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

Williams from Williams

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

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

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

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

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

Wanting it

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

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

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

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

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

The work

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

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

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

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

A Ben Williams sort of season

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of a season which asked more questions than it answered

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Gary Liddle, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Tony McMahon, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Matty Dolan

One could be excused for not knowing that Bradford City’s season finishes on Saturday at Crewe Alexandra such as the finality of the last home game of the season with Barnsley that saw the Bantams win by a single, excellent Jon Stead goal.

Stead hit a volley across the Tykes keeper Adam Davies and into the far side of the goal after a well floated Billy Knott cross had found the striker running deep in the penalty area. It was the type of moment of excellence that City’s season has produced sporadically and that suggested that the year that was could have been more.

Indeed next Saturday when 2014/2015 has ended and assuming a set of results The Bantams could finish the year a single place outside the play-off.

Seventh would underline the improvement of the year – Phil Parkinson will once again have improved on last year – but continues the theme of the taunting of what might have been for this team. On the final day of the season that saw City produce (some argued) that greatest shock result in history The Bantams will be playing for the chance to allow Notts County the chance to avoid relegation.

Notts County – home of Gary Jones and Garry Thompson, formerly of this Parish – played a small part in City’s season refusing to move a home game in the run up to the Reading FA Cup Quarter Final. The result was a knackered City being outplayed on the BBC which seemed to deflate the rest of the season.

Jones and Thompson and a host of other players who have been a part of City in the last four years were obviously absent from the post-game meander around the field. It was not so much a lap of honour or appreciation so much as an acknowledgement of the end of a chapter for Bradford City.

After four years of Phil Parkinson the manager had taken City to a point where the club had reached a ceiling of sorts and – with rumours of investment – contemplated which parts of its soul would be exchanged for a chance to crack that ceiling.

56

There is little to say about the observance of the minute’s silence, the singing of remembrance songs, the wearing of remembrance hoodies, the fact Roy Hodgson and FA Chairman Greg Dyke laid a wreath and so on which is apt to say in relation to the memorials for the fixty six supporters who died at Valley Parade in the fire of 1985 and who are commemorated at the final home game of the season.

People express their grief in different ways and I have spoken to a number of people who have an unease at the commercialisation and branding that has recently grown up around the tragedy as I have people who find the commemorations moving. Again People express their grief in different ways.

Martin Fletcher, for example, has channelled his grief and need for answers into a set of questions which make up a part of his work “56: The Story of the Bradford City Fire” and Fletcher has been criticised – and abused 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – for doing this. I’m not here to suggest that Fletcher is right or wrong although I am sure that he has the right to ask questions, and that asking question is the right thing.

On Saturday every ground in the country stood silent for a minute to remember for the victims of the fire of 1985. The England manager and the Head of the FA visited Valley Parade to pay respects. It was a national football event. It was the recognition which some people maintain the fire of 1985 has never had in the English football community.

Succinctly

Succinctly: It is time for the Bradford City community to step back and allow the bereaved families and friends to remember the individuals who died as they see fit.

We talk about “The Fifty Six” but to the wife that lost a husband, the son that lost a father, there is no fifty six. There is one or two or three or four with memories which need to be kept, graves that need to be tended, and years that never happened, and lives that were not lived.

We – the Bradford City community – are not involved in that and we need to recognise that.

Individuals who support Bradford City are, and often groups of individuals who support City are, and those people will go on tending graves, feeling loss, and being haunted on empty Tuesday afternoons in September regardless of the ribbon shown into the shirt or the silence at Goodison Park.

We need to recognise that.

Money

Driving away from Valley Parade on Sunbridge Road a Rolls Royce belonging the the Dorchester Hotel overtook us. The imminence of money is all around Valley Parade. Gianni Paladini, Bernie Ecclestone, Latish Mittal are reported to be in talks to buy Bradford City and to invest millions into the club starting with an eight figure sum just to buy League One players.

One side says that the deal is a long way off but other sources say that it is all but signed save creating a name plate for the honorary title that Mr Lawn will retain at the club.

Why buy Bradford City?

A list of clubs owned by people willing to sell which have shown the ability to fill Wembley Stadium is not a long one. It includes QPR – who the people who are trying to buy Bradford City own/previously owned – and a few other clubs.

There are worries about what new owners would do at the club. The worries seem to take two forms. That they might ruin the supporter base with expensive season ticket prices and that they might ruin the playing side by sacking Phil Parkinson.

On the second point it is probably worth remembering how insecure Parkinson’s job is under the current regime.

Earlier this season it seemed from the outside that Parkinson had to be dragged into apologising to board member Roger Owen after complaining about the state of the pitch. Parkinson had believed – with good reason – that the pitch was Owen’s responsibility and criticised that.

At one point I heard – and there is no guarantee of the veracity of this comment – that Parkinson had been told to apologise on pain of being held (and sacked) in breach of contract. He went home with this in mind but cooler heads prevailed and he humiliated himself with an apology the next day.

I repeat the no guarantee about this information just as there is no guarantee that the other times the the board have considered sacking Parkinson were accurate. Former players have been asked if they would be able to become Interim Managers, or so they say in private, but they could be lying.

Without winning

Bradford City’s have had spells under Parkinson where wins have been impossible to come by. When City went twelve games without winning in 2014 there was no full throated support from the boardroom to dispell the rumours that clouded Parkinson’s future.

There was uncertainty at a boardroom level – at least perceptually – and while it would be far from me to suggest that new owners would behave any different it is important not to idealise the current regime (not a problem I have) or forget how quickly things turned to see the exit of Peter Jackson, for example, or the situation at the club under Peter Taylor which Shane Duff reported as a picture of a manager undermined.

Worry about Parkinson’s job position under new ownership if you will, but if there is no takeover then worry about him under the current board too. The Devil you know might be better than the Devil you don’t, but they are both still Devils.

Bradford City are not so much managerially stable as they are successful. When Parkinson’s stock is low he beats Arsenal, or Chelsea, and it rises again. You can call this stable if you want but to do so is to ignore the meaning of the word as it is used in football.

If one were to buy Bradford City then chief in its assets would be Phil Parkinson and so removing him would seem counter-productive.

Were one to buy a League One club and look for the best manager available then Parkinson would be high on one’s shortlist anyway. It is not for me to ventriloquize Paladini but why buy Bradford City and sack Phil Parkinson? When looking at Bradford City’s structure or a vision on the field what else are you buying into?

Season ticket prices

Likewise if one were to buy Bradford City because of the support then why damage that with increasing season ticket prices? The current pricing structure has allowed for an increase in permanent support and the ability for City fans who are not taxed by massive home season ticket prices to spend more travelling away.

The broadness of City’s support which is not exclusive of people on lower incomes, nor the young, has given a lively and exciting fanbase. Why buy Bradford City if they intended to damage the support base?

One could increase prices per person with the drop in attendance and increase revenues in the short term but one risks decreasing numbers, (audio) volume and support levels to the point where City stop being an attractive club to buy.

Double season ticket prices and one might as well buy the comfortable few of Chesterfield, or the tidy support of Doncaster Rovers.

Sitting Bull

Phil Parkinson has ended a season having won plaudits on one hand, and been bullied on the other. In my hand I do not have a season ticket renewal form which – had it been issued around the time City were plastered over every newspaper in the World for beating Chelsea – would have guaranteed that the new owners would host 2015/2016 at 2014/2015 prices and probably been very well subscribed as a result.

This would have secured the impressive supporter base secured for another season. We hear constantly how the current boardroom act as custodians for the club but that does not extend to committing new owners to honouring the (good) practices in place for supporters at the moment, or so it might seem.

Bradford City has two assets: Phil Parkinson and the supporters; only bad business would change these on a whim.

The season ends, the season begins

Gary Liddle played well covering Rory McArdle in the centre of defence against an aggressive Barnsley attacking line up but his relocation from holding midfield seemed to highlight the problem of the season and why in a year of dizzying heights the Bantams end up firmly in the middle.

Liddle shifted out, Christopher Routis in midfield, Tony McMahon in the holding position, Billy Clarke in the role earmarked for Mark Yeates, Mark Yeates nowhere to be seen. The method of Phil Parkinson’s success is in character and – simply put – he does not have enough character to go around.

Rightly – in my opinion – Parkinson would rather play someone with good character out of position than give a shirt to someone who he believes does not have the mentality he is looking for.

Christopher Routis is the prime example. Often poor but also willing he goes his place because – to paraphrase – a better man than he is a footballer. With players out of contract in the summer the question that Routis poises (and he is by no means a great leader) is key.

How does Parkinson assemble a squad with both character and capabilities? What value do you put on each? Andrew Davies has both only plays two thirds of the season. Jon Stead has both but only for two thirds of the season and at other times his character goes missing. Should both be given contracts? Should either?

All season there has been an issue with players outside the match day squad struggling without Reserve football to engage them. Players who are decent enough when in the side are not options when in the squad.

The poster boy for this is Jason Kennedy who will leave City in the summer and look back at his time before Filipe Morais’ second half against Halifax Town as being his best while at the club. As soon as Morais started to play regularly and Kennedy stopped having games to play in it seemed obvious who should be selected and who should not be but it is easy to forget just how rusty players like Morais, like Francios Zoko, like Oli McBurnie become without Reserve team football to play.

Whatever reason there is for not entering a second string side into a Reserve League must be balanced against the impact it has on the fringe players of the squad. At the moment City can maintain around fifteen or sixteen players who can be called on to play and – tired legs, injuries and suspensions being what they are – that has proved too little to mount a promotion challenge.

The squad needs a depth of quality but – at the moment – the fitness of players outside the match day squad cannot be maintained and even when it can large squad beget their own problems with players too far away from a starting shirt to keep motivation and bad character creeping in.

If – as talked about – there is an influx of money into the club in the summer these questions become easier when answered by the fundamental questions remain unchanged. How to keep a squad of 22 players happy, and at peak fitness, and all getting on with each other. City and Phil Parkinson are nearly there and have been there at times this season, and over the last few years.

Get that right next year and – money or not – the end of season would be more than a 1-0 win over Barnsley.

Beating Halifax Town by returning to a Phil Parkinson team

The Team

Matt Williams | Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Alan Sheehan, James Meredith | Jason Kennedy, Andy Halliday | Filipe Morais, Billy Knott, Mark Yeates | Jon Stead | Billy Clarke, Rory McArdle, Matty Dolan

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

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

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

The overdog role with a depressing ease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giantkiller/giantkilled

Perhaps that realisation stung Parkinson.

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

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

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

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

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

Reshaping the squad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Dixon signs for City

In a world of Kyels and Nakhis Bradford City signed the fantastically dull named Terry Dixon to join the Development Squad.

21 year old Dixon had been on loan at City early in the month having previously played for Spurs, West Ham, Stevenage and non-league side Ware, and Tooting & Mitcham.

Irish Londoner Dixon has represented Eire at u21 level. He joins City on a one year contract on this transfer deadline day which has seen Phil Parkinson try sign Paul Benson.

It was close at one point, but we couldn’t quite agree to certain criteria in the deal, I felt we put in a reasonable offer to him, but unfortunately at the moment it doesn’t seem like it is going to get us over the line with that one – Phil Parkinson

Later in the day Dixon signed on loan for Halifax Town.

Administration is a genuine punishment

This article is in reply to Football’s Administration Punishments Need To Change To Avoid Uncertain Futures

BfB is nothing if not democratic. In the language of all football fans, it’s a game of opinions. There are some places where there’s only one opinion that counts. Many of us have worked in places like that. But BfB is not that place. So, when Michael Wood posts his piece about how to deal with the ever increasing risk of a club going into administration and one of the other contributors wants to disagree with him, this is the result!

Let me say at the outset how very fortunate I believe my beloved team have been to go into administration at the right times. Not for us the 10 point penalty on either occasion Bradford City went into administration. We got in just in time. It would, of course, have been far preferable not to have got in at all, but there’s no point in rehearsing the reasons behind either of those two periods of financial difficulty.

These days it’s hard to keep up with who is and who isn’t in administration in the lower leagues. Even more difficult to work out is how some of these clubs are coming out of administration. Both are increasingly essential considerations as long as the present system is in place.

Take Luton Town, for instance. They went into administration last season and suffered a 10 point deduction. Those points in themselves cost them nothing. They finished 17 points below the safety mark. The administration and the associated inability to sign new players may well have cost them their League One place – but the deduction didn’t. It was a penalty that imposed no punishment.

Others have achieved the same in recent years. Leeds and Boston both went into administration when the points deduction was irrelevant. They were both already relegated. This brought about a rule change, which would allow such a deduction to be carried forward to the next season, when it might have a true meaning.

Bournemouth’s 10 point loss certainly was a punishment. They finished only two points below the safety line. Rotherham’s 10 point deduction left them 14 points away from the promotion play-offs, but again it could be argued that the fact of going into administration and the surrounding uncertainty knocked all the stuffing out of a very promising season spent, to that point, in or very near the play-offs.

But it is what comes next that matters more. As Leeds found, if you won’t or can’t get out of administration via a CVA, the Football League’s preferred option, you run a risk of a second penalty. Their 15 point penalty, thanks eventually to their Wembley defeat, was a genuine punishment. They will still be playing in League One next season. Without the deduction they would have gained automatic promotion.

All three of the League Two teams who start the new season in administration face the serious prospect of ‘doing a Leeds’. All three may come out of administration by a non-CVA route and, if so, will face the 15 point deduction for 2008-9 after their 10 point deductions for 2007-8. Additionally Luton already face another 10 point penalty for completely different breaches committed by those no longer involved with the club. Luton could start on minus 25 points and, just to avoid relegation to the Conference, they may need to win the number of points that would normally achieve a play-off place.

While all this could give Bradford City a head start on three of our League Two rivals, the bad news is that we did actually come out of administration via a CVA twice. OK, so Leeds United missed out on promotion last season. But this season they start with a clean sheet on and off the field. We all know it has taken City several years to achieve a financial break-even point and the present company still faces annual payments from the CVA that bite into the limited budget.

So the question I want to pose is not, as Michael writes, whether the penalty points system is too harsh on teams in the lower reaches of football and finance, but whether taking the 15 point hit might be seen to be preferable by some directors, providing only that their club can get over the one hurdle of the next season.

We can’t dwell on the Leicester scenario. That couldn’t happen now. Nor would I support Michael’s relegation-and-promotion proof suggestion, mainly because it would have involved two League One teams, Cheltenham and Crewe, being relegated and Luton, 17 points behind Crewe, surviving, when at the start of the season all of them believed that the four teams with the fewest points would go down. Why should Cheltenham and Crewe and their supporters suffer for the financial mishandlings of the boards at Luton and Bournemouth? And how long might it be before some directors decided that it was worth the 15 points, if they were guaranteed not being relegated?

But someone should suffer. A financial penalty is out of the question for a club that is in such debt it cannot continue to trade normally. What other penalty is available? Community service hardly fits the bill! A points deduction is less harsh than relegation, which is about the only alternative.

I believe that the Football League must do two things. The first they are already doing, although perhaps not quite well enough. They must at the start of each season make clear what their financial rules are and what the penalties for breach will be. That puts every club on notice. Go into administration and you know what to expect. Come out without a CVA and, again, you know what’s coming your way.

The second step the League must take is to make the semi-voluntary wages cap part of its own binding financial regulatory scheme. There is already in place a provision aimed at preventing clubs in the bottom two divisions from spending more than 60% of their income on players’ salaries. It was supposed to apply equally to the Championship, but there were too many big clubs there who wouldn’t play. It should be made a requirement of League membership that a club agrees to and complies with a salary cap. There should also be clear penalties for breaches. I would suggest a look at the Rugby League’s sliding scale, where the greater the excess the more points are deducted, would be a suitable guide.

Three final thoughts. I wonder what Julian Rhodes, the one in the middle of two administrations, would do if he were now given the option of the CVA which to this day takes it toll on the club or a clean financial sheet and a 15 point loss, even if that meant certain relegation. And how do the supporters of Halifax Town and Gretna feel? Wouldn’t they have preferred to have been forced to live within their means, even if a points deduction followed? And, last of all, I go back to how lucky City were with their timing and with the man whose offer allowed the CVA to be completed. Neither Bradford City nor any other league club should rely on that sort of luck ever again.

Halifax picking the wrong target when complaining about City’s season ticket offer

Mark Lawn is a no nonsense sort of guy.

When he talked about a plan to give Halifax people cheaper season tickets to go to Valley Parade as being a way to get them to follow a second club he did so in honesty. You can tell this because if he had nefarious intent his plain speaking style would have had him say “We are going to steal your fans.” Say that he did not.

Lawn is still finding his feet in this football game in the long term the offer could be a public relations hiccup but little more. If Bradford City were to drive to the Shay and – at gun point – force every Halifax Town supporter to buy a season ticket, a replica shirt, match days programmes and 23 pies a year then the story might get a column inch mention deep in the sport section buried under the news that Christiano Ronaldo had got out of bed on a different side this morning.

Stealing fans – as City stand accused of – is a reality in modern football. Back in the late 1990s Peter Risdale talked about Leeds United having a catchment area that included all of West Yorkshire disregarding the three other league club but Leeds themselves were under threat from bigger fish.

A wander through any town centre in those days would have shown you Manchester United, Liverpool and the odd Arsenal shirt. These days you can add Chelsea, AC Milan and Real Madrid to that list. Bradford City and Halifax Town are hardly getting a look in.

Whole industries are based on pushing the Premiership product and small clubs are getting swamped. Newspapers see clubs go to the wall but never break from the coverage of the top flight. 24 Sports News coverage does not flinch when administration but ranks the story under someone’s contract negotiation from someone at Old Trafford.

The likes of Halifax Town and Bradford City ring supporters to ask them why they have not renewed season tickets but the football fan on the other end of the line is assaulted on a daily basis by competitive messages. If football below the Premiership level got smart it would band together to make a more attractive proposition for all.

Halifax Town supporters are probably be right to be angry at Mark Lawn who like all other chairmen is looking after his club first and while I doubt he had any malice in what he did and like 99.9% of people who have seen a game in the lower two leagues last year he will be horrified by what is happening at The Shay there is still a persistent problem with self-interest in the game.

Recent articles on BfB about Leeds United and Huddersfield Town have produced a 2:1 ratio of abuse to sense in the comments the site receives and much of that abuse centred on the idea that it would be “funny” if Bradford City went out of business.

Football fans are programmed to want each other’s destruction when in truth the better our rivals do the better we tend to do. When we were in the Premiership Leeds were in Europe, Huddersfield the second flight and Halifax in the league. Is it really a coincidence that now we all struggle? Often – to steal a phrase – what is good for the tea and biscuit company is good for me.

Huddersfield Town vs Bradford City over the last few years has seen both clubs enjoy large attendances, added interest and the spoils of rivalry that make supporting a club so enjoyable but one comment on BfB last week said (paraphrasing) “I hope you don’t sell the 7000 tickets you need to stay in business.” as if there is a benefit for Town in not having a Bradford City.

City kicked off something special in football and some – including I note Huddersfield – benefited and is now offering cheaper tickets and getting full stadiums with great atmosphere. What was good for the one was good for all. Perhaps the same sort of innovation should be continued in a way that admitted that clubs at this – and to be honest every – level are yoked together.

I would suggest one chairman contacts all 24 clubs in League Two and proposes an away season ticket that did the same for travelling fans as City did for home fans and offered cheaper prices. Imagine paying £240 in the summer for away entry to every City game. Sure Rotherham would lose out on the £17 they scalp you for on the turnstile when you have driven down the M1 but they would get that money back from those Exeter supporters who took advantage of the offer for cheaper, nearer games.

All of which is to illustrate what could be done if clubs worked together. As it is the culture in football is very much every man for himself and while Halifax Town’s supporters trust rails against Lawn they do so because City have emerged as a clear target when they are up against a faceless system which robs them of support on a far greater scale than the Bantams ever could (or would) and exist in a community which has yet to recognise that when one is damaged all are.

Why I have to hand it to Leeds

After seeing Leeds United win 2-0 to get to the Play Off final I have to hand it to the team from East of Pudsey – they have probably done football a great service and stopped administrations to come.

Before Leeds United 33 other administrations from City’s on the 9th of May 2002 to the start of the season were done in a certain way with clubs cutting themselves to the bone to find out how much money they needed and how much they could afford to pay off creditors.

A club would look at the cost of a thin squad and what they did not need they would make an attempt to put back into the pockets of the local businesses and the St John’s Ambulance who tend to get shafted in these situations. These club hamstring themselves for the future and some are penalised ten points and while no one is saying that wrongs are righted at least an attempt is made to do that.

Then comes Leeds United who look at the size of the debts and the tariff of punishment and decide that the one is worth the other and rather than trying to make amends to the community – and the community of finance, the small businesses who have holes in cash flow thanks to them – they are based in they play administration, the game and take the hit of points while ensuring they have a squad that can overcome the penalty.

So I’m a bank or an investor and a football club come to me know because they need some cash or their overdraft extending and do I agree because I know they run by a set of guidelines designed to protect us both or do I look at Leeds United and step away?

In abusing administration Leeds United will have changed things for all clubs looking for protection from creditors. The next time a club asks for financial help then they will be knocked back by the wiser investors who have seen that the only punishment that is given for taking the money and running is a football one so that football club will have to cut it’s cloth accordingly.

That or they will do as Halifax Town have done and feel the smash of creditors losing faith in their abilities to pay it back.

In that way I have to hand it to Leeds United. They have taken a system designed to protect clubs and investors and tilted it so far in the way of the clubs that the investors will never use it again and suddenly everything in the hand to mouth existence of the lower leagues of English football just got that bit harder.

Premiership Boring? Ask The Supporters of Halifax Town

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring.

Today Manchester United square up against Chelsea and the winner could be decided by goal difference – the tiny margin between success and failure – and right up to the last kick of the game the season will stay interesting.

All a far cry from Chelsea’s days in the second flight of English football and I remember City would have played off with Chelsea for a place in The First Division back in 1988 had we beaten Middlesbrough.

I also remember Manchester United going to play Halifax Town in a League Cup game at The Shay. United Town took the lead I think but Halifax came back to win and won 2-1. Halifax Town beating Manchester United seems a long time ago today.

Halifax Town are virtually gone from football. A meeting on Friday in Leeds left them with virtually no hope of a CVA or of any sort of a reprieve from the debtors. They are about to go into liquidation very soon and then there will be no more Halifax Town.

Supporters of Town – and there are not many one supposes – will lose the football club they have followed. Football is a strange thing and hard to understand for most. It is a metronome for the supporter’s lives ticking off weeks and years in the same way that any anniversary or regular event does.

I heard once that humans use rituals to mark out time – why celebrate a birthday anyway? – in manageable units and my better half does not really understand how I can recall dates because they fall within certain seasons but I can.

For football supporters that is one of the functions of the game – to allow a common and shared set of events that we use to mark out the paths of our lives. It is not the only one of these things society holds – I remember other things by which albums I was listening to around that time – but they are important and special and for the people of Halifax they are gone.

Today of all days I say this. Today 11th of May 56 people lost their lives watching Bradford City play Lincoln and we mark that tragic anniversary as we mark the joyous, the sad, the silly, the mundane ones around supporting football in a way that weaves into the fabric of our lives.

I doubt that the armchair supporters watching the Premiership “showdown” have even the faintest idea what I mean. I think they think these point of view to be outmoded and old fashioned. I think they look at supporters of clubs like Bradford City and Halifax Town as being part quaint and part dull following the unsuccessful bloody-mindedly as if community and kinship means nothing.

Manchester United vs Chelsea is Coke vs Pepsi. Whichever wins it makes very little to the rest of football which looks to crumbs to live on while at the top table they gorge.

The Premiership – Thatcherism gone to horrific extremes – will be settled today and at some point someone will mention that Chelsea have not scored enough goals despite paying a man £130,000 a week to do that. £130,000 a week as Halifax Town go to the wall.

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring. It is not boring, it is obscene.

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