Wyke and his fellow squad mates had effectively stopped playing.

How that story reflects worse on Rahic than Wyke I do not know but Rahic has become persona non grata at Valley Parade. He is autocratic they say, and he interferes. The same was said about Geoffrey Richmond of course and one suspects that Rahic would enjoy the same regard were the club to have the same success. Everything in football is seen though a lens of results on the field.

So the squad that was in the play-offs for eighteen months under Stuart McCall went to scoring a third of a point a game and Simon Grayson was on hand to say why.

It was not good enough.

Budget

A bad workman, the adage says, blames his tools. Grayson blamed McCall’s tools but – sensibly given the fact that Our Stuart was able to do far better with them than Their Simon – not because they were poorly assembled but because they were not costly enough.

A club like Bradford City – Grayson said – needs to put is resources into the First Team. One assumes that Simon said that to Edin, and Edin said to Simon that he and Stefan Rupp have a plan to develop young players, and to turnaround Academy released players and the two parties did not meet, or perhaps meet again.

The offer to the manager of Bradford City seems to be that you will get a budget to spend on the first team squad of between £2m and £2.25m and access to – and the obligation to work with – a development set up which one might guess costs the better part of £500,000 to support. That is money paying for squads with coaches who are paid to bring those squads on, who develop those players.

You get Tyrell Robinson, Reece Staunton, Josef Hefele, and George Skyes-Kenworthy and you get at least a half a dozen other players to consider. If you are a football manager you might find that attractive – raw talent and all – or you might also think that you’d rather that money is spent a contract for a senior professional or two.

If it is the latter then you would probably not be the man for Bradford City. And not just today.

Unpleasing

If there is not something that strikes you as unpleasant about the above sentences there should be.

Simon Grayson could not get the same performances out of the team that Stuart McCall could and, because of that, he wanted the dozen or so coaches at the club to be put out of work and the kids that they are coaching to be told to find a new club.

That is what focusing all your budget on the first team is. It is closing down anything that is not the first team. It happened under Phil Parkinson when the Reserve Team closed down and the path from promising youngster to first team member for Oli McBurnie was a broken path.

If you can imagine a Bradford City in the 1980s that did not bother with Stuart McCall, John Hendrie, or Greg Abbott then you can do what I cannot. A football club without the optimism that comes with player development is not really a football club I recognise. It is an artificial thing, a constructed thing, and gives up something too precious to be lost.

Simon Grayson wants to go down that route, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp do not, and so it seems like a good thing that there has been a parting of the ways.

Nahki / Armstrong

And so the rumours continued.

Greg Abbott announced that Bradford City were interested in signing Adam Armstrong from Newcastle United while The Times are reporting that Armstrong’s parent club are now interested in Nahki Wells who, should he move to St James’ Park, would trigger a percentage clause in the transfer deal that took Wells from Bradford City to Huddersfield Town and give Bradford City the cash to spend on a striker.

The breathlessness of the above is indicative of a change in football over my eighteen years writing this website.

It used to be that football supporters lived for the football matches. Now the matches are a frequently ignored data point in the continuing narrative of squad gathering. Hull City’s victory in the first two games of the Premier League season is a quirk in the story of a team with too few players.

Bradford City beat Coventry City, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United in eight days but this has not stopped the conversation around the club being entirely about who should be brought into – or moved out of – the squad.

Improving the squad may or may not be something that is needed this season – that would be a retroactive judgement made in May 2017 and speculation before that – but it is hard to imagine what football supporters would do in August if they were not talking about squad gathering.

Football supporting is now Pokemon Go with young men filling in for Pikachu.

Two

Nevertheless there are two things to note about the current cycle of rumour around Adam Armstrong arriving on loan from Newcastle United.

Notice how it is Chief Scout Greg Abbott and not Manager Stuart McCall who is talking about Armstrong. In fact it is Abbott who leads much of the conversation about recruitment to the club.

This in itself is in keeping with Abbott’s remit at Valley Parade and no bad thing but it is as stark a contrast with Bradford City up to the Summer of 2016 as one could see.

When Archie Christie had Abbott’s role he was geographically abused for having taken too high profile a role in transfer dealings and taking control away from the flailing Peter Jackson.

It is almost impossible to imagine Phil Parkinson’s Chief Scout Tim Breaker fronting a discussion on a target as Abbott does. In fact the first time most City fans heard Breaker’s name was in the revelation that he had left the club with Parkinson to join Bolton.

Abbott’s increased profile is a good thing. For football clubs to get better at transfers there needs to be a group-think approach to recruitment. Too often deals are done by managers to best serve the aims of that manager rather than the club.

The £250,000 that Phil Parkinson was able to reuse from the deal that took Oliver McBurnie to Swansea City was reused in the manager’s budget that season but as McBurnie starts to impress in Wales it is worth wondering if the long term aims of the club have been best served in that deal. I’m not the only one to have worried that after Parkinson, Lawn and Rhodes there is little left behind at Valley Parade.

Transfer group think is not popular in the English game – Liverpool’s transfer committee is seen as a problem – where any control taken from the manager is seen as a bad thing inherently.

my years of football have convinced me of it.

So Abbott speaking for the club is a change but and so it what Abbott is saying.

Should Armstrong join City on loan – perhaps as a result of Wells joining Newcastle United and freeing up the younger forward to move on – then City will be able to play Armstrong and Jordy Hiwula up front. Obviously this are two loan players.

City’s bid for Matt Green and the reported – or perhaps that is hopeful – interest in Adam le Fondre suggest that the alternative to a young loan signing not is an older permanent deal.

Which is a contrast to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims when the new owners arrived.

Much was made of the fact that City could find value in signing released players from Premier League Academy football, turning their careers around, and developing them. That was how Bradford City would scale from being a League One club to being a club able to get into – and stay in – The Championship.

Hiwula or Armstrong or Josh Cullen might play well for City but the value for that will go elsewhere. City might get promoted because of their contributions but – we are told – when they are gone City will not have a Championship quality team.

Which suggests that either the plan has changed – let us hope not – or the plan was never there – let us very hope not – or that City are caught up in the Pokemon Go of squad gathering as much as the supporters are and that a deep breath would be best for all.

What are we trying to achieve and is signing Armstrong the way to achieve it?

On the day that Wells was to join to Newcastle United then City will be richer than they were. How is that money to be spent? Is it a scatter-signing for a player in August 2016? If it is how is it going to work better than when Stuart McCall scrambled for signings in his first spell as manager when the budget fluctuated wildly?

Which returns us to the central question of 2016 which is how are City without Parkinson, Mark Lawn, and Julian Rhodes going to be better? Indeed are they going to get better? There is no reason to assume an era of success will be followed by another and every reason to assume it will not be.

Is The Rahic Development Plan still being followed? Is it being followed by everyone at the club? If it does then it would make more sense rather than bringing in Armstrong to find a promising teenage striker we own or can own – such as Reece Webb-Foster – and give him the development time.

And while doing that take any money that comes from a resale of Nakhi Wells and use it to fund infrastructural additions which will make the club able to stand up in the Championship.

Soft / August

Jordy Hiwula’s single goal in Bradford City’s 1-0 win over Peterborough United changed the tone of the conversation around the club from a general worry that no goals would ever be scored to more of a consideration of what a fully fit Bantams would look like.

Hiwula’s goal is the only return for a first week of over seventy chances in three games and the hunt for a striker continues despite Vincent Rabiega joining on a one year deal this week.

With everyone at Valley Parade slowly admitting that the club is weeks behind in recruitment from where it would like to be Bradford City are not alone in being unprepared for the new season – Everton are only 70% ready it seems – and the five league games in August start to resemble a soft launch rather than a start with squads being assembled up to the end of August.

Take – as an example – City’s Matthew Kilgallon who for reasons personal arrived at City not fit enough to play even in a situation where only one central defender was fit. That Romain Vincelot fits so well into the position is pleasing for many reasons but all those reasons mask how acceptable being ready for September rather than August has become.

Because of this there is reason to believe that Chief Scout Greg Abbott may be able to find the striker City are looking for – Abbott, McCall, and most of Bradford seem to want a proven goalscorer – in the last weeks of the month.

Take – for example – Sheffield Wednesday’s Gary Hooper who is a proven goalscorer across four divisions, Scotland and Europe but is currently sharing time at the owls and not getting the lion’s share of that time.

With Steven Fletcher having arrived in South Yorkshire and Fernando Forestieri edging his way out Hooper has a good chance of playing. If Forestieri can be convinced to stay then Hooper is considering spending his twenty ninth year making cameo appearances from the bench.

Of course Hooper is probably out of City’s range – I doubt he is a target – but in the next two weeks it could become obvious to Hooper if he is going to get game time or not and if he is not he might decide that he would rather move on to somewhere where he gets it.

Another example is the oft talked about Adam le Fondre who has yet to feature for Cardiff City this season despite some pressing for his inclusion.

At the moment le Fondre is being well paid to go out on loan – Wolves and Bolton had him in the last few years – but as the end of the transfer window now means an inability to play for another club until the start of January the likes of le Fondre are facing a long time watching football happening around them without getting involved.

Of course this is not a new phenomenon just one with different timing. It was that players would turn up to pre-season and cast glances around the training field and play in a few friendlies to decide that New Face One and Young Kid Two were probably going to get into the team over them. Rather than bench warm for a year they looked for a move before the season started in August.

That still happened but it happens in this first month of the season. August is pre-season with fifteen points available. Last year the soft launch August pre-season told Phil Parkinson that Nathan Clarke and Rory McArdle needed a more mobile player alongside them and so Reece Burke was signed.

One shows one’s age when one wistfully recalls when a team was ready for the second Saturday in August.

So Matt Taylor of Bristol Rovers is “tired” three games into the season with the ink not yet dry on his new contract but rumours starting immediately that he is having second thoughts. Jay Simpson does not appear on the Leyton Orient team photo and speculation rises.

Which is perhaps where Abbott and McCall are poised ready for a player who shake loose who previously seems cemented into position.

Club / Preview

It will become obvious, dear reader, how little new Bradford City owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp are like former Bradford City owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes and how that difference is going to change the club over the coming years.

It was noticeable when talking on Radio Leeds that City’s James Mason told a story about how Stuart McCall – when he was approached for the City job in 2007 – was told by Julian Rhodes that had he not accepted the role then the club may fold. Indeed we might recall that the weekend after McCall’s final game Rhodes was faced with the same existential question over the club.

As Lawn and Rhodes recede into City’s history – where they will enjoy a luxurious place no doubt – one can expect lips like Mason’s to continue to loosen and the stories to tell themselves. When they do Bradford City will have moved on.

And moved on with Rahic and Rupp who are starting to generate warmth amongst City fans. Rahic took to a flat cap in Wednesday night and impressed people. His plan is to prepare a club for The Championship and allow football osmosis have its effect.

Having kept the season ticket prices “low” – of in German terms “high” – there was a move towards lower match day prices to £20. One wonders how far into a German model the pair will go and one assumes not to giving 50%+1 of the club away to supporters.

Rahic and Rupp’s changes to the club are glacial. There is much talk about improving the infrastructure around the club which had been previously underfunded with what seemed to be an effort from previous manager Phil Parkinson ensuring that as much of the budget was spent on the first team as it could be. It was noticeable that the new Bolton Wanderers manager has noted that he was not wandering around his new place of work in awe of the facilities he now had at his disposal.

A stark contrast to Benito Carbone’s statement that when he arrived at Bradford City he could find “Nothing that resembled a football club.”

City’s trusty facilities in Apperley Bridge have been subject to improvements but one wonders how much of Rahic and Rupp’s planning might include a move away to somewhere bigger, better, and more well suited. Peter Taylor had agreed a move to Weetwood in Leeds and Geoffrey Richmond was keen to build new facilities at the top of the M606.

City’s scouting structures have never been especially well stocked but in Greg Abbott Rahic and Rupp – and Stuart McCall – have appointed the highest profile person in that position the club have ever had signalling an increase in importance of the role. Forget Abbott as a former player City have never had a former manager in the role.

The importance of Abbott will become more obvious in time but from Rahic’s statements it seems that something of a transfer committee – or at least a transfer group think – has been build up where manager, chairman and Chief Scout get heads around a table to discuss not only the current transfer hunt but the plans for the future.

Assuming that Abbott’s future is not tied directly to McCall’s this gives City a possibility of institutional retained knowledge. Also it summons up the image of Parkinson and his Chief Scout Tim Breaker sitting down with Mark Lawn to talk over – rather than tell – which players they should be signing.

When do these changes manifest themselves? Slowly, one suspects, but in a determined way the fabric of the club around Bradford City is going to be different from this point on and different in a way which builds into place structures which have long been needed.

Mister / Definitely

Uwe Rösler is definitely joining Bradford City who are definitely going to be selling Bratwurst at half time and definitely paying one and a half million for Reece Burke who definitely posted a picture of himself in a City kit and he will definitely replace James McDarby who is definitely joining Parkinson at Bolton with Jamie Proctor who would definitely have scored twenty five goals this season as would Dylan Mottley-Henry who is definitely in the Barnsley first team by Christmas and definitely would have been brilliant for us as would George Green who is definitely the English Antoine Griezmann and Stuart McCall missed out in him because he is definitely not a proper manager and definitely just signing his mates which is odd because we definitely have not signed anyone but when we do sign people we will definitely be signing cheap German players who will definitely not be good enough but will be in the team because Edin Rahic definitely picks the team and all this definitely would not have happened if the Germans had not forced out Parkinson because the old boardroom definitely would not have forced a manager out and we definitely are going to be awful this year and definitely will be rubbish and under prepared and Greg Abbott definitely let Nahki Wells go because he does not know a good player when he sees one and why didn’t we sign Tom Bradshaw anyway because without him there is no chance at all of promotion and without Josh Cullen there is no chance of even winning a game and the young players are definitely not going to be given a chance because Omar Daley is definitely coming back.

But I expect promotion.

Definitely.

Paul Anderson’s broken leg and the Refereeing of low expectations

While not quiet having the effect of overshadowing the lack-energy display against Peterborough United at the weekend the injury to Paul Anderson and Phil Parkinson’s search for a replacement has taken some of the attention away.

As Parkinson started looking down his list of wingers available – seemingly not keen to give Dylan Motley-Henry a place in the team which his squad status demands – the club and community were in regret over Anderson. The BBC noted benignly that Anderson had broken his leg while City themselves bemoaned the bad luck involved.

Bad luck is if you slip on ice and break your leg.

If someone jumps at you with a studded boot without taking care for your safety, and of the referee who is supposed to be in charge of your safety ignores it and all the builds up to it, I think you are entitled to put it down to something other than misfortune.

Indeed Anderson did not break his leg. It was broken and it was broken by Michael Bostwick.

Let us not blame Michael Bostwick

That Bostwick made the challenge he did is not the bone of contention. He approached the prone Anderson a minute after breaking his fibula in two to acknowledge and perhaps apologise for it. Both were probably appreciated by Anderson and by the City players but neither were strictly necessary. Bostwick was not even spoken to by Referee Paul Tierney.

Tierney saw the tackle – we assume – and decided that the break was an accident (in that it was an unintentional outcome) rather than an intended outcome. He is probably right that Bostwick did not try to or want to break Anderson’s leg but one hopes Tierney is given pause to question the cause and effect of his application of the rules around the aggressive play that Peterborough used on Saturday.

The Posh battled and that battle resulted in any number of tackles which could have and did not injure players. They were not especially guilty of this over and above other teams (including, at times but not on Saturday, City) but they were guilty of it.

We enjoy seeing physical committed football and it is a way to win games. To fight for the ball is a good thing as long as it is done within the remit of the rules which – Tierney’s judgement is – Bostwick did.

By way of example

Consider – if you will – Anderson’s injury in the context of him playing a chess match with Bostwick. It is unthinkable that a Chess player would break another’s leg. Breaking limbs, indeed grazing hands as they reach for pieces, is just not done in Chess.

It is a ludicrously extreme example. Imagine a Badminton game where a leg was broken. A physical sport and one where players have been know to be physical with each other there is at least a convention in Badminton that if the ball is near your opponents head so that to hit it would be to hit him or her then one does not swing at it.

At the other side I’m sure there are sports in some dystopian future in which the aim is to inflict pain and that Anderson’s broken leg is a victory for Bostwick. Who knows? My point is that there is an ability within the sporting context to set what is considered acceptable force in pursuit of victory and what is not.

And I would suggest that Tierney has his calibration of that wrong and – so much as he represents the views of Referees and Authorities who agree with him – English football has that calibration wrong.

Low expectations

Tierney and his ilk convict themselves of having low expectations of the English lower league footballer.

A tackle like Bostwick’s – and again I do not blame him for playing within the rules as played every week – is considered acceptable in League One because of a low expectation of the players involved in the game. Who can expect more of a League One midfielder than that?

But to expect a player to deliver less because of a perceived lower ability is to ignore the evidence that emerges from growing leagues in football. Leagues like the Japanese Football League which for obvious reasons is less physical and has fewer technical skills in the tackle but is not more violent as a result. It is not that in the J-League tackles like Bostwick’s are sent off more, they are just not done.

The calibration of the football culture – more recently established than the third tier of the English game – has made recklessness in tackles inappropriate.

The opposite is true in the Australian League – eye wateringly brutal at times – coming as it does in the culture of Aussie Rules and Rugby League.

There is an ability to tune the calibration of what is acceptable in football which – at the moment and in the English game – is I would suggest – a little off towards the physical side of the game that left its mark on Paul Anderson’s leg.

But the crunch

None of which is to suggest that Michael Bostwick has to foul to be a good player. His opposite number Gary Liddle typifies the idea of a player who can be commanding and aggressive without being dirty. Liddle is forceful but in control of what he does.

Liddle is the modern type of central midfielder a far cry from some of the players who played that role for City. Players like Greg Abbott and Mick Kennedy spent entire games kicking player as much as ball. There is no comparison between those players of the 1980s and Bostwick, let alone Liddle, but the fact that thirty years ago those players could be popular in the game and are not now suggests that it is possible to change what is acceptable in the game.

Is watching Liddle worse than watching Abbott or Kennedy? I would argue that Liddle winning a ball firmly is better than Abbott’s hard but fair because of the skill that goes into the tackle.

There is nothing lost by forcing players at all levels to be better at tackling if they are going to tackle.

What to swear when you are in Rome

Bradford City want to talk to Accrington Stanley’s John Coleman about being the next Bradford City manager. Coleman wants to talk but it seems that Accrington Stanley want compensation for their manager and City do not have that sort of money. Insert your own comment about paying interim managers here, dear reader, I’m all commented out.

Nevertheless it seems that Coleman would like a word with the Bantams too making all the noises around the idea that City – as a club – can take him where his ambition drives. After 526 games at The Crown Ground the 48 year old believes that he has something else to give at a bigger club.

He is right – or rather he is right that Bradford City are a bigger club – but how much he has to give is probably not his decision. Third in the list of the longest serving managers to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger Coleman has been in his job since 1999. Peter Taylor was in his for forty six games.

Taylor’s replacement – on what if John Coleman or fellow interviewee John Hughes had their way would be a very short term basis – by Peter Jackson has been greeted with some considerable delight in some quarters. It is a generational thing of course and to those who are of a certain age then Jackson alongside Stuart McCall, Ces Podd and John Hendrie in the club’s pantheon. The image of him kissing the curiously tube like Canon League Division Three trophy in May 1985 is no one’s enduring image of the day, but it is the one we would all prefer to remember one.

Replacing the five time promoted Taylor Jackson – as with Stuart McCall compared to Colin Todd – pales into insignificance for experience but it is hoped that his connection to the club will steer him good. That in having the club in his bones his belief will be a more powerful agent than anything that the hired hand could muster.

In his bones, perhaps in his blood. There is much made of the colour of the Oh Neg that flows through the man’s veins. If Stuart McCall was the wounded idealist feeling every result – even his next job saw him with claret and amber – and Peter Taylor the academic unhurt by scores then Jackson is the opportunist able to find the right thing to say at the right time.

When in Rome swear you are claret and amber, unless talking to Lazio supporters then you bleed blue and white.

Which is not a criticism of the man just a recognition – were it needed – that if one wants to have a career in professional football one needs to be flexible about one’s passions. George Graham managed Arsenal, John Rudge went to Stoke after decades at Port Vale. Matt Busby played for Liverpool, John Hendrie for Leeds. Perhaps Jackson is Bradford City’s Brian Clough ousted from one rival to lead another.

Certainly if he is the opportunist then this short term role he has at City is his opportunity and opportunity that has been presented because of his connection to Bradford City. It is not easy to imagine the likes of Andy Richie or Mel Machin (The shoulder’s to Jackson’s time at Huddersfield) being given the Valley Parade job let alone being well received in it. Jackson’s prior connection serves him well.

We should not speak ill of this shield of popularity – it was that shield and its ability to allow the manager space to build the club which had me excited about Stuart McCall’s appointment – but with John Hughes and John Coleman interviewing and rumours that the club has set its sights on Keith Hill (Quote Mark Lawn: “We would all like a Keith Hill”) or Rochdale or Alan Knill of Bury (Para-Quote Mark Lawn: “But even there I’d be thinking play-offs three times and no promotion?”)

In Jackson City have one of the better qualified and highest profile of any of the people considered to be connected with the club in a significant manner – although Carlisle United manager Greg Abbott and the guy at Motherwell who did what Rangers could not might be considered above and Ipswich’s Paul Jewell certainly is – but considering the Bantams alarming turn around of players per season in the last fifteen years it is not surprising that a whole host of managers have some Bantams connection.

Chris Wilder – the Oxford manager – meandered to Valley Parade at some point in the 1990s before exiting for the team he supported in Sheffield United but one has to wonder if three months at a club a decade and a half ago is even worth considering as a prior connection to the club.

And so City’s joint chairman are presented with a choice between Jackson – who represents a significant link to the club’s past – and one of the interviewed managers who has no connection but (in some cases) great track records. In short, it seems, they have a chance to decide between the club hero or the CV. There is an irony there.

The question is an open one. What, if there is one, is the benefit of a club appointing a manager who has a previous connection with that club?

Where does the truth lie anymore as Carlisle newspaper calls for Stuart McCall to be fined

McCall is choosing the lazy route of attacking officialdom when he would be wiser to deal with the indiscipline of his own players.

In the wake of Bradford City’s 3-0 defeat to Carlisle United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy earlier this week, Carlisle’s local paper, Times & Star, has run a sports opinion piece calling for Bantams boss Stuart McCall to be fined for his post-match comments that the decision to send off his full back Simon Ramsden was an “embarrassing” one.

Stuart was upset with referee Tony Bates after a second yellow card was issued to Ramsden on the stroke of half time for tugging on the shirt of home winger Matty Robson. With the game evenly poised at 0-0, it was clearly the decisive point of the evening and one would assume it was fair both managers were allowed to pass their judgement on it, yet with McCall disputing it and home manager Greg Abbott arguing it was a just sending off, it seems the paper has ruled one opinion is correct and one opinion is wrong – so Stuart should be fined and censured.

It’s become an increasingly frustrating aspect that, at lower league level, managers so often disagree on the way key decisions go and the local media falls in line with sticking up for their own. Within the Times & Star piece it even admits it is “easier to throw flames at an opposition manager rather than the blokes we speak to every week.” Imagine if the boot was on the other foot and it had been a Carlisle player controversially sent off, would the Times & Star be calling for their manager to be fined if he’d labelled the decision “embarrassing”, or would they be issuing opinion pieces calling for video technology to overturn travesties of justice?

The sad fact is that a discussion about the rights and wrongs of Ramsden’s dismissal becomes almost impossible as both sides feverishly stick up for their team. Looking at the moment on TV again, it’s clear Ramsden holds back Robson as he tries to run forward. Yet crucially, Carlisle don’t have the ball after Scott Neilson, a few yards away from Ramsden and Robson, fairly wins possession and is running the other direction as Ramsden grabs the shirt. It is therefore not clear if it really was a free kick, and it certainly isn’t clear if a yellow card is deserved. This is a highly subjective decision, so how anyone from Carlisle can rule it cut and dry and attack anyone who questions it is beyond me.

It’s also worth pointing out the backdrop of poor refereeing McCall went into the game still seething from. Imagine if Bates had been in charge for City’s game against Rotherham three days earlier? Lee Probert decided to allow Millers striker Drew Braughton and defender Pablo Mills off the hook for a series of crude and highly physical challenges that left home defenders lying on the floor in a daze and Michael Boulding on crutches for the Christmas period. Rotherham got away with it and won the game, then in the next game McCall sees one of his players sent off for something minor in comparison.

In the Times & Star piece it is ludicrously argued “Mr Bates was doing the game a service by dismissing Ramsden, not ruining it.” Perhaps McCall should post them a DVD copy of the Rotherham game to find out their opinions on elbows. Funnily enough the Rotherham Advertiser didn’t feel it fit to mention their team’s questionable methods.

Which sums up the sheer hypocrisy of local papers. The Times & Star can climb on its high horse and write that, “Stuart McCall should know that “embarrassment” is what the rest of us feel when managers swap decency for unjustified venom”, but soon after they’ll be devoting column inches to their grumbles of their own manager – as they have before. Local papers are, to be fair, only replicating the behaviour of their manager, but they are writing for an audience of their own supporters and trying to stay on friendly terms with the boss so they can keep selling papers in their area, the moral high ground is not theirs to claim.

Ultimately, it’s time their was more honesty in the lower reaches of the game. Why managers can’t admit to have benefited from unjust decisions is a question officials should be pondering, why local newspaper hacks can’t form their own opinions instead of what the manager says is another readers might want to bring up.

The Times & Star accuses McCall of “laziness”, the Bradford City manager would be within his rights to throw such an accusation firmly back at the finger pointer.

McCall vs Abbott recalls the biggest mistake

Stuart McCall will take his Bradford City team to old Bantams midfield team mate Greg Abbott’s Carlisle United as both club’s look towards a place in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy finals.

McCall and Abbott go further back than that though. When a young Abbott moved North from his Coventry home when he signed for City in the early 1980s he was housed by the club in the bedroom next to Stuart at the McCall house. Andy McCall – father of Stuart and a former footballer – can take credit for the good habits that both were brought up with and it is no surprise that both have made management.

Watching the pair in the midfield for Trevor Cherry’s Bantams in the mid-eighties was something of a cathartic experience for the City both before and after the fire of 1985. The pair battled, tackled, prompted and played in a way that demanded respect for the team in claret and amber who were moving up the football pyramid and for the City at as a whole. Bradford – in the hands of Abbott and McCall – was bouncing back.

Naturally McCall – who went on to the World Cup, six titles with Rangers and being cheated out of the European Cup – was impressive as the side moved through the leagues but Abbott struggled. A player of heart and tackle Abbott’s suspensions – and make no mistake Abbo could put it about – allowed others a chance to take a place in the side.

Trevor Cherry’s replacement – and even with the club floundering second bottom of the second tier playing nomadically around West Yorkshire and up to Odsal few demanded Cherry’s head – was Terry Dolan who as caretaker won eight of ten games and steered the club to tenth in the division being given the job full time as a result. It was perhaps as deserved at the end of those ten games as it was unexpected at the start.

Abbott’s absences – and his deficiencies – were filled as Dolan employed skilful young midfielder Leigh Palin in his place. Palin was an opposite to Abbott lacking the heart of Abbo but having skill which could surpass even McCall. One time City assistant boss Norman Hunter – who went to the World Cup in 1770 and won Championships – once called Palin the best footballer he had ever seen but qualified it with “but only for ten minutes in a game. For the rest of the match he is…”

Such was Palin’s problem. When he was not magic he vanished and while he is in Bradford City’s history for a headed goal against Everton in Stuart McCall’s return and 3-1 defeat the next season his level of ability – no matter how transient – should have seen him achieve more.

It seemed though that Dolan – who had his City team riding high in the second tier in the first third of the season but was watching them falter – thought on the one hand that Palin could provide an edge of quality which would rival fellow promotion runners Aston Villa’s attacking midfielder David Platt but on the other longed for Abbott’s ferocity. He veered between the two all season but identified a player he believed could give him both and went to the chairman – Jack Tordoff – to ask for the money to make the purchase.

Enter Mick Kennedy who at £250,000 was a record signing from Portsmouth. Ultimately he offered neither the skill of Palin nor the commitment of Abbot although he could match the latter for violence in play. City faltered, McCall left, Dolan was fired the next season and the top tier remained a distant dream for some eleven years.

Perhaps this moment was the biggest mistake. Some thought Palin a passenger and that Abbot should be in the side, some that were Palin given the time in the side to settle rather than being in and out of the side then he would be the player he promised to be, others – significantly in the boardroom – had ideas about the signing Dolan wanted.

Dolan had wanted to sign a young Andy Townsend – who was a better footballer than he is a pundit – an equally fresh faced Keith Curle and a striker called Jimmy Gilligan which would have set the club back around £1m but he got Kennedy and the word from the chairman that there was no point paying for a footballer who “might break his leg tomorrow.”

Perhaps it was a weakness on Dolan’s part – he has not been appointed by Tordoff who went on to give former assistant Terry Yorath the job prompting Jimmy Greaves to say on “On The Ball with Saint & Greavies” that it was “just the chairman giving his mate a job.” If it was a weakness on Dolan’s part then it might be noted that when he got the job as caretaker it was at the expense of the wannabe manager who had been successful in the application process: Martin O’Neill.

All of which said we have seen at the club since the effects of spending money that would only be recouped later with success and Dolan’s ambitions might have proved catastrophic. Hindsight in this case is not 20:20 and had O’Neill been City manager, had McCall and Townsend been a midfield pair, had Palin or Abbott been assured the shirt, had Dolan had spent a million we did not have, had John Hendrie not been unfairly sent off in the away game at Manchester City then would things have worked out better? One can only guess, but guess away.

Some twenty years after those events McCall and Abbott square off as managers for a place in a cup final – albeit a minor one – and put all those experiences to the test.

Recent Posts