Leaving his Mark

I remember Mark Bower’s debut for City.

Down at Carrow Road in April 1998, City had climbed into a seemingly unassailable 3-0 advantage thanks to quick-fire goals either side of half time. The first of those scorers, Wayne Jacobs, had to go off injured, so off the bench stepped an 18-year old to take the City skipper’s spot. Norwich, trying to avoid relegation from then-Division One, came back to 3-2, and we were too busy willing the referee to blow for full time to be pre-occupied with how the debut boy was getting on. He must have quietly got through it, never giving cause for a fuss.

And that’s what is both great and not so great about the long-serving defender, who today it was officially announced has been released. Bower’s City career has rarely featured controversial headlines or given managers cause for headaches, but it hasn’t included too many good times either. During his 11 years he’s generally looked solid and dependable, but when his understated presence was taken away, for manager Stuart McCall, it wasn’t missed enough.

That said there is great sadness in thinking of the Bradford-born defender out of work and facing an uncertain future right now. His presence at Valley Parade, for the past decade, was something we took for granted.

The next time I saw Bower was when we were beaten at home to Portsmouth at the end of a season his team mates had long since given up on. The following two campaigns were unforgettable, with promotion and then that exciting first season in the Premiership, but what Bower saw of it was from the sidelines or from afar while on loan at York City, near the bottom of the Football League.

He did at least get to play for City in Europe the following season, but was back at York for half a season as City sank miserably from the Premier League. A fleeting appearance here and there, including another game at Carrow Road during which he scored his first City goal, was all he had to show as City laboured to get going back in Division One. Eventually Nicky Law, already Bower’s fourth different manager, gave him a run in the side and he played a significant role in ensuring a second successive relegation was avoided, even scoring the winning goal at Wimbledon to confirm mathematical survival.

Typical of Bower’s luck, he became more part of the scene just as the bad times really begun. As the club fell into administration, Bower was one of only five players it did not attempt to sack. At times that summer City staying in existence was touch and go and, while the immediate concern for Bower the City fan would have been for the future of his club, it would equally have been on his own given he was the verge of making it. In the end City survived and Bower prospered in a reduced squad with reduced expectations the following season, playing 39 times.

The centenary that City celebrated during the 2003/04 season was marked by relegation and administration, with Bower not for the first time watching others underperform in his place. Jason Gavin was brought in and played ahead of Bower by first Nicky Law then Bryan Robson, and if there was one early thing to trumpet Colin Todd for after he took over that summer it was his decision to pick Bower ahead of the hapless Irishman.

And under the tutelage of the former England defender it seemed Bower had finally arrived. City, now in League One, bobbled about in mid table for two seasons with David Wetherall and Bower mainstays at the back. Bower picked up the 2004/05 Player of the Season award ahead of an undoubtedly aghast 28-goal Dean Windass. Yet a year later came further clues that Bower was not the kingpin to build a defence around, with Todd shifting him to left back for a time so the impressive Damion Stewart could partner Wetherall. Todd’s now-huge army of critics saw it as an opportunity to slam the City boss, while ignoring the fact Bower looked excellent charging forward down the left flank.

With the club seemingly on irreversible decline, it seemed to finally catch up with Bower a year later. Todd was sacked in February and Wetherall asked to assume a caretaker role, and the opportunity was there for Bower, newly appointed as skipper, to emerge from Wetherall’s shadow and become a rock to depend upon. He was hardly the only player to fail to reach the heights expected as the club crashed to a seemingly avoidable relegation, but the player who had never let anyone down failed to convincingly prove he could step things up and be a hero.

With two years of a four-year deal still to run, Bower stayed on for life in League Two but it has been far from kind. If asked to name regrets, Bower might just list his willingness to play in goal away at Grimsby, when an injury to keeper Evans left manager Stuart McCall without a specialist to take the role. Bower let no one down in goal, but his replacement at the back, Matt Clarke, impressed instantly alongside Wetherall and suddenly a worrying dip in form meant Bower was dropped two weeks later. There has been the occasional appearance since, but no one should be surprised that, with the club now needing to release high earners, the highest earner of the lot has being shown the door.

Much of this season has included a soundtrack of fans whining about Bower’s exclusion and Clarke’s inclusion, which is a testament to short memories and of absence making hearts grow fonder. Back in the autumn of 2007, Bower was crucified by some supporters but it’s almost been airbrushed from history as some openly questioned “what he ever did wrong?” and screamed abuse at Clarke. Bower did little to deserve the abuse he was getting back then, but he’s equally done nothing to prompt some fans to elevate him to to the status of saviour and, belatedly, chant his name at games.

Bower will be no fan of Stuart and no one can blame him. But Stuart is the manager of this club and is entitled to make what he believes to be the best decision. One can only speculate that, for how much Bower’s weekly wage was, Zesh Rehman’s contract at QPR would be comparable. Rehman has been offered a deal and I for one am delighted. Clarke has also received another contract offer and, though he’s never going to be able to win over a section of support, has largely looked strong this season.

As for Bower, he should have little trouble finding another club, maybe even one in League One. He will go onto to enjoy a decent career elsewhere because, like the last home-grown City defender to ‘make it’, Andy O’Brien, he has plenty of talent and a good attitude.

He will be missed back at Valley Parade, but perhaps not quite enough. A player who will always be guaranteed a good reception on his return, a player who may one day be welcomed back with open arms, but sadly also a player for whom it’s difficult to associate with too many happy times.

It’s time that both he and City enjoyed a turn of luck.

Just who is good enough for Bradford’s Title Challenge 04/05? Part 1 of 2

As we all prepare for the advent of Second Division football, looking ahead to the sheer amount of local derbies (even Huddersfield, please) and the fact that we will not have to pay as much cash for burgers and tickets. The noises coming out of Bradford City are positive: Robson talks of “playing with pride”, Wetherall points to “silly results at this time of the season” (the only silly result that I can see is us actually winning any more than 3 games). This is always to be expected, however the realists have prepared themselves for 2nd Division football next season, where (the way things are looking) we will meet Doncaster who 5 years ago, were in the Conference whilst we watched goggle eyed the slick passing of the Arsenals of this world. 5 years down the line and we are meeting in the same division, if football wanted an example of how it can all go wrong, this is surely it.

The second division is a funny division, there are some cracking teams in there who have spent a few quid strengthening their squads, also there are some awful teams who would struggle in Division 3 should they ever be relegated. The division also has its fair share of “sleeping” giants; Sheffield Wednesday, Q.P.R and Bristol City. All these are big clubs and we could meet a couple of these next season; however we will no doubt be up there in the bookmakers thinking when the Title odds are released. The big question is, do we have a squad worthy of challenging?

The present squad is clearly not good enough to sustain a place in the First Division, bolstered by loan signings which did add some quality to the team, but we always knew that they weren’t actually our players. Obviously this is based upon either Robson or Todd staying with the bantams, and also that Administration is survived and we have funds available (not necessarily transfer fees, wages will do) so that new faces can be brought in:

Goalkeepers
Alan Combe and Mark Paston

The crazy Scottish madman is good enough for Division 1, not shown anywhere near his best form, many sympathize with his rants at the (sometimes) non existent defending that has gone on, on his day the kop will sing “Scotland’s Number one” and he will stop shots that seem destined to go in, however on his frequent days off that Combe has experienced, the Kop will have not even cleared its voice before he is walking down the tunnel after a red card. Paston is a strange one, a big keeper, brings back memories of Schwarzer, in that he’s from Oceania and he’s tall. That’s where the similarities end however, doesn’t command his box as well for someone who is 6″4. Not the greatest kicker either, however he is a challenger to Combe and certainly both of these are good enough for Division 2.

Defenders
Gareth Edds

Don’t want to be too harsh on the lad, but simply Gareth, you just aren’t good enough, you would struggle in the Bradford Sunday League’s Second Division, lack of pace, unconvincing, positional and defensive play poor (Kilbane v Sunderland). You may have a long throw but well, that’s it. And it’s not even that good

Jason Gavin + David Wetherall

I will admit I thought Gavin was abysmal earlier in the season, but just before the ban he received he looked the part playing alongside Wetherall. Any good side that hopes to achieve success has a solid defensive partnership and Gavin and Wetherall would be just that. I still have worries about Gavin especially the fact he makes some awful mistakes and wears ridiculously long shorts. Wetherall is typical club captain material, honest pro and works hard (I’ve seen him at the gym); just a different class, injury free and these two are the rocks that will earn us clean sheets against the lower class forwards that they will face.

Paul Heckingbottom

The best summer signing that Law made, very consistent and surely a likely winner of the Players of the year award. Looking remarkably like Frodo (L.O.T.R) and my mate Tim, he has been impressive and probably the only player we could seriously worry about losing in the summer. Critics would say that perhaps he suffers from a lack of pace but again 2nd Division is a lower standard so good positional play would make up for that weakness.

Wayne Jacobs

“Jakes” a veteran of many a Bradford City season, probably shocked himself at how he is still at Bradford City after 10 seasons. Most fans feel the same; sadly not played much during his testimonial season however was placed at Right Back when Francis left. This proved how poor Edds must be if a left footed, left back, 35 year old can claim a place ahead of him. Probably good enough for the 2nd (just) a lot depends on how much “Father Time” has affected him regarding fitness and pace.

Mark Bower

Jury out for me, I really am not sure, my abiding memory of Bower is him stooping then falling over when he misjudges a horrible bouncing ball, not a bad defender by any means but then again not a world class one. Good cover for Wetherall and Gavin but apart from that he probably has too many weaknesses to be considered for one of the first team berths. Not a bad man marker and often a great bet for the first goal at 50 / 1 or something equally ridiculous.

Midfielders

We are short on the ground for midfielders, this is a massive problem area for us, especially when you consider that we have had loanees (Wallwork and Farrelly) playing in there most of the season.

Peter Atherton

Good old Pete hasn’t had that bad a season, usually injured for 85% of the season he’s done well this season in the holding role. Looked better when having to protect a creative lightweight player (Farrelly), sadly though he has had to run the midfield in recent weeks and therefore his weaknesses have been highlighted especially the fact that 1 ball in 10 that he plays is a good one. A very experienced player that is useful to have in the side. Useful for Division 2.

Tom Kearney

The darling of the kop; embraced because he plays in the same position as Stuart McCall and came from Everton. Sadly the similarities stop there, actually that’s a little harsh. Before his nasty injury against Grimsby, Kearney (like Standing) looked the business. A Cheap and hungry midfielder with talent and age on his side, Fast forward 12 months and he cant even get into a poor midfield, seemingly incapable of playing a 12 yard square ball to a team mate, an example of how injury can change one player so much. I am not too sure whether he is good enough for Division 2, maybe under Law at Grimsby.

Robert Wolleaston

“Afro Man”, well I didn’t even know he was playing against Reading until 20 minutes such was his contribution, however by all accounts he played well against Derby, scored and received the M.O.M from the T+A. Also it shouldn’t be forgotten that he smashed the ball at Combe’s head causing the ball for divert into our goal to cost us the game. Agreeing with Robson about his laziness, if he had that extra yard of thought and pace, well he would be challenging Claudio’s boys for a first team berth, hope for the future though with Rob.

Nicky Summerbee

His pace has gone and he looks as if he really couldn’t care less, but he is slowly but surely changing the masses opinions, he can play a fair bit and true he can’t run but he can spot a pass and has more talent than the rest of our midfield put together. Definitely good enough for Division 2, maybe a swansong season at Division 1 level?

Strikers
Dean Windass

Came back for his swansong 2 years vowing to bang the goals in, has failed in that respect, spent more time getting silly bookings, diving and making silly faces to the crowd. Hasn’t had a bad season, still well worth his place up front because you never quite know how he will play, Deano is the man you need up front for a promotion fight in Division 2, has experience to mix it and likely to get a goal out of nothing.

Danny Cadamarteri

Now is rated as good, before this season he was “waste of space”, “overpaid waste of space” and “fat b*$£*d”. However he is now the darling of the kop, running at defenders like Blake used to. If we had Cadders fit all season we would have been mid table boredom. Sadly though, any sort of good fortune stays well out of City’s way, with this in mind Cadamateri has had more injuries than any other City player I can remember. He is good enough for the 1st Division maybe even higher than that but he must get fit in order to be any use to City or anyone for that matter.

Michael Branch

Never quite there is Branch, always a yard short, misses too many chances to be a 20 goal a season man, then scores to many to be classed as a creative player. A frustrating player but at the same time a crowd favourite, will run all day, force mistakes and scare people with his pace. Good enough for Division 2, any good side will be built on goals from the front two, and I believe that Branch would be a part of that. A very good outside bet for the Divsions top scorer too, should he find his level and also his shooting boots.

Lewis Emanuel

Not utterly sure where the lad should go, he was the great hope at Left Back, I remember watching him out of window when I was in History at Hanson, he was superb. Also on Championship Manager 01/02, he was England’s future Left Back, however with City lacking a wide left midfielder ( Law overlooked when signing the 6 strikers, he forgot about how we would get the ball to them) Lewis (through no fault of his own) found himself playing on the left of midfield. Although he has one trick, cant cross and isn’t the paciest player, however when we were desperate for points he found himself up front as part of a front three. Chips in with the odd goal and still has talent, eventually will reach the top and good enough for the title challenge.

Thus concludes my review of the squad, I am sure that I have missed some of the players that have conspired to get us relegated. In part 2, I will be showing how much of a life I don’t have by scouring the P.F.A’s list of players that currently have no club, indicating who would do us a job or more importantly (using CM as a guide) who we could realistically afford.

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