Where the blame lies as City supporters are warned about flying footballs and Arsenal fans throw objects at their former player

Ahead of kick off on Saturday, Bradford City and Burton Albion supporters were warned, via the PA system, of the possibility of footballs flying into the crowd while the players warmed up. As a supporter who has attended matches for many years, such a message sounded ridiculous.

A number of years ago I remember a stray football smashing someone’s cup of coffee out of their hands a few yards behind me in the old standing Kop, with the contents spraying all over the poor individual. Gary Walsh came over to apologise, and the supporter simply shrugged his shoulders and wiped himself down. Being struck by a football at full force is not a pleasant experience, but this person did not call the first injury claims phone number he could recite from a daytime TV advert, he did not rush over to a steward to complain about the wayward shooting of Robert Steiner, he didn’t even try to claim back the cost of the coffee. As the warning of the dangers of flying footballs was broadcast around Valley Parade on Saturday, my worry was that in a few years we’ll be watching our football from behind some form of plastic screen.

Like with so many other aspects of the growing Health and Safety culture in the UK, a look at the reasons behind why a person attending a football match would need to be warned footballs will be used prompts the real despair. In the matchday programme there was notice about another seemingly ludicrous Health and Safety measure introduced at Valley Parade, that under 2s are to be banned. Apparently this is “following incidents of small children being hurt at other grounds and legal action being taken against those clubs.”. Just as Lenny the City Gent is no longer allowed to throw sweets, seemingly behind every new Health & Safety rule was a victim with a questionable but probably legal case for compensation.

But as long as there’s a claim where there’s blame, such regulations will continue to be forced upon us. In the grander scheme of things forcing Lenny to cover up his belly and stating the blindingly obvious over the public address system is minor, when you hear of people suing charities for small injuries they may have picked up attending one of their events – increasing such organisations costs and even forcing them to cancel fundraising efforts. Personal responsibility appears to be someone else’s responsibility, no matter how badly you behave.

Over at Eastlands on Saturday, there was an incident not too dissimilar when Man City striker Emmanuel Adebayor choose to sprint the full length of the pitch to celebrate a goal against his former club, Arsenal, in front of his former fans. This caused many away supporters to react angrily, throwing all manner of objects in the direction of the Ivory Coast striker and barging over fellow supporters to get to the front of the visitors section to vent their fury. There are reports that a steward was knocked unconscious for a few seconds as a result, while nearby photographers had to be moved on as their chairs were flung onto the pitch. Some witnesses claim Arsenal fans had been singing some tasteless and offensive things about Adebayor’s family, only two weeks earlier Man United fans had been criticised for similar chants at Arsene Wenger.

Let’s be clear, Adebayor’s actions were highly stupid and the huge media fury directed towards the striker is justified; but do his actions excuse supporters from crossing the line past understandable vocal outrage to the sort of behaviour which, normally, would be considered criminal? In this instance, where’s there’s blame, there’s apparently an excuse to act like a mindless idiot.

This occasion bared similarities with Luton keeper Conrad Logan racing over to dance in front of City supporters after his side had struck what looked to be a late winner in the Kenilworth Road League Two clash last January. Logan received a bucket load of verbal abuse, but despite the despair everyone was feeling at apparently having lost the game, I don’t recall a single object been thrown or of any attempts to get onto the pitch to confront the dim-witted keeper. Certainly nothing on the scale the referee Trevor Kettle was to be subjected to from Luton fans as he walked off the field a few minutes later, having awarded a City a highly contentious penalty in stoppage time which denied them the victory.

On Saturday a seemingly routine moment of a Burton corner was performed while well-known City supporter ‘Charlie’ marched towards the set piece taker to complain at him. Had he done anything stronger than shout abuse, he would deservedly have been kicked out the ground. There is a limit to supporting your football team which most decent people, Charlie included, simply won’t go beyond. Those Arsenal supporters who threw objects or pushed fellow fans out of the way after Adebayor’s actions went past it. The consequences are that the rest of us supporters may one day face new restrictions which are as ludicrous as issued warnings over flying footballs. Plastic screens are used in other countries, after all.

But as the media expresses its outrage, one has to point the finger of blame back at it too. While Arsenal fans have strong reasons for hating their former striker, the modern day over-hyped Premier League, which sees rivalries magnified and hatred encouraged, plays its part in fanning such flames. In the days before the Arsenal v Man City match, the media were stoking up the fact Adebayor was facing his old club and continued to paint him in such a way as to encourage even more hatred from those who used to support him. If the return fixture wasn’t scheduled to be live on Sky, you can comfortably bet it will be now, hyped up non-stop beforehand so the spectacle of 60,000+ people screaming abuse at their former hero can be considered ‘entertainment’.

Just like the Manchester United supporter who arranged to have an offensive message about the number of Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough on the back of his shirt, such hatred in football is unnecessary, unhealthy and counter-productive. Instead of worrying about footballs hitting spectators, the games authorities should look at diffusing this growing problem, even if it involves taking on the media paymasters who they have become enslaved to.

Meanwhile we football supporters need to remember that this game has its limits and start taking responsibility for our own behaviour.

Everything changes after City gorge in nine goals

The nine goals that City and Cheltenham enjoyed on Saturday changed the context of the debate on the Bantams as rapidly as they hit the back of the net at Wealden Road.

Within eight minutes when Gareth Evans powerfully ran from the left to slot in suddenly suggestions of how best to use Michael Boulding and what to do with Peter Thorne were cast far from the mind and as equalisers followed goal the discussion switched to the defence and how to stop it leaking goals. With Bradford City – it seems – there is one glass worth of water and two glasses. One is always going to be half full.

Nevertheless without want to pre-empt or even join either of these discussions one recalls City’s two recent odd wins in nine goal thrillers and how they effected things at Valley Parade hoping to get a pointer as to what the upshot of this match maybe.

Colin Todd’s men who went to Tranmere Rovers on the back of three straight wins won 5-4 thanks to a late David Wetherall goal. That 5-4 win at Prenton Park became the stuff of short term legend with the gate – then a more mutable figure – rising as a result as the Bantams made some news for a display full of character and in that say Stuart McCall’s side may be similar to that of Todd. The Bantams are opt characterised as being a spineless team who are too ready to use adversity as a chance to put heads down.

However three times City were dragged back to level terms and three times the players established a lead once more. Also tellingly every lead was given by a player Stuart McCall had brought into the club following the collapses of the end of last season. James O’Brien, James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Steve Williams all were brought in in the summer by the manager and all gave City the lead at some point.

The 5-4 at Prenton Park saw troubled top spot in the league for a while until encountering Luton Town and Joe Ross who combined to inflict a 4-0 defeat which Todd’s side – in retrospect – never recovered from and perhaps it was precinct that the defence at Tranmere was breached by the Hatters and their many account paid players and of which the utterly impartial Ross said “You need to sort your defending out.”

How true – and utterly inappropriate – the Referee was and so McCall will think the same. One never likes to trust the Press Association stats that are produced (and reproduced on the BBC Website) but over the course of the last two games with Lincoln and Cheltenham the opposition has mustered as many shots on target as they have scored goals with the homes side at the weekend (recordedly) having four at Simon Eastwood’s goal and me struggling to recall Lincoln having to make the City keeper do more work than pick the ball out of his net twice.

All of which will worry McCall but he may cast his mind back to the other 5-4 when the Bantams were beaten by West Ham United in the Premiership in one of the games dubbed as the best the top flight has ever seen.

McCall famously chewed out Dean Saunders for not squaring a chance for City to get a fifth in that game but will reflect that the Bantams backline and goalkeeper that day were hardly a settled unit with Aidan Davison the third of City’s three keepers that year not really getting to grips with sitting behind David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien.

Defensive units are hard things to gel for sure and anyone who is ready to put all the blame for concessions two the goalkeeper – and Simon Eastwood has been criticised from the second he took to the field for City for not being a bigger name keeper – is naive but it will have escaped the notice of none that the triangle of Zesh Rehman, Eastwood and Williams has not been enjoying the greatest of births.

The West Ham game though – while taken in some quarters as a nail in the coffin for the Premiership City – was used by Paul Jewell to bring heart to his players suggesting that the game was proof that while they lost the game they were involved in the scrap and that he would ask of them only that – that the brought the effort needed to compete.

A lesson which McCall will draw for his players in the coming week. When heads are up the far forward becomes so much clearer.

The league could shake this week as administration Thursday nears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The points adding up as Rehman signs – Bury vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

The Barry Conlon penalty at Luton Town was scant reward for City’s second half endeavours when Stuart McCall unveiled what I’m sure his critics will be calling Plan B.

McCall – sent to the stands for complaining about a decision to award a free kick on an afternoon that saw many a bizarre refereeing decisions – enjoyed the best and worst of times facing criticism for abandoning his FourFourTwo principals for forty-five minutes and then seeing his side utterly dominant in the second half thanks in no small part to the ball winning of Dean Furman.

Furman’s display added to an impressive set of midfielders with Nicky Law spoken of as undroppable, Paul McLaren making significant contributions including the first goal on Saturday and Joe Colbeck returning for the last fifteen minutes adding to the already impressive Omar Daley. McCall struggles to make a best fit of those five names without the additions of Steve Jones, Chris Brandon and Lee Bullock. His selection for the middle is an embarrassment of riches of his own making and should he return to the four in the middle on Tuesday night for the trip go Gigg Lane then one can only guess who will be excluded. For my part Colbeck, Furman, McLaren and Daley would be my four but every City fan will twist that Rubik’s Cube in different ways.

A different sort of puzzle is the reason why the mean defence of City on Saturday suddenly started to leak goals – or a goal rather – a specific cross in and head in which the Bantams have not seemed so venerable to since Gary Shaw and his two and a half minute hat-trick.

What caused the Bantams to go from unit to untied is not known although the presence of Zesh Rehman – a central defender signed on loan from QPR on Monday – in the directors box might not have been the most settling sight for Matthew Clarke to see although in all likelihood the three goals from balls lumped into the box and the absence of Barry Conlon’s clearing head were not unconnected.

Coming out of contract at the end of the year Rehman looks to impress in his loan until the end of the season. The Birmingham born Rehman has played six times for the Pakistani International side and become captain in the 7-0 reversal by Egil Olsen’s Iraq side – if our path since we relegated his Wimbledon side has been winding imagine what road has led the Norwegian to be manager of a nation which in the time since we were in the Premiership tortured its players for poor results.

Rehman – who has played right back but favours the middle has his potential debut at Bury for Bradford City which is interesting in many ways much beyond football, and for that matter politics. Simon Schama would call it the future of the British Empire but – for the moment – we shall call it an interesting signing when one considers how stable the back two have been over the last month.

Mark Bower exits to Luton as Rehman arrives and BfB never favours playing loanees over our own players with one feeling sorry for City’s longest serving player. Rehman’s signing made sense if he plays and does well and makes sense if he adds to the right back berth uncovered since TJ Moncur’s return to Fulham but there is a nervousness that City’s second Asian player and first Pakistani is something of the Beckham of Bradford designed to get bums on seats from the locals of BD8 rather than cheat sheets.

Perhaps it might be nice to do both. Certainly it cannot do much harm and Rehman need only prove as useful as TJ Moncur or Steve Jones to be justified in the context of the season. If he proves to be in the bracket of Nicky Law and Dean Furman then he is available at the end of the season.

One might suspect that City needed not to strengthen at the back but bolstering up front with goals hard to come by over Christmas and January – until the second half on Saturday – but still Peter Thorne struggles to find the net and Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon were left cooling their heels. With chances created will follow goals and considering the options in midfield those chances should be created.

Bury for their part are in reasonable form sneaking to third in the table with the kind of mix of draws and the odd win that City get. The Shakers still possess the highly rated Andy Bishop whom Stuart McCall was impressed by and boss Alan Knill informs all that he has yet to have a firm bid for the player. They sit a point above the Bantams but have a poor record against promotion rivals – recent losses to Shrewsbury and Wycombe and a draw with Darlington – all of which points to an interesting game and a telling one.

Should the Bantams win then we will – at least – slip above Bury and could end the night second while a defeat could leave us tenth but with Rehman’s incoming and Bower departing being – seemingly – the last movement of the transfer window after McCall declared himself happy with striking resources then it would seem that they City manager has the squad in place that he wants – or at least can have at this point – leaving the players to get the results to back up such faith.

City leave with a point and much more for the journey ahead

How to make sense of this one?

Six goals, two red cards and the frustration of a poor referee were shared out between Luton Town and Bradford City on an afternoon of unpredictable twist and turns. City were feeble but also fantastic, woeful and wonderful at the back, slow then scintillating going forward and, though the point gained makes it six draws in eight, the players and management should have taken far more from it than they have from any game so far this season.

Twice the match seemed to have been lost by City. They couldn’t have made a worse start after going behind on three minutes when Asa Hall headed home a corner which had as much to do with clever off-the-ball running from Chris Martin (not that one) as it did poor marking. That had been Luton’s first attack after City started well with Steve Jones, moved up front to partner Peter Thorne with last week’s strike partnership of Barry Conlon and Michael Boulding relegated to the bench, causing problems and Nicky Law and Thorne going close.

The pattern of play continued after the goal with City pressing forward but not threatening enough with their attacks. The best chance fell to Matt Clarke – who never scores and rarely even threatens to – when dismal marking from a corner left him with a free header which he sent well over. Thorne and Jones also had attempts saved but the slow and laboured build up to City’s play and failure of Omar Daley and Jones to make an impact left players unsure at times over what to do. This was emphasised when Graeme Lee attempted a wild shot from distance with almost his entire team in front of him, which flew well over.

But then it kicked off. City were again on the attack when the ball was cleared to Ian Henderson who charged down the flank only to be stopped level with the edge of the area by a superb tackle from Luke O’Brien. Unfortunately a linesman with a perfect view begged to differ and flagged for a free kick which provoked an angry response from City players and led to the referee Trevor Kettle issuing a warning to substitute Mark Bower for yelling at the linesman. O’Brien was booked with the linesman trying to persuade Kettle he was the last man and the resulting free kick was met by Akanni-Sunday Wasiu who tapped home. Not good marking from a defence distracted by the falling out over the decision, but it should also be noted it was poor goalkeeping from Rhys Evans who was upset enough with his first half performance to spend the interval on the pitch practising.

By then his manager had been sent to the stands, not for arguing with Kettle about the decision to award a free kick, as angry as he was about it, but from encroaching out of his technical area in an effort to speak to him. I read and hear lots about the Respect campaign and have tried not to believe, like others, that it’s simply a load of PR buzzwords with no substance; but if officials are confident enough in their decisions why shouldn’t they be prepared to talk them through with those who question them? As City trooped off at half time 2-0 down without having done a lot wrong, concerns about which direction the season was heading were raised. City had done okay, as they have all season, but now they had to find that extra something and show their credentials.

Which they did.

A quick goal was essential and came when a Law corner caused panic and Paul McLaren, former Hatter, was on hand to prod the ball over the line. What followed was near total dominance from the Bantams with Lee forcing a great save from Conrad Logan after a trademark thunderbolt free kick. The pressure told when Law received the ball on the edge of the area and rolled it back to the recalled Dean Furman, who took a touch and then fired home a crisp shot for his first ever senior goal.

There was no letting up as City, well in control, produced wave after wave of attack. Jones came alive up front with some clever runs, Daley was back to his blistering form and left a trail of defenders in his wake as he cut inside and set up attacks and Law, occupying Daley’s usual left wing spot, was a revelation out wide. Free from the defensive responsibilities of playing in the centre, he stretched Luton by taking up some excellent positions to be fed the ball to and had the vision and confidence to set up chances for others. Furman and McLaren were easily winning the midfield battle and Luton were reduced to sporadic attacks on the break, which were mostly mopped up by a much-improved defensive effort superbly led by Lee. The only time Luton got through saw Evans make a brilliant save, the half time training session appeared worthwhile.

And the chances created. Daley went on a magnificent run from inside his own half beating players for fun before shooting just over, Thorne nodded just wide, Law flashed an effort just wide, Furman went for goal again and was just over, sub Conlon headed just over, Jones’ half volley just saved. The only thing that wasn’t just was the scoreline as City deserved to be out of sight.

They also missed two easy chances when first Daley’s brilliant attempt to steal the ball off the full back and quickly cross left Conlon with the sort of chance Harry Redknapp’s missus could have scored and then a great run from Jones saw the on-loan winger get to the byeline before shooting from a difficult angle when pulling the ball back would have left City players queuing up to tap it in. Such profligacy appeared to have come back to bite when, as the 4th official held up the board to reveal how much injury time was to be played, Clarke gave away a stupid free kick on the edge of the area from which Kevin Nicholls whipped the ball onto Hall’s head to send into the far corner. Absolute heartbreak.

As many City fans streamed out of the grotty away end there were still further twists to come. First Luton keeper Logan decided to celebrate his team’s ‘winner’ by running up and gesturing towards City fans before going into a dance routine that was not so much provocative as embarrassing. Cue many fans rushing to the stewards to complain. Personally I have no problem with a player making gestures to us as long as we can do it back, so I’ll take this opportunity, having missed it at the time, to insult and pick on his personal features in a way which will upset him the most – Logan is terrible dancer.

The game restarted. City tried an attack which was cleared and the ball went up to a Luton player, who was offside. Cue a long wait for the free kick to be taken as Kettle lectured a home player and when Arnison finally pumped the ball into the box you stood there believing you’ve seen this sort of moment at the end of the game so often before and ultimately it will end up in Logan’s hands and he’ll probably wiggle his backside at us as he lies on the ground clutching the ball for five minutes. But it squirmed into the area and as Jones went for it he was faintly clipped from behind and rolled over and Kettle pointed to the spot.

Cue massive protests and a sort-of-brawl between both sets of players which ended with Martin receiving a red card. Meanwhile Logan was all over penalty taker Conlon whispering sweet nothings into his ear about how the Irishman was going to miss. Four minutes later Conlon finally got the chance and showed remarkable coolness to convert the penalty and prompt wild scenes of celebration. Don’t let any of Conlon’s critics tell you his 10th goal of the season was “only a penalty.”

The final whistle blew and as we struggled to get out breath back Stuart came over to applaud us and gestured towards the players to signal they deserve our appreciation, which we did. Meanwhile the referee and his officials had to run a gauntlet of abuse from home fans as they leave the pitch and it was distressing to see them try to protect themselves from a shower of objects thrown at them. Some arrests were made and outside there was also trouble. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the 30-point penalty such a response was shameful and any Luton fan who didn’t throw an object but disagrees is just as bad. If the Respect campaign is going to work the FA must not be shy in punishing Luton Town Football Club.

I received a text just before the end of the game from a Leeds fan saying he had sympathy for Luton’s plight and we often hear how it wasn’t the fans fault, so why should they be punished? The actions of a minority of their supporters yesterday, not to mention their behaviour at Valley Parade earlier in the season, leaves me waving them cheerfully goodbye on their route to the Blue Square – and I hope they take their dancing keeper with them.

But the focus of this report is on City and what a fantastic game of football, easily the best since that afternoon at Prenton Park in October 2004. They looked down and out at stages but showed tremendous character to keep coming back – character which needs to be bottled up and used during the second half of the season.

In keeping with the craziness of the afternoon, City have dropped from fourth to seventh while moving a point closer to second and first. There was much which didn’t make sense yesterday, but one thing I do know is that if City can reach the heights of their second half performance for the rest of the campaign they will be celebrating promotion come May.

Joe Colbeck is Barack Obama – Luton Town vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

I didn’t hear the snap of Joe Colbeck’s foot over at Grimsby and I could not tell who was down at first but I know he is coming back.

My mate Russ came back to City last year some time. He has been off in Siberia or somewhere and was not a massive follower of City anyway but we had a ticket free and along he came and during this game he looked out at City’s ginger right winger who became player of the season later that year but wasn’t then and he said “Is that that piece of [something] Colbeck.”

Russ was filled in with what had happened in his absence and that Colbeck was now considered to be something of a tidy player and I pointed out that some of us thought he was all along that day the lad had a stormer and all was good in the world.

So if during Russ’s absence Joe Colbeck went from popular boo boy to glorious hero what has happened during Colbeck’s break? Well he has become so important to City that you could be excused for mistaking him for a second coming.

Colbeck is great and everyone cannot wait for his return to Valley Parade and that surge of good feeling is important just as all the Obamamania is great just because it makes everyone so damn happy but unlike Barack Obama Colbeck faces a trip to Luton and a game with Bury before his inauguration [But who is to say the American political process would be worse if all candidates had a final hurdle of having to impress on a Tuesday night at Gigg Lane before being sworn in? – Ed]

Colbeck will probably be on bench duty for the Luton game and return for Bury on Tuesday night leaving Steve Jones to carry on his weird wing play where he never seems to do enough, tackle enough, get stuck in enough but seems to have played well at the end. The Burnley winger started his City career as Stevie, Jonesey or Jonesio and now is just Jones which says a lot about him. He flatters to deceive.

Jonesinho will play right wing to Omar Daley’s left and Paul McLaren, who used to play for Luton and feels some sympathy for them apparently, and Nicky Law will play in the middle. Now stay with me on this one but I think that Law should be dropped for Dean Furman who wins the ball better and winning the ball gives us more possession and that leads to more chances. I know Law has some of the same magic as Colbeck about him but tough calls have got to be made to get four or six points on the road before we get back to Drawey Parade and it is time for a change and that would be the one I make.

That said Lee Bullock might get back in the side. Why not? We won all the time when he was playing.

Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke and Luke O’Brien are a mean defence and Rhys Evans tends to look bored during most games so little has he to do so that end of the park is going well. Up front City need to give Chris O’Grady a try out.

Just kidding.

O’Grady is in the last week of his loan and it looks like Leeds are not going to be giving us tonnes of money so either the Oldham man will be going back to be one half of this scrap or Stuart McCall will confound us all by giving him a longer contract. Until that he is a not that important bench sitter.

Being fair to O’Grady he has hardly had a chance at City featuring off the bench for fifteen minutes at a time but then again Billy Topp never got a chance and that was cause he did knackers all in training to impress the boss. If the mark of a striker out the door at City is that they do nothing when coming off the bench Toppy style then O’Grady is not around for long and Stuart will be looking at signing a new loan player until the end of the season. In a way O’Grady has been the perfect replacement for Topp. The net effect of having him on the field is the same but he has none of the thrills of Toppy because he is not from Temuco City hes from Roverrum.

That or Rory Boulding will get a chance to do nothing from the bench, but probably not. The only player in the last few years to do anything from the bench is Barry Conlon who will probably be back to sitting on his backside to watch Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. City’s strikers are my worry at the moment. All three of them score goals but at the moment I find myself lacking confidence that any of them will find the net.

It is not that logical I know cause only two years ago we had one source of goals in Deano Windass and nothing else but at the moment we are lacking the fox in the box who scores with every touch or we are lacking Peter Thorne firing on all cylinders.

Luton have zero points but should have thirty apparently. Either way they are a mid-table outfit who think that they have been hard done to and have great vengeance and furious anger which they aim at anyone who doesn’t feel they have been badly treated. If Leeds last season is anything to go by the slog to zero points will signal a general foot off the gas-ness and last week’s 5-1 drubbling by Darlington could have been just that. They have Lewis Emanuel, who I always liked as left back, but he is out injured.

It doesn’t matter anyway cause whoever is right back I hear will be torn apart by Joe Colbeck anyway, just for a change.

Positives from the negatives

“I like to think the team who takes the initiative is rewarded but it’s not always like that in football. We lacked a little bit of sharpness to pull them out of position.”

The above quote was from Arsene Wenger, who was less than impressed with the tactics of home side Sunderland as his Arsenal side laboured to a 1-1 draw, but these words could just have easily come from Bradford City manager Stuart McCall after Saturday’s draw with Luton.

Like the Frenchman, McCall was to endure a frustrating afternoon in the dugout trying to get his side to overcome opposition whose ambition was little more than not to lose. There are positives to take from this; it’s the third home game in a row that the visitors have taken a defensive approach and, while clearly not everyone is firing on all cylinders just now, it’s says much for the ability of City’s squad that teams are worrying so much about them. The frustrating aspect is how successful Bournemouth and Luton have been with their cautious approach.

Let’s just for one second suppose City hadn’t conceded that late equaliser and held on for the three points. Log onto a City-related message board now and you’ll find little but criticism for the performance and alleged poor tactics Stuart employed, would such strong views have been expressed without Michael Spillaner’s late goal? Remember City did have only 10 men for the last 15 minutes.

Amid the wide range of criticisms is an impression City failed because they adopted long ball tactics, but this was clearly not the case. If Stuart really wanted City to play long ball he would not have bothered playing two out-and-out wingers, or leave the tallest striker on the bench and play two for whom holding up the ball and winning flick-ons is clearly not their game.

Once again City’s wingers were double marked and there was little room for the central midfielders to influence the game in the final third. In an attempt to counter this, City tired to play the ball forward from the back with goal kicks sent short to defenders Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee. The aim with this, it seemed to to me, was to attract some of the ten Luton players camped in their own half to break rank and try to close Clarke or Lee down. Had this happended space would then have been created for our midfielders to take advantage of and the ball could have been played towards them. Other Luton players would then have to close down that player, freeing up more space.

The tactic didn’t work because of the discipline of the Luton players, who were happy for Lee and Clarke to keep the ball in their own half. It meant they had to either play riskier short passes to the midfield in front or knock it long in the hope a City player would get on the end of it. Two people sat near me moaned every time they tried the former option (“they’re lower league footballers, just hoof it!”) and equally the latter (“that’s just aimless!”). Clearly these fans expected Lee and Clarke to be able to play pin-point accurate long balls up the field.

In the second half Stuart told Rhys Evans to launch the ball forward himself and City would attempt to win either the first or second ball. This was more effective and finally they were able to enjoy more possession in the final third, but still space to do something with it was rarely afforded by the Hatters. More chances were created, however, with Hatters’ keeper Conrad Logan making two excellent saves. The final ball wasn’t always good enough and there was a lack of fluency to moves, but the effort was there and, considering the tactics up against, it was hard to work out what Stuart was doing wrong up until Barry Conlon struck.

We can’t just throw on more strikers, particularly with only ten men, to force the goal. In the centre Dean Furman and Paul McLaren worked really hard and were among our better performers. The wingers were trying their best and, while Colbeck had a disappointing game, Daley was a menace despite the difficulty of two markers. On a Message Board one ‘expert’ asked of Stuart with reference to the wingers, “why haven’t you told them, that when they receive the ball to pass it quickly and make a run off their markers, because they will have two players out of position?” If only football was as simple a game as some people seem to believe it is.

I believe that, at first, the two widemen were playing too wide, but tucked in more in the second half to better support Furman and McLaren. Michael Boulding was ineffective but it’s not as if the rest of the team didn’t want to play the ball to his feet, which is his strength – he was tightly marked. Bringing on Conlon was a clever decision in the circumstances and for those who screamed to ‘free Willy’, why would Topp have found the space and service Boulding couldn’t?

For all this negativity they were up against, City overcame it by getting their noses in front and, but for a moment of lapsed concentration, would have got the three points they clearly deserved. The concern has to be that other visiting teams will adopt similar tactics although, with a defensively-shambolic Gillingham and second-placed Bury due to visit next, perhaps we’ll see more open games. Three days before travelling to Valley Parade, Bury entertain Luton and, while at the moment the league table suggests the Shakers are a better team than City, it will be interesting to see what tactics Luton adopt then and how successful Bury are in overcoming them.

Like Arsene Wenger and Sunderland, it’s difficult to take a positive impression of Luton from Saturday, particularly after reading the managers’ assessment which is at odds with the evidence. They have 30 points to make up on all but two teams, but are seemingly happy to play for draws rather than the wins they clearly need. One cannot help feel they’ve already written off the season and manager Mick Harford is just trying to do a decent enough job to avoid the sack. Even in a league where physicality often wins over ability, this approach will not keep them up.

Despite the crude chant they’ve nicked off Leeds United, their supporters probably know it too and many appeared out to live up the ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality their predicament breeds. I walked down Midland Road after the match with a small group of 18/19-year-old City fans ahead chanting across to a larger group of Luton fans on the opposite side who chanted back. It seemed harmless banter, though you could hear increasingly angrier shouting coming from Luton fans and suddenly they were crossing the road and two or three were charging towards these City fans to start a fight. The police and some more sensible Luton fans dragged them away, but you still have to wonder about the mentality of middle-aged men trying to start fights with cocky teenagers.

Like Mansfield Town’s supporters singing racist chants last year, its supporters and team’s graceless football is helping to ensure less people feel sorry for them as they head to non-league. Back in my car and setting off, we discovered trouble did emerge near the retail park – from both sets of fans – which meant the police had blocked our route home. Somehow it seemed fitting.

From jeers to cheers to where?

The frustration was clear at the final whistle when rain lashed Valley Parade and the players as they trooped away seemed to realise that two points had been lost.

Stuart McCall saluted the crowd but seemed heavy shouldered as if he recognised that the late goal that gave the visits what they wanted – a draw – was as avoidable as it was annoying.

Avoidable because a ten men City side had allowed Luton Town to score an easy equaliser when Michael Spillane headed in Ed Asafu-Adjaye’s cross under no pressure in the middle of the penalty area. That City had dropped back to a 441 to try soak up pressure showed some inexperience in analysis of the way the game would flow following the Bantams taking the lead with reduced numbers but regardless of how McCall told them to play the way the players dropped off and allowed the cross to come and the goal to go in was disappointing in a game so hard won.

The first half was marked with a strong wind that pushed the visitors into attack for the opening twenty minutes but resulted in little in the way of good play. Former Bantam Lewis Emanuel picked up the ball to take a corner and was booed by the Kop for a few seconds until those boos were drown out by recognition and applause.

Emanuel had left City for bigger and better but it turns out that Luton were – according to the FA – cheating and making illegal payments. I mention this cause I remember them beating the Bantams in the FA Cup one year and as a victim of their misconduct I find it hard to amass the sympathy that others seem to have for the Hatters.

The tide of the first half changed as – aside for a booking for Paul Heckingbottom for fouling the excellent Claude Gnakpa – the game moved into the Luton half to stay. The nervousness of the is most apparent in games were City are on top. The Bantams tried to work the ball out of the back – I assume they did this because the wind would render long balls fruitless, because the returning Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding are not target men and (to be honest) long ball football is moronic and we hated John Docherty for doing it so why would we want Stuart McCall’s side to? – but such efforts were greeted with grunts to get rid of the ball.

Paul McLaren lead the Bantams in frustration as he looked for Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck and Michael Boulding to come deeper to look to take the ball from him but often had to dally in possession. Those three players need to begin to make themselves targets more than they are now because at the moment too many City players are waiting for things to happen.

Which is not to say that Daley and co played badly just that they wanted for play to start and engaged in the second phase rather than drifting into the Luton midfield to start it. Daley’s running was impressive and threatened often.

Nevertheless at half time honours were even but possession not and sure enough the Bantams started the second half taking the game to Luton who had withdrawn Emanuel and resolved to make sure that they would have more defensive resolve. Typical of this was Paul McLaren in midfield looking for City players and seeing ten Luton players in the cone from him to the edges of the penalty area.

City this year – as with previous years and to be honest most of football – found such resistance hard to breakdown. Peter Thorne saw a header clawed away by Conrad Logan but the rain and darkness started to come in and it seemed the Bantams would struggle breakdown the back line and this assumption seemed to be fact when Paul Heckingbottom – lunging in on Gnakpa who muscled him off – was sent off for a second bookable offence.

It was not odd that Mr G. Laws – who we know like to invent his own rules – decided to punish the two bookable offences which Heckingbottom will have few complaints about but it was curious as to why those two bookable offences would be punished when others were ignored. The officiousness that saw him book Heckingbottom twice was absent when he allowed Rossi Jarvis to go with a warning for kicking McLaren or only booked Chris Martin for diving after the Luton striker had shouted complaints at him.

It says much about Referees and respect that they will only book you for diving if you shout at them and it says much about how Mr Laws referees that he allowed Asa Hall to swing a leg, miss the ball and fully make contact with Omar Daley as the City winger struggled to control the ball in the box. It was a soft penalty to give away but it was a penalty but Laws being Laws he seeks some kind of romantic reasons to give decisions rather than observing the events on the field and giving the decisions as appropriate.

Laws escaped without the booing that some City fans reserve for our own players. I observe that Barry Conlon is booed as he stands at the side of the field and when he comes on for Michael Boulding there is a mixed reception for this player who – in my estimation – gives all he has in his tank every time he pulls on a claret and amber shirt. He is not the most talented player in the squad but he gives the most effort and – I believe – when you boo Barry you give licence to other players to put in 90%.

Nonetheless his first name was still being sung by his advocates as a bouncing ball caused confusion in the box and Conlon was on hand to put in from the six yard box. He celebrated having turned the jeers into cheers and we celebrated what should have been a hard won win – all of use – even the ones who booed him onto the field. It is what we call a brassneck around here and I think they should be made to formally apologise to Barry at half time next week but no one listens to me.

That should have been that but with ten minutes of winding the clock down McCall got it wrong putting on Luke O’Brien for Peter Thorne but one doubts that McCall told the likes of Dean Furman and McLaren to sit off and let the visitors play which we did and the goal resulted.

The goal – headed into the back of the net from about ten yards – the ball nestled behind Rhys Evans and the visitors doing cartwheels and cheering in front of their own fans. The ball in the back of the net and them enjoying this draw they had come for and got. The ball being returned not by an eager striker trying to get the game restarted to try win it but by City. Them celebrating getting the point that moves them to minus eighteen and leaves us in sixth but not trying to win the game.

They never wanted to win the game. I mention this because this Luton Town address the football community as if they are wronged. They want your sympathy and complain about being punished for the massive misdemeanours and for exiting administration without a CVA. They want your sympathy and they come to your ground with the express aim of getting a draw and dragging out a dull afternoon of football where they try stop any football being played. I would not miss them.

Luton’s fate though is decided elsewhere while City’s is still up in the air. Three games without a win the Bantams go to Accrington Stanley next week with the team slipping the wrong way. The players seem to lack a freshness and labour over games. We are a team who need an early goal break to get in the habit of being in front again.

The quality is obvious but the belief starts to slip and McCall has to find a way to inject the freshness back into the side who seem to spend all game worrying about not having scored yet. Everything is being over cooked, passes over thought out, runs fretted over.

We are stuck in third gear and to find the spark to shift up because results like this are causing confidence to ebb.

Why I have no problems with Luton getting relegated

I have no problems with Luton Town being relegated from the Football League this year not especially because the were negative in the 1-1 draw at Valley Parade but because they broken rules and are should be punished for breaking those rules regardless of how honest they are about breaking those rules.

Not only did they break rules but they overspent while doing it as they tried to capitalise on the fact they were doing well by virtue of going outside the rules that everyone else was playing to. They came to our ground and dumped us out of the FA Cup while playing on this unlevel playing field.

Why should I, we or the other fans of clubs who behaved properly while Luton obeyed the rules they wanted to obey feel sympathy for Luton Town?

I’d rather feel sorry for Tranmere Rovers or Crewe who got denied promotion or were relegated in Leagues where in the words of the FA “there can be no doubt that Luton Town Football Club, between July 2004 and February 2007 was run with a flagrant disregard for the Regulations laid down to protect the game.”

It was during that time when a City team having won five games on the bounce went to Luton and lost 4-0 to be taunted by a Referee. Our season turned on that game losing Dean Windass and confidence and it turned because we thought that Luton had beaten us on a level playing field and they had not.

Of course Luotn Town may escape the drop – Rotherham United are very excited today because they have managed to reach zero points – and they will see it as a great triumph just as they saw today’s point as a massive achievement but to me they are a cynical team on and off the field and those who have taken over them take a part in the crimes of the past by trying to avoid the punishment for them.

The other 91 clubs in the Football League deserve Luton Town to be punished and the sympathy that they try generated with the idea that they are wronged is an insult to every other club who play by the rules.

Beating failure – Bradford City vs Luton Town – League Two preview

Come 5pm Saturday Bradford City’s promotion hopes will have either been strengthened or weakened – but one thing they certainly won’t be is over.

Two successive defeats is disappointing and three would be considered “unacceptable”, but with City’s home vulnerability resurfacing that is entirely possible as would-be-11th-but-for-crazy-points-deduction Luton come to town. After a week in which talk of failure has emanated from some quarters – preceding any actual failure itself – it’s worth reflecting on what it would look like. A home defeat would probably push City out of the play off positions; but, at worst, City would be six points behind the leaders, with 37 games to go.

It’s said by some that the fear of failure led to Stuart McCall playing 4-5-1 at Shrewsbury last weekend and, largely ignoring three key injuries and an appalling referee display, the City manager’s perceived negativity has resulted in some of the strongest criticism towards him yet. Whether or not the system worked in the way he intended; Stuart will obviously be moving back to 4-4-2 for this one.

Top scorer Peter Thorne, who’s absence in defeat has further highlighted his importance, is expected to be fit enough to lead the attack alongside Michael Boulding. Barry Conlon will be back on the bench having been made scapegoat by some for last week’s failings. Some of the criticism is unjustified but it’s hard to argue that the Irishman has done enough, when given the opportunity, to warrant a contact beyond January and it’s up to him to prove his worth. Willy Topp, fresh from a wonder goal in the reserves and closer to fitness, is also likely to be among the subs.

Lee Bullock’s injury will allow the promising Dean Furman to keep his place and Stuart may look for him to share more of the defensive responsibilities with partner Paul McLaren than Bullock has been. Former Hatter McLaren joined City in the summer having topped the League One assist chart the previous season, but the more withdrawn role he’s playing has lessened his impact going forward. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley will be patrolling out wide, with some disappointment this week that they won’t be pushed as hard to keep up their excellent form as they might.

At the back Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke will be looking to rediscover their early season swagger and, unless Paul Arnison makes a miraculous recovery, Simon Ainge will get a chance at right back. The 20-year-old made his City debut two years ago but has had few opportunities to push on, his last one ending in failure. Stuart’s decision to give youth a chance instead of making yet another loan signing is applauded on this site and Ainge will aim to make it a quiet afternoon for keeper Rhys Evans.

For Luton, former Bantam Lewis Emmanuel makes a second return to Valley Parade since leaving two years ago. Briefly it seemed he’d gone onto better things in the Championship but, despite having trials at Birmingham and Southend during the summer, Lewis has fallen with the troubled Hatters and could feasibly be playing non-league football next year. It’s to be hoped Don Hutchinson won’t carry the influence his fellow ex-Premiership star Darren Anderton managed two weeks ago, while ex-Chelsea striker Sam Parkin will need to be watched.

Yet the biggest threat of failure will arguably come not from the visitors, but in the stands. Considering we were topping the division two weeks ago, the criticisms levelled at City by many supporters this week have been unnecessarily high. Conversations before this match are likely to contain the phrase “we’d better win today” and, judging on past form, the chances of supporters getting behind the team if they don’t start well are highly slim.

A delve into City’s recent history adds further reason to fear such failure. During the past two seasons, promotion hopes looked credible going into the middle of September – and were all but extinguished when October was over. It’s easy to pin point the respective defeats to Huddersfield and Hereford as the moment things went wrong, but defeats are always going to happen and it was the later ones at home to Brighton and Accrington which really tipped the balance towards another season of failure. During both these games the crowd quickly turned on the team and worked against it – and a similar reaction if things aren’t initially going to plan on Saturday could prove similarly damaging.

Earlier this week one fan wrote they were sick of hearing the management and chairmen falsely building up our promotion hopes each summer, as though pre-season optimism has nothing to do with us supporters. Well promotion this season is my dream, promotion this season is your dream, promotion this season is Stuart McCall’s dream, promotion this season is Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn’s dream, promotion this season is even Barry Conlon’s dream.

If we all channel our efforts in the same direction, accepting we succeed and fail together, the chances of us all achieving those ambitions will surely be greater. So, should City fall behind on Saturday, how are you going to react?

Now it begins for McCall as the Bantams look to rebound

Thomas Moncur does not remember much of the Shrewsbury match and frankly neither do we.

The right back was left sparked out before a goal that sent City to a second defeat on the bounce but while the AFC Bournemouth defeat hung around in the air for the week the loss at Shrewsbury Town was quickly folded into debates on Referees and head injuries.

Moncur is not allowed to play for two weeks as a result of the knockout blow and the Football League are not up for answering any questions about Jarnail Singh’s performance that day of his abilities going forward – I know because I’ve asked them – leaving City fans to talk about the man in the middle and not the men on the other end of a two goal deficit.

No one had much of a positive thing to say about the Bantams in Shropshire until Dean Furman – hoping to cement a role in midfield at the expense of long term injured Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon – chipped in with the idea that City could take something form the game that while over shadowed saw good exchanges in the second half.

Furman did not talk about collapsing probability matrices or Schrodinger’s Cat but perhaps the mood in the dressing room is that without losing Moncur and then Bullock the Bantams might have been able to give the home side more of a game.

Certainly there is much talk now of rebounding and a look at the table shows that at five on Saturday the Bantams could be back top of League Two but even if results did not go our way following a win the confidence that is so brittle amongst supporters would return.

Some believe that the nervousness of the Valley Parade crowd gets to the players – certainly Nicky Law believed so – but the truest test of a team I’ve ever seen came when all were silent and the supporters had all but given up. I talk about Wolves in 1999 and the fact that after the home side’s early goal it seemed to me that only the player’s believed and it was that core of belief in the players that saw us promoted.

Building a similar core – unshakable and solid – in the current side is Stuart McCall’s task and it is his test this weekend.

We can all agree on one thing

So what plan is this?

This week all we’ve talked is is Plan Bs and tactics and about fans and other fans and in about ten minutes everything that had been talked about had come to a head.

I was worried that Stuart McCall had listened to the moaners and because he had no Peter Thorne who I guess is injured went for a packed midfield with Dean Furman in it and Barry Conlon leading the line with Michael Boulding on the bench. It was Stuart doing something to counter a team that had scored seven at home I hoped and not Stuart trying to prove that he did know his tactical arse from his elbow.

Barry Conlon is more loved away from home where you get to watch him chasing balls all afternoon long trying to make feasts of scraps. I’m not saying that everyone who goes away loves Barry but they seem to appricaite him a bit more than the VP crowd who look at goal tallies more than effort. When you’ve come all this way as most of us do week in week out then you like the fact that someone is going to run around.

The Barry buzz was still going and people were still talking about it when Shrewsbury scored although after that the week was totally forgotten. The ball came in and Rhys Evans seemed to punch it but as he did Graeme Lee and TJ Moncur went up for it and both went down after having smashed heads against each other. The referee was the same guy who allowed Oldham to carry on when Steve Schumacher was poleaxed three years ago and the result was the same as Shrewbury’s Ben Davies whacked the ball in.

Great game this football. Davies was wheeling away cheering while our guys were on the floor injured. Moncur stood up and went down again and people said he had a fit but soon he was off for Kyle Nix and Lee Bullock was at right back.

So no leading forward, goals going in when players are fitting, a lot of possession for the start of the game and a good shot by Furman that troubled the keeper. I have to wonder what non-niave tactics should Macca use now and what the Hell plan letter are we supposed to be on now?

The game settled into a pattern but the City players and fans seemed a bit quiet and someone aid that Moncur was off to hospital and it didn’t look good but we hd no idea what that meant. Grant Holt buzzed through and had a shot that dribbled wide. By half time Nix and Paul McLaren were dipping crosses around the keeper and just as half time was supposed to come City were on top but we played minutes added on my J. Singh to allow Shrewsbury to score while our player was down. Omar Daley had one cleared off the line and we were still playing at four when everyone else was kicking off and at half time we had been robbed cause while I’m sure that we will hear that Davies didn’t know about the injury and that Singh should have blown his whistle again but seems to be getting closer and close to his aim of seeing a goal scored when their are dead bodies on the field. We felt robbed by someone and maybe the Stockport manager can tell us who.

And down was the word. Everyone was down but everyone was together in being a bit worried about TJ Moncur and less about what was going on on the field. Even in the second half when Joe Colbeck slammed his custom right foot blast from the wing across the keeper which went over and Lee and Grant Holt battled away. Bullock moved back to right back but came off injured agian with Michael Boulding coming on and went up front with three at the back or was it four and this was Plan D or perhaps it was Little PLan Zee and after that comes Vroom? Boulding joined the forward line and we all wondered who was going to be left to play Luton next week but this week seemed lost with Shrewsbury basically keeping the ball from us and Paul McLaren ending up at right back.

The game got scrappy with an stupidly named midfielder going close for them and the much tidier Kyle Nix having a shot for us but from that scrappiness City started to get something together and started to control the ball a bit better. By the time five o’clock came City were giving as good as we got from the team that will use today as some kind of indication that they are more promotion bound than us but to be honest the difference between the teams came when we had two down and as it happened one badly hurt and I guess we will never know if the home team would have got a goal against City without the injuries but the rest of the game where Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke pocked Grant Holt while the rest of the plan, the tactics, the sodding game was in chaos says to me that they would not.

But like the guy said if you moan about a Ref they come back to haunt you and you have to wonder what sort of stink City kicked up about J. Singh last time and how much that played on today. Barry lashed one wide in stoppage time before they took a second goal while we were trying for an equaliser and that was that.

But in a week about plans this was City without one. It was freak football and the most important man on the field was an Referee who I think we can all agree at BfB and on the OMB and on the terraces at VP and in the hushed tones around pubs in Bradford should not be allowed to Referee football matches because of his dangerous policy of letting games carry on when players are hurt.

Probably won’t agree for the same reasons though.

The rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

The long haul

The news which broke this morning that Bradford City is considering linking up with a football academy in Mexico, to identify promising players, has been met with a mixed response from fans. While questions of where this leaves the present link up with Belgian outfit Royal Racing FC Montegnee – apparently not going as well as hoped – are valid, the argument against from some fans is that the likely resource needed to secure such a partnership should be spent on signing new players is both predictable and depressing.

Depressing because it is typical of the short-term thinking that continues to steer, and blight, football. Never mind considering a partnership that in years to come may bear fruit and bring possible substantial reward – why haven’t we signed another striker yet?

Coming in a week where City have baulked at paying a transfer fee for a player who would probably be considered back up in the coming season, to the annoyance of some, it’s perhaps unsurprising City’s Mexico link up has been received negatively be some. I read with some confusion that all of City’s efforts should apparently be centred on a promotion push this season, and that failure is not an option. It appears those in charge, at least, see a future beyond May 2009.

The reaction from some of our supporters is not unusual among football followers these days, as immediate success seems to be all that matters. Supporting a club which is well overdue some, it’s understandable newspaper articles about looking to the future cause frustration; but, as the club continues to move away from the difficult financial problems which have hindered progress in recent years, the possibility of them reoccurring shouldn’t be ignored.

News also broke today that the Football League are going to deduct another 20 points from Luton Town, meaning they are set to kick off the new season a whopping 30 points behind the majority of their League Two rivals. A quick scan at last season’s final table shows only the top seven would have survived relegation with a 30 point deduction – a stat which underlines how difficult it will be for the Hatters to avoid kicking off the 2009-10 season in non-league.

Rotherham and Bournemouth’s fates are still to be determined; the former having being told they will need to pay the Football League a £750k bond to continue – on top of trying to agree a CVA with their creditors. Next season’s League Two already hints at carrying a sense of farce.

It must be incredibly difficult for the supporters of these clubs to watch the Football League hit them with further penalties while claiming it’s, “to protect the integrity of the competition.” A worrying precedence has been set following the Leeds United saga last season and, while there’s a logic to clubs receiving some form of penalty for running up debts they can’t meet, the punishments don’t seem to be fitting the crime.

Are City immune? We may appear to be over some difficult times, but a quick look at the club’s history suggests it may not be the last. It’s vital we live within our means, build up the club on solid foundations and make decisions for the long term good of the club – not short term gambles. Refusing to pay £60,000 for Jon Shaw may be considered as lacking ambition by some, but compared to City’s activities in the transfer market since relegation from the Premiership in 2001 it would have been an extravagant signing.

Clearly money is still not awash at City, but the situation has improved significantly. It would be easy to sink it all into buying players, gambling on short term success and hope it then brings in money; but only four teams will get promoted from League Two this season and football’s competitive nature will mean if City are among them it will be an outstanding achievement rather than our right.

It may seem wrong to hear City talk of extravagant link ups across the world and it may ultimately be ruled out as a waste of time; but, as the lower reaches of the game experiences more difficulties and our local neighbours face up to going out of existence, now should be the time for ensuring we never again end up in such a situation. The merits of building ‘the brand’ in Mexico will be carefully considered – not for helping the club get promoted this season, but determining what it can bring City in the years to come.

Administration is a genuine punishment

This article is in reply to Football’s Administration Punishments Need To Change To Avoid Uncertain Futures

BfB is nothing if not democratic. In the language of all football fans, it’s a game of opinions. There are some places where there’s only one opinion that counts. Many of us have worked in places like that. But BfB is not that place. So, when Michael Wood posts his piece about how to deal with the ever increasing risk of a club going into administration and one of the other contributors wants to disagree with him, this is the result!

Let me say at the outset how very fortunate I believe my beloved team have been to go into administration at the right times. Not for us the 10 point penalty on either occasion Bradford City went into administration. We got in just in time. It would, of course, have been far preferable not to have got in at all, but there’s no point in rehearsing the reasons behind either of those two periods of financial difficulty.

These days it’s hard to keep up with who is and who isn’t in administration in the lower leagues. Even more difficult to work out is how some of these clubs are coming out of administration. Both are increasingly essential considerations as long as the present system is in place.

Take Luton Town, for instance. They went into administration last season and suffered a 10 point deduction. Those points in themselves cost them nothing. They finished 17 points below the safety mark. The administration and the associated inability to sign new players may well have cost them their League One place – but the deduction didn’t. It was a penalty that imposed no punishment.

Others have achieved the same in recent years. Leeds and Boston both went into administration when the points deduction was irrelevant. They were both already relegated. This brought about a rule change, which would allow such a deduction to be carried forward to the next season, when it might have a true meaning.

Bournemouth’s 10 point loss certainly was a punishment. They finished only two points below the safety line. Rotherham’s 10 point deduction left them 14 points away from the promotion play-offs, but again it could be argued that the fact of going into administration and the surrounding uncertainty knocked all the stuffing out of a very promising season spent, to that point, in or very near the play-offs.

But it is what comes next that matters more. As Leeds found, if you won’t or can’t get out of administration via a CVA, the Football League’s preferred option, you run a risk of a second penalty. Their 15 point penalty, thanks eventually to their Wembley defeat, was a genuine punishment. They will still be playing in League One next season. Without the deduction they would have gained automatic promotion.

All three of the League Two teams who start the new season in administration face the serious prospect of ‘doing a Leeds’. All three may come out of administration by a non-CVA route and, if so, will face the 15 point deduction for 2008-9 after their 10 point deductions for 2007-8. Additionally Luton already face another 10 point penalty for completely different breaches committed by those no longer involved with the club. Luton could start on minus 25 points and, just to avoid relegation to the Conference, they may need to win the number of points that would normally achieve a play-off place.

While all this could give Bradford City a head start on three of our League Two rivals, the bad news is that we did actually come out of administration via a CVA twice. OK, so Leeds United missed out on promotion last season. But this season they start with a clean sheet on and off the field. We all know it has taken City several years to achieve a financial break-even point and the present company still faces annual payments from the CVA that bite into the limited budget.

So the question I want to pose is not, as Michael writes, whether the penalty points system is too harsh on teams in the lower reaches of football and finance, but whether taking the 15 point hit might be seen to be preferable by some directors, providing only that their club can get over the one hurdle of the next season.

We can’t dwell on the Leicester scenario. That couldn’t happen now. Nor would I support Michael’s relegation-and-promotion proof suggestion, mainly because it would have involved two League One teams, Cheltenham and Crewe, being relegated and Luton, 17 points behind Crewe, surviving, when at the start of the season all of them believed that the four teams with the fewest points would go down. Why should Cheltenham and Crewe and their supporters suffer for the financial mishandlings of the boards at Luton and Bournemouth? And how long might it be before some directors decided that it was worth the 15 points, if they were guaranteed not being relegated?

But someone should suffer. A financial penalty is out of the question for a club that is in such debt it cannot continue to trade normally. What other penalty is available? Community service hardly fits the bill! A points deduction is less harsh than relegation, which is about the only alternative.

I believe that the Football League must do two things. The first they are already doing, although perhaps not quite well enough. They must at the start of each season make clear what their financial rules are and what the penalties for breach will be. That puts every club on notice. Go into administration and you know what to expect. Come out without a CVA and, again, you know what’s coming your way.

The second step the League must take is to make the semi-voluntary wages cap part of its own binding financial regulatory scheme. There is already in place a provision aimed at preventing clubs in the bottom two divisions from spending more than 60% of their income on players’ salaries. It was supposed to apply equally to the Championship, but there were too many big clubs there who wouldn’t play. It should be made a requirement of League membership that a club agrees to and complies with a salary cap. There should also be clear penalties for breaches. I would suggest a look at the Rugby League’s sliding scale, where the greater the excess the more points are deducted, would be a suitable guide.

Three final thoughts. I wonder what Julian Rhodes, the one in the middle of two administrations, would do if he were now given the option of the CVA which to this day takes it toll on the club or a clean financial sheet and a 15 point loss, even if that meant certain relegation. And how do the supporters of Halifax Town and Gretna feel? Wouldn’t they have preferred to have been forced to live within their means, even if a points deduction followed? And, last of all, I go back to how lucky City were with their timing and with the man whose offer allowed the CVA to be completed. Neither Bradford City nor any other league club should rely on that sort of luck ever again.

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