Strikers / Trajectory

There are many reasons, dear reader, as to why Bradford City are struggling to sign a striker following a two goalless draws one of which resulted in a penalty shoot out defeat to Accrington Stanley and what I am going to do is add a reason to the list.

Understand that I’m suggesting that this is a part of a nexus of a causal events that are conspiring to bring about an outcome and not the single and sole reason for Stuart McCall’s struggle to get a number nine who can put the ball in the onion bag.

It has to do with Japan, Andy Cooke, and West Bromwich in Birmingham.

1996

There is a temptation for anyone recalling the past to see it as halcyon. I am forty three years old next week and that means I’m old enough – just about – to remember that twenty years ago people were saying that things where better twenty years ago and to have lived through both time periods.

But I do recall that the character of football in 1996 differed from the current game in many ways but specifically in this one: Player used to decline.

Which is to say that one could watch a player on Match of the Day in the First Division for a few years of his career and when he lost a yard of pace or a touch of sharpness one could be sure that one would be seeing him at a lower league ground soon.

It was the natural order of things. Bradford City – like many clubs – number some players who declined from the top league to the grace of a good career lower down amongst their iconic figures. The top flight was done with Peter Beagrie when he came to Valley Parade, it was done with Trevor Cherry, it was done with Roy McFarland.

There was a steady stream of players who would have had a good career at the top level and would take a few stop offs down the leagues before they went to the job as a landlord/raconteur at some local boozer back near the ground where they were most fondly remembered.

2007

When Andy Cooke signed for Bradford City under Colin Todd he joined the club for a Korean side having had a few months in the Far East and got home sick. Cooke was a decent enough worker although he would not have been an answer to anyone’s goalscoring problems but he did show an interesting route a football could take.

Way batter yourself around Bristol Rover and Burton when Busan I’Cons will give you a year living somewhere exotic. Cooke was last seen playing for Market Drayton Town and one wonders if he might have thought that Busan to Bradford was not the best move he ever made.

Jay Bothroyd came through the Arsenal youth system and played for Coventry City in the top division and as he declined it became clear his career was a slow decline. Bothroyd handled that decline differently to most and cut a path that is increasingly common.

When QPR had done with him and the contracts on the table would have seen him schlepping around League One and Two he upped sticks and moved on to Thailand and Muangthong United and then to Júbilo Iwata in J2. He was J2 top scorer and got a promotion to J1.

Rather than opting to struggle in League One and Two Bothroyd went to someone else’s top flight. A modern football does not need the last pay day as was the mark of many a footballer. They can go where they going is good?

Or not.

2014

Rickie Lambert got his dream move to his boyhood club Liverpool and he got to play for England in what was an unexpected Indian Summer to his career aged 32. Liverpool moved him on to West Brom a year later and if Lambert was not already set up for life following his Bristol Rovers and Southampton career he was after a year going into an out of Anfield.

Lambert is currently at West Brom but played only eighteen games last season scoring once. I’d suggest that he is the type of player who twenty years ago would have been keen to not run down his contract at The Hawthornes and see what happened after knowing he had the comfort of a near limitless financial cushion but would have been telling his manager today that he wanted to find a club lower down to give him a three year deal to secure him a decent future.

Lambert is atypical in the Premier League in having played in the lower divisions of English football. I do not wish to cast aspersions on Lambert’s Baggy team mate José Salomón Rondón but there seems to be no future in which Rondón joined Walsall after four good years at Albion but accepting his yard of pace has gone.

Indeed it seems that when a Premier League player begins to decline rather than accepting a deterioration in contract terms lower down the league they head for the money of China, or Dubai, or somewhere else that allows you to fail upwards.

2016

It is not the sole reason that Stuart McCall struggles to find a striker but football – at the moment – has a supply problem. Players do not have the career trajectories they once had and do not end up coming to a Valley Parade aged thirty plus looking for a solid three year deal to secure their futures.

The scarcity of that sort of player makes other good strikers – the Rickie Lamberts on the way up – harder to come by and McCall, like many managers, is looking for scraps.

The first day, the fourth year, and Bradford City beating Doncaster Rovers 1-0

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Reece Burke, James Meredith | Tony McMahon, Lee Evans, Gary Liddle, Kyel Reid | Steve Davies, Devante Cole | James Hanson, Mark Marshall

Day one

There is a much mangled by often said phrase which mumbles around the words that time will make strangers of us all. It is is a gnomic observation and one which has little denoted meaning. “Death” is sometimes substituted for “Time”, “Angels” for “Strangers”

But it is not perhaps unfair to suggest that if the phrase can be applied to mean anything it means that people change over time. I am not the man I was four years ago, dear reader, and probably neither are you.

And nor is Phil Parkinson who has been Bradford City manager for a shade longer than that period.

The friend who is a new manager

The talk before this game is about the new manager. The new manager of Liverpool Jurgen Klopp has taken the national headlines. At Doncaster Rovers Darren Ferguson arrived on Friday to take charge of the home side.

Doncaster Rovers and Liverpool are not often united in expectations but both are united in a sense that pervades that both feel as if they should be higher up in football without any real justification for that. Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool will not make Manchester City any poorer, or Arsene Wenger any less keen to focus on finishing third or forth without risk of second of fifth.

Likewise there is little about Doncaster Rovers that suggests they have a natural place in The Championship and plenty to suggest that – as with a few other club in this level – they do some things right and others not. Standing around the Keepmoat Stadium looking at the pitches for juniors, the modern facilities, the ample parking one cannot help but be half impressed and half underwhelmed.

For all that impresses in the environment there is a sense that as Ferguson arrives the manager is an afterthought in a club doing all the right things to be an impressive 40-60 ranked side. They have created a setup for a team at this level. I contrasts sharply to City who are a club built in the image of the manager, and entirely dependent on that manager.

Ferguson might change that at Doncaster. He could take Doncaster to “the next level” that I’m sure has been mentioned in his recruitment. He, and Klopp, are welcome friends. Time has not made them strangers yet.

Phil Parkinson the Stranger

Which is the excitement of a new manager and the contrast with having a manager for as long as City have had Phil Parkinson. Ferguson, and Klopp, are dealing in potential. Today could be the start of the Ferguson-Era at Doncaster – in two years they could have been at Wembley twice – but it probably will not be. What is most odd about considering four years of Phil Parkinson is that most managerial appointments do not work out but Parkinson has.

Nevertheless there is a growing conflict within the Bradford City support that divides along an analytical style of Phil Parkinson’s style of play.

That style of play has always been pragmatic more than pretty and the defence for it – if a defence is needed which I would say it is not – is that the directness brought about success. “Would you rather be playing pretty football in League Two?” comes the retort, as if that sort of weighing of options were ever offered.

It has been noted that City are not progressing up League One – although the league position finished suggest otherwise – and that results at home are not good – especially if one excludes Sunderland and Millwall which in this argument one does – and so if results are not what one would want why suffer a manager playing a style of football which is not pleasing on the eye?

And of course it is never phrased that way – no one suggests Parkinson should leave Bradford City – rather it is phrased that things would be better if Parkinson were to adopt a different style of play. That if Parkinson cannot bring progress (and that is some assumption, considering he is doing) then he could at least have the decency to stagnate in an attractive way.

To wish for the end of things

Time makes strangers of us all, but Parkinson is no so strange.

When he arrived at Hull City – a larger club than Colchester United where he had made his name – Phil Parkinson was offered the opportunity to change his methods. I am told that he believed he flexed too much, and that senior Hull City players believed he flexed too little, and after an indecently short length of time Parkinson was sacked.

That Parkinson walked away from that experience – and from his time at Charlton Athletic – with the belief that he needed to be more committed to his approach rather than more flexible to change as he accuses himself of being in the past says much about why the manager is not about to begin Tiki-taka football now.

(An aside on Tiki-taka)

(It is worth noting that Tiki-taka – lauded as the most attractive way of playing the game that speaks of Spanish passion and flair – is at its heart a statistical reductionism of football tactics based on the correlation between the amount of possession a team has an its frequency of victory.)

(It is a Moneyball tactic that objectives the number of goals scored as a function of possession and thus makes possession the most important aim within a game. Possession in Tiki-taka is more important than scoring goals because retaining possession minimises the oppositions opportunity to score goals. It is, at its heart, a defensive approach.)

Not changing

To wish for Phil Parkinson the Bradford City manager to take a different approach to the game is to wish for another manager of Bradford City.

When after thirty seconds of the game with Doncaster a throw in cleared the first defenders and ended up in the middle of the penalty area one wished for City to have the sort of player who poked the ball in in such positions and there was Devante Cole to do just that.

One goal in less than a minute and to hope that Phil Parkinson would use the early goal as a platform for more is to not understand the manager who it was said of that he made teams which could defend. Recall Parkinson’s coming out party as City manager against Wigan Athletic, or the follow up against Arsenal, and Parkinson played a team of pragmatism and pressing.

The management of players working hard to constantly defend is what Parkinson brought to City and what he will hope to return to. With eighty nine minutes left to play were the situation reversed and who in Doncaster knows what new manager Ferguson would have done?

How does a Doncaster Rovers fan know how a new manager will react 45 seconds into his first game? Every City fan with an attention span know what Parkinson would do.

What Parkinson did

The performance, as it arrived, was in the spirit of 2012/2013.

The midfield pair of Lee Evans and Gary Liddle sat on top of the Rory McArdle and Reece Burke back line, and Steve Davies (and then James Hanson) defended the midfield. Tony McMahon came inside to bolster and Kyel Reid and Devante Cole stretched the home side to prevent them coming too far forward, and to stop them adding pressure to pressure.

Attack sporadic, and pushed wide it was the Parkinson we had become familiar with and perhaps forgotten. The feeling that if Nahki Wells can nick a goal then the defence could see any game out was the stuff of that season that ended at Wembley.

The best laid plans…

Which is not to suggest that there were not chances for Doncaster to get back into the game – indeed they will still be smarting over a chance that hit the bar, came down and was not ruled to be in before it was punched in by a Keshi Anderson – but the chances were minimised, and they were pushed out wide then soaked up by the central defensive pair.

Up front Devante Cole scored – he seems to do that often – but most important ran his legs off chasing down clearances and putting defenders under pressure damaging the delivery forward for Doncaster.

Like Ferguson Devante is another Manchester “son of” and that will take a line in a report despite Darren not taking the job officially until Monday. Whatever Ferguson attempts to do with Doncaster Rovers it would be easier with a striker like Cole to do it with. It is easy to forget after five Cole goals in eight games that had Parkinson had his way then Doncaster forward Andy Williams would have been leading the line for City.

We have got to know much about Parkinson. We know that he is not the greatest recruiter in football – and no one’s idea of a wheeler-dealer – and struggles to replace players he has made on the training field. Wells was replaced by Cole after eighteen months of looking at players like Williams but City still wait to see a new Gary Jones, a new Andrew Davies.

Cole fits more and more into Parkinson’s plans and Parkinson’s plans continue unchanged. Today those plans came good while often of late City have looked incapable of seeing out a lead. Parkinson makes his players, and his teams, on the training field. Improvement happens slowly but is permanent when it does.

The poster boy for this is is James Hanson. There is a school of thought that Hanson – working hard off the bench today – is “not good enough”. The people saying this flatter themselves having said that Hanson was not good enough for the bottom of League Two, and then for the top of League Two, and then to fight relegation in League One, and then to play in team fighting for promotion from League One.

The retort writes itself of course but the more salient point is that under Parkinson players like Hanson, like Rory McArdle, like James Meredith who could have spent careers in League Two are continuing to improve. “Hanson is not good enough” will eventually be right, because time will make a stranger of us all.

Parkinson is at City – Parkinson is in football management – because he believes that a team that plays as City did today defending, pressing, working with each other, will be successful.

After four years that is no different than it was on his first day at the club.

Bradford City vs Manchester United vs Rangers vs Everton in the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that never happened

Fargo

This is a true story about a four team football tournament that never happened but was going to happen at Valley Parade in the Summer of 2012 at Valley Parade, Bradford.

The tournament would be hosted by Bradford City and feature three of the biggest names in British football: Rangers, Everton and Manchester United.

It is a strange story and one which seems out of keeping with the profile of the club at the moment but take my word for it, it did happen.

Some of the names have been left out to avoid embarrassment for the people involved who did embarrassing things.

This does not include David Moyes who, if he reads this, may feel embarrassed.

Sorry David.

Flashback episode

Jason McKeown and myself, when we talk, invariable talk about the day we spent with the Chief Scout and would-have-been Director of Football at Bradford City Archie Christie. At the time we talked about the day as like being on Jim’ll Fix It but now we don’t.

The day had an unreal air about it. The aim for Christie – the 49 year old Scot who had recently arrived at Bradford City – was to show what he did in a day and how what he did did not conflict with manager Phil Parkinson but rather augmented Parkinson but thinking back I believe there was something else behind our invitation.

Christie lived in London but worked out of the a Bradford hotel most of the time. The conflict between Christie and the people he worked with like Mark Lawn, Roger Owen, and Peter Jackson I could – and perhaps will – write a book about but suffice to say that at the end of long, hard days of work the gregarious Christie went back to The Cedar Court hotel at the top of the M606, and was alone.

I imagine that Christie thought when he took the job that he would have more to do with the people around Bradford City. I imagine he thought that he would be part of a group of people, a gang, and that he would trade stories about his adventures in football and about the club he had joined but instead was spending a lot of time in a featureless Bradford hotel.

I think he probably wanted someone to talk to about Bradford City, and I think that someone was me.

Everton Part 1: Tom Cleverley

Tom Cleverley signed for Everton under freedom of contract and for no transfer fee this week leaving Bradford City without a percentage payment on the deal which took the England international – then a twelve year old child – to England’s biggest football club Manchester United.

Bradford City co-chairmen Mark Lawn is honest about how much the club were expecting that one day Cleverley would leave United and sign for someone in a deal which activated City’s sell on clause but that will not happen now and so City were – in his reading of the situation – out of pocket.

The detail of the transfer that took the twelve year old Tom Cleverley from Bradford City’s to Manchester United included a percentage of any transfer fee paid for the player, and it included a payment for each Football League/Premier League appearance the player made and – I believe – ended up netting City about £75,000*.

At Bradford City it was thought that that £75,000 was dependent on Cleverley playing for Manchester United. It was also thought that the “sell on clause” percentage applied to full transfers, and not loan deals.

However in the Autumn of 2011 Christie he drove over to Old Trafford with a copy of the transfer deal in hand and demanded the money be paid for the games played for Leicester City, Watford and Wigan on loan, and a cut of any loan fees that United were paid for Cleverley.

Christie’s point was that the transfer deal didn’t specify that the games Cleverley played had to be for Manchester United – they could be for anyone – and did specify that City were entitled to any transfer fee which included temporary transfers. The Scot was prepared to sit in the reception area until someone would deal with him, and agree with him.

He camped out for a few hours in Manchester before returning back to Valley Parade with a cheque from United for the amount which went straight into manager Peter Jackson’s budget.

The fact the money arrived for Peter Jackson to spend rather than over the following years may, or may not, been significant but what was useful was the conversation which that Christie had started with one of the biggest clubs in the World.

Christie used the opportunity to create a relationship with people in the system of Old Trafford. The terms of the relationship seemed to be that Christie would keep Manchester United informed of developments at Bradford City, and in his newly set up Development Squad and Manchester United would compensate his Development Squad Fund for that to the tune of £45,000 over a period of time*.

Money, and The Development Squad Fund

The Development Squad Fund is always a source of some confusion. It confused me and I had a good look through the spreadsheet. I knew how much the young player who Christie had offered the chance to turn their careers around at Bradford City were being paid and let me tell you they were not millionaire footballers.

Players were on around £100 a week. Christie believe that that would root out players who wanted the lifestyle of a footballer rather than to be a footballer. To live on £100 a week in Bradford you had to really want it*.

As with all clubs The Football League give money to Bradford City to be spent on for youth development some of which created a part of the fund as was appropriate because it featured some of the youth side.

The fund was augmented by other money that Christie could generate from the squad itself. This might include the Development Squad being paid to play closed-doors friendly matches at other clubs, or it might include anything raised by loaning out Development Squad players*.

This money then went into a separate pot to the manager’s budget and could not be used by the manager because it was – in part – made of Football League grants and could not be spent on transfer fees or first team players.

Christie controlled that separate pot and used for his Development Squad. From this pot players like Scott Brown, Dean Overson, Dominic Rowe, and Nahki Wells were paid, although they were not very much.

Some of the players who joined the Development Squad from other clubs were given a simple proposition by Christie. “You’ve failed as footballers to this point, your previous club does not want you, and you are going to have to get a real job now but we at Bradford City will give you a last chance. Impress us and we will put you in our first team and you do not have to go work in a Supermarket.”

Nahki Wells’ name stands out on the list because he embodied that proposition whereas the rest have had more modest careers as footballers, or no careers at all.

Wells’ name seems to justify a project like a Development Squad for clubs like City – who benefited from his transfer to Huddersfield Town for £1.25m – and justify too Premier League clubs like Manchester United investing in what are ostensibly rivals to make sure that any gems they – or their rivals – accidentally let go can be polished up and returned to the crown.

Wells has not gone to the Premier League football but Cleverley did, and so did Fabian Delph. Delph and Cleverley were both spirited away from City very young and coincidentally both played in last week’s FA Cup Final. They made the big time.

Of the tens of thousands of eleven and twelve year olds kicking a ball every weekend how did Delph and Cleverley ended up becoming the subject of real football transfers. How do clubs like Manchester United or Leeds United (who bought Delph from Bradford City) even find out that if they watch that specific game of the thousands they could watch in a weekend then they will see a future England International?

The answer seems to be from relationships such as the one which existed between Bradford City and Manchester United as a result of Archie Christie’s involvement in making Manchester United pay for Tom Cleverley.

A Person with a Black Book

In the World of Advertising Agencies (in which I have worked) there is always a New Business department and within that department there is always a Person with a Black Book.

In that book is a list of names and the names are the Person’s Contacts and those Contacts work for potential Clients. Probably the Person has got his or her job because of the names in that book and the prospect of linking Agency up with Client that Contacts represent.

After a while the Person moves on to another agency and takes the book with them. At the new Agency the Person start getting in touch with Contacts who by that time have moved to different Clients and work is done. Even though the Agency and the Client are different the Person and the Contact are the same, and that is how the business works.

What is important though is that the relationship between Agency and Client is actually a relationship between Person with a Black Book and Contact.

I’ve worked in an Agency where the Person with a Black Book has been fired on a Monday and on the Tuesday the Contact has taken the Client’s business away. This is how I am used to business working.

Advertising is a strange business like football is. It seems in both that the people have all the control they need but they do not. No matter how much work you put into a Pepsi campaign if Coca-Cola do a better campaign you lose, and no much how much work you put in in a football match if the other team do it better you lose.

In this world without control people are loyal to people.

Whatever relationship there was between Bradford City and Manchester United was really a relationship between Christie and someone at Old Trafford who was taking an interest in making sure that the Red Devils knew what was going on in the youth set-up of various clubs to make sure that they would be on hand when the next Cleverley, Delph, or Andre Wisdom or (in 2011) George Green emerged.

Whoever that was at Old Trafford – and I have no idea who it was – would probably be highly sought after for the contact book he had and likewise the contacts Christie made at Bradford City would stay with him wherever he would go after.

The cost of being Manchester United

All this might seem odd but think that Manchester United spent £59m in a transfer fee on a single player last season, and paid that player Angel Di Maria a further £280,000 a week in wages. It is estimated that Di Maria will cost United £70m over the course of five years.

By way of contrast in 2014 players who were signed young at United were often paid much less than those bought in for large transfer fees. Juan Mata was paid £140,000 a week, Shinji Kagawa £80,000 while Danny Welbeck got £75,000 and Cleverley got £40,000.

This means it would probably cost United a six times more over five years to employ of Angel Di Maria rather than Tom Cleverley.

In that context it is not hard to see why a club like United will have relationships with teams like City. To bring in a serviceable first team player when young represents a massive saving for a club even at Manchester United’s level.

Team #2: Manchester United

So it was that Manchester United agreed to take part in a four team tournament at Valley Parade in the summer of 2012 along with Bradford City which was of course an agreement between Archie Christie and someone at Old Trafford. City would be playing their full team and United would not which is how – one suspects – the agreement could be made.

The tournament was designed to fill a part of Phil Parkinson’s pre-season plans on the one hand and to showcase Bradford City on the other.

It was something Christie would have liked to do when he was working in his previous role at Dagenham and Redbridge before joining City but the poor facilities at that club prevented that.

Dag&Red is no place for entertaining the glitterati of British football but Valley Parade – a Premier League standard ground – is. Christie was a place where football people could be networked and the club could re-build relationships within the game.

“He runs up and down and kicks people”

At the start of 2011 Liverpool signed Jordan Henderson for £15m from Sunderland and some four years later that would seem to have been a good investment. Henderson has blossomed into a very good player.

At the time though Henderson was considered a curious signing by Reds boss Kenny Dalglish and was the poster boy for the idea that football’s valuations of transfer fees had lost touch with reality.

It was probably that reality which had prompted the Bradford City’s board to be somewhat amused by Archie Christie’s statement that he could get over a million pounds for fifteen year old junior player George Green. At the time Green was unknown even in Bradford City circles.

Christie had told me that the other co-chairman Julian Rhodes told him how much City were hoping to get for Cleverley and that he would be impressed if Christie could get more for Green.

Christie did. Everton paid £2m for the youngster in October 2011.

I once asked Archie Christie if he thought George Green was worth that much money and he shrugged his shoulders and indicated that most players values had little to do with their abilities and much to do with how many people wanted to buy them.

With George Green the value was set by a bidding war which was started out by Spurs following a game Green played on trial for Alex Ingerthorpe junior side (Ingerthorpe is now at Liverpool, and a great example of a person who has taken his contact book with him to another club) and the bid went to a number of clubs before eventually settling on Everton.

One of the suitors was Glasgow Rangers.

Christie’s relationship with Rangers had started long before I crossed paths with him and would carry on after. Christie involved himself in one of the many takeover bids for the club he supported and would have – when asked – call Rangers his dream job.

Christie saw Rangers as the perfect club for Bradford City to sell George Green to explaining that he wanted the youngster go to a club who would then sell him after he had progressed as a player and so City’s sell on percentage clause value would be maximised.

I believe* that Rangers put a bid in for Green and that bid included City getting their choice of the Rangers youth ranks to take on loan to Valley Parade. I was asked who I would take and joked “John Fleck“, to which Christie indicated that not only did he agree but that that would be the deal.

Fleck turns up at Valley Parade as an impressive Coventry City player now and again but at the time signing him seemed unrealistic.

Negotiations with Rangers seemed to have produced an offer and part of the negotiations included Christie telling his opposite number at Rangers that Green would eventually be a better player than Henderson who “runs up and down and kicks people”

Rangers agreed – or rather someone at Rangers agreed – to join in the four team tournament in 2012 and like Manchester United they would be sending a young side. They may have had a similar agreement in place about the Development Squad or being kept informed but not long after they were thrown out of the Scottish League structure after spending more than they could afford and many of the staff left the club, including Fleck.

I asked Christie what he really thought of Henderson and he said he thought he was a good player. I asked him how Green was worth £2m and sighted an example of another player who had sold for less and his reply stays with me now for its oddness: “I’ve Spice Girlsed this.**”

That Championship Manager problem again

We are a generation of football fans schooled on the computer game Championship Manager.

In Championship Manager every player has a value set by the game as a function of his abilities as represented by statistics. The higher the stats the more a player is worth, and the stats are (mostly) visible to all.

This is how we got to understand transfers as we grew up to a football world increasingly interested in money. We understood that within football there was a way of looking at a player and – with an experienced eye – knowing what his true value was.

Of course there is not. Not in reality.

We also know the economist credo that something is worth what a purchaser will pay for it. That proposition does not help us in trying to find how much a footballer is worth in the absence of anyone attempting to purchase him, or anyone making a bid.

City had had a single bid for Tom Cleverley and so Tom Cleverley was worth £75,000*.

With George Green bidders were set against bidders and the price escalated until a fifteen year old who only played his first League Two games this season (on loan at Tranmere Rovers) sold for more money than City would end up receiving for top scorer Nahki Wells when he left for Huddersfield Town three years, forty two goals and two appearances at Wembley later.

Nahki Wells was not Spice Girlsed.

Everton Part 2: “I was pissing by the door”

Tottenham Hotspur had put in a transfer offer for Green. This transfer offer was for £1.5m is unique in the entire history of professional football.

It is the only one which I have held in my hand.

I walked to the printer, I picked up the five copies, and I read one. It was six or seven bullet points detailing when City would get various payments for Green’s services and it was signed at the bottom by Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman.

None of the points were that Spurs would take part in the pre-season tournament at Valley Parade but Christie told Jason and myself that the North London team would be sending a side as he headed to a board meeting, transfer offer in hand.

Again the relationship seemed to exist between Christie and someone at Spurs, rather than Spurs themselves.

Eventually Everton made the deal and agreed to take Spurs’ part in the four team tournament. We’ve talked about this before, dear reader, but there was a curious aside and an interesting finish.

Christie was rarely in London but late one night – I was surprised by how late football does its business – during the bidding for Green I was on a call with Christie on his house phone when his mobile, paced within earshot of the landline, rang.

“Its Davie Moyes” Christie said excitedly before asking me to go along with anything he said to Moyes in the next five minutes. I caught my breath.

Sure enough the familiar tones Moyes could be heard from one phone to another and I heard Christie informed the then Everton manager that he could not take the his call because he was on the other line but rather than saying it was a conversation with me, he said he was talking to Bayern Munich General Manager Uli Hoeness.

Moyes did not believe Christie at first and so Christie offered to allow Moyes the chance to talk on the phone with his German rival. This inspired no little panic on my part as I imagined my inability to convincingly impersonate Hoeness.

I know no German at all and my accent is very much Bradford. I thought of the television programme ‘Allo ‘Allo and uttered the word “Ja” softly but audibly in practice. No one heard I assume.

I need not have worried. Moyes was convinced of Hoeness’ presence and hastened off the other line.

It struck me as embarrassing that Moyes should believe such a fanciful story as Germany’s leading football club trying to buy a young English player that no one had ever heard of but it turns out that at the time Bayern Munich were doing just that.

They were indeed one of the many clubs to express some kind of vague interest in George Green and later they signed Dale Jennings from Tranmere Rovers. They had set up a scouting network in the English lower leagues under the belief that English Premier League clubs might be ignoring the talent that was under their noses in favour of buying in players.

Munich may still believe that but the only player they signed from English lower league football was Jennings and he left for Barnsley after a few years. The English are notoriously bad settlers and this may put Bayern off but it is true that Bayern Munich have scouts watching English League Two football. Perhaps they are the only European club who do or perhaps not.

Maybe City games are occasionally attended by the Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan scouts all searching for the next big thing and fearing that if they do not over turn every stone in that search then their rivals will.

After our crossing of sorts I followed Hoeness’ career. He was jailed in 2013 for evading 30m Euro in tax and resigned from Bayern Munich. I tracked down a recording of him speaking about his case.

He sounded very German.

Team #4: Tottenham Hotspur Everton

The deal was done at £2m for George Green to join Everton.

Christie sealed it with a handshake and drove away only for – and this is how Christie related it – Spurs to get back in touch and Harry Redknapp himself to up his offer over Everton’s £2m to £2.4m.

The new Spurs bid was turned down because a deal had been agreed but not before Moyes had “become aware” of it and had sought assurances that he would not be gazumped.

It was important that Christie show that when a deal was made with Moyes all football knew it could not be broken. It was important in re-establishing Bradford City’s credentials in football as a club you could do business with.

Re-establishing because in 2011 City had twice been in administration in the previous ten years and that means twice evaded debts they should have paid. This could make people nervous around deals with City and so it was important to Christie that the club start a rehabilitation of their reputation as a club of good standing.

The handshake sealed the contract and this impressed Moyes who had already agreed to send an Everton side to Valley Parade for the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament and now agreed to send his first team as a show of gratitude.

That Moyes would send a strong Everton side was a mark of respect but it was the respect which would prove most valuable in the long term. I was started to see the point of the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that Christie was planning was far beyond good matches and bums on seats.

I had thought that football was an imperfect meritocracy before but now I was beginning to see where those imperfections were. Of course a lack of money holds you back in football but it seemed that a lack of respect was a problem too. If you are not taken seriously as a club then serious clubs will exploit you.

This could have been what happened with Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph and Andrew Wisdom who joined Liverpool when young all for small fees – I could not say – but I’ve been watching Bradford City for over thirty years and have always noticed that our best players leave us for relatively small amounts.

City’s 1980s heroes Stuart McCall and John Hendrie were good value for the teams that picked them up. Nahki Wells was good value for Huddersfield too when he joined them. The only time I can recall City selling a player and seeming to have got the better side of lopsided deal is Des Hamilton‘s exit to Newcastle United in 1998.

Then City were run by Geoffrey Richmond. He was a serious man indeed.

By assembling a group of big name sides to stand next to City Archie Christie believed that City would start to build networks, to get respect by association, and to become a serious club in the business of football.

The business of football was not unlike other businesses and was built on personal relationships and on being well thought of in the football community as being capable or at least that is what Christie seemed to think.

In writing this I read back this comment from Mark Lawn about the Cleverley deal which seems unlike anything else the co-chairman has ever said in its tone and content.

We’re currently in discussions with (Manchester) United. They are a professional and sensible club so I don’t see a problem.

That sounds like Christie’s words and not Lawn’s who is lauded for being the plain speaking Yorkshire man on Match of the Day. I mention this not to suggest Lawn did not say them but to show how the club was operating in those days.

The highest complement that City could pay the highest team in the land in negotiations – some carefully chosen words – was that they were professional and sensible. City – via Lawn – bestowed upon Manchester United the traits they were so keen to claim back for themselves.

Christie had been offered the Director of Football job at Valley Parade. He had a letter making the offer which he had – for reasons which would become clear – not replied to despite his having a plan in place for the Summer of 2012.

Before that though he would host a collection of influential football scouts and agents to watch a game at City as part of his building of City’s reputation.

It was relationship building but Christie told me he had seventeen people who could help him help Phil Parkinson get together squad he wanted. It was Archie’s way of announcing that City were a serious and credible football club that football could do business with again.

The game was Marine at home in the Second Round of the FA Youth Cup.

So now then

The Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament never happened of course.

I have no idea how close it came to being scheduled or even if it been talked about at any level with anyone else at Valley Parade but Christie left Bradford City.

It would not surprise me at all if the people at the various clubs had – like Christie – moved on and that little is remembered about sketched plans to take teams to pre-season games.

David Moyes may recall agreeing to bring his Everton side but he has – famously – left Everton since for Manchester United and then Real Sociadad.

The person was at Rangers is almost certainly not at Rangers anymore and who knows who was in the depths of Old Trafford agreeing to bring whatever team to Valley Parade but one can imagine that that person makes it their business to make many of those deals every season.

I would not like to say if what Christie was planning at Valley Parade was unique but I doubt it was. I suspect football is littered with the plans of the ambitious. Not remembered as the agenda moves on, and perhaps not worth remembering to some.

I remember though. I remember because it was such an education into how football worked beyond how we – the supporters – assume it does.

It was arbitrary in a way that exceeded anything I could have imagined even after covering City for the ten years previous and it was more personal than anyone would think.

That is what makes football like any other business. It is not because of the money involved but because like any other business people want to do business with people they like, and respect, and believe can do a good job.

And while those relationships are crucial to a club they are not tied to the clubs but rather to the individual people at the club.

Epilogue: The Archie Christie Memorial Trophy

Summer 2012 in Winter 2013.

A Saturday of semi-finals and then a third place and a final on the Sunday. It was the Olympic Summer and I remember heat of the end of July but it was a cold Winter eighteen months later and I had not much to do.

  1. Bradford City
  2. Manchester United (II/u18)
  3. Glasgow Rangers II
  4. Everton

I played out the games using Championship Manager (FM2013) assuming that City would play Manchester United in the semi – City lost – and Everton would beat Rangers leaving a full strength Everton side to play a Sunday final against Manchester United.

Everton won. Moyes beat Manchester United.

So David did get something out of it whole thing, in a way, but I don’t think anyone else really did.


Notes

* These figures and deals are from memory rather than recordings, and could be inaccurate because of that, but they are to the best of my memory.

** Archie Christie died in 2014 and much of this article is made up of conversations only some of which were recorded so I have attempted to avoid verbatim quotes through out. Some stick in the mind though.

Steven Gerrard, no EPLs and having the football we want

As I write this article Steven Gerrard, Liverpool footballer, is preparing to play his last match at Anfield after seventeen years as a professional at the club.

Gerrard’s exit is the final story in a Premier League which seems to have long since been decided. Chelsea have won the league – Oh Chelsea – and Burnley & QPR have been relegated with Hull City to follow probably.

I say probably because it would seem that given the choice between devoting its 24 hour news coverage to the fate of Hull City, or the play offs, or Gerrard’s closing career in English football the media seems to have decided that the England midfielder is the story to cover.

And of course this gave rise to criticism on Twitter because – well – there is nothing in modern life which does not beget the fury of people on Twitter. This criticism is summed up in the idea that the coverage is excessive considering that Gerrard had not won the Premier League championship.

EPL

When I first heard the phrase “EPL” I knew that something truly ghastly had entered the conversation on English football. As an abbreviation for English Premier League it makes perfect sense alongside the Scottish Premier League, The National Football League, Major League Baseball and so on but its creation as a term in common usage denoted the internationalisation of the top flight of the English game.

“How many EPLs has Gerrard won?”, “He won UCL!” and so on. This is the lingua fraca of discussing the top of English football on some places. I do not suggest you discuss football on the Quora website but if you do prepared to be amazed by just how remote the discussions are from the mechanics of week-to-week supporting of Bradford City.

But let me be clear this situation of internationalisation of the English Premier League support is not an issue because Americans want to watch Manchester United or that people in Indonesia want to follow Liverpool. It is an issue because those Americans and Indonesians are in American and Indonesia.

They are far away

Far away and not likely to ever go to Old Trafford or Anfield but able to follow their clubs remotely through websites and live TV streams. They can commit a good deal of time to their support and by virtue of their financial contributions in shirt sales and so on I’d support an argument that they had paid their dues.

(I use the term “their” advisedly, I’m not arguing that they are less fans, or that their support is less genuine.)

However the mechanics of supporting a club you will never see – or may only see once or twice – are different from those of watching a team week-in-week-out. I know this from my experience following Japanese side JEF United in addition to Bradford City.

For City I appreciate attributes from players such as the effort they give when trailing by two at Peterborough United, or how they try motivate their team mates to sneak a victory at Rochdale when a draw would be a perfectly acceptable result. The moments which tell you the most about a player or a team are those which are not lingered on by TV cameras. The walk back after a concession, the speed of which a player gets back to his feet, the look on his face when a team mate makes a mistake.

I have none of this information when following JEF United. I have stats. Goals scored, assists, number of EPLs won.

Framing the debate

Drop into a global “EPL Talk forum” and the discussion is almost entirely about stats and not about character which, in my opinion, frames the debate of football entirely in the wrong way. In my opinion the number of EPLs that Chelsea had one was not as important as the character which Bradford City showed.

(As an aside it was interesting how easily Chelsea recovered from that defeat in the FA Cup fourth round and how little impact it made on their profile, globally or nationally. I believe that was because there was no context to the statistics that the game offered. It was impossible to make sense of stats like how much money Chelsea cost compared to City when the disparity was so large, it was impossible to make sense of it so it was ignored.)

This debate framed poorly values different things at the top of the Premier League which attracts a great many supporters who are not regular attenders of games than it does at lower levels, and for supporters of teams at the top of the Premier League who do attend regularly.

It is hard to argue that the regular attenders pay for football – TV money, advertising and so on pay a good chunk of the bills – but when chunking up and down the Motorways its easy to imagine that regulars are showing a level of commitment that demands that the coverage of the game be set up for them.

This may be an illusion – a factor of the white lines late on a Saturday evening returning home – but the idea that football coverage is for the benefit of people other than those who go to games is not something which is oft considered. We assumed that the explosion in football coverage that came in the last twenty years would be for the benefit of the same people who have season tickets. We were wrong.

We do not have the football coverage we want.

Gerrard

Steven Gerrard has some remarkable achievements as a Liverpool player – UCLs and so on – but talking to people who go to Anfield his contributions are more marked in the way that City fans have considered Stuart McCall and Gary Jones in the past, and consider the likes of Andrew Davies and James Hanson now.

The tributes to him as he prepares for his final game at Anfield are the odd mix of a football event which has some resonance with supporters of clubs up and down the country and something which appeals to the debates of the EPL Forum.

These moments are rare, and when they come they highlight the distance between these two sets of value, and how wide that distance often is.

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.

Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

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

This is the individual view of history.

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

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

From Pol Pot to Pulis

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

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

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

The heroes of failure

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

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

And let me start by saying…

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

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

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

In the worst possible way

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

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

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

Being Phil Parkinson

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

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

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

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stevie Gee

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

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

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

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dirty James and the reading of football analytics

James Hanson is the league’s dirtiest player. If you do not appreciate that then you do not appreciate James Hanson.

Statistics leaked out that showed that Hanson had given away more free kicks than any other player in the Football League prompting Phil Parkinson to defend his player against the accusation saying James is the fairest jumper I’ve ever seen. He never jumps with his arms and catches anybody. He’s different class at that but he gets too many fouls against him.

Parkinson continued to say that he was unhappy with the level of protection that Hanson gets from double or triple marking he suffers but eventually sighs that the problem that City have is that the opposition do their homework on how the Bantams will play.

That Hanson gained this label of the league’s most fouling player should be no surprise to anyone who has watched him in his five seasons as a footballer. He commits more fouls in a game that Bruno Rodriguez did in his entire Bradford City career but I find I am not unhappy with that situation.

In fact I find that watching James Hanson jumping for absolutely everything is a more satisfying and inspiring afternoon than watching – for example – Andy Gray being outjumped with his two feet rooted to terra firma. The fact that Hanson wins more than most probably makes his approach more palatable too but there is something to raise the spirits in a player who very obviously throws himself into everything.

Yes James Hanson is dirty, but its the dirty on his shirt and knees from jumping and falling and the dirty under his fingernails from a hard afternoon of graft.

The fact that this statistic has surfaced continues football’s increasingly affection for the world of numbers. Manchester City pushed big data in football into the public arena with the MCFC Analytics project. There is a response to this movement which is summed up in the phrase People who reduce one of Zinedine Zidane’s famous pirouettes to a statistic about completed dribbles don’t deserve football.

The middle ground for this debate is in Everton manager Roberto Martinez reading over reams of stats before concluding that footballers are footballers one day of the week and people six, and that much of the game is instict and not analysis.

The argument against statistics in football is a pointless one. Everything in football can be “reduced” to a dataset be it a jump from Noel Blake or a Cruyff turn but that is not a call towards reductionism and a statement that Zidane’s pirouettes were just “dribbles” just a statement on the nature of statistics as being a method of capturing a record of events.

It might be forever beyond the abilities of statisticians to create a metric on how two dribbles differ but many attributes of a player which were considered unmodellable have now been defined and proved useful.

Jordan Henderson’s move to Liverpool was driven by his “win back in the final third percentage” which made him worth capturing for a club invigorated by analytics convert John Henry. Pure instinct on the player said he had “funny gait”.

A football match generates a multitude of statistics (although it is only defined by two: goals scored for both sides) but what Henry and the Sabermetric devotees in Baseball that he rose out of and their footballing counterparts believe is that some of those, and some combinations of those, can give you insights. Baseball sabermetrics is the quest for the perfect compound statistic like a Holy Grail. Football statisticians are looking for the same.

It is incurious to say the least to present “most fouls” as “dirtiest” and one would love to contrast the fouls given away by Hanson to the headed challenges he wins, the ones he loses, and the goals that come from those challenges and the contrast those with other players in the division.

Similarly as Phil Parkinson is soon to ascend to the being the manager who has been in change of the 7th most Bradford City games – and as those managers are often judged on “win percentage” in isolation – it is worth considering at what other metrics could be added to get a more accurate reading of the value that those managers have brought to the club, or to any club.

Failing to enrich the understanding of statistics in football and how they have to be compounded will lead to the misuse of statistics like (I suspect) labelling James Hanson dirty because he gets involved in play a lot. The worst excess of this is watching Robbie Savage says statistics with increasing volume as if the validity of restating something out of context is dependent on volume.

As analytics begin to play more of a role in football – and they are doing – then supporters will need to get more used to the idea of not seeing a single stat as an end but rather as a part of a wider picture.

What could have been done when Wells decided to join Huddersfield Town?

“Nahki Wells only wanted to join Huddersfield Town” – Bradford City joint chairman Mark Lawn told local radio with the inference being that once the striker who departed Valley Parade for the our West Yorkshire rivals for a fee described as a snip all the Bantams could do was arrange a fee which could aptly be described as “what the buyer wanted to pay”

Lawn’s interview suggested an honesty which won many people over although while no one doubts the veracity that he could do nothing to stop the striker leaving for a fee which was half of what Julian Rhodes had said he wanted for the player but a month before the question – for me at least – is not how little could Lawn do but what could someone else have done?

What can you do when a player decides he wants to leave?

John Henry is about as far away from Mark Lawn as one could hope to find. Urbane, American and successful Henry’s level of fame as Boston Red Sox owner is such that he is able to go to the movies to watch someone playing him (in the film Moneyball) or he can turn on Channel Five’s Being Liverpool and see himself in charge of the Merseyside football club he bought in 2011.

In the August of 2013 Henry faced a situation not dissimilar to the one City faced with Nahki Wells and perhaps because of his being an outsider he did not buy into the “what can you do” wisdom that Lawn speaks.

When Arsenal decided they wanted Luis Suarez to give them the advantage in pushing for the fourth placed spot which Henry wants for Liverpool the American owner said no. Henry – a devotee of Sabrenomics – concluded that because Arsenal were a rival for that position, and because Suarez would afford Arsenal a competitive advantage over Liverpool, he would not be allowed to join the Gunners for any price.

And so Suarez – who like Wells had made it clear that he wanted to join a named, specific club – was sent to train with the juniors. The risk of a sulk and the idea that you cannot keep an unhappy player was challenged. Henry and his manager Brendan Rodgers waited for other bids and there were none so at the end of the August transfer window – with only a bid that Henry would not consider on the table – Luis Suarez was invited to apologise and return to the fold.

Five months later and he is currently the top scorer in the Premier League and perhaps the player of the season.

But Bradford City are not Liverpool? Can we afford to have a player like Wells on the sidelines? Do we have Liverpool’s strength in depth? I’d argue we could. I’d argue that James Hanson is the most important forward at City and that Wells is our Daniel Sturridge not our Luis Suarez.

Had Wells been told that he could not join Huddersfield Town and that his choice was to either consider a bid from another in the open market or stay at City then on February the first had one not emerged would he really have sat out the rest of this season and next? Or would he, like Suarez, have returned to the fold?

Could City have done that? What would we have to lose? Unless the money for Wells’ is urgently needed – which would be a damning indictment for a club that was at Wembley twice last season – then one fails to see why not? We would have broken the Huddersfield Only monopoly and been able to sell him for something like the price we wanted.

Or we could have sold him to Huddersfield Town for more money. Yohan Cabaye – again having raised excellent reviews for Newcastle United this season – spent most of August in “the wrong frame of mind” to play after a bid from Arsenal of £8m for his services.

Cabaye wanted to leave St James’ Park for London but was told that he would be going nowhere unless the club’s valuation of him was met. Newcastle United said they wanted £20m, the rumour was they would have settled for £16m, but unlike Bradford City they did not let the buying team set the price.

Arsenal were told in no uncertain terms that there was a price to pay and unless they met that price they would not be able to sign the player. Cabaye sulked – or what is termed as a sulk for footballers – and missed August but again when he was faced with months on the sidelines he midfielder came back into the fold. The fans forgive him for his long face and his and Newcastle United’s performances this season have been excellent.

Newcastle United chairman Mike Ashley – much maligned in the North East – and his team decided that they did not have to accept the idea that “player power” decided what they could and could not do. They decided they would exercise what control they had and get either the money they wanted or keep the player.

And why could the same approach not have been taken about Nahki Wells. Why could Huddersfield Town not been told that unless they were to give the figure which City wanted for the player, rather than the one that they wanted to pay, then Wells would not play for anyone.

Huddersfield are given a stark choice – £3m or don’t have him – and Wells gets to choose between cooling his heels on a Saturday if that money can’t be found or playing football to try attract someone who will pay it. If he chooses cooling his heels then so be it but very few footballers decide that they have 18 months of their career to spare and if there was anyone the fans could forgive it would be a goalscorer.

Again one wonders what would have stopped Bradford City doing that? The need to do business early in the market is a short term concern about trying to reignite a promotion push which is fading while the attempt to get twice as much for a player fuels the long term prosperity of the club. Is getting a player in this season really better than another £1.5m in the bank? That is the entire wage budget for our promotion season.

Which is not to say that either of those approaches were guaranteed to work but neither represent the meek surrender which City showed when allowing Wells and Huddersfield Town to decide the future of Bradford City.

I don’t think there is any dishonesty when people say “what could the board do when Wells had decided he wanted to join Huddersfield?” but that is different from “what could have been done?”

Sadly the answer to that last question is “anything, which would have been better than nothing”.

Honesty in football management

Blackburn Rovers are stopping supporters from displaying banners which call for manager Steve Kean to be sacked. Rovers have taken this action in the name of health and safety.

Honesty in football is a strange thing. It helps football and footballers that lies exist. In his excellent book Bounce Matthew Syed argues that the very core of a champion sportsperson is the ability to hold the view that they are the best at their sport in the world and thus unbeatable while at the same time knowing that they need to look around them and learn from what they can see.

The Liverpool Boot Room used to invite opposition managers in for a quick ale after every game with the other gaffer being awestruck to be in the inner-sanctum of the greatest club in the world not realising that he was being pumped for information as he sipped a bottle of beer with Bob Paisley. Liverpool stayed on top by learning from those underneath them, but maintained the front of needing nothing.

It is not honest, but it is football and it is successful.

Every club in football talks about having great fans, special fans, and it is obviously not always true and rarely honestly said. Steve Kean talks about a minority of the great Ewood Park crowd being against him perhaps in the hope that he will create a loop of belief. He believes them, they believe him.

Not that that would worry the Blackburn Rovers fans who talk about Steve Kean – or any City fans who are against our managers (and there have been a few) – because without the success then the belief that you are unbeatable is hard to maintain. Football is a game played largely in the space between the ears and convincing the players that they are able to win is most of the battle. Give the players an excuse to lose and they will take it, as the Blackburn players often seem to do.

Counter-intuitively though giving the players a reason they lost can often improve performance. It is trick that Sir Alex Ferguson perfected in his first decade at Old Trafford. Manchester United lost because of The Ref, because of England injuring Bryan Robson, because the people on Match of the Day supported Liverpool and so on. The players built up a siege mentality with Ferguson making them believe that everyone else was at the root of their failings. They bought it too, and the rest is history.

Blackburn supporters may think that there is an honesty to their protests and may indeed be aware that that honesty is counter-productive and believe that what they are doing is for the benefit of the club in the longer term. Kean counters with his talk of minorities.

Once I would like a manager to reply in honest kind. To take the microphone and tell these who criticise him that he will be in work at some early hour working hard to try put right what is wrong while they are still in bed. That the failure that they feel on a Saturday or a Tuesday is the all consuming force in his mind. That they support the club a few days a week and he works every day, constantly, trying to improve the club.

And then the other truths. That the next manager that they want to replace him with will only be able to offer the same thing: hard work, a few ideas, a few contacts; and that really all that anyone can offer at a club.

Managers though are trapped in the need to believe that they can make a difference so Kean carries responsibility for the slump on honest shoulders, or as honest as football can bring itself to be.

Sir Oliver Popplewell, Bradford, Liverpool, Hillsborough and the obstructions to moving on

I was sitting in the back row of the old wooden stand on that fateful May afternoon. Four years later, when Hillsborough was the scene of the next football disaster, I was living in South Yorkshire. In 2004, while I was researching what became ‘Four Minutes to Hell’, I spent a number of days in a room at Bradford University reading the original papers from the Popplewell enquiry and even corresponded briefly with the (by then) retired judge about using quotes from his 2003 book ‘Benchmark’. I moved from Yorkshire to sit as a judge and by now I have lived on Merseyside for the best part of seventeen years. So I suppose it was inevitable that I would get the media phone calls.

For those who haven’t read the letter from Sir Oliver Popplewell, published in The Times on Wednesday of this week, it can be summarised as praising the dignity and courage shown by the citizens of Bradford in 1985 and asking whether there is ‘a lesson there for the Hillsborough campaigners.’ Crucially, Sir Oliver uses a short phrase about those of us involved in the fire, to sum up what the lesson might be; he says we ‘moved on’. There is no way to exaggerate the effect those two words have had on so many people in this part of the world.

I was asked several times to comment on what he had written. Some of my comments were used as sound bites, others given a little more air time. But I always feel happier writing than speaking, not least because I can re-read what I write, whereas I can never pull the spoken words back into my mouth to re-arrange them. So here is what I did say to various media outlets, except this time it’s better constructed.

I was proud to see again Sir Oliver expressing his opinion on the city where I grew up. I had read it before, both in his report and his book, but we don’t get too many compliments of that sort these days, so it’s always good to read one. Letters to newspapers are often reduced, sometimes vastly, to the point where the author may wish he’d never sent it. Perhaps that happened to Sir Oliver. I don’t know. ‘Moving on’ is a risky phrase to use in these circumstances. Making such a direct comparison between two disasters also has its problems. Valley Parade and Hillsborough are different, but not just because one was a fire and the other a crushing. Valley Parade is unique as the only football disaster in this country where the fatalities were caused by fire. Hillsborough followed Burnden Park and Ibrox, either of which might have been a more relevant comparison.

The essential difference is in the immediate aftermath. There was one reporter, whose words I will not dignify by naming either him or his newspaper, who insisted that he ‘knew’ that the fire had been started by a smoke bomb, an act of vandalism so common in football grounds of that era. There were other reporters who intruded into the recovery of hospital patients, even to the extent of erecting ladders so they could look through first floor windows. But by and large the press was not a problem.

The most significant difference was in the way the enquiry was conducted. Sir Oliver heard the evidence he needed to hear within little more than a month after the fire and produced his first report within another month. The reason he could do all this is familiar to those of us accustomed to the way courts work. You only go in detail into the evidence that is disputed. Hardly any evidence was disputed after the fire, although there were disagreements about what inferences should be drawn from the admitted facts. In particular, Stafford Heginbotham, the club chairman at the time, admitted publicly all the things that might have been done better or more quickly. The experts and the other witnesses made it easy for Sir Oliver to conclude that the fire had been caused accidentally. It was equally straightforward for Mr Justice Cantley to conclude the proceedings in the civil courts, which resulted in the payment of damages, and for the Coroner to hold a fairly non-controversial inquest.

Within a few weeks most of us felt we knew what there was to know, that such blame as there was had been apportioned and that we could now look to the future and decide how to ‘move on’. Moving on is a very difficult phrase. First and foremost, it quite decidedly does not mean ‘forgetting’. We will never forget. It seems to me it involves finding a way of going about our day-to-day lives without allowing the events of 1985 to intrude unnecessarily or inappropriately. They will come back – and very sharply – at the most unexpected moments. I remember sitting one day in 1999 or thereabouts in a courtroom in Liverpool. There was some work being done outside to a building with a flat roof. Bitumen was being heated to apply to the roof. The smell took me right back to that melting bitumen on that Saturday afternoon. I took over another courtroom.

So ‘moving on’ is not an exact science. It means different things to each of us. Some, I know, cope with the fire only by blanking it out. Others feel better for talking about it. But most of us in our personal and individual ways have ‘moved on’ since 1985. We were given the opportunity to do so because we felt that we knew what had happened. We need not go back over past events to discover the truth. We could draw a line and were given the chance to look to the future. In the more modern parlance, we had closure.

Hillsborough is just not like that and therein the essential difference (and the problems with Sir Oliver’s letter) lies.

Lord Justice Taylor’s enquiry took much longer. There were no clear cut admissions; the evidence had to be gone into in greater detail. He made his findings, particularly about the inadequacies of the policing on that afternoon, but the families of the deceased were not satisfied that they had discovered the whole truth. It became clear, for example, that the senior officer, David Duckinfield had at one time said the gate was forced and later accepted that he had given the order for it to be opened. Duckinfield and his immediate junior, Bernard Murray, were the defendants in a private prosecution, which was halted on the grounds of Duckinfield’s health. But by this time the families had evidence that the police had not told the whole truth.

They also had to face ‘The Truth’ from another source, a headline in The Sun, a newspaper which many shops in Liverpool refuse to sell to this very day. Unnamed sources made claims of disgraceful actions on the part of some supporters. That particular obloquy remains the subject of another campaign, still in the news this week.

Sir Oliver’s letter was, of course, published because of its newsworthiness, following close on the debate in Parliament about the pending release of further papers. But it is the very release of those papers that ensures that the Hillsborough families will not be ‘moving on’ just yet.

Twenty two years later, they do not feel they have heard all there is to hear about why those fans died. Despite the detail of the Taylor report, they do not believe that blame has been fully and finally apportioned. They do not believe they have been told the whole truth. They do not believe they can draw a line. They do not believe they have been given the opportunity to look to the future, to ‘move on’ in their individual ways.

When the documents are released next year, they may be given that opportunity. They may, however, still feel that they have not been told the whole truth, that blame still has not been properly apportioned and that their campaign for ‘Justice for the 96’ must continue. If that is the case, they will still be unable to ‘move on’, which will be even more sad. I can only say that it took me and, I’m sure, many others at Valley Parade a very long time to reach an accommodation with the events of that day. We had the benefit of being able to start on that process quite quickly and yet it still took many of us half a lifetime to make such progress. You have to feel sorry for those who, so long after their own loss, still have not been able even to begin that process.

The Hillsborough families will be given the opportunity to ‘move on’ only when they are satisfied that they know the whole truth. I hope that day arrives soon for them.


Retired Judge Paul Firth is the author of Four Minutes to Hell which presents the details of the fire of 1985.

It takes twenty to tango

There is nothing new about the idea that Liverpool’s Ian Ayre floated this morning would allow clubs to negotiated certain television rights as individual entities rather than a part of the Premier League collective bargaining group but the idea remains a poor one.

Ayre’s logic seems sound when he talked about international rights being sold on the basis of watching the higher profile teams like his club, Manchester United and Arsenal but he is wrong to consider the reason for that that the teams themselves are available to watch.

When Manchester United play a friendly tour the rights are sold for less than the Premier League games because the competition is less. Even though Ayre’s team might be the star of the show, the show is all twenty teams and the league, and what is good for the show is good for all involved.

All of which seems like a simple concept. The concern of Ayre is that the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid who are able to individually bargain for rights will leave the Premier League clubs behind in revenue for those rights but an unbalance in a league which has to automatic righting system (the Premier League – because it has no promotion to take away the cream – is prone to unbalance) is never an attractive one and ultimately that will cause revenue to suffer both domestically and internationally.

What Ayre gathers with one hand, he loses with the other. He is not a stupid man, he knows this, but his primary aim is not the long term health of English football it is the medium term finances of Liverpool football club.

Which is the problem with Ayre and people in his position at the clubs who are at the top of the European pile. The aims that their positions dictates they have are not those which would guarantee long term health for the top flight, and thus the rest of the game.

Ayre raises the ire of the smaller clubs and some of them smaller clubs are pretty big. It was clubs in the position of Bolton Wanderers – a team listed as unattractive by Ayre – who voted for the establishment of the Premier League. The appeal then was that a line would be drawn below clubs in that position, now that line creeps higher.

There is a need for football in all its spheres to look at what the aims of the Premier League are and address them towards the long term protection of that league and alls its members now and in the future.

Alas though while such changes are so far away from taking place the game instructs the likes of Ayre to find whatever ways of making money he can regardless of the impact it might have in the longer term.

The solution – perhaps – lays with the 75% of the Premier League who enjoy the excess at the top but would lose out in this and perhaps that solution is to start mandating a more level playing field all the way from top to bottom rather than standing at the top of one ladder trying to make sure they can grasp the next one as the kick the previous away.

Three cheers for pricing as Torquay United come to Bradford City

Bradford City extending – and offering to all – the £5 deal to Torquay United supporters is one of those things that makes me proud to be a Bradford City fan. Anyone willing to get up when it is still the night before to come hundreds of miles for a League Two game of football will into VP for a fiver.

Of course there are football league rules in place about how much the away fans can be charged if the home fans get reduced rates which push City’s hand in this but rather than saying what is not possible the Bantams have looked at what is, and we should be pleased with that.

Credit where it is due, but at Valley Parade these days it can be difficult to know where it is. Whoever it is should take a pat on the back.

For on Saturday there is an experiment or sorts and one which could change football in the same way that Geoffrey Richmond did when he introduced Quid-a-Kid. Cut the price down to a fiver for a rank and file league game and see what the impact on foot fall is. Will more people come because VP starts being cheaper than the cinema? Will people bring a friend because it is cheaper? Will more people come up from Torquay because having paid petrol and spent the time they are not faced with £20 on the gate? One hopes so for all.

The received wisdom in football is that as every game is a discreet event – Bradford City vs Torquay United will only happen once, unlike a movie which happens the same way over and over again – and so should be charged for in the same way a concert or play is. That there is a scarcity of supply and high prices regulate demand.

When Liverpool visit Old Trafford and the Merseyside fans are paying £45 a ticket this seems to be true. The game will only happen once and there is far more demand – people wanting tickets – than there is supply – seats for fans. Price elasticity of demand says set a high price.

The same economics are applied when Manchester United host almost anybody but there are times when the ground is not full because some games are less attractive than others and given a choice on how to spend your £45 one might decide that Liverpool is a better game than FC Thum.

However I would argue that the lower down the football ladder one goes the less discreet the games get. There are few matches that stand out in the calendar – City’s games with Leeds and Huddersfield have not been sells outs – and so the economics of the situation are changed. A game is not a discreet event – a one off chance to see the game which will be on Match of the Day in the flesh as Manchester United vs Liverpool is – but rather a part of a continuing roll of games which one consumes as part of one’s state as a supporter of a club.

We are not rocking up to Valley Parade on Saturday because we think the game against Torquay will be a humdinger. We are doing it because we are supporters of the club and – in way – subscribers of the club. We want the Bradford City experience – Torquay United fans want the Torquay United experience – and we pay accordingly. The sales model for games lower down in football is far more like a magazine subscription or club membership than it is a gig or evening at the theatre.

(Which is not to say that Manchester United do not have some supporters with that same mentality, not that the financial approach can be different because of the tip over where demand outstrips supply.)

When you subscribe to a magazine you do not know what will be in it when it arrives through your door and you do not get to pick and choose based on how tempting the offering sounds. When my copy of Melody Maker used to fall through the door (back when it was worth reading) if the interviews were poor (or about The Levellers) I just put it down to a bad week and waited for the next one but I only bought the more expensive glossies if there was something I liked on the cover.

Bradford City is more of a subscription service and Saturday tests how attractive that service is when it is priced at a dip into, dip out of level. If a case builds that should one charge less then it benefits supporters without harming club (and vice-versa) then momentum could start to build around the game which readdresses the idea of pricing.

Mark Lawn told us that it is usual for City to get about 1,000 walk ups but not all are paying £20 each (children do not, for example) so one can not assume that the £20,000 will become £5,000 this weekend nor how many more bums will be needed to press onto seats to make it profitable in the short or long term. If a Dad (or Mum, or both) brings three kids on Saturday and those kids enjoy the taste of football and want to come again then City could end up with a supporter for forty or fifty years.

How much is fifty years of support worth? Certainly more than the chop in price on Saturday just as the lads who are pushing thirty how that Quid-a-Kid was money well spent.

So kudos to whoever it was at Valley Parade who set Saturday’s price and one hopes that when they pour over the figures and analyse the uptake in matches to come as a result they get the results they deserve.

And one hopes that when Torquay fans stretch legs after a long journey North they raise a smile because football – for once – is looking out for them.

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