Big / Picture / Reality

300

Ancient Greek Historian Herodotus tells of a moment in history when fealty was asked of the City States that populated the Mediterranean. Xerxes – Persian God King – wanted an offering of Water from the shores and Earth from the ground of each state as a symbolic representation of that submission.

Submission to Xerxes meant becoming a part of the Greater Persian Empire which – at the time – was no bad thing if one focused on the material benefits of trade and wealth that it generated but God Kings and edicts cut against the growing sense of Liberty emanating from Athens.

No messenger was sent to Sparta because when Xerxes sent messengers to Sparta they never returned but on being told of the demand by a fellow Greek King of Sparta Leonidas declined and ultimately was slaughtered for his trouble at the Battle of Thermopylae.

The retellings of this incident are many – “This is Sparta” and all – and the example echoes through the ages that surrender – even a symbolic one – was unacceptable to the Free.

Picture

Project Big Picture was an offer from the owners of Liverpool Football Club and Manchester United Football Club to the other eighteen members of the Football Association Premier League in which an agreement would be made that the revenues brought in by television right sales of that league would be more heavily redistributed towards the clubs who were not in the Premier League.

This change in revenues would allow for an instant payment of much needed funds for League One and Two clubs. The proposal would also make League One and Two football instantly more sustainable with £2.5m flowing to clubs who are at present only allowed to spend £1.5m on player salaries. Funds for a Women’s League would be assured, The League Cup and Community Shield would be abolished, Parachute payments, defended play offs and an eighteen team Premier League also featured.

The largest sticking point, it seems, was the extension of “Special Voting Rights” to the nine longest serving Premier League teams which was seen – as much of the project was – as a way to solidify the status of the “Big Six“. The respected Football Writers of our age – David Conn and Jonathan Wilson – described it as a power grab.

Power

Today in a League Two match Bradford City are playing Mansfield Town in front of another empty stadium. Thanks to great work by John Dewhirst – once of this Parish – and Jason McKeown and his There By The Width Of A Post website – also once of this Parish – we can tell that the emptiness in the stadium is largely reflected in City’s accounts.

Interesting in the results of Dewhirst’s work – which was neither surprising or unexpected – was the idea that Players and Good Will made up City’s assets with Valley Parade and everything in it sold and rented back. The City are paying the price for various mismanagements, we knew this going in.

To watch City’s team attempting to recover from a deserved defeat from Harrogate Town with the threat of non-existence over every club in the League highlighted by a stark look at the scale of a business at this level and one is forced to ask: If this is a Power Grab by Liverpool and Manchester United in what way does that power currently reside in League Two?

Again

John Henry at Liverpool and the Manchester United Glazers did not set up the Premier League. They bought into it and they bought into it because the League was entirely built on football’s embrace of neoliberalism. Key to that is the tendency towards monopoly which makes the amassing of power in the hands of an ever smaller collective a feature of the system.

Project Big Picture seems to recognise this centralisation of power and support the rest of football because of the inherent good of having the English football structure in place. To have an FA Cup winner you need an FA Cup and to have an FA Cup you need to support the FA and a five hundred teams and because the cost of that is negligible compared to the benefits for the powerful why not do it?

Henry and Glazer have put forward a plan which confirms the neoliberal system which has been dominant in football for thirty years. They want the “Earth and Water” Leonidas would not give up but they want it from a Football has already taken Xerxes’s offer.

Obvious

Football has submitted wholey to neoliberal economics.

Liverpool and Manchester United are not trying to grab the power from football because they clearly and obviously already have that power. There is a line in the pyramid of football clubs in which football clubs become largely irrelevant to the game as a whole. That line is certainly above Bradford City and perhaps has been for around one hundred years.

The idea that Liverpool and Manchester United have to take power from Bradford City is so absurd as to be laughable. The collective unionised weight of all of League One and League Two together stands knee height to those clubs. This should be obvious as it is obviously a bad, bad thing.

Now that all the power has been centralised and a paternalistic system offers support for the clubs that it has vampirically been created by draining the blood, that support will be denied.

And by whom? The Bloody Bourgeoisie. Always the bloody Bourgeoisie

Bourgeoisie

There is a class of clubs that live under the Top Six of Liverpool, Manchesters United and City, London Arsenal, The Tottinghams and Four Two Chelsea and I’m going to use “Sheffield Wednesday” as synecdoche but I could just as easily put in Leeds United, or Sunderland, or even Bolton Wanderers.

Sheffield Wednesday will not agree to Project Big Picture because they do not believe in this permanent enfranchising of the largest clubs in football which is noble of course except they are not outside of that enfranchisement so much as they are not benefitting from it as much as they would like. There is no attempt by Sheffield Wednesday to try create a flatter, more egalitarian structure in football. There is no attempt to address the neoliberalism that has created a structure in which the Bourgeoisie sit between the Big Six and the Proletariat that comprise the rest of football but rather a quixotic belief that unites the Bourgeoisie that they will one day ascend to the higher echelons themselves.

Leicester City – the actual team not a synecdoche – won the Premier League but are not welcomed into the Big Six not because of a covert plan to keep them out but because of the same market tendency that creates a Big Six. The idea that Sheffield Wednesday The Synecdoche want to maintain that power so they can one day attain it is madness.

This is a fantasy, a dream, and the rest of football should not have to pay the price for Sheffield Wednesday to LARP it.

Reality

League One and Two football has not survived. Project Big Picture is bad, patronising and paternalistic but it addresses the reality that the lower two professional leagues of English Football are not sustainable.

This reality has not been addressed by the Bourgeoisie because they benefit from being in the upper middle part of an unfair system. They are willfully cocooning themselves to the reality they are a part of creating.

Project Big Picture has been rejected, an offer of £50m in loans that followed has been rejected and there is no Sheffield Wednesday plan for rebalancing football. No attempt to create an egalitarian system after rejecting Project Big Picture because it was not egalitarian enough.

There was a chance that the clubs who took all the power in football might pay back for what they had taken. It is not what I want – I want an egalitarian system – but it is better than what I have now which is an unfair system of have and have-nots now propped up by the have-more-than-yous.

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

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.

The road from Falkirk to Bradford and on

At half time as Peter Jackson looked around his dressing room at a team two goals down to Aldershot Town on the opening day of the season he might have been heartened only by the fact that no matter what happened in the next forty five minutes – or the next forty five games – things would probably get no worse.

Being booed off is nothing new at Valley Parade (although it remains the province of the fool) and it was that sound which rang in Jackson’s ears and perhaps the City manager’s mind went back to the moment when Chris Mitchell delivered a ball from deep wide on the right and David Syers arrived late in the box to head over but probably he was thinking about how his side had inflicted two blows on themselves.

In a first half with a single shot on goal City had conceded a second after a fairly harmless cross came in and Martin Hansen – on loan from Liverpool – confirmed the worrying lack of communication he had shown thus far in his City career. Hansen came out late, flapped and goalkeeper, ball and all landed on Robbie Threlfall and rolled into the goal.

Threlfall’ inclusion at left back marked a rapid turn around from the position he was in two weeks ago when it seemed he had played his last game for the club. His afternoon saw him struggle to connect to Jack Compton who ran the left wing in front of him and for forty five minutes did so with little to no impact.

Compton – on loan from Falkirk – struggled to get into the game against a massive Aldershot defence who seemed to leave no room on the field for the winger. Very one footed with a worrying tendency to try beat men rather than play the ball without the saving grace of Omar Daley which saw him actually beat them Compton was battered around the field and one can only imagine how the reality of League Two football differed in his mind from the second tier of the Scots game.

Compton’s struggle was common for the other players who had arrived from Falkirk. Mark Stewart found space in the final third hard to come by – Aldershot’s brawn and numbers over skill approach to defending paid off but only because City’s giving away of goals rather than their ability to carve out chances – and was withdrawn after seventy minutes.

Third member of the trio Chris Mitchell was deployed on the right flank opposite Compton and alongside Syers and Michael Flynn and it was Mitchell’s loose play on the right which allowed for Aldershot left back Anthony Straker to have the freedom of Valley Parade to swing the ball into the box. Some good work from Alex Rodman saw a low centre to Danny Hylton who finished.

The lessons were obvious for all: Miss your chances at your peril, and pressure the ball because goals are scored not in the six yard box but three passes before.

So Jackson in the dressing room must have wondered what the likes of Falkirk – and for that matter Liverpool – teach the players and if a spell at the University of Bradford City will change anything. Oddly though while hearing his team booed off in his first game must have stuck for the City boss one doubts that he will have found back four of Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Lee Bullock and Robbie Threlfall wanting. The goals aside Aldershot were restricted to pretty much nothing and should have been down to ten men following two bad challenges in a minute by Jermaine McGlashan which seemed to suggest that we were still using pre-season rules.

As it was Jackson did not have wait long for improvement with the second half showing a City side offering more and more through Compton who – joined by Mitchell – started to improve. The side showed little sign of having blended together, but showed signs that it might. David Syers put in a robust display in the midfield and Michael Flynn pushed forward. After an hour it seemed that City had a chance to build a momentum to get back into the game but – disappointingly perhaps – Jackson seemed to watch this chance come and go.

Which is not to criticise a manager for not having Plan B but as City got on top the opportunity for Jackson to push on Naille Rodney into a forward three seemed to present itself but was acquiesced. Rodney came on and slotted onto the left with Compton going to the right and the removal of Flynn seemed to let the Shots off the hook.

There is a theory on Flynn that suggests that he could be improved on but often the evidence of games is that City with Flynn are more dangerous that City without the Welshman and as Aldershot breathed easier the number four was sitting on the bench probably wishing he had not killed Jackson’s dog or whatever it is that sees the manager so keen to sideline him.

Mitchell moved back to central midfield and started getting more of a grip on the game but very obviously his delivery – very dangerous – is needed on the field more than his play on the right hand side and the midfielder needs to get more of a presence for League Two football. Compton’s play is distressingly reactive but there is plenty of scope to work on that and as a player he shows some ability. It was Compton’s who put in a tidy mid-height ball play from the right with his left foot that resulted in City’s injury time goal.

It was too late for sure, and of course too little, it it was well deserved by James Hanson who facing a backline of massive men gave the defenders a tough time and showed a mental judgement which marks an improvement since his arrival at the club two years ago. Give him a good ball and he raced to where it would be, rather than waiting for it to drop, and when Compton put the ball back to Lee Bullock and his mid-height ball in saw Hanson read the play before the defenders and peeled off to head a smart finish. He deserved a goal, but some will disagree. My thoughts on Hanson are that if you are not able to appreciate his efforts today you probably should be watching another sport.

And perhaps the Falkirk Three are nursing bruises and considering how different the sport they are playing is from the one they ended last season in. The learning process has started and one could see the improvement in all three – and in other players – as the game went on but as long as the road from Falkirk to Bradford might be the road from Bradford to success may be longer.

Longer but – with effort and the attitude which saw players up their game in the second half – achievable in time. This would be a first step.

The development squad and a plan to improve the club

Blame it on Silvio Berlusconi. Back in the early 1990s the man who would bring the term bunga bunga into common usage was the flamboyant chairman of an AC Milan team which sported Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard as the allowed three non-Italian players.

UEFA and Serie A rules mandated that a club could only have three non-Italians and so the practice was that the Lira went to a chosen trio of outsiders. Clubs were defined by the foreign players they had and Milan were the Dutchmen, across the City Inter were German with Jürgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme. It was a simpler time to watch football, and to be Silvio Berlusconi.

The future Italian PM announced though that Milan would be signing three more World Class non-Italians and – starting with the unfortunate Gianluigi Lentini – eight more Italians to create a second team which would play in European competition in the week. The one would be fresh for the weekend, the other fresh for midweek, and players would swap between the two teams.

And so modern squad football was born.

Bradford City’s own Phil Babb was a part of the emergence of the squad in the English game. in 1994 Babb and John Scales joined a Liverpool side managed by Roy Evans who already had the beloved Neil Ruddock at the heart of the back four and the maths did not match. Was Ruddock for the chop? Would Babb be out at left back (or up front, as he was at City)? What was Evans doing signing more than two top quality central defenders?

“Moving to a back three and wing backs” turned out to be the answer to the question poised by the question itself was illustrative. Growing up in the eighties my brother and myself could name the one to eleven of every team in Division One and that one to eleven was set in stone, seemingly unaffected as today’s line ups are by loss of form, injury and failing super-injunctions.

A team like Liverpool seemingly had no need for a spare defender – one sub, four four two and all – but soon the idea verbalised by Berlusconi would make the sort of questions that Evans face irrelevant. Within two years and in the run up to Euro ’96 Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United were signing Tino Asprilla when they already had Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole, Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer, Super Mac, Wor Jackie Milburn et al.

In 1981 Aston Villa won the League using only fourteen players all season. The modern football squad demands eighteen per match and a host of others to insure that even the League Two player is not required to take the field with the sort of injury which was played through in earlier eras after which players retired at thirty, and could not walk.

So we have a situation where Manchester City have over forty players in their first team squad as an extreme example and most teams could put out something approaching Berlusconi’s two teams a week. If you are on the edges of one of those huge squad – and Bradford City’s is 21 strong at current assessment – then you seem a long way from the first team. Unless you get to do something special from the bench you are a long way from the first team.

So while the dozen and some who regularly feature in the first team focus on getting from game to game the players on the edges – especially the younger ones – should be focusing on improvement. Enter the development squad.

It seems to have come from Archie Christie who came to Bradford with John Still when the Bantams interviewed the entire Dagenham and Redbridge backroom staff for roles at Valley Parade. Something had powered the Essex club’s rise from non-league compound to League One club and it seems that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes believe that Christie is it.

Chief scout and he brings in some young lads from Falkirk which seems a sensible move but not an unexpected one but as Head of Football Development Christie’s Development Squad offers something new.

Wayne Allison approves and has been recruited to coach “The Developments” as they shall be hamfistedly dubbed with his aim on taking players who have signed professional contracts after their two year apprenticeships but are not in the first team picture week in week out, or who are falling in the limbo between young player and first teamer, and concentrate on improving them as players over getting them ready for matches as the first team squad do.

Squad sizes have increased massively in the last fifteen years, but the focus of training is on preparing a group of players for the next game leaving those who play ready, and those who do not having wasted that time. The Development Squad offers a chance to make better use of those players allowing the first team to focus on preparation, and the fringe on improvement.

Of course the idea could be a failure. Dag & Red’s success might be down to something else entirely, Christie’s ideas might not be relocatable, it all just might not work but for once Bradford City have come up with a plan to improve the quality of the footballers at the club rather than trying the tried and failed method of trying to buy in promotions or assemble squads on a season by season basis.

A plan on improving footballers is a plan to improve the football club and, in effect, the first time since the Premier League that Bradford City have had a plan to improve the club that might work.

The mark of progress, or the lack of it

“I’ve got nothing to prove to Liverpool” said young midfielder Jim Magilton when he went back to Anfield as an Southampton player for a Division One game at the start of the Nineties.

Magilton had spent his youth career at the Reds but never made a first team appearance. He went to Oxford United and made 150 appearances, then on to Southampton where his full circle moment happened. After that he ended up at Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich where he was coverted by Paul Jewell’s City but ended his career at Portman Road. A good career no doubt but at no time did he ever eclipse the midfielders who replaced him at Anfield.

He had nothing to prove to those at Liverpool and in a way he proved nothing to them. He did not play at a higher level, he did not end up with a Champions medal, and whoever decided he was not the “good enough” was proved right.

There was a way to mark the progress of Bradford City which worked in the same way. Players come and go from clubs and City were forced to let a number of players go because of financial reasons and watched those players carry on good careers. Robbie Blake, for example, won promotions post-City and played in the Premier League.

Other players though were “got rid of” – to use the vulgarism – by the choice of the club because the club thought that it could do better. Players like Paul Bolland and Scott Kerr were young lads at the Bantams who were released and went on to good careers in the lower leagues but never rose higher than the club. The decision to allow those players – like Magilton – was never questioned.

One could add a whole host of players who the Bantams have disposed of (indeed that most clubs dispose of) who never troubled professional football again. The decision to allow Wayne Benn, Tom Penford, Danny Forrest, Joe Brown, Robert Morgan, Craig Bentham et al has never been questioned because those players have never turned up at a higher level than City.

I should qualify this with the idea that there is an impact in releasing a player on his career. Being released can be the making of a player’s career seeing him buck up his ideas but most often it kills a that career as real life problems and jobs take over.

In the last few years watching events at VP though there has been an increase in the players who were decided to not be able to cut the mustard who not only got their careers back on track but started to do well, better than the Bantams.

Michael Symes represents the best example of this. The Bantams were not impressed (nor was I especially) but turfing up at Accrington Stanley he ended up doing enough to earn a move to AFC Bournemouth where he plays his football a division above the Bantams. Perhaps one could put that down to the startling effect of being released, and perhaps one might conclude that he is only the player he is now because of our releasing him, but it is hard not to wonder why the Bantams were not able to unlock his potential.

Symes was a far more popular player than Gareth Edds who was jeered away from Valley Parade but Edds won promotion (after switching to a holding midfield role) with MK Dons and moved onto another League One club Tranmere Rovers as City idled in League Two. Not only are the players we cannot afford playing at a higher level but the ones we did not think were good enough are now too. Jake Wright’s red card at when Oxford United came to Valley Parade might have been an amusing moment in the season but the fact his current team ended the season a half dozen places over his previous one gave him the last laugh.

Gareth Evans – a part of the so called “worst team ever” – exited Valley Parade in the summer with the club deciding that they could do better. Evans rocked up at Rotherham United who finished higher than the Bantams and are preparing for another promotion push. Evans’ play in the last month of the season suggested that – perhaps – he knew he had something to go to next term but the spin from Valley Parade was most definitely that Evans was out because the club was going to improve.

I would underline that I believe that there are many players who left City and were never heard of again – one of them did the electrics for my boiler – who had the club given them the first team slot rather than someone like Luke Cornwall or Robert Wolleaston then they could have achieved something but when dealing with the likes of Symes, Edds, (perhaps) Evans and a number of others it seems that the club’s judgement on players in the longer term has become questionable. That players who we would like to have we are getting rid of.

The rapid turn around, the one year contract, the often changing manager, the levels of patience in the stands, the comparative quality of facilities here and elsewhere. All these things have contributed to the club which is letting players go who could do a job. We end up with this “worst team ever” but some of the off cuts of it are doing well for themselves.

James Hanson is being linked to Crewe, Omar Daley has gone from the club, Gareth Evans will come back wearing Rotherham United red. I’m not sure if the losing culture needs to be broken so much as a consistent plan to improve the squad is required.

Liverpool bow to pressure, not reality

A look at the Premier League table – frozen over a cold FA Cup weekend – puts Liverpool under Everton and above Blackpool as Roy Hodgson leaves the Anfield club by mutual consent. The position tells much.

Blackpool are much lauded this season under Ian Holloway who is being talked as a potential England manager with his maverick style likened to Brian Clough and the idea of him being passed over representing the same kind of error. Nevertheless his side sit down Liverpool who now have Kenny Dalglish returning as manager.

The natural reaction by many, if not most, is that the two cannot be compared and that what is a good performance for the Seasiders is unacceptable for the Reds. That Liverpool should be being far better than Blackpool, not one place.

And this is true at present. Blackpool were a fine team in the 1950s when every factory shut down for a week and whole City’s headed East for the coast, sea and a week of a good time but when the package holiday arrived Blackpool descended the leagues. At 13th in the Premier League Blackpool are “over performing” but taking their highest watermark they are some way off the days of Stanley Matthews. The money to sustain the club, the affluence of the town itself, had diminished.

Blackpool are by no mean alone in this fall from grace and no better example is needed than Bradford City in this the anniversary of the 1911 FA Cup win. The Glorious 1911 is well worth a read detailing (one of ) the best team(s) in the country who played at Valley Parade in a Manningham that ranked as one of the most productive and affluent areas of the United Kingdom.

Walk around Manningham and look at the housing on the crescents, the stone work, the beauty of it all were one to strip away a hundred years of industrial decline. As with Blackpool and the package holiday the artificial fibre and end of the wool trade is the underlying story of the decline of Bradford City. The tide ebbing out.

It is this tide which ultimately decides the success or failure of clubs. Looking over Europe and it is rare for the town on its uppers to have a successful team and often the decline of an urban centre is mirrored in the decline of the club that it supported and other clubs rise up and up as a result of money coming to a City. Wander around Manchester and see the affluence of the reinvented City Centre or the new Salford Quays and then look at the top two in the table.

Now anyone who talks ambition at Valley Parade talk about getting the club “To the Championship, where it belongs” which is a point one could debate all day without resolution. Bradford being a City in the top ten of population one might ask why the target is set so low? Bradford being a City with so many scars of financial turmoil one might ask why so high? Certainly the ambition is no bad thing.

Back to Liverpool and like Blackpool and Bradford the City is not what it was. Various statistics from various Government departments conflict on population sizes and relative wealth but the overall view of Merseyside is that it has lost a lot of people to other parts of the country and what remains is not that well off.

Like Bradford and Blackpool Liverpool the City has declined and with it has gone the two football teams. Everton used to win UEFA Cups and were two weeks off doing the double but now their aims are more modestly set at getting as close to fourth place in the League as possible.

Liverpool, however, still maintain the aims of the times when they were dominant in English football and talk about challenging for the Premier League title. As a recent Champions League winner they certainly have cause to talk in such a way – although that was before the First Americans and their abuse of the club – but they do so swimming against a tide that ebbs away as surely as it has done at Valley Parade or Bloomfield Road.

There is a benefit in the brand of Liverpool which is built on the belief that the club is a successful one and the aims that see them want to be performing better than they have this season. Setting high aims and (more importantly) believing they can be achieved is a vital part of creating success and it is no coincidence that all successful teams are often dubbed “arrogant”.

Hodgson’s exit from Liverpool is thus painted as useful. It says that Liverpool expects better performances and in doing so continues the (perhaps healthy) belief amid the players, the fans and the world at large that the higher echelons are the club’s rightful home.

It staves off the reality of a situation – a reality which has become endemic at clubs and in cities like Blackpool and Bradford – which redraws the map of football.

Taylor’s revival avoids a pressing problem

Only a fool would consider sacking Peter Taylor as Bradford City manager now but five games and twelve points ago it seemed that the City boss was a game away from his P45.

The game changes quickly and probably having lived his life in it this comes as no surprise to the 57 year old manager. One has to wonder what he made of the pressure he was coming under and the asked for and not received backing. No matter. For now, Taylor is safe.

Safe because only a fool would sack him now and Mark Lawn is no fool – indeed he did not act when other itched five games ago – but he is also no expert. Indeed looking at Bradford City at the moment and making a list of which person at the club knows enough about football to be qualified to make a call on the job that Taylor is doing and one is forced to conclude that at the head of the list is the manager himself and the gap to the others is startling.

Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis – and a few of the players – have some knowledge on the field and Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes et al have some off it but like the vast majority of football club chairmen they were set the task of assessing the all round performance of the manager without the required domain knowledge to make a decision.

Take as an example Liverpool – a great reference for many things – who when replacing Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson did so with the idea that they were replacing a lame duck with a soaring eagle. At the moment Liverpool struggle and it seems not that Hodgson is doing an especially poor job but that Benitez had been doing a rather impressive one taking the team to second place.

In essence there was no one able to tell the difference between a good manager doing well with a bad team and a bad manager hampering a good side or – as is the case with the vast majority of situations a hard working manager doing his best only to be replaced by another hard working manager doing his best.

Indeed the idea of a good manager is questionable. Nigel Clough built Burton a season at a time over ten years and created a strong club which managed his departure without much of a blip. That is to me the measure of a good manager, not a win percentage figure.

Yet chairmen are constantly forced to look at the win percentage, the most recent trophies in the cabinet, the flavour of the month. Hodgson got the Liverpool job for taking Fulham to a cup final, Steve McLaren got the England job for similar. The list of managers sacked from doing the long term job because of poor short term results contains some impressive names.

Sir Bobby Robson – after all – was replaced at Newcastle United by Graeme Souness because he failed to secure Champions League football and Peter Reid was given the boot by Manchester City for not finishing high enough up the Premier League. United spent a year in the second tier, City ended up in the third.

Looking back at the last three decades of City managers and noting the only common factor in success – the two promotion winning managers were appointed from within – and one sees many examples of this practice of a chairman who knows less about football than the man sitting opposite him, trying to make a judgement on the man opposite him.

Gordon Gibb was wowed by Bryan Robson, but how could judge between Robson and Todd the two men in for the job? Gibb had some experience as a junior footballer but how did that qualify him to know which of the two potential gaffers would be the best for the club?

Plenty of people would tell you that Mark Lawn make a mistake when appointing Stuart McCall, or when sacking him, but most would agree that when appointing a replacement and trumpeting that man’s years in the game and experience the joint chairman was basically saying that he did not really know what he was looking for the first time, now he thinks he does.

He is not alone. Most chairmen hire managers on promises and sack them in disappointment that those promises have yet to deliver a promotion or a trophy and at no point are they qualified to judge anything other than what can be seen from the league table. The decision to move on Taylor from Hull City and replace him with Phil Brown ended up in promotion (and relegation) but the club rode on what the current City manager had built and Brown’s magic wore off in the top flight.

Chairmen lack the domain knowledge to make decisions on their managers. They can be unhappy at results but most lack the calibration to know if those are bad results with a good team or good results with a bad one. Lincoln City have replaced Chris Sutton who was gaffer for a year replacing Peter Jackson with almost no net result at all. Sutton’s side did no better than Jackson and – one was forced to conclude – that the factors in play at Sincil bank are deeper than the dug out.

To borrow a phrase Mark Lawn needs an experienced assistant. Someone with football experience at boardroom level. Most chairmen do. They need someone next to them who knows the difference between a manager building something and one who is doing badly. Someone who can tell them that things are going well at the training pitch, that the young players coming through have real potential, that the manager is doing his job well.

They do not have this, and so they sack on form and results.

Only a fool would sack Peter Taylor now, and in retrospect the decision to not make a decision on him five games ago looks a great on indeed but Mark Lawn – in common with a great number of football chairmen – needs to bring in expertise to give him the ability to make that call should it ever arise again.

Our old friend Rafa has little to do with Morecambe

The school of thought – pretty much doused after the signings this week of two month long loan players – has it that if Peter Taylor did not get four points from his next two games that finish at home to Morecambe then he would be sacked.

The point at Rotherham United gave him one, anything less than a win would see him out the door. Probably not but that was the rumour which has since been replaced by the idea that if things have not improved for the Bantams by the time that new recruits Oliver Gill and Reece Brown return to Old Trafford then Taylor will be out of the door.

When Taylor became City manager – and let us not speak the name of the man he got it from for fear of offending the delicate ears of some readers who comment whenever it is mentioned – he was trumpeted as an outstanding appointment taking over from “someone” who speculation had it would have been fired could the club afford it.

Indeed at the time whose name I do not wish to recall was leaving this club at Gill and Brown’s good friends down the M62 Liverpool it was said that Rafa Benitez would be given his P45 if only the club had the funds to do so, or if the two owners could make up their collective mind about it. Rafa left that club in the summer about the time Peter Taylor was signing his season long contract with the Bantams and ended up at the San Siro and Inter Milan.

There were many scratched heads at the appointment and predicted a fall from grace for the treble winning Inter side who are now leading Serie A and romped to a 4-0 win over Werder Bremen in the week as Rafa’s replacement Roy Hodgson’s side struggle in the Premier League. Talk to those who concern themselves more with the fortunes of Liverpool FC and they will point the finger of blame at the Americans who own the club rather than the managers.

Nevertheless it is worth considering Benitez’s progress for a moment and comparing it with to events which have unfolded for Peter Taylor. Inter Milan were obviously in rude health having won every competition they entered last season while Liverpool are obviously not and were Hodgson to have returned to the San Siro and Rafa remained where he was one is tempted to suggest that very little would have been different.

So Taylor – a manager with a good track record – struggles at Bradford City and is rumoured to be a draw away from being fired and one wonders how much different things would have been were anyone else rather than Taylor been manager.

None of which is to say that managers have no capability for effecting change but rather that they are not the sole agent of it and – if they are not given the time, resource and remit – they will be as battered along on the winds of fortune as any supporter.

Take, as an example, Chris Sutton who was the manager of Lincoln for a touch under twelve months that ended this week. Sutton inherited his side from former Bantam Peter Jackson when they were placed twentieth and left this week with the Imps placed twentieth. The fact that he was not able to improve or make worse Lincoln in that time suggests that the problem is something other than the manager.

Rafa carries on Inter Milan’s success and looks to continue it, Roy takes on Liverpool’s decline and looks to arrest it while Peter Taylor gets to grips with what is going on at Valley Parade and one hope that he is allowed to fully grasp that task.

Taylor brought in the two defenders from Manchester United with heads scratched as to why they are needed. It seems that Reece Brown will come in at right back to cover injuries and that Oliver Gill might take the other full back slot over Robbie Threlfall leaving Shane Duff and Steve Williams to carry on their partnership at the back in front of Jon McLaughlin.

Such would be harsh on Threlfall who like Taylor impressed in his first three months and then had some tough times. Perhaps Threlfall will be reflecting that he and Taylor are currently enjoying the same fortunes and while Taylor is given a month, he is not. It is said that there are people in the City dressing room who say they would no be upset were Taylor be moved on but these are the kind of rumours that no one could substantiate and few would believe if it were not for the displacement of the team’s performances and the search for reasons for that.

Zesh Rehman – who launched his own foundation this week – is rendered almost obsolete by this decision too. What does one make of a situation when both right backs are injured and a loanee is brought in over the next man. Indeed what does one make of Rehman’s time at City which has seen some good performances, and some good periods of play like the end of last season, but have never seen him cement a place in the side.

A former Premier League player and one with the ability to play well Rehman joins a lengthy list of players signed by the club and later seemingly rendered useless. Supporters and the club have a tendency to lay these failures at the door of the player – be he Dan Petrescu, Michael Boulding, John McGinlay, Paul McLaren or Bruno Rodriguez – but the constancy of this sign and deteriorate through various managers, boards and years is something not to be dismissed so lightly. Rehman is another player that – it seems – the club have failed to get the most out.

The midfield starts to return to a shape that was anticipated at the start of the season with Michael Flynn almost ready to return. Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Tom Ademeyi have struggled from game to game although Ademeyi looked good on his return in the week but it seems that he would be the one to step down when Flynn returns. Lee Hendrie seems to have a long road bad to fitness done in half hour steps from the bench while David Syers deserves much credit for his introduction to League football and as he returns to the bench he should do so with great heart and promise.

Omar Daley returned to the forward line in a swap with Jake Speight and impressed although the idea that Taylor will only play one of the two lively forwards is frustrating. On paper the pair would seem ideal for channel running and getting close to the big striker but – perhaps to avoid predictability – Taylor prefers to have two who might win the ball up front and Gareth Evans and Luke Oliver providing weight to the forward line.

Morecambe sit 22nd in League Two – a place below City – and were bested 4-1 by Bury in their new home this week. They are the sort of team that City are always expected to beat and for once for Peter Taylor the expectations do not outstrip the things in his control, o el control del hombre de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme.

Do Bradford City have the worst supporters in football?

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

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

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

What is the best support?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s so bad about feeling good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ownership model which deserves some success

Fresh from reading another article about the Glazers, at the weekend I asked a Manchester United-supporting about his views on the American owners who are seemingly taking money out of the club for their personal gain having not contributed a cent of their own money in the first place. His response stunned me – “Who cares? The only thing which matters is that we’re winning trophies.”

My friend’s attitude is far from representative of most United fans. The Glazers have saddled the previously-richest club in the world with eye-watering levels of debt which is beginning to hinder their ability to compete at the top. But worse is their loyal supporters have endured a 50% rise in season ticket prices and the highly controversial (now scrapped) automatic cup ticket scheme, while the Glazer family has legally being able to take part of the profits for personal needs and shows no intention of using their own money to pay back its borrowings to buy the club. It’s not hard to see why the fan protests of last season were so sizeable in number and anger.

But nevertheless does my friend have a point? The Glazers’ arrival prompted thousands to defect from the club and set up their own, FC United, but many thousands more stayed and paid those ticket hikes. Only when United began to struggle by their own high standards did the protests start up, will they continue next season if the likelihood of trophies becomes stronger?

While the rest of football watches closely and wonders how on earth the Glazers can get away with their actions, unless the previously unseen sight of empty seats at Old Trafford for some Premier League games last season continues to grow momentum, the continuing huge levels of revenue generated will protect the Glazers from re-evaluating their business plan. And it’s difficult to expect loyal fans to register their displeasure by depriving themselves of going to watch their own football team, no matter how much it must grate to know the harm it is seemingly doing.

The Glazers must surely be the worst football club owners in England, but they are not unique in putting self interest above the welfare of the club they are custodians of. The Premier League has thrown the door open to outside investors and the returns they can enjoy are clearly highly rewarding. Most supporters will accept this as long as they “put their hand in their pockets” and spend millions buying better players. The odd billionaire with a mountain of cash to offload aside, it’s doubtful how often some owners really do spend their own money to buy these players without eventually making a bigger return. It is at odds with the hopes of supporters, but if the club is performing well it can be largely forgiven.

The ownership model at Valley Parade is very different, for better or worse. Towards the end of last season, and not for the first time, there were rumours of foreign businessmen investing in Bradford City. Predictably nothing materialised, but the thought of a significant cash influx for new players naturally excited many fans who heard the speculation.

If an investor ever does materialise beyond the imagination of a message board rumour-starter and into the Valley Parade reception, questions must surely be first asked about their intentions by both current owners and supporters. Clearly any would-be investor with no previous connections to the club is going to be striving to become richer. This would be largely acceptable if the investment is able to elevate City beyond a level they currently struggle to reach and can be sustained in the long run, but equally it has to be understood that the risk prospective owners take investing their money, with no guarantee of success, deserves that reward in the long run.

At the fans forum a year ago, Mark Lawn was asked why the Munto Finance organisation had invested in Notts County and not Bradford City, with a tinge of jealousy floating around the room. It didn’t take long into the season for all of us to agree it is a good thing they had designs on someone else. Notts County might have gained promotion last season, but the financial mess left behind threatens to catch up with them sooner or later.

Was the Notts County Supporters Trust right to sell the club to Munto last August, given the successful promotion it couldn’t have financed themselves? Was it better for County to continue struggling on in the bottom half of League Two, or to enjoy some success at the potential price of their very existence? We’ll watch closely this season to see, but I know which choice I’d have voted for.

Despite a huge fanbase and relatively small debts in comparison to the traumas of the two administrations, Bradford City is clearly not an attractive proposition for would-be investors. Whether this is due to the high running costs of Valley Parade – has anyone viewed the books? – or the reputation the club and City possess is unclear. But while Liverpool fans curse their previous owner David Moores for selling the club to Americans with no heart and little money, we could easily have ended up in a situation where we regretted Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn selling up.

Though it is worth considering whether City are really in need of investment. Sure, the idea of suddenly having sizable transfer funds to buy the best available players has an appeal, but to succeed the Bantams would still need to ensure all the other factors which they can control without extra investment are still in place – namely solid management, suitable facilities and a collaborative spirit.

The reality is that City have two owners who care deeply about the club and for whom making a profit is on the agenda. No one can deny owning Bradford City has reduced the Rhodes’ family’s wealth, and while Lawn has loaned money to the club which he will eventually receive back, allegedly with interest, he is undoubtedly as passionate about the club as any of us.

Naturally neither are far from perfect. Lawn’s public statements in recent months have often seemed naively blunt, alienating many fans in the process. Rhodes’ more considered views are more enjoyable to hear and read, but his obvious reluctance to take a public profile means leadership is not as visible as we’d all like to see. Although I’ve seen many photos of Rhodes over the years, shamefully I’m not confident I’d recognise him walking around Valley Parade. The number of times I’ve seen Lawn in and around the stadium on match days in comparison suggests I’ve probably walked past Rhodes without realising. He probably likes it that way.

The recent visit of David Baldwin to the Telegraph and Argus’ message board also emphasises another regular failing, namely that the club is too concerned and pays too much attention to those supporters who shout the loudest, regardless of whether they are representative of most supporters views. Whatever the views of Stuart McCall’s departure, the less-than-sensitive way the club handled the situation last February was more in keeping with pleasing those who’d strongly urged the club to get rid, than those who were genuinely upset at the way it ended for a club legend.

It appears too often that the City Board is more reactive than proactive, and that a clear vision of the way the club should be progressing is lacking – with decisions too quickly abandoned and changed. Much of the recent strategy has come from the outside views of Peter Taylor, rather than the bright thinking of the boardroom. There is little Geoffrey Richmond-style innovation or feeling the chairmen are one step ahead of supporters in their thinking, though equally of course there is also no fear of hidden motives and risky gambles which could dramatically backfire.

But I’d love for them both to finally get the rewards their efforts deserve in the shape of a promotion this season. Like my ignorant Manchester United supporter alluded to, it’s success on the field which ultimately matters. Whatever the past mistakes, they both work hard to bring success and without Rhodes, and perhaps even Lawn, there would not be a Bradford City kicking off another pre-season this Friday.

They own the club because they care, not because they want to make money out of our passion. They are striving to make it a self-sustainable business and, while this may have limitations at times, it’s an ownership model that deserves to succeed.

Certainly more so than the get-even-richer-quicker approach of other football club owners like the Glazers. It is truly sad that modern football has become so geared up to making money and that success and failure is not always connected to exploits on the field.

Hopefully this is the year an under-achieving West Yorkshire club can buck the trend – and Julian and Mark can take a deserved spot on the open top bus.

Lawn, the business men and knowing which Devil you know

People want to buy Bradford City – Mark Lawn insists – but none of them have the money.

The City joint chairman reacted with a measured head to rumours around the future ownership of the club as the close season dragged on and rumours seemed to emerge for want to anything else to talk about between City fans. This rumour had it that Lawn and Rhodes were at negotiation stage with some business men about selling Bradford City and seems to be a half truth, if a truth at all. Three months ago the rumour was that City were going to be bought by SL Benfica as a feeder club, the portugese obviously having an eye on Andrew Villerman and Leon Osbourne.

Lawn is clear about his and Rhodes position at the club they both support and now own. They would leave without making a profit if someone came along and made them an offer but while there is plenty of talk no one ever comes to the club with enough money to buy The Bantams.

There has always been someone looking at Bradford City since I came here three years ago but none of them have come up with the money. I’ve always said, if it’s in the interests of both Julian (Rhodes) and myself to go, we will go without making a penny profit.

Lawn’s position at Valley Parade is an uneasy one with three years of stewardship resulted in plenty of talk but thus far no success. The club is in a rude state of health owing just a £1m but having an outstanding problem with the huge rent paid to The Gibb Pension fund on Valley Parade. The main issue with taking over the club and moving City forward seems to be – for many – the ownership of Valley Parade and the costs involved or the costs of relocation.

The club is in a strange position of being in good health but having relatively few assets having already been split form its major one. On a balance sheet Bradford City are the money that can brought in from good will of the support less the costs of running the business including the rent to Gibb.

This alone is probably is enough to attract “business men” and it is credit to Lawn and Rhodes that they are seemingly immune to the talk by potential suitors of how they could improve the club. David Moores spoke recently of his regret at selling Liverpool to squabbling American pair George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks who have loaded the club with the debt of purchase and seem set to spend the summer selling the family silver.

That Lawn would go back to “a pie and a pint” should someone come in who had the funds to take City further than he could illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the man. He is a firm hand on the tiller at Valley Parade but his imagination is limited. A lieutenant, not a leader, but a good lieutenant at that.

I have my issues with Lawn but bertainly he is a better option than is conjured by the words “business men” which is so often football’s catch all phrase for all that is wrong in the game. “Business men” – in football speak – are the opposition of “Proper Fans” and their arrival is hardly ever a good thing for the communities around clubs. It is a simplistic view that says that all to do with business is to the detriment of supporters but Lawn’s prudence in assuming that is good for Bradford City. “Business men” are too often the devilment of football.

If at one end of football Liverpool have problems with Americans than at the other Chester City had problems with Liverpudlians – specifically Stephen Vaughan – who violated the club out of existence. Vaughan is the warning for anyone who owns the club they support about selling to the next guy through the door and one can only hope that should the time come when Lawn and Rhodes do sell then we can only hope that it is not to a character this unsavoury. John Bachelor – who died recently to very few regrets in York where he was once chairman of the Minster Men – said of his attempts to buy another football club following his attempts to take Bootham Crescent from York City and into private (his own) hands to sell off the land for housing “This is what I do, I fuck businesses out of money.”

A Bachelor would find nothing to interest him at Valley Parade but a Vaughan – who managed to run up £650,000 in one year in cleaning costs for The Deva Stadium which were paid to (you guessed it) Vaughan Cleaning Ltd or some such – would find much to enjoy at Bradford City.

If Lawn is a Devil – hard talk on someone who while rubber stamping spending £600,000 in a year has managed to take a club that haemorrhaged money at an unprecedented level to a breakeven point – then he is at least the Devil we know with even the overnight administration he held like the Sword of Damocles over the club’s head following the car attack incident at Accrington being preferable to the slow death of Chester City.

The rumours continue about buying and selling Bradford City and typical of Lawn he reacts to them directly rather than inviting all to look around at massive cuts announced yesterday suggest that there is little money around and to draw their own conclusions.

Breaking even and City in the Champions League

English clubs owe more money than the rest of Europe combined. The huge debts at players like Old Trafford and Anfield are so great that UEFA’s Michel Platini is so concerned that he is trying to ride to the rescue with a rule that would exclude any team from the Champions League or the Europa League that is not in the black.

It seems that 53% of European football debt comes from the top of the English game and while the people in the top flight point to that fact that no only is the majority of debt – but also the majority of income – based on the Premiership. The TV Deals, the popularity, the money coming in they say justifies the red figures on the back account.

Platini – an egalitarian – sees things differently and while the rules he seeks to bring in are undoubtedly going to harm the English clubs from 2013-2014 when the Frenchman wants to begin enforcing the rule onwards one might doubt that it will harm the English football fan.

The benefits of The Glazer deal at Manchester United, the Americans at Liverpool, the Icelanders at West Ham United or the men of unfixed nationality at Portsmouth for the football supporter is debatable. The most shocking thing about Leeds United’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford in January for the East of Pudsey people I spoke to was not the gulf in the teams that had grown in the years since the clubs parted company but the increase in the price. It was £42 for a Loiner to get into the game, twice as much as it was less than a half decade ago.

What is bad for English football making the club’s less attractive for the investors who have flocked to the Premiership in the last decade or so might be good for the English supporters who for all the joy of seeing the “best players in the world” have suffered a counter balancing effect of a third of teams going into administration. Make club’s less desirable for investors looking to use the assets they purchase to mortgage the business and one makes the football club (rather than the football business) safer, in theory at least.

Of course this begs the question as to who owns football clubs if it is not the current ranks of investors and interested parties not all of which can be said to be moustachio twirling madmen. One answer is found at Valley Parade.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are a pair of local businessmen and for all the increasingly – and for me troubling – autocratic nature of one of the joint chairmen in his approach to planning at the club the previous plan he has followed has worked.

Worked not on the field – at least not in the medium term it was judged – but certainly off it. Mark Lawn arrived with a plan – a plan that Julian Rhodes had hoped for for sometime – of the club working within its budget and living in its means and we are told that this plan has worked.

Bradford City are one of only two professional English football clubs who are in the black. Lawn and Rhodes’s plan worked, that is why it would be nice to know what the plan is now and why I’d hoped that Lawn would come out with his arm around Peter Taylor with a contract that lasted for years and announce that nothing at Valley Parade would change, aside from the manager. That he still believed in the long term planning and stability that had got us to the point where we lived within our means that that Peter Taylor would be given that stability and ability to avoid having to boom or bust to keep his job. Alas he did not.

Nevertheless if it is true to say that City are in the black – the news was written to a fan and is mentioned in the excellent and once again plugged City Gent #162 – then the joint chairmen deserve credit and we shall keep our fingers crossed that this last month where the plan that has been us in such rude financial health is questioned that it has not been dumped.

It is an achievement for the club and everyone at it that at the turn of the decade that saw City go into administration twice that Bradford City have learnt the lesson and put being in the black as an a significant aim.

Michel Platini will hope that we still do because if things were to continue as they do now then in 2013 when the Frenchman aims to enact his new rules Scunthorpe United and Bradford City will be England’s only two entries to the Champions League.

Didn’t you used to be Rafa Benitez?

The scarcity of football in these snow bound weeks seems to have set the fan’s mind set into watching pretty much anything as so after the delight of the improvised Portsmouth squad beating Coventry on Tuesday night came the supposedly wondrous triumph of Reading at Anfield where Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side were knocked out of the FA Cup.

Benitez cut Shakespearianly tragic figure on the side lines as he watched his team capitulate to a Reading side that showed all the Hallmarks of the Royal’s great sides: They cheated a bit, moaned a lot and – for some unfathomable reason probably connected to the fact that they are the club in closest proximity to your average tabloid newspaperman’s house just outside London – they were lavished with praise for their effort.

How Benitez – mic under nose and awkward questions to answer about his future – must have longed to grab the TV crew and march it to the Referee, to Brian McDermott, to Shaun Long and demand a reason why the 93rd minute penalty that levelled things for Reading was given considering the fairly obvious nature of the dive. No penalty, no extra time, no news story from this Third Round FA Cup game.

Nevertheless Benitez is “in trouble” now and many are calling for him to be fired from his job. Unless he is stealing for the Anfield stationary cupboard, using their computers to write his CV or as in the case of one former Anfield player turned sacked manager at another club running up £44,000 work of sex line bills on the club’s phone then sacking is not an option.

The word sack is thrown around liberally in football and is misnomic. When a centre-forward plays badly he is dropped and someone else plays the position for a time while the player himself is paid to sit on his backside or play in the stiffs.

We would never say that Jim Jefferies “sacked” Benito Carbone by paying him to not do anything yet we use it all the time for the process of taking the roles and responsibilities away from managers but continuing paying them. Sven Goran Eriksson’s time out of football after England finished almost to the day that The FA stopped paying him after his “sacking” by England ad some say that we paid Sven more to sit on his backside for a year than we did Steve MacLaren to work as manager for two.

Of course a manager without any management probably starts looking for another job and might get one soon taking away the contract from the previous club just as a player in the reserves might move on to a new team but there is no onus on either to do so while they are being paid as City found out with Carbone back in 2001.

So rather than Liverpool sack Benitez – or any club sack any manager – it would probably be more accurate to suggest that the Reds might drop him and if they can stomach the idea of paying £4m a year to someone who they don’t use in the company – and a further £4m to his replacement no doubt – then they could do just that but the club would end up in a situation where it is paying £8m a year for the managerial position to be filled and – and England’s experience suggest that this could be the case – not even getting half the value of that back.

All of which concerns Bradford City only slightly and this slight way is this. In a post game discussion with a Liverpool website (us football site webmasters have a secret club – seriously) I suggested that Martin O’Neill would be the only choice for the job to which I was told my man on Merseyside has discovered that a similar thought had passed around Anfield to a point where though back door channels O’Neill had been sounded out and had said that he was not about to break his contract with Aston Villa – he had refused to do the same with Leicester City preventing him from taking up the Leeds United job once – and so either a deal had to be worked out with Randy Learner at Villa Park or Liverpool would have to wait.

So wait they do, because while they take no joy in Third Round exits they have a plan for replacing Rafa that involves bringing in a man they feel will do better rather than throwing a wide net open after getting rid of the incumbent and seeing what they find. If they are not able to get the man they want then they will stick with what they have.

Such thinking is thin on the ground at most clubs in and out of the boardroom where little attention is paid to the person following the current, to be dropped, incumbent of the manager’s position, much less to the idea that the exiting man might be falling below whatever standard is drawn for a reason which is not solved by replacing him.

John Sheridan – manager of Oldham Athletic – was fired about a year ago and replaced with Joe Royle who allowed the teams faltering play-off push to fizzle out entirely. Royle was replaced with Dave Penney who has taken the Latics to 19th in League One hovering over the relegation places and one must wonder who pitched the idea of sacking of Sheridan and if they are considering the same with his replacement. Certainly whatever the problem was that saw Sheridan relieved of duties does not seem to have been solved by his exit.

If Benitez was to be paid by Liverpool to stay at home one could argue that the next manager would not lose FA Cup games to weaker opposition but few could make a case that suggests another manager would definitely perform better in the League than Benitez. Two years ago the Red got 76 points from 38 games making a perfect average of two points per match but still finished fourth. It is not performance but rather of over performance that is the expectation.

All of which seems a million miles away from Bradford City at present save the commonality that surrounds a section of the supporters of both clubs (and many other clubs it has to be said) who look at sacking the wrong way and talk much about removing and little about replacing and certainly do not consider the financial pitfalls of paying two people to do the same job.

Care should be taken around the opinions of these people who are so ready to spend other people’s money.

McCall and the never-ending cycle

Stuart McCall once stated he’d rather be a lucky manager than a good one. With dismal recent form threatening to prematurely terminate Bradford City’s promotion chances, a debate is in full swing over which of these two adjectives he is not.

From a largely encouraging first quarter to the season which saw only 6 defeats from 23, a run of just one win, one draw and four defeats has seen cup interest ended and the distance from the play offs increase, with heavy traffic in-between. With each disappointing result, the pressure is growing on McCall. Five of City’s next six games are on the road, January may prove the month which defines the Bantams season and their manager.

It’s hardly new territory for City to be in a position of contemplating a managerial change. In recent times we’ve been here before with Nicky Law and Colin Todd teetering on the edge before the axe finally fell. What’s always curious is the silence in some quarters.

You won’t find the local media – print or radio – mentioning the manager might be under pressure, save for reading out supporters’ texts on air or allowing supporters’ comments underneath articles.

You won’t find public comment from the Board. Speculation continues to rage over one of the joint Chairmen wanting to issue Stuart his p45 and the other disagreeing; from neither has there been public support for the manager, either.

Yet amongst supporters, there’s barely any other topic of conversation.

Just like with Law and Todd, there’s a split of opinion and a disunity amongst City’s fanbase which will only be repaired by an upturn of results or the pull of the trigger. Typically those who want to see a change are shouting the loudest, on the message boards and, increasingly, at games. Short of risking getting into an ugly fight by registering disagreement, it’s more difficult for those who still support McCall to make their views known as loudly. It makes estimations over percentages for and against his continuing employment near-impossible to make.

The arguments for a change of manager largely focus on the lack of progress McCall has delivered since taking charge two and a half years ago. Admitting he’d consider himself a failure if he didn’t deliver instant promotion before a ball had even been kicked in June 2007, the season after that first failed promotion attempt he vowed to quit if a play off spot wasn’t achieved. It wasn’t, but after many supporters begged him to stay he remained anyway.

To some fans, this is now looked back on as him breaking his own promises and almost considered an act of selfishness. The supporters who had persuaded him to stay, be it through writing to him or holding up an SOS sign during the home game with Rotherham last April, have been regularly attacked online too.

But if most fans forgave the failings of his first two seasons, that this year progress on the field has been limited is causing some to lose faith in McCall’s ability. While the last six results have been disappointing, the frustration was growing in the preceding weeks as City’s 10 game unbeaten run of early autumn gave way to a succession of draws.

The improved home form of last season has disappeared and City are winless at Valley Parade since October 24. Even on the road since impressively beating Shrewsbury in early September, the only two victories have come at the division’s bottom two clubs.

The stats simply do not look good.

Yet coherent calls and sensible arguments for managerial change have largely been lost in a sea of over-the-top criticism which has got nasty, ugly and personal. Many have chosen to go beyond reasonableness in the arguments put forward, in doing so exposing a blinkered view that everything will be okay once McCall has been sacked.

It’s a style and tone of criticism striking similar to what Law and Todd endured. For both it was unfair and wrong, for a City playing legend to be targeted so loathsomely is disgusting and undermines the credibility of the protagonists.

The stats simply do not look good – so why the need to embellish them by expressing half-truths, cooking up improbable analysis, uttering spiteful comments and offering no balance?

In recent weeks results have been influenced by some atrocious refereeing decisions, the squad has been disrupted by injuries and suspensions, while some players have shown poor application over a full 90 minutes – yet rather than acknowledge any lack of fortune, these contributory factors are dismissed as McCall “excuses”. Some fans are more sensible in their reasons for wanting change, but the anger of others is threatening to drown them and everybody else out.

Clearly, there remains a proportion of City supporters who believe in sticking by McCall. While no one could qualify his reign as successful so far, there are nevertheless signs that under Stuart the club is being rebuilt in the right way. Off the field much has improved in recent years and much of this – for example youth set up – can be attributed to the rookie manager, who clearly doesn’t view managing City as just managing any old club.

On the pitch, perhaps belatedly, the balance is finally there. From lack of knowledge of the division undermining McCall’s first season – despite successfully turning round a difficult start – through to bringing in players too good for this level but with not enough heart, it finally seems that McCall is setting out to do what he first promised at the time he declared he’d consider himself a failure if City weren’t promoted at the first attempt. That is to bring in players who would have long term careers at the club, rather than be here for one/two years and then be replaced by another short term player.

Are Gareth Evans, James Hanson, Scott Neilson, Steve Williams, Jonathan Bateson, James O’Brien and Luke O’Brien the finished article which we should get rid of in May? For me they are players of great potential who I look forward to seeing the majority of developing at Valley Parade over subsequent weeks, months and years, with other new additions to add to the squad along the way.

This is the path Stuart has now gone down, but it is not a path of instant success. Julian Rhodes recently stated he considered this year’s squad to be better than last year, but he won’t find many regular City watchers who’d agree. However, in time, he might be proven right. Apart from the defeat to Lincoln in August, City’s defeats have all been to teams who it can be reasonably argued have better squads. Last season’s squad was careless in how often it lost winnable games, this one is short of experience but not effort.

The irony of McCall’s reign at City is the longer-term strategy has started up so late, meaning the patience to be allowed to carry it out has worn thin in many fans’ eyes. But it doesn’t make abandoning it the right thing to do. Of course the idea of being stuck in this division another year or worse is one to cause dismay, but change means starting all over again and hoping the rate of progression is then faster. Hoping being the key word.

For as often as we read or hear fans urging the board to sack McCall, ideas about what should happen next are in short supply. Appeals for an answer to the valid question of how sacking a manager improves the club fall on deaf ears.

There’s seems to be a belief that sacking McCall will make all the difficulties which influence the club disappear, that it will instantly herald the long-awaited upturn.

It is a belief that the success and failure of a football is entirely down to the man in the dug out. It is a belief that a manager who succeeded elsewhere will guarantee the same results in a completely different environment – remember that last season a number of fans wanted Dave Penny to replace McCall, he’s hardly pulling up trees at Oldham. It is a belief that placing faith in leaping into the unknown will eventually be rewarded if you keep trying it.

And it is these beliefs which stop me, and others, from supporting the idea of dismissing McCall. As Michael eloquently put it a few years ago when Todd was under similarly fierce pressure, hand me the ‘McCall out’ banner as I want to believe his removal would send the club soaring back up the leagues. You, me, Mark, Julian and everyone else is sick of City failing and hurt by the recent results, so if Stuart leaving guarantees the pain will be over – let’s do it.

The problem is that his removal guarantees nothing. It just seems like the only thing which can be done. It is the only immediate and obvious remedy.

But what’s the subsequent tactics? Sit back and wait for a pile of managerial CVs to fly through the letter box, pick the best interviewee and hope they can bring instant success? What happens if they don’t, go through the whole CV-picking process again?

It is through this strategy that the club’s success and failure becomes utterly dependent on the manager. It is through this strategy that a revolving door will be needed for all the players coming and going. It is through this strategy that the structure of the club will ultimately suffer because no one is around long enough to give a damn.

Which is not to say City should stick with McCall come what may, but to at least ensure there is that much-fabled ‘Plan B’ in place. In the 90s City adopted a strategy of recruiting internally and grooming the next person, which worked fantastically with Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell before being abandoned after 12 Chris Hutchings games. It provided continuity during a period of rapid change, it ensured that the club was always bigger than any manager.

Maybe right now, an internal replacement for McCall isn’t ready, but maybe right now the change isn’t needed. Maybe just as history shows clubs such as Liverpool, Man United and Nottingham Forest moved upwards because of periods of building under the long term influence of sticking by a manager, City can one day enjoy relative success by allowing McCall time to do the same.

I still believe that he should get to stay in charge until at least the end of the season, I’d ideally like it if he was able to at least finish his two-year contract. For that to happen progress must be made and recent results increase the urgency for improvement.

If the overwhelming feeling is a change must be made, I and others will have to accept it. But if change is only made because a few loudmouths got more say than others as usual, it’s not a well-rounded decision and it becomes an even riskier gamble. For those who didn’t want to come to such a decision, the strong relationship many of us have with City will be weakened because of the usual suspects getting their way, yet again.

Because whether McCall is a bad or unlucky manager, we can all be sure who’ll be the first people calling for the head of his replacement.

A decade of decline, misery and still existing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blank space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final curtain?

The clock seemed to start ticking by more slowly by the minute. Still over 35 minutes to go, and Liverpool are getting on top. Patrick Berger and Michael Owen have both gone close and the visitors seemed to be working up a head of steam. Could Bradford City, needing to hang on to the 1-0 advantage to seal their Premiership survival, make it to full time?

Another attack and only last ditch defending stops Owen getting in a shot, but the ball is only cleared as far as Dominic Matteo, who charges towards the penalty area. Yet then he is stopped by an inch perfect tackle from Stuart McCall and 16,000+ home fans pause from biting their nails to roar their approval and chant the name of their captain. Just above him, Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler, describing the action to millions of people watching on TV around the world, says, “At Bradford, when they remember the fantastic contribution he’s made to this club they will also recall that challenge he’s just made.”

Tyler was probably wrong, I personally only recall the moment nine years later after watching a re-run of the historic day for the first time on DVD and I’ve never heard anyone else talk about it. Yet there are so many precious memories I do hold of Stuart wearing Claret and Amber – and thousands of us have our own personal highlights too – that it’s pretty much impossible to choose only one that encapsulates everything we loved about him in that number four shirt. The bond between the player and club was far stronger than I’ve ever seen with any other player. We have other heroes for sure, but Stuart’s two spells as player make him a legend to multi-generations of City fans. He’s been part of the good times, he’s also been there for the bad.

Tomorrow Stuart will step into the Valley Parade arena for possibly the final time. As a manager he is the first to admit he has ultimately failed this season and for that he believes he must carry the can. The sight of a choked up Stuart at Dagenham is one that will live me for some time, for it was not supposed to end like this. When he came back just over two years ago the dream of leading City to promotion felt so real but it has almost turned into a nightmare. Stuart didn’t have to come back, he didn’t have to risk tainting his reputation, he didn’t have to face the booing and chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing?”

Whatever the viewpoint on whether he should honour his threat to quit or stay and fight on, it would take a supporter with a heart of steel not to feel sad when looking at the emotional turmoil Stuart appears to be going through. The man telling us supporters he wasn’t good enough at Dagenham was a man seemingly making his resignation speech. No one could argue he hasn’t given everything he can to deliver success this season but, with credible rumours of the stress from failing impacting on his health, his decision to stay or go must first and foremost be made by what’s best for himself and his family. If it is to be the end, no one should begrudge him one last fantastic reception tomorrow.

There is still the slimmest of chances that this season might still have a happy ending. If Dagenham lose at Notts County and if Shrewsbury suffer an unlikely home defeat to Lincoln, then a City home win would mean going to Chesterfield next Saturday with the slimmest of chances still in tact. Should either the Daggers or the Shrews gain at least a point, however, the play off trap door will be effectively closed with the pair due to play each other on the final day. Chesterfield (at Accrington) and Morecambe (at Exeter) can’t be discounted either, leaving City playing for a lot of what ifs.

Stuart’s players, who have been largely sheltered from a heap of justified criticism thanks to their manager, will hope to at least start making amends with what for many could also be their final appearance at Valley Parade. Rhys Evans, hoping for a new deal, will keep goal looking to recover from a rare mistake last week. In front of him will be Zesh Rehman, who has being promised a game in the centre. The stock of the Pakistan international has fallen considerably in recent weeks, though with seemingly no future at parent club QPR I personally wouldn’t object to him making a permanent move here this summer.

He will probably partner Graeme Lee, unless the City captain fails to recover sufficiently from last week’s injury in which case Matt Clarke will keep his place. Something tells me that, if he plays, Clarke is going to get booed by some fans, and he may not be the only one. The full back slots will be taken by Paul Arnison and freshly-crowned Player of the Season Luke O’Brien. Paul Heckingbottom (remember him?) has surely worn Claret and Amber for the last time.

The selection in midfield has been inconsistent and one of the most disappointing factors of last week’s defeat was how poor Paul McLaren and Lee Bullock – impressive in the last home game – were. The latter is hoping for another deal while the former is surely one of last summer’s signings with a clause in his contract allowing him to leave if promotion isn’t achieved. Perhaps like Mark Bower, McLaren looks a better player at a higher level. Considering the excitement generated when he was signed, ‘disappointing’ is a kind way of describing his season. With Dean Furman nearing fitness and Nicky Law benched recently, the chance to recall the on-loan pair for a good send off will be welcome. On the flanks will be two from Steve Jones, Chris Brandon, Joe Colbeck and Keith Gillespie.

Up front the rumours are it could be Peter Thorne’s last home game too. A new contract offer would surely be on the table, but a season of niggling injuries may have taken their toll and the popular forward call it a day. Michael Boulding, another surely with that release clause, will be vying to partner him ahead of Paul Mullin. A place on the bench could be Leon Osborne’s reward for a midweek hat trick in the reserves.

Rotherham will go above City if they win and can look forward to a summer during which they are sure to be touted as favourites to win League Two. Mark Robins the player may not enjoy Stuart-esqe standing with Millers supporters, but the popular forward is a popular manager and seems to go about his job with great dignity. Take away the points deductions and they would be 2nd in the league now, but they are not and they have less to play for than City players – even if there wasn’t any chance of the play offs.

For the players are telling us they want Stuart to stay and the owner is telling us they want him to stay. There are conflicting views among supporters, but the reaction this week has been uplifting with so many people coming out in support of the manager. There is a significant – a seemingly majority – amount of fans who want him to have another go at delivering promotion next season, to continue building up the club and to ultimately take it back to the sort of heights he was a big part of as a player.

It remains to be seen what sort of influence this support has on Stuart’s final decision, but if he is considering making tomorrow his final Valley Parade curtain he will end it knowing most of his audience wants at least another season’s encore.

The Passionate Customer

For me going to away games is a very different experience from the regular trips to Valley Parade – and not just because some of the away trips are shorter. Saturday’s (longer) journey to Meadow Lane gave me cause to think about one of the main differences – the fans. I choose that word ‘fans’ carefully, for reasons I shall come to in a moment.

Back at our home ground I have had the same seat in the Midland Road ever since the stand was rebuilt. Around me are many of the same faces that have always been there, albeit the younger ones are grown up now. (The forty somethings who have become fifty somethings don’t look a day older, of course.) Through all those Midland Road years no one around me has ever shouted abuse at opposition fans or started a chant that has more to do with the team we hate. I still wonder how either of those helps my team.

I wouldn’t want you to think that we sit in silence. That would be very far from the truth. We have plenty to say and, even if the comments of one regular – ‘McCall, do something!’ – are less than obviously constructive, we have plenty to say about the team’s performance, be it good or bad. I am especially fond of letting the officials know what I think of them, although I doubt that they hear me.

Away from home, those around me are a different crowd and can be vocal in an altogether dissimilar style. There were over 1,200 City fans at Meadow Lane, about 10% of those who go to home games. A fairly representative sample, you might think. For the 90% who are relying on Jason Mckeown’s match report for their knowledge of how the fans reacted to the performance, I want to add a few thoughts of my own, particularly about supporters, as contrasted with fans.

The cries of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ were loudest in that short interval between the third goal and the players leaving the field at half-time. There were other chants, some of which are not for a site like this, but the more interesting ones showed a different slant on the fans’ views of the team performance. It was ‘We want our money back’ and ‘What a waste of money’ that got me thinking.

What those latter chants showed was that the fans go to watch their team with certain expectations. On Saturday the expectations were clearly not met when the second and third goals went in before half time. Had it been Chelsea scoring those goals, that response might not have happened. But this was a mid-table fourth division side and City were supposed to be better than them, especially after the promises of improvement after Barnet.

What the fans were complaining about was not just that the team was playing badly (which was plainly true), but that they had come to expect better. They had spent their hard earned twenty pounds each (plus travel costs and the rest) not just to see a game of football and to support the team, but to see them perform well and preferably to win. The whole notion of supporting the team through thick and thin had gone out of the window. It had been replaced by the customer’s privilege to complain about the quality of the product he had paid for.

If I go to my local supermarket and buy a full priced tin of beans, only to get home and discover that there is more juice than bean, then I am well within my rights to take it back and complain. I do that because I feel I have paid for better; I have been cheated; I want some recompense from the store; and perhaps I hope for improvement in the future. But nobody would dream of calling me a supporter of the store. I am a customer.

Professional football, as must be obvious to the thoughtful observer, is a curious mixture of sport and business. The business end has taken an increasingly leading role for some years now. The Prawn Sandwich Brigade are the extreme example of this change toward the customer. But the vocal away fans at Meadow Lane are different from the Prawn Sandwich Brigade only in the way they express their desire to obtain value for money. One lot keep quiet, because they don’t care about what is happening out there on the field; the other lot do care, but in the same sense as a customer cares.

Experience suggests that constructive criticism, especially from our managers, is the best way forward. Very few professionals in any walk of life improve by being abused by their customers. Many more will react by saying ‘I don’t have to take this, even though your custom is going toward paying my wages.’ Just try shouting abuse down the phone at a call centre employee and see where it gets you. Cut off, is where it gets you and you still haven’t got your complaint resolved. And shouting abuse face to face at the customer service desk when you return your beans will get you arrested.

Now I would be the first to agree that supporting (and this time I chose that word carefully) your team is a passionate business, not to be compared with buying baked beans. But I thought we’d all agreed after BarryBooGate that support means just that. You cheer and clap the good moments, few as they might have been on Saturday, and encourage improvement in the not so good moments.

There is a story often repeated where I live about the Liverpool team that won the European Cup in 2005. They went off at half time 3-0 down and all they could hear was their own supporters still singing at the tops of their voices all the way through the interval. We all know what happened in the second half and the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerard will tell you that they couldn’t let down their own supporters.

There was a little less hostility from the away crowd in the second half on Saturday. Some of it turned to sarcasm – the olés when the opposition kept passing the ball among themselves – and some of it became quite amusing – the chants of ‘Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal’ followed by a mock celebration. Just how these changes of mood come about would no doubt be a fascinating study for some psychologist. But what would they know?

What I’m trying to find out is whether football fans, and City fans in particular, have stopped being supporters and have become customers.

Supporters can still express any view after the match, especially in this Internet age. Sometimes for the players during the match silence says it all and I have to say that’s my attitude. If I’ve nothing to cheer or encourage, I stay quiet. Lots of people back in the Midland Road adopt a similar approach. We support whenever we can; we criticise among ourselves, not directly at the players while they’re still out there and there’s still hope. Even as a passionate customer, always seeking improvement in the quality of the product, how can I expect to achieve what I’m looking for by joining in mass negativity?

I may feel it appropriate to be negative and even abusive, if I want to be a passionate customer and put the ‘customer’ part above anything else. But is that still part of being a supporter? Haven’t I stopped supporting in any meaningful sense of that word?

How much is game in hand worth? Gillingham vs Bradford City Preview

Snow.

The world is full of it and if this country had proper snow ploughs then we would not have a question mark over this weekend’s game with Gillingham. No, we would have a question over whether a vehicle used once every twenty years would start on a cold day.

If the game with Gillingham goes ahead then City look at playing off with the Kent side for a play-off place with them in seventh and the Bantams a place below and the right set of results – or postponements – could leave either fourth on Saturday evening.

Postponements being the challenge of logic in football. Inevitably they occur – City already have an away game at AFC Bournemouth to attempt to replay as well as Monday night’s cancelled Darlington home game – and unrealistically they twist the table leading to the question “how much is game in hand worth?”

Shrewsbury are a place above Gillingham and two above City and a point ahead of the Bantams. Is it safe to assume that – that game played – we can adjust City above the men from Gay Meadow? Some – Bill Shankley for example – would say not and point to every point having to be earned. The grizzled Scot would say that you have nothing when you have nothing and dinne ye forget it.

Nevertheless with 45 point from 28 games City are picking up 1.7 points a game so extrapolating that average we could assume that we would get that point – and a bit more – at least. Taking an example Grimsby Town – 22nd on the league and a point and place below Barnet – score at 0.78 points per game and thus it is probably not safe to assume they will overhaul the club a place above them however the fact that they are one down in the played column – and no one in the league has the 30 games played that have been scheduled – gives them the optimism that they may collect all three points.

Indeed when City faced relegation from the First Division under Chris Kamara Grimsby Town looked at our game in hand against then high flying Charlton Athletic and could have worked out a similar logic with City as likely to collect three points at home on that Thursday night as they were at any other time during the season. We won that game and beat QPR to stay up with our game in hand counting for three points.

Countering that in 1988 West Ham United had five games in hand over Liverpool which – if they were all won – would have seen them snatch the league. They collected less than half of those points and one was left to reflect not that Frank McAvennie and co had blow a chance at the league just that it was a quirk of statistics that suggested they had one and had the games been played in their scheduled slots in the season they would have been the same unremarkable results and the Hammers would have ended up third in a less exciting way.

Games in hand create falseness. City pick up 1.87 points a home game and 1.31 from an away one but how one uses those stats to create an adjusted league table is no more an accurate reflection than assumption that every game not played will be won.

What we do know is that the Bantams beat Grimsby Town last weekend and Stuart McCall struggles with riches in the midfield – Joe Colbeck is expected to start the next City game be it this one or the game with Wycombe Wanderers on Valentines Day – and misfiring strikers up front.

The midfield of Colbeck, Dean Furman, Nicky Law Jnr and Omar Daley seems set to continue while Paul McLaren is injured – in my experience the people who suggest we do not need McLaren in the team also puzzle about our corners not beating the first man when he is not playing and I would yoke those two points together – but McCall has a liking for Steve Jones which could see him included somewhere. McCall had tried playing Jones as a forward having seen his own strikers notch but two in eight from free play.

Probable starter Michael Boulding believes both he and partner Peter Thorne can get to twenty by the season end and I am reminded of an old footballing adage about front men: How many goals does the front man of a winning team scored? Enough. City are a drawing team of late and the strikers need to improve, or at least have improvement visited on them with better service.

The defence at City is mean – almost as mean as its critics – and only seriously leaked when they lost the headed defensive clearances of Barry Conlon at Luton. Six foot plus Zesh Rahmen’s inclusion at right back was more to do with getting a third big man to mark at set plays than it was a reflection on Paul Arnison and Rahmen is expected to retain a place alongside Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke with Luke O’Brien at left back and Rhys Evans between the sticks.

Except, of course, they will all probably be at home, kicking their heels, talking about snow ploughs.

Why is the Refereeing that saw Adebayor sent off not applied at Valley Parade when Bradford City play Chester?

The inevitability of a stern defence when Arsenal get a man sent off is only matched by the unease at which Emmanuel Adebayor uses a topical reference to knife crime in his paper thin defence of the challange which strode in with a dangerous foot and followed with a reckless arm and saw him sent off on Sunday in the game against Liverpool.

The Togo forward suggests that the Liverpool player was play acting – he may not have been as hurt as he made out – but that is the jurisdiction of the Referee Howard Webb and not something that should influence the correct decision to send off for a challange which was at best reckless and at worst dangerous. One has to wonder if he would be happy to have the two dozen or so challenges a forward takes during the average game to be in the style he used.

However Adebayor’s defence – that his aggression should not be penalised by Referee Howard Webb – would be strengthened were he not to make light of fatalities but to point the media who were so quick to give him a platform to a video of Bradford City vs Chester City on Saturday.

In that game – which is played under the same rules of football that Adebayor was sent off under – Referee Andy Haines was able to turn a blind eye to a similarly reckless challenge by Damien Mozika which left Paul McLaren holding his face having been on the wrong end of an arm above the neck. Haines watched Mozika’s put in two footed lunges from distance as Chester – under the guidance of not the brightest manager in football – used what can only be described as rough-housing to grind out a scoreless draw at Valley Parade.

For the record I thought Chester were a loathsome team who would have to take sportsmanship lessons in order to qualify as a team of shits but my opinion is not important in this – Andy Haines’ is.

Haines saw nothing wrong in Mark Hughes, Anthony Barry and Mozika sliding in with two feet raised on defenders clearing the ball nor did he view the aggressive tackling of the visiting side in the same as Howard Webb viewed Adebayor’s tackle. Within twenty minutes of the start of the League Two game on Saturday Webb would have had no fewer than six occasions to pull out his yellow card judging by the standard he showed on Sunday and – one assumes – were Haines to be “trusted” with Arsenal vs Liverpool then Adebayor would not have been booked for his over the ball lunge with following arm and that sort of tackle would have been common place.

My point is not that Chester City were an overtly aggressive team or a dirty team but that one of Andy Haines and Howard Webb must have used a different set of rules to govern games in the same sport. Either one is allowed to tackle in the Adebayor/Mozika manner or you are not – the rules of football make no distinction on the type or level of game being played.

Arsenal vs Liverpool was an entertaining and flowing game while Bradford City vs Chester City a was muscle match where play was broken up frequently. Had Webb Refereed Saturday’s game then would it have been different? Had Hughes’s first two footed block been seen as dangerous play and got him a yellow or Mozika’s raised arm have received the same punishment as Adebayor’s then would we had a more flowing, better game of football? Considering that the visitors employed those tactics to avoid that it is hard to argue we would not.

Arsenal, Chester City, Liverpool, Bradford City. We all go into matches on the understanding that we are playing under the same set of rules yet clearly at the weekend that was not the case. What is a foul and a yellow card in the Premiership should also be in League Two – end of story.

When it is not you get dour, negative, aggressive sides like Mark Wright’s Chester City taking a lap of honour when they spoilt their way to a point.

Where The Embarrassment Lies

Garth Crooks was getting excited. He cheered as Havant & Waterlooville scored their second goal at Anfield after dubbed Liverpool’s concession of a single goal at home to the non-leaguers as acutely embarrassing. It is comments like this that show why in the case of football management those who can do and those who can’t become pundits.

Havant & Waterlooville’s success – limited by the fact that in the end they did get beaten – is being celebrated as a glorification of the FA Cup and the way it levels the mighty and the minnows and of course in headline terms that is a nice way of selling the story but there was no magic about the non-leaguer’s performance at the Premiership side and very little to do with the big hearts and bold spirits that are being talked about.

In fact Havant & Waterlooville were – on the whole – a triumph of head over heart and of smart over spirit. They arrived at Anfield with a determination to stick to a well drilled game plan and rather than roaring into the game as mice against lions they took the approach that Liverpool were no different a proposition than Braintree Town or Bromley and should be met in the same way.

Back fours flat and well marshalled they went out at Anfield. Fullbacks supported by wingers coming back and midfielders protecting the back four they got the reward for an understanding that while they could do little to match the skill and fitness of Liverpool the majority of the battle of a football match is in approach and team discipline.

Who knows how manager Shaun Gale stopped his players from being phased but somehow he put them on the pitch drilled into a formation and with the belief that while Liverpool might – and did – possess the fitness and odd bit of skill to beat them if they could match the twice in three years European Champions League finalists for effort and keep to the tactics then they would make an account of themselves.

This is far from embarrassing for Liverpool – at least in the sense that Crooks intended – and such comments come from a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the game. The belief that being a “better” player in a “better” team means that you can utterly nullify the opposition is country to the experience of watching football week in week out and far too close to the increasing Pro Evo/FIFA inspired view of football that seems to have gripped terraces to the detriment of the game.

Teams that keep to a disciplined formation and have self belief will always play well and likewise very skilful footballers will – when regiments are forgotten – look disjointed and ramblous. Be it Havant & Waterlooville or Manchester United the embarrassing thing for Liverpool – if such a term should exist in top class football – is that the non-league team were for much of the game more committed to a tactic and an ethic of belief than the Premiership side.

Transfer Widow

My girlfriend probably things I am having an affair. Every morning I furtively close my hands around the screen of my trusted N95 and sneak a peek at some covert information, these modern days such actions are tantamount to having lipstick on one’s collar in the list of telltale signs of infidelity.

Every morning I gaze longingly at every loving word crafted to speak of outlandish possibility and I know that such things will never come to pass but we can all dream. Every morning I covertly check out the BBC’s transfer gossip and rumours page.

Sitting all year round the scrapings of tabloid and broadsheet fantasy goes into a kind of meltdown every January when the transfer window opens and a parade of names are stapled to clubs in a cavalcade of would be transfer.

Most concern players few – if any – have heard of joining clubs that simply do not need them. Today we learn with lusty glory that Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is set to spend £7m on Slovakia international defender Martin Skrtel. – or so the Beeb tells us that the Telegraph tells us – and we raise an eyebrow and ponder if the Anfield club’s failure to mount a serious challenge for the title is really for the want of a player who costs less than Newcastle United paid for Jean-Alan Boumsong.

“Failure to mount a serious challenge” is a phrase that haunts Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side troublingly. Clearly The Reds are not winning the thing this year but to suggest that they have not mount a challenge is akin to suggesting that Scott and Oates were just having a wander in the snow just because they were beaten to the Pole.

The vowel light Skrtel may be Kendal Mint Cake to Benitez and our job is in the observation. In likelihood Skrtel will not be heard of again being swooped to play for Bryern Munich, Rapid Vienna or Fulham’s Reserves but for a day we can all imagine him wandering down the wing in Red. It is the pornography of the Subutteo generation.

Of course the Mighty Bradford City have not featured in this procession of names and clubs for sometime but this is no bad thing and not something one would complain about although Big Sam will save his job by pairing Michael Owen with Bradford’s Barry Conlon is probably as realistic to us Skrtel’s move to Anfield is to supporters of his – nameless – club.

Realism is not the point. Distraction is.

Football – as previously mentioned once or twice – had gone to Hell in a handcart at anything other than the top level and like the trappings of the French Lord’s of old the purpose of the big name club transfer gossip is to distraction joyless citizenry from the dullness of their every day existence. Never mind the fact your club cannot afford to have the stadium roof fixed – Manchester United are thinking of buying a Belgian who’s agent will take a cut the size of Luton Town’s much talked about debt.

It is football supporting as Hello Magazine reading – a glimpse at how some live with the far flung hope that you might one day move there yourself. Queens Park Rangers suggest that one day it will I guess, and I suppose one day we did too.

So furtively I look at my mobile phone to read this list of pipe dreams and I should be as offended as I am when I see those documentaries on the lavish fineries of Royalty I pay for but have no access to but for some reason I’m not.

So rest assured should you be worried Ria it is not an affair but with lusty eyes trained on what I want but can’t have it is – at least – flirting.

How City Fans Get The Last Word, Not The Last Laugh

Do not feel the need to got to www.all4humor.com. The footage of the Bradford fire is not there any more – or at least I’m told and so with it go the lies about City fans watching the game and the pictures of 54 Bradford City fans and 2 Lincoln supporters dying.

Do not go to the site and leave these sick bastards to show videos of footballer’s breaking their necks, of trains crashing, of suicides, of executions, of children being sexually exploited, of guys on the 115th floor of the World Trade Centre.

If they re-post the video – or if it is still there now – then it is probably not worth trying to reason with the people who find some kind of humour in the parade of videos on show. We live in a world – and I’m a liberal sort of guy – where morality is relative but I’m perfectly happy to call this sort of entertainment for people who need mental help.

It is probably not worth trying to get this sort of video removed. YouTube constantly show the footage and someone connected to Yorkshire Television or the Fire Services who used it as training footage but allowed it to escape should take a look at themselves but this constant process of discovery and – one assumes – emotional negotiation to have the footage removed from whichever service or server has it on is becoming far too frequent.

It is never short of amazing the difference between the treatment of the Hillsborough disaster and Liverpool supporters and Bradford City fans and 11th of May, 1985. The combined weight of that club descending is enough of a threat to prevent even the mention of the 95 who died that day yet our tragedy is traded and – by some – enjoyed.

If someone believes that watching 56 people die in a horrible way is amusing, if they want to believe the lies that often accompany it then they can believe that. The people of Bradford – us – should act today as we did on that day and every day since.

Let them amuse themselves as they like, the sick bastards, we will never let them shake the refined dignity that marks Bradford City’s commemorations.

That is the last word.

Recent Posts