Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

Travelling more in expectation than hope

The Team

Lenny Pidgeley | Lewis Hunt, Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Gareth Evans, David Syers, Jon Worthington, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Luke O'Brien, Steve Williams, Luke Dean

Thirty years ago if you were a member of St Anthony’s Primary School football team – or the brother of a member who’s Dad drove kids to games – then as a reward for a season of not much return you were given the chance to go watch Bradford City’s last game of the 1980/81 season as the Bantams took on Hereford United.

That was my introduction to Bradford City, and there is a certain symmetry to this afternoon’s entertainment as the Bantams travel to Edgar Street to meet Hereford United. The first game was a scrappy end of season affair – although at the time an impressive watch – where the visitors nicked a 1-0 win. Today a point for both teams would have secured League football for both next season and unsurprisingly a point each was the return.

Unsurprisingly because the home side set out to secure such a return trying to retain possession as far back the field as they could for as long as they could seldom venturing into the Bantams penalty area.

The illusion was a strange one. It seemed like City were penning in Hereford and certainly the Bantams were enjoying playing with a sense of freedom that allowed the likes of David Syers – playing central midfield well – and Gareth Evans to lash at goal following James Hanson’s early attempt which threatened to derail the Bull’s afternoon.

The Bulls afternoon though was taking place miles away at the Crown Ground, Accrington where Barnet played Stanley. The machinations of that game seemed to tilt to this. Barnet level at 1-1 and there was a nervousness in the home side’s play but that nervousness lifted as Accrington took a lead which proved decisive.

That took until the second half and after the first forty five minutes the scorelessness seemed like a fog never to lift. The Bantams were unthreatened – Joe Colbeck was given the reception by the visiting fans one would expect but that seemed to serve to suggest he was more dangerous than he was and while no one especially enjoys hearing themselves abuse the look on Colbeck’s face as he banged a cross into the middle which was attacked by nobody looked more like distraction than upset.

If a winger putting in crosses for no one makes a wonderfully illustrative example of the game then City’s striker with no crosses seems to make another. James Hanson – at times – seems to never lose a ball in the air and one wonders what he could have done with the type of accurate crossing that Colbeck could do, and that the likes of Nick Summerbee and Peter Beagrie did.

Colbeck’s time at City – and his time since he left and the schadenfreude some City fans seemed to follow it with – sends my mind back sprawling to that first game on the 15th of May 1981 and how football has changed since then. Thirty years allows a guy the chance to reflect and that reflection is in the level of hope which used to be the currency and how that has been replaced with an unsavoury expectation.

Reading articles about the Bantams last decade you often read the phrase “ten years of failure” and while this is true from the prevalent point of view that anything other than promotion is failure but watching this last decade they were no different to many of the two which proceeded it.

Consider – if you will – the 1996/97 season of Chris Waddle and Edinho where relegation was avoided on the final day of the season. What we had that year was built on the next. That season of struggle Chris Kamara signed players like Robbie Blake and Jon Dreyer who were on the pitch two years later at Wolves when the Bantams were promoted to the Premiership.

No one ever said that finishing 21st was a roaring success that season but no one ever lambasted all involved as failures either and after that season lessons were learnt that drew a line directly to the successes which followed.

At some point after that failure started to describe anything which not success – this is semantics – and the rhetoric is that the club and supporters demand the best and should have high aims lest they achieve nothing but the practical upshot of throwing the word failure at anything which has not been promotion over the last decade is that Bradford City systematically rip the club apart over the course of every summer, throw things in the air and see where they land.

Failure – finding it wherever it can be hinted at – is the obsession of the current football mindset from top to bottom to such an extent that progress along the path to success is talked of as being it. Those who run football clubs need to be strong and need to stress that if the right things are being done then those things will not be changed because they have not come to fruition yet.

Are Bradford City at present on this path? You will judge for yourself on that, dear reader, just as you will also have a view on the merits and effectiveness of addressing the “failures” of Colin Todd, or Stuart McCall, and how the attempts to deal with those so called “failures” have brought us to the position we are in now.

Would City have been any worse if Colbeck – squarely presented as a problem and the cause of failure – had remained at the club? Would the last few years have been so different had Danny Forrest been up front? Has the season on season change of right backs produced a player more effective than Gareth Edds or has it just given us a series of different players?

Different players who have the same problems and ultimately exit in the same way and we – as a club and as supporters – relinquish our responsibly for the impact of that. The justification for replacing players is that those players seldom go on to a higher level following their time at the club as if the confidence lost, the access to a better standard of coaching lost, the experience of playing league football lost has no impact on the (lack of) progression of those players.

Joe Colbeck wanders up and down the Hereford United wing on one side, Gareth Evans on the City wing on the other, both look like players who seem on the edge of dropping out of professional football not because they are not useful, or skilled, or have potential but just to appease a desire to smash up what is there in the name of not tolerating failure but with the effect of not allowing building.

I think back to Robbie Blake and his goal at Wolves in another final away game of the season and how many times – had the current attitude in football been the way of thinking then – he would have been bounced out of Valley Parade rather than being allowed to be a part of a team which matured.

In thirty years between two games with Hereford United expectation has overcome hope. Everything about Bradford City is about the expectation that better can be demanded. It used to be that better was hoped for, but if that hope failed then it was renewed over the summer. This is only important because in the times of hope, rather than expectations, things improved more often.

What do we have in the summer? Hope or expectation? Or neither?

Peter Jackson took his Bradford City team to Hereford United looking for a point to keep League Two status secure – a modest return – and Hereford’s Jamie Pitman had the same aim which once results started to fall into place bound the teams to a defensive display a little less. Both ended the day safe from relegation with Barnet’s defeat seeing them battle Lincoln City to stay in the division. Stockport County were relegated.

Ultimately – at Edgar Street – James Hanson proved too much of a handful for home defender Stefan Stam and after he was fouled Jake Speight scored a penalty with ten minutes on the clock. Stuart Fleetwood equalised a few minutes later with a great free kick. That shot was the home side’s only attempt on target of the afternoon but it was the draw that everyone seemed happy with.

For the summer though who can tell. Over the last thirty years – and specifically the last decade or so – football’s expectation level has outstripped its ability to bring enjoyment in a great many ways. Supporting was its own reward, but now all rewards are delayed until there is a manifestation of success. Goals are cheered, wins are welcomed, promotions are celebrated but anything other than those things – and including the build up to those things – are drawn out grimly.

Football League safety is assure and the summer yawns out ahead with its own troubles and with that the idea that the unifying mood in August will be one of hope seems very, very far away and utterly old fashioned.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

Saturday and Joe Colbeck’s return to Valley Parade in a Hereford United shirt saw abuse to a level of vitriol which was shocking in its ferocity even to seasoned Bradford City supporters.

The debate panned out over that abuse: that it had stopped Colbeck playing well, that is was deserved, that it could never be justified; and each has their own judgement on reasons for and effect of that abuse. Ultimately in most circumstances each will keep his own council and decide for themselves if grown men screaming and swearing at footballers is something they wish to endorse or not but in other circumstances – and in this situation – a personal opinion is secondary to the law of the land.

Offensiveness becomes an offence

On Saturday there was a crime committed at Valley Parade in full knowledge of the entire attendance and that crime went unpunished.

The Public Order Act 1986 sets out the law of the land on this subject (and you will excuse the paraphrasing for length) in that (Section 4a) a person is guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress if he uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

Colbeck – a veteran of many an abusive Valley Parade crowd – could probably not be said to have felt that he would be the subject of immediate unlawful violence. Section 4a (and Section 4, which governs the fear or provocation of violence) carry prison sentences and seem governed by context. Colbeck only has no reason to fear that being sworn at on the field will lead to violence because he has been the subject to it in the past but, then again, he has also seen the Bradford City crowd lob bottles and other items onto the field and so perhaps we would be wrong to not link the two together.

Nevertheless we can fairly clearly say that Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986 is relevant: A person is guilty of an offence of harassment, alarm or distress if they use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. The act details that a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine….

The act details the laws governing rioting, array when offences are done in collectives of people and creative readings of the Act could very well see them become relevant. It would – however – be impossible to suggest that Section 5 was not broken at Valley Parade on Saturday. There is a distinction for sure between those who boo and jeer and those would would have committed an offence as detailed in this Act and the one group is a subset of the other.

One could seek to dress these offences in any number of ways: using the term football culture would be one, that players are “paid enough”, suggesting that there was a crowd rather than an individual; but as we have seen previously convictions for taking an individual part in a crowd activity have happened at football matches and that with criminal convictions come football banning orders.

Which is not to suggest that I would like to see half the Bradford City crowd on Saturday banned from football and convicted but that they should be, should the law be pursued and applied with vigour. The club have banned supports in the past for racist abuse and brought all the power it could muster down on the pitch invaders after the Northampton Town game at the end of last season. That those people are generally held in low regard and are smaller in number than those who abused Colbeck in a way which broke the law.

Offences were committed but neither the Police or – judging by the speed of their reaction to the Northampton game – the club felt that those offence were worth pursuing legally.

Can football take its own action?

In 2005 a Dutch game between Ajax and ADO Den Haag was halted by the referee. There were no safety problems in the stadium, there was no pitch invasion, there was no dangerous playing conditions but the game shuddered to a halt and the teams were taken from the field as if there were.

The cause was a song, and not a very nice song, about MTV Europe VJ Sylvie Meis. Meis, now better known as Mrs Rafael van der Vaart, was to Dutch football what Victoria Beckham was to British. Well known and well commented on.

But not to be commented on in this way – nor should anyone be – decided the Dutch FA who gave an instruction to officials sometime before that targeted abuse would result in a halt in the game, and then if it continued an abandonment. The instruction was designed to protect officials themselves but deployed to protect the virtues of Ms Meis.

There is a logic to the Dutch FA’s position. Why should a Referee (or the girlfriend of a player) be the subject to a crime on a continued basis. If bottles were flying onto the field or if the players or officials feared a physical assault then the game would be suspended so (and remembering the difference in the laws of the countries) why should they tolerate a sustained verbal abuse? If it is said that players are paid enough money to take in good nature any abuse thrown at them (and I would disagree with that idea) then are Referees? What about other spectators like Sylvie Meis?

The Dutch action is notable for its scarcity. Italian games feature booing of black players – Mario Balotelli was told by banner recently that “an ‘African’ can never be an Italian” – and all will hope that the situation in Russian football improves in the next eight years. England’s players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were abused in Spain. Sol Campbell -infamously – is the subject to a disgusting song sung from Spurs fans.

One can only imagine the effects of a repeat of the Dutch action would be in those cases and hope that it happens.

The foolishness of crowds

It is preached (although seldom practised) that one should never say behind the back of a person what would would not say to their face and while Joe Colbeck – or Sylvie Meis – could hardly have said that things were not said to their faces but there is a certain cowardliness to the football supporter’s mass abuse.

In fact even in our use of words around the subject we describe a holistic idea of a mass of people making a single statement rather than considering that collective as a group of individuals. Ask some of who swore violently at Joe Colbeck on Saturday and they may tell you that they would be prepared to say word for word what they sang as a part of a crowd directly to the man’s face but should they do that, should anyone shout abuse at you in any situation, then one are afford some protection in law.

The behaviour of crowds is the behaviour of those within them and while a person might be be happy to behave in a given way within that crowd there are rights – rights asserted in Dutch football – which protect the individual from abuse. These were not afforded to Joe Colbeck on Saturday.

Should they have been? Free speech, and the concept of free speech, is a valuable thing but is now and always has been balanced agianst the rights of the individual.

The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much

The football supporter has long since mastered the art – such as it is – of personal abuse to such an extent that it has become cliché. The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much or so the songs go and rarely does anyone consider this to be offensive. Indeed to football’s officials this kind of abuse comes over as static. When Wendy Toms, the first female linesman, completed her first Football League game she was asked how the crowd were and replied “The same as always, abusive.” Too much of the criticism of officials is conducted – and thus ignored – in this way.

Some players have played entire careers as the subject of abuse in one way or another. Some thrive on it – Robbie Savage talks about how he is fired up by being fired at – while others shrink under it as some say Colbeck did on Saturday but to allow the individual to ignore an offence – and, dear reader, you are reminded that this article discusses the section five abuse – as it that denies that the offence has taken place is beside the point. That Savage might be man enough to take the stick does not help the other players (and referees) who are not and who have career’s blighted by section five offences (and, in addition, those players in situations such as Balotelli’s). It is a part and parcel of football, it is said, but need it be?

Separating the part from the parcel

Take someone to a football match who has never been before and different things strike them. For me, back in 1981 at my first game, it was the lack of a live commentary track over the public address and I know people who have said that they were shocked by the amount of mucus left on the grass, on the viciousness of every single tackle (“even the soft ones would leave you crying”) and on the suddenness of the action. For my Mum, on taking her to a game in the Premiership years, it was the swearing and the negativity.

We take it as a given that football supporters will be offensive and abusive in the way that twenty years ago it was a given that supporters would be violent and aggressive – indeed it is difficult not to see the verbal abuse heard on Saturday as the last vestiges of the physical violence that marred the game – but it need not be so. Screaming at Joe Colbeck that he is a “wanker” is no more hard coded into the DNA of football supporters than booing black players or throwing seats onto the field was. It is a behaviour and one which – with the right will from the right people – could be removed from that game.

It is far from a desirable element of the football. Footballer supporters are painted by a mass perception that they are vulgar, yobbish and offensive and this makes us easy to ignore. The fact that it is common does not mean that it is set in stone nor does that fact that it might be cathartic or enjoyable.

Indeed the idea that the football supporter cannot help but be abusive – that it is part of our nature – is in itself an insult to everyone of us.

Would anyone’s enjoyment of Saturday afternoon have been ruined without the abuse screamed at Joe Colbeck? If you answer yes, that you revelled in hearing grown men screaming abuse at Colbeck, then I can only hope that you do not sit anywhere near me and certainly would like you not to.

But would we change it?

There were offences caused at Valley Parade but – as Paul Firth the writer and former judge who provided much of the legal research for this article attests to – most of the time the police at the most would slap a £50 ticket on the offender and call it that. The law is not especially interested in actively enforcing this issue for now and nor are football law makers.

Football is sanitised – or so the thought goes – and grounds lack atmosphere with the sad reflection being that often the most notable chants are the negative ones. Sunderland fans who wrote the genuinely charming “Cheer Up Peter Reid” song but were noted on Saturday for singing “One Mike Ashley” to taunt their rivals. If all there is to celebrate is the perceived failure of others then what is there left to support? You do not need to go stand in Valley Parade to giggle every time Leeds United lose.

A person might want to vent their spleen while at the football but surely would have to do so within the law of the land – some people on Saturday did not but there is no will from police, football or Joe Colbeck to go any further with that – but accepting that and extrapolating it forward one has to wonder what sort of football we are creating, and passing on.

We have a football of negativity. Booing is the lingua franca of the game, cheering being punctuation to goals and little more. Away followings are known to offer more volume but not an especially different type of support. Even the modern examples held up of great support like The Accrington Stanley Ultras are as versed in poking at the failures of others than the unfettered support of their own (“Premier League, you flipped it up…”)

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Time will tell and it will tell in twenty five years time when one looks around the grounds and sees if the generation of kids who have more things to do with their time and money than any other chooses to spend that on the game we pass on. I have had wonderful days supporting Bradford City, utterly unforgettable days, but would I tell my son or daughter that they should involve themselves in something as negative as manifest on Saturday?

It is hardly the stuff of an enriched and full life.

So now then

Football’s authorities at almost all levels are prepared to leave atmosphere at football in the lap of the Gods while clubs do what they can to stop racism but feel without a remit to do anything else. The law of the land is happy to ignore the vast majority of offences committed in stadiums up and down the country while FIFA’s attitude towards supporters is curious at best.

Ultimately football is ours and it is ours to change in the way we want it. We – as football supporters – need to decide what sort of football we want today, and to pass on to the future.

Those small victories

The Team

Lenny Pidgley | Richard Eckersley, Rob Kiernan, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Tom Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, David Syers, Lee Hendrie | Omar Daley, James Hanson | Price (for Daley), Osborne (for Hendrie), Bullock (for Kiernan)

Over the years supporting Bradford City, I’ve always taken greater pleasure in those occasions where we get one over someone or something. A cocky set of opposition supporters; a petty referee; a manager who made derogatory pre-match remarks; Rodney Marsh.

But rarely has putting someone in their place felt so unenjoyable as City supporters ‘victory’ over Joe Colbeck today.

That was the sideshow which overshadowed a reasonable contest that saw the Bantams gain a precious victory over bottom-club Hereford to move back into the play off hunt. David Syers’ eighth-minute belting shot ultimately proved decisive. It was a nice moment for the early player of the season frontrunner given the frustration of missing numerous chances in his last outing against Macclesfield, three weeks ago.

And though it was hardly a sparkling team performance and offered little evidence that City are good enough to be successful this season, it was the sort of result that promotion-winning sides routinely grind out. That was the most important aspect.

But the joy of victory was tempered by the unpleasant atmosphere in which it was played in, and the specific targeting of one man. Colbeck’s first return to Bradford since departing 16 months ago was always going to prompt a mixed reception, but the lengths taken by those keen to register their dislike of a player who rose through the ranks – playing over 100 times in Claret and Amber – was nothing short of disgusting.

“Colbeck is a wanker!” chanted the Bradford End for most of the first half, and before long fans in all four stands were joining in the jeering. Jeering a 24-year-old lad who joined the club when he was 16, with his family and friends watching in the crowd.

It seemed as though the game itself was the sideshow, as such strong focus was placed on barracking the former City youngster. Every time he picked up possession he was booed; when he failed to stop straightaway following an offside flag there was outrage at his cockiness; when an inaccurate pass towards Joe caused him to stretch and fall over he was laughed at. Even after City scored the first subsequent chant was “Colbeck, Colbeck what’s the score?”

And after pausing from calling him a wanker, the Bradford End chanted “Greedy Bastard” and then “Judas”; and then a “City reject.” So hang on a minute, he’s a Judas for betraying us and we rejected him anyway – Judas the reject, an interesting concept.

Let me pause by saying that I appreciate not everyone likes Colbeck and those who have feelings of disapproval towards him will have valid reasons. In the group of people I go to watch City with, opinions on him were mixed and it was mentioned that his attitude during his final few weeks at the club was poor. Me, I’ve got a lot of time for a young lad I watched try to make it at City and who provided me with some happy memories, so I personally wanted to applaud him. But if others want to boo him, that’s fair enough.

Yet the chanting, the abuse and the negativity that perpetrated from the Bradford End and spread around the four sides was too much. If you were one of the people who thinks you have the right to call Joe Colbeck a wanker, please can you explain what he has done to justify this personal abuse. Yes, we know he had a contract dispute and that made him “greedy” in some people’s eyes. Though Colbeck’s reminder of what happened – which was confirmed by Stuart McCall at the time – is hardly up there with the great contract disputes we’ve seen over the years at City.

So what else? Oh yeah, he was crap. Apparently. Funny as I remember the fantastic performances he put in for City during the 2007/08 season, especially in away games, that was appreciated by enough City fans for him to be voted player of the season. The following year he started slow and then got injured for four months. As he returned to fitness, the holes in City’s promotion bid were getting larger and Colbeck was a scapegoat as the season collapsed.

Then came the contract dispute in the summer of 2009, and I remember going to the York pre-season friendly and hearing a group of fans boo his every touch and chant about how he is a “druggy” (no evidence was offered to back this up). Then at Bradford Park Avenue, where Oldham manager Dave Penny attended as he considered signing him and some fans were urging him to do so, telling Penny we didn’t want Joe. Then he left. Driven out the club. And don’t come back.

I can only assume those who wanted him gone were leading the abuse today, but the wanker chants were aired so loud it was like they were speaking for the rest of us too. And the messages they sent both on and off the field were disturbing. Looking through my old programmes from Joe’s time at City, it’s interesting how many of the ‘Today’s Mascot’s’ rated him as their favourite player. I also remember lots of kids with Colbeck on their shirts. And why not? Here was a young lad who’d made it to the first team, an inspiration to young supporters and juniors at the club.

What’s the message these kids are supposed to take from the actions of the boo-boys today? Don’t bother following that dream of one day playing for the club you love, because these lot will rip you apart. Just look at Leon Osborne.

The one saving grace of the whole affair was Hereford manager Jamie Pitman’s decision to sub Colbeck after an hour, so at least the rest of us who’d had our views drowned out could award Colbeck the warm applause we wanted to give him. And then when he’d been subbed perhaps we could concentrate on the game, trying to ignore the fact that a poor bit of play from the other Hereford winger soon after sparked a chant of “Are you Colbeck in disguise?”

By that stage City were beginning to be pegged back by a spirited Hereford side who looked short on quality but good enough to climb out of the bottom two before May. Syers’ early strike smashed any hopes the visitors had of sitting back and frustrating City. Instead it triggered a first half of numerous chances which should have seen City go in more than 1-0 up at the break.

The outstanding Luke O’Brien’s long-range pile driver was pushed away by the erratic Bulls keeper Adam Bartlett; Tom Adeyemi’s through ball to Omar Daley was just behind the Jamaican’s feet, spoiling a one-on-one chance; Adeyemi himself should have scored when played through with just the keeper to beat.

The one-touch attacking football from City was impressive, if conservative in its frequency. Tommy Doherty and Syers were running the show and masterful to watch. Lee Hendrie, this week’s captain, also played well.

Hereford had sporadic bursts of pressure and exposed some uncertain decision-making from Lenny Pidgley in claiming crosses. One flapped corner saw a powerful Hereford effort strike a City body and bounce over the bar, although later a brilliant cross by Colbeck saw the lively Guillem Bauza’s header superbly tipped over.

After James Hanson and Syers both had opportunities early in the second half, Hereford began to threaten more and Nicky Featherstone saw a shot come back off the post, while the veteran Kenny Lunt and striker Mathieu Manset looked busy and purposeful. For City, Daley’s long range effort deflected and looped onto the post; but as the minutes past the involvement of either keeper became less frequent.

For despite Hereford exerting strong pressure in the final 20 minutes, in truth they didn’t look like scoring and struggled to create clear-cut chances. City’s back four defended well with Rob Kiernan showing the form he’d displayed on his debut at Wycombe and Luke Oliver’s head a magnetic presence to high, dangerous balls. Kiernan had to go off injured and Peter Taylor, who rather foolishly had not even afforded Zesh Rehman a place on the bench, was forced to play Jason Price as emergency centre half.

The final whistle eventually came but the joy was limited and glum faces surrounded me on the journey out through the Midland Road concourse. That, as much as the Joe-bashing, was the downer of the day. In the final 20 minutes City were on the backfoot, but holding on – and the lack of support from fans was baffling. Moans and groans filled the air and every mistake and poor touch was met with anger and swearing.

Today simply wasn’t a nice day to be at Valley Parade, it wasn’t a nice day to be a Bradford City supporter. Because the want of some to be negative overshadowed others efforts to support the team. Yeah it wasn’t a great performance and we expect better, but surely it is occasions like this – rather than 5-0 up over Oxford – where we supporters should be giving our all.

Instead many of us focus on ridiculing a former player who most of us in the crowd are older than, on waiting for Adeyemi’s next mistake, on slating Hanson for daring to believe “he’s already made it”, on moaning about Taylor’s insistence on bringing all 11 players back to defend corners, and then on criticising his choice and timing of subs.

Valley Parade was today a cauldron of negativity, yet again. There’s so much crap going on in the world, there’s plenty of stress and difficulties in our own lives. Supporting your football team is supposed to be a release – a pleasure, not a chore. Days like this should at least leave a smile on the face.

Surely we can all be better than this?

Better ways to earn a crust? Talking to Graeme Tomlinson

Gareth Grant, David Brown, Danny Forrest, Craig Midgely, Wayne Benn, Craig Bentham, Kevin Sanasy, Tom Claisse, Liam Flynn, Jon Worsnop, Tom Penford, Jon Swift, Tom Kearney, and maybe even Lewis Emanuel are all players with something in common; they had all called themselves Bradford City players by the age of 20 and were all playing non-league (or lower) by the age of 25. Add to this list the names of Des Hamilton and Graeme Tomlinson, two lads who left for greater things only for it to not work out for whatever reason. Let me ask, if you had to write a list of opposites, a list to balance the one above, who would be on it? Andy O’Brien? Dean Richards? Steven Schumacher (not a product of our academy though)?

Why do I mention this then? Well I have this notion that football is quite a hard life at this level. We as fans pay a lot of money and generally believe that entitles us to make our feelings known. This is somewhat fuelled by the stream of money-grabbing players who grew fat as our club grew thin – plus, let’s not forget that most of us would give our right arm to pull on the claret and amber just once.

A career cut short

One man who got to do that is Graeme Tomlinson and I was lucky enough to get to speak to him recently. Tomlinson insists that despite his poor fortune with injuries, he still believes football is a fantastic industry to be employed in and that even at our level there is decent money to be made. He does concede however, that it was his big break at Utd and the help of close friends that ensured he would be financially sound even if his career were to be cut cruelly short.

But these are not the old days; this is not the Bradford of Tomlinson’s time. As Tomlinson himself accepts, league 2 youngsters and trialists will not be on particularly good money, the end of their career – regardless of age, is just around the corner. Take Steve Williams for example, at 22 and playing for Bamber Bridge, with a failed trial at Oldham behind him, he must have almost given up; if this season doesn’t work out the chances are we’ll never see him again. Same goes for David Syers or went for James Hanson last season.

Now I initially planned to write an article from the standpoint that for all those lads I named earlier, lads like Gareth Grant and David Brown, we might just have reached a point where football, for all its potential glamour isn’t really worth the hassle. To give your all from the age of 14 or 15 just to find yourself, every summer, getting geared up for pre-season friendlies to prove that you have what it takes at league 2 level against lesser opposition, prove to the fans that you are committed – yet not run round like headless chickens, and most importantly, not get injured. All of this with no guarantees and even less in your pockets if you are on trial, faced with the statistics laid bare; chances are your career will be over in the next five years.

However, with the assumption that many of you will not be particularly pre-disposed to feel sympathy for the young lads who are living the dream that still flits through your sleep – regardless of your age, I changed my mind. This was also in part due to something Graeme Tomlinson said when I asked him whether he thought it was all worth it for the youngsters:

It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and commitment for little financial reward

Watching Joe Colbeck

A year or so ago as I sat watching City trailing to a woeful Lincoln team, listening to folks moaning about Joe Colbeck, with the words of Graeme Tomlinson in my ears, I realised I wanted to tell people to lay off Joe for a bit but they never really did. We all understand that people pay their hard earned and as such should be allowed to complain a bit, Tomlinson understands that, understood that as a player, I’m sure Colbeck did as well, but the criticism become much more with Joe and I am certain that it will result in his name being added to the list. His exit to Oldham, and from Oldham less than a season later continued this path.

Nevertheless back at Lincoln as I sat there watching Colbeck take to the field as a second half sub and inject a bit of pace into a team that had waterlogged the pitch just so they could keep up with the ball, I thought to myself, what has the lad ever really done wrong? Come back from a bad injury and take a few matches to get his sharpness back? Go out on loan and play so well we have to bring him back? Be voted ‘Player-of-the-Year’? Play with a passion that sometimes boils over? The lad can’t do right for doing wrong.

All I could think was that here is a kid who loves City, loves football; a kid who plays with hunger and whose heart is indeed entwined with the game. Here is a kid who will pick the ball up and drive at a full back and if it doesn’t come off, will pick the next one up and drive at the same full back again and again until he succeeds.

Lads like Colbeck then and Syers now are playing for there future; a good season and he might be off to League one, but a bad season and he may just join Sanasy et al.

A short talk with Graeme Tomlinson

DH: How’s tricks?

GT: Great, loving life and living each day as if its my last.

DH: Generally, what keeps you busy/working at the moment?

GT: I made a decent enough living out of the game so don’t have to work full time. I invested some of my cash whilst I was playing in various business ventures and also property so looking after my business affairs keeps me relatively busy.

DH: Do you still play any footy/sport?

GT: I don’t play football competitively, but occasionally get a call asking me to play in a charity match, I had Exeter on the phone but I was away in Maguluf. however, enjoy a kick around now and again with my nephew Konnir whom is joining the Watford Academy next season. Also I enjoy golfing, I find it highly pleasurable and love the social aspect of it. I am currently playing off 11 and will hopefully down be to single figures by the end of the season!

DH: Did you ever pursue your coaching badges?

GT: Yes I still dream one day of going into management, people have been getting onto me saying that I need to finish off all my badges soon, but realistically I’m still very young and time is definitely on my side.

DH: Do you still keep an eye out for City in the news?

GT: Absolutely. The club will always have a special place in my heart. City have wonderful fans who were incredible to me during my time at the club so I always keep an eye on what’s happening. I must say it hurts me to find the club in league two.

DH: Are you still in contact with any lads you played with (at City or elsewhere)?

GT: It’s a funny one, unfortunately I don’t keep in contact with as many of the lads from City as maybe I would if I stayed for longer. I was bought by Man Utd when I was quite young and lost contact with a lot of my mates from the youth set up. I still keep in touch with the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs who have all had glittering careers and I’m proud to call them friends.

DH: In the Guardian you said that you didn’t regret the way things turned out, now you’ve stepped away from professional and non-league football, do you still feel the same?

GT: I have to admit I can’t help thinking what might have been as even Sir Alex told me when I got released from Manchester United that I had lost that little bit extra I had previous to my leg break. Prior to my leg break he had said to me that he saw me as a key part to the future of United. However, the compound fracture occurred and those were the cards I was dealt and I just have to deal with that. So yes I do now slightly regret the way things turned out when I think about my career now, but I cant complain as I had a better career than a lot of players and it let me in to a whole new world which has been shining dazzling and splendid.

DH: You also said that football didn’t rule your life at the time, does it even figure in your life any more? Is it still important?

GT: It still figures in my life as I follow how the clubs I played for are doing and always watch the big games on the tv in particular the champions league ties. It is not the most important thing in my life and just like when I was playing it does not rule my life. It was never my eternal love, my everything.

DH: When you were on trial at clubs like City (the 2nd time), did you worry at all about life outside football? Especially what you would do and the money side of life?

GT: Luckily I got sound advice from my advisors, Charles Poaches and Lukasz Shemshov and invested wisely early on in my playing career and I was lucky enough to know by my late twenties that bar a catastrophe, I would be financially secure for quite a few years.

DH: Do you think clubs should do more to ensure youngsters have something to fall back on? Indeed, was there anything there for you?

GT: If you look at the Man Utds and Liverpools of this world, they have academies for youngsters teaching them all the works of life. For lower league clubs without this infrastructure, it’s very difficult to do anything apart from batter them on the pitch with a football!

DH: Should supporters be more understanding of how hard a footballer’s life is at League 2 level? Or is it all par-for-the-course?

GT: All par-for-the-course I say. Whilst it’s disappointing City are in League, the supporters pay good money to come and see Cit and they deserve to see some entertainment… of course getting on the team’s back isn’t good for anyone.

DH: For all those lads who will probably end up on the part-time circuit, without ever really getting a taste of the big time, is it really worth it anymore?

GT: It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and committed for little financial reward.

DH: Especially with the risk of injury playing such an important role in shaping a player’s career, does lower-league/non-league football represent a good way te earn a crust?

GT: Make no mistake it is decent money in the lower leagues and there are plenty that are earning a good crust, however, not enough to set you up for life and have the fancy cars and the luxury mansions in Monaco. Add in the risk of injury and it does not look too attractive but it is a wonderful, wonderful career which allows you to meet fantastic people.

DH: Do you have anything you would like to mention about the current state of football/Bradford City? Any advice for youngsters/trialists?

GT: I think the gap is widening between the Championship and the lower leagues, much like the Premiership gap is forever getting bigger. I recently went on a family trip to Poland and knew a few contacts from my playing days who invited me to go watch Legia Warsaw (res) vs Wisla Krakow (res). There were three players who caught my eye (and apparently have attracted interest from Man Utd, Spurs, and Barcelona): Lucasz Woppenyeknick (16), Urisz Leppenbracknov (16), and Mikel Bhitch (18), all of whom were extremely talented youngsters. My advice is for any youngster to play each game as if it’s his last and give 110%.

DH: Would you change any of it?

GT: I would change the fact that I was injured. Sure I wish my career dazzled like the moonlit sky, but I met some really good guys and gals along the rocky road so it’s all good. I believe that if the injuries didn’t occur you could have seen me at United a lot longer and even a part of the side that won the champions league in Barcelona in 1999.

DH: Do you still DJ?

GT: It’s more of a hobby as I have a family. A few years back I performed in a few clubs and did a few gigs nationwide, which was an awesome experience!

Do Bradford City have the worst supporters in football?

Now we can begin to understand why City have such a poor home record? Yes, we have had some awful teams, but the atmosphere they have to play in is cynical and negative. It’s a perfect storm of poor teams with fragile confidence playing in front of the worst fans in the entire Football League. Yes, the worst fans and I mean it with all my heart. We are terrible, we have the numbers, but nothing else: no humour; no passion; no belief.

For a long time Dave Pendleton was the poster boy for Bradford City supporters. Hair thinning and with a twang to his voice that stakes him unmistakeably in the West Riding Dave was the man that was called on when television companies and radio stations requires a City fan. Back in the Premiership days ITV’s On The Ball’s sponsors picked fans to represent clubs and you to go back and watch the video you would see Dave in front of a pub fireplace in his classic 1970s City shirt telling someone off camera to cheer up because this time last year we were at Crewe. He edited the City Gent, got called on to write for The Guardian about the club. If someone from Bradford were to have written Fever Pitch it would have been Dave.

So when Dave Pendleton says that City fans are the worst fans in the entire Football League he is not throwing bricks over the wall at unseen targets. He is talking about his peers, and his peers should take note.

What is the best support?

Dave Pendleton’s comments about City fans being the worst supporters in football provoked an interesting debate and one which – in the days after – caused the long time Bantam fan to muse further. “I would easily be able to find examples of much worse behaviour from supporters of other clubs. The lingering threat of violence, and even seventies style racism, at several well known clubs for example. I made the comment more out of frustration. I want our fans to do better and I know they can be.”

Out of frustration but his comments were certainly recognisable. No matter where one sits at Valley Parade one can hear the sound of negativity most of the time and that negativity is expressed in curious ways. Some time ago I recall hearing an agitated debate between two grown men where one had taken objection to the other launching into vulgarities at City’s then right winger Joe Colbeck. The argument progressed as one might expect it would – one side calling for the other to be less negative or go home, the other defending on his right to have his opinion voiced – but it struck me that very few other places in society would this discussion occur.

Very few other places would a man feel he could stand his ground against someone who had called him for swearing violently at a teenager and almost nowhere else would a foul mouthed tirade be considered in any way supportive. Football supporting – and one uses the phrase loosely – had a different set of considerations. Pendleton pays tribute to the people he worked with on The City Gent, on the work of the Bradford City Supporters Trust, on those who assist in the Bantamspast Museum but – accepting that work – returns to notion “We have an inordinate number of fans who leap rapidly on any error a City player makes. More often than not these same people are the last out of their seats when a goal flies in and almost never urge the team on during a period of City pressure. Sadly, they have become the dominant voice of Valley Parade.”

Many would recognise this characterisation. The experience of watching games at Valley Parade is to be as to enjoy despite the atmosphere and not because of it. Infamously a winning team was booed off the field this season representing a new low in this dominant voice.

Anecdotally this seems to be the core of this growing concept of bad support – the leaping on of errors and reticence to encourage – and from that it may be possible to establish an idea of what might be opposite that. That good support might be a tolerance for failures and a readiness to (vocally) endorse the team with a positivity.

Understand here that we talk not about the individual supporters at Valley Parade – after every game where boos ring out the players wander over to applaud the more favourable fans who have stayed to applaud rather than spitting venom and wandering away – but rather of the idea of a communal voice. The single speaking of a people Legion which, as we will come to in time, may no longer be a relevant consideration.

What’s so bad about feeling good?

Mark Lawn’s car was vandalised leaving the joint Bradford City chairman livid. Over the course of a weekend he mused about how worth it it was keeping the club going with his money and considered withdrawing his loan from the club putting it back into administration.

This story – the threat of administration – is often mentioned by those who criticise Lawn but seldom is the vandalism considered as destructive event as the booing of the team on a Saturday. It has parallels being against those who are part of the club, obviously counter-productive and largely a way for those involved to vent spleen. The difference being that while criticising (and abuse without violence) Lawn is seen as different to the players. Criticising the chairman, the manager, the chief executive of a club is often considered a sign of distinction.

Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League despite a constant criticism of chairman Mike Ashley which is seen as only good sense while Liverpool and Manchester United’s owners are vilified but in all these cases there is a bar (on the whole) in booing the players on match day.

This website does not shy from venturing opinions on the chairmen of the club and considers it very much a part of the remit of the supporter to keep a watchful eye on those who own the club and criticise when called for.

There is distinction drawn between the two strands of criticism. At St James’s Park, Newcastle that distinction is drawn in obvious terms by supporter and writer Andrew Wilkins. “The team are the team and the reason we criticise Ashley is because what he is doing gets in the way of the team doing well. If we were booing that team then we’d be stopping them doing well too.”

Wilkins sees this point that negativity in the stands on match day has a directly negative manifestation on the team as unequivocal. “I take colleagues to St James’ and all they can do is talk about how the fans lift the team. I’ve seen it happen when a player does something and gets encouraged for it and just grows and grows during a game.”

There is little one can do to measure the levels of negativity within various teams and see if those teams correlate with the more successful sides and so one if left with personal experience to inform ones thoughts. The United fan I worked with in Manchester amongst a sea of Blues was so often lampoons as guileless, artificial and almost childish but his team won the league while the City fans floundered around the second tier proclaiming both their affinity to the concept of being “real football fans” and their belief that everything was – pretty much – hopeless at Maine Road .

One has to wonder if the cynicism which is so much a part of the idea of authentic football supporter is not counter-productive in itself and that the wide eyed positive optimism portrayed as plastic consumerist football is not a path to success.

Are there cheerleaders in Soccer? No, unless you count the fans!

The cheerleader is rarely seen at British football although they have appeared. First at Watford in the 1980s – Elton John was credited as getting them in because he had an eye for the ladies which suggests how long ago it was – and then sporadically at almost every club in the game.

They appear – these girls with Pom Poms – and work out a dance or two but somewhere around the onset of the dark nights when Winter starts they seem to disappear never to return. For a while Bradford City’s Bantam Belles started the season well but seemed to fade with the club’s optimism every year.

English football has no love of the Cheerleader (Scottish football has no facility, the weather in Aberdeen not being suited) and their absence is part of a general neglect of anything which could be described as pre-match entertainment. Mascot dramas, Opera singers, player interaction with the crowd; All these things have been tried and sit with the Cheerleader in the part of the history books reserved for the regrettable.

Bradford City is no different to most football clubs in this regard but it does contrast with our neighbours Bradford Bulls. The Bulls transformation from the cloth cap of Northern to the razzmatazz of the Super League was alarming to many but impressively effective and the continued sight of car stickers and t-shirts that testify to the time when the club were the best team in the World having won a pan-Continental challenge as well as four domestic titles.

Pop stars singing on the field, girls with pom poms, Bullman and Bullboy the stories of the atmosphere of Odsal had a near mythic status but those days – like the team’s triumphs in Super League – seem behind them. Bulls fan Phil Parsons sums up the mood saying

“(The Bulls) seemed a bit deflated as of late. Some of this is obviously to do with the results on the pitch but quite a bit of it has been because of things off the pitch as well. A lot of people wanted McNamara to go a lot earlier than he did and this seemed to lead to a lot of discontent among the fans. It was other things as well, for example the pre-match entertainment used to be excellent and a lot of it this year has been pretty poor and it’s just sucked the atmosphere out of Odsal.”

Parsons has signed up for the Bulls Pledge – cheaper season tickets if so many people get on board – but hopes that the club cab use the next season as a new start. “They should make a massive deal of it. Go back to things like having an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma just before kick off, the fireworks and having the teams walk out together, that sort of thing. Odsal used to have the nickname ‘Fortress Odsal’ because it was such an imposing place to come to as an away team and the fans loved it. That’s want I want back from next season.”

The correlation in the minds of both Parsons and Wilkins is clear. Good atmosphere off the field – however it is brought about – brings good results on it or at least contributes. Newcatle United’s players are inspired, Bradford Bull’s opponents are scared but in short that good support brings good football, or at least winning football.

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

If a good atmosphere begets good results then it might be worth considering what good supporters do which aids the players or hinders the opposition. Certainly City’s players and management have talked gravely about the silence of Valley Parade. Nicky Law said the crowd was worth a goal start for the opposition suggesting a reverse of the effect that the Bulls seek while Stuart McCall fumed at the booing of individual players suggesting that it hampered the team as a whole.

Peter Taylor highlighted the effect on the development of the younger players in the team of the players being booed suggesting that they would be less willing to do the things that help them develop into better players for fear of the Valley Parade ire. Joe Colbeck was never the same after he went to Darlington and came back with the confidence of having couple of games of the most purposeful practice without the censure in failure.

So we gather ideas of how good support – which we correlate with the idea that good supporters end up with successful teams – manifests itself. Speaking about match days and about what occurs during match days we emerge with a hypothesis: Good support is the tendency to allow for player’s failure giving those players the scope to both be more adventurous (and responsible) in their play and to learn from that experience (which is especially true for the young players) and to believe that the whole is best served by belief in the collection players.

It is difficult to quantify support outside of the realm of bums on seats and noise generated but anecdotally one finds it hard to recall occasions when the clubs which are known for having better supports who are yoked to success have gone against that hypothesis.

It was rare that Liverpool supporters attacked a player but the treatment of Lucas Leiva in recent seasons strikes a contrast to the story of singing while 3-0 down in Instanbul inspiring the players. The fear in football is that when the fans start to boo a single player that the ten other men worry that after a mistake they will be the next target. Peter Beagrie summed up this feeling in his comment about what constituted genuine courage on the football field – “Doing the same thing the twelfth that has left you on your backside for the last eleven because it is still the right thing to do.”

Manchester United supporters made a fable out of Deigo Forlan’s failure to score allowing the player the room to grow, Newcastle United idolise their number nine in a way that seemed to cause the current incumbent to grow a foot when the shirt went on his back. Even over at Leeds United where they are not know for tolerance they express to their players a belief that the club will do well in any division they are in should they apply themselves correctly.

It might seem trite – almost childish in its simplicity – but the supporters who are best able to suspend any disbelief they have for the duration of a game are those who do best in the longer term. The non-cynical attitude of children is mirrored – at least during games – by the fans of clubs who do well and the problem with children is that they grow up.

So now then

Cynicism is no bad thing and if more of football was cynical then the game would be in better health. If every season a 80 clubs did not plan the season on the idea that they would end up promoted then so many balance sheets would not be bright red.

Cynicism in supporters could can be helpful too. After Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete and Juanjo it was incredible that the levels of cynicism at Valley Parade allowed for another overseas superstar to have his name plastered on a shirt and anyone who showed cynicism probably saved themselves £40.

However when Topp took to the field the suspension of disbelief – the ability to park cynicism – was noticeable for its scarcity at Valley Parade. Nothing really suggested he would be a good player but we all convinced ourselves he would be Pele and so he enjoyed ample chance. Compare that with Barry Conlon who scored more goals in one game that Topp has got in his career and the problem becomes clearer.

This is mental gymnastics. The ability to double-think away from the cynicism that comes with following a club for seasons in which one learns that success is rare is a tough skill to learn and like any skill it is best reinforced when it comes with a positive result. If the double-think of supporting does not lead to results then people are less likely to do it – as with post-Topp City – but Beagrie would testify that it is still the right thing to do.

The supporters who have had the most experience of this working do it more often – Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United and so on – and one could say that the are the best supporters but one would shy from saying that the opposite are bad fans, or to come full circle “the worst fans in football”.

Just that of all the tools which football fans use to be able to do “good support” City fans use few. Perhaps supporters are not bad just not less good and in a competitive football environment in which all teams compete in the longer term City fans are not worse than many but a few clubs have fans who are better able to use their presence to boost their teams.

To those teams the spoils. The rest of us look disparagingly at the Manchester United supporter and his giddy belief that whichever kid Sir Alex throws in will be the New George Best or the Newcastle United fan who has his team’s number nine tattooed on his thigh they look back at us with sympathy.

For we have more of what they would call cynicism and they have more of what we would call success.

Neilson’s exit leaves clubs counting the costs

Scott Neilson exited Bradford City on Tuesday to join Crawley Town less than a year after Stuart McCall recruited the winger to replace Joe Colbeck. A change of manager has see fortunes flourish for many but not for Neilson who after a loan at Cambridge United the assurances from Peter Taylor that he had a future at Valley Parade turned out not to have a future at Valley Parade.

Colbeck himself left not long after to join Dave Penney at Oldham Athletic but has since himself moved on to Hereford United after – not at all coincidentally – a change of manager at The Latics saw Paul Dickov installed and the winger who was City’s player of the season two years fall from favour.

Neilson cost Crawley an undisclosed amount, City paid some money for him, Colbeck cost some money when he went to and from Oldham. The moves went across three divisions in which players like Lee Hughes and Graeme Lee go around free while clubs like York City and Rotherham United want millions of pounds for centreforwards. This kind of low fee move that is rare at this level of football seems common at least on the Bradford City right wing.

That anomaly aside the two transfers represent an Escherism. Colbeck was great for City and this was put down to the confidence boost of Dave Penney’s involvement via a loan at Darlington but his “failure” at Oldham would suggest that Penney’s coaching was not the panacea it could be painted.

Stuart McCall coached Colbeck into a position where Penney bought him for a division above and where Sven Goran Erikkson was interested in signing Neilson but few would suggest that Peter Taylor’s calling time on Neilson’s time at City is down to the former England gaffer making him a “worse” player. Indeed Taylor is credited as a better coach than the other two.

Has Colbeck become a worse player in the year that he left City? Has Neilson? They have both been considered “good” enough at times but now are moved on. My years watching the rise and fall of footballers tells me not to trust the idea that footballers can be “good” or “bad” or at least the idea that those things can change in the space of months. They play well or they play poorly, there is nothing else.

All of which represents a mess of ideas rather than a set of data to draw a conclusion from but the money that has changed hands for both players – and for the four manager who have been in charge of them – points to an extraordinary cost of doing business in football.

Doubt not the judgement of either Taylor or Dickov or the motivations of their actions they have decided – for whatever reason – to move players on who previous managers have considered to be members of the squad but do so at expense to the club. The cost of whatever Dickov is played when recruited by Oldham Athletic is already augmented by the price of paying Dave Penney to leave and added to that are the costs of changing Penney’s squad. Colbeck cost £85,000 to sign, had to be paid and then was let go for much less all in the space of a year.

This extraordinary cost is replicated at almost every club which changes a manager and considering that the average club keeps a gaffer for eighteen months every other year a club can expect to have these sort of expenditure on the balance sheet. Trying to run a stable business in those conditions is impossible but the huge increase in administrations and financial problems in the last ten years has not seen a move towards retaining managers as a way of financial stability. Far from it.

As the number of clubs in financial trouble has increased the frequency of managerial changes has too with the costs that that involves. The financial stability that is talked about from the boardrooms of clubs is undermined by the actions of those who say it then fire the manager and let his replacement overhaul the squad.

Bradford City, mercifully, have avoided much of this in the last change of manager with McCall negotiating a lessened pay-off and Taylor retaining much of Stuart’s squad and so Scott Neilson’s exit and the costs that apply to it are rare in the medium term for the club if common in the long term. That is down to a good appointment in Taylor but there is a worry of the manager having only nine months left on his current deal and this unnecessary expenditure reoccurring.

All of which continues to point to the need for clubs to prize stability a point especially worth mentioning in the days following Peter Taylor walking down the tunnel at Valley Parade with his winning team booed.

Four months into his time at Bradford City the board should not have had to come out in support of their manager – indeed they did not – but as Neilson exits and City take a hit in the pocket it would make sense if the club affirmed a desire to plot a stable path forward under Peter Taylor.

Alas since January 2008 when Mark Lawn stated the club had had enough of short term thinking City have ended up with a manager contracted until the end of the year and worries over what happens at the end of that term if the next manager is not the sort to do as Taylor has and take on what he inherited.

The Prediction Plague

Much of the maladies of the modern media can be put down to a move from reporting events as news to doing it as preview and prediction.

This is true in all spheres of life – I didn’t vote for Dave or Nick but I’m at least prepared until they do something I don’t care for before getting annoyed at them – and especially true in football that talking about a thing that may happen is given the same breath as talking about something that has.

So as we stand on the eve of the kick off if the 2010 World Cup there is barely an element of the next four weeks that is not speculated on.

The performance of various teams for sure is a subject as is the behaviour of Referees, the organisation of matches, the quality of football, the flight of the ball and the after effect on the host country.

Some interesting, others not, but surely not a problem. Prediction, aside from in gambling, never caused much of a problem.

It seems that prediction, which was once the province of the pundit, is the stock in trade of the watercooler and everyone is fulsome in their opinion.

Where once a confident Cloughie would talk of events to come as if he were recalling the past now everyone relates the future as if it were past events. From Rodney Marsh and his damnation of City in the Premiership to that bloke Roger who wants to tell you England will be knocked out in the quarter finals and that you can’t look past Germany everyone seems to want to tell you what will happen, rather than telling you what they thought about what has.

As an example consider Joe Colbeck the ginger haired right winger who divided opinions for City for a few years. Those who had decided that Joe would never make it as a professional football heaped abuse on him in games. Science has a law about it – the act of observation changes the result – but in common parlance they tried to nobble him.

Which is to hit on the problem with prediction in that the predictor too often attempts to ensure that what they have said comes to pass, or at least seems to.

So football writers who dismiss Emile Heskey devote column inches since his selection to talk about what a bad decision it was rather than waiting for the outcome of that selection and reporting.

In that reporting too one can often – when reading the back pages or the front – wonder if an even hand is given or if the agenda supported is to ensure the prediction appears to be right unless proved manifestly wrong.

One has to wonder what the point of prediction that England will lose in the quarters are or that Spain will win the World Cup. These things will be evidenced in short order.

There is a chap – nice chap – who sits in front of me at Valley Parade who confidently declares “Its in” whenever the opposition put a cross into City’s box. Should the ball be converted he will nod and grimly state “Told you” but should – as most often occurs – the ball be cleared he will not confirm his mistake nor acknowledge it. It is harmless enough but also pointless enough the only real analysis being that sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it does not.

Pick any of the teams kicking off in South Africa this week and one could say the same. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t but being wise after the fact if a prediction is correct – particularly a negative prediction that something will not happen rather than something will – is hardly impressive.

I could predict that Spain will not win the World Cup but considering how infrequent wins are and the fact 31 other teams are trying to it is probable that they will not. I could predict that Peter Taylor will leave Bradford City without the club having been promoted and considering that of the club’s near 100 seasons of play only eight of them have resulted in elevation I’d be favoured by probability that I would be correct.

Predicting negatively – saying what will not happen – has never impressed me and I predict it never will.

If predicting what will not is easy then saying what will is guess work and one easily becomes the guy warning if crosses coming into the box. Often one is proved right in the fullness of time but only because eventually all things happen. My brother is keen to point out that for the one time he was wring about Southampton being relegated from the top flight he had been accurate in saying they would not many times previously.

Me, I prefer to wait and see for England, for the other nations and for City. Reporting on what has happened is analysis, saying what will is guess work.

It is astrology vs astronomy. I could tell you, fear reader, that I see a last four if England, The Dutch, Brazil and Ivory Coast and that with gun to my head I’d say Holland but I’d much rather talk about why those guesses are proved wrong – should they be – than take credit for sooth saying if they are right.

Some of the crowd are on the pitch…

For football supporters of a certain age the pitch invasion is possibly the most unwelcome sight in the game of football. It brings back memories of bad days when fans would pile over fences onto field and the match would become a secondary event to young men indulging in territorial disputes on the field.

Football hooliganism was a lot about charging at one set of fans to get them to run in the opposite direction as much as it was about the actual punches and kicks and to that mind set – to me it seemed – the playing field offered the ultimate in territory. There are many books about football hooliganism, not one of them I want to read.

So for fans of a certain age the sight of people spilling onto the field reminds one of bad days and or worse days. Of Valley Parade’s fire of course and of Heysel and Hillsborough. Why did it take until six minutes past three to stop the game in Sheffield when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest? Many people will tell you many reasons but the heart of most explanations is that keeping people off the pitch was the prime concern of the age.

The sight of people coming onto the pitch means nothing good, to football supporters of a certain age.

Younger supporters – with no lasting memory of those days not only of disaster but of distaste – have no such associations. They see the end of season pitch invasion as a jolly, a chance to mess about and share the fun and why should it not be? After City retained Premiership status – beating Liverpool the supporters of whom have reason enough to condemn invaders – the sight of supporters on the pitch was a joyous sharing of the triumph.

English football is – as we shall no doubt hear once or twice in the next six weeks – summed up with the words “Theres some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over…

Kenneth Wolstenholme – BBC commentator on the day England won the World Cup and he who utter those immortal words – would not have comprehended the idea that people would invade the pitch to act aggressively nor to harm the supporters of another club – or in the case of Luton Town on Saturday – the players of York City. Such aggression was simply not correlated with football at the time.

So why is a pitch invasion in 2010 different to one in 1966 before the fences and Hillsborough or in 2000 after them as evidently it is, or was at Luton, at Sheffield Wednesday and at Valley Parade?

We look for answers around football, around the regulation of football, around the Zeitgeist events of football but perhaps we have to look much closer to home to find how the pitch invasion has changed from joy that can be shared by Liverpool supporters to Northampton Town fans throwing tribute t-shirts back at the City fans in the space of ten years.

On this website we have talked many times about the atmosphere at Valley Parade and it would be remiss not to say that Saturday had a touching memorial and one of impeccably observed silence but it also had – around my seat in the Kop – the continued screaming of abuse from grown men at kids on the field. Leon Osbourne puts the ball through someone’s legs but shoots rather than passes and his is a “fucking greedy idiot”, Adam Bolder opts to not cross the ball and he is a “useless git”, Gavin Grant’s ignoring of (a much better placed) Michael Flynn see him called a “greedy, greedy, greedy waste of space.”

Matthew Clarke manages to get through a game without conceding a goal despite being described as both “clumsy buffon” and “utterly useless” but Gareth Evans is cheered from the rafters for his goals which is a contrast to a month ago when he was invited to “fuck off to Halifax Town, or back to Macclesfield, or both!” In-between play results from other grounds are checked to see how Leeds United – or L***ds as many would dub them – are doing with the hope being that they are not doing well.

When Bradford City were promoted to the Premiership it was almost in disbelief – people to us said as we set off to Wolves that “they will blow it again” – but in the years of decline that have followed the support around the club seems to have gone past simple belief into an arrogant expectancy. “We are Bradford City,” the attitude often seems to be “we used to be Premiership so we should be beating everyone in this league.” Perhaps the obvious, bubbling anger comes from that feeling. Wherever the origins are maybe it was a tiny fulfilment of that over blown belief – that we can beat anyone – that prompted Saturday’s goading of the visitors.

The point is that the aggression of City fans did not start when they ran over to the Northampton Town supporters, not as I see it, and while banning people for invading the pitch could be a good idea the ramping up of aggression at Bradford City in the last ten years that makes Saturday different to the final day of the Premiership season is not restricted to the people on the grass in front of visitors.

Bradford City – in common with many clubs – is suffering a resurgence of aggressive and yobbish violence after utterly failing to address the problem of aggressive and yobbish supporting. The mentality that sees a grown man screaming obscene abuse until his face goes blue at a 20 year old Joe Colbeck is the same mentality that runs over to the Northampton Town fans.

You can find a history of talking about the rise of aggressive support here, here, here, here, here and here. To be honest it comes over in most conversations about following football these days. Manchester United hate Liverpool, Manchester City hate Arsenal, Spurs hate Sol Campbell, everyone hates Lee Hughes.

Back to Wolstenholme and his era of football and the idea of such reckless hate being spewed around would be alien. Talk to a City fan in his sixties or seventies and he will tell you about going to Park Avenue on odd weekends and supporting them, while favouring us. The idea that your football rivals are to be loathed is a modern conceit drawn from hooliganism and in many ways represents the lingering elements of those dark days.

Modern aggressive football support – be it the kind of external manifestations we see or the internal abuse of players described above – is a breeding ground for the scenes of the weekend at Luton, at Wednesday and in front of the Northampton supporters and while each fan involved is responsible for their own actions and should be punished as such the wider community around football clubs needs to address this tide of aggression.

Because if the 1980s tells us one thing is it that if we the fans cannot set our house in order then other people will try to put it in order for us be they the club, the police or the (perhaps same Conservative) Government. The last time that occurred results the results were, in very many ways, horrific.

Luke Sharry and something about the greenness of the grass

Luke Sharry is playing for Grimsby Town reserves as he joins the plethora of players who – at this time of the season – face up to the idea that unless they can get someone else interested when their contract expires they will no longer be professional footballers.

Sharry will join the Mariners in the hope of winning a new deal for a club that – in all likelihood – will be playing non-league football next season. Down a division his blustering midfield play may prove useful, indeed it may have proved useful in League Two.

Sharry’s career at City has contained few reasons to suggest that he could be given a new contract by the Bantams. His chance came in the Johnstone’s Paint tie with Port Vale but a poor first half saw him substituted, never the return. The words “Blown it” were used, and were hard to argue with.

A right sided midfield who played inside – or perhaps an insider who was on the wing – City gave Sharry a chance and Sharry will not have been pleased with how that chance was grasped. He joins a list of players who promised much in pre-season and glimpses from the bench but ultimately went on their way. Craig Bentham, Robert Morgan, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest, Kevin Sanasy and on and on. The last ten years has been peopled with these players.

It would be tempting to look at the improvements to training facilities and suggest that City hampered our own youth development because of them – that with a decent pitch Forrest would be banging goals in and Bentham would be holding the midfield together – but that does not ring true.

Likewise it would be easy to look at the players and label them “not good enough” the idea being that had Sharry been obviously quality in the way that Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien – the past two players of the season – were then he would have broken into the team. This is probably true but only tells half a story.

For it is not the likes of Sharry, Penford, Bentham and the like who tried at City and ultimately moved on but rather the likes of Luke Cornwall, of Gareth Edds, of Michael Symes who replaced them. Moving out our young players only to move in the lads who had been moved out elsewhere. It is common up and down football and somewhere in North East Lincolnshire there is a kid with a right foot but no contract wondering what Luke Sharry has that makes him a better bet for a place next season.

The processes around young players seem to be at fault to me. The lads who come through the ranks are looked on as lottery tickets and if they do not produce a jackpot they are quickly cast aside only to be replaced by the tickets cast aside by another club.

The likes of Sharry, Morgan, Sanasy et al filled places in the squad and often went unused – less than a half dozen appearances between those three – but perhaps while the major aim of a youth set up is unearthing a Fabian Delph to make big profits in the future perhaps another – more realistic – aim should be to create a bunch of players who can fill a squad as Sharry did rather than sifting through other club’s cast offs after casting off our own.

I liked the look of Luke Sharry but – sadly, I guess – it seems he is on his way. He did not do what many people would call a great job at City but he did a job of adding depth to the squad and from the club’s point of view – financially as well as ethically when recruiting lads like him – is it not better to have that done by one of our youth rather than bringing in someone else to be reserve to Omar Daley and Scott Neilson?

And as supporters should we not stop looking at the lads coming through as hot young prospects that might be the next big thing and started giving them a chance to be members of our squad – to be footballers. We talk about the idea of a player being “good enough” without ever finishing the sentence.

Good enough for what? Good enough compared to whom? If the likes of Bentham and Penford were not good enough for League One then – obviously and manifestly – the replacements for those lads who built up a partnership for Colin Todd’s side at the end of one season were not either because twelve months later we were relegated.

The final thought is a comparison of Danny Forrest and Luke Cornwall as the proof that the grass is seldom greener on the other side.

53 weeks ago – City were on top of the world

It was 53 short weeks ago that Bradford City crushed Aldershot Town on their last visit to Valley Parade. Two goals from the returning-to-form Peter Thorne, a beauty of an effort from the edge of the box by Dean Furman, a tap in for Barry Conlon and a comical own-goal set up by Joe Colbeck. 5-0, City fourth in the league with 11 games to go. The excitement was growing at the prospect of ending the season with the glory of promotion.

As we all know, it ended miserably with the platform that victory had laid on for City proving something of a peak to the second half of the season at least. The next nine of those remaining 11 were winless as the Bantams fell out of the promotion picture, the ending of the season with back-to-back victories thus meaningless. The backwards steps have continued into this season.

City now have a long way to go just to get to where they were after that Spring demolition of the Shots. The up and down nature of results since Peter Taylor took over the reins has at times given hope of a late play off push this time around, but the slip ups and barely decreasing distance from the top seven has all but extinguished such faint chances. After Saturday’s clash with Aldershot is over, there will again be 11 games to go – even a complete reversal of results compared to those nine games at the end of last season probably wouldn’t be enough.

If we could turn the clocks back to the final whistle a year ago and apply hindsight, what warnings would we now offer and to whom? Perhaps the most obvious would seem to be changing Stuart McCall’s u-turn over his threat to quit. As Taylor impresses for the composure and organisation he has brought to the team, the growing temptation is to look back over McCall’s final season and dismiss it a waste of time. If only Taylor had taken over sooner, it can be argued, the club might still be approaching the final section of the season with promotion hopes.

The ‘SOS’ demonstration at the end of the last season might be something we’d go back and urge the organisers to cancel. The holding up of banners in support of McCall has caused widespread debate even during this season, with the number of supporters willing to admit they displayed a sign surprisingly few.

Where I sit in the Midland Road Stand, a previously quiet and pleasant woman suddenly can’t stop ranting, during the last few months, about how poor a manager McCall is/was, and inadvertently slamming those who backed him. Prior to the start of recent homes games she’s repeatedly uttered, “Do you know who I blame for this season? All those supporters who held up signs supporting him at the last home game” out loud to everyone around her, the majority of whom did hold up signs. Sorry lady, it’s all my fault.

But perhaps we’d take a different approach if we could go back, considering where City might be today but for that late season collapse. If City have gone onto earn promotion during those final 11 games a year ago, there would have been no need to reduce the transfer and wage budgets by a third for this campaign – an action which has undoubtedly undermined efforts.

Instead we might warn McCall where it would all go wrong –  to be mindful of defending set pieces at Spotland a few days later, to make sure Barry Conlon and Matt Clarke are behaving while staying in Devon prior to the Exeter game, how tinkering with the team too much leads to the inconsistent form, how a linesman will rob the team at Morecambe, not to sign Paul chuffin Mullin, that certain players cannot be counted on when the chips are down, and why it’s so important he doesn’t let it all get him down too much.

Perhaps most of all we’d warn him not to publicly threaten to quit in the manner he did after losing to Bournemouth, because it seemed to only breed instability and nervousness in the team rather than help it. The decline was already starting and he needed to be more positive in addressing it. The Bournemouth defeat was the third in a row; worrying form – but it needn’t have turned into the disastrous form that would continue another six games.

Mistakes were made, as McCall himself readily admits, and they soon added up to something far bigger. Ultimately City’s failure this season is due to the failure of the one before, and the immediate challenge remains reversing those backward steps. 53 weeks after thrashing Aldershot 5-0, it is now the visitors who harbour the promotion hopes. They, and so many other clubs, have been able to catch up and overtake City over the last 12 months, it’s already going to be a long road back.

But like in any aspect of life – it’s not how many mistakes are made, but how quickly they are learned from. Sometimes it’s a torturous and miserable path, but if the resultant lessons can be applied positively it will be a journey worth taking. If we had not put up our SOS posters and if McCall had departed during the summer, it’s highly unlikely City would be currently employing Taylor. Someone else would have come in and, with the same budget constraints, may have done no better.

The lessons McCall learned from his first two seasons would not have been applied, the new guy may have repeated the City legend’s mistakes of hiring players not up to this level or lacking in desire. However well it can be judged McCall performed this season, there’s little doubt Taylor has inherited a squad to build on rather than start all over again – due to McCall targeting the right kind of players within the budget constraints.

And if the short-term deal works out and Taylor can replicate the kind of success he enjoyed at Hull, the misery of the last 12 months and the refusal of McCall to quit last summer will ultimately have been worth it. Life doesn’t allow you to turn back the clock, mistakes cannot be undone.  City have had 53 weeks of regrets and now more than ever is the time to apply those lessons. Taylor is impressing in both victory and defeat. We know he has the experience, he’s proving he has the knowledge, the main question mark is that of his own appetite – and that of the Chairmen – to make it work.

53 weeks on Taylor has so far used only seven players from the sixteen involved against the Shots last season  – only three of which have started the last four games. Luke O’Brien, Lee Bullock and Matt Clarke have themselves been the subject of healthy debates for much of this season, but all appear to be impressing Taylor. Meanwhile the futures of the other four – Thorne, Michael Boulding, Zesh Rehman and Chris Brandon – look decidedly shaky.  Taylor vowed to give everyone a go and would seem to already be making his mind up over who he would offer a City future too and who he’d move on.

Two of his own short-term recruits have yet to really feature but, after a disappointing performance in losing to Port Vale, may now get their chance. Little is known of Luke Oliver, other than his height, but he could make his debut alongside Clarke in the centre of defence. Gavin Grant has arrived on a pay-as-you-play basis and in need of building fitness. With Gareth Evans having a poor game at Vale Park, that fitness might be tested from the start tomorrow. Omar Daley too will be vying for only a fourth start in a year.

Daley is one of the few players not out of contract this summer and Taylor’s ability to judge the Jamaican is hampered by his understandable lack of fitness. So far Taylor has gone for the workrate of Evans and O’Brien on the flanks to start and, if Daley watched AC Milan’s pathetic surrender at Old Trafford this week largely due to widemen not bothering to track back and Manchester United murdering the Italians down the flanks, he will have some idea of what he needs to do to fit in with the new-look City.

Elsewhere Mark McCammon will have arrived for a month at City with greater ambition than swapping one sub bench for another, and Taylor may consider him to start ahead of James Hanson or Michael Flynn, the latter moving back to midfield. The arrival of Adam Bolder sees greater competition in the centre of midfield, with Steve O’Leary still on the fringes, but Taylor would surely be reluctant to leave out either Bolder or the in-form Bullock.

Matt Glennon keeps goal, having been faintly criticised in public by Taylor for not stopping Vale’s winning goal on Tuesday. Glennon’s spell at City has been curious for its lack of incident. He has made some good saves, but nothing too noteworthy. He has also conceded a few goals he might have been expected to save. He has impressed in the command of his penalty area, but the long-term custodian he may not be. Having played only seven games for Bristol Rovers, a third return of Rhys Evans this summer would be widely cheered by fans.

Simon Ramsden and Robbie Threlfall retain the full back slots; Steve Williams may face the axe for Oliver; Jon Bateson, Michael Boulding and Thorne wait impatiently for rare opportunities.

Recent Posts