Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

There is a view of history which holds that if there had never been a Genghis Khan, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot, then the course of the world would have been drastically different. No Mongol hordes, no Cold War, no pogrom.

This is the individual view of history.

There is a competing view that suggests that those three people, indeed any person of history, is only of history because of the rising and falling of collective events. That if it had not been Genghis Khan then someone else would have been credited for leading the hordes, and history would have remember their name instead. That large groups rather than an individual caused the world to turn.

This is the collective view of history. It is less exciting, but probably more accurate.

From Pol Pot to Pulis

Stoke City’s rise to the place of mid-table in the Premier League is largely down to former manager Tony Pulis, and Pulis puts any success he has had down to a recruitment policy based on character.

When speaking about Ryan Shawcross Pulis commended the defender’s character – which is to say his desire to win football matches – saying that a team was built on players such as Shawcross.

“You can have other players who don’t have that (character),” Pulis added, “but only for eighteen months and then you have to move them on.”

The heroes of failure

Why do Bradford City supporters not curse the name Benito Carbone? Why is Ashley Ward’s time at the club given a light disregard when the memory of Mike Duxbury can cause grown men to froth at the mouth? What is it about Darren Morgan that has some City fans reserving a place in the inner circle of failure which even Aaron McLean – seemingly leaving City this week – need not fear reaching?

And what is this word scapegoat which is applied in defence of McLean? Has his treatment been unfair? What are the mechanics of failure at a club like Bradford City that can lionise one player and condemn another.

And let me start by saying…

When Aaron McLean leaves Bradford City, few will be upset. McLean has done well in the past proving his ability but did not do well at Bradford City. The sort of ability McLean is credited with is rare for Bradford City players over the last decade. Few players have been criticised for want of motivation rather than ability.

More common in the last decade have been the players who have shown a level of effort that defined their abilities. The words “give everything” are used about James Hanson, Gary Jones, and Andrew Davies. Players like Barry Conlon, Matthew Clarke and Lee Crooks were never said to be shirking, just that they were poor footballers.

McLean gets to nestle his name alongside Ashley Ward, Nicky Summerbee and Bobby Petta in the players who idled away their talents rather than had no talent to begin with.

In the worst possible way

Aaron McLean arrived to replace Nahki Wells. Wells enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bradford City. His speed and eye for goal were impressive and he played a role in taking City to Wembley twice in three months. After an early exchange of distaste for his choice of clubs following City it seems that Wells has settled back into his place in the hearts of City fans.

One might speculate that the fact that Wells has joined a Huddersfield side in the year they have achieved next to nothing is his saving grace for City fans. Were Town in the play-offs and Wells the architect of that, then things may be different.

But Wells is not an architect. The type of player he is – they are called “finishers” for a reason – puts him at the necessary end point rather than the engine room of a team. Wells was the end of a team of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson et al. Those players were the big characters who pushed the team. Wells, Nathan Doyle, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh were (seemingly, and by virtue of their exit) the “eighteen monthers” that Pulis talks about.

Being Phil Parkinson

Losing Gary Jones was inevitable. Phil Parkinson probably joins with the rest of City fans who watch the skipper playing for Notts County and wonders if there was another year in the now 37-year old midfielder, but giving him that extra year is a delay of the inevitable need to replace him.

Losing a player like Gary Jones from your team – be it from age or transfer – matters more than losing a player like Wells because of the type of strong character he is. Bringing in or building a replacement takes time and may not be achieved. Those old enough may remember the attempt to replace the massive presence of Stuart McCall with Iain Banks and wince at the memory. If you are younger, read “Gary Locke” for Banks.

It is Parkinson’s hardest job and while developing Billy Knott may be a long term solution, one suspects the City manager has concluded that he needs to bring a character into the side and is working to that end. At the moment though Parkinson puts out the team he has and that team has some qualities, although is lacking in others.

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

Who was the scapegoat in David Wetherall’s relegation side which was the worst team Bradford City have fielded in my lifetime? Who carries the can for those feeble months? Not Wetherall, and not his players. Spencer Weir-Daley’s many misses against Leyton Orient and Omar Daley’s giving up of the ball on the wing are critical memories but on the whole the players are not criticised. Kelly Youga (injured during his time at the club) is fondly remembered. Who does not a place in his heart for Xaviar Barrau?

Wetherall’s side were simply too poor for scapegoats. To single out one player is to allow a club and a culture at a club to be freed from blame. No one points the finger because no one has enough fingers to point.

Likewise relegation from the Premier League is never assigned to a group of players, and the likes of Benito Carbone are heroes of the club. Circumstances dictate that a scapegoat will not be found, at least not on the field.

Parkinson’s team are not so outgunned as those two examples. The are far better than Wetherall’s side for sure, and the rest of League One is – in relative terms to City – not as good as the rest of the Premiership was in 2000.

Phil Parkinson’s team are closer to success. Indeed at the moment City win and lose on the basis (seemingly, but probably not in the opinion of the management) of individual actions. Billy Clarke puts the ball an inch lower and Oldham away is a good point; Christopher Routis heads a ball into the stands against Sheffield United then City get a battling point with ten men and so on.

Just as two years ago Rory McArdle’s determination was the difference between winning and losing against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi-final. When the difference between success and failure is small there is a temptation to assign it to individuals and individual actions.

Stevie Gee

Importantly though one can only justify assigning success to individuals when margins are small. A scapegoat is the player who did not apply the marginal difference. The opposite – a player who applied the individual difference between success and failure – is what he call in football a hero

Watching the career of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is watching that that theory in action. In European Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which ended 3-3) he has been heroic because he has been the individual difference between success and failure.

Last season his defensive slip against Chelsea – an individual mistake – seemed to cost his team the Premier League title. “If he had not slipped” is said with a misty eye by many, but few ask what would have happened if (now Liverpool’s) Dejan Lovren foul on Daniel Sturridge in November 2013 in a Southampton 1-0 win at Anfield had been given as a penalty.

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

Aaron McLean’s first game at Sheffield United for City – a 2-2 draw – had the striker almost score the goal which almost built his confidence and almost put him on a run of goalscoring, and so on.

McLean is in poor form, and plays like a player in poor form, and many people (not me) consider that the problem City face at the moment is the need for a finisher. The logic follows easily that McLean, a finisher, could be difference between wins and defeats.

My view of football is increasingly more inline with Pulis, and it is more inline with the collective view of history. When Nahki Wells was scoring for City it was not because of his abilities so much as because of the team’s abilities (which he was a part of) and had you dropped Aaron McLean in then, McLean would be the “Goal Machine” his name so cruelly rhymes with. If you put Wells into the current City team, he would struggle.

The team struggles because of the recrafting job that is needed on its core following Jones’ departure. and the wider break up of the “History Makers” team that Phil Parkinson built. The eighteen months were up, and now Parkinson starts again. The manager is not back at square one, and the fact that the gap between success and failure seems bridgeable is a frustration, and causes this illusion.

Nahki Wells was a hero of Bradford City’s success.

Aaron McLean, because of his place in our history, is a hero of failure.

So This Is It. City Doing Bad Doing Good

In a nutshell anything other than a win for Bradford City at Chesterfield will see the Bantams relegated.

David Wetherall’s side go into the game without Kelly Youga who joins Mose Ashikodi and injured back to the Premiership following his stay at Valley Parade and looking for results and miracles. If wishing made it so City would stay up but football is hard and our own mistakes have been compounded by refereeing point stealing leaving us where we are now.

Should the worst have happened at five on Saturday then City will not go into administration but will be starting next season with the cheapest season tickets in football after Julian Rhodes decided to honour the pledge for the 7,000 fans who have applied. City fans will pay £136 next term. One can only hope that this signals a turn around in the fortunes and atmosphere at VP. Julian Rhodes deserves it to – his actions today should be followed throughout football. As City falter on the field the ideas off it are laudable.

Rhodes says

As I keep stressing, the club’s future depends so much on the backing from the fans.

That is laudable too.

Also worth backing is City fan Nick Kitchen’s campaign to Bradford Council to get them to financially help City out. The title of the campaign is “Campaign Backing For The Bradford District Council To Help Support City Financially” and already over 600 Signatures.

If you see Nick collecting signatures around Keighley shopping centre, in the Bantams Bar, at the club shop before a game or in Chesterfield then give them a sign if you agree. If you get doorstepped in election week next week then you might wants to ask red, blue, yellow or “other” what they think before voting.

For Those Who Care To Know

And for a while everything seemed to be going to plan. Spencer Weir-Daley was putting the Leyton Orient defence under huge pressure, Omar Daley looked likely to waltz to glory should his running with the ball continue and the 10,000 strong support were going to be entertained and take City on to safety and victory.

It was all going to work. It was all going to plan. Bradford City could have had three or four in the first half when Weir-Daley made the home back four – defending high up the field – look flat footed. Just before half time he sprang forward with only the goalkeeper to beat with a chip and agonisingly the ball bounced wide.

Before Omar Daley had surged forward and – after beating enough men to justify not passing – hit a shot saved by Glyn Garner in the visitor’s goal. Garner had stopped Billy Paynter from giving the Bantams a lead earlier on and tonight is the man who won the game for the Londoners.

At half time – or so it seems – Leyton Orient won the game. The Bantams left the field having controlled the game but emerged to a visitors side with more of an eye on nullifying City and whatever it was that Martin Ling said to his charges it worked. Ling’s team got the ball and kept it away from the Bantams pressing down the right flank and troubling Ben Parker or the left where Daley could scarcely be troubled chasing the ball and slowly the game slipped from the Bantams.

And surely the game turned away from The Bantams and fittingly for the season it was more Refereeing nonsense that marked the moment. Ling must have fared the worst when Luke Guttridge – booked for a challenge on Steven Schumacher that was so later it was practically from next season – body checked Kelly Youga as the left back went past him. The Referee ignored Guttridge’s second yellow card offence, Youga went off on a stretcher probably never to return and a minute later Orient’s Gary Alexander had scored.

At this point it is worth thinking of how Joe Colbeck – not the most talented player but no shirkers for sure and someone who would cover every blade of grass for the Bantams every day of the week if asked – watched from the sidelines as Omar Daley ignored a ball running out. Colbeck might have been thinking about how he would – and he would – have surged the ball and he might not have thought he could have done much with it but as Daley’s indolence was punished with the ball in City’s net seconds later he must have wondered and grumbling about Daley’s play was verbalised he must have wondered what City fans want? Colbeck gives his all – gets booed. Daley gives very little effort but has skill and pace if he uses them and increasingly gets the same treatment.

Such thoughts was vanquished by a second Leyton Orient goal leaving City looking at two wins and crossed fingers to stay in League One. Even if we do then things need to change – many things – not least of which is the reliance on loan players and players with short term deals at the club.

Ben Parker, Spencer Weir-Daley, Billy Paynter, Kelly Young, Nathan Doyle, Carlos Logan, Moses Ashikodi, Lee Holmes, Bruce Dyer and many more have pulled on the City shirt as loan players and have put in some great, some not so great, performances but a team can not be built around players who have no future with the club. We cannot continue to ask for huge effort for our cause from players who will be at Charlton, at Watford, at Leeds next season. We have to put the future of this club in the hands of player who will be hear in the future of this club. We need to stop letting the tempo of the club be set by players who almost by definition have less passion for Bradford City than those they displace. Nathan Doyle did a great job, Richard Edghill has years of experience in the game as he sits with two haves left on his contract but the energy and effervescence of John Swift should have been rewarded with a place in the team a long time ago. That is a tone to set for this club. That and not the idea that your place will be taken by anyone who comes from a Premiership or Championship reserve side.

Leyton Orient enjoyed a two goal but the Bantams had twenty minutes plus six of injury time to strike back. A look around the field at bowed heads and shoulders slumped and eyes could find no one to drive the Bantams on. There is no Stuart McCall. There needs to be a Stuart McCall if one cares about the club because League Two is by no means as low as a club can go.

Steven Schumacher, Mark Bower, Donovan Ricketts, David Wetherall. The list of players on the field who one could build a team around was woefully short. We need senior players who can and will take responsibility for the team, the game and the ball when on the field and for sure those players can be augmented with a loan signing or two but those players pick up a tempo from the senior members of the squad. One cannot help but think that this season the converse has been true.

All of which is discussion for another time. This game was a must win – a must win – and we did not and we all know what means.

Game On

Football is great in the sun. At least it is for Bradford City fans. I think it goes back to wins over Wolves and Liverpool and the bright sun that those games were played in. When the sun comes out and spring is in the air City seem to start the good stuff.

The good stuff being Billy Paynter’s goal in the first half that gave the Bantams a life-saving 1-0 win at Brighton.

Paynter struggled all afternoon after getting clattered in the first minute and stooped in to score after Kelly Youga had heading against the bar. Moses Ashikodi ended the game on a stretcher and the fact that both City’s borrowed forwards could end up out for next week’s massive game with Layton Orient is worrying but the fact that next week means something is down to a dogged display from the Dave Wetherall men today.

Watching Young and Ashikodi and Paynter today got the mind racing to what City will be like as a team next season. We have no idea what division we will be in, who the manager will be and we don’t know if any of these guys sweating and running in claret and amber will ever set foot in Bradford again after the end of the season.

City were lucky for sure with Brighton three times pinging the bar and posts and for long periods we lacked real firepower but doggedness saw us though. Stand in outstanding midfielder Eddie Johnson take a bow after a quality performance that suggests City might have an inbuilt replacement once Marc Bridge-Wilkinson returns to Port Vale in the summer.

So games 44 and 45 of the season see the Bantams facing Leyton Orient and Chesterfield with Leyton promising a place out of the relegation zone for the winner and Chesterfield after that perhaps sending them down should results go the way. One note on the fixture list if Leyton Orient’s last day meeting with Huddersfield Town, an easy three points should Town not need them, and the fact the Londoners have to entertain to Nottingham Forest. Chesterfield have play off chasing Oldham on the last day and Northampton next week. They will see a win agianst us as crucial.

City face Leyton Orient at VP, away to Chesterfield and then finally at home to Millwall. Game is most definitely on.

Last Time On BfB…

Since we last talked, dear reader, things have not gone well at Valley Parade.

You may recall this website being dubbed “pro-Todd” and in the months of our absence he was fired from the club one Monday morning for suggesting to the chairman that he may leave in the Summer. Todd’s replacement – skipper David Wetherall – has struggled to get results and if one were to formulate the opinion that Todd’s management abilities were shown by the fact that he could get the club mid-table not shown up by that then some would not argue.

Nevertheless to suggest that Todd was some kind of miracle worker is off the mark too. It would perhaps be a miracle to get the team we have out of the division the right way and it was certainly something that the former Derby man very rarely like achieving. That Todd’s steady hand on the tiller would is missed should not be mistaken for an idea that he was over-achieving. “Thanks Colin,” we would say, “But we are going to move it on.”

Moving it on to David Wetherall has not reaped results thus far but the skipper turned gaffer is switched onto the sort of ideas that Todd may have needed to listen to. So many of the issues around managers seem to resolve about Craig Bentham or whomever is assigned to play that holding midfield role that has been a problem since Stuart McCall went south. Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Steven Schumacher need a muscle to win the ball but Bentham – as with Crooks, Kearney and other players given the number four role – never seems to be glued into position in the side and always is the first to go in the name of pressing for attacking play.

As this is the new opinion bursting full BfB then unequivocally I’ll say that there is nothing attacking about not possession and too often without Bentham or similar in the side we left with creative players chasing attackers rather than using the ball. Should Stuart McCall end up in the Bradford City job in the summer then one can only hope he knows his own position well enough to cement a ball winner in the middle of the midfield and build out from there.

McCall may or may not return in the summer when season ticket prices may or may not go down depending on the willingness of 10,000 supporters to commit to the club. The old BfB’s pressing for a price revolution is doubly underlined by this new site and Julian Rhodes should be congratulated – and hopefully rewarded – for this innovation.

To be damned are those who drove Dean Windass out of Valley Parade. Death threats to a player who got sent off is appalling, death threats to a player is appalling, death threats to a person is appalling but most appalling is the lack of condemnation for the people who drove away a player who is increasingly looking like the reason we were half way up the league.

For sure Windass may have only received two or three letters but the brickbats and booing that came before those letters set the tone. From a humanistic point of view Windass was pushed towards the door by an ill feeling towards him that was far more common – and totally unjustified – than two or three letters.

Opinions about the man and the way he plays football are valid but the abuse of Windass from a significant section of Bradford City supporters far beyond the two or three letters are tantamount to vandalism of the club and the results are manifest now Windass has gone on loan to Hull.

Of the newer signings – all loan players – Billy Paynter looks impressive and Kelly Youga is starting to be very useful. Loan football – which seems to be on the increase – is not desirable and for every Paynter or Nathan Doyle who comes to the club City end up with a decent young lad playing within his limits. Ben Parker is probably a nice guy and is a decent footballer but that we expect the same level of commitment from him as we do from our own players and I see no reason why he should be able to give it. I would much rather see our young lads given the chance to play week in week out than I would blood someone else’s youth talent. Parker will be back at Valley Parade next season no doubt but probably as a member of the team that replaces the team that they call the worst Leeds side ever so why we expect players who’s futures are so obviously separate from the club to put in the same level of commitment is beyond me.

The young lads need a chance. They need more than the odd sprinkling of games too. They need to be given runs in the side just as Joe Colbeck is being given now. Then they need the understanding that being a young player means being inconsistent and being inconsistent means sometimes having bad games and – and this is the important bit – being a fan of a particular club means supporting your players through bad games.

I’ve not got much of a problem with people booing slackers and shirkers – I doubt it really does any good because and think that booing Lee Sharpe or Nicky Summerbee for not playing hard enough just justified their appalling attitudes – but I have a big problem with people booing players who are trying hard and having a bad game and I have a big problem with people booing the kids that come through the ranks and are trying to make it work in professional football for Bradford City.

At present City face a seven game struggle to start in League One and after that God only knows. That is where we are. Let’s see what happens…

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