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.

Jackson’s strong first impression – but a considered approach is still needed

Should winning a couple of matches ever be used as the basis of deciding to appoint a new manager? Doing so is so often accepted wisdom in football. A manager departs after a run of poor form, a caretaker steps in and results suddenly improve. Media and fans talk up his case for the job full time, and a more permanent deal is signed and sealed.

Bradford City’s Board is said to be following this well-trodden path in the consideration of interim manager Peter Jackson as the boss full time. Prior to his first game at Gillingham, credible sources revealed a couple of good results would see him land the job until at least the end of the season – otherwise John Hughes will step in. Tuesday night’s morale-boosting victory over Rotherham was a major boost for Jackson’s hopes of extending his stay, and already it is difficult to believe someone else will be taking his place in the dugout anytime soon.

If this is to be the way the successor to Peter Taylor is decided, then those of us with strong fears can at least be somewhat comforted by Tuesday night. In a season of so many disappointments, especially evening kick off games, it was heart-warming to see City claim the three points in a more stylish manner.

For me at least it wasn’t so much the Brazilian full back-esqe charge forwards and low shot from Lewis Hunt and long-range belter that probably didn’t cross the line from Tom Adeyemi that brought joy – as excellent as the two goals were from Taylor signings who have struggled to impress – but the shape and approach Jackson deployed the team in. For the first time in what seemed ages, City were playing attractive, attacking football that was exciting to watch.

Ultimately I went against Taylor not because of poor results, but the dismal style of defensive football he favoured that was so uninspiring to watch. Watching City had become a joyless, disengaging experience and in truth attending games had become more of a routine than a joy. I’ve watched City 28 times this season, but even comparing those horrible relegation seasons I’ve rarely found it so monotonous. I’m used to us losing and failing, but I’ve always enjoyed us trying. This season it’s not been a great watch or led to pleasurable outcomes very often.

So for Jackson to play an attacking 4-4-2 with a decent tempo and commitment to passing the ball around, instead of launching long balls – well, it has helped to significantly win me round. I still have some large concerns about Jackson as our manager and remain very fearful that, a year from now, we’ll have made little progress and he’ll have been driven out in far nastier circumstances than Taylor. But I’m also more encouraged that his ways could lead to success, and that – at the very least – watching City will feel like a privilege rather than a chore.

For the first time in months, I’m genuinely excited about the next game.

In the cold light of day, Tuesday’s win was fortuitous. But even if Jake Speight had tucked away a couple of his numerous chances, so the scoreline reflected City’s dominance, is one win (and hopefully another on Saturday) really justification to give Jackson the job? Let’s recall other City managers in our recent history who made a good impression in their first home game – Bryan Robson (the 2-0 down to 3-2 win against Millwall), Nicky Law (3-1 over a decent Portsmouth side), Jim Jefferies (2-1 Premier League win over Coventry) and, most infamously of all, Chris Hutchings (2-0 over Chelsea).

As positive as we might feel about Jackson’s brand of football right now, we once held similarly optimistic views about Hutchings.

But Jackson’s trial should be about more than determining whether to give him the job on the outcome of a linesman’s call. And, as a history lesson, we should go back to the last successful manager, Paul Jewell. He took over as caretaker in not dissimilar circumstances in January 1998. His first game saw an impressive win at Stockport, followed by a defeat to Stoke. Chairman Geoffrey Richmond proclaimed Jewell would land the job if two up-coming home games delivered six points. The first game was drawn, but Richmond awarded him the job until the end of the season within an hour of the final whistle.

Jewell failed to impress as City slumped to a mid-table position, and we all assumed he would be booted out for a bigger name. But Richmond stuck by him, endured a lot of flak and, ultimately, was handsomely rewarded when City were promoted to the Premier League. No manager since Jewell has made such an unremarkable start.

Yet the reasons why Richmond showed faith in Jewell were largely visible only behind closed doors. It was evidenced on the training ground, in the way Jewell conducted himself with Richmond and the manner he lead his players and coaching staff. It was stuff we fans didn’t see first-hand, but that demonstrated to Richmond the ability we were to benefit from so gloriously the following season.

So as much as Tuesday night was great and as much as this recruitment process still bothers many of us, it’s to be hoped that a decision to appoint Jackson full time is also made on the basis of how he’s performing behind the scenes. His plans for the club will be known within the corridors of power at Valley Parade, his thoughts on the current players and what’s missing will have been made clear to the men who hold the purse strings. His positivity to accept certain things – not least a decrepit training ground – likely to find favour, especially considering the reduced budgets the club will operate on next season.

City’s Board can be accused of not casting the net wide enough in the hunt for the next manager – especially considering there were some 40 applicants – but they are at least in a position to fully assess the merits of Jackson. And in doing so, it’s to be hoped the decision whether to appoint him isn’t just based on a couple of football matches – however uplifting they are proving to be.

John Hughes declares his interest

Former Hibs manager John Hughes has declared an interest in being City’s next manager.

The 46 year old took Falkirk to promotion to the Scottish Premier League in 2005 and the 2009 Scottish Cup Final and then took over at Hibs taking them into Europe, but left after a poor start to the season.

Hughes has little experience of English football and oddly that experience comes from playing for Welsh side Swansea in the late 1980s, a team he joined from Scots league side Berwick Rangers, of England.

Hughes managed 283 games for Falkirk and 54 for Hibs. He is infamous for streaking on TV during an interview – something that Jim Jefferies described as “The funniest thing I’ve ever seen” which – recalling Jefferies dour demeanour – is hardly pitting the incident against very stiff opposition.

The managerial failure cycle – bad choices or bad strategy?

The recent demoralising defeats to Port Vale and Chesterfield have once again heaped the pressure on Bradford City manager Peter Taylor. This weekend the Bantams face a crucial home game with Stockport that could determine his immediate future, but already it seems implausible to believe Taylor will be employed at Valley Parade beyond the expiration of his contract in May.

It will soon be time to search again for the man to revive this ailing football club but the fact we keep going around this cycle of getting rid of a manager and replacing him with new one – with little success in reversing a slide down the leagues – can already leave us pessimistic that the next manager isn’t going to be any better.

To blame the club’s decline on poor managers would be over-simplistic and, no matter who takes residence in the dug out after Taylor, there will still be all manner of financial issues that hold us back. Yet so much is reliant upon the manager that it is such a key position to get right, and as thoughts soon turn to filling a vacancy it is a process that needs to be reviewed in order to increase the chances of it succeeding. We can’t just keep hiring and firing and hope the law of probabilities means we’ll stumble on the right manager eventually, can we?

Over the last few days Michael has written two excellent articles – here and here – on what the club and supporters might be looking for in the next manager. Too often, it seems, football clubs in general appear to have no thoughts on the right person to take their club forwards beyond sacking the present incumbent and waiting for CVs to file through in the post. It seems a backwards methodology in these days of recruitment specialists and head hunters and, as City apparently keep getting the choice of manager wrong, it’s worth posing the question of whether this is because as employees we keep making bad choices, or because the qualities we are looking for have either not been considered enough or were misguided.

Let’s try and find out…

Chris Hutchings
“Oh Wetherall’s free! Fantastic header!”

Sunday 14 May 2000, and Martin Tyler’s description of David Wetherall’s winner for Bradford City against Liverpool – which confirmed the club’s Premier League survival – is relayed around the world. A pitch invasion follows the final whistle and the celebrations in and around Bradford go on long into the night.

But something’s not right. Rather than looking joyous or even relieved, manager Paul Jewell is sporting a scowling face that radiates the pressure he has been under from media, supporters and his boss. A few weeks later he quits, fed up of the way he has been treated. And the last successful Bradford City manager we’ve had goes onto enjoy a fine career elsewhere.

It is at this point the look behind the strategy should begin; because although the steep decline that followed was more to do with finances than bad management, nothing on the pitch has proved a success since.

I never agreed with the decision to appoint Chris Hutchings as Jewell’s successor, but it’s difficult to dispute the logic that led to Chairman Geoffrey Richmond promoting Jagger’s assistant. Since Lennie Lawrence departed in 1995, Richmond had enjoyed great success promoting from within after both Chris Kamara and Jewell delivered a promotion and survival in the division above the following season. An Anfield-esqe bootroom culture that promoted continuity was a worthy blueprint.

I never agreed, because the circumstances were different. Kamara and Jewell took over a club with the resources and capacity to be better than they were, but City had now climbed to a level they had not previously reached for almost 80 years – and we needed some experience to help us negotiate uncharted territory. Instead Hutchings was entrusted with the biggest transfer budget this club is ever likely to have, and given a remit to improve the style of football and guide City to a mid-table spot.

History shows this was far too ambitious – not to mention damagingly expensive – and, as clubs like Stoke and Wigan continue to battle to preserve their top flight status year-on-year, the idea that City could prosper by turning to flair and playing 4-4-2 at Old Trafford now seems breathtakingly naive. A more experienced manager would surely have known that the strategy was all wrong.

Jim Jefferies
“It is my opinion that he was an undiluted disaster for Bradford City from beginning to end”

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it was no surprise that Hutchings quickly came under pressure as results were poor, and Richmond – to his later regret – failed to back his man and sacked him. What we needed was an experienced man who’ll who whip these under-achievers into shape. A no-nonsense manager.

Such requirements led to Jim Jefferies, a tough-talking Scot who’d enjoyed great success in Scotland, taking charge. Yet within weeks he was telling Richmond that the club was effectively relegated and needed to get rid of the fancy Dans. It was only December.

In the excellent ‘The Pain and the Glory’ book Richmond was scathing of the job Jefferies did, but in some respects ‘the Judge’ did a good job in at least helping the club prepare for tough financial times ahead by getting rid of high-earners and sellable assets before the end of the season. He was given little money to spend on replacements with City now in Division One, and it proved a thankless task trying to take the club forwards when so much quality was being taken out.

Jefferies left the club after 13 months, and with such fiscal times on the horizon, the search for a new manager centered on candidates with experience of finding lower league bargains and happy to manage on a small budget. Peter Jackson turned the position down, so in came the Lawman.

Nicky Law/Bryan Robson
“I’m just hoping we can bring back the 16,000 who were here for the first game.”

As City went through the turmoil of administration and emerged skint and picking up out-of-contract players from Brentford, it was difficult to imagine a better person to have in charge than Nicky Law. He managed the club well through a very difficult 2002/03 season – targeting battlers over flair – but was a victim of rising expectations soon after. The remaining high earners departed in the summer of 2003, and the wage constraints meant that Law struggled to find replacements good enough to keep City in the division.

So Law was sacked after 12 winless games, and with Gordon Gibb now in charge it is interesting to speculate how his approach to recruiting the next manager differed. Gibb had enjoyed success building a theme park with sufficient attractions to keep people visiting, and it was clear that much of the thought behind appointing former England captain Bryan Robson was to increase falling attendances.

It didn’t work, and a deflated Gibb would depart just 8 weeks later with Administration 2 just around the corner. Meanwhile Robson was benefiting from a larger budget than Law and was able to bring in experienced loan players, with a greater focus on skill over graft. Results were improving, and though it would probably have proved too little too late City might have managed to avoid relegation had the administrators not taken over and being forced to sell key players.

Robson was left trying to keep City up with players he’d declared only two months earlier to not be good enough for the club and who were welcome to leave. With the prospect of limited funds in League One, he felt it was a job he could not continue.

Colin Todd
“I honestly think Colin should be right up there for any manager of the season…I see him as the man to take us back up the football pyramid.”

With the club in such dire straits that summer, appointing a new manager was hardly the most important priority. Colin Todd, assistant to Robson having come close to landing the job the November before, was handed the reins. However sour it ended, it proved a good choice as Todd steadied the ship while the club limped on following the narrow survival of administration. An 11th place in the first season was beyond Julian Rhodes’ expectations:

I thought we would be facing a relegation battle. Bearing in mind this season was going to be about coming out of administration, I thought we might well be facing life in League 2 when the rebuilding could really begin.

Todd’s time in charge was categorised by low budgets and limited stability. He put together a decent team that threatened to finish in the play off picture, and though the following season saw little progress (another 11th place) the Bantams still only lost 13 games. Todd, however, was under pressure from a section of supporters.

Some argued the former England international lacked passion for the job, and that defeats didn’t hurt him enough. Some argued we could do better than treading water in mid-table. But when he was eventually sacked midway through his third season, City drowned.

Rhodes, who had previously backed his man strongly even during difficult times, admitted that the pressure of supporters and stalling attendances was a telling factor in booting out Todd, especially now he had just launched an innovative season ticket deal that required thousands of people’s commitment.

When it gets to the stage where they [supporters] stop coming then something has to be done. At the end of the day it’s their club.

He was right, only now it was our League Two club.

Stuart McCall
“I will see myself as a failure if I don’t get the club back up at the first attempt, and I’ve got the strongest desire anyone could possibly have to achieve that.”

So out with Todd’s lack of passion and after David Wetherall’s unsuccessful caretaker stint, the hunt for the next manager did not require an advert in the classifieds. We needed someone who cares, someone who will get the players going and someone who will not tolerate underachievers. We need arguably the greatest achiever of City’s modern history.

In came Stuart McCall, along with the investment of Mark Lawn that allowed the club to hand the manager a relatively strong playing budget for the first time since Chris Hutchings. McCall was the overwhelming choice as next manager from fans because of the passion he’d put in to the job, no one can argue they were disappointed on that front at least.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Stuart cared he was in his first manager role and working in a division he didn’t know, and the inexperience was to show as success continued to allude the club. McCall put his neck on the chopping board straightaway by declaring he’d be a failure if he didn’t guide City to promotion at the first attempt – but he did fail attempt one, and then attempt two, and he was on course to fail attempt three before he eventually quit.

Of course the experiences along the way helped him to become a better manager, and by the end he had enough knowledge of the lower leagues to be able to use a reduced budget to bring in non-league players that could make the step up. Nevertheless, just like with Todd, the lack of speed to the progress left McCall under heavy pressure.

The passion and how much he cared went against him in the end. We didn’t want someone who would be more upset than us if they lost, we needed a wise head who had a track record for success. Passion was good, but the very reasons McCall was brought in were no longer what the club was looking for. This time a job advertisement would be needed.

Peter Taylor
“4-3-3 can be 4-3-3 and not just 4-5-1”

Which brings us back to Taylor, who was appointed on the basis of his outstanding track record in delivering success and high level of experience. However, criticisms over the football Taylor favours have followed him throughout his long managerial career, and he is now heavily slated for style of play City have produced for much of the season. We know Taylor will be gone soon and, when the discussions over the qualities to look for in his replacement begin, it’s likely that style of football will feature strongly on the next list of interview questions.

So there we have it

“There’s only two types of manager. Those who’ve been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.” (Howard Wilkinson)

Hutchings to Taylor via Jefferies, Law, Todd and McCall. All were branded failures and, with such a cycle of hiring and firing helping the Bantams fall from the Premier League to League Two, one is again left to wonder what could possibly lead us to believe the next guy will prove any more successful?

But is it a matter of changing managers proving futile, or is our ongoing failure to find the right man more to do with the goalposts continually shifting?

Was Nicky Law sacked because the lower league manager route was wrong, or was hiring someone with great experience of handling small budgets actually a sound strategy that should have been continued? Instead of getting some guy who used to play for Man United to pack the stadium out, after Law should we have recruited then-Doncaster manager Dave Penny, for example?

Did Stuart McCall fail because he cared too much, or was the passion we hired him for the right quality required and Dean Windass should have been given the job instead of Taylor? We ask for one quality in a manager, don’t like some of the other characteristics that manager brings and then dismiss that original quality during the next search.

We want a manager who is not the last one, and so we go and get one – and in doing so we always find that the next guy is lacking some things but not the same things. So while we might have thought we’d found the solution, we end up finding a new thing to be the problem.

Circumstances – not least City’s changing financial capabilities – have changed often during the last decade. But as we soon start to prepare to recruit another manager it’s to be hoped the criteria will be more thought out than finding someone “not like the last manager.” Because over much of the past decade, that has often appeared to be the case.

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 – woefully minimised with his swansong being a later dance around defender at home to Coventry City showing what the Bantams were missing – and in came the likes of Eoin Jess and the aforementioned Locke. Kevin Kyle – the captain who had seen the fall out at Killie – was linked to City during this time and after a year in the job the manager brought in the ineffectual Juan José Carricondo. Jim Jefferies called the players by their nicknames – Juanjo, Lockey, erm, Jessie – but 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.

A decade of decline, misery and still existing

Played 495, won 150, drawn 124, lost 221, scored 604 goals and conceded 728. As a decade, the noughties have been long and largely miserable for Bradford City.

It began with the Bantams scrapping for their lives in the Premier League under Paul Jewell, it has ended four divisions below and with typical pessimism over the immediate prospects of beginning the ascent back. Dashed hopes, repeated agony, fruitless endeavour. Even though the club’s history is littered with underachievement, the last 10 years have set some new standards.

In fact, looking around at others, it would not be an exaggeration to label Bradford City English professional football’s most unsuccessful club of the 00’s.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom – five months into the new millennium was that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon City defeated England’s most successful club to seal Premier League survival. It prompted scenes of delirium as the final whistle was greeted by fans swarming onto the pitch to mob their heroic players and join in singing You’ll Never Walk Alone with the gracious Liverpool supporters. The bars in Bradford were heaving that night and we supporters dreamt of a future of top flight football as the mid-90’s momentum that had seen City climb from England’s third tier saw few signs of slowing. A fantastic day, but what’s next?

With each passing year of disappointment, that victory over Liverpool has given rise to another debate about whether it would have been better City had lost and been relegated instead. If City’s first top flight campaign in 77 years ended in heroic failure rather than plain heroic, City might have rebuilt more sensibly in the Football League; perhaps bouncing up and down like Birmingham. More likely, City might now be muddling along like a Barnsley or Ipswich; still having undergone some financial difficulties – for then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond would have still spent relatively significant money and the 7.5 million pound new stand would have been built anyway – but strong enough to be a firm fixture in the Championship, a place we now aspire to be.

Instead David Wetherall’s headed winner paved the way for those six weeks of madness and almost complete financial meltdown two years later, with debts of over 35 million. The financial strife was self-inflicted and the damage is still endured now. Every subsequent failure since Dermot Gallagher blew for full time against Liverpool can ultimately be traced back to those six weeks.

The question of whether we’d use a time machine to fly back to May 2000 and warn a Liverpool defender to mark Wetherall in the 12th minute is one we’d all answer differently. Me, I’d like to think that one day the financial ball and chain will be removed and when it is the memories of that warm May afternoon will still feel as joyful as it continues to do now. Liverpool at home is a life moment I’ll always be grateful to have experienced, and I hope one day to be truly able to say it was worth it.

As for other great moments of the decade, City’s continuing existence will go down as the biggest achievement. It’s often a point of criticism from other fans that supporters who still talk of their gratitude for still having a club to support are excusing subsequent underachievement and need to move on. I agree to a point, but the lessons learned in 2002 and 2004 are ones which cannot be forgotten.

It’s commonplace for lower league clubs to hit financial troubles and, as Watford, Southend, Accrington and Stockport take the national media’s sympathy spot this season, it’s always tempting to shrug the shoulders and mutter “so what?’. Like a typical Richard Curtis film we all know there will be a happy ending, don’t we?

In both of City’s spells in administration the prospect of the club’s termination was very real and very scary. That July morning in 2004 when it looked all over and fans stood outside Valley Parade, ready to mourn as the noon deadline for the end approached, was a day I was flying from the UK to the States, agonisingly stuck on an eight hour flight then a two-hour car drive before I could access any information about whether I still had a club to support.

The joy each time when at the last minute the club was saved and the relief as the players ran out onto the Valley Parade pitch for the first time since a few weeks later. It was easy to take it all for granted before, but the traumatic summers of 2002 and 2004 taught us to be thankful of this special relationship in our lives, which can cause us frustration and pain but that we cannot cope without.

Post-administration on both occasions, it was clear the immediate future was one of tredding water rather than a time to draw up blue sky five-year plans. Unfortunately relegation was not too far away both times – the common thread being the enforced lack of investment in the playing squad having disastrous results. City’s 2003/04 centenary celebrations were hollow as a squad of Premier League cast offs struggled dismally, setting a new Football League record for most single goal defeats in a season. In 2006/07 the squad depended on loan signings – those who did well quickly disappeared and those who remained failed to possess enough fight to rescue their temporary employers from the League Two abyss.

At other times, seasons often began with seemingly reasonable expectations of challenging for the play offs, but as the nights drew darker in winter early season promise drifted to usual mediocrity. The only season where promotion hopes remained in tact with less than a quarter of it remaining was last year, but then a talented squad’s form collapsed bringing with it that distressingly familiar feeling of despair.

There’s been little cup cheer as a distraction either, save for this season’s run in the JPT and the Intertoto adventure back in 2000.

Underpinning much of the decline has been musical chairs in the managerial seat. Jewell was controversially gone in the summer of 2000. His replacement Chris Hutchings exited 12 Premier League games later. The no-nonsense Jim Jefferies quickly waved the white flag on City’s Premiership survival hopes. He departed the following Christmas Eve with his rebuilding job struggling to get going.

The pace of change at least slowed then, with Nicky Law, Colin Todd and now Stuart McCall afforded more time to get things right. Bryan Robson did have a short spell after Law was sacked in 2003, but Captain Marvel talked a better game off the field than his charges did on it.

All since Jewell have been branded failures at City, but the hiring and firing policy has also played its part in the fall to League Two. If Richmond’s big mistake was to go mad for a month and a half, Julian Rhodes’ decision to sack Todd in February 2007 – with City three points clear of the relegation zone and displaying midtable form – is one to regret. Todd was ready to leave at the end of the season and, despite the handicap of losing his three best players, the chances of survival were far greater with the experienced hand rather than under the rookie tutelage of caretaker Wetherall, who’s concentration would have been better served on just leading the team as captain.

Todd was sacked for frustration at City being stuck in the mid-table of League One, now McCall is under pressure for so far failing to reverse the damage from becoming unstuck.

Not that Rhodes’ influence over the past decade should be dismissed by that one action. After Richmond’s borrow-heavily-self-reward-through-dividends-a-plenty policy failed disastrously in 2002, the Rhodes family – also recipients of those controversial dividend payments – did everything they could financially to maintain the club’s existence. A fortune built up through the success of their Filtronics company has declined through their obvious love of the Bantams, and though for a time they were helped by Gordon Gibb the Rhodeses were once again the only saviours around in 2004, alongside supporters who did everything they could to raise money to keep the club going over that summer.

One can only admire the Rhodes family’s resolve in attempting to put the club on an even keel again. There was hope in 2006 that then-commercial manager Peter Etherington was to ease that load and inject much needed capital, but in the end it proved a false dawn. At least Julian now has the added support of Mark Lawn since 2007. Rhodes has made it known he is less comfortable in the spotlight, and Lawn has over the last three years become the public front of house.

It’s to be hoped that, ultimately, Rhodes’ legacy will not just be saving the club twice, but to have made professional football affordable in a part of the country that is far from affluent. City’s demise to League Two should have seemed a catastrophe, but with Rhodes’ cheap season ticket initiative taking off and McCall appointed manager it was a club reborn.

The offer has so far being repeated three times and there is every indication it will continue for sometime. In League One, the lower crowds City attracted affected the atmosphere with the limited noise rattling around a two-thirds empty stadium. There are still plenty of unsold seats on matchdays, but the atmosphere is undoubtedly better for the season ticket offer bringing in 10,000+ supporters.

Though as Rhodes will have learned many years ago, success on the field is an outcome almost impossible for the board to determine. There has been a high turnover of players at Valley Parade ever since Jefferies told Richmond the flair players he inherited had to go. A cycle of underperforming players being replaced by poorer ones has continued through to League Two. When it’s a few players not up to the job it has hampered progress – much was expected of the likes of Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward, Jason Gavin, Bobby Petta, Owen Morrison and Paul McLaren, but they and many others regularly failed to make the right impact – when it is almost a whole team relegation has followed.

Plenty of wretched team performances along the way – Stockport ’01, Wimbledon ’02, Sunderland ’03, Forest ’05, Oldham ’06, Huddersfield ’07, Accrington ’07, Notts County  ’09 and Rochdale ’09. Though on other occasions the 11 players (or nine) have got it right and prompted giddy celebrations; defeating Chelsea in ’00, a Benito Carbone-inspired Gillingham thrashing in ’01, the last minute Michael Proctor equaliser against Burnley in ’02, Bryan Robson’s managerial debut where City came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the last minute in ’03, the five wins in a row of ’04, completing the double over Huddersfield in ’05, Joe Brown’s late winner against Blackpool in ’06, Lincoln away ’07 and Accrington away last season.

10 years is a long time, and for each of us watching in the stands it will have been a decade of personal change too. My perceptions and outlook on City has altered; I’m now older than many of the players and the obvious decline in quality of the playing staff since the Premiership means I’m more likely to admire players – Donovan Ricketts, Nathan Doyle, Andy Gray, Simon Francis, Dean Windass, Dean Furman and Carbone – rather than treat them as heroes.

This Christmas a thoughtful relative got me an Edinho t-shirt which I love but it also hit home that, over the past decade, there’s been few players who can come close to matching the feelings I had for our Brazilian striker. Of course we also live in a time of message board users ripping apart everyone connected with the club which makes hero status harder to achieve, and though this type of criticism existed in 2000 I was unaware of it – and much happier for that.

There’s still no better feeling than the joy of the ball flying into the back of the net and celebrating wildly.

I’m always thrilled by the experience of a feisty game where City are on top and all four sides of the ground are backing the players positively, urging them forward to score. All negative moaners are drowned out, all problems the club has to meet are suspended. The noise carries over the thousands of empty seats so they don’t matter, everything else in our lives has been left at the turnstile door for later.

This was the decade we nearly lost all of this. It may go down as one of most unsuccessful periods in the club’s history, but the noughties have been unforgettable.

Sack the manager? It just doesn’t add up

“Everybody knows the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.” Leonard Cohen

As predictable as the boos circling around Valley Parade at the final whistle against Rochdale, was the resulting strong wave of criticism emanating from Bradford City supporters in the days following the 3-0 humbling.

In contrast to the relative quiet satisfaction following the success at Grimsby, the City cyber-world went into overdrive as complaints and criticisms were boisterously aired. BBC Radio Leeds listeners learned of a publicity-seeking Bantams fan from Accrington, who texted in straight after the match to absurdly label the performance the worst of his 15 years as fan, and to reveal he’d ripped up his season ticket renewal form and Darlington match tickets. Ah well,  he didn’t miss much in terms of the latter.

The main thrust of the displeasure was once again regarding the capabilities of manager Stuart McCall, with the returning of cries for him to be sacked which were last aired in August. Often such arguments are defined by the short and long term viewpoint, with the pro-manager supporters arguing for the long term and dismissing the opposing views as short term-ism. On this occasion, fans calling for McCall to be sacked notably adopted a more durable stance themselves; arguing that, after two-and-a-half years at the helm, the former Scottish international has had long enough to deliver a promotion-winning team.

But ultimately, it remains a short term viewpoint, for question marks over McCall’s future would not have been raised had City beaten Rochdale or at least not been so badly embarrassed by the leaders. Equally, the opinion he should be handed a P45 would have more weight were it not only uttered when City have a bad result. Sacking a manager should be a decision made on a bigger picture than merely the form guide, sadly in football that is all too rarely the case.

And the problem, rarely considered it seems, is what happens after the sacking. It’s apparently accepted practice within football that no thought is paid to a successor before the dismissal, often triggering a period of uncertainty while the position is advertised. Sometimes results improve under the caretaker, in other situations the damage gets worse. If things are so bad a club must sack its manager, why is it so often done with little preparation for the immediate aftermath?

When the new manager is finally installed, the prospects of an immediate revolution usually fail to materialise. Approximately 20 of the 92 English professional clubs have already dismissed their manager this season, but few are betteroff for it. In the Championship, the promotion prospects for Middlesbrough have hardly improved by sacking Gareth Southgate. On his dismissal Boro were a point away from the leaders, now the best they can hope for is a play off spot.

Meanwhile in League One Wycombe remain near the bottom, despite allowing Peter Taylor to leave, where they currently sit level with Tranmere Rovers, who sacked John Barnes. In fact Tranmere are perhaps the strongest example of the perils of readily changing managers; inexplicably sacking Ronnie Moore during the summer despite Rovers just missing out on the play offs, they now look set to exit the division the wrong way.

Throw in bottom-placed Stockport and Brighton and Oldham just above, and League One’s current bottom five clubs have all failed to benefit from swapping managers during 2009. In League Two, the bottom three teams have also fired their managers this season.

Perhaps this argument is flawed by the fact clubs near the foot of leagues are naturally more likely to want to make a change; but that Lincoln manager Chris Sutton this week declared his third-bottom side were in a relegation battle can’t have been great news to Imps supporters, who called for then-manager Peter Jackson to be sacked for losing three early season games on the basis the club had to be challenging for the play offs.

Indeed Sutton’s downbeat outlook is a complete contrast to Jackson, who at the beginning of the 2008/2009 season boldly predicted Lincoln would end it as Champions. A similarly statement of foolishness to McCall’s “I’ll consider myself a failure if we don’t go up” of 2007 perhaps, but the chalk of Sutton to Jackson’s cheese is hardly a statement of progression. At least Barnsley and Norwich fans can argue their teams have been boosted by making a change, but the success ratio across the country is hardly inspiring.

Nor is City’s recent history of giving bosses the boot. If two managers – Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell – were responsible for lifting City two divisions, the subsequent six have all played their part in City’s fall to League Two. Appointing Chris Hutchings may have been a mistake, but dismissing him after 12 games hardly made much difference given replacement Jim Jefferies told Geoffrey Richmond City were doomed just eight further league games later.

At least Jefferies was then afforded time to reshape the squad, but his departure just before he was pushed mid-way through the first season back in the Football league did not lead to the promotion which had been targeted at the beginning of it.

Nicky Law’s sacking was a watershed moment for me. I was undecided over whether he should be dismissed in the autumn of 2003 as City lay in the relegation zone, but despite replacing him with Bryan Robson the Bantams still ended the season in the same position they were the day Law was sacked. Despite the ongoing financial difficulties which saw Colin Todd lose his best three players, sacking him with City in 16th place proved a mistake as the season ended with relegation under caretaker David Wetherall.

The same criticisms aimed at Hutchings, Jefferies, Law and Todd are repeated towards McCall. Yet the proven failure of sacking City managers mid-season seems to be forgotten. Perhaps by firing McCall now we’ll get a fantastic replacement who ends up leading City up the steps of the Wembley Royal Box next May to lift the League Two play off trophy. Against the evidence of recent City history and how other teams have fared from recently making a change, you wouldn’t exactly bet on it.

Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean City should stick with McCall if he’s not meeting expectations. In the cold light of day the last two seasons were failures, as McCall himself admitted, but the signs since agreeing to remain as manager last May offer renewed encouragement. The summer signings have all largely been young players with something to prove. There’s a clear determination to self-improve and every indication the squad sees playing for Bradford City as a privilege.

Were the end of the season now, how many of this present squad would McCall and supporters want to release? The total would be low, certainly compared to recent summers. No matter how this campaign ends, if McCall is allowed to remain in charge the focus will be on building on it rather than starting all over again.

If McCall had only just taken over this summer, this policy would be universally accepted. That he has the baggage of two years failure counts against him, but if the ethos of what he is now trying to achieve is one which can be agreed is a good thing, shouldn’t it be pursued anyway?

Because ultimately the lesson to be taken from sacking a manager is that the problems inflicting the club rarely disappear as quickly. Maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Jim Gannon, John Still, Keith Hill or Andy Scott instead, or maybe by sacking McCall now we’d find our own Egil Olsen, David Platt, Glen Roeder or Carlton Palmer. Maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was holding us back, or maybe by sacking McCall we’d discover he was moving us forwards.

At best it would be a gamble, a roll of the dice which might land a six but could just as easily come to a one. Until the summer at least, it would best to leave the dice for someone else to roll.

City pensive in a worrying limbo

John Hendrie is telling Bradford City’s players that were offered contracts by the club that they should sign now knowing that the offers on the table at Valley Parade will not get any better and better offers will not be found on anyone else’s tables either.

So the likes of Lee Bullock and Matthew Clarke are told to sign and while the offers for them will not get better so – one assumes – the offers elsewhere for Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding and Chris Brandon are not going to improve. City might want to get these four off the wage bill but it is almost impossible to see all four of them exiting.

Rochdale – always keen to press for good governance in football – have decided they need to trim ten from the squad and like City ask three players to find new clubs. The Spotland club have fallen in the play-offs first legs and have decided that next season they need to be more frugal. They are not alone.

All over Leagues one and two players who are out of contract are not being offered new ones and set about trying to find comparable wages elsewhere. At the back end of July one can expect the League Two footballer with a family who picked up £60,000 last year to be ready to take £40,000 and pay the mortgage but for a few months at least they will try get at least comparable terms. Who wouldn’t?

The likes of Rhys Evans – released by City last term after an impressive season – is primed to be picked up by someone in the bottom two divisions but considering twelve months ago he was free to sign for City it is hard to see a queue of people forming at his door to pay through the nose for a player they passed up on previously. Wage offers are lower all around football and Evans – like many players who performed well last season – will be lucky to get an improvement in terms.

How long Evans, Paul Heckingbottom and similar waits to accept comparable or worse are personal concerns and could provide an interesting type of out of window transfer option for clubs next season. Should an Evans opt not to take a reduced deal in the summer after getting no interest then once the transfer window closes he – being out of contract and free to be recruited at any point in the season – becomes a limited and thus more valued commodity.

Evans would be in a better position to dictate terms to a team looking for a keeper after a poor September then he is in the summer presenting the option of paying that bit extra for a good player now rather than spending months until Christmas without.

Such a risk though has two significant downsides for a player. Firstly they spend the first Saturday in August watching football rather than playing it and – in essence – have become ex-players, retired footballers, people who used to be pros and while one does not want to damn all those who kick balls in anger they do not easily move into other professions. If the football season kicks off and you are sitting at home how long is it before you start to look for a brickies job? After all Ian Wright and Dean Windass both had to work brick after becoming ex-footballers in their twenties.

Secondly there will be a feeling that while the slump in the wider economy drags football down it is impossible to predict either where the end of the recession is or what state football will be when it returns to ruder health. Darlington FC are struggling to kick off next season, Fisher Athletic will not do having gone bankrupt this morning. Less money in football over a longer period could mean that the contracts offered today may be higher than those offered in six, twelve or eighteen months.

All of which could create curious quirks in football. Shrewsbury Town are – we are told – profitable and to collect the £500,000 from Manchester City should Joe Hart play a competitive England game. When that deal was signed £500,000 was a significant sum now it would be a King’s ransom – enough to collect the likes of McLaren, Lee and Boulding to your club.

In such a situation a team that swam against the downturn could expect to have the levels of dominance in League Two that Peterborough United and MK Dons had two years ago. Money does not maketh the team – we know that from last year and years before – but not having it certainly does not help either. It is not so much that you are able to take huge steps forward just that everyone else takes a step back.

So City are in limbo waiting for the four players to leave – which they probably won’t – or the offered players to sign which they probably will or both. One hopes that Stuart McCall does not feel the need to ape Jim Jefferies failed attempts to rid the club of high earners shown when he dropped Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore to the reserves for three months and that if the quartet of high earners at here in August they are in the team.

With that in mind it seems entirely possible that the Bantams could kick off next season with seven or eight of the regulars from last term. A team of McLaughlin | Arnison, Lee, Clarke, O’Brien | Colbeck McLaren Bullock Brandon | Boulding and Boulding would be possible and while we might not have bee massively impressed with those lads last year if the rest of the division is weaker then it would seem harder to not get promoted than to go up.

These are famous last words. City cannot afford such a situation with the current cash flow situation and without a cash boost. If the likes of Peter Thorne were not kept then the £600,000 lost last term would be lessened but where would City find £400,000 – £500,000?

Martin O’Neill is rumoured to be joining 36,999 other people at Elland Road to watch what Fabian Delph can do to help get Leeds United promoted tonight and to prepare a bid of £6.5m for the former City youngster and depending on who you believe the Bantams could pocket 10% of that.

Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart…

I have come to the conclusion that the debate on Stuart McCall is impossible to have in an emotional vacuum that is presented with the opening gambit “Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart…”

The City boss is Stuart McCall and – when Peter Jackson became persona non grata in the 1990s – he is the only club legend we have. Sacking him, or pressuring him into leaving because it amounts to the same thing, is a permanent severing of that relationship. For confirmation one need only to look how Andrew Stuart McCall Junior turned his back on Elland Road after the way that Leeds United behaved towards Andrew McCall Senior. “I’ll know that a few thousand people in Bradford want me to put one over Leeds.” said the then Rangers midfielder before 1992’s European Cup Battle of Britain.

Nevertheless it is perhaps worth exploring that question of “Yes, but if it wasn’t Stuart” as we come to terms with the manager’s statement that should the Bantams not make the play-offs this season then he will not be in charge next.

Three away defeats in a row have blotted out moving fourth after a 5-0 win at Valley Parade and we are forced to ask what would previous incumbents of the manager’s job at Valley Parade had done in the circumstances that McCall admits, and few would deny, hurt him as much as anyone.

David Wetherall certainly faced his darkest day when the Bantams were so easily swept aside by Huddersfield Town 2-0 in 2006. Wetherall’s response was muted to say the least but as a caretaker – almost house sitter – manager one can expect little else so we move back to the last permanent City manager Colin Todd.

Todd was not popular with the same people who would have rid of McCall, and more besides, and approached his time at Valley Parade as casually as could be. A man who had seen the highs of football and is soon to be glorified as such on the silver screen viewed his time at City with the dispassion of a hired hand. Not that one could say that Todd did not care for the club and his charges but that he cared because of his professional pride rather than being felt from the heart.

Perhaps after three away defeats Todd would have said that winning away from home in football is hard and not to be expected and while he hoped we could improve our form and that he would do everything to ensure we did, he worked under tight restraints. Of the managers I shall mention today Todd is perhaps the only one I would rank above McCall in terms of what one might call “management ability”. Todd was going to leave at the end of the season he was fired in and one can speculate that he had grown weary of the constant unbalance of expectations and resources.

“The job gets harder every year” the man from Chester-le-Street said.

Another man from Chester-le-Street would have lost no sleep over Bradford City’s three defeats on the road. The heart that Bryan Robson put into playing for England and Manchester United was sorely lacking from his time at Valley Parade. When, it seemed, the excuse of administration offered itself Robson accepted that his then second step into management would be a failure and marked time until the end of the season making no enemies and ensuring he would be continue to be thought of as a good guy, a nice bloke.

Bryan Robson would not have lost any sleep over three defeats.

That Nicky Law might be doing now is, one hopes, a result of worries about his son’s place in professional football next season. Law Jnr is much trumpeted but, as with perhaps all the Bradford City players, he is hidden under this criticism of McCall while not putting in as much as he should. Nicky Law Snr’s time at Valley Parade can be defined in a single comment – “At some grounds the crowd is worth a goal for home team, here it is worth one for the opposition.” – and while that became the epitaph of his career as the Bantams manager it is as true today as it was then.

There is a poison in the support at Valley Parade, a cancer, that undermines any work that is attempted and that cancer is so significant than now results are not viewed to their ends but rather to the reaction of the reactionaries. I am told this is the same at all clubs but an appeal to how ordinary and how unremarkable we have allowed ourselves to become is no comfort.

As manager Law would no doubt have made the right noises about how to solve the problems of defeat but perhaps been incapable of solving those problems. As a manager he suffered the same problems of reducing resources, and had boardroom in-fighting to contend with to boot, but one suspected he saw the job as his big chance and in contrast to Robson he would have faught with all the strength he could muster against that chance dwindling.

Law’s predecessor Jim Jefferies reacted to defeats with a retreat, back to Scotland and the safety of the middle of the SPL. His character shall never recover from the smut of it being said that when they going got tough, he went. The impression from Jefferies, who was no fan of Stuart McCall and attempted to drum him out of Bradford City for the sake of winning over the dressing room suggesting a style of management that demanded fealty rather than respect, was that ultimately he cared not for the future of the club as long as he was ensured his pay out to leave a club that five months later would be making redundancies.

A stark contrast to McCall who did all he could to help in 2004 when the club faced closure and, when prompted in 2007 by Mark Lawn’s stabilising investment, answered the call and took on this his role as Bradford City manager. One wonders too about the long term interest and investment of Lawn in a situation in which his choice for manager resigns on the grounds that the effects of the job are too great.

So to answer the question “Yeah, but if it wasn’t Stuart” I would say that if it was not Stuart then I worry whom it would be. If it was not Stuart I worry that we would have someone who cared less, who did the job for the financial situation or personal betterment, who slept well knowing that the football club paid him today but another would tomorrow.

If it was not Stuart then I would worry that we would go once more down the ridiculous route of believing that the next manager, whoever he may be, will be better than the previous despite all the evidence to the contrary. If one will talk about rose tinted spectacles then one would do well to explain that contradiction.

Primarily though I would say that if it was not Stuart then Bradford City would be worse off because the chances of any successor being a vast improvement on McCall’s abilities are slight while there is a certainty that whomever should follow McCall as manager of this club whenever that change comes will care less about the club, will put less effort into the club, will engage less of his heart into ensuring the clubs improvement and will have less reason to engage whatever abilities he has into the progress of the club and in those very real, very important ways will be guaranteed to be a lesser manager than Stuart McCall.

The tiresome sound of a stick in a bucket

Nine years and change ago I started this here boyfrombrazil.co.uk website about a club that was aspiring to be in the Premiership. It was lead by a dogmatic, bluff chairman and had a team of exciting players under the eye of new, young manager Paul Jewell and while everything around the club is utterly different there is one constant in the fact that from that day to this there has been a rumbling underbelly of a concept that Bradford City would be improved by a new manager.

The history books of this club never include the talk against Paul Jewell – he is airbrushed to perfection – but at the time there were plenty of voices suggesting that if City wanted to be a serious contender for a Premiership club the season after the anticipated play-off failure of 1998/1999 then they would have to appoint a “proper” manager. During his time in the Premiership Jewell did not enjoy the universal support he is credited with now.

Chris Hutchings enjoyed no support and a change of manager from him to anyone would be an improvement except – of course – it was not and Jim Jefferies quickly had the same murmurings which became a cacophony and on and on through Nicky Law who must be sacked or we would be relegated but Bryan Robson got us relegated and on to Colin Todd who would take us down so had to go but of course we went down…

At the moment there are people talking about the qualities of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. People saying “I know he is a legend but…” and drifting off into some discussion of if the gaffer “knows what he is doing” as if football management were a map and a route could be planned through it.

There is a definition of insanity that has it that repeating the same action and expecting different results is the mark of that condition. Honestly – after trying a rookie, an experienced manager, a young guy who had done well in the lower leagues, an England captain, an jobbing football man – does anyone still believe that the solution to all City’s problems is in sacking the manager and appointing the best CV that comes along? That train of logic is so feeble as to question the capabilities of anyone who would suggest it.

Experience of following this club has told us that the next manager is never the answer.

Move back to the days of Paul Jewell and Chris Kamara and we see a club strong on infrastructure and leadership with continuity at the heart of it. This is not to suggest that Geoffrey Richmond had everything or anything right just that when he did things well the club did well and when he started to misstep badly the management changes helped not one jot.

City’s next manager after McCall will be no better. Jose Mourinho is not waiting to take over and if he was – as Avram Grant shows – management changes are the stuff of tweaks and not sea change.

All of which gives unnecessary oxygen to the idea that McCall is somehow an inferior manager to those around him in the division or other managers who currently have the job at 91 other clubs. He is young and learning and he makes mistakes but he also has triumphs. Criticism of the manager is plentiful but for every mistake there is a credit unsaid. Stuart McCall brought in Peter Thorne, Kyle Nix, Scott Loach just as much as he signed up Alex Rhodes.

For every curious set of displays by Paul Heckingbottom – he has struggled since signing full time – there is a success story like McCall’s handling of Joe Colbeck who is started to show real quality and consistency.

Likewise understanding the season was dead sometime ago McCall allows Rhodes the chance to show what he can do – not much in this writer’s opinion – as he looks to offer contracts out for next season. To sack a manager at this point is like sacking him for losing pre-season friendlies.

Sacking managers is just a bad idea – experience shows us that – sacking this manager goes past bordering on ludicrous and calling for him to be sacked is akin to vandalism of this football club.

As with Kevin Keegan at Newcastle it seems that being a legend is not what it used to be and Keegan and McCall get a couple more games before the firing squads are assembled. Legend is a fan applied title and the respect they given is the behest of supporters. What does it say about our supporters as some try chop away the legs of our “legend” as he takes his first steps in management?

What would it say about the supporters if we let the louder agitators in our community be heard louder than any other voice? This is especially the case when that voice makes all the sense of a stick being hammered around an empty bucket of swill and is just as sensible. A case could have been made for sacking some of the managers of the last nine years but the majority of dismissals are mistakes compounding mistakes.

All the voices who called for Nicky Law to be sacked never comment on Bryan Robson’s failure to turn the club around. The people who said Colin Todd should go do not accept the blame for the relegation to League Two.

Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs should be in charge at this club. End of story.

Todd and making the future work this time

Prefacing this by saying I like The City Gent and Chris Armstrong who runs The City Gent website we at BfB were interested to see that website use it’s front page to make a case for the prosecution against Colin Todd calling for the City manager to be sacked.

The content of the article runs through a damning list of “crimes” and makes it clear that Todd should be held accountable for the teams performance – a view I personally think always lets the team off with ineffectual displays but one I respect the writer’s right to hold.

However such talk is neither especially interesting or especially new. Indeed City fans need only cast minds back to October 2003 when the same comments were being made about Nicky Law.

That those comments may – or may not, depending on your opinion – have been proved true is hardly important. What is important and what would be needed to convince me that the Todd Out protests had enough merit to be worth supporting is an answer to the questions asked back when Law was sacked.

For all the talk about from City fans about the relative merits – or lack of merit – of Todd and his position at the club I have yet to hear anything approaching a convincing argument which tells me that sacking this manager would not be as ineffectual in halting City’s decline as axing Law was.

Genuinely curiously I wonder why would sacking Colin Todd improve the club any more than sacking Nicky Law? Or Jim Jefferies? Or Chris Hutchings? Why would the next manager turn our fortunes around when Bryan Robson’s arrival did not? Or when the return of popular coach Terry Yorath as manager in 1988 could not?

By anyone’s yardstick – including the one Colin Todd applies to Sven Goran Eriksson – Todd would be overdue the bullet from the vast majority of jobs in football. What I am interested in – and what we as supporters of this club should be interested in – is the future of the club beyond the short term buzz of a sack and search.

How will the job of managing Bradford City be different for the next manager than it is for this one and it was for the last one, and the one before that, and before him and before him?

Robson is a good call but he has a bit of the Jefferies about him

Robson has too much of the Jefferies about him for me

Bryan Robson is the new City boss and he is a good City boss I’m not sure I’d have picked him if I were Gordon Gibb.

Robson is a good boss. He did some good stuff and some bad stuff at Middlesbrough and he assistant Terry Venebles at England during Euro96. He got Middlesbrough to Wembley and the Premiership twice and more amazingly he managed to get some of the World’s most impressive players to the grotty Hell hole of Middlesbrough. If Luis Figo ended up in Manningham I would not be at all surprised. Robson must have used the Jedi mind trick when he convince Christian and Adriana Karembeu to live in the dark smog City.

If Bryan Robson comes to City in the save tidal wave of euphoria he had at the start of his Boro career and at the start of his first season in the Premiership with Boro we will be doing great.

If he does not, that is another matter.

Robson is more than a chequebook manager but he used the Boro chequebook to get himself out of trouble more than once and he is, after all, the man who signed Alan Boksic for for £63,000 a week. Likewise Robson is more than just a sick them on the field boss. His tactics at Boro were much more flexible than churning out the same 442 every week in an attempt to copy what goes on at Old Trafford.

On all these points Robson is good. What he lacks, for me at least, is the drive. He doesn’t need this.

Nicky Law needed to stay at City, how else would he get £210,000 a year. Ditto Chris Hutchings, Chris Kamara, Paul Jewell etc…

Robson, like Jim Jefferies, can walk away. Robson is a millionaire, he wants to show what he can do as a manager again and I want him to be great but when the going gets tough Robson, like Jefferies before him, can get going. I’m not saying he will I just think that every day he manages will be one fewer on the golf course for him. I compare that to the managers we have had who really had something to prove: The Chris Kamaras and the Paul Jewells and I know which one I prefer.

That aside Robson is the most qualified and experienced man to ever manager this club and let’s make him welcome by making some noise at Valley Parade for a change and show him the good parts of what he has taken on.

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