Gone / Parkinson

It would seem that Bolton Wanderers will confirm that Phil Parkinson is their new manager tomorrow after Bradford City’s new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp agreed to allow the long serving manager to talk to the Lancashire club.

Parkinson leaves behind him a Bradford City transformed from the struggling League Two team he inherited when they sat in 23rd position. His record of having improved the league standing of the team in each of his five finishes is impressive in itself but coupled with a League Cup final, wins over Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Sunderland and Leeds United make a case that Parkinson is the club’s most successful manager in the club’s history in terms of the resources available to him and what he achieved with them.

Parkinson built teams of iron character with players who redefined, for me, unity on a football field and his legacy will be measured in the high watermark set for players who wear the shirt from now on in terms of the effort put in and the support given to team mates.

Legacy

While it is Parkinson’s abilities to make these teams of his overcome huge obstacles that will have him remembered – giving Chelsea a two goal start is a good example – his real successes are on the nuances of manufacturing a team which rewarded effort in support with effort on the field.

But it would be wrong to say that Parkinson did not have his detractors. There were many who were concerned with his style of play and how it focused on a long delivery into the final third. There were questions about his ability to recruit players to improve the team with the summer of 2015 resulting in a lottery of players none of whom worked out. There were also concerns about his willingness to bring young players into the Bradford City first team set up which contrasted with Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims of developing talent.

Those questions will not need to be answered and Parkinson leaves Valley Parade having created a genuine symbiosis between supporters and team that becomes the next incumbents biggest asset and the now former manager’s lasting legacy.

Parkinson also achieves that rarest of things for a Bradford City manager in that he leaves on something of a high. He has not been sacked (well, only the once, and that was a few years back now), or forced into resignation, or hounded out, or told he would have not had his contract renewed, nor did the club or a majority of supporters want him to leave.

Parkinson was a good thing and – it seems – that good thing has come to an end.

Motivation

As Parkinson leaves suspicion is thrown on Rahic and Rupp as to how they could have avoided the manager’s departure and how determined they would be to have kept him. One could only guess at this but it would seem that Rahic had meetings with Parkinson and one assumes that at those meetings the two explained their approach to each other. Parkinson, one assumes, did not especially like what he heard from Rahic and decided that his career was best served elsewhere.

One can have one’s own thoughts on if Rahic should – when Parkinson told him that he wanted to carry on his career elsewhere – have told Parkinson that all the manager’s plans would trump all the owner’s decisions. While the change of ownership might have given Parkinson the pause to exit it seems unlikely that fundamental disagreements could have emerged in the space of two weeks that precipitated the exit.

Parkinson may explain his motivation but ultimately you, I, and Edin Rahic have to accept that he has made that decision and take it with good grace. That good grace to the likes of Gary Jones and Jon McLaughlin who return to Valley Parade as opposition players, rather than boos and backbiting, is another part of the Parkinson legacy and something best carried on, in my opinion at least.

Incumbent

And with Parkinson exiting thoughts turn to his successor and very quickly to Uwe Rösler who has been linked with the position since the new owners arrived although Rahic was quick to speculate that the link was created in the English press because both parties were German.

Rösler’s track record in management is not especially good enough to promote his name above any other candidates and one hopes his application is considered in that way. Linking Rösler seems to be educated guesswork as does linking Dutchman Huub Stevens.

Steve Parkin and the rest of Parkinson’s management team are expected to follow him to Bolton Wanderers and – experiences with Chris Hutchins colouring judgement – that may be the best for all.

Burton / Bolton

There was so little in the statement and interviews given by Edin Rahic on his first day as Bradford City chairman that there seemed to be a challenge to the accepted wisdom that it is always easy to be negative.

The German’s remarks ticked so many of the boxes Bradford City fans wanted ticking that they presented even the most pessimistic person a problem finding something to be unhappy about. Rahic respects the club’s traditions, is looking forward to working with Phil Parkinson, and wants to bring success a measured way.

Rahic said that he and Stefan Rupp had looked at four or five clubs and settled on City because of a alignment of aims. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Could be.

While everyone hopes Rahic and Rupp will be everything they say they will be the fact is that the Football League has welcomed these new owners with only a tick on a Fit and Proper Test which many have serious reservations over and very little else.

What have Rahic and Rupp had to do to prove they should own a big community assets in one of England’s top ten cities? What did Massimo Cellino have to do to show he should own Leeds United? What did Ken Bates have to prove? Very little.

And this is not a comparison between Rahic and Rupp and those two brigands just a realisation of the lack of protection afforded supporters as they watched the process of the club being sold. A recognition that the level of regulation in English football around clubs is so scant as to be virtually non-existent.

The Football League has made some movement in the past decade to regulating the owners of clubs – a response perhaps to the “never again” moment of Milton Keynes – but still it is an under-regulated body with members who like to keep regulation loose.

Even though many clubs struggle, many are run by directors who are using the under-regulated environment to take a few chances with their club’s futures.

City will face Bolton Wanderers – recently of the Premier League – in League One next season. League One is littered with clubs – clubs like Bolton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic, and for that matter City – who have gambled and lost.

Bolton Wanderers were £172.9m in debt at the end of 2015 having fallen from the Premier League and seemingly had no method of dealing with the decline. I cannot say why no one at Bolton arrested this financial situation sooner but I feel sure that it is uncontroversial to say that there is something wrong with a system where a club can spend that much money unchecked.

Another former Premier League club Charlton Athletic are run in a way that scares the Football League to an extent that they fear their supporters protesting the Championship presentation. Blackpool have exited League One downwards with their fans practically at war with the the people who run it.

When the likes of Burton Albion – the new Crewe if you will – reach the second tier of English football seemingly just by being persistently sensible in a sea of insanity you might wonder if Rahic and Rupp wanted an English club because all you need to get on is an ounce of good business planning.

Burton Albion, AFC Bournemouth, even Leicester City all have some money behind them but they are mostly characterised by sensible management. Contrast that with Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Leeds United, Bolton Wanderers, Charlton and on and on.

Nevertheless there is little appetite in football for any type of regulation which might stand in the way of clubs being run exactly how clubs wish to be run.

The hope for supporters is that it is run like a Burton and not like a Bolton.

Buying Bradford City and worrying

The deadline for Gianni Paladini’s exclusivity on a bid to buy Bradford City will expire at midnight tonight and by tomorrow morning the club could have a new owner.

Should that happen Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes and David Rhodes will leave the club – taking the rest of the current board with them – and be replaced by Paladini and his friends who seem to include a number of the London mega-rich. The numbers water the eyes: £10m for players, more for wages, and Valley Parade bought back.

But there is worry.

…be happy

Any change of ownership brings a worry for the supporters of a football club with good reason. David Moores – the owner of Liverpool during good times at Anfield – was only prepared to sell the club to people he could trust but ended up saying of “I hugely regret selling the club to George Gillett and Tom Hicks.” The recent history of Manchester United is the story of an aggressive takeover making the supporters pay for someone else to own the club.

At the other end of the spectrum at York City John Batchelor was happy to attempt to strip any asset he could from that club. He died aged 51 and his epitaph was his frank statement “I fuck businesses, its what I do.”

The annuals of football club ownership since the 1980s are the story of opportunists taking what they can from clubs like ours. Like the generally held view that all politicians lie, all football club chairmen are out to rip off the fans. While it is cynical to admit it people who want to buy football clubs are considered guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.

The third way

There is an alternative of course and it is one that was briefly considered during Administration in 2004. Supporter owned clubs are some of the success stories of the modern game. FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City. Stupid names but stories of the sort of community commitment that we would all can only dream of at Valley Parade.

Restarting Bradford City as a community club at the bottom of the pyramid did not happen but Julian Rhodes pulled the club out of administration promising that the fans would be at the heart of the relaunched Bantams as a kind of middle ground. This manifested itself in a season ticket pricing policy. More on that later.

That third way of fan ownership exists for the clubs most abused. If City could not have been saved as a business in 2004 then an AFC Bradford City would no doubt have sprung up. It is always the final censure for anyone looking to buy a club.

End of aside.

What to worry about

There are worries about what Paladini would do at the club – worries caused in no small part by the film Four Year Plan – and how he will fund what he does and the reason that he does it. We – the Bradford City community – need to listen hard to what is said and not be distracted by the promise like £10m on players.

The sleight of hand that focuses the eyes on the field while distracting the mind as money is taken from the club is the realism of modern football. The Glazers did this at the biggest club in the UK. It happened in 1999 when Bradford City went into the Premier League and (approx.) £9m were taken out in dividends by the Directors.

One of those Directors was – of course – Julian Rhodes who has since ploughed money back into Bradford City. He was also on the board when one of the board members sold the club’s biggest asset (Valley Parade) to his own Pension Fund.

The price Valley Parade was sold for – considering the rent paid by the club to play there – was an amazing deal for the then chairman Gordon Gibb. Ostensibly this was a deal done to “save the club” but the club was not saved and less than eight months later the business failed.

Anyone can understand the worries that a new chairman and a new board could work against the interests of the club as an institution and of supporter but many of those worries have been manifested at the club in the last few years.

Mark Lawn loaned the club money at a nine per cent interest rate above the Bank of England base rate. The board then sanctioned that money to be spent on what could best be described as player gambles. Large wage budgets for Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor (remember the phrase “push the boat out”) which the board acknowledged it could not sustain and resulted in teams being built and ripped up in the space of weeks were the board’s way of showing ambition but they could never be described as being necessary spending as evidenced by how the club finally found promotion when the budget had been reduced.

That is a point worth recalling. Bradford City did not need the money which it borrowed from Mark Lawn to stay in business, it borrowed it to try improve the business with promotion. Mark Lawn did not “save the club” as he seems to be credited with. Without him the club would have had less money to spend on players but still would have had a larger wage bill than many others in the League Two we took part in.

The boardroom borrowed money – from one of its members, and at a great rate – to take gambles on winning promotion that failed only to pay that money back later from the club’s winnings on the field from Wembley 2013.

And I’m not complaining about that but what I am saying is that if Paladini were to arrive at Valley Parade tomorrow saying the he would lend Bradford City £10m to pay for players and he would take it and more back when the money rolled in he would probably be viewed as an opportunist looking to make what he can and gambling with the club’s future.

You either believe that situation is risking the club’s future, or it is ambitious football business, but it would be the same for both and not different because as far as we know Paladini does not have a Bantams tattoo.

Not worried about

This is what I am not worried about.

I’m not worried that he will rename the club and change the colours because Vincent Tan did. I’m not worried he will try change the name of the club because Assem Allam did. I’m not worried that Paladini will do what Massimo Cellino has done at Leeds. I’m not worried that he will do what Francesco Becchetti has done at Leyton Orient.

Do we assume that Paladini will turn up to board meetings drunk, or high, or boasting about which of the club staff he is having an affair with which are all things which English chairmen at the 92 clubs have done.

We don’t assume he will threatening legal action against you own clubs fans. Or be banned from driving for being drunk. Or cheer the opposition during games. Or call the team rubbish to their faces. Or call them a waste of money. Or racially abuse one of his own team’s players. We don’t assume he will do any of these transgressions which were all done by English chairmen of Football League clubs and we do not read concerned articles worrying that a new owner at Valley Parade is liable to do them.

Too much of the debate about Gianni Paladini is framed in a context of his nationality with unpleasant undertones. When you start suggesting that Paladini will want to change the the club name or colours you probably need to ask yourself good questions about why you made that comparison.

We continue

The Rhodes commitment to supporters as seen in the low season ticket prices has been held over fans frequently as being on the verge of ending rather than being enshrined as part of the club putting the fans first. The weekend when Mark Lawn decided, then changed his mind on the club being put into administration following his car being damaged. Allowing the Valley Parade pitch to get into such a poor condition that it is laughed at by other teams managers. The much talked about ban on The City Gent from Valley Parade. This week’s unveiling of a new shirt which was not Claret and Amber stripes.

I’ve heard arguments about all these points: the finances dictate prices, why not wind up the club if your car is vandalised, its not our fault the pitch it bad, the City Gent should be supportive or what is the point of it, Nike control the shirt design; and you can decide for yourself how valid those defences are but as you do imagine if they were not coming from the “proper Yorkshireman” and others on the current board, but from Paladini, and how reactions would differ.

My point is that we should worry about that Mr Paladini might act in ways which are against the best interests of the Bradford City community, just as I believe we should worry more about what the current board do, and I should have worried more about what Geoffrey Richmond’s board was doing back when I started BfB back in 1998.

I am worried about what will happen to the club in the future if it is taken over, but I am worried about what will happen to it if it is not. The Football Association and the Football League have singularly failed to do anything to control the owners of football clubs. Most of the time most of the chairmen in football act in their interests and not in the club’s interest.

I’m worried about that.

Parkinson’s success is seen in the shifting of the Overton Window when Bradford City beat Doncaster Rovers 3-0

The Overton window in politics

In political theory, the Overton window is the range of ideas the public will accept. According to the theory, an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.Overton Window, Joseph P. Overton

It is commonly held, and held for good reason, that the current and previous incarnation of The Labour Party (Miliband and Blair) are substantially to the right of the 1970s (Wilson) party and that the current Conservative policies are also massively to the right of where they could have been in the same decade. 1971’s Industry Relations Act from Ted Heath would put him left of current Labour thinking.

The Overton window is defined – broadly speaking – by the left and right of what the public will accept and so the two parties stand glaring across it. The window was dragged significantly to the right under Thatcher and so Heath would be out of step with modern Tories just as Blair would be out of step in the 1970s Labour movement. The left and right are relative to a centre which is defined by the greater populous.

James Hanson, predictable

Which seems to have very little to do with a Friday night in Doncaster and Bradford City wandering into the dressing room at half time scoreless against a Rovers side who – like Chesterfield on Tuesday night – looked very similar to the Bantams in approach and effort.

First half blows had been exchanged – weakly perhaps – and once again City seemed to be playing a game on a knife edge. Gary MacKenzie’s slip on Tuesday night had decided the Chesterfield game in the visitors favour and something similar would decide this game, or so it seemed.

Which was the frame of reference that a grumble about the predictability of City’s approach of hitting the ball to James Hanson came about. The speaker thought City needed to “get rid” of the man 442 had called the 45th best player outside the Premier League and one could waste ink on the denotation of this rather than its connotation: that City needed something to tip the knife edge in their favour.

Hanson was policed all evening by a Doncaster Rovers backline who know the striker’s threat and did what they could to respond to it. After forty five minutes they would have been pleased with their attentions – not so after ninety – but the instinct of City fans that the Bantams needed to add something less predictable alongside the thrust of James Hanson was telling.

At this stage of the season four years ago there was (needless, in my opinion) talk of City falling out of the League because of Peter Taylor’s management and Peter Jackson’s arrival was seen as something of a saving grace. Taylor’s team were never in danger of relegation and so any credit to Jackson for “saving” a club that was not in trouble is – in my opinion – misplaced but he is given that credit in wider public opinion.

The Overton window in football

Manchester City almost finished in the UEFA Cup places in 2005. At the time it was high drama in the Premier League. David James – goalkeeper – went up field to try seal this amazing achievement for the Blue side of Manchester but it was not to be. In the end Manchester City reflected on a good season but finished 8th.

A similar finish for Manchester City now would be cause for alarm. The ownership of the club – through Khaldoon Al Mubarak – has changed what the populous believe Manchester City should be achieving significantly. When winning the Premier League last season the reaction was muted – or so it seemed – because of failures in the Champions League.

The Overton window in football for Manchester City has shifted as a result of the massive investment in the club.

The same can be said for Chelsea who played league games at Valley Parade in the 1980s but now measure their success by European Trophies and Premier Leagues. It can be said to have shifted down for Newcastle United who go into a derby game with Sunderland hoping for local bragging rights and a secure Premier League finish as a return for a club that twenty years ago believed they would win the League. Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club has – in the minds of fans and the rest of football – made sure that ambitions should be limited and so they are limited to a window of achievement which is shifted downwards since the Keegan era.

It can be said for Blackpool who – when the North of England used to holiday there in the 1950s – were a team capable of winning trophies but as overseas holidays took business the Overton window for football slide down and down to a point where the team who had the Greatest Footballer ever (some say, Matthews himself thought Tom Finney was better) are now amazed to have had a year in the top division.

Four years ago the Overton window in football at Bradford City had shifted down to a point where relegation from the Football League was feared and the idea of promotion from League Two was considered to be all but unreachable. “My main aim next season is to play attractive football, but winning football as well” said Jackson, “I can build for the future.”

Something changed

What words were said at half time by Phil Parkinson at Doncaster Rovers we will not know but the outcome was incredible. In the second half the Bantams were yards ahead of the side that has matched them stride for stride in the opening forty five minutes. Gary McKenzie’s opener came from a scramble on the far post following a corner, and a cross in, but it was the result of pressure following half time that did not relent.

Hanson, tireless, chased down defenders all evening and in the centre of midfield Billy Knott and Gary Liddle stopped the home side having time on the ball. Indeed Knott – coming up against one time favourite of this Parish Dean Furman – can be pleased with his best performance in a two man midfield for City so far. His tendency to go missing went missing and Knott manifested his progress over the season in the display. Liddle battled through and Filipe Morais’ control of possession in the home side’s half showed what had been missing in recent weeks.

Hanson ran defenders down and made room for Billy Clarke to add a second. Tony McMahon got a third – his first for the club – filling in at left wing for Mark Yeates who felt his shoulder pop out ungraciously in front of the visiting supporters. McMahon seems ready to play anywhere for City just to be at City and that attitude is probably worth noting.

McMahon’s goal – picking up on a slip by Reece Wabara – completed a fine enough evening that Phil Parkinson walked the length of the away supporters to give thanks to those who had come down from Bradford. The scenes seemed as unlikely an hour previous as they would have done four years ago.

Which is Parkinson’s success at Bradford City and one which is not dependent on promotion being achieved this year although this result increases the chances of that. The shift in the Overton window in football upwards for Bradford City has it that City should be thinking in terms of a Championship side and thinking about how to win games against teams like Doncaster Rovers who have just exited that level. How can we win the game on the knife edge to chase a place in the Championship? It was not a question we asked four years ago.

And while Manchester City and Chelsea are foremost in clubs who have shifted their windows up through investment – and clubs like AFC Bournemouth, Hull City and others have had smaller investments and smaller shifts – most of the time when the Overton window for football shifts it is because of money coming in or (Blackpool, Newcastle United, Leeds United, Portsmouth) going out in City’s case it has been achieved on the field, with the same scale of resources, and no sudden injections of funds. In fact City have paid back investment in the last four years.

Which is truly remarkable. With the same resources (less, arguably) which were considered only good enough for playing “good football” at the bottom of League Two Phil Parkinson is measured against Bradford City’s ability to be promoted to The Championship.

Now that is success.

A victorious night for Bradford City in all but result

With five minutes to go in this 1st Round League Cup tie, all seemed as it usually is whenever this derby fixture takes place. Leeds United were winning, thanks to a slightly fortuitous goal, and looking very comfortable in holding on, as their fans chanted about hating Man United to prove their indifference to us. Bradford City’s players were still giving their all but looking beaten, while we vociferous away fans were beginning to quieten and face up to defeat.

Yet for 70 game minutes and a memorable half time interval this evening, it seemed as though the world of West Yorkshire football was experiencing an almighty earthquake in its status quo; and that, even when the after shocks would have died down, things would have never quite be the same again.

This was an extraordinary night for City. Up against their more illustrious neighbours who sit two divisions above, they twice roared into a lead to threaten a cup upset in front of 17,000 supporters and a national TV audience. Up until Ramon Nunuez fired home a Leeds winner with 15 minutes to play, it would be difficult for anyone to dispute that the Bantams had been the better side. After such a dismal showing against Aldershot last Saturday, the best we could realistically have hoped for in this game was a respectable performance in defeat. We got so much more from the players, which overshadowed the pain of another Leeds defeat.

It was evening that will not be quickly forgotten. When Mark Stewart darted into Leeds’ penalty area and past three defenders 31 minutes into the tie, years of disappointment left you glumly expecting his cut back to fall just out of reach for the onrushing Jack Compton and so be cleared. Yet Compton got their first, lifting the ball effortlessly into the back of the net in front of the Leeds Kop – thus sparking delirium.

For a second we froze, not quite daring to believe it had happened. And then, unreserved jubilation; cheering at the top of your voice and lots and lots of jumping up and down while hugging anyone and everyone.

The feeling of happiness was overpowering – we are leading Leeds United at Elland Road. And no matter what was to happen for the rest of the evening, we’d just enjoyed unadulterated pleasure that no one could take away from us. This may not be on a level with promotion or Liverpool in 2000, but it was genuinely one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve ever experienced following City.

And incredibly we got to do it again. Leeds had woken from their inexplicable first half slumber with an equaliser a minute into the second half; but rather than implode City just continued to play with astonishing self-assurance and guile. Michael Flynn was picked out by the outstanding Robbie Threlfall, before charging into the box and striking the ball powerfully into the top corner. This time it was right in front of us, but still the one-second pause to make sure our eyes aren’t fooling us was required. The celebrations seemed even more manic, and when I began to regain self-awareness of where I was I realised my non-stop hugging and dancing with strangers had left me half way down the gangway and a few rows from my seat.

That City went onto lose the game in many ways didn’t really matter. We’d given Leeds United an almighty scare. We’d experienced two unforgettable moments of sheer ecstasy. We’d played with so much courage and commitment that our prospects in League Two this season now seem so much healthier.

Sure, actually winning the game would have topped it all off empathically. But what a bloody amazing night.

A night where it was impossible not to feel a huge surge of pride in being a Bradford City supporter. 4,100 of us ventured into Elland Road, and the passion and energy put into backing the team through constant chanting and cheering is what the football supporting brochure advertises but rarely delivers. The atmosphere was electric, and – it must be noted – so much more enjoyable than our last meeting with Leeds three years ago.

On that occasion, there seemed to be a greater sense of entitlement that we should be capable of beating Leeds, which led to the usual moaning about players and positive backing evaporating when an early goal was conceded. As for the chanting in that game, so much of it was about expressing our hatred of Leeds that it felt more a sideshow than genuinely fun.

Anti-Leeds chants were aired at times tonight, but overall the choice of songs was all about our love for Bradford City and in support of our players. The volume and regularity of the chanting was outstanding, and all around me at least it seemed no one was unwilling to join in stretching their lungs. Much more productive than wasting our energy moaning and booing.

The response from the players told its own story. Lining up in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation that saw Stewart moved to the right flank and Chris Mitchell allowed to play in a more natural central role, the Bantams took the game to Leeds in a display carrying genuine attacking threat that, for the first 20 minutes, saw all the chances occur at one end. Flynn and Stewart fired in a couple of shots each which flew wide of the target, while David Syers continued where he left off on Saturday in linking up the midfield and attack with intelligent running and passing.

At the back Steve Williams’ return added a much greater level of assurance, with Guy Branston alongside him producing the kind of committed performance he’s loudly promised to contribute and Liam Moore looking anything but the novice his age and experience suggest he should be. With new keeper Oscar Jansson looking reliable, a solid base worked well in sniffing out a lightweight Leeds attack and helping the team get forward.

Cue Crompton – in much better form tonight – scoring in front of the Kop and the bedlam in the away end. Leeds attacked with more purpose as the half wore on, but at half time the mood of excitement among supporters on the concourse had reached uncontrollable levels – it reminded me of Wolves in 1999. Just 45 minutes to hold on for a result we’ll never forget.

Sadly the dream was punctured by Nunez producing a curling shot that flew into the net a minute into the second half. But when Crompton fired narrowly wide two minutes later and then Syers robbed the ball from Paul Connelly and raced into the box, shooting just past the post, it was clear this City team is made of sterner stuff than others who have worn claret and amber in recent years. James Hanson was a constant menace all night, and his clever off the ball running helped Flynn find the space to make it 2-1 on 57 minutes. The dream was back on.

Perhaps if referee Colin Webster had awarded a penalty when Hanson seemed to be tripped in the box by Patrick Kisnorbo it would have been game over. Perhaps if David Syers hadn’t collided badly with Andrew Lonergan – causing Peter Jackson to have to replace him with Ritchie Jones – City would have remained more solid. As it was, Ross McCormack headed home a second equaliser on 70 minutes when he was left unmarked in the box. Five minutes later, a loose ball took a deflection off Branston, presenting Nunez with a tap in for 3-2. 15 minutes to play, but it felt like game over.

Leeds finally took control and could easily have scored a couple more, but that would have been harsh on a City side who kept fighting but struggled to rediscover their earlier dominance. Nialle Rodney and Ross Hannah were brought on, but neither really got into the game. Deep into five minutes of stoppage time, a half volley chance for Hannah ended with a tame shot easily saved. The final whistle quickly followed.

No boos from City fans when it did. No significant grumbles about the effort and application. Only warm appreciation and proud cheering as the players came over to applaud back. “Why can’t we perform like that in the league?” is a pertinent challenge that it’s hoped the players will respond to in the right way. But with the disbelief of the half time booing on Saturday still a hot topic, thar challenge is one to also be directed at us supporters.

Tonight everyone connected with the club was united in support of the same cause, and it’s gratifying to note just how much was achieved from it. If we could all replicate such admirable efforts towards the bread and butter stuff, the season will surely prove to be more rewarding. Perhaps, like tonight, the club won’t quite accomplish as much as we’d like this season, but surely we will have more fun along the way.

Our footballing world had returned to sobering normality by the end of this game; yet for 70 game minutes and a memorable half time interval this evening, we proven that we have the collective ability to truly shake things up for the better going forwards.

The value of local bragging rights

Consider – if you will – Burnley and Burton Albion. Two clubs which have not much to link them other than the fact that they finished the place below Leeds United and Bradford City in their respective leagues last season. Burnley nudged in behind Leeds in 8th in the Championship while Burton wound up just behind the Bantams in the lower reaches of League Two.

Cast your mind forward five years and can one imagine Burton (or a team in a similar position) playing against Burnley in second tier game? The Championship has the likes of Peterborough United, Hull City and Doncaster Rovers in it showing a kind of movement between the leagues which suggests that the likes of Burton playing Burnley has a likelihood to it. Teams like Swansea City and Blackpool have battled – and won – for the play off places which Burnley aim for. Burton are not the close to Burnley, but they are in sight of each other albeit from distance.

In five years time could one imagine Burnley battling with Manchester United for the Premier League title and Champions League? Even with unprecedented investment Manchester City have not been capable of doing that (thus far) and more and more the top of European football where Manchester United reside recedes away from the rest of the game where the likes of Burton and Burnley play. In the world of Oil wealth and Oligarchs the chance of Burnley battling with Manchester United is minuscule.

For sure it would only take a promotion for the Clarets to enjoy the odd game against The Red Devils but that is a long way from competing at the same level which – in the case of Manchester United – would include a top for finish to qualify for the Champions League. The idea of a Burnley/Manchester United Champions League match seems far less likely than a Burton Albion/Burnley play-off game.

Which is to say that Burton Albion are closer to Burnley than Burnley are to Manchester United and by extension that when one considers the idea that Leeds United and their supporters are not concerned with the rivalry with Bradford City because they consider Manchester United to be their peers then one must wonder why they are so keen to be in a contest in which they are so massively the junior partner.

No win, no lose

Of course two years ago Leeds United supporters were celebrating beating Manchester United at Old Trafford – a 1-0 victory in the third round of the FA Cup – but there was no shifting of the tides as a result of that. Leeds went on to promotion, Manchester United console themselves with a record number of league titles. Were City to record a similar win at Elland Road then one doubts too that there would be a reform of West Yorkshire football recognised, but it would be fun. Likewise were City to be defeated then having lost to the team that finished 7th in the Championship is merely an “as expected” in what is on paper one of the most mis-matched ties possible. When it came out of the bag this was 27th in the ladder plays 86th.

In fact it is hard to imagine any situation in which this game can go against the Bantams. The money generated from the gate receipts and the SKY TV coverage funded City’s first six figure bid for a player.

A win and everyone in claret and amber is happy for a time but this time last season City beat a team who finished higher in the league than Leeds – Nottingham Forest but in no way was it a springboard to anything bigger or better and it has no impact on the league form at all, nor did it matter after a month of the season when results faultered.

A draw and resulting penalties offers no shame and a defeat is softened by the estimated £200,000 which goes a long way in League Two. Even if the season gutting 4-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town was equalled then it would be set in a different context. The club is following a plan in which talk of promotion is gone and replaced with Archie Christie setting City as a University for 18-21 year olds looking to learn football. Nothing that happens in the first week of that could change that but the money goes a way to funding it.

Why don’t we all just, get along?

And perhaps that is where I divert from much of the build up to this West Yorkshire derby in which there taunting talk is of Cup Finals and opening day defeats because – to be honest – I find much of the local rivalry of football counter-productive. If we generously exclude the horrors of the 1980s on the grounds that we should all condemn the sort of morons who burn chip vans, riot around the South Coast and generally disgrace their club (and my county and country) and focus instead on the football clubs then from West Yorkshire to the West Country all local rivalry in football does is to distract. While Derby and Forest, Bristols City and Rovers, and Leeds and whomever they feel are falling out then the higher echelons of the game carry on trying to kick the ladder away.

Squabble about who is kings of West Yorkshire all you want, it makes little difference should Manchester City’s Executive Garry Cook’s plan for a ten team Premier League with no relegation come about. Rather than the 72 football league clubs standing as one against this sort of perversion of football there is argument, and there is weakness.

Moreover though I personally find the West Yorkshire derby to be a tedious affair. The games are interesting or course but almost everything around it is not. Try strike up a conversation with another supporter and not have it follow a familiar pattern that involves the words “chip van”. Sadly talking about Leeds United is talking about the racism of the 1980s, the violence and death caused by the infamous, disgusting subset of their supporters, about the equally loathsome subset that sing songs about the fire of 1985. Who wants to discuss such things? Who wants to discuss them with someone who would not condemn them outright?

The end of the season

It look ninety minutes of Saturday’s football for some supporters of both these clubs to declare the season over. The first half display which allowed Aldershot Town to best City and with ten minutes left on the clock and three goals conceded at Southampton you could find a good few Leeds fans on social networks saying that relegation was probably unless Ken Bates left and took his Yes Man (former Bantam and current Leeds manager Simon Grayson) with him. Bates apparently needs to spend some money or get out of Elland Road. Of course Bates has just bought Leeds having taken control of the club from someone who we shall call Ben Kates, who is almost definately absolutely not Ken Bates.

It might be interesting to see how the Leeds supporters – watching a team robbed of Max Gradel to a call up for Côte d’Ivoire and featuring the unimpressive (although I thought he had his charms) former City man Billy Paynter in the forward line – would react to choppy seas in the game but the same is true of City fans with talk of scrapping in the main stand within thirty minutes in an argument about manager Peter Jackson.

Jackson once scored in a thrilling 3-3 draw at Elland Road for City – his best contribution in his second spell at City – and was the subject of a rather amusing rumour that he was in fact a Leeds United supporter. A blood sample would show if his loyalties are East or Pudsey or not.

Jackson’s team is expected to feature a new keeper with Jon McLauglin recovering from illness and Martin Hansen not allowed to play by parent club Liverpool. Spurs man Oscar Jansson has taken up the gloves. The twenty year old Swede arrives at the club on loan from Spursbut coming into the West Yorkshire derby as a late replacement keeper does not bode well. Neville Southall and all.

At right back Liam Moore – another loanee – may also sit the game out giving Jackson the chance to move Chris Mitchell back to right back the position he seemed to end up trying to play on Saturday. Mitchell’s delivery is impressive to say the least and one can expect a place to be found for him in the side. At left back Robbie Threlfall is expected to continue but with Luke O’Brien reported move to Preston North End for £50,000 being but a rumour there is a question as to how the former Liverpool man went from nowhere to the first team so quickly.

Steve Williams will hope to be fit to play alongside Guy Branston but Lee Bullock will stand by to replace him once again.

Jackson is expected to keep faith with the shape his midfield which improved towards the end of the game with Aldershot with Michael Flynn in the middle although if Mitchell moved back then Richie Jones – fitness willing – may look to come into the middle moving David Syers out to the right. Failing that Dominic Rowe may make his first start of the season on the right. Jack Compton is expected to feature on the left supporting Mark Stewart and James Hanson who will test themselves against the fine man marking of former Bantam Andrew O’Brien and the, ahem, robust Patrick Kisnorbo. Stewart was unhappy with his first display for City on Saturday and has a tough night against O’Brien, Hanson deserved to be pleased with his goal scoring opening day and Kisnorbo represents a similar tough test to the six strong men of Aldershot faced on Saturday.

The game is the first of three away trips the Bantams have before returning to Valley Parade on the 20th to face Dagenham & Redbridge while anything that Leeds could gain with a result on this night would be lost should a defeat follow in the league to Middlesbrough on Saturday. A place in the second round of the league cup has some value, and so do local bragging rights, although it is not clear what those values are.

Bradford City drawn against some team East of Pudsey in the Carling Cup

The draw for the 1st Round of the Carling Cup has seen Bradford City handed a mouth-watering derby against some team who play in a nearby city 10 miles away – which will probably see some 5,000+ Bantams fans crossing the Pudsey border to roar on their team.

The game, to be played w/c 8 August and very possibly one selected for live Sky coverage, is one City manager Peter Jackson will especially relish given his time playing for the club in West Yorkshire derbies during the 1980s. The manager of the other lot, Simon Grayson, will probably also enjoy facing a team he played on loan for a decade ago. Living in the next village from me, near Skipton, Grayson will no doubt get a strong flavour of what the game means to some people in the build up to the tie.

Much has been said of the rivalry between the two sets of supporters – indeed, if I may, I will refer you to my article and reader comments last November, which talked about how both sides view the other. It is a rivalry sadly devoid of humour on both sides and the prospect of trouble is high, but it will still be a great experience to be part of a huge travelling support and to be cheering on our players as underdogs.

What else is there to say right now? I can’t wait.

Here comes Crawley Town

Wes Thomas’ 18 goals for League Two Cheltenham Town last season understandably made him a man in demand. But rather than moving up the football pyramid, the 24-year-old has joined the league’s newest and most inexperienced club.

Crawley Town, promoted from the Blue Square Premier last season, have beaten off interest from other clubs – not to mention Cheltenham’s own hopes of retaining a striker they had rescued from non-league after a less than impressive time at Dagenham – to land Thomas. And while this may be largely considered unremarkable, the comments from Cheltenham chairman Paul Baker should be of concern to the other 22 clubs in next season’s League Two:

I’ve heard the package he’s on and he wouldn’t get that at a lot of clubs in League One, it’s staggering. It shows the money someone is putting in at Crawley to sustain the wage bill. They’re not doing it on gates.”

The rise of Crawley was well publicised last season during their extraordinary FA Cup run which was only ended in the fifth round, following a commendable performance in losing 1-0 at Manchester United. They earned promotion with a stunning 105 points – only losing three games all season, the last of which was on the 16th October 2010 – and in the FA Cup defeated League One Swindon, Championship Derby and League Two Torquay on route to Old Trafford.

More notable, however, is their financial strength that led to such remarkable results. Some £600k was apparently spent on transfer fees alone last season – astonishing for the Conference, and last season was a higher spend than all of the League Two clubs combined – while the aftermath of Derby’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat saw Rams manager Nigel Clough reveal some of his players were on lower wages than some of the Crawley players. True, Derby’s efforts to trim their sizeable wage bill will have caused them to pay very low wages for new signings, but it is still a startling fact that a club then-three divisions lower had greater financial capability.

For next season’s League Two campaign, the consequences of Crawley’s continuing high spending are becoming clear. Crawley are not just widely considered favourites for promotion, but in one bookie’s eyes ODDS ON favourites to climb straight into League One. Over the last few years, recently promoted teams into the Football League – with nothing like the resources Crawley enjoy – have had little trouble ascending into England’s third tier. It would seem the type of forwards momentum exhibited by the likes of Exeter and Stevenage will be replicated at the Broadfield Stadium next season.

The big question is how fair that is on the rest of League Two – just as whether Crawley’s spending was fair on Conference clubs last season. As Cheltenham’s Baker said, it’s not being achieved on their gates (average 2,535 last season, while the Robins’ – who couldn’t match the wages Town offered for Thomas – averaged 2,980).

The actual source of Crawley’s financial support has not been disclosed to date, with the financial backers brought to the club by late chairman Bruce Winfield wishing to remain anonymous. Before these backers arrived Crawley, who had suffered significant financial problems for many seasons, were said to be losing £400,000 a year. To go from this to suddenly spending £600k on players such as City’s Scott Neilson – not to mention the wages being paid for persuading talented players like Sergio Torres to step down to non-league – should be considered troubling.

Crawley’s owners may have perfectly good reasons for remaining anonymous, and there is no evidence to suggest the club or their backers are acting illegally, but the mystery surrounding the ownership issue is not good for the wider game.

And it makes for an interesting test for the Football League. The comparisons between Crawley’s financial might next season and Notts County in 2009/10 are obvious. County, bought by the enigmatic Munto Finance, spent unprecedented sums of money at this level to build a squad that eventually won the division at a canter. In County’s case, however, it was all part of an epic swindle that almost ended with the club collapsing.

The validity of the promotion they achieved is still hugely questionable, and for the rest of League Two the distorting affects it had on that season are still felt today. Fourth-placed Morecambe, for example, might feel a sense of injustice that they missed out on promotion to a club who were bending the rules. The 5-0 defeat City suffered on the opening day immediately put Stuart McCall under pressure and set the mood for a difficult season.

Yet the Football League failed to get to grips with County at all. The fit and proper rules in place were easily bypassed by County’s owners, and their inaction almost saw the world’s oldest professional football club go out of business. Like with Crawley, the FA claimed they had seen the necessary documents from Notts County that apparently proved the fit and propeness of Munto. Equally poor has been the Football League’s failure to establish the true owners of Leeds United, and the situation was only cleared up when the Elland Road club looked to be on the brink of the Premier League but were warned they might not be allowed in it if the ownership matter remained unresolved.

As a supporter of a club entering League Two next season I want to know that there is a level playing field. After Notts County, the Football Authorities have lost the trust that they can be left to ensure that publicly hidden ownership is for the good of the game. Fair play must not only be the case, it must be seen to be the case.

There is nothing to suggest the owners of Crawley Town are as crooked as Munto Finance or acting as dubiously as Leeds chairman Ken Bates, but in the interests of fair and honest competition they surely cannot be allowed to remain annoymous while the rest of the Football League must follow the rules. If Crawley’s owners are whiter than white – and let’s hope they are – they should have nothing to fear in revealing themselves to the authorities and their own supporters.

But beyond that, this ongoing situation of football clubs living beyond their means is not one to be encouraged. Crawley, like many other clubs in England, most notably Chelsea, apparently do not operate in a self-sustainable way; meaning they are at the whims of the investors and will be left in an almighty mess should they withdraw their backing. If it is wrong to compare Crawley to Notts County, the lessons of Gretna’s rise up the Scottish leagues and subsequent demise should be noted by all.

Crawley’s summer spending isn’t going to end with Thomas, and come August it looks likely they will have built a squad good enough to romp League Two. It doesn’t seem fair and, as long as the sources of their financial capabilities remains anonymous, there will be those crying foul over their approach and many others hoping it all comes tumbling down for probably the least welcome Football League newcomers of all time.

What is a derby match as Leeds United argue they have no local rivals

In the Championship on Tuesday evening, a club recently promoted from League One entertained a side recently relegated from the Premier League. But while it might have appeared the home fans would be excited at such an occasion, it was largely the visiting supporters who considered it a big game.

Leeds United were entertaining Hull City in what appeared to be a Yorkshire derby, with 2,500 Tigers’ supporters travelling down the M62 on a cold Tuesday evening to back their team in a 2-2 draw. The overall attendance of 24,906 was higher than Leeds’ three previous home fixtures, but indifference towards their evening’s opponents was apparently the overriding emotion from a large section of United fans.

In an attempt to represent at least part of the overall mood, an article by a Leeds fan in the matchday programme declared that Leeds United don’t have any true derbies. In the piece, the writer revealed:

Given the proximity of Hull, it would be fair to say that our visitors probably consider this game as a derby…yet from our point of view…our games against them are not what you would call derbies.

At the end of the article the writer concludes:

So do we have a proper derby match? My view is no. We have some proper rivalries, but in terms of derby matches we just don’t seem to do ’em.

The comparison between derby and rivalry is at the heart of this issue and their own chosen outlook. Leeds is in a central position of probably the largest density of football clubs in the country, with numerous Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs comfortably within an hour’s drive, so they are not short of opponents who qualify as a derby. Nor are they shy of neighbours who look upon them as rivals. We Bradford City fans, of course, have a strong disliking for our nearest league club. We’re in good company with Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers supporters joining Hull in loathing the Elland Road outfit.

But to Leeds, none of us are truly worthy of the title ‘derby match’ because we’re not considered worthy of being their rivals. Leeds United unquestionably have the most successful history of any Yorkshire club, and during the glory days were able to build up huge derbies against Manchester United and big rivalries with Liverpool and Chelsea. They’ve fallen from their top flight perch during recent years, which has caused them to face the likes of Huddersfield on a regular basis. But even the three defeats and two draws from six games against the Terriers hasn’t resulted in any significant development of a reciprocal animosity towards Town.

Back to the article, talking about potential derbies:

There are a handful of teams nearer to us than them (Manchester United, their considered rivals). In no particular order: Huddersfield, Bradford, Oldham, Bury, Rochdale, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers all come in at less miles than a trip to Old Trafford.

Of those, we’ve never played Rochdale, barely played Bury, Oldham doesn’t have that feel and neither does Huddersfield, and the South Yorkshire clubs have each other.

The simple truth is that Leeds fans continue to believe their only rightful place is among the elite – a view that an increasing number of national media pundits seem happy to encourage too – and so victories over neighbours they are ‘temporarily’ forced to slum it with remain largely hollow. This is largely understandable, it’s not as though you can turn on the tap and start hating someone that for a long time you considered yourselves above, indeed we ourselves were a few years back intensely disliked by Hull when most of us couldn’t care less about them.

But perhaps it might be worth considering the relationship of Leeds United – and specifically its supporters – in the medium term history with the rest of the clubs in Yorkshire and beyond. The hooliganism problems of Leeds United have been detailed at length elsewhere but suffice to say that much of the antipathy towards Elland Road has a basis in the violence of the 1980s. City centres boarded up, riots at ground, the infamous scenes of Odsal. That the antipathy is not historically reciprocal is perhaps reflective of the fact that that violence was not, or at least was not to the same extent.

So what about us?

That leaves Bradford City as our only real derby candidates. Situated less than 10 miles away and knowing their fans dislike of everything connected with ourselves – their fanzine onece produced a “Super Leeds” special containing only blank pages – it would seem that our occasional games against the Bantams are the closest we come to a proper Yorkshire derby.

Yet, even still, that’s hard to grasp. Aside from a handful of meetings in the late ’80s and a couple in the Premiership, we have never played each other enough to generate a proper rivalry. I dare say that on that basis we could share the same “rivalry” with Guiseley or Farsley.

Hmm…consider ourselves well and truly put down.

Which leaves the Bradford City-Leeds rivalry looking extremely one-sided. Over the years I’ve had numerous Leeds-supporting friends tell me that City fans are petty and jealous-minded for disliking Leeds United, and how they couldn’t care less about the Bantams. Indeed many Leeds fans also have season tickets at Valley Parade, and City have a long-standing agreement that home games don’t clash with the days Leeds are at Elland Road. Throw in the lack of times the two clubs share a division, and you and I are often lectured to “get a life.”

But at the same time the behaviour of some Leeds supporters towards City suggests not all of them feel indifferent. Aside from the trouble at Odsal in 1988, witness the ugly scenes before, during and after the first ever Premier League meeting at Valley Parade between the two clubs in 2000; where at the height of the Lee Bowyer-Jonathan Woodgate trial, certain good citizens of Bradford were singled out for abuse and, allegedly, violence. Or what about the JPT tie at Elland Road in 2008, when a bus containing City fans was attacked by Leeds followers?

Elements of their support are also known to semi-reguarly chant about the Bradford Fire. A Leeds-supporting friend told me that, on the day City marked the 25th anniversary of the tragedy with a home game against Northampton that saw BBC Football Focus in attendance, the coach load of Leeds fans he travelled back from their game at Charlton with included renditions of that horrific song.

If any of these incidents were due to a derby rivalry they would still be emphatically wrong. But if these are the actions from a minority of a club’s supporters, let us be thankful their majority do not consider us serious derby rivals. It would only encourage such morons even more.

Football derbies can be an ugly and over the top thing, but in a sport that is all about beating others to triumph they can also add positivity and colour. As a football fan you want your team to be the best, and that especially includes getting one over teams who you know supporters of. Victories over Huddersfield will always mean more than wins over Watford, similarly the pain of losing to Burnley – round Skipton way at least – is more unbearable than a defeat to Nottingham Forest. Football supporting is all about enjoying the highs and coping with the lows, and if those highs cause lows to your mate or your uncle or your boss at work they are that bit sweeter.

Above all though, derby rivalries give more depth to football and something to aim for. Only three or four teams can be promoted from a division each season, only one team can win the FA Cup. Finishing 11th in a division might be disappointing, but if your neighbours finished 12th and you beat them on their own patch or in the cup there’s a significantly greater degree of pride to take. In 2005, for example, Premier League Blackburn’s FA Cup win over Championship Burnley was ranked by Rovers supporters as the highlight of the season.

In the world of Bradford City, Leeds United are an evil and obnoxious presence while we are the good guys. That may seem unfair and unjust, but it adds a greater level of purpose and provides us something to strive for – beating the dark side, eventually. Their failings offer light relief when we’re feeling blue over our own. It should never distract from the thing that ultimately matters – our own team. And in all my time supporting City I’ve never met a fellow fan who would consider Leeds losing to be anywhere near as important to City succeeding. There’s a sense of perspective at all times, but along with Huddersfield it’s still an important rivalry to us.

Jealousy? Not at who they are, and certainly not at what they want to become. I lived in Sunderland for three years and saw first-hand the intensity of the rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle – and I feel jealous that we don’t have a derby as passionate. Huddersfield for sure is a great rivalry and I hate them more than I dislike Leeds, but personally I don’t know a single Town fan so to me it isn’t quite the same. When I saw a Newcastle fan crying because his team had lost to Sunderland and everyone else in the work environment supported the Mackems, I was jealous. I’d love us to have that sort of rivalry with Leeds, but that’s probably never going to happen.

As for Leeds, they may consider themselves above forming a derby rivalry with any of their near neighbours, but deep down their fans must know that when it comes to rivals they actually have plenty to choose from. The rest of the football-supporting country appears to hate them.

The boat sets sail with City on the shore

The Football League – being the 72 clubs outside the Premier League and above the Blue Square Conference structure – have agreed to a new way of paying so called Parachute payments to clubs falling out of the top flight which – some critics say – create a Premier League Second Division in all but name.

The short story is that clubs like Hull City and Burnley who are relegated from the top flight will be paid and increased slice of Premier League pie with the aim of ensuring that they do not hit the financial problems that have best the likes of Charlton Athletic, Norwich City, Southampton and other side who have fallen from grace including – although it is some time ago now – Bradford City.

The aim is noble – perhaps – but the feared outcome is that the clubs relegated from the top flight will be so financially doped that they will ruin competition in the division below reducing the chase for the top flight to clubs who have been relegated and those who have owners with massive funds to invest. Blackpool – taking a 2-1 lead into the second leg of the playoff semi-finals – would represent a model of the type of team who are expected to be penalised by this and – one assumes – QPR the sort who would benefit.

The separation between the haves of the game and have-nots will increase to a point where investing at a Doncaster Rovers or a Scunthorpe United will see you hit a glass ceiling at a much lower level than that said to be half way up the Premier League reducing competition. One wonders – if this is true – how the voting went for the chairmen of those clubs who have taken teams like that pair up from the lower reaches into the second tier of the game. They are offered riches in exchange for rowing the boat of prosperity away from the drowning men that make up much of the rest of the league. It seems that given the choice between self-interest and solidarity they elected for the former and League One and League Two fell into line for fear of a permanent break away of those clubs into an actual – rather than a de facto – Premiership Two.

In practice though – and even with huge chunks of money flying around as they always seem to – the game of football makes more a meritocracy of the business of the game than the critics of today’s news would like to admit and perhaps we need only look over to those celebrating a promotion to the Championship at the third attempt at Elland Road to be reminded how the size of the club matters little when eleven players choke in the play-offs. Chairman and managers of clubs like Burnley will be able to fritter away resource no matter how large they are and at Turf Moor they have an expert at doing just that. Before joining the Clarets Brian Laws had been frittering away the resources of Sheffield Wednesday for years and the size of that club matters little in the harshness of Championship relegation.

Nevertheless today’s decision in which The Football League practically admitted its inability to do anything other than acquiesce to the demands of the top flight is a rotten one. Whatever the gulf between clubs and wherever it occurs rather than trying to – almost literally – throw money at teams who fall into that chasm but being relegated from the top flight would it not have been a better situation to encourage – no – enforce good governance on the teams who may get into trouble rather than bail them out afterwards.

Portsmouth are playing in the FA Cup final next week and in a very serious and very real way it could be the final game in the club’s history the reason for this being the ludicrous contracts and players signed to take the club to another day out at Wembley two years ago. Portsmouth have not had a bail out of Greek proportions but they will be paid after they are relegated for the Premier League (the money, perhaps, being diverted to pay contracts they have defaulted on) and one cannot help but wonder if the best interests of all would not have been served by ensuring that the club could not be dragged into the state it is currently in in what in retrospect seems to be the service of one man’s Ahab style quest for personal glory.

Glory, glory, Tottenham Hotspur – as the song goes – beware. The quest of Harry Redknapp that has bankrupted Portsmouth has catapulted Spurs into the Champions League – such a misnomer – but one has to wonder about the cost as Spurs spend money like the water in the infamous Elland Road fish tank which provides a cautionary tale for the future at White Hart Lane, and for clubs who would borrow against success without a thought of good governance.

Indeed the Football League – agreeing this deal – agrees to take such tainted vessels in. One wonders what purpose the world’s oldest football league now has and if all 72 members or perhaps just those who were powerless to stop today’s decision would not be better resigning to join the Football Association as a giant Premier League non-league rather than this current system in which the clubs at the top of the second tier make decisions with the threat of breaking away as a stick.

Rather than making sure that Hull City do not end up spending hundreds of thousands a week on strikers who could hardly be said to have put Ryan Kendall to shame the Premier League will throw money at them to plug the holes they have after relegation. The clubs that exit the Premier League, the bounce back and forth from Premier League to Championship, will do so in luxury liners. The financial boat has set sail today with Bradford City on the shore watching and perhaps noticing that the boats themselves are letting in water.

Three steps from Wembley as City face Carlisle in the JPT

City are three steps away from a day out at Wembley.

Carlisle United stand in the way of the Bantams reaching a Northern Final of the Associate Members’ Cup against either Leeds United or Accrington Stanley and while “form” – i.e. the fact that League One clubs take on League Two clubs – suggest that the Uniteds will meet last season’s winners finished bottom of the whole football league beating a team that is now in the Championship in the final event.

Carlisle United have four times been for the big day out at the end of this competition losing three but holding the trophy in 1997 while the Bantams have never performed better than we currently are doing in this cup competition.

Bradford City and cup competitions have long since fallen out with memories of a cup run dim in the mind so this endeavour – the result of two 2-2 games in which Simon Eastwood saved penalties to win the ties and a 2-1 win over Real Rochdale – has warmed the heart on poorly attended Tuesday nights.

A point on those two games which are listed in City’s history as “draws” or “wins on penalties” yet reading The Observer a week ago it turns out that England crashed out on penalties in the last two world cups. City won both shoot outs by a single penalty kick – the same margin that England crashed to – which would seem to suggest that the Bantams pasted Notts County and blitzed Port Vale… on penalties. Now that is spin for you.

Not that one could expect a home and away tie with Leeds United to be poorly attended for either of these clubs and that two legged affair – more than the final – represents a pot of gold although if one were an Accrington Stanley fan one might suggest that if Kettering Town can play Leeds to a stand still then the Lancashire side can too.

Never one to standstill Omar Daley returns for City after ten months having his leg sown back on following a “perfectly fair and legal” (or so the Referee thought) tackle left him out of the game for almost year while Michael Boulding starts a month on the sidelines after being chunked in the air by Pablo Probert (sorry, Mills) on Saturday.

Daley’s return was eagerly anticipated and if one player can raise spirits of a City community rendered flat after a Referee who provoked comments that ranged from “bloody awful” to “awfully biased” and a series of home results that sees the Bantams without a victory at Valley Parade in some time. On the road the Bantams have more success winning the last two keeping clean sheets in the process.

Much of this is – as always – put down to the ability to be more defensive away from home and with Stuart McCall’s side facing a club 11th in the division above few will complain if the Bantams boss employs his 442 once more.

Simon Eastwood keeps goal again – he is made of this competition – with injuries to Steve Williams and – probably – Zesh Rehman allowing Matthew Clarke and Simon Ramsden to pair at the back once more. Jonathan Bateson thus continues at right back with Luke O’Brien on the left.

The four in the middle see Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock continue – Bullock must be suspended again soon considering he is booked whenever he sneezes – but Simon Whaley misses having played for Norwich in a previous round giving Chris Brandon the chance to start on the left opposite Scott Neilson (Scott Neilson/Olly Murs, separated at birth) who will start the game by may come off to allow Omar a run in the team and at the left back.

James Hanson and Gareth Evans continue up front with Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne both injured.

Daley expected back today

The long recuperation from injury for Omar Daley is expected to reach a new chapter as the Jamaican winger is expected to feature for City’s reserves against Leeds Reserves at Valley Parade at 14:00.

Daley’s injury seemed to bring about the start of the end of the promotion push last season. His return to the first team – which is not expected for some time although the game with Accrington Stanley on Saturday, 21 November 2009 might be pencilled in – promises the prospect of James Hanson supported by Gareth Evans and Omar and has one wonder about how the player will differ in this more obviously hard working Bantams side.

The blank space

Last week we saw freedom of speech taken to an extreme and it is it is an odd week where people are asking each other “did you see Question Time last night?”

Nevertheless the rights and wrongs of politics aside we can – on the whole – agree that free speech is to be welcomed and that attempts to stop someone saying something because you do not like what they are saying is not.

So there is something worrying in the news that David Conn and the newspaper he writes for The Guardian are no longer welcome at Elland Road because of Conn’s revealing articles about the ownership of the club who went down 2-1 to Millwall.

Conn’s writing had untangled a web of financial strands around the Leeds United chairman Ken Bates and the administration they went through which he emerged as owner of a debt free club following. The complexities are near mind boggling and commenting on them directly would be a presumption that I understood the detail but one thing becomes very clear when looking at stories of Cayman Islands-registered Forward Sports Fund and Guernsey accountants that the world of Leeds United administration is very different to that of Bradford City’s.

Likewise Bradford City’s two administrations were different from each other and both were different to Leicester City’s infamous debt shuffle which is a million miles away from what happened to AFC Bournemouth which was nothing like the Rotherham United into and out while still spending money which could never be afforded at Darlington.

Every administration is different, has different causes, ends in different results. When Bradford City struggled to stay afloat it was said at a supporters fund raiser that it might take the Bantams twenty years to recover from the woes but recover we would. I am of the belief that that statement was in essence true and that last season’s finishing a place higher than the previous season was a significant – if slight – sign of that recovery.

Other administrations see clubs like Rotherham United pleading poverty one year and then the next making offers to players like Nicky Law Jnr and Adam le Fondre whose former chairman Chris Dunphy has a thing or two to say about good governance in the game but oddly allowed a club that did seek protection from creditors to take le Fondre for an “undisclosed fee“. The people who had debts written off in South Yorkshire would probably be keen to know how much cash The Millers were able to find this year that was not there last.

The ownership of Leeds United is unclear but Conn’s articles would seem to suggest that the ownership is structured in a way that preferred Bates in the process and thus is not only illegal but would also be against the promises made by Bates and Leeds to the Football League. The punishments for the legal side of things – should Conn be accurate – one can only guess at and the football sanctions are rumoured to be as stiff as given out to any club in my memory with the Elland Road side facing a two division relegation should it be found that Conn’s conclusions are accurate.

The reaction of Bates to these allegations is troubling for Leeds United supporters as he attempts – one assumes – to give a lesson to those journalists who would dig too deep into his dealings that they will no longer be allowed to carry coverage on his team. Leeds are big business and newspapers – especially regional newspapers who struggle to keep going – can hardly afford to upset the local football side and Bates is infamous for enforcing a hegemony in the local media.

Of course Bates has a right to allow whomever he wants into Elland Road – as Conn attests he owns the League One club – but one doubts that will assuage any worries Leeds United supporters might have at the thought of getting promoted this year only to step backwards and be forced to find a new owner during a financial crisis. They would do well to follow the example of the Liverpool supporters who demand answers from their owners rather than doing as the Notts County fans do as some happily ignore things off the field and the muddiness of that club’s ownership.

Every administration is different, this is a point that is maybe lost on some, but in footballs age of rapid change of ownership the constant which is bought and sold is the good will of supporters. In our administration that was manifested by the half a million pounds raised because there was no other money to keep the club going but in but other clubs cases less scrupulous people – yes less scrupulous even than Gordon Gibb – have become involved and as a result supporters have suffered.

So The Guardian resisted the proposed riposte of leaving a large blank square in the sports pages to highlight the “ban” they are facing but when chairmen start stopping a newspaper from investigative reporting – and when such a ban is allowed to pass without comment from the rest of the media on the whole – then alarm bells need to ring for supporters.

Supporters should want the questions that need to be asked to be asked by the likes of David Conn and that every newspaper does not boycott Elland Road in protest is shame on them. The right for supporters to have their serious questions answered when asked by the highest quality of journalists is something that needs to be protected and when it is attacked by one is should be defended by all.

So Mark Lawn was wrong – now what?

Leeds United has accepted an offer from Aston Villa for highly-rated teenager Fabian Delph, a player whom Bradford City have a reported 12% interest in. It means that Mark Lawn, who had revealed at last month’s Fans Forum he couldn’t see Delph leaving this summer as Leeds were asking for too much, will be delighted at being proved wrong.

The transfer fee has yet to be made public, but disappointingly for City it looks set to be less than it might have been. A statement on the Leeds United’s website thanks Villa “for the manner they conducted their interest  in the player” and adds of the approved bid, “we had no intention of going back on that.” Clearly Ken Bates, a man of principles when it suits him, is upset at how Man City have conducted their business.

With add-ons and clauses expected to form part of the accepted offer, it looks as though the fee will fall some way short of the £10 million that  Man City were reportedly offering. With Spurs also interested, it appears Leeds had the power to instigate a bidding war that could have seen the transfer fee go past such a figure. Bates is obviously content to cut off his nose to spite his face, so it means City will receive less than they might have.

But receive something they will and, at the forum, Mark Lawn confirmed that, should it reach a certain amount, Stuart McCall will have some budget for an extra loan signing. Five days before the start of the season and with that number four-shaped headache remaining, this will come as welcome news for the manager. Yet given the fee may still end up far more than Lawn had predicted (it’s rumoured two weeks ago Villa had made a £4 million bid which was rejected which may have been along the lines City were expecting Delph to leave for, it may be double that now) it could be that City have a bigger windfall than they dared hoped.

Much has been made of the fact Lawn and Julian Rhodes had budgeted for the sale of Delph last season or gaining promotion, failure on both counts resulted in Lawn putting money in to cover the losses and a radically reduced wage budget this season. While it’s right the Delph windfall goes towards sorting out some of those issues, should the mistaken assumption City would have received it last season act as a reminder of focusing on the long term picture?

The club has budgeted for Delph to remain at Leeds this season (he was on a four year contract), but instead of just throwing this now unexpected bonus on a couple of extra players, could it better used towards the greater good of the club? Lawn attempted to buy Valley Parade last season only to be quoted an inflated price by Gordon Gibb. While no one would want to make the former Chairman richer, could this extra money help to reach some form of compromise?

Of course a significant number of fans will want the money spent on the here and now, with the worry remaining that the affects of a reduced budget are yet to be seen. If City struggle in midtable this season and the money goes towards getting Valley Parade back, will Lawn and Rhodes be criticised or can another season of mediocrity be accepted if the club’s home is secured? Or should we again gamble on promotion and the difference more investment could make, assuming money to buy Valley Parade will increase with the elevation up the leagues or the option of Odsal?

City’s bank balance is set to look much healthier over the next few days, but there are some big considerations to be made.

Where we will feel the pain as the cost cut squad is shaped

Seventy minutes into the friendly with Barnsley looking over the City side the shape of the squad for next season post £700,000 cost cut emerged and with it the nature of the squad and season.

Around the field City had replaced first teamers with younger players and Luke Sharry was making a case for being considered a central midfielder rather than a wide man to be back up to Lee Bullock when the thinness of the squad to come became apparent.

Not that you would see this from looking at the front players. Massive kudos to Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne who have both taken pay cuts to stay and form part of a four man team up front with Gareth Evans and James Hanson.

I confess I miss Barry Conlon’s robust style and the idea that Willy Topp might have been good but individually James Hanson and Gareth Evans offer no less than Topp and Conlon – well – is Hanson puts in the energy that Conlon did as his pre-season performances suggest he might then their is no reason why he can not be equally well thought of (assuming one thought well of Conlon that is).

Likewise out wide Joe Colbeck this season is no worse than Joe Colbeck last when he came into the year as a well thought of player of the season aside from the fact that the wide man is on week to week contracts and has had a half year of “atmosphere” at Valley Parade. Colbeck, like Chris Brandon, is an able footballer and Omar Daley (unloved, again, but his importance was shown in his absence) create a threesome of players who should be at the top of the division but starting with one injured City are already down to bare bones and hoping for the impressiveness of young players.

Luke Sharry – as mentioned – could be great back up for Lee Bullock and could be the player he hints at being in reserve games but hoping that Sharry can perform is not the same as dropping in Nicky Law Jnr to cover an injury. At one point last season we had six midfielders out (Colbeck, Daley, Bullock, Furman, McLaren and Brandon) and put together a team that beat MK Dons whereas this season it would be hard to see us being able to withstand such losses.

The hit of cutting costs is felt not as much in the quality of the squad but the strength of it. Good players but one worries if we got injuries and – two seasons in League Two tell us we will get injuries.

Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Matthew Clarke are covered by Simon Ramsden who is covered at right back by Jonathan Bateson. Luke O’Brien faces competition at left back from Louis Horne but both are young players and we are hoping both will transfer potential – to greater and lesser extents – into performances. Good players, little back up.

The signing of Simon Eastwood came with confirmation that he and Jon McLaughlin will be given the chance to fight over the gloves at Notts County and for the first half of the season.

Two inexperienced keepers is worrying – I have seen few good teams without a settled goalkeeper – as is the gap at number four.

City are closer to finding someone to fill the hole only in seeming to have decided that Grant Smith, Joe Keehan and a few others are not “the man”. Last season Dean Furman only signed at the end of August and perhaps in a month we might all be marvelling at John Fleck running riot in midfield.

Perhaps not though. This morning comes news of a bidding war for Leeds United’s Fabian Delph between Spurs and Aston Villa which City would take 12.5% of and as last season’s other big money side Shrewsbury Town sell Grant Holt at a £100,000 loss while Joe Hart – who they get £500,000 for should he play a full England game – so City are in a position of trimming the cloth today but perhaps being affluent tomorrow. Sign up a rookie keeper now and it we are in the top half at Christmas and find ourselves well off go get someone else perhaps.

Last season was budgeted as promotion or Delph leaving – this season it is assumed (sensibly) that neither will occur and the cloth is cut accordingly. Delph may stay until Christmas, until next summer, until he retires and City do well to not push out boats on the strength of his transfer status.

Nevertheless it is probable that at some point City will have over half a million coming in to the club and perhaps the season is shaped by staying in and around contention for as long as possible until that occurs. Should Delph leave at Christmas then the Bantams could move through the league in the last four months just as we did last year – only in the other direction. Similarly is we get that windfall on the last day of the Summer transfer window we are left with a squad and money hanging over us Notts County style for months.

There is a school of thought – which I subscribe to – that money in League Two is largely wasted and the teams rise and fall through spirit and morale.

That and keeping fingers crossed than injuries do not hit as hard this year as last.

Sympathy for the Devil

When you need a good word the English language has plenty to choose from but just occasionally it is necessary to borrow one from elsewhere.

“Schadenfreude” has no single English equivalent but is an appropriate term for a common football emotion – delight in the misfortune of others.

There will be many who took great delight in Milwall’s victory last night but is it time to think why?

Whatever our respective fortunes next season it will be at least 2010/11 before we can hope for the renewal of the local derby we all love to see on a league basis. So is it time for a comparison?

Two neighbouring clubs both with recent financial troubles and fading successes now exist in the lower leagues. Both have experienced “failure” this season and both need to restructure and review playing staff as a consequence.

We are all too aware of the hold that some of our expensive staff have on us in terms of contracts – we need to offload costly players and come to terms with a reduced budget. This is the reality here and it would seem to be the case down the road as managerial “vultures” survey the pickings left after defeat. Some will be easier to move on than others, we may even gain financially from their end of season sale, but an upward move for a player is more likely there than at Valley Parade.

We need players who want to play for City not those who just want a job. A commitment to a club is not easy to achieve on reduced wages. “Stars” who sit tight in the hope of improved offers from elsewhere may find that they get cramp from sitting rather than playing.

However the contract conundrum pans out, I think it is us that stands the best chance of the two for promotion next season. If we don’t lose high-earning players we can at least get them to play to their potential. If they go, we already have the shopping list that takes account of our limited spending power. They may get more money down the road but finding effective replacements is not going to be easy – money can make mistakes as we know all too well.

Which brings me back to Schadenfreude. It has its place. I can recall chanting “Stuart, Stuart , What’s the score?” when he returned to play against us for Everton in a 3-1 victory for the Bantams and a good victory at that.

It was a taunt – fun but not malicious. But I can not subscribe to the way in recent seasons that we have turned a blind eye to some dismal performances and instead taken some kind of pleasure in failure elsewhere. I see no sense in cheering losing scorelines in another division when we have been watching some of our own players give less than their best. “We’ve lost but so have they” is no consolation whatever to me.

So is it time for perhaps a small change in action if not attitude? Do we really need to have another season where scorelines from “them” are flashed up at our games in order to raise a cheer? Those who are keen to know what is going on with the Beeston Boys have access to personal technology to keep them informed. Personally I prefer to watch and encourage my team rather than cheer an irrelevant result.

When we play in the same division maybe then I’ll reconsider. Until then, rather than deny history, I’ll focus on the future and forget schadenfreude – at least until the ref falls over anyway.

City pensive in a worrying limbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The league could shake this week as administration Thursday nears

One could hardly have guessed it this morning reading a collection of newspaper headlines about Christiano Ronaldo will leave England because of a lack of protection from Referees and how one side of Manchester are being told they should pay £30m for a player who could not find the net on the other side that around a tenth of the professional clubs in the country are battling with the decision as to whether they should go into administration by Thursday.

Thursday – the third in March – is football’s deadline for having ten point penalties given to the current season’s total rather than next. The problems of exiting administration are such a fifteen point penalty on exiting without the CVA that City twice had in place is practically guaranteed should you be looking a wiping out debts for the start of next season and not be under administration by Thursday then a club would start the year on minus fifteen and not minus twenty-five and as AFC Bournemouth and Rotherham have proved – that is not a killer blow.

My thoughts on punishment for clubs entering and exiting administration differ from other but mostly these articles and the debate on the subject assume that the fifteen point penalty – which is discretionary – will be levied and not the punishment which Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy would unilaterally dish out which would be expulsion from the league.

The wording of the League’s rules is always hard to come by but to paraphrase would be to say that a club that exits administration without a CVA in place is expelled from the League unless there are exceptional circumstances which in the cases of Leeds United, Rotherham United, Luton Town and AFC Bournemouth there have been. If a circumstance happens every time it is not “exceptional”. The Football League were probably acting within the interests of protectionism in ensuring that they do not lose those four clubs and that is probably no bad thing.

That they continue to do so depends on how much sympathy the likes of Rochdale’s Chris Dunphy can drum up in his well meaning if scattershot campaign for good governance in football. If football becomes populated with enough Dunphys then the next vote on is a club can exit without CVA and retain a place in the League will be to the negative and someone will be cast down to the lowest of the low level of the football pyramid.

Bradford City’s governance is managed by virtue of a chunk of cash put in by Mark Lawn who hopes that attendances can be retained for future season. That we have not brought in player x or player y down to an unwillingness to go back down the route of unrealistic debt and something that we should all be happy about as City fans.

What must Chris Dunphy feel about Brentford – £10m in debt and hoping for promotion to pay the bills – running away with the League Two? Probably the same as I feel but Chris Dunphy gets a vote he could mobilise against them if they end up in the poor house. Would Chris Dunphy vote that Luton, that Rotherham, that Leeds should have been thrown out of the Football League and effectively ended as football clubs?

This is the judgement the reportedly ten clubs who are considering entering administration in the next two days are making. Will they be added to the list of exceptions or will the hand become the wrist and will one, two, five, ten clubs not be making it to next season?

And if they do will they be taking ten point penalties that mean the table on Friday will differ drastically from that on Wednesday?

That Neville Southall feeling

John McLaughlin’s injury – he will miss the game that should have have been his debut away at Barnet at the weekend after he and Darren Byfield clashed in a closed doors friendly with Doncaster Rovers and the keeper was knocked out – leaves City looking for an emergency keeper and sends fans minds racing back to a Sunday Sky TV day in 2000 when Bradford City were left scrabbling for a keeper and ended up with Neville Southall in goal.

The history of City’s need then differs to now. Stuart McCall the manager decided to have three keepers at the club: Rhys Evans, McLaughlin and youngster Matthew Convey; for financial reasons more than footballing ones – an extra goalkeeper costs, unsettles and is not often used while when McCall the player reteamed with his former Goodison Park team mate Southall in 2000 for the home game with Leeds United it was because of a set of circumstance that while common place in the madness of that Premiership season were curious to say the least.

Gary Walsh had lost his place to Matt Clarke who had in turn been injured – both those custodians having been impressive to say the least – and Aidan Davison had taken on the gloves superbly but with Clarke heading back to fitness – or so we were told – in the week before the home game with Leeds which represented a first top flight Valley Parade clash with our rivals in many lifetimes and a chance for an in form City to snatch some bragging rights.

That week saw the transfer deadline pass on Thursday and at the time Clarke was expected to be fit although Paul Jewell had seen the need to go looking for another keeper alighting at Elland Road. Recollections become rumours here and this story lacks hard confirmation but it is said that Jewell asked Chairman Geoffrey Richmond for money to spend on a promising keeper he had seen and Richmond gave him £200,000. Jewell made a bid – £180,000 – for the second string keeper at Elland Road and had it accepted on the proviso that the player – Paul Robinson – did not play on Sunday.

If that is true then one can only assume it was brinksmanship that saw City walk away from the deal. Perhaps – three months before the club’s meltdown began – it is an indication that something was rotten in the state of Denmark. Nevertheless Clarke was – it was said – fit to play until Sunday morning when it was announced to supporters, Sky and all that he had fallen down the stairs at home and was not fit.

Rumour became fact – “Clarke lives in a bungalow”, “he was never fit” – but on that Sunday morning a young keeper named Danny Taylor prepared to glove up to make his Premiership debut in the West Yorkshire derby.

Apologies to Danny if this is incorrect but the description that followed is as simple as it is brutal. Taylor bricked it.

Jewell watched as his youthful keeper quivered in the dressing room in the hours leading up to the game and knew that he had no chance to putting the player – who now runs a barber’s shop in Bradford – into a Premiership game. His only other option was 41 year old goalkeeping coach Southall.

I heard a story about Southall once that broke a man’s heart. The Everton keeper played before obscene wealth in football but still must have made a few quid but whatever he made he had squandered forcing him to – as the story I heard goes – beg his agent for public relations work to pay the bills. Before playing that game for City Southall had been in goal for Torquay a month or so before because in the frankest terms he needed the money.

So Southall took to the field and the rest is a history cruelly told. My recollection is that Southall had three saves to make all game and only got to one of them – his mobility was limited to say the least and it seemed that he could not dive – leaving Leeds to score twice with the reply of a stunning, Match of the Day title making Peter Beagrie goal. The Guardian noted after the game that City had the spirit to suggest that they might be up for a relegation fight that they eventually won. Leeds went on to the Champions League and – as a result of ridiculous investment based on that – to where they are now.

Southall – perhaps the greatest goalkeeper Great Britain had produced – became a laughing stock. It was an unfair end to the career of a legend of the game.

Unfair too on City. Leeds fans would argue the point but I believe that on that day the Bantams were the better side and that with a keeper able to perform would have been left celebrating a win over them from Elland Road. Fate is fickle but adversity bred a spirit in that side that saw Liverpool and the last day of the season escape.

Fast forward nine years and the Bantams are looking for an new keeper in the days leading up to a game that could not be further from a Premiership derby – away at Barnet – but is perhaps no less important as Stuart McCall’s side mount a promotion push and look to maintain momentum. Evans’s strain and Convey returning from loan at Salford City injured along with McLaughlin’s enforced absence after being knocked out are things that few could cater for.

Perhaps though – if there is a moral to the Southall story – it is that success in football is often subject to the arrows or outrageous fortune.

O’Grady in the holding pattern of City history

Hands up, dear reader, if you recall Bradford City striker Kevin Wilson.

Wilson signed on loan for the Bantams in 1994 for a month just as Chris O’Grady has joined for a month from Oldham today and with a couple of games under his belt for Frank Stapleton’s side the ground he stood on shifted significantly.

That day, enter Geoffrey Richmond and the promise of £500,000 and soon after enter Lee Power. A month after signing Wilson left a much different club to the one he joined.

The Sun are reporting this morning that Manchester United will bid £10m for Leeds United’s former City kid Fabian Delph. Tipped off by his arrest Sir Ferguson wants tighter control on the talent and won’t leave him in the hands of Simon Grayson much longer and – courtesy of a 20% sell on clause – City could be £2m richer within the week, or the month, or within O’Grady’s time at the club.

All of which would leave the striker in a similar position to Wilson – at a club with suddenly heavy pockets and eyes for name players – unless the former Rotherham United striker can regain his form for the Millers and start scoring goals. His 13 in 51 games at Millmoor represents something like one in four. Up that rate and he could be sitting pretty at a club with cash to spend.

The luck of the draw

Watching the Bantams go out of the FA Cup 2-1 to Leyton Orient two frustrations of this 2008/2009 season struck me but only one left me surprised.

The Bantams interest in knock out competitions ended after a header former Leeds man Danny Granville headed home a well placed corner leaving City – who had got back into the game following going behind in the first half – tired and heading for the exit.

City had started slowly – a problem of late – and Graeme Lee’s continuing problems with TJ Moncur maintaining a position to his right hand side saw the skipper foolishly following the wrong man leaving time and space for Jason Demetriou to turn and pick out a fine shot to beat Rhys Evans from range. It was a deserved reward for the team from the division above having the better of the opening exchanges and there was a worry that as with Tranmere Rovers 3-0 win in a previous FA Cup tie that League One would just have too much quality.

Credit then City for clawing back into the game to such an extent that the first half ended with the Bantams in the ascendency much of which had to do with the Bantams midfield – second choice and second best – adding a needed steel to proceedings.

The quartet of Nicky Law Jnr being anchored by Tom Clarke with Kyle Nix on the right and debut loan winger Steve Jones replacing the injured Omar Daley were bullied out of the opening exchanges but added perhaps a little too much of the tough stuff with Clarke picking up a booking and Nix pushing in two challenges that had they connected could have resulted in red cards.

Nevertheless the muscle matched the visitors from the league above who’s robust style of play had seen a heavy challenge on Barry Conlon in the first ten minutes result in the in form 100 goal man coming off after twenty minutes with a back injury and considering that none of the midfield four would be in Stuart McCall’s all squad fit team then credit is due for the resurgence that bore fruit after an hour when a smart through ball allowed Michael Boulding – who ran tirelessly all afternoon – to get behind the immense Alton Thirwell who had a superb game for the visitors and equalise for the Bantams.

At that point City looked the team most likely but the goal galvanised the visitors who stepped up and within ten had taken the decisive lead. The Bantams had chances to equalise – Peter Thorne uncharacteristically heading the best of them wide – but Thirwell, Jordan Spence and midfielder Adam Chambers kept a strong spine to restrict City who lost by an edge, but just an edge.

Curious then that a decent turn out despite pricing villainy by the Londoner’s boardroom did not get behind City more. The Bantams battled with a team a league above and battled well. A nicer drop of the ball or a slice of luck and City could have been through yet the atmosphere was once again strangely muted. Hardly a surprise but whatever a crowd can do to push a team through we do not seem to do it, at least not at Valley Parade.

Surprising and disappointing has been the rumbling of balls around Bradford City this season. Four times the Bantams have been drawn out of hats and every time we have faced a team in the highest division possible. Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Milton Keynes Dons have previously faced City in the cup this season all from League One.

With the Bantams doing well in League Two we could assume that a draw against anyone below us – and in every draw we have been in most of the teams have been below us in the league structure – would have been more beatable but rather than Grimsby Town away in the Johnsons Paint we end up with Leeds and rather than Chester in the League Cup we went to Huddersfield. Of course there is no guarantee we would have won those hypothetical games but City should not be down hearted about being out of all the cups but rather surprised at the bad luck that saw us get four tough games.

Leyton Orient was a winnable game – both in theory and during the match – but it was not Histon Town 1 Leeds United 0 and as we look to the league now and the next five months of trying to ensure promotion we should do so knowing that in all four of those games – save the second half against Huddersfield – the Bantams gave as good as they got against the teams we want to be playing week in week out.

Four times we played league one clubs. Once we learned a lesson, once we got an apology, once we played and won and once we played and lost. We are ready for that league.

The back up waiting for the call

Reserve team manager David Wetherall’s pre-match team talk would have played heavily on it.

Barely 48 hours since the first team had suffered its first significant setback of the season; this was an opportunity for fringe players to stake a claim. Manager Stuart McCall, watching in the stand, has repeatedly talked about how the strength of his squad means those in the team have to maintain standards or lose their spot and, while a radical revamp is not expected nor encouraged, this performance may help lead to that theory being tested ahead of Shrewsbury.

Despite the game ending in a 1-0 defeat, it was a decent performance by City’s second string against a youthful Leeds side; with chances and territorial advantage stacking up in favour of the home side. After his decent substitute cameo against Bournemouth, Barry Conlon continued where he left off impressing with his hold up play and passing. Strike partner Rory Boulding matched his work rate and was at the heart of City’s two best first half chances. The best of which resulted from his excellent hold up play which allowed Blackburn trialist David Ryan – who showed promise, if a little rawness – to cross the ball and Sean Taylforth to strike an effort against the post after Leeds keeper Alan Martin had fumbled. Minutes before Boulding had cleverly flicked the ball into Conlon’s path, who fired over.

That chance had also been created by Luke Sharry, who had a promising game in the centre of midfield. Tenacious in the tackle and strong going forward, the 18-year-old was at the heart of much of City’s best play. He consistently sprayed passes across the pitch to spark attacks and his only weakness was his failure to play the simple ball when the opportunity allowed. The fact Dean Furman did not figure suggests the on-loan Rangers midfielder features in Stuart’s thinking for Saturday, but a first team debut for Sharry cannot be far away.

In the second half Willy Topp replaced Conlon and impressed on his return from injury. As with his first team appearances to date, the Chilean can be guilty of taking too much time on the ball and causing moves to break down through lack of awareness; but his touch and dribbling skills excite and it’s to be hoped he can finally get over the little niggles which have blighted his City career and make an impact in League Two.

The chances still mainly went City’s way, with a glorious pass to Luke O’Brien by Sharry allowing the left-back to charge forward and cross for Topp, who couldn’t plant his header beyond Martin. Kyle Nix looked industrious as ever, alongside Sharry, though Taylforth and Leon Osborne will not be threatening Colbeck and Daley’s places in the team on this showing.

Neither will goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, who inexplicably fumbled Sam Jones’ long range shot into his own net for the game’s only goal. The former Harrogate Town player will be hoping Stuart wasn’t paying attention at that point, particularly as he had little else to do to all evening as he tries to convince that he could be called upon if Rhys Evans gets injured.

City continued to apply pressure and Boulding forced a great save from Martin when through on goal, but the visitors defended well. Perhaps it wasn’t as strong a performance as many of the players would have liked to have put in, but when it’s Stuart’s turn to deliver his next team talk he may be warning a few to watch their back.

City take the pride, but could have left with more from Leeds

The new season may be less than a month old, but for Bradford City it has already featured defeats from its two biggest rivals. Unlike the 4-0 humiliation at Huddersfield in the Carling Cup, Tuesday’s narrow defeat saw the Bantams leave the field with pride. Yet for how well merited the standing ovation 4,000+ City fans awarded their team at the end was, the feeling that it was an opportunity not fully taken remained.

It was a night of agonising what ifs and if onlys. The penalty decision that set Leeds on their way seemed harsh, there was the controversy of the disallowed equaliser by Omar Daley which captain Graeme Lee held an animated conversation with the referee about at half time. Barry Conlon’s miss, which was punished two minutes later by a momentary lapse in concentration for the second goal, and a few chances in the second half where the ball just didn’t fall in the box in a way City players could profit from. Leeds were deserving of their victory and, if they weren’t necessarily a class above in terms of their play, that extra professionalism and concentration to take advantage of the luck which came their way was evident.

It was no surprise to see both managers make changes with the league in mind, or for City to line up in a 4-5-1 formation. The collapse at Huddersfield has clearly been weighing on Stuart’s mind since the draw for this game was made and he set about at least avoiding a repeat. City packed the midfield and denied Leeds space but going forward there was a lack of support for lone striker Barry Conlon, who had an average game at best. City needed to have more runners from midfield and would arguably have been more effective had Lee Bullock started, as late surges into the box are more his game.

Defensively City were shaky on occasions, with Mark Bower and TJ Moncur not having the best of first starts of the season. Rhys Evans also had a disappointing first half where he flapped and panicked too often; had this been Donovan Ricketts the abuse would have been reigning down from City fans behind his goal. Joe Colbeck was praised by Gary McAllister after the game but, given he was up against a 16-year-old left back starting only his second game, he might have hoped to make a bigger impact. Daley and Lee were probably City’s best players but Dean Furman and Kyle Nix also did well, if the latter giving the ball away a bit too much.

At half time we were unfortunate to be 2-0 behind but, until a goal was pulled back, the second half was a frustrating affair as the game became too easy for Leeds. It’s questionable why an attacking change wasn’t made sooner so City could force more pressure and Stuart’s thoughts were probably influenced by that horrible night at Huddersfield, but for a while it seemed City’s ambition didn’t stretch beyond walking off the field only losing 2-0.

I can understand the decision to rest Thorne, but if there was no intention to even give him 10 minutes on the field why include him on the bench? Rory Boulding was kicking his heels somewhere and the wait for changes to be made was frustrating. Belatedly Lee Bullock and Michael Boulding came on, but only after the heavy pressure that pulling a goal back sparked had died down and Leeds were firmly in control again.

Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference; but as I stood there surrounded by fellow supporters looking nervously on while singing our hearts out, desperate for a late equaliser that would have sparked scenes of celebration probably not matched since the Liverpool game eight years ago, it was hard to escape the feeling that the belief it could happen was not shared on the bench.

There was a lot to be proud of – the atmosphere from the City fans (I’ve a croaky voice today), the commitment and resilience from the players, receiving a text from a Leeds fan in the home end expressing how worried he was with ten minutes to go and the excitment the match produced.

Stuart certainly deserves credit for the way he lined up City and the performance was very encouraging but, with a bit more positivity, we could have been walking out of Elland Road (after a 25 minute delay) with more than just our heads held high.

Keeping back the kitchen sink

City proved more than a match for local rivals Leeds in this entertaining JPT clash at Elland Road.

Bradford did much of the early pressing, with Omar Daley’s blistering pace proving a real threat. In one attack he dribbled down the left, cut inside and released a powerful shot that went into the side netting.

But Leeds took the lead via Robinson’s highly controversial penalty. With the ball heading into the box, Paul McClaren was adjudged to have handled by the linesman – a very poor decision right in front of the sizeable City contingent. McClaren clearly chested the ball down quickly having collected the ball from some height, but no contact was made with his hand ( we had a view from only a couple of yards away, nearly at ground level).

But minutes later, City seemed to have levelled. A scramble inside the Leeds box resulted in Colbeck thrashing home from close range, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

With the half drawing to an end, Robinson smashed the City bar with a thunderous effort from 20 yards which was quickly knocked out by Heckingbottom. From the resultant corner, substitute Becchio was disappointingly allowed to head home directly from the cross, with Lee and Conlon seemingly to get in each others way when trying to mark the striker. It was poor defending from a set piece.

Thankfully though, City refused to lie down in the second half. Despite a couple of hairy moments where Leeds went close, including hitting the post from a Richardson effort, City more than held their own. Colbeck and Daley both had excellent games, and they forced a number of second half corners with their good wing play.

And real hope was in the air when a goal was pulled back by Barry Conlon. Daley brilliant weaved his way around the Leeds defence, and cut the ball back to Kyle Nix. His cross cum shot was diverted into the back of the net by Conlon to the jubilation of the Bradford faithful.

At this point, we had Leeds worried. All the play was with the away side, as we tried to force penalties.

But there was an air of disappointment in the air when it became apparent that McCall was not willing to bring on another striker to really force the issue. Tactics from the start were to play Barry Conlon in a lone striker role , with the midfield packed out with five. Surely with 20 minutes to go we could have brought on Boulding (M) or Thorne to add some real threat?

But Stuart only decided to bring on Lee Bullock with 5 minutes to go for Dean Furman (who had a promising full debut) and Micheal Boulding was given 60 seconds to make an impact. Why couldn’t we have really thrown the kitchen sink at Leeds in the final stages to make it interesting? Chances are we might have conceded if it didn’t work out, but at least we would have had more of a chance of levelling things up and forcing penalties which could have lead to a famous victory on enemy territory…

But don’t let those thoughts put a dampener on what was an excellent and very credible City performance. We more than matched the best squad in League One for the full 90 minutes, and really had them under the cosh at one stage. Despite us being 2-0 down at the break, we actually had the better of the play in the first half. And in the second, we made them nervous and really had a good go. It was a night to be proud of the team – and more encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

As we were kept inside the ground for 25 minutes after the final whistle had gone, there was plenty of time for reflection on our start to the season. If we continue playing the way we did in this match, there is no doubt that a top three finish will surely be ours.

The stats show that we have lost two games in a row – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We battled gamely in both the defeats and have shown real signs that we have the spirit to not lie down in games, which is crucially important.

A trip to Vale Park on Saturday awaits for City – and three points there could really set us on our way to keeping up with the leading pack, with two very winnable home games to follow.

Our last trip to Port Vale resulted in us winning 1-0 with Steve Claridge getting the winner. This time we will be pitting our wits against a Port Vale side with ex City man Lee Sinnott in their managerial hotseat.

Lets hope we can perform on Saturday in the same courageous way we did tonight at Elland Road, and concentrate on get our promotion push back on track.

Leeds United vs Bradford City – Johnstone’s Paint Trophy First Round 2008/2009 preview

If Bradford City’s 2008/2009 campaign were a film, tonight’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy First Round trip to Leeds United would represent little more than an early sub-plot for added interest while the main one takes shape.

Sure, it could provide an exciting action sequence or two and it may include moments that are remembered long after the closing credits are run next May; but, regardless of the outcome, it’s not what this season is all about – nor will it define it.

Nevertheless the Bantams make the 9.5 mile journey to the other side of Pudsey with some expectation. The League Cup embarrassment at Huddersfield showed that, so far, manager Stuart McCall has been unable to better the efforts of previous managers when it comes to cup competitions, but this trophy is one which joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes said City should be taking seriously during the summer.

The often-maligned competition has rarely been kind to City, especially since the club returned to England’s bottom two tiers in 2004. During the first season back there was the home defeat to then non-league Accrington and while the area Quarter Finals were reached the following year – helped by a first round bye – progress came to a crashing halt at another non-league club, Kidderminster, with manager Colin Todd and player Lee Crooks having a bust-up after the latter got sent off only six minutes in.

The last two seasons have seen first round exits and controversy, first by Scunthorpe in 2006-07 when they went against rules and fielded a largely reserve side – a league encounter at Valley Parade five days later in manager Brian Laws thoughts – and last season when Stuart did the same at holders Doncaster and City were duly thrashed. Both Scunthorpe and City received fines for doing so, with Stuart paying ours out of his own pocket.

Such restrictions on team selection may not be welcomed by former Scotland team-mates Gary McAllister and Stuart this evening, but they should at least ensure both sides take the tie reasonably seriously. The disappointing news that Matt Clarke will be out for a month means Mark Bower will make his first start of the season, while the sight of Graeme Lee playing out the second half at Aldershot with a head bandage may mean TJ Moncur is drafted in. Barry Conlon is also expected to start, confidence lifted by his five-goal haul in the reserves last week. Peter Thorne will probably be rested and Stuart may look to find room for on-loan Dean Furman in the centre of midfield.

Leeds, who’s slow start to this season is in contrast to their flying one to the last, may also make changes; though it should be noted McAllister is making noises about this tie’s importance. On Saturday they drew 2-2 with Bristol Rovers meaning they have collected only 19 points from a possible 42 at Elland Road in 2008 so far.

The City-Leeds rivalry is a curious one given its apparent one-sidedness, with Leeds supporters I speak to, at least, usually at great pains to point out how indifferent they feel towards us. Indeed we are often accused of being ‘jealous’ – though why we would be envious of a club often dragged down by sections of their support, have a Chairman who is no friend to football fans, were voted the most hated club in the country and who’s financial mismanagement has arguably been worse than ours is beyond me. What Leeds should be proud of is the passion and level of their support and, for all the success of the season ticket initiatives at Valley Parade, we certainly wouldn’t mind a few more bums on seats to rival them.

Whether they care about us or not, it’s likely there will still be a sizeable home support and why not? Derbies are a great feature of football and playing their neighbours is arguably still a more interesting proposition than some of the clubs Leeds face in League One and even the Championship, should they return. It’s a tin-pot competition that means little to anyone but the winners, yet tonight’s game is of far more interest to both clubs than if City were travelling to Hartlepool and Leeds were at home to Lincoln.

For us City fans it’s a chance to avenge the previous meeting and gain our first victory over Leeds for 22 years. It might not matter as much to them, but a few thousand City fans will be situated in the South Stand, hopefully chanting non-stop. A victory would be talked about for years and may just irritate those Leeds fans, who would have to put up with our gloating, enough to look forward to the next derby with more relish.

Tonight may be a short lived sub-plot and, in our heads, we’d swap victory for three points on Saturday; but it’s still one for us City fans to relish and create a white-hot atmosphere to spur on our players in their efforts to take bragging rights.

Let’s-make-some-noise…

Football’s administration punishments need to change to avoid uncertain futures

Rotherham United are looking at coming out of administration and – as with Luton Town and Bournemouth – they face the same fifteen point penalty that Leeds United suffered last season because for whatever reason the numbers are not adding up and they are not going to be able to exit with agreement from the creditors as City did twice.

I’ve said all I want to say about Leeds United and the way they do business but I’m forced to note that the Football League’s punishments – well meaning as they are – seem to hit the clubs hardest that can ill afford them. Whatever went on at Elland Road the position in the league suggests that the club were able to take the fifteen point deduction in their stride. As Rotherham line up at The Don Valley Stadium with – we understand – a picked over squad then it can hardly be said that they are able to do the same.

Such is the problem with the punishment. Had City been hit with ten and fifteen point deductions as we would have been were those rules in place when we were in administration then the club could have ill afforded the relegations that would have come more quickly. Leicester City – on the other hand – used a CVA to walk away from massive debt and would have had no problem in taking that penalty and still being promoted back to the Premiership.

Some sanction has to be taken to avoid the Leicester City and Leeds United situation of walking away from debt but that sanction has become a harbinger of doom for those who can ill afford it such as Rotherham United.

A solution needs to be found. Administration is a result of a club trying to tilt the balance of a season towards them. We saw this in the Premiership when Geoffrey Richmond attempted to lash out cash and keep City in the top division risking all to do it. Over ambitious chairmen will always gamble the future of the club against short term success and football needs rules to stop this and protect those who have a long term view of the club – the fans.

Rather than docking points and having clubs begin seasons playing catch up the Football League should look at a system that says to clubs who want the protection from creditors that administration provides that they will offer them protection from relegation. Rather than losing ten points a club that goes into administration should not be able to be relegated for 16 months and not allowed to be promoted for a further year.

That is a year of insulation for clubs who hit financial difficulties for them to rebuild themselves without the fear that when they emerge from the blanket of debt they have cascaded down the leagues but the pay off – the way to stop a Leicester or a Leeds – is that they have to agree that they will not be promoted for two years. The period begins a month after administration is entered – that would stop clubs abusing the system to stop relegations – and would mean that should a team finish 24th in the league then the teams 19th to 23rd would be relegated.

Time then to regroup and rebuild a club like Rotherham getting the gates and the games without giving undue advantage but most importantly continuing football which is in danger of dying in Rotherham as – like City did – club’s stumble punch drunk from punishment into uncertain futures.

Time to deliver on and off the field

One of the great things about emailing people is you can pretend to be sincere.

When I mailed a Leeds-supporting friend if she’d at least enjoyed her day out at Wembley last weekend I was able to do so without the immature smirks and wisecracks Leeds-supporting colleagues who sit near me have had to endure. I was equally glad she wasn’t able to see me shaking my head in despair after receiving her reply.

Yes she’d enjoyed the occasion, but was still carrying a sense of injustice that her beloved whites had lost to Doncaster Rovers. Not because she felt the players deserved more than the 1-0 defeat they suffered, but because the Leeds United supporters had notably outnumbered their South Yorkshire counterparts.

The Doncaster fans were rubbish for the number of empty seats they left she claimed, while ignoring the fact Rovers were forced to suspend ticket sales due to the number of ticketless Leeds fans attempting to buy them. I couldn’t help but feel it was a flawed logic to believe one club deserved to beat another on account of how many supporters they could muster.

Typical Leeds United fans – arrogant and looking down their noses at clubs who are now their equal, perhaps another season in England’s third tier will teach them to be more humble.

But wait. Supporters convinced success is their privilege on the basis of the number of their own, belief that opposition players won’t be able to handle the ‘intimidation’ of your big crowds, the feeling you can sit back and enjoy assured success…it all sounds a bit familiar – like us a year ago?

If there’s one thing the 2007/08 season should have taught us it’s that having more supporters than your rivals is not an advantage on its own. With our crowds averaging 10,000 more than many others, it was easy to get carried away in the belief these small clubs wouldn’t fancy running out at Valley Parade and we’d sweep everyone aside. The reality proved somewhat different as nine defeats contributed to the best supported club in the division managing only the 11th best home record.

Another year on and, despite the lack of success on the pitch, the aim is to dramatically increase crowds once more with a second remarkable season ticket offer. The daily updated figure at the bottom of City’s official website suggests it doesn’t appear to have yet captured the Bradford public’s imagination, but with many likely to be holding out until the last minute the club are still confident that the 9,000 adult applicants needed to trigger everyone getting a free second season ticket will be reached.

The season ticket initiative deserves all the applause it’s getting, but it does throw up plenty of questions for the season ahead. Will everyone who receives a free season ticket find someone to use it and, even then, will they go to every game? Are there enough supporters anxiously waiting until just before the deadline to see if the club are close to the magic 9,000 target, where they can then split the cost with a friend confident of getting that free season ticket?

The number of season ticket holders increased markedly following the £138 offer for 2007-08 season, but many of these were clearly floating supporters lured by the optimism that Stuart McCall’s return generated and novelty of live football. If, after watching a failed campaign of League Two football they renew it’s an achievement of sorts, but do they have other friends they can persuade to join them or will they think £75 a ticket or not bother? And what if 9,000 isn’t reached, what does the club plan to do then?

The growing uncertainty of if the season ticket initiative will succeed is similar to last season, where as City failed dismally to fight against relegation the number of supporters pledging to buy a season ticket was worryingly short of the 10,000 target. Julian Rhodes decided to run the offer anyway and the summer euphoria of Stuart’s return and Mark Lawn’s investment helped the uptake exceed expectations. There will be no such off the field moves this close season and it’s unlikely Stuart will be making the sort of headline signings that would trigger large queues at the ticket office. The next few weeks are going to be very interesting.

The hope is that the offer will succeed for more reasons than for those of us who have bought a season ticket for 2008/09 to get a second free. When Rhodes unveiled the first season ticket offer in February 2007 his motivation was to make the local football team affordable to everyone in the area. Football’s incredible rise in popularity over the last 15 years has sparked unprecedented interest, but seeing it in the flesh has gone beyond the reach of many.

The original season ticket sought to readdress the balance and, after some prodding, captured people’s interest. Other clubs have since replicated what City pioneered and, as the Premier League becomes further grasped from reality, Football League clubs have the chance to re-establish their importance in local communities by being a place young and old can afford to be.

Should the 9,000 be reached, prompting the second free season tickets, more fans will be supporting City next season than during the 1998-99 promotion season exactly 10 years earlier, a fact which underlines the high ambition of the initiative. Clearly it’s going to be touch and go if this is achieved and, even if it does, question marks over the future will remain. What about season ticket prices for 2009-10? What about 2010-11? It’s unclear if Rhodes and Lawn will have such a long term strategy and ultimately it could be out of their hands.

All of which underlines the importance of things going right on the pitch next season. City must mount a stronger promotion push sooner rather than later or the renewed interest in the Bantams will fade for many as quickly as it was rediscovered. There is a hardcore support who will continue to follow City come what may, but no amount of great offers will persuade the more fair-weather supporters to keep coming if we’re going to continue struggling against the likes of Accrington and Barnet. If City can be celebrating promotion the cheap season tickets will remain popular, but it seems unlikely there will be a strong uptake next year if another season of mid-table mediocrity follows.

The statement of ambition from Julian Rhodes this week, while putting pressure on the management team, is welcome. Whether the club should believe they can be in the Championship in two years is debatable, but the old saying of shoot for the moon and, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars could be on the chairmen’s minds. Certainly the immediate aims should centre of promotion from the basement league and provide those of a claret and amber persuasion the first opportunity to celebrate success in nearly a decade.

The pictures of Leeds United supporters crying at Wembley might have give us all a good laugh, but they should also act as a warning that big crowds at Valley Parade next season offer only limited help to achieving the goal of promotion. It’s appears such lessons are being taken on board with the announcement Stuart is to have a larger than anticipated budget to mould a team capable of achieving the dreams of a fickle and impatient Bradford public – before they conclude that even some of the cheapest season tickets in the country aren’t worth it.

The man with the knife

South Leeds is the part of the City that fashion has forgotten but it is in this refuge of the non-business man that having walked from work I looked for a haircut and settled onto a barber who had the most important thing one can find in this search – an empty chair.

I got snug and looked around catching a glimpse of the odd United poster – to be expected – before doffing my glasses and waiting for the cut. The rule with barbers is small talk and so we killed time before inevitably getting onto football and the Champions League final on Wednesday.

“Coke vs Pepsi” I offered attempting to close down the conversation. I sensed he wanted more so I continued “But I guess Man United, what with being Northern…”

“I hate Man Yoo,” he replied, “Because I am Leeds.”

He was and in the middle of Leeds he has a right to be. He snipped well and quickly so I tried to press him for more saying “I thought Leeds hated Chelsea too.”

He said that he would rather both teams lost the game – if only that were possible – and that if the fans were all sent to Siberian prisons then he would not be upset. It amused me and I laughed only for his hands to roughly grab me ensuring even sideburns.

“I don’t care.” he declared “I’m going to Wembley and we are going up.” and for a moment a rush of conversation ran though my head. We should be kin – this barber and me – for we have no interest in this Moscow Show and we long for the success of our own clubs.

We are the best of rivals but not enemies. We can agree on this point and build common ground from there. The interests of clubs outside the less than a dozen that make up the haves in football are best served by recognising that Leeds United, Bradford City, Ipswich, Yeovil Town, Exeter and on and on have more in common than we do separating us.

Here in this barbers shop in South Leeds we could join on this point.

“Perhaps a bomb will go off and both Man Yoo and Chelsea will be killed?” he smiled and started to finish my hair with a razor.

His cutthroat razor flicking down the back of my neck.

We are the two of us alone in his shop and bomb idea hanging in a pregnant pause between us. A long, sharp blade flicking my neck as he asks me “Who do you support?”

Well what would you say?

Why I have to hand it to Leeds

After seeing Leeds United win 2-0 to get to the Play Off final I have to hand it to the team from East of Pudsey – they have probably done football a great service and stopped administrations to come.

Before Leeds United 33 other administrations from City’s on the 9th of May 2002 to the start of the season were done in a certain way with clubs cutting themselves to the bone to find out how much money they needed and how much they could afford to pay off creditors.

A club would look at the cost of a thin squad and what they did not need they would make an attempt to put back into the pockets of the local businesses and the St John’s Ambulance who tend to get shafted in these situations. These club hamstring themselves for the future and some are penalised ten points and while no one is saying that wrongs are righted at least an attempt is made to do that.

Then comes Leeds United who look at the size of the debts and the tariff of punishment and decide that the one is worth the other and rather than trying to make amends to the community – and the community of finance, the small businesses who have holes in cash flow thanks to them – they are based in they play administration, the game and take the hit of points while ensuring they have a squad that can overcome the penalty.

So I’m a bank or an investor and a football club come to me know because they need some cash or their overdraft extending and do I agree because I know they run by a set of guidelines designed to protect us both or do I look at Leeds United and step away?

In abusing administration Leeds United will have changed things for all clubs looking for protection from creditors. The next time a club asks for financial help then they will be knocked back by the wiser investors who have seen that the only punishment that is given for taking the money and running is a football one so that football club will have to cut it’s cloth accordingly.

That or they will do as Halifax Town have done and feel the smash of creditors losing faith in their abilities to pay it back.

In that way I have to hand it to Leeds United. They have taken a system designed to protect clubs and investors and tilted it so far in the way of the clubs that the investors will never use it again and suddenly everything in the hand to mouth existence of the lower leagues of English football just got that bit harder.

The Odius Smell From Beeston

There has always been a bit of a nasty niff in the air when an east winds blows in from Beeston, but of late it seems to be blowing a cloud that matches something from the James Herbert novel “The Dark” in terms of it’s noxious smell and taste.

True, we’ve never viewed Leeds Urinals as the best of neighbours, but somehow that could always be written off as jealousy at their status or ability to compete, and yes we’ve viewed the recent footballing downfall with a bit of amusement.

However, over the last few weeks, things have turned decidely ugly at Elland Road. The smell that permeats from the board room leaves little room for any sympathy to be extended to the owners, but a good deal to the genuine fans who stand to lose their club. A club most have supported long before the current lunatics took over the asylum.

In short, what has happened at Beeston Utd is not far short of criminal. In facts it’s not disimilar to the 1960’s “Long Firm Fraud” made famous by the Krays – where goods were ordered from suppliers, sold off cheap and a runner was done before the invoices became payable.

The Beeston Boys have ordered the goods in, sold them off and now expect the suppliers to accept 8% of the cost.

Now coming from a club who have been in this situation twice, it might seem a bit of pot calling kettle a rather off shade of brown (to be policitally correct). However it has to be said that neither of our administrations were manufactered to a time that suited BCFC, this can not be said of the one at Elland Road, and neither of our rescue packages can be seen as a cynical way of duping creditors in order to dump debt.

I hope Leeds survive, if only for the sake of their fans, but they must realise that they can not be allowed to walk out of administration and straight back into a position where ther pay transfer fees and high wages to buy promotion – forget the 10 point deduction, administration should come with a 5 year embargo on paying transfer fees and and a 5 year salary cap.

If Leeds do survive, and at present that is very much an if, then for the good of football they must be barred from immiedate investment in players and come out with completely new owners.

It’s time for the football league to give the two fingered salute to Mr Bates.

A Day of Gloom, A Lifetime of Joy

With around 10 minutes to go at Saltergate on Saturday, I looked around the pitch at our players and began to feel a huge sense of relief.

Part of this relief was because the game was almost over and I could stop watching this wretched, gutless City display. Part of the relief was also because I knew I would soon be leaving the ground and my backside could recover from the numbness of sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench for three hours. But the main reason for feeling relieved was because City’s outcome had finally been decided and I could stop fretting about their frankly feeble fight to avoid the drop to basement league football.

Of course we were hoping to leave Saltergate in celebratory mood. Two weeks ago that seemed a huge possibility after City’s welcome three points at Brighton. Last Saturday’s home defeat to Leyton Orient had killed off any realisitic hope and if anyone still felt we could do it, to many of our players clearly didn’t and failed to put up a fight. Each of the three goals conceded had an air of comedy about them as the players put in a performance as poor as anything they have managed all season.

With hope over long before the final whistle, it was easier to stop feeling gloomy and relax instead of worrying about whether Rotherham, Forest, Gillingham or Oldham could do us a favour by beating sides above us. We can now stop spending hours carefully studying the league table and trying to predict other teams results. All that’s left is a carefree, meaningless home game with Millwall next Saturday and then we can all take a break from City and come back refreshed for a League Two campaign in August.

And that is why I don’t feel too sad about the relegation at this moment. It just seems to have been inevitable and watching our players raise hopes and then fail miserably over the last few weeks has been deperessing enough. It’s often said that it’s the hope that kills you and it has been so frustrating to watch the team fail to make a better fist on avoiding relegation. It looked straightforward enough weeks ago, just a few more wins and the odd draw. At half time against Orient last week, survival seemed within touching distance. Frankly I have had enough of walking to work on a Monday morning feeling anxious/worried/depressed at City’s plight and I aim to go in with a smile on my face this Monday (especially as a couple of my colleagues support a certain Yorkshire club who have also had a bad weekend!).

After Saturday’s despair turned to relief at Saltergate, I joined in with other City supporters in singing away during the closing stages. The atmosphere became fantastic as everyone seemed to join in. Deep in stoppage time, “City till I die” boomed out of our end of the ground. It was a hugely uplifting moment that reminded me no matter how bad things get, there is always next season. This won’t be the last time I see City relegated, but I also haven’t witnessed my last City promotion.

During the last few years supporting City I have seen us get relegated from the Premiership to League One, suffer two periods of adminstration and watch countless decent players depart to be replaced by inferior ones. I’ve seen us lose woefully home and away on too many occasions to think about, watched other teams turn up at Valley Parade and win crucial games that left their fans going crazy in celebration. I’ve watched us concede a glut of horror goals through bad defending or goalkeeping, I’ve seen our strikers miss chances that even I could have scored, I’ve seen referee’s get decisions badly wrong and loads of injury time winning goals for the opposing team. Saturday’s defeat can be added to this list, but misery and City have gone hand in hand in recent years so it hardly comes as a shock.

As I looked down at the away terrace at the end of the game, I recognised a couple of City fans who I have known/seen around Valley Parade for many years. Almost 2,000 City fans had decended on Saltergate, a sizeable following that will dwarf many of our new rivals. We will all be back in August, whether it’s Accrington and Macclesfield gracing our turf. Most of the current bunch of players will have left, new players and a new manager will be in place. That old killer, hope, will return. Hopefully this time our particular hopes will finally be realised.

Despite the misery, going to watch City has given me hours of joy that I wouldn’t swap for anything. I love our club with a passion and know I will be supporting them until my dying day. Many of us feel the same and, with our continuing support, our club will turn it round and earn success. Eventually City will win a promotion, go on a good cup run and rise back up the leagues. In the not to distant future, our players will be pararding silverware around the pitch and the open top bus will come out of its garage.

It might take years but it will happen and, when it does, the memories and pain of occasions like Saturday will seem distant. We’re City till we die and we will all be there celebrate our club rising again.

Recent Posts