The spirit rises as City refuse to beaten

The Team

Matt Duke | Marcel Seip, Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Michael Bryan, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Craig Fagan, James Hanson | Liam Moore

As a general rule, unused substitutes don’t usually need to join in with the team’s warm down after the match. Yet after spending the entire final 30 minutes at The Country Ground stretching and jogging up and down the touchline, at full time Bradford City’s Jack Compton and Ross Hannah might have been tempted to join their 10 heroic team mates on the cool down.

Substitutes Compton and Hannah were on permanent stand-by in case it went wrong. Under clear instructions from their manager, Phil Parkinson – who at one stage ordered them back to their feet when they had returned to sit down on the bench – to be ready for the call to go onto the field at the shortest of notice. Victim to yet another atrocious refereeing decision that had seen central defender Andrew Davies red-carded after 57 minutes, City were left to defend for their lives with Compton and Hannah ready as Plan C, if their goal was breached. The pair’s failure to get on the field illustrated Plan B’s success.

For although the Bantams has parked the bus in the preservation of a point; once a man down they were left with little realistic alternative, considering their high-flying hosts Swindon Town had, since August 16, failed to score in a game only once. It was a truly outstanding, backs to the wall performance in the final half hour, with central defenders Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip particularly courageous and Michael Flynn and Ritchie Jones superbly protecting the back four. A first clean sheet on the road for six months, and a very, very good point.

That it came to hanging on was the game’s major talking point – and how depressing and frankly boring it is to be writing about a referee yet again. City were on the attack deep in Swindon’s half, but the ball suddenly broke for Jake Jervis who was then fouled inside his own half by Davies. A mistimed challenge for sure, a yellow card perhaps. Yet the referee Oliver Langford instantly pulled out a red to send the on-loan Stoke defender off on the day he’d returned from a three match suspension following a previous controversial red card.

There is some talk that Davies was dismissed for being the last man and denying a goal scoring opportunity. While that does seem nonsense in view of the number of City players around – and the fact Jervis was in his own half – it’s even harder to understand how Langford could believe the tackle warranted a red card. Davies took a long time to leave the field, as team mates supported his protest appeals. Liam Moore – unfortunate to have been left out, but who had been poor at Macclesfield – quickly joined the action with Seip moved inside. A 4-4-1 formation was employed to try and see out the game.

It’s ironic that City were forced to hang on for a point, given the criticism – largely unfair – towards Parkinson for supposedly playing too conservatively in the previous two away games. Plan A today involved two wingers and a 4-4-2 formation which showed clear intentions to attack Swindon. Parkinson’s pre-match comments that City are good enough to beat anyone in League Two had felt dubious but – as they evenly matched opponents who began and ended the day in the play off positions – this barometer reading of how the Bantams compare to a top seven side produced encouraging results.

Swindon certainly had the most chances and possession even before Davies was sent off, but the improvement in defence that has been evidenced for a number of weeks now – even if not always reflected by results – was continued. Decent home build up play was often stopped by the hard-working Jones and Flynn, while new full backs Seip and Luke O’Brien both did well neutralising the threat on their wings. Davies was like Oliver, rock solid. When City had possession they didn’t simply hoof it hopefully to James Hanson or Craig Fagan, but passed the ball around patiently and got wingers Kyel Reid and Michael Bryan heavily involved. Both caused problems and created openings.

City did not look and perform like a team 4th bottom of League Two.

Home keeper Wes Foderingham’s mistake in picking up a back pass gave the Bantams an early indirect free kick inside the box, but Flynn’s effort was blocked. Not long after Fagan shot tamely from Hanson’s knock down and sometime after that City’s top scorer couldn’t get power when heading a Seip cross goalwards. The best chance came when Bryan was played clean through on goal but in a wide position, and the young winger couldn’t get a decent ball into the box towards the onrushing Fagan. Swindon had chances too, but Matt Duke’s only save came, once again, from a shot outside the box (on this occasion a free kick) – underlining the robustness of his back four.

Without Davies’ red card the game would probably have continued in that way: Swindon having plenty of the ball and producing some attractive football, City defending well and a strong threat on the counter attack. Langford’s intervention stopped the game as an even contest, and left Swindon with 30 minutes to make their extra man count.

It was easy to fear the worst, as the home side produced some heavy pressure and fired numerous crosses into the box. Not least when it became clear Duke had picked up an injury which meant he could not take goal kicks. Yet Oliver and Seip seemed to have a magnetic effect on the ball, and time and time again it was one of the pair who would get to it first and clear.

Duke had just two second-half saves to make – and one came when it was 11 v 11, after O’Brien’s slip forced the keeper to make an excellent one-on-one block. Other attempts at goal sailed wide or over the bar, but never really close to going under it.

The threat of a goal remained right to the end, yet Swindon seemed to run out of ideas and perhaps took a lead from their attention-seeking, immature manager Paulo Di Canio. He began to get ridiculously wound up by any decision he didn’t get or whenever his players made a mistake. Sure, all managers get like this to a certain extent too, but with 20 or so minutes to go and Swindon well on top one would have expected more coolness and professionalism from a manager – rather than transmitting obvious panic that it wasn’t going to be their day.

Some people think Di Canio is amusing, me I’d take the more reserved but clearly still passionate Parkinson any day.

The full time whistle was met with a huge cheer from us away supporters, and deservedly so. Applying rationale thinking, it is obvious the corner is being turned and City are moving forwards. At the start of this month we had set off to Burton with such little hope and growing fears about the future. But we produced a great performance that day, followed by a memorable cup victory over our neighbours, two home wins and now this point. The two defeats among this run were frustrating for sure, but it is beginning to come together.

October has ended with City in a much better position than when we started it. Progress might still be too slow to inspire hope of joining Swindon in the play off push, but the foundations of developing a side good enough to be up there ability-wise are starting to come through. City have improved greatly at the back, while Parkinson has a range of attacking options available that not too many League Two clubs can better.

That side of the Bantams had to be shelved for the final half hour this afternoon, but the spirit and determination to cling on to the point stands the club in good stead for the winter months to come.

Making no excuses

It is all about excuses, and who has to give them.

Take Phil Parkinson for example. He stands accused after the 1-0 defeat at Macclesfield Town of making an excuse about referee Rob Lewis. Parkinson pointed out that his team – who have faced not one shot on target from inside the area in the last 180 minutes with the exception of that penalty – would have had something from the evening were it not for Lewis’ intervention. This was “making excuses” – or so we are told.

We get no excuse – the City fans who travelled to Macclesfield – about why the penalty was given and the Macclesfield supporters who shouted for a red card with some justification got no excuse from Lewis for what they were not sated. BfB tried to get the match report with our usual polite email to the Football League. We were told no. Rob Lewis need not give an excuse for ignoring the Laws of Football.

He may be called to give an excuse for his language towards Craig Fagan. It seems that Fagan asked Lewis about the booking he got and was replied to by Lewis swearing. Industrial language is not uncommon in football but the Laws of the game were used to send off players (and after the game) turning games and even seasons and we were told that there was no excuse for that behaviour. One wonders what Rob Lewis excuse will end up saying to the authorities, if they ask him as a result of the complaint City have put in about the official.

“Excuse” has been the phrase de jour for sometime around Valley Parade for some time. As a club “making excuses” has been verbalised from top to bottom of the club. Mark Lawn – when talking about training facilities – said that the lack of them could be used as an excuse while Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor were both “excuse making” when they talked about various issues which hampered their team’s performances.

Should a manager find something else to blame when the slings and arrows of Referee misfortune rain down on his team? Should he go straight to problem number two stepping over the first issue? When it comes to criticising officials Ron Atkinson had a hard and fast rule: “I never talk about Referees, and I’m not making an exception for that berk.”

What is Parkinson to do? His belief is that a robust team that do not concede will pick up points on the road. Michael Flynn’s red card stopped that robustness at Hereford, the penalty robbed a point at Macclesfield. If Parkinson can put hand on heart and say that he was happy with the performances otherwise then should he make something up rather than saying something that could be called an excuse?

Are we – as Bradford City supporters – really a community which is too immature to handle the interpretation of the game as the manager sees it and do we need to have that game retold to us in a way we find more palatable?

Which is not to say that Parkinson’s approach is to everyone’s taste, that is is great to watch or that it will work in the long term just that it is the approach that he has always used and the one he believes to be right. It is also the approach that many teams come to Valley Parade with and that has caused so many home reversals so it would be wrong to not point to a certain validity in the frustration game. If people are criticising Parkinson for using it away from home then they perhaps may recall if they criticised Colin Todd for not being able to break it down at VP.

The culture we have in the Bradford City community would reject excuses and anything that sound like excuses casting babies down Manningham Lane with bathwater to follow. It is to say that we have no truck with with anyone offering reason, it is the denial of the ability to be analytical.

Imagine if you will – and dear reader imagine it is so rather than questioning the premise if you have a mind to – that the only reason that Bradford City did not return from Macclesfield Town on Tuesday night with at least a point is because of atrocious Refereeing. Would you want to know that? Would you want to be lied to? Would you want Phil Parkinson to make changes to a team which would have performed well otherwise?

The question is yours to ponder, but as Macclesfield Town headed towards the play-off places and people without the ability to do basic mathematics said that City’s season was over they did so with an undeserved result, if you would take my opinion.

To paraphrase: “You train all week, you do everything right, and then Rob Lewis decides the result.”

City go onto Swindon Town to play against popular fascist Paolo Di Canio’s side who sit seventh in the division. The Robins are much talked about for the enigmatic Di Canio’s presence but more importantly they have not lost for five (four wins and a draw) which is a run started at Macclesfield.

City go into the game with Matt Duke in goal behind a back four which will probably see Marcel Seip step down to allow Andrew Davies to be recalled alongside Luke Oliver. Luke O’Brien is likely to come in at left back for the injured Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore will retain his place at right back.

Adam Reed looks is unlikely to play – his loan deal is up on Saturday and he does not have a clause in his contract that guarantees him a place – so Richie Jones and Michael Flynn will reunite in the middle. Chris Mitchell is hoping for a recall either on the right or in a three while Michael Bryan will hope that Phil Parkinson opts for a flat four in the midfield which would give him a place on the right. Kyel Reid continues on the left.

Craig Fagan will start up front alongside or to the side of James Hanson.

What matters and what shouldn’t

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Marcel Seip, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Adam Reed | Craig Fagan, James Hanson, Kyel Reid | Luke O'Brien, Michael Bryan, Jamie Devitt

Booing from Bradford City fans at the final whistle is hardly a rarity. But as the Macclesfield evening grew ever chillier, the frosty farewell from a decent-size away following was for once not directed at our own players but at the man who had won Macclesfield the game.

Step forward and take a bow, Rob Lewis. Only as the boos and cries of “cheat” reigned down towards him at full time, the referee took a rare moment to hide away from the spotlight. A furious Phil Parkinson joined his players in confronting Lewis over the range of bewildering decisions he had made. It’s hard to recall the last time a referee had such an obvious impact on the scoreline.

For 65 minutes of the evening, Lewis was a minor irritation rather than obvious match winner. Then Macclesfield’s Ross Draper chased a slightly over-hit long ball into the box that was gathered up by Matt Duke, fell over as he ran into the City keeper and Lewis ruled the midfielder had been fouled. Luke Oliver, the nearest defender, could have been adjudged to have nudged Draper, but there seemed to be no contact whatsoever.

By the letter of the law, any foul by Oliver or Duke would have meant they were the last man and so a red card should have been issued. There was no card and so one can’t escape the feeling Lewis was looking for an excuse to even up the fact he’d turned down a much more credible Macclesfield penalty appeal in the first half. There was certainly no hesitation in awarding the second half spot kick that Lewis Chalmers dispatched easily.

Yet there was just the warm up act for Lewis, who spent the final half hour seemingly giving every decision against a City side who pinned Macclesfield in their own half in a desperate search for an equaliser.

Lewis didn’t simply fail to award City free kicks when players looked to have been fouled – he gave Macclesfield free kicks seemingly as punishment for the City player been fouled. On a number of occasions it appeared as though he had spotted what looked to be clear fouls on Bantams’ players and blew his whistle to stop the game, only to trigger indignation from City players and supporters by pointing in the opposite direction to signal a home free kick.

Examples of this bizarre decision-making process were numerous; but when Jamie Devitt was sent crashing to the floor by two Macclesfield players jumping on top of him to head the ball away, only for Lewis to rule City’s substitute had fouled the two players, you wondered if the rules of football had been changed without anyone telling us.

It’s impossible to write an account of what went on in the final half hour without coming across as bitter and biased. All I can say is I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a referee make so many bad decisions and so obviously favour one team when making them. City’s players would be kicked, pushed and hauled to the floor by home players and get nothing, while the slightest bit of contact on a Macclesfield player in possession would see them earn a free kick. Either come down hard on every tackle or (preferably) show some common sense, but to apply a different set of standards towards each team is a referee having far too much influence on the outcome of a football match.

All of which is not to be disrespectful to Macclesfield, who put in an impressive first half performance where they passed the ball around with confidence and came close to taking the lead through a series of decent long range shots – one of which hit the outside of the post. As expected, Parkinson had elected to pick three central midfielders rather than two out-and-out-wingers, but a very poor display from Adam Reed contributed largely to possession being easily squandered.

Up front Craig Fagan and Kyel Reid played just behind James Hanson, but the trio failed to click in the manner it had on its previous two outings.  Fagan’s wide position seemed to be aimed at making the most of Macclesfield’s weakest player, left back Carl Tremarco. Yet Hanson was left far too isolated and Reid had fewer close options to pick out when he came forwards. City’s best first half chance came when Ritchie Jones’ clever charge into the box was eventually picked out by Reid, but the midfielder failed to make a decent connection.

Defensively City looked more assured than on Saturday, with Marcel Seip again impressing if showing a slightly worrying tendency to push out quickly when his fellow defenders sat deeper. A rare mistake by Oliver when under-hitting a back pass allowed Draper in on goal for that strong penalty shout; but as he poked the ball past Duke and fell over the keeper rather than go around him to tap the ball into an empty net, the resultant appeal carried some degree of suspicion that he was looking for it.

It became obvious – shortly after break – that City’s gameplan involved ensuring they were at least level at half time level, before pushing on in the second half. And for the second 45 minutes they pinned Macclesfield back, quickly unmasking frailties in their defence which led to panicky clearances and a struggle just to get out of their own half. Jones twice went close, while full backs Liam Moore and Luke O’Brien – who replaced the injured Robbie Threlfall early in the second half – provided overlapping width and some testing crosses. A goal seemed only a matter of time.

Then came the penalty at the other end, followed by a final 25 minutes that seemed to be 11 vs 12. Michael Bryan came on for the anonymous Reed, and City’s move to 4-4-2 had the home defence stretched further. Yet good build up play and a number of superb crosses in the box went unrewarded. Strong pressure would invariably be punctured by Lewis awarding a home free kick for very little.

Three City players were booked as frustration took over, but only Jones seemed deserving of such a punishment following a wild tackle that revealed his growing frustration. Hanson’s booking for contesting a 50-50 ball was nonsense, while as City prepared to take a corner it appeared home keeper Jose Veiga raised his arms at Fagan with Lewis’ back turned. The result? Fagan was booked. Of course. Makes sense.

Devitt was brought on for Jones and did extremely well, while Reid was a constant terror who made things happen whenever he had the ball. As a winger he is both intelligent and brave; always looking around to assess his options, while not being afraid to take a kick or two from the opposition.

For all the pressure, not enough good chances were created. Hanson had two decent opportunities, but a shot and header lacked power. Reid blasted a free kick over and Flynn wasted a free header from a corner, glancing the ball well over. In the final minute of stoppage time Oliver nodded a Seip cross narrowly wide.

Beaten, but not bettered. Any defeat is a set back, but the evening’s effort and endeavour deserved much better; and for Parkinson the challenge is to get that bit more quality from his players in the final third, so City start returning from trips away from Valley Parade with a point or three. The league table once again does not look great, but slowly the tide of City’s season is turning.

The boos at full time for Lewis were followed by the players receiving a great ovation for their efforts, yet somehow back home in City’s cyberworld people not at the game were starting to demand that Parkinson is sacked and that blaming the referee for this defeat was an “excuse”.

I’m sick of making a huge amount of effort to attend away games, only for people who don’t watch them to jump to their own, misguided conclusions and claim they know better. The idea that any City fan could possibly believe – after years and years of driving managers away in the doomed belief it will improve things – that getting rid of Parkinson is now the answer is simply astonishing. If you are one of these people, take a glance at the Scottish Premier League table.

It seriously is time for a few people to take a long hard look at themselves and to question whether their online actions are helping the club or hindering it. If you don’t go to a game yet believe you can make a qualified opinion on what went wrong, that opinion does not deserve to be listened to be anyone.

Playing Reed was a mistake in hindsight, but no one can convince me that Parkinson’s approach tonight was wrong. Sadly, the amount of effort and preparation that would have gone in was undermined by a shockingly bad refereeing display. Stick to this path, however, and the rewards will surely come.

Robbie Threlfall the comeback kid

Two months on from his shock resignation as Bradford City manager, Peter Jackson has yet to utter one word in public regarding his reasons for departing, other than apparently telling a group of Huddersfield supporters that “two people at City are going to kill the club” for the way they are running it. When the day comes he sees it fit to explain himself, it’s hoped whoever is holding the microphone in front of him asks what his thought process was towards his left backs.

Back in those care-free days of pre-season, a flattering 4-1 win for Premier League Bolton over the Bantams was followed by Jackson revealing he’d told full backs Robbie Threlfall and Lewis Hunt, “they can go if they find a club”. For Hunt – only still at the club because a desperation for a right back forced City to offer him a new contract – being told he could leave was understandable and he’s only featured once this campaign. Yet as Threlfall made his 18th start of the season in the home win over Northampton – enjoying arguably his finest game to date in a City shirt – a question popped into my head concerning why three months ago he was told he had no future at all.

I’ll admit I’m a big Luke O’Brien fan. When it comes to selecting who plays left back between Threlfall and O’Brien, I would always – and still would do – favour Luke because of the greater attacking threat he provides. When Jackson rarely picked Threlfall in pre-season and then made his revelation post-Bolton, I was pleased that O’Brien has apparently won his battle to be first choice.

What happened next – and where Jackson’s honest opinion would be welcomed – was baffling. The final pre-season friendly against Carlisle saw Threlfall brought in from the cold and then starting the season’s opener against Aldershot with O’Brien not even on the bench. An unfortunate own goal wasn’t the greatest of starts, but Threlfall’s superb assist for Michael Flynn’s goal at Leeds will live as long in the memory as the Welshman’s terrific strike.

Yet still, we waited for O’Brien to reclaim his place in view of Jackson’s earlier declaration; and as City made a slow start and Threlfall looked fairly average in those early games, bewilderment grew. When O’Brien was brought on as sub in the Johnstones Paint Trophy win over Sheffield Wednesday – a week after Jackson’s exit – there was a chant of “hallelujah” in support of the Halifax-born player. But neither caretaker Colin Cooper nor new manager Phil Parkinson took Threlfall out of the team.

Which would have been harsh – because with each passing week, Threlfall has quietly gone about his business looking more effective than the last game. Having originally being signed by Peter Taylor in February 2010 and much made of his set pieces during his initial loan spell, he’s again making his mark in this area too. Most notably setting up City’s opening goal at Huddersfield in the superb JPT victory.

O’Brien played that night too, and to date all of his appearances have been as a winger rather than his natural full back role. With his greater dribbling ability and willingness to take people on, O’Brien could make a good career out of this position. Particularly because – unlike your bog-standard League Two winger – he has a much greater awareness of his defensive responsibilities and will regularly help out his full back. In the last two home games Parkinson has started with two out and out wingers and then brought on O’Brien when needing to protect a lead. On each occasion he made a decent impact.

So having apparently won the full back war only to lose the battle quite badly, O’Brien’s City future now appears to hinge on his willingness and adaptability to become a winger. Competition is strong in this area of the team too, but with Michael Bryan and Jack Compton only here on loan for now O’Brien’s aim must be to prove to Parkinson these temporary players are not needed long-term. New rivals, but the same kind of challenge he has been used to at left back.

Meanwhile Threlfall has surely become one of the first names on the team sheet. He was outstanding against Northampton, time and time again successfully tackling his winger and providing good cover for Luke Oliver and Marcel Siep, while showing great positioning. Meanwhile in the less-celebrated side of his game – going forwards – he put in a strong display, linking up well with Kyel Reid. He doesn’t take people on like O’Brien, but his greater passing ability means he is starting attacking moves and then joining in further down the line by charging down the flank. With Chris Mitchell struggling to get back into the starting eleven, Threlfall has taken on the greater responsibility regarding set pieces.

All credit to Threlfall for his attitude. There are more celebrated and eye catching members of the team, but his determination to re-discover his form – after a disappointing 2010/11 campaign – and battle for his future at the club is a shining example of what City are trying to achieve this season.

Improvement in individuals, improvement as a team. Threlfall was supposed to be consigned to the scrap heap, but too often City have given up on players and released them rather than develop them. Told to get lost by Jackson, he has come back stronger than ever. Threlfall’s first team spot is his to lose – and on current form I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

Parkinson’s free reign to tinker (but not the Tuesday after if City win)

As thoughts turn to Bradford City’s important home game against Northampton Town this weekend, manager Phil Parkinson will be in his rights to make changes to the team that lost 2-0 to Hereford the week before.

Matt Duke can be dropped, Luke Oliver can sit in the stands, Ritchie Jones can warm the bench and Craig Fagan can practice some more on his playstation. And if Parkinson wants to undergo these radical team selections and more, there can be apparently be no complaints from supporters.

Because the Bantams lost their last game, which means the manager has our “permission” to change the team.

Sounds nonsense to drop Oliver? Agreed. But in my opinion so is holding the manager accountable to a daft rule that he is not allowed to change a winning team. After an encouraging win over Torquay United that was badly needed, three changes (one enforced) were made at Hereford and many supporters have since blamed the resultant loss on Phil Parkinson (or Phil Plonkinson, as he was dubbed by one supporter on the Official Message Board) for changing a winning team.

Why is it so bad for him to have done so? Sure, the win over Torquay and the performance by the players was outstanding on the day. But does one victory really mean the previous problems have been fully solved and now all the manager needs to do is pick the same 11 players until the next defeat? Or shouldn’t he be entrusted to make further improvements if – in his qualified judgement – he feels it’s needed?

Let’s look at the two controversial changes. Jack Compton played only 27 minutes against Torquay before he was unfortunately subbed because of Andrew Davies’ red card enforcing a defensive reshuffle. He played his part in the win to a certain extent, but the decision to recall fit again midfielder Adam Reed and move Jones out wide – thus leaving Compton out – seemed reasonable.

Almost all season long – and this includes under Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper and now Parkinson – City’s midfield has been lined up with one out-and-out winger and three central midfielders, one of whom played a wide midfield role. The idea is to enable City greater dominance in the middle of the park, with three midfielders against either an opposition two or three. Over recent years we’ve seen numerous City sides play 4-4-2 with two direct wingers, and rarely has it worked well. Too often they are outgunned and the opposition can claim a draw or win.

Jones – who has played for much of his career as a wide right midfielder – seems a natural choice to take on that wide midfield role. I personally would prefer he stay in the centre with Flynn, and Chris Mitchell recalled wide right, but I can at least see the thinking behind Parkinson’s decision and – in the first half at Burton at least – Reed looked a very clever player. Going into any away game with two out-and-out wingers (which is what Compton and Kyel Reid are) would have left City very open. This approach is more acceptable in home games when the opposition will be more defensive, but not necessarily the best tactic on the road.

I like Compton, but I do think there are better wide players at the club. When he played at Huddersfield, it was notable that his lack of defensive awareness allowed Town’s Daniel Ward the freedom to give Luke Moore a difficult opening 45 minutes. Parkinson eventually swapped Luke O’Brien and Compton – so the left-footed OB played wide right – to nullify this threat. It made a big difference with O’Brien excellent as a right midfielder, and in my view was a negative mark against Compton.

As for the other Hereford change – Stewart for Jamie Devitt – while doubts about his style of play remain, the evidence so far is that Devitt is a quality player at this level who can improve the team. Stewart had a great game against Torquay, but all of his best work came outside the penalty area. So again, there is reason to understand Parkinson’s thinking in making this change, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

Too often there is a compliant in football, heard at City in recent days too, that the manager “doesn’t know his best 11.” Yet in this day and age few  managers ever stick with the same 11 players and football is about squads. Form – at this level especially – fluctuates and the theory a manager can decide his best 11 and stick with them for weeks and months is flawed. I’m glad that Parkinson doesn’t seem to know his best 11, because it gives everyone in the squad the opportunity to stake their claim and keep pushing others. Equally the best 11 to beat one type of opposition (say Dagenham) is not necessarily the best 11 to win against another style of play (e.g. Crewe).

We have a squad of 37 players – the ideal that Parkinson cannot choose the 26 who didn’t start the previous game, because it was won, is a restrictive and outdated view of football management.

The enemies of football as Parkinson’s City claim a first win

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Jack Compton, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Mark Stewart, Craig Fagan | Guy Branston, Luke O'Brien, Nialle Rodney

The last time he left Valley Parade happy Phil Parkinson was called “the enemy of football” by then City manager Colin Todd after his Colchester United team battled to a point. As Parkinson celebrated his first win as Bantams boss it seemed that no matter what how much of an enemy if the game Todd might think he may be, he is effective against the opposition.

Torquay United came to Valley Parade and were almost entirely neutered in their attempts to win the game thanks to a defensive effort from Parkinson’s side the match of anything seen at City for seasons and despite the Bantams having a man sent off.

Lining up with two rows of four, and Mark Stewart behind Craig Fagan Parkinson’s side were the picture of tight defending and – when they had to be – smart enough to kill off the game when legs got weary with the Bantams having to play over an hour with ten men following the sending off of Andrew Davies in the first half.

Now, dear reader, our views may divert (at least until television reveals more) but from my bit of plastic in the near 12,000 filled seats at Valley Parade Davies went in aggressively on Danny Stevens taking both feet off the floor and even in getting the ball the red card that Carl Boyeson showed was (as little as I like to see City players sent off) the right decision.

(Sunday note: Watching again the only way the Ref could justify a red card is if he believed that because the tackle was two footed that it was automatically either reckless, dangerous and endangered an opponent thus a yellow card even if it got the ball and, by virtue if the goal scoring opportunity denied, a red card. If that is the case Davies would get a one match ban. It was certainly not a violent or aggressive tackle which would merit a three match ban. Having seen it again, and in the context of other tackles in the game, I would not have even blown the whistle for a foul.)

My views were not shared by most and Valley Parade went into uproar and most (including t’other half of BfB Jason Mckeown) thought that Davies had taken ball hard but fair, that Stevens had made a meal of the tackles – he was booed for the rest of the afternoon – and that Boyeson was wrong.

If Boyeson did get the decision right then it was pretty much all he got right all afternoon in which time and time again he showed a near contempt for the rules that he was on the field to enforce. For sure we can all forgive mistakes – one or Jason and myself will be wrong about the red card tackle – but what can not be forgive is seeing offences and ignoring them.

So when Kyel Reid – on a foray into the Torquay United half when City were attacking on the counter – turned Eunan O’Kane on the edge of the box despite the midfielder tugging on his shirt only to be hacked at and pulled down in the box and Boyeson gave only a yellow card one had to wonder which part of the rules he was enforcing. The part that says that denying a goal scoring opportunity mandates a red card was ignored, and thirty years of football tells me that that was one.

Of the goalscoring opportunities City created the lion’s share with Matt Duke having to save once low down to his right but spending most of the rest of the afternoon watching the heroics of defenders Luke Oliver and substitute Guy Branston who blocked and blocked again whenever the ball penetrated the wall which the midfield pair Richie Jones and Michael Flynn had put up which was refreshingly not often.

In a game when plaudits were available for all special mention goes to Michael Flynn who put in a box to box midfield display which makes one wonder why at the start of the season he was seemingly on his way out of the club. His combination with Jones – who is a fine player for sure and one with a great engine – made for a powerful midfield display nullifying the previously excellent O’Kane.

Oliver and Branston – and Davies before his departure – were immense. Again Oliver was on his way out at the start of the season but his performance today looked like the best defender to have taken to the field for City since the slide into League Two. Graeme Lee, David Wetherall, Matt Clarke et al would have all loved to have put in a display like this.

Branston loved it too. Not wanting to dismiss the travelling supporters who applauded him last year he was gracious in victory but his display was the sort of showing which seemed promised when he signed.

Some of Branston’s tackles walked the line for sure, but so did much of City’s play and one was reminding of Todd’s talk of enemies when City got tough. City under Stuart McCall (in his first two seasons) and once or twice under Peter Jackson could be a joy to watch but they could also be a joy to play again for the opposition. A side that wanted to pass and impress an opposition side, Parkinson’s City were more aggressive.

Torquay United will return to the South Coast knowing they have been in a game. Michael Flynn was booked for a hard tackle, Richie Jones lucky not to follow Flynn into the book. Branston cleaned out everything, Oliver put muscle in and Craig Fagan leading the line gave his defender Hell. City, for want of a better phrase, manned up.

Sturdy at the back, giving nothing away, and ending up with a clean sheet all City needed to do was score – not something has been a problem this season – and so the goal came in the last ten minutes of the first half when a cross in from Robbie Threlfall was headed on by Luke Oliver, taken under control by Craig Fagan and struck in with power.

Fagan’s fitness is returning and he is looking like a very good player. He nearly got a second in the second half when he latched onto a the ball when racing against goalkeeper Robert Olejnik and lobbing the ball over the custodian only to see it hit bar and post and bounce away. Threlfall’s had a direct free kick pushed wide by a diving Olejnik later. Another goal would not have flattered City.

Not getting a goal though City played out the last ten minutes at game killing pace and the frustration started to show. Kyel Reid toyed with a few Torquay players and got a couple of kicks for his trouble one of which could not have been said to have been near the ball. Boyeson seemed to be happy to let that – as he did the many deliberate handballs he blew for against Torquay striker Rene Howe go without further censure.

Not one player will have left the field without the warm handshake from Phil Parkinson. Liam Moore battled hard at full back well supported by Stewart who dropped back to the right following the sending off. Kyel Reid turned a performance which seemed to be going nowhere into a great display. Luke O’Brien and Nialle Rodney put in great shifts from the bench. Parkinson has drummed in the need for hard work, and he got it today.

It was a new Bradford City modelled by Parkinson. More canny, a bit more nasty, and victorious. The sort of thing which Colin Todd called the enemies of football but without the ability to trust officials to carry out their jobs as detailed (and I reiterate that the red card, to me, seemed sound but one correct decision does not a performance make) City had to look after themselves today, and did.

Twelve games in and City have moved up the table to fourth bottom but it seems very much like this season has finally got going.

The smile, and how to retain it

The wife woke up at 5.45am as usual on Wednesday morning, discovering that she had still not refound her voice that had been lost in the wake of Bradford City’s thrilling penalty shootout win over Huddersfield Town. She was tired. Too tired really. The journey back from the Galpharm seemed to involve a couple of wrong turns and so we got home later than hoped. No voice and feeling utterly knackered – not a good combination for a Primary School teacher.

Still on the plus side, one of her teaching colleagues was a Huddersfield Town supporter. Be sure to ‘bump’ into her today…

And that’s what derby victories are all about – the bragging rights. The opportunity to get one over our friends, family and work colleagues and to continue taunting them for months to come – no matter what they try to argue back. In the wake of Tuesday’s victory for the Bantams, there were some attempts from those of a blue and white persuasion to talk its significance down. “It was only a Huddersfield reserve side” argued some Town fans, in view of eight changes made. Given Phil Parkinson made six for City, so too was ours by this logic.

“The league’s the most important thing” whined Huddersfield’s BBC Radio Leeds pundit Kieran O’Regan, as though it isn’t for City. Presenter Gareth Jones beautifully caught O’Regan out by then asking the former Terriers player when he thought Town and City would next face each other in the league. (Para-phrasing here) “Well we’re going for promotion this season, I can’t see Bradford going up. So not for a while.” “So you’re saying it will probably be a few years until they play each other? Well until then, Bradford fans now have the bragging rights don’t they?” Long pause.

What a night. The penalty shootout was utterly nerve wracking, but after Nialle Rodney struck the winning spot kick – euphoria. When Michael Flynn missed City’s first attempt, it was easy to fear the worst. As the twists and turns unfolded with the packed away end cheering or groaning, my wife was completely frozen in fear. She couldn’t move, so gripped with worry she was. The celebrations in the end were wild, while the Town fans looked as devastated as we would have. At 1-0 a group of home fans on the left side had attempted to charge at us City supporters in anger, only to be stopped by stewards. Trouble occurred outside as we headed home.

That is the ugly side of football that no one should enjoy, but it showed how much the game mattered for both sets of supporters in attendance. Yes it was only the JPT, but as Stuart McCall once said a game of tiddlywinks between the two sides would matter. Yes it was via the lottery of penalties, but two League One sides have now been dumped out of the cup by the Bantams which is impressive. Yes there were no league wins in-between those two victories, but perhaps the corner is finally turning.

The victory over Town followed a better weekend that followed a bad one and bad one before that. Now the challenge is to maintain the upwards curve of improvement and finally start to make an impression in the league. There has still only been one League Two victory to date, and past form would suggest City will follow up a heroic cup victory with a cowardly league performance. That can’t be allowed to happen, not least with a bumper crowd expected and in need of being entertained.

Torquay will be no pushovers – beaten in the play off final last season, and with memories of a 3-0 stroll at Valley Parade last April still fresh in the mind. But at the same time they are no world beaters – even by League Two standards, as they are only 13th so far. There’s no guarantees in football and City are in no position to underestimate anyone, but another slip up will be difficult to accept and the team badly need to keep the fans’ post-Huddersfield mood in tact come 5pm.

The six changes Parkinson made on Tuesday worked well and will give him plenty to ponder for tomorrow, although the five players who kept their place after Burton Albion were the five who truly excelled. Matt Duke, Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall and especially Flynn were outstanding at the Galpharm (even if Threlfall could have used the ball better at times). Indeed it was noticeable that Parkinson choose to keep the backline in tact and was rewarded by further improvement even if two goals were again conceded – at least two have been let in for six consecutive games now.

Duke might have made a meal of a couple of Huddersfield shots, but produced a string of terrific saves that will have done his confidence the power of good. Moore played with a level of commitment not usually associated with loan players, while so powerful was Oliver’s header for 2-1 that it brought back fond memories of David Wetherall. Threlfall will also keep his place tomorrow, though Andrew Davies will be recalled over Guy Branston. It was a mixed night for the club captain, who was superb in many aspects but struggled with his distribution.

In midfield Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid should return, but Adam Reed is out and whether Jamie Devitt – on his way back from injury – comes straight back in too depends on Parkinson’s view on Luke O’Brien. I thought he was excellent on Tuesday taking people on, and he did a good job helping Moore when switched to the right midway through the first half. Chris Mitchell had another good game and set up the opening goal. He will probably be left on the bench and is unlucky to do so. Jack Compton should be back on the sidelines too, which seems right compared to what Reid and O’Brien offer. Flynn is the only certain midfield starter.

Up front, James Hanson’s absence on Tuesday offered fans calling for his permanent removal from the starting eleven a chance to press their claims. Rodney and Mark Stewart did well at times, but in my view Hanson’s presence was missed and when City struggled to clear their lines and keep the ball I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hankering for a target man of Hanson’s ilk. It was heartbreaking to see Ross Hannah’s big chance be ended by an awful challenge just seven minutes in, and with the former Matlock striker set to miss this game Stewart will probably take his place on the bench and Craig Fagan and Hanson – if fit- recalled.

Whoever is left out of the 11 from Tuesday can feel unfortunate, and for those who come in or who retain their place this week has seen the competition for places intensify. Parkinson needs to have a squad who can’t be sure of their places and who must deliver the goods at all times, and he needs to have people queuing up outside his office door pressing their claims for a starting spot.

Every reason then, to believe this squad should be sufficiently motivated to win tomorrow.

Every reason then, for the bragging to be able to continue.

Thrills and spills

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall | Jack Compton, Michael Flynn, Chris Mitchell, Luke O'Brien | Ross Hannah, Mark Stewart | Nialle Rodney, Andrew Davies, Kyel Reid

Following Bradford City is much like being a roller coaster enthusiast; we’ve found that what goes up must come (even further) down, we’ve been in some long queues for excitement and when the ride stops we’ve definitely felt a lot of whiplash. But we keep joining the back and queuing for more.

Last night was no different, we took our seats in The Galpharm carriage and long serving passengers will have carried little expectation against our local rivals currently unbeaten in 36 league games – although some may express their opinion, with a smile on their face, that they feel the play off final is an extension of the league.

Due to my own commitments playing for my local team on a Saturday, the game was a rare opportunity to see this season’s side in action and my first since the heartbreak at Elland Road. So I strapped myself in and winced at what may lay on the track ahead.

As many roller coasters do this one started slow – Bradford had made 6 changes as captain Guy Branston returned along with Luke O’Brien, Chris Mitchell, Mark Stewart and Ross Hannah. The players looked as if they may be a little rusty as Huddersfield controlled the opening exchanges. The early bumps in the track were provided by Bradford born Danny Ward who was being given far too much time on the left hand side and threatened with a couple of early attempts. To his credit Phil Parkinson was quick to address the issue and made O’Brien switch wings to deal with Ward’s threat, but unfortunately Huddersfield are not short of attacking options in their side and continued to press.

The game heated up following a dreadful challenge from Peter Clarke that ended Hannah’s contribution after only nine minutes and he was replaced by an impressive and energetic Nialle Rodney. Peter Clarke may count himself a little lucky to have got away with only a yellow but red cards early into a local derby are usually a rare occurrence.

Matt Duke had to be on his toes to parry away a couple decent efforts from Town’s forwards and although the keeper failed to hold onto to the attempts each time he pushed them well away from danger. Soon the pace started to pick up City attacked for the first time with real promise as Stewart directed Michael Flynn’s dangerous cross towards goal forcing a decent save from Nick Colgan in the Huddersfield goal and then Danny Ward once again wasted a decent opportunity when he found time and space in Bradford’s box but could only fire safely over.

Despite Town enjoying the best of the possession City had shown some promise on the break and Stewart appeared desperate to make his mark and take his opportunity to impress Parkinson as he saw a further effort deflected just over the Town crossbar.

Then the City fans felt their stomachs drop just before half time. A poor clearance by Branston kept City under pressure. Lee Novak jumped to meet the return cross and his header found the Bradford net, the ride appeared to have turned into Oblivion for City fans but the vertical drop soon flattened out with the linesman’s flag and we passengers could breathe again.

As the referee blew for half time the Bradford players’ couldn’t be blamed if they were happy to hear the half time whistle. The side had worked hard as you would expect in such a fixture but Huddersfield’s better quality had shown on the ball and created a number of decent opportunities. City fans queued for their pies and drinks and waited with both anticipation and trepidation for the ride to begin again.

The second half started as the first had ended, Bradford huffed and puffed but Huddersfield continued to control the pace of the game and Duke was again called upon to push another attempt wide as Huddersfield failed to convert a further opportunity. It appeared Bradford may be missing a Ritchie Jones character to look after the ball better or the energy of David Syers that had driven them on so well until his unfortunate injury in the Leeds game. Their alternative Flynn was playing like a man with a point to prove having been released by Town three seasons ago but the midfield alongside him were very quiet and O’Brien was helping Moore contain the impressive Ward.

One thing you can never criticise Flynn for is hiding away and every time Bradford retrieved possession Flynn was asking for the ball and looking to make things happen. He appeared to me the Michael Flynn who first joined Bradford from our opponents and nothing like the Michael Flynn I have heard about on the message boards who is ‘past it’ and ‘no longer has the legs’.

Bradford’s large following were certainly, singing, chanting and screaming like they wanted to go faster and spurred on by the superb support Bradford duly obliged. Bradford pressed forward and O’Brien won a free kick on the edge of the box. Bradford’s set piece specialist, Mitchell whipped in a dangerous delivery but it was not met by anyone wearing claret and amber. Instead Anthony Kay was on the end of it but the quality of the delivery meant he could only divert it into his own goal instead.

Bradford were about to experience a loop the loop and the euphoria did not last long as Huddersfield pressed forward angered by the fact their lower league neighbours had dare try embarrass them. From an unthreatening Town corner the referee pointed his arm in the direction of the penalty spot. It was difficult to see what had occurred at the far end of the pitch but supposedly Branston had needlessly impeded Clarke in the box and Tommy Miller – who was very close to wearing City colours this season – sent Duke the wrong way from the resulting spot kick and Town drew level.

The Bradford fans had no time to digest the sickening feeling before it all changed once more. Again it was from a set piece but this time a Robbie Threlfall corner that Bradford took the lead. The revitalised Luke Oliver, often one of the main targets of abuse under the Taylor regime became a City hero. His 6’7 frame unsurprisingly managed to get higher than all those around him and he powered his header into the Town net.

Unfortunately once again Bradford’s defensive frailties cost them as the previously one sided cup tie had become an action packed, end to end thriller. Andrew Davies has been brought on for Mitchell in the centre of midfield to try and steady the ship but he and all his team mates appeared frozen as they watched Clarke volley home another equaliser for Huddersfield. There was a horrible feeling of déjà vu amongst the City fans – dumped out of the league cup by not so dear rivals Leeds after being twice in front there was a very real possibility of the same occurring once more. It appeared a similar thought was being felt by the players as all composure left them.

Instead of winning the ball and looking for another claret and amber shirt when they retrieved possession their only thought was to lump it as far away from their goal as possible. Flynn who had been making Bradford tick in the second half was being bypassed as we went route one. Parkinson tried to add some fresh legs to change things by bringing on Kyel Reid but he wasn’t able to get involved as Bradford players were clearly happy to try their luck with penalties.

Both Davies and Moore produced brave blocks from thunderous Town strikes as Town moved in for the kill. Despite this the best chance to win the game still fell to Bradford – a rare moment of possession saw them charge in the opposition final third and Stewart delivered a dangerous cross into the Town box. Davies arrived to what should have been a free header in the penalty area but although no Town defender was near him Rodney got in his way and his header was put to safety by Jack Hunt. Perhaps Davies had not called, perhaps both players had wanted to be the hero but had Davies attacked the ball on his own he would have surely scored.

A tense final few minutes, including four minutes of injury time the referee had found somewhere, produced no goal and Bradford once again had a penalty shoot out in the JPT.

Huddersfield won the toss and opted to take penalties in front of an empty stand rather than face the vocal Bradford following and they converted their first successfully. Not content that they had put the fans through enough thrills and spills, Flynn, scorer of 3 out of 3 penalties this season, fired Bradford’s first over the bar.

Bradford were in need of a hero and Duke responded saving successive Town penalties while Stewart, Reid, Threlfall and Rodney all successfully converted their spot kicks.

Pandemonium began in the Bradford end as finally we had the bragging rights over our rivals. Huddersfield may be a team on the rise and may well finally achieve promotion from League One this season, but for tonight Bradford were the Kings of West Yorkshire. On the rollercoaster journey that is Bradford City these moments of jubilation have become very rare but it certainly gives you a taste for more and last night’s ride is certainly one I’d queue a long time to experience again.

Archie Christie Day: Part 2/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember The Name: George Green.


We have not left the Cedar Court Hotel car park and Archie Christie has taken five calls in fewer minutes.

“I’ve got great taste in music Lads, Sixties soul, all originals, I’ll have ye converted by the end of the day.” Christie had said on his way to the car, but once he settles into the driver’s seat of his Audi the phone starts to ring again and parked up in the hotel car park he takes each call, each call about a deal to be done.

There are deals in the offing but one gets the sense that Christie would not have it any other way. Dominic Rowe is going on loan to Barrow and Christie has all but ironed out the details but wants to make sure the paperwork is being done and so sends instructions to Kath back in the office, covering the details.

In-between he talks to three or four clubs who would both be comfortable in calling themselves in the group of the bigger clubs in Europe. As Christie gets off the phone after his five calls he has eight missed, and a stack of voice mails. They include chairmen of top clubs and internationally known managers leaving chatty voice mails. That manager who you have heard on Match of the Day a hundred times is calling him “Arch” and shooting the breeze.

The effect is surreal, and Christie cuts the calls before anything sensitive can be said. Over the course of the day he is as open as he can be with us, but canny enough to respect the privacy of other people in the game and asks that we do the same.

There is an intoxication to it all – Christie seldom takes a breath between dealing with City staff, other managers, his players – and questions fall out thick and fast. Already we are impressed with the shear amount of work which Christie has got through since we were talking about Carlos Tevez and doing lengths of the pool. Why did he come to Bradford from Dagenham?

“I never worked for Dagenham, I worked for John Still,” Christie explained. “Me and John go back years. We were at Barnet. I’ll let him tell it.” The phone is out, John Still is on speakerphone in seconds telling the story of the time he went to Portugal leaving Christie instructions to get rid of a young lad they had at Underhill. By the time he came back Christie had sold that player – Marlon King – for £550,000 and Still was happy to see both the back of the player and get more money than he hoped for.

“Archie gets things done.”

It is not the first time the phrase has been said about the man in the day, nor will it be the last. Talking to football agent Alex Llevak in the morning, he was unequivocal about Christie’s “knack of getting things done”.

Llevak was a part of the deal which took Paul Benson from Dagenham to Phil Parkinson’s Charlton Athletic and the negotiations which would have brought Benson to City. The deal broke down because of how the London club wanted the deal structuring and City walked away from it. Christie’s watchwords – “I’ll only do what is best for the club” – come back to mind.

Softly spoken Llevak is far apart from the burly Scot but believes that Christie’s great strength is his forthright communication. He says what he is going to do, Llevak adds, and then he does it.

Llevak cannot speak highly enough of Christie and his ability to take players who have lost their way and turn them around. “He has an eye,” Llevak says, “for talent and a knowledge of how to make a minor adjustment to get to that talent. A tweak here, a nudge there. Archie knows what to do.”

Doing A Deal

Back in the car and Christie explains “John would ask me to go look at a player, so I would, and I’d tell him what I think.” Dagenham’s success in moving from a self styled “pub team from Essex” at the bottom of the Conference to overtake City and reach League One speaks for itself. Names like Craig Mackail-Smith, Benson and Roman Vincelot were a part of that rise. Christie beams with pride when he talks about Mackail-Smith – a pride he showed in the trio of Dixon, Brown and Burns and in other players throughout the day – who Dagenham signed from Arlesey Town having been released by St Albans City. The Daggers sold him on to Peterborough who sold him on to Brighton in the summer, the London club having a 15% cut which will see them pocket £375,000 and could still see them get more.

Christie is keen to get those sort of deals done for City. “See Tom Cleverley, I looked at his contract and I went over to Manchester United and told them they owed me money.” The story is in the national record – City’s successful attempt to get what was owed from Manchester United for Cleverley – and that was Christie’s doing taking the contract out of the filing cabinet where it was gathering dust and finding the fine print to exploit. He tells us the figure that he prised out of Old Trafford. It is more than the annual cost of the running the development squad by some way.

“Manchester United said to me, and they said to Julian (Rhodes), we like doing business with you.” Christie’s straight forward approach validated.

There are more calls than there is time to answer them. For every Premier League person calling there is a local team’s manager touching base. Key to Christie’s development plan is his ability to loan lads out to the local sides, his aim being to build closer relations with the teams in the area. “The chairman of (club) one minute, the manager of Harrogate Town the next. That is my day.”

Sixties soul turned up and there is a break from discussions. Christie navigates his way from the hotel towards Woodhouse Grove. “This is my five minutes,” he says with a smile.

Already it would be hard to write a job description for Christie. Having got back from deal doing at one the previous evening he was up five thirty to take another meeting with a Premier League manager before we met him. City boss Phil Parkinson says that every club has a guy doing Archie Christie’s job – getting deals done, managing the details – and in a conversation about Liverpool loanee goalkeeper Martin Hansen, Christie talks about dealing with Anfield’s Director of Football Damien Comolli rather than manager Kenny Dalglish. He agrees with the idea that Comolli is his opposite number at the Merseyside club.

On the Hansen deal Christie confirms that he was guaranteed to play as a part of his signing pointing out that when City send a player out to a team below them then he insists on the same stipulation. When Comolli decided – after the deal was done – that Liverpool did not want their man cup tying in the League Cup or the Associate Members Cup (just in case Liverpool fancy a pop at the JPT one supposes) then Christie got on the phone to Harry Redknapp who quickly dispatched Oscar Jansson on a train to Bradford.

“Did Harry do that to earn a favour?” Michael asked, “No, he did it because he is a Gentleman, a real Gent” came the reply.

If it is hard to create a job description for Archie Christie it is even harder to nail down a title for him. He is nominally Chief Scout and Head of Football Development and could probably be titled Director of Football. When Frank Arnesen joined Spurs with such a title there was confusion about his role at the club which was summed up in the idea that when Frank Arnesen rings the head of AC Milan, he gets an answer.

Perhaps Christie is the same. When City’s staff approached Spurs about Jansson they were not successful, when Archie called Harry something was done. Talking about the deals being done during the day it becomes obvious that Christie is a man football people take notice of. “I’ve got one for you, and when I’ve got one, they know I’ve got one, ’cause I don’t do it often.”

Driving through Bradford the mellowed out sound of Sixies Soul plays on and Christie nods towards the CD player, “Trust me, I’ll convert ye.”

Archie’s Boys

We are at Apperley Bridge and Archie Christie cannot spot Chris Mitchell.

Driving into the training ground, parking up and looking out over the squad, the development squad and the youth team is the kind of feeling that you could happily get used to – but to wander up to a pitch and see players you normally only see in the thick of action running defensive drills is strangely unnerving. Today Phil Parkinson has the first team – including new recruit Adam Reed – lined up against the Youth Team who are trying to play like Burton Albion.

Talking to the head of Christie’s scouting network Nigel Brown reveals a story hard to fathom. On arriving at Valley Parade Christie – who had been doing opposition scouting for John Still at Dagenham – found what could best be described as four empty draws in a filing cabinet marked “Opposition.”

Not much is made of this but thinking back to the first day of the season and talking on the walk away from the ground about how the opposition had done their homework better than we had the idea strikes that we had not been doing our homework at all, or if we had that homework had been somehow removed from Valley Parade, or as good as. Perhaps it is this kind of blank slate that the club represents which attracted Christie and he seems to have relished constructing a network of scouts.

“Nigel is my right hand man,” he says introducing the one time retired scout who encountered Christie at a Halifax Town game and was pressed back into service. Nigel explains the meticulous preparation which goes into every game, how every opposition side is scouted three times including once home and once away, and how the reserves are watched to pick up on any players who might be drafted in. We cast our eyes over copies of the latest opposition reports, “detailed” would be a good summation, “very detailed” a better one. “I look at weather reports, get us prepared for that. It is business planning, only in football.”

And so briefed in are the youth team by Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin – new assistant manager who is impressed with the City facilities – on the basis of the details on Burton, they are playing as Paul Pechisolido’s men might against City’s starting eleven for the game.

“Good work James!” Christie bellows in the direction of five foot seven midfielder James Nanje Ngoe who piles into a tackle with Kyel Reid and come away with the ball. Christie has already told us the story of taking the Development Squad along with eight of the Youth team to Rotherham with people telling him that the Millers were fielding a strong team that would trash his young charges. Nanje Ngoe was one of a pair of midfielders who hunted in a pack in a game won 2-1. “He was one of my Xavi and Iniesta,” Christie explains, his face a picture of pride.

Here though Christie is but an interested spectator watching Nanje Ngoe – and the rest of the squad – but not involving himself. Here he is most like a supporter. When Scott Brown picks up the ball in the would be Burton midfield Christie’s eyes flick around looking for options and a small smile creeps across his lips as the youngster picks the right one. “Six foot one, sixteen, what a player.”

As the training game progresses we talk to Christie about some of the players he has helped to bring in. Chris Mitchell he likens to Phil Neville. “As Alex Ferguson told me, Phil Neville wins you trophies. You play him right back, left back, centre mid, right mid, left mind. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are not spectacular but they win you trophies and if Ferguson says you need a Chris Mitchell, you need a Chris Mitchell.”

Mitchell is an example of the value which Christie has brought to the club. Signed for substantially less than players that then manager Peter Jackson was targeting Mitchell offers quality without expense. Tommy Miller is discussed and later Rochdale’s Gary Jones is mentioned – and the figures that are talked about are substantial for a League Two club.

“How much does the Development squad cost?” we ask, “£145 a day” comes the quick answer. “Including all the salaries, all the expenses, accommodation, everything.”

There is an explanation about how Christie gets his budget provided by the club, how he has a role in generating revenue on things like the Cleverley deal and other deals which are buzzing around and will come to fruition, but in cold figures the Development Squad of a half dozen players including the likes of Brown, Burns and Nakhi Wells costs about the same as a middle weight League Two professional might make and – if you believed the rumours which were heard at the time – about a third of what Tommy Doherty was paid.

“I said to (the chairmen) ‘Take my wage and put it in the development squad’. I don’t get a commission but come to work with me and you’ll see I’m the hardest working person putting it all in for City. This is what I do every day, and I said I’d get it done, because I can.”

Wandering around the pitch towards the Development Squad game we see Mitchell wandering towards us kicking a ball. Archie offers a consoling word for the down looking player – obviously not going to be in the starting XI on Saturday – on a roasting hot day, something about keeping on trying, and that is all. His concern is almost paternal, and there is no suggestion that Christie could do anything to push Mitchell into the side.

The First Team

One thing lacking from our day with Christie is conversation about the first team, and its current struggles. When asked about Luke O’Brien and how he had played all pre-season but not started the year Christie replies that it was all and only ever Peter Jackson’s decision. Phil Parkinson, who has left the squad to watch the Development Game as we do, is the manager and Christie’s thoughts are middle to long term. They are about providing players for the squad at Christmas maybe, next season probably, a fact underlined by Terry Dixon rounding the the goalkeeper in the Development Squad game to put the ball in. “A Championship player in a non-league body, at the moment” says Parkinson.

Phil Parkinson chats to us for 15 minutes and comes over as a thoughtful man. He does not swear – a contrast to the sounds coming from a few of the players on the training pitch – and speaks softly. Christie was involved in his appointment and the two seem in tune with each other. “Phil wants a player, I get the deal over the line,” explained Christie “1,000,000% he decides (on players to sign). That is the way it should be, and I’m happy with that.”

When asked if he had vetoed any of Peter Jackson’s attempts at signing players Christie clearly states that he never has, and never would have, saying that his role is to provide players for the manager to consider that are good and cost effective be that through the Development Squad or the scouting network.

Richie Jones, toiling away on the pitch in the baking sun, is an example of this. Jackson’s attempts to sign midfield players having failed, Christie found Jones who wanted to join City to the extent that Christie tested his conviction by offering him less than he was previously on to drop down a league. Christie is pure fan talking about Jones. “He has had no pre-season, cause he got injured, but when he gets up to speed…”

Parkinson is casting his eye over players on trial in the Development Squad game and likes the idea of it. He explains about how players released from clubs get forgotten about and for the cost of running the squad it is worth offering that chance. “If out of ten, we get two, then it is money well spent.”

The new City boss is still settling into Valley Parade. As Christie’s phone buzzes again in the background and he continues dealing, Parkinson talks about how long it takes to put together a deal in football and how he would not have the time to do that in addition to his first team duties, outlining the need to have people at the club with connections into agents and players. The manager and Christie pass a story between them about a senior pro from Parkinson’s days as a junior, who Archie has encountered and passes on his regards. Parkinson puts a lot of success in football down to having good senior professionals who can set a tone and a culture at a club. On the pitch in front of us Andrew Burns puts in tackle after tackle after tackle claiming everything around him. Later Christie will smile as he recalls this.

Scout Nigel Brown has been brought in after decades of experience with the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Coventry City. He is a part of the network which Christie has assembled to scout “everything” to have it at the fingers of the manager, whoever that manager may be.

Brown is steeped in football talking about things to look for, about his times at Blackburn under Jack Walker. It is not hard to see why Christie has appointed Brown who is rigorous in his approach and with the scouts he employs. He talks about the need for thoroughness and how he demands it.

When talking about player recruitment Brown wants pace. “You can’t teach it,” he says, and Christie has a similar approach, stating, “I watch a player five or six times, I’m looking for one thing: Desire. Just the desire to want to go do it. No one can coach that into you. You just need it.” Christie sees his role as finding players with that desire and teaching them. “You can see how well we (Christie and the Development Squad players) get on, we have a great time but I’m tough. I treat this like a University, they are here to learn. I am tough, but they respond to that very well.”

Brown is unequivocal about Christie saying he an asset to the club, a great wheeler and dealer, and it strikes us that in the hours at Woodhouse Grove alongside Archie Christie meeting Phil Parkinson, Steve Parkin, Peter Horne and Nigel Brown that we’ve found complementary skills rather than competition. Christie speaks highly of his people, who speak highly of him, and each relies on the other to augment the club.

Walking off the training pitches Christie walks past all four of the club’s goalkeepers: Big Man, Jon, Callum, Stuart; and chats to each in turn offering encouragement, enquiry, advice and motivation respectively.

When discussing John Still, Christie mentions how when talking to Julian Rhodes Still had sung his praises but doubted he would come to City having knocked back two Premier League scouting offers. Christie talks in terms of plans that last four years, nothing beyond that, and certainly nothing less than that steadfastly refuting any idea of using the club as a stepping stone. Perhaps it was something about the blank slate that he saw when looking at City that attracted him? Perhaps something about the potential of a club which was in the Premier League a decade ago and has a stadium to show for it? Perhaps it is just his own bloody minded determination to get things done?

As we drive back to Valley Parade it seems like a good time to ask him.


Concluded tomorrow in Archie Christie Day: Part 3.

A slow revival

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies, Robbie Threlfall | Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Adam Reed, Kyel Reid | James Hanson, Craig Fagan | Ross Hannah, Luke O'Brien, Jack Compton

There is a theory in football that you can score a goal too early. Either because the subsequent psychological effect causes players to falsely believe the match is going to be easier than it proves, or it results in them worrying too much about defending the lead instead of following the pre-agreed game plan. Whichever it was for Bradford City this afternoon, they paid the price for surprising everyone – not least themselves – in how brilliantly they began.

2-0 up inside 15 minutes, the Bantams were in complete control against Burton Albion. But somewhere in the last third of the first half, they took the foot off the gas and switched over to cruise control. Burton had looked beleaguered, but were sufficiently encouraged to make a quick-fire comeback, going into the half time break on equal terms.

Losing a 2-0 advantage never looks clever, but it should not detract from the fact City’s performance was much improved and that the point taken back up the M1 is progress on the three previous defeats. The league table still looks dismal and the run without a win now stretches to six games; but slowly, perhaps, the tide is beginning to turn.

Considering it has been such a slow start to the season, for City to come flying out of the blocks this afternoon was an unexpected pleasure. Only six minutes had been played when Kyel Reid picked up a loose ball midway in the Burton half, raced to the edge of the penalty area and struck a powerful shot into the corner. Colour restored to the players’ cheeks, they continued to knock the ball around with purpose and Craig Fagan – making his full debut – and Liam Moore both came close.

A second goal wasn’t long in coming though, with James Hanson poking home the ball after more superb work by Reid saw him skip past his defender and send a low cross into the tall striker’s path. And suddenly a rout looked entirely possible.

With Adam Reed brought into the centre for his debut – pushing Ritchie Jones to wide right and Chris Mitchell into the stands – the team was back to the attractive passing, zestful style that had gone missing since the unfortunate defeat to Port Vale. Reed impressed in the first half at least with his purposeful forward passing, as Reid and Jones pushed strongly down the flanks and Michael Flynn protected the back four.

City were dominant, Burton poor and ponderous at the back – attracting the ire of home fans, who had booed their former defender Guy Branston as the substitute warmed up pre-match. Yet they found a way back when City switched off. Out of nothing a deflected cross found Billy Kee to fire past Matt Duke, and just as it seemed the visitors had survived through three minutes of first half stoppage time to head back to the dressing room with a slender advantage, Burton won a penalty and Justin Richards levelled the score.

That a penalty was awarded was a contentious point. Jimmy Phillips had seen a low shot palmed away by Duke, and Kee had fired the rebound against the post. Just as it seemed the goalmouth scramble was over, the ball was worked back into the box from out wide and Robbie Threlfall was adjudged to have handled the ball as Adam Bolder shot towards goal. Threlfall has since angrily Tweeted that he did not touch the ball with his hand and the referee was wrong, but if so what is more troubling is the fact that – at the time – none of City’s players appeared to contest the decision.

The second half was more even, but the Bantams undoubtedly shaded it. Andrew Davies headed just wide; Reed forced a good save from Ross Atkins. Plenty of good approach play – with Reid scaring the life out of Burton every time he ran at them and Fagan producing some great touches – but perhaps a lack of cutting edge which saw attacking mores fizzle out. Burton created a few half chances, but the back four was much improved with Davies and Oliver again outstanding.

Manager Phil Parkinson looked to the bench to find the extra something needed to win the game, and during the final quarter of the game Ross Hannah, Luke O’Brien and Jack Compton were introduced. Aside from O’Brien, on this occasion the changes seemed to weaken City and in the closing stages it was Burton who looked more likely.

And that may be telling, for the three players taken off are – it can be reasonably argued – the best three forward players Parkinson has at his disposal. Jones’ move to wide right wasn’t a failure, but his influence on the game was less than it has been and one is left querying why Parkinson has sought to disrupt the promising partnership he was building with Flynn. Jones was replaced instead of Reed and, although on-loan Sunderlandlooks a good player, he faded in the second half and seemed less demanding of the ball than Flynn; even if the Welshman was then guilty of being too wasteful when he did receive it.

With the other two taken off – Reid and Fagan – it’s a matter of lack of match fitness. This can only be developed with games, and once Parkinson can get 90-minute performances from the pair it’s more likely that City will end games as powerfully as they started today.

Over the past two weeks there has been the familiar but still frustrating slating of the manager by a vocal minority of supporters. Parkinson is accused by them of ripping up Peter Jackson’s team by bringing in “old friends” who are of less quality – conveniently ignoring the fact Jackson’s team lost four of their five games.

Yet it’s clear the signings Parkinson has made are an improvement on what we had before, and the squad is stronger as a result. Right now this is not reflected in results, and we could very well look back upon this start to the season in a few months time and bemoan how costly it ultimately proved. But that doesn’t mean there should be as much doom and gloom as exists right now.

The set backs against Crawley and Wimbledon were hard to take, yet before them there have been genuine signs it’s beginning to come together and that encouraging feeling was taken away from the Pirelli Stadium. The speed of progress has so far been painfully slow, yet as today proved football is not always about how well you start.

Patience is here and there as Bradford City face AFC Wimbledon

When the history of early 21st century football is written, the emergence of clubs with AFC prefixes will surely loom large. Whether they will be portrayed as grassroots revolutions or romantic daydreams only time will tell. At present their impact on the greater game is limited. They are a curiosity more than a threat to the established structure of the game. However, if AFC Wimbledon progress further up the divisions their ethos and ownership structure has the potential to reverberate throughout the professional game. The watershed moment would surely arrive if AFC Wimbledon overhauled the MK Dons.

However, we would do well not to over romanticise AFC Wimbldeon. Multiple promotions, and even a debt controversy, suggest that they are not FC United-esque mid-life crisis, revolutionaries. AFC Wimbledon are a limited company, albeit one dominated by the shareholding of their Supporters’ Trust.

Interestingly they also have an Independent Supporters’ Association, which suggests, in parallel with revolutions everywhere, Lincoln City for example, that factionalism is a fact of football life. So, is Saturday’s match at Valley Parade an encounter between two former Premier League clubs, or a vivid example of how a well organised grassroots football club can rise through the leagues to meet a former Premier League club which has spent a decade fighting crisis after crisis?

All that will fade into insignificance once the whistle is blown at three o’clock. The Dons arrive at Valley Parade off the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Cheltenham. However, their form, like many in the division, is erratic. It has included a four goal thumping at Macclesfield. Are we in for another high scoring encounter? Few City fans would put money on their defence keeping a clean sheet, so it is probably a question of outscoring the visitors.

City have injury doubts over Kyel Reid, Michael Flynn, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall. Phil Parkinson has shown a reluctance to change the starting eleven during his short stint at the helm. However, perhaps the injuries and the poor second half performance at Crawley will force his hand?

Fortunately, he has options, although it appears that the most popular change among some supporters, Luke O’Brien for Robbie Threlfall, is the most unlikely to happen with the former Liverpool player seemingly the most likely to recover. Undoubtedly the defence requires work. The return of Steve Williams in a couple of weeks appears to be a formality. For Saturday Parkinson’s options are limited. Whilst he has wingers to spare, the back four is highly likely to remain in situ. We can only hope that the defence, and the captain’s Twitter account, have a quiet weekend.

The Dons game is beginning to take on some significance. Despite the team receiving praise for their free flowing football, and pledges that the fans would be content to have attacking football this season, some are beginning to nervously glance at the table. However, a similar glance at the calendar will reveal that it is still September. We have a new manager and a restructured team. Patience is a dirty word at Valley Parade, but show me the options?

The friends of Bradford City welcome back that rarest of thing

Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.

Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.

Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.

O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.

Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.

Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.

Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.

To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.

McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”

An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.

A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.

Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.

One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.

Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.

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