The grudge match

When one talks of job ending decisions at Bradford City: Nicky Law’s damning of City fans as being worth a goal for the other side, Paul Jewell taking meetings at Sheffield Wednesday, Colin Todd’s punch up with Lee Crooks; Jim Jefferies made his on a muddy field in Bradford in early December 2001.

No one really knows what exactly the gnarled Scot growled across the training ground to his club captain Stuart McCall as the midfielder tried to get stuck in in a training match but the effect of the words became obvious.

The shouted phrase, and what happened after, started the end of at the club Jefferies and the end of Bradford City’s attempt to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking.

The words were “You’ve lost yer legs” and nothing has been the same since they were uttered.

Hearts vs Motherwell

Hearts face Motherwell in the SPL this weekend bringing into competition for the first time the two men at the centre of that ruckus in Jefferies and Stuart McCall.

McCall’s Motherwell lag behind Hearts in the division but both are expected to make the cut at the top of the league which will pay this game little regard. Hearts look set to claim a Europa League place but in a league dominated by Celtic and Rangers this is exactly the type of SPL march that seems to pass without much notice.

Jefferies path from Valley Parade took him to Kilmarnock where he posted respectable finishes for the modest club before returning to the club he joined City from. His success – it seems – is in making Hearts the best of the rest.

McCall’s Motherwell bubble around the middle of the SPL. His aim is to get into the top six before the league is split in two and in the longer term it is to move the third Glasgow club closer to the other two. It is said that McCall got the Motherwell job after the chairman – who fell out of love with the idea of appointing the former Rangers player after seeing his decline at City – fell back in love after seeing how Peter Taylor struggled with the Bantams.

There is little significance to most in the match up of the teams if the managers, but south of the border in this corner of West Yorkshire a mention is merited.

Folklore

Skip back to the legs comment and a month or so on top of that and – so folklore has it – Jefferies assistant Billy Brown told his boss straight that to get City going in the right direction they had to break the dressing room (one assumes to rebuild it) and that they had to take on McCall to do that.

Nominally McCall was a part of the coaching staff having been assistant manager under Chris Hutchings but the midfielder had long since been excluded in that role. As City sunk on the field the feeling was that the management had to increase that exclusion.

So when the Bantams took the field post-bust up for a televised game against Manchester City they did so with the skipper purposefully missing for the first time since his return to the club three and a half years before.

The game was lost, and not long after Jefferies was resigning and returning to Scotland. McCall carried on playing, moving to Sheffield United, for three years. His final match being a reserve game for the Blades at Valley Parade.

By that time City had become locked in the slump that continues to this day. The defeat to Manchester City and Jefferies departure turned that season from one of instant return – it stated with a 4-0 win over Barnsley – into struggling under Nicky Law to get to safety as quickly as possible. Administration followed.

The merits of the decision are easily criticised in retrospect. McCall provide he had more to give and Gary Locke – Jefferies chosen replacement – found it impossible to match McCall’s abilities on the field.

Perhaps McCall had been a problem for Jefferies to build a new side around the likes of Locke, Andrew Tod, and Juanjo but that aim was to conduct a curious experiment. An experiment in trying to prove SPL players could be transplanted into the English game and play at a high level. Middlesbrough tried the same thing this season, to similar effect.

The grudge?

One wonders what City would have been like without the bust up. Would Jefferies have gone had McCall meekly have accepted his being put out to pasture or would he have stayed at the club and what would the effect of that been? Had McCall allowed Jefferies to make his mistake without an argument – and argument which at the time prompted questions about his appropriateness – then would he have been given his chance to manage City back in 2002? One can but speculate.

Ten years on one wonders how significant the event was. Certainly City were not heading anywhere good under Jefferies but admitting that the Premiership return would not happen is as good a place as any to mark the start of these troubled times.

McCall may credit Jefferies with giving him the motivation to carry on playing. Having been told he could not do something made him want to do it. Perhaps it is that which gives him the motivation to get on in management at Motherwell.

Playing four times a season, every season, and referencing something that is ten years and an era of a different club ago this is no one’s grudge match. McCall tries to prove himself as manager and Jefferies attempts (and succeeds in many respects) to return to the reputation he had before he came to England and Bradford City.

Everything else seems a world away.

Jim Jefferies and a cyclic revisionism

For eight years former Bradford City Premiership boss Jim Jefferies has been in charge at Kilmarnock before his – and of course his number two Billy Brown’s – exit early today in a storm of reports about directors talking to captains about tactics following a summer of arguing with the board about offering a job to the one time City midfelder Gary Locke a job.

Jefferies – who was overlooked for the Scotland job despite strong favour in some sections of the country – had a decent record at Rugby Park taking them to numerous top six finishes but never getting close to the top two. Not dissimilar to his record with Hearts before he arrived at Valley Parade to replace Chris Hutchings in 2000.

Hutchings had struggled to win points with most talented team assembled in Bradford City’s history in the top flight that season and Jefferies – on arrival – was trumpeted as one of the top ten coaches in the UK. On his second day he had rubbed chairman Geoffrey Richmond up the wrong way with the head honcho deciding after 48 hour that he was not able to work with the new man and a look back at the Bantams shows that the club had been in a slide caused by Richmond’s six weeks of madness.

Isn’t it time we looked back at what we perceive as a failure for Jim Jefferies and re-evaluate his time at Bradford City? Like Hell it is.

Jefferies arrived at Valley Parade proudly waving a white flag above his head saying that relegation – with over half the season left – was a near certainty and Richmond’s instinct to sack the Scot on his second day in the job was spot on (What would have been the worst that happened had he done so? Jefferies and Brown could have been added to the list of creditors?)

Not content with waving that white flag Jefferies proceeded to cherry pick a few players from the first team – the likes of Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore – and give them a few months in the reserves no doubt to encourage them out of the door for the wage bill but effectively making his relegation prediction more likely.

Jefferies attitude to the Bradford City dressing room seemed to read good spirit and strength as disruption and a divide of his power and set about slicing it in half. Out went club legend Peter Beagrie Рwoefully minimised with his swansong being a later dance around defender at home to Coventry City showing what the Bantams were missing Рand in came the likes of Eoin Jess and the aforementioned Locke. Kevin Kyle Рthe captain who had seen the fall out at Killie Рwas linked to City during this time and after a year in the job the manager brought in the ineffectual Juan Jos̩ Carricondo. Jim Jefferies called the players by their nicknames РJuanjo, Lockey, erm, Jessie Рbut only those players he has brought into Valley Parade.

Thus Jefferies is summed up. A manager who made the critical error of judgement that a player who could turn a few tricks for Hearts in the SPL could replace one for one a player who could do the same in the Premiership. In the annals of Bradford City not enough is spoken of the waste of time, effort and money which was paying Juanjo after having Benito Carbone in the second eleven.

Chris Hutchings suffered injures to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien and lost Lee Mills to alcohol problems but while Hutchings struggled to keep his players in the squad Jefferies frittered them away on what in retrospect seemed to be one man’s experiment to discover what anyone could have told him before he started: that an average player in Scottish top flight football is a long way inferior to his counterpart in the English top flight.

The most irritating thing about Jefferies – who once again leaves a club complaining about interference from above as if his time at Valley Parade should not have warned chairmen about giving him a free hand – is that Wigan Athletic kindly provided a second take on the Paul Jewell leaves and is replaced by a short time by Hutchings story and their ended happily under Steve Bruce who came not with the Jefferies surrender but with spirit and fight that kept them in the top flight.

I would not have considered Bruce one of the top ten managers in the country before then, his achievements at Wigan probably changed my mind on that.

One is tempted to ask how different would Bradford – City and the City – be had that appointment been made differently. Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle were reported to be talked to and Prof Rhodes confirmed that Berti Vogts has applied for the job but instead – and with a flourish from the media who sang his praises dubbing him one of the best managers in the country – we got Jim Jefferies, and shafted.

However if the appointment was a mistake then that mistake was compounded and doubled by Jefferies attitude at the club. What was good at the club – and administration came as a result of overspending but relegation did not – was broken. We went into the season watching Peter Beagrie watching Eoin Jess but having haemorrhaged the biggest gold rush in the club’s history in the process and while others can take some blame for that the wages and free transfers given to players ousted from the club simply cause the manager didn’t like their faces was a not insignificant factor.

The football Jefferies side’s played was not entertaining and often characterless – massively so in comparison to the teams Paul Jewell had played six months before – and the celebrated coach flitted from a 433 to a 442 bringing back players he had cast away only moths before as if to confirm that his experiments had failed. It was football management as a tepid passionless process in which our club was the subject of experimental and non-committal whims. He left and not long after there were pieces that we are still picking up now. It would be wrong and foolish to blame him for all of these but he certainly did nothing to help and plenty to hinder.

Put simply Jim Jefferies could not have cared less Bradford City or Bradford City supporters and his level of attention to the club following his departure – none – speaks volumes.

Revisionism comes often in football and is cyclic. What was the solution to yesterdays woes is often brought back as tomorrow’s solution to today’s problems and tonight Jim Jefferies and Burnley were mentioned in the same breath.

One hopes that Burnley can learn the lessons from our mistakes, one hopes that we can learn too.

McCall staying despite the Hearts

Stuart McCall rubbished the idea that he would be joining Hearts and Mark Lawn quickly and unequivocally stated that the City boss was not going anywhere as for the first time in a long time the idea of the number one who was the number four leaving came up.

Of course McCall has left before – to Everton and to Sheffield United – and his return as manager was viewed as a totemistic mark to turn around an ailing club but few – when McCall was appointed – investigated the angle that City were recruiting a manager who may be prized by others.

A look at Stuart’s CV before City reads perfectly. An International who went to the World Cup. A player who won six League Championships and played in the wrong end of the English League. A leader on the field for a club who credit him with being one of if not the driving force behind promotion. Well respected coach of a team who have had a season in the Premiership.

Had he not been our Stuart McCall then he would still have been an outstanding candidate for the job and one we were lucky to have. The fact he was our cult hero masked the fact that his track record on the field points – as much as it every can – to a great manager off it.

Like Trevor Cherry or Roy MacFarland before him he came to City a rookie manager but a vastly experienced player and no doubt a few other clubs looked at McCall and noted him as one to watch. Roy Keane got the Sunderland job on the strength of his playing CV and once Paul Ince proved himself at League Two level – twice – Blackburn got interested.

McCall is in that field of players you can hang your spirit on and should City do as we all hope they will this year then expect those links to become more frequent.

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