Big / Picture / Reality

300

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

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

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

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

Picture

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

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

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

Power

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

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

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

Again

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

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

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

Obvious

Football has submitted wholey to neoliberal economics.

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

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

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

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

Bourgeoisie

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

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

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

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

Reality

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

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

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

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

Goalscorers / Conversions

Nothing in football is as overrated as a goalscorer.

This is a truism within the game but something which supporters – and the pundits who pander to them – steadfastly refuse to acknowledge. In short: Goalscorers do not score goals, teams do.

A goalscorer is a part of that team for sure but not one who is more valuable than the other parts in the process of scoring goals. The centre forward could not head the cross in were the cross not made by the winger who needed the through ball from the central midfielder. A classic economic mistake is to overvalue towards the end of a production chain and football excels in doing that.

We can all recall the goalscorer who filled his boots at one club, moved, and found that goals dried up. The idea that signing a goalscorer will add thirty to the Goals Scored column is an obvious myth.

This leads us to one of footballers darkly comic stories. Manchester United manager Dave Sexton signed Nottingham Forest’s Garry Birtles for £1.25m in the early 1980s after Birtles had started the season with six goals in nine games for Clough’s side.

Sexton played Birtles twenty five times for the remainder of the season and Birtles did not score once which was an embarrassment for Sexton that got worse when – following their release from six months captivity at the hands of Radical Islamists in Tehran – one released former captivee started his statement to the world’s media with the words “Has Garry Birtles scored yet?”

He had not. But he would do. In Birtles first season United scored fifty-one. The season after Birtles got eleven of fifty-nine but ended up back at Forest the season after.

Sexton’s assumption – that he could buy Birtles the finisher of Nottingham Forest’s play and get Birtles’ goals – is both wrong and regnant. The team creates goals which the score’s name is (sometimes more than others) arbitrarily attached to.

Premier League 2015/2016 scorers ordered by percentage of teams goals.

  1. Ighalo – 15 goals of 40 – 37.50%
  2. Kane – 25 goals of 69 – 36.23%
  3. Vardy – 24 goals of 68 – 35.29%
  4. Agüero – 24 goals of 71 – 33.80%
  5. Deeney – 13 goals of 40 – 32.50%
  6. Defoe – 15 goals of 48 – 31.25%
  7. Lukaku – 18 goals of 59 – 30.51%
  8. Ayew – 12 goals of 42 – 28.57%
  9. Arnautovic – 11 goals of 41 – 26.83%
  10. Sigurdsson – 11 goals of 42 – 26.19%

Consider in the above how Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney both features in the top five for percentage of goals scored by their team. Watford scored forty goals last season, Spurs sixty-nine, but while everyone would expect that Ighalo would score more if he were in the Spurs team few would suggest that if you moved Harry Kane to Watford he would be or should be happy to score few goals (or take fewer corners)

Likewise Jermaine Defoe rightly gets tremendous credit for being a goalscorer for putting in 31% of Sunderland’s goals where as Lukaku is considered to have levelled out having claimed a similar percentage. It seems obvious to suggest that if you put Defoe in the Everton side he would not improve on a personal level (at least in the short term) but he would be expected to score more commensurate with the team scoring more.

Twenty

There is a near obsession with the idea of signing a twenty goal a year striker and not just at Bradford City and this misses the point of what a manager should be looking for in his recruitment. Ighalo scored fifteen goals of forty last season and my contention is that had he been at Spurs he would have got twenty-five of their sixty-nine. These are very good strikers and a very good striker gets 33% of his teams goals. James Hanson – not a goal getter by anyone’s imagination – got 20% of City’s goals last year. Billy Clarke got 7%, Devante Cole 9%, Jamie Proctor 11%. To put this in the context of successful teams with shared out goals Dimitri Payet was West Ham’s top scorer with nine of sixty-five goals which is 14%.

To have a 20 goal a year striker based on last year’s fifty-five goals is to look for someone between Kane and Ighalo on the list above. It is to hope for the extra-ordinary. If we pitch ourselves somewhere between where City were under Parkinson and the performance of Jamie Vardy when we might look at a striker who converts 25% of his teams goals as being a good level of performance then the onus is not on any of the forwards to score more goals but rather on the team as a whole to create more goals. Twenty-five more goals in fact, to take City’s return from fifty-five to eighty.

Teams that score eighty goals or more tend to win leagues which is the conclusion of the lust for a twenty goal a year striker. Twenty goal a year strikers emerge at teams that have exceptional seasons. They are the result of good goalscoring rather than the cause of good goalscoring. Put Harry Kane in a team which is not creating goals and his return will suffer, we all saw that.

If the team creates enough goals then – if they are commensurately good enough – the strikers will score enough goals and teams would be much better looking for ways to increase the total number of goals scored rather than trying to buy in goals Dave Sexton/Garry Birtles style.

Anatomy / Rumour

Phil Parkinson is not joining Bolton Wanderers as manager and – and I say this as a seasoned watcher of rumours – it seems that he was never joining Bolton Wanderers as manager so why was so much mental energy wasted on thinking that he would?

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes – Mark Twain

On the surface Parkinson – a man born near Bolton but long since used to moving where his career dictates – is a decent fit for the remit of bringing a once Premier League club back to its former glories. Indeed that is the job he is doing now at Bradford City where one could argue he has hit something of a ceiling having had a few years in the same division. The logic is rough but from it one can get two and another two and sum something like five.

As a rumour it does not want for credibility. It seems like something that could happen regardless of if it will happen which is why somebody made it up.

And let us make no mistake, dear reader, rumours are not spontaneous. Someone somewhere makes them up and circulates them. Every manager move, every player suggestion, every report in the local paper, every whisper on a website is made up by somebody to serve some agenda.

Let us deal with the most easy first. Some people make up rumours and put them online for kicks. I’m going to do it now: City are signing Lionel Messi. You do not believe it because it has no credibility. For obvious reasons.

Change Messi to Bastian Schweinsteiger then credibility is still stretched but with the connection that he is German and Bradford City are owned by the German pair of Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp then the credibility grows. Albeit by the most tiny increments.

Change Bastian Schweinsteiger to Nick Proschwitz and without having any reason to do it we have a real enough sounding rumour. If Simon Parker is short of useful work to do (Heaven forbid) then I’m sure he can make 400 words out of “Internet theorists talking crazy talk about these Proschwitz rumour” by the Thursday copy deadline.

Creditability

Outside of mischief making the rumour in football is a useful tool in negotiations and publicity. So useful that it seems that there are swathes of the football media for whom speculation has replaced reporting or investigation as a modus operandi. Repeating rumours has become what the back pages of newspaper are for.

Take, for example, the recent coup d’état at Manchester United where the appointment of Jose Mourinho when it happened was almost ignored whereas the rumours that it would happen – which came minutes after the end of the FA Cup final – were given blanket news coverage.

Those reports were not the same inspired piece of journalistic guesswork. They were rumours seeded by someone (or perhaps someone’s agent) in what seems to be a protracted negotiation around Old Trafford.

Almost all rumours that have any creditability are the same.

Obvious

If you read that Proschwitz is likely to sign for Bradford City then someone is behind the rumour (well, I am behind that one, and you just saw me make it up above) be it Proschwitz and his representatives trying to promote his name and try get him a move to any club, or perhaps trying to get him an improved deal at his current club by making him seem wanted.

Or it is nothing to do with Proschwitz and it is someone at Bradford City (again, it is not) trying to put pressure on Jamie Proctor to sign a new contract on the understanding that if he does not then someone else is waiting in the wings to take his deal.

Or it is Bradford City showing an obvious hand to Proschwitz to say to him that he is wanted, or testing the reaction to his signing, or to indicate to anyone interested that they are in the market for a striker, or to suggest that they are in the market to appease these fans, or it is the club releasing information that has happened in a way that best serves their aims.

A rumour could be any of those things but the one thing you can be certain of is that it will not be the result of investigative journalism uncovering information and sharing it with you.

Proposition

One could trace the rumour linking Phil Parkinson to Bolton Wanderers back to source if one wanted to. My guess would be that it originated from someone near to the appointment process for the next manager at The Trotters who was looking to put pressure on the other people being interviewed but that is only speculation on my part.

It could have easily been a show from Phil Parkinson’s side to underline the support he has amongst fans who expressed horror at the prospect of his moving over the Pennines.

Without knowing who is behind the rumour – which was, let me remind you, a fiction – it is impossible to say what purpose it was created to serve.

There is a story in football about the free transfer bound senior pro listed on the off chance on March deadline day and snapped up for £250,000 “and not a penny more”. The art of negotiation is in making the other party feel that the market more favours your side. The rumour in football is another way of achieving that.

The rumour (if it works) engages the emotion of supporters and so we are being used as a bargaining point in someone else’s negotiation whether it suits our ends or does not. The football media is a willing accomplice in this but let us not kid ourselves that it is not our clicks, eyes, and interest that make that viable. We like to think that enshrined as consumers of the football industry product we are King and Queens, and are always right as is the customer’s mantra.

As football supporters we need to demand that our media (including BfB) deal more in talking about facts (and what results from those facts) and less about fanciful propositions, reacting to what has not happened and repeating what someone else said.

Until we do that we will carry on being pawns.

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

Fargo

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry David.

Flashback episode

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

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

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

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

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

Everton Part 1: Tom Cleverley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money, and The Development Squad Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Person with a Black Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this world without control people are loyal to people.

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

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

The cost of being Manchester United

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

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

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

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

Team #2: Manchester United

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

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

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

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

“He runs up and down and kicks people”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the suitors was Glasgow Rangers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Championship Manager problem again

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

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

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

Of course there is not. Not in reality.

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

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

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

Nahki Wells was not Spice Girlsed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sounded very German.

Team #4: Tottenham Hotspur Everton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue: The Archie Christie Memorial Trophy

Summer 2012 in Winter 2013.

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

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

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

Everton won. Moyes beat Manchester United.

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


Notes

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

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

When Sepp Blatter goes, Gianni Paladini does not arrive and Manchester United go somewhere

When Sepp Blatter resigned as chairman of FIFA the cheers could be heard around the World of football but nowhere were they more pronounced than at Wembley.

The FA, housed at Wembley, could hardly contain their excitement at the Footballing Regicide. “This is great news for football. It should have happened years ago” said FA Chairman Greg Dyke with the jubilance of a man who has had to wait longer than he wants for a revenge he thinks he should have.

For years and years Blatter and FIFA have frustrated the FA, and other larger European FAs, in their attempts to restructure the business of football. The World Cup in Qatar is, in the opinion of this writer, a very bad idea but it is not opposed by the bigger European FAs because of the appalling human rights involved, or because of the corruption involved in the bidding process really.

The main problem for the European FAs was moving the World Cup away from the centre of the year which would upset the leagues they ran and the clubs in their leagues which increasingly are the prime concern.

Meanwhile, back in communist Russia

Gianni Paladini is not buying Bradford City – at least not today – and you can pick which set of rumours you prefer for the reason the Italian will not be taking over at City.

Those rumours range on the one side from the idea that the Italian has not got the money he said he has to meet the very reasonable demands of The Rhodes family and Mark Lawn. Another that those demands are less than reasonable. A third that he can do business with the club but cannot secure a deal to buy back Valley Parade and on and on and on. “I am extremely serious about the purchase of the club.” said Paladini, but no one really seems to believe him.

There was an audible sigh of relief around West Yorkshire as the prospect of Paladini’s arrival diminished at seemed to be routed in a weary conservatism. Since Bob Martin’s early 1980s plan to build a bridge across the valley to, to Geoffrey Richmond and the five year plan, to the thunder of Lawn and Rhodes about returning to The Championship after relegation to League Two City fans have heard lot of talk but felt very few benefits. Most fans at most clubs are in the same boat.

Paladini promises big things as City chairman but big things mean change and the mass of Bradford City supporters seem to like things how they are. One wonders if this will be true should Phil Parkinson’s side be in mid-table in November with home wins scarce as was the case last season.

So everything returns to what it was. The Rhodes Family and Mark Lawn will carry on running Bradford City with the caveat on the usual line of “walking away without a penny” that whomever was to buy the club from them would have to have the club’s best interests at heart. Phil Parkinson is starting contract negotiations. The player not signed is the one player who would have made a difference. There is a tour or Ireland or Scotland or somewhere in the offing. I don’t like the kit.

Everything trundles along as it was, and should be.

I want to wet my feet in Albert Square

I can remember the feeling of annoyance that swelled in me the first time I heard of FC United of Manchester.

(It was not my first reaction which was the CookMooreian “Oh what a bloody silly name” but I digress.)

In the 1980s there was a reason that Manchester United did not win the league. They had some great players, and they were very rich, but they did not put a great team on the field. Liverpool – who seemed to spend less – crafted a better unit and so were dominant.

And no matter what happened at Old Trafford United could not stop this Liverpool dominance on the field. Managers came and went and Alex Ferguson toiled but it did not matter how much money they had the game was about the eleven guys on the pitch and what sort of team they were.

In the early 1990s that changed, and it changed with the Premier League which Manchester United were leading lights in creating. The Premier League which was launched with the promise that it would bring more matches to television (Number of Premier League matches shown on free to air TV since launch: 0), be better for the England team (which has statistically improved slightly, slightly being operative) and be for the benefit of supporters.

The influx of money into the game and the impact that had on the nature of the way that football is played has not been documented well enough. English football went from being a team game to a squad one and fitness became more of a factor. After 1992 the football club with the biggest resources were favoured more in the squad game than they had previously.

And so the narrative was that at Manchester United – in their pursuit of glory – changed the way football worked in this country making it more beneficial to be “bigger” in terms of resources and supporter base screwing smaller clubs as they did it and – having soaked up that glory – the people at FC United of Manchester decided that they were actually on the side of the smaller teams all along.

And that was annoying. It was annoying to me and should have been to anyone who watched clubs struggle for existence in the post-Premier League era where mistakes in team building are less important because of the resources that can be deployed.

Signed Radamel Falcao for £265,000 a week and he turned out to not have recovered from an injury? No problem. You have the money to retain Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Angel Di Maria et al as well. Contrast that with the way City are hamstrung with the wages of Aaron McLean.

A supporter of FC United of Manchester who followed Manchester United seemingly until he or she was gorged on success now wants to tell the rest of football how to do football? Well, yes, and we might do well to listen.

FC United of Manchester have just opened Broadhurst Park which is a community stadium. The community ethos is soaked into their club. They are democratic and run against codes of conduct which the average football fan would never expect his club would recognise, most clubs being run at the whim and ethics of the owners.

And while the idea of reminiscences of Best and Cantona – and many other things about FC United of Manchester – have no appeal to me the idea of having a club shaped around what different communities want appeals to me a great deal.

At Broadhurst Park the supporters who benefited the most from the Premier League have said that they think they benefit more from standing opposed to many of the values that that league represents. Such a finding against interest has to make a person pause for a moment.

Everything trundles along as it was

Considering Paladini’s takeover of Bradford City is considering the idea that Bradford City might move up football’s order from one of the poor clubs to one of the less poor ones.

Paladini’s approach for the club is not that he treat the supporters any better than the current board do, nor that he would expand a level of ownership to supporters, or that he would increase supporter representation at all.

He did not suggest that on his arrival Bradford City could expect the policy of affordable season tickets to continue, most would welcome that, nor did he say that the policy of changing shirt every year would end, most would welcome that too.

Paladini’s approach was that he would give the club some money for players and with that would come promotion, and all that follows. Better football, more expensive and if the recent history of Bradford City was to repeat he would expect at least appreciation for his efforts.

At no point would he ask if we – the supporters – wanted what was on offer or not. At no point is anyone going to ask that.

There are differences between Paladini and current co-chairmen Lawn and Rhodes other than the depth of their pockets but they are not in how they approach the role of football club owner, and nor do the vast majority of their peers.

From Chelsea down clubs are bought and sold, and money is invested or not, and only lip service is paid to supporters. A consultation group here, a fan on the board there but no one could say that there is anything like a serious commitment to making English football take the shape which the supporters would have it take.

All chairmen treat clubs like their personal play-things in a game, just some are better at the game than others.

When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers

Individually and collectively football clubs shape a game which is less concerned about supporters than about the money generated by television deals and by sponsorship.

One only need to recall the six days in which Bradford City were commanded to play three away games and the reasons for that which were tied into a deal in European football to ensure that an FA Cup game could not be played on Champions League night.

Who at the FA agreed that deal? Was it a great news for football when that deal was signed? How many deals are signed that end up putting television rights above the games that supporters are paying to see? When the deals are signed to promote the Premier League on Sky and the BBC is there any consideration for the impact that will have on Football League clubs? Or when the Football League tries to win supporters from on non-league clubs? Or for that matter when non-league clubs host a day to try win them in the other direction.

When international TV deals are signed to show The Premier League, or La Liga, or Serie A in the Far East is there consideration as to what that might do to developing football leagues in those countries?

The group of clubs at the top of the game, who increasingly drive the game, have a select group in the ECA designed to steer Governing Bodies in the direction which best suits them. They drive the TV deals and the competitions that TV shows.

It is the G-14, forerunner of the ECA, which shaped the Champions League from the Champions Cup and the mandatory television requirements it brings. Those are the people you have to thank for an ITV dead rubber between Arsenal and Standard Liege that clogs up the airwaves in early December.

It is hard to imagine how the next FIFA Chairman will be worse than Sepp Blatter but it is not hard to imagine who will select that person. The same forces who are driving football increasingly to be about the bigger clubs, and TV deals, and Coca-Cola/Visa sponsorship will invoke their influence.

We celebrate the end of Sepp Blatter but will his replacement care more for the people who watch football or just be more liked by the people who have created the parts of the English game that most disenfranchise supporters?

If we trust the people who made the Champions League to run the World Cup are we moving towards a more egalitarian football that respects all its supporters?

What Gary Jones will have seen as the days went down in the West and Bradford City beat Notts County 1-0

Mr. James Hughes

“The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow”
Lament for the Rohirrim, Tolkien.

When does retirement first cross the mind of a footballer?

Is it when he rushes for a ball and lacks the half yard to win a race? Is it when he walks up the steps of Wembley stadium for his first finest hour and knows from then on it is all the way down? Is it the first hard tackle he takes with the second it takes to fall to the floor causing a rush of thoughts to his head?

Will he pick the time and the date when he hangs up his boots or will someone pick it for him? Will the next time he steps on a football field be the last? Will he feel proud of his career when his career comes to an end? How many regrets will he have?

When his shadow is no longer cast four ways by floodlights will he be remembered? And how so?

Mr. Shaun Peter Derry

When Shaun Derry took over at Notts County he took a decision that experienced heads were what he needed to stop a recurrence of a season of struggle. Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City team had not struggled in the previous season but it was decided that his team were a little too experienced, or expensive, or both.

Players were moved on.

And so Bradford City’s Wembley captain Gary Jones and goal scorer against Arsenal Garry Thompson were in Notts County shirts.

County Goalkeeper Roy Carroll played for Manchester United and still plays for Northern Ireland at 37. Bradford City once tried to spend £4.5m on Alan Smith – or so the rumour had it at the time – who was a young striker when he played for Leeds United but sat at the base of a midfield three for The Magpies today. Skipper Hayden Mullins played in Cup Finals for Portsmouth and missed one for West Ham through suspension. The County reserve keeper was over forty.

Derry’s planning has been rewarded with a team who having not lost away from Meadow Lane and are troubling the play offs positions which City are occupying. Both sides would be right to put the performances in the first half of the season down to the character which was in evidence on the field.

Without Mark Yeates and perhaps in appreciation of the role that Smith plays in the County side Phil Parkinson put Billy Knott into the playmaking role of the 4312 formation which had previously been abandoned. Knott’s remit was to prevent Smith from dictating play while Liddle sat deeper to make sure that Gary Jones was controlled when he came forward. Derry dropped Garry Thompson out of the forward line and onto the right hand side rather than push him against the Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle defence.

The game was close. County looked to take a solid defensive line and raid a goal while City looked to press home advantage and force the play. The game was tough in the tackle but as fair as any one would hope to see.

Mr. Edward William Johnson

What is it that made Gary Jones a man who would be given a standing ovation by the supporters of the team he is playing against? Jones was given a tribute that I have only seen afforded to Stuart McCall previously. He earned it for his performances for City. Wembley and all that.

In August 2012 City went to Meadow Lane in the first round of the League Cup. Country hit the bar in the 90th minute of normal time from three yards out.

An inch lower and would Gary Jones be another Eddie Johnson? Another Steven Schumacher? Another Tommy Doherty in the footnotes of Bradford City? If Gervinho had not missed an open goal at Valley Parade would Garry Thompson’s goal against Arsenal have meant what it did? Would Thompson have got the chance to blaze in against Burton? If he had not would City have been able to win promotion from 3-1 down?

These are the single moments that define the future but one wonders if the players define the moments or the moments define the players? What had Gary Jones done to deserve the fortune of that miss from a yard in the first round of a competition which would give him the opportunity to get to the final? Had it been Eddie Johnson and not Gary Jones in City’s midfield, would Johnson have been the Wembley captain? It seems unlikely.

Jones offers more than most footballers one will see. His impact on his own game, and the games of those around him, is marked and noticeable and in evidence for County as they battle but eventually to the single goal defeat at Valley Parade.

Jones leads by example. In the 88th minute he gets to the ball before François Zoko in a straight race. Two games in three days, and two minutes from the end, and he beats Zoko for pace. He is thirty seven years old.

How many more games will Gary Jones play? The thought must be in his mind. If this game were to be his last then he would have made an end worthy. But it will not be. And Jones will continue to play every game knowing that soon one will be his last.

And what a privilege, what an honour, to see that.

Mr. Andrew John Davies

Limping off to join an increasingly lengthy Andrew Davies will hope that he does not face another spell out of the Bradford City team. It seems that City’s chances of staying in the play offs are tied to Davies’ chances of staying fit.

Davies was well paid meat in the room at Stoke City but decided that he would rather play League Two football than not play in the Premier League. He is paid less to play for Bradford City than he was to not play for Stoke City. He was thirty years old two weeks ago. He has never played more than thirty games in a season. He is out of contract in the Summer.

How many times has Andrew Davies sat up at night wondering when it will be all over?

He gave up much to come to Bradford City and from that he was part of a team justifiably called “The History Makers.” What would he give – or give up – to make history once more?

To not let days fade into the West?

Mr. Andrew Halliday

If Gary Jones looked over at Andy Halliday as Halliday spurned the third good chance to give City a lead in the opening of the game at a snow surrounded Valley Parade he will probably have seen in him exactly what Phil Parkinson does. That Halliday on the day was consistent in being woeful.

Such faint praise is not to damn him but rather to finally define what it is that the City boss believes the Scots winger turned inside midfielder brings to the club. Halliday’s game was a footballer in misfire. What was impressive – and what Jones will have recognised – was that the young midfielder continued his level of performance taking responsibility for his performance.

That Halliday missed three fine chances, and crossed badly for three or four more, shows character. If Andy Halliday goes on to play a thousand games as a professional footballer, and if this represents the worst of those games, he will be able to say that his head never dropped.

And his spirit never dropped, and he did not sulk, and he did not flinch, and that he saw the game out on the winning side.

And that, dear reader, I find impressive.

Mr. Roy Eric Carroll

You start young catching and kicking a ball and then you are crossing seas to the East coast where you are the man who comes off the bench when the goalkeeper scores goals but you get your chance and you take your chance and your career goes forward to promotion and then to every boy’s best dream and Old Trafford. You play for the biggest clubs. You win FA Cups. You play in Europe. You play in World Cup Qualifying for your country. You have the career that the people who set you on your way from Ballinamallard United could only have dreamed of you having.

But you are remembered for one thing.

Just one thing.

It is cruel and unfair and you try and you try again and again to unblot the page but it cannot be done.

Perhaps the next performance will be the one you are remembered for? Perhaps the next rush out of the goal to clear the ball will be what people remember when they hear the name. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps,

perhaps, perhaps,

perhaps.

Mr. Billy Steven Knott

The single moment.

It was in the minutes before half time when Thompson played a ball back to Roy Carroll who seemed to come to the edge of his box looking to pick up the ball, then pushed out and seemed to push Billy Knott while on the floor but Knott slipped a ball to Andy Halliday who dribbled to the touchline and while Carroll returned to his goal by the time Halliday found Knott who hit into the net as Mullins tried to clear.

Carroll’s extra-area activity had cost County, and ultimately broke their record of not losing on their travels.

And Bradford City went into the new year in the play off places.

On the value of footballers

When Nahki Wells left Bradford City there was a suggestion that the fee the club got for the player was too little. Counter to that was the idea that the amount was correct and the reason it was correct was because in economic terms a thing is worth what someone will pay for it.

This is Economics 101. You learn it on the same day that you learn the supply and demand rules which lead to City who have a large supply of seats increasing demand by lowering price. All that something is worth is what someone will pay for it and so Wells was worth £1.3m. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

At the time of Wells’ exit I discussed Arsenal’s attempt to buy Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle United. Cabaye has been subject of another bid – £14/£15m from Paris SG – but still Newcastle United hold out for a price they have concluded Cabaye is worth.

Why? If a thing is worth what someone will pay for it then they have arrived at his value. Paris will pay £14m ergo that is what he is worth.

Of course not.

If that were true the would be worth both the original bid and the new one. One might conclude that must be something more to Economics than “its worth what someone will pay for it” and there is, and it is the ability of the seller to resist factoring into the equation.

If the seller is not motivated then the price of anything can – and in practice does – increase. In the case of Cabaye unless Newcastle United get what they feel is the price they want then they are not motivated to sell.

“The thing is worth what someone will accept that someone will pay for it” which raises question about the first part of the statement: “the thing” and what it is.

What is Yohan Cabaye? Or what is Juan Mata? What is Marouane Fellaini? What is Mesut Özil? Are they discreet economic entities? When one talks about footballer value in economic terms one must have a field of comparison otherwise one is simply saying Juan Mata is worth one Juan Mata.

Are these four footballers the same thing in economic terms then? All are top Premier League midfielders with degrees of international experience. The spread on bids on them this season ranges £8m to £40m. If we accept the fairly simple premise that these four players represent broadly the same “thing” then perhaps we have an answer as to why Newcastle United can turn down Paris’ bid for Cabaye.

If Cabaye is a Premier League midfielder, and if a Premier League midfielder costs between £28m and £40m then they are right to value their player within that spread with – one might suggest – how close they can get to the top end of those valuations being a reflection of their negotiation abilities and position.

The better Joe Kinnear does the closer Cabaye’s price is to £40m.

So we revise our statement to “a thing which is the member of a group is worth what someone will accept that someone else will pay for members of that group.”

Which is a workable definition we can apply to other transfer fees.

Let’s take – by way of example – the centre forwards of the early Premier League era who create a group.

Chris Sutton joined Blackburn Rovers for £5m. Les Ferdinand cost both Newcastle United (again, they make a lot of transfers) and Spurs £6m. Andy Cole cost Manchester United £7m. Alan Shearer left Blackburn Rovers turning down Manchester United for £15m and Dwight Yorke when he exited Aston Villa to join Manchester United for £16.1m.

If we pick our way through these moves they fit into that definition. Some were good deals and some were not. Most would accept that Blackburn Rovers got a lot of money for Shearer, Newcastle ended up letting two England centre forwards leave and replacing them with one who was arguably better but not so on the granularity we are applying. Manchester United paid over twice as much for Yorke as they did for Cole who could not be said to be significantly better and so perhaps one was a good deal or the other a bad one.

All these transfers in the space of a few years (in which we saw market inflation) and give us a spread of £5m – £16.1m. What was the value of a centre forward in the early Premier League era? If you did business well and sold to motivated buyers it was around £15m. If you ended up in a position where you needed to sell it was less than half that £15m. If you had Les Ferdinand it was £6m.

Which – returning to the question in hand – leads us to ask if the fee Bradford City got for Wells was correct and the reason it was correct was because what someone will pay for him. I would suggest that it was not correct for that reason, although that it was not incorrect.

A look at a list of players transferred from League One shows us a spread of values for players sold from League One clubs to teams in the divisions above.

The list goes from Fabian Delph costing £8.4m down. It includes Andy Gray being sold for £1.6m in 2010 which one might say is an example of a club paying far too much and Rickie Lambert’s £1.1m move from Bristol Rovers which does not look like great business now.

Change the same list to strikers only and one gets a spread from Dwight Gayle at £4.7m down. Wells is equal on this list of Andy Gray’s move five years ago. We extend the spread to £1.1m (Lambert) which is the first internal League One move rather than a move up. That point is arbitrary but appropriate and gives us a spread of values for League One strikers moving up the leagues of £1.1m to £4.7m.

That is the marketplace that City were selling into. That is the value of what Bradford City were selling. Of those 22 players in that marketplace Wells nestles right in the middle being worth an median average.

That is if one accepts that grouping of the market. One might say that one could exclude players who went to the Premier League and point to Nick Maynard’s £3m move to Bristol City as the high figure. I believe that most of the groupings one could make tell the same story.

And that story is that City did averagely with the value of Wells in the marketplace. Whomever was negotiating the deal with Huddersfield Town (and I could not say who was involved on either side) could be said to have performed adequately.

We might long for the negotiation skills that they have at Peterborough United or Crewe Alexandra who are able to sell players who have objectively achieved less than Wells for much, much more money but we do not.

And it is at this point where the club and supporters find a way to learn and move on from the sale of Nahki Wells. Wells and his City team mates over-performed last season and the club benefited more than could have been expected from that. It was an example of what can happen when a high performance culture is fostered.

The sale of Wells represents a return to adequate performance.

Honesty in football management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three cheers for pricing as Torquay United come to Bradford City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The value of local bragging rights

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

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

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

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

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

No win, no lose

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

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

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

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

Why don’t we all just, get along?

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

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

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

The end of the season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BfB watches the play off finals: Part two, Huddersfield Town v Peterborough United

Old Trafford, not a happy place yesterday unless you were a Stevenage fan, has been pressed into action for the League One and League Two play off finals owing to a double booking at Wembley for the Champions League final but – in a way – the shifting down of this season’s promotion finals seems to fit in with the mood in football from half way down the leagues.

Wembley is the place to battle for a place in the Premier League – the suggestion is – and everyone is at some point on the road to that destination. Stevenage showed the power not of performance but of momentum, as have Norwich City and Leeds United in the Championship this year. While this morning’s newspapers are full of praise for Lionel Messi the difference between this Barcelona side and the one which contained similar talents but went unrewarded is the momentum with which it approaches games.

The winning habit seems to have become ingrained in Lee Clark’s Huddersfield Town and with thirty games without defeat it seems curious that the Terriers were not automatically promoted. Perhaps the truth lay within their play off semi-final results, two draws and a win on penalties.

Having switched managers reasonably seamlessly mid-stream Peterborough United’s season with the club arresting the downturn that started with a woeful year in The Championship that saw the now returned manager Darren Ferguson replaced and chairman Darragh MacAnthony lambasting the squad. Posh fans were glad that the likes of Craig Mackail-Smith, George Boyd and England call up keeper Joe Lewis were not able to exit the long term contracts that MacAnthony talked of them signing in his rant.

MacAnthony and his opposite number at Town Dean Hoyle have both kept expensively assembled squads together for this season after disappointing returns last time out. Mackail-Smith has scored 34 goals this season – not as many as Messi or Ross Hannah but a good return – while Lewis is hunted by Everton. Promotion is the reward today for the winner, the loser’s punishment could be the loss of momentum which has brought them to this point.

Huddersfield’s supporters outnumber the Peterborough fan but are left with hearts in mouths as Mackail-Smith hits the post within the opening minutes. Town are on the rack as George Boyd – playing in a free role behind Mackail-Smith – but have the out ball of Benik Afobe as constant and effective.

The tier three play-off final is the only one of the three which Bradford City have ever been to – the 2-0 win over Notts County being the first hurrah of the push that led to the Premier League – and while the game that day seemed to be fated the Bantams way from kick off this match is more in the balance despite the vocal and visual overpowering of the Town support.

Town’s first chance comes when Bolton loanee Daniel Ward does well to get the ball to Peter Clarke but Paul Jones saves well and hurls the ball to Mackail-Smith who hurtles away. This is a theme for the afternoon, hitting the striker quickly and seeing if the Town central defensive pair can handle the pace of the forward.

So the game is set with Town parrying the speedy attacks of the Posh and the Posh defenders – especially the excellent Ryan Bennett – trying to keep Town’s more physical force at bay. Blows are exchanged up to half time and perhaps there is a sense from both sides that there is more to lose than there is to gain.

That a season in the Championship is good, but that the pain of the lack of progression which defeat represents is too hard to swallow. In a way both teams represent different way to progress. Hoyle has looked at Huddersfield’s near peerless (in the lower leagues) off the field set up of Academies and Training facilities and asked how he could make it better. £5m of new pitches and set up are bolstering the Terriers next season.

MacAnthony backs his squad – despite the criticism – with lengthy contracts which protect the investment in the squad with the prospect of transfer fees should any exit and with a continuity which allows for stability despite manager movement. Both are excellent paths to follow for clubs looking for a competitive advantage and neither approach is discredited with defeat.

The worry though is that it might appear that it is. Talking to Mark Lawn this season the City chairman pointed out that Middlesborough were doing poorly in the Championship despite having spent money on youth development as if to suggest that youth development itself was discredited. Boro survived the season while Posh and Town climb above the morass of League One by having a plan for success and following it regardless of set backs.

Yet a set back for one is inevitable and and Daniel Ward looks like inflicting that set back on Peterborough coming out in the second half like a live wire but still Town struggle to cope with Mackail-Smith and the speed of his counter attacks – and the speed in which Posh get players alongside and past him – worries the West Yorkshire side.

It is not Mackail-Smith who provides that breakthrough ten minutes from time – that comes from Tommy Rowe heading in a Grant McCann cross – but the striker combines with George Boyd for a second goal two minutes after the first and the few are out singing the many, celebrating promotion with a swagger as McCann adds a third as the game ebbs away.

To the victors, the spoils and a quick return to the top half of professional football for a second go at what went so badly wrong last time. The big names enhanced reputations and values and should the Posh cash in to march into next season they are well positioned by virtue of adopting an approach of putting their faith in a playing squad which they believe has the quality and back with contracts that give security and stability.

For Huddersfield Town one would expect any self-respecting Bradford City organ to be gloating but I find it hard to celebrate another team in defeat and it gives me no joy. Town are a club with more money than most at this level for sure but more significantly they have a set of priorities off the field which allow I’d rather City learnt from than shake a fist at. Indeed despite the talk of City having to make do with the facilities we had David Baldwin announced that – at no cost to the club – the Bantams were going to have better facilities next season. Danny Cadamarteri – on the bench for Town in his second spell with them after being another one of those mystery under performers for City – might have faired differently at the new Apperley Bridge set up.

The nature of the play-offs – as with any final – is to create winners and losers and for a second year Lee Clark’s side are dubbed as losers. If sense reigns to the South West of Bradford then next season will be a same again for Huddersfield as they carry on carrying on. If they lose their bottle then they will make unnecessary changes.

Darren Ferguson – a former Manchester United player who celebrated victory at Old Trafford – and his chairman Darragh MacAnthony might reflect that three changes of manager following the sacking of Young Fergs it was going back to the original plan which took them forward.

Man City’s Got Talent

With no game to watch and a body aching from gardening I rooted to the sofa for what proposed to be ITV’s feast of football and fun, or so they said, but you will have your own views dear reader on the Manchester Derby semi-final followed by the reappearance of TV talent show Britain’s Got Talent.

I’ll preface this by saying that I do not view the TV talent show as illegitimate entertainment, but that I do not view them. I like to hear a scruffy girl belting out Shakespears Sister covers as much as the next man and always have time for a dancing dog act but the reason why I find such shows not worth watching is because they have a very limited set of narratives which are quickly exhausted.

A girl who has had a bad time but singing got her though, a guy who looked like he is a moron but raises a smile, a guy who has been earnestly doing his act for years and this is his big break. In the end there is only so many ways that those who spin these things can spin these things. Only so many ways to present the same story.

Which brings us back to the Manchester Derby or – as it was known around our gaff – The match to see who we want Stoke or Bolton to beat. Not that there is any resentment to Manchester in our bit of Clayton (As evidenced by the number of The Smiths albums perhaps) but rather that one feels a sense of tedium in those teams.

United are United and we know the narrative they present. They are awesome, a freight train of football on the tracks to success. Paul Scholes put in his usual knee high horror tackle and the usual talk of how great a player he is and how it is a shame that he does that sort of thing was heard. The only surprise that the afternoon offered for the Red Devils was just how poor Anderson was. Brought on to drive the ball forward he started trying Glenn Hoddle like passing and was – in his own way – as poor as Gareth Evans was against Torquay United two weeks ago.

Manchester United players do not normally choke. That aside and for all the hilarious gags about Sir Fergs sounding curious on the wireless cause while the volume and bass knobs were in place the treble was off it was same old same old by them. They will recover. Part of the great United story is how they lose the odd game but win the war. That narrative is as tired as the girl on X-Factor who really needs this.

Across Manchester though the rise of City should provide some interest but fails to. It is not for a lack of talent in the team – Man City’s Got Talent – but rather that they tell a story which has been done to death.

Rich man comes to a club and starts spending. He ruffles feathers by replacing a popular manager with someone else but in the end the fans are seduced by the idea of success more than they are loyal to their cause. They spend money recklessly buying quantity of quality to make sure that any “dodgy signing” does not hamper them too much.

That is Manchester City but it could equally be Chelsea (or Blackburn Rovers for that matter) and there is the problem. There is no surprise in this story. It ends of course, as it has at Chelsea, and that end is probably not going to be an unhappy one but the narrative offers nothing new.

I am sure though that is is good to be involved in and that yesterday’s victory was sweet but in terms of offering something new, different and interesting Manchester City are like Britain’s Got Talent. For sure it looks different to last year – and the people on stage are loving it – but the story stays the same.

Well done to Manchester City but I think I will switch channels.

Welcome to the tactical sophistication

Watching City getting men behind the ball defending with numbers rather than quality and leaving the attacking side of the game undermanned it suddenly struck me what this “dour football” of Peter Taylor’s really is.

City lost 2-1 to Port Vale in the glare of a watching TV audience having tried to keep a closed shop most of the game but then after two goals – the second of which was offside – ended up unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes. It was not pretty stuff either, and ultimately whatever the plan at kick off, that plan did not work.

Having spent much of Friday talking about the principal that how if the job was offered in the summer Taylor’s name would still top the list of potential managers the practice of watching a dour, negative display jarred but the final reckoning City lost to an offside goal and were it not for a great block would have drawn the game. If wishes about Bradford City were snowflakes we would have woken up to a hefty covering Saturday morning, and we did.

However for all the dourness and negativity those two moments – had they fallen differently – would have given City a creditable result (a draw, assuming one of those snowflakes did not melt) and so Taylor would note that his tactical approach – while unsuccessful – was realistic in its chances of getting a result.

Were it not for a mistake by a linesman or a bit of pondering by Lewis Hunt that left John McCombe in to block then The Bantams would have had a draw at promotion chasing Vale. For all the negativity that is evidenced in the game the approach is practical, reasonable and realistic.

But it is dour and watching the game we wanted the players to break the shackles and entertain, going for a win.

We wanted the players in our struggling team to forget the fact that in frustrating and negativity the chances of a draw are there for all to see and to go for broke. We wanted the manager and players to play an attacking game at a promotion chaser, seeing if they could bring back a win.

There is a word to describe that attitude and the word is naive, or at least it was.

In football it is naive to look at away games – especially those against promotion chasers – as the chance to get three points. Away victories are uncommon. Look at any Saturday of results in The Football League and something between two thirds and three quarters of the results will be home wins, then draws will be the next most common, then away victories.

Sir Bobby Robson used to say that a team need wins its home games, draw away and should expect no better than that and will achieve its targets. Two points per game will get any team promoted from any league.

Perhaps Peter Taylor has this in mind. If he does he seems a long way off achieving it but that “long way” was a linesman’s flag away against Port Vale. No matter what you think of the approach or the manager’s approach his understanding that when one goes away from home one frustrates and tries to minimise opportunities knowing a draw is a good return is common thinking in the game, it is the realistic choice.

So we should use the terms that apply consistency, or so I realised when considering “dour football.”

This “dour, negative football” is “tactically sophisticated” as distinct from being “tactically naive”. Likewise the desire to see more “attacking football” – to see players who leave more space as they uncompress the game looking for space to play in – is to want the players to be more “tactically naive.”

This revelation ruined my evening and once again one of my Nan’s oft sage (although always containing the odd swear) turns of phrase came into my head. “Them buggars best be careful a what they wish for, cause they’ll get it.”

I never took to the phrase “tactically naive” because I could never think of the opposite to contrast this naivety with. The fans over the years that use the phrase against managers like Stuart McCall at City and Kevin Keegan at England must have had something in mind as the opposite, but I could not see it. If trying to win every game was to be considered tactically naive what was the opposite? What was tactical sophistication?

Naive has a good half dozen meanings in the OED but in football’s lexicon it seemed to point towards a kind of inability to accept certain pragmatic realities and react to them by changing an initial approach. It was being incapable of flexing tactically to cope with the opposition. A tactically naive manager was one who always ended up getting beaten by some veteran gaffer who saw the benefits of soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter. When Keegan’s Newcastle United lost 1-0 at St James Park to Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1995/96 it was the only time that his team had failed to score in a home game that season The Red Devils having frustrated the attacking flair of the Magpies and caught them with a Cantona sucker punch.

It was the “naivety” of Keegan for all to see supposedly in that his team out played but did not outscore their opponents. That season ended with Keegan’s famed “I’d love it…” speech which was used as proof that the grizzled old Scot had bested his naive foe. That dour football had bested attacking flair, the naivety of an attacking approach had been exposed.

“Sophistication” is probably not the word that springs instantly to mind watching last night’s first half of Bradford City’s football but there it was, for all to see, a sophisticated tactical approach which recognised the realism of the game and set out with a pragmatic plan to get a result.

It is old Arsenal’s 1-0 ways against new Arsenal’s being four up having gone on the road with a plan to play and after half an hour at Newcastle United only to ended up lucky to get a point. Arsene Wenger naive to carry on attacking at four up but wanting his team to play a certain way rather than accept the reality that closing the game down at half time would have meant coasting to a victory.

Knowing what we do about how teams come to Valley Parade with rows of defender and packed midfields and try nick a point, sometimes taking more, and expecting our team to play in a different way simply because it is more enjoyable to watch is laudable but it is the very stuff that was called “tactically naive” this time last year when Peter Taylor joined the club.

“Them buggars best be careful…”

This is the situation we are in. A popular consensus wanted Taylor and his “tactical sophistication” into the club and perhaps there would be more sympathy for the browbeating over how dour it can be to watch if – when watching a manager who wanted to play attacking football – the words “tactically naive” were not allowed to float around unchallenged so often.

“Move on”, or so we are told, but the point of this article is not to wallow in the blanket of snowflake wishes and memories but rather than to state that “move on” too often means forget to the point where as a football club we have become masters of Orwellian doublethink.

Attacking football is naive, and we want an experienced man who can play in a tactically sophisticated way. When we get that we want someone who can bring more flair and make the team more enjoyable to watch. Passion is not important in a manager, then we rage at the dispassionate figure on the sidelines. The manager does not have enough knowledge of the English game, but the next one is too parochial. The manager is too showbiz and interested in talking about his past as England captain, but the next one is too sour and grim.

Least we forget the purpose of constant war in Orwell’s 1984 is to waste the excess of production. This is exactly what City do when changing managers.

The club’s resources go not into improving the team but rather into changing it to suit the new approach – Omar Daley’s exit for Kevin Ellison being a great example of that – and then changing that back again when the mood sees fit to replace manager.

So while City slip to a tenth away defeat of the season – the most of any club in League Two although, worryingly, we have played more games than most – I reflect on how unsuccessful the approach has been but how much that twelve months ago it was presented as the solution.

This is important as we look for another solution.

Better ways to earn a crust? Talking to Graeme Tomlinson

Gareth Grant, David Brown, Danny Forrest, Craig Midgely, Wayne Benn, Craig Bentham, Kevin Sanasy, Tom Claisse, Liam Flynn, Jon Worsnop, Tom Penford, Jon Swift, Tom Kearney, and maybe even Lewis Emanuel are all players with something in common; they had all called themselves Bradford City players by the age of 20 and were all playing non-league (or lower) by the age of 25. Add to this list the names of Des Hamilton and Graeme Tomlinson, two lads who left for greater things only for it to not work out for whatever reason. Let me ask, if you had to write a list of opposites, a list to balance the one above, who would be on it? Andy O’Brien? Dean Richards? Steven Schumacher (not a product of our academy though)?

Why do I mention this then? Well I have this notion that football is quite a hard life at this level. We as fans pay a lot of money and generally believe that entitles us to make our feelings known. This is somewhat fuelled by the stream of money-grabbing players who grew fat as our club grew thin – plus, let’s not forget that most of us would give our right arm to pull on the claret and amber just once.

A career cut short

One man who got to do that is Graeme Tomlinson and I was lucky enough to get to speak to him recently. Tomlinson insists that despite his poor fortune with injuries, he still believes football is a fantastic industry to be employed in and that even at our level there is decent money to be made. He does concede however, that it was his big break at Utd and the help of close friends that ensured he would be financially sound even if his career were to be cut cruelly short.

But these are not the old days; this is not the Bradford of Tomlinson’s time. As Tomlinson himself accepts, league 2 youngsters and trialists will not be on particularly good money, the end of their career – regardless of age, is just around the corner. Take Steve Williams for example, at 22 and playing for Bamber Bridge, with a failed trial at Oldham behind him, he must have almost given up; if this season doesn’t work out the chances are we’ll never see him again. Same goes for David Syers or went for James Hanson last season.

Now I initially planned to write an article from the standpoint that for all those lads I named earlier, lads like Gareth Grant and David Brown, we might just have reached a point where football, for all its potential glamour isn’t really worth the hassle. To give your all from the age of 14 or 15 just to find yourself, every summer, getting geared up for pre-season friendlies to prove that you have what it takes at league 2 level against lesser opposition, prove to the fans that you are committed – yet not run round like headless chickens, and most importantly, not get injured. All of this with no guarantees and even less in your pockets if you are on trial, faced with the statistics laid bare; chances are your career will be over in the next five years.

However, with the assumption that many of you will not be particularly pre-disposed to feel sympathy for the young lads who are living the dream that still flits through your sleep – regardless of your age, I changed my mind. This was also in part due to something Graeme Tomlinson said when I asked him whether he thought it was all worth it for the youngsters:

It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and commitment for little financial reward

Watching Joe Colbeck

A year or so ago as I sat watching City trailing to a woeful Lincoln team, listening to folks moaning about Joe Colbeck, with the words of Graeme Tomlinson in my ears, I realised I wanted to tell people to lay off Joe for a bit but they never really did. We all understand that people pay their hard earned and as such should be allowed to complain a bit, Tomlinson understands that, understood that as a player, I’m sure Colbeck did as well, but the criticism become much more with Joe and I am certain that it will result in his name being added to the list. His exit to Oldham, and from Oldham less than a season later continued this path.

Nevertheless back at Lincoln as I sat there watching Colbeck take to the field as a second half sub and inject a bit of pace into a team that had waterlogged the pitch just so they could keep up with the ball, I thought to myself, what has the lad ever really done wrong? Come back from a bad injury and take a few matches to get his sharpness back? Go out on loan and play so well we have to bring him back? Be voted ‘Player-of-the-Year’? Play with a passion that sometimes boils over? The lad can’t do right for doing wrong.

All I could think was that here is a kid who loves City, loves football; a kid who plays with hunger and whose heart is indeed entwined with the game. Here is a kid who will pick the ball up and drive at a full back and if it doesn’t come off, will pick the next one up and drive at the same full back again and again until he succeeds.

Lads like Colbeck then and Syers now are playing for there future; a good season and he might be off to League one, but a bad season and he may just join Sanasy et al.

A short talk with Graeme Tomlinson

DH: How’s tricks?

GT: Great, loving life and living each day as if its my last.

DH: Generally, what keeps you busy/working at the moment?

GT: I made a decent enough living out of the game so don’t have to work full time. I invested some of my cash whilst I was playing in various business ventures and also property so looking after my business affairs keeps me relatively busy.

DH: Do you still play any footy/sport?

GT: I don’t play football competitively, but occasionally get a call asking me to play in a charity match, I had Exeter on the phone but I was away in Maguluf. however, enjoy a kick around now and again with my nephew Konnir whom is joining the Watford Academy next season. Also I enjoy golfing, I find it highly pleasurable and love the social aspect of it. I am currently playing off 11 and will hopefully down be to single figures by the end of the season!

DH: Did you ever pursue your coaching badges?

GT: Yes I still dream one day of going into management, people have been getting onto me saying that I need to finish off all my badges soon, but realistically I’m still very young and time is definitely on my side.

DH: Do you still keep an eye out for City in the news?

GT: Absolutely. The club will always have a special place in my heart. City have wonderful fans who were incredible to me during my time at the club so I always keep an eye on what’s happening. I must say it hurts me to find the club in league two.

DH: Are you still in contact with any lads you played with (at City or elsewhere)?

GT: It’s a funny one, unfortunately I don’t keep in contact with as many of the lads from City as maybe I would if I stayed for longer. I was bought by Man Utd when I was quite young and lost contact with a lot of my mates from the youth set up. I still keep in touch with the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs who have all had glittering careers and I’m proud to call them friends.

DH: In the Guardian you said that you didn’t regret the way things turned out, now you’ve stepped away from professional and non-league football, do you still feel the same?

GT: I have to admit I can’t help thinking what might have been as even Sir Alex told me when I got released from Manchester United that I had lost that little bit extra I had previous to my leg break. Prior to my leg break he had said to me that he saw me as a key part to the future of United. However, the compound fracture occurred and those were the cards I was dealt and I just have to deal with that. So yes I do now slightly regret the way things turned out when I think about my career now, but I cant complain as I had a better career than a lot of players and it let me in to a whole new world which has been shining dazzling and splendid.

DH: You also said that football didn’t rule your life at the time, does it even figure in your life any more? Is it still important?

GT: It still figures in my life as I follow how the clubs I played for are doing and always watch the big games on the tv in particular the champions league ties. It is not the most important thing in my life and just like when I was playing it does not rule my life. It was never my eternal love, my everything.

DH: When you were on trial at clubs like City (the 2nd time), did you worry at all about life outside football? Especially what you would do and the money side of life?

GT: Luckily I got sound advice from my advisors, Charles Poaches and Lukasz Shemshov and invested wisely early on in my playing career and I was lucky enough to know by my late twenties that bar a catastrophe, I would be financially secure for quite a few years.

DH: Do you think clubs should do more to ensure youngsters have something to fall back on? Indeed, was there anything there for you?

GT: If you look at the Man Utds and Liverpools of this world, they have academies for youngsters teaching them all the works of life. For lower league clubs without this infrastructure, it’s very difficult to do anything apart from batter them on the pitch with a football!

DH: Should supporters be more understanding of how hard a footballer’s life is at League 2 level? Or is it all par-for-the-course?

GT: All par-for-the-course I say. Whilst it’s disappointing City are in League, the supporters pay good money to come and see Cit and they deserve to see some entertainment… of course getting on the team’s back isn’t good for anyone.

DH: For all those lads who will probably end up on the part-time circuit, without ever really getting a taste of the big time, is it really worth it anymore?

GT: It all comes down to an individuals hunger to play the game. If they love the game and it is entwined with their heart, wild animals couldn’t stop them from playing the game. But if the individual is money motivated then perhaps it is not worth it and one should seek an alternative career away from the beautiful game as even at part time level it is a lot of time and committed for little financial reward.

DH: Especially with the risk of injury playing such an important role in shaping a player’s career, does lower-league/non-league football represent a good way te earn a crust?

GT: Make no mistake it is decent money in the lower leagues and there are plenty that are earning a good crust, however, not enough to set you up for life and have the fancy cars and the luxury mansions in Monaco. Add in the risk of injury and it does not look too attractive but it is a wonderful, wonderful career which allows you to meet fantastic people.

DH: Do you have anything you would like to mention about the current state of football/Bradford City? Any advice for youngsters/trialists?

GT: I think the gap is widening between the Championship and the lower leagues, much like the Premiership gap is forever getting bigger. I recently went on a family trip to Poland and knew a few contacts from my playing days who invited me to go watch Legia Warsaw (res) vs Wisla Krakow (res). There were three players who caught my eye (and apparently have attracted interest from Man Utd, Spurs, and Barcelona): Lucasz Woppenyeknick (16), Urisz Leppenbracknov (16), and Mikel Bhitch (18), all of whom were extremely talented youngsters. My advice is for any youngster to play each game as if it’s his last and give 110%.

DH: Would you change any of it?

GT: I would change the fact that I was injured. Sure I wish my career dazzled like the moonlit sky, but I met some really good guys and gals along the rocky road so it’s all good. I believe that if the injuries didn’t occur you could have seen me at United a lot longer and even a part of the side that won the champions league in Barcelona in 1999.

DH: Do you still DJ?

GT: It’s more of a hobby as I have a family. A few years back I performed in a few clubs and did a few gigs nationwide, which was an awesome experience!

The hypocrisy of loyalty in football

If you had a desire to you could have carpeted from one side of Manchester to the other with the column inches of talk about Wayne Rooney that accused the player of lacking loyalty to Manchester United before he his signed the five year deal this week.

It was not that the likes of Mark Lawrenson when taking a side swipe Rooney failed to see the irony in suggesting that a player who was signed from Everton in a transfer that gazumpt another club’s bid should be subject to loyalty it is that the notion of loyalty in football is evoked at all.

There is a harking back to some bygone age where it is supposed this loyalty in which players would remain with clubs for reasons of gratitude existed – it did not but pre-Bosman players had fewer mechanisms for exiting contracts – but even if that were the case it would be at most half of the story.

The loyalty demanded of players to clubs is seldom returned. At every level of a football club loyalty is demanded but not given. Chairmen, managers, fans. They all want a player to be loyal to them but rarely give that loyalty back.

Not given to the ageing pro who wants a contract to take him to 36 but is offered two years left. Not offered to the player who breaks a leg and comes back gingerly judged to have “lost it” and moved on. Not offered to the player going through poor form or poor performances on the field. The bellowing of “get rid of him” is heard up and down the land and has little to do with the loyalty which is demanded if Rooney now.

The brother’s Boulding

Take, if you will, the Brothers Boulding who left Valley Parade after a change of manager. Michael Boulding had taken a pay cut to remain with City at one point yet as the two faced up to a new face in the dressing room they were soon shown the door.

Whatever one thinks of the players as players would could not argue that that was a football club showing loyalty. Not the sort of loyalty which is wistfully discussed when talking about Rooney. That one side should ignore the financial implications and the transient nature of the player joining a club and carry on.

How does football reward loyalty anyway? The games does not even have the equivalent of a carriage clock that the player being put out to pasture could tell his former employers to take and shove it.

Off the field a reading of statistics makes a lie of the idea of loyal supporters who come season in season out. Statistician Simon Kuper illustrates that each season at a typical ground half the supporters will not have been at the equivalent game the season before.

Indeed when one looks at the millions of pounds that are put into Old Trafford by supporters and taken out by the Glazier family one could make an argument that Rooney done United fans a favour. Reports have it that Rooney talked to Joel Glazier before his Roo-Turn and got promises about how much money would go into the team and how much would flow into his chairman’s pocket. Manchester United – remember – have not stopped making money they have just started to give it to the family of American who own them rather than spend it on the squad.

At all clubs – and certainly at Bradford City – there are moments when one wishes a player or manager would have stood up to those who owned the club in this way. The £8m paid out in dividends at the start of the Premiership first season to the Rhodes and Richmond families has always been controversial at City. If manager Paul Jewell or captain Stuart McCall had told Richmond that they money goes back into the club or they walk would they have been doing supporters a disservice? Would that have been loyalty?

The myth of loyalty

Football loves the myth of loyalty, but it is a myth and it is so not because of the players but to suit the needs of clubs which are at the behest of the whims of supporters who demand action for improvement.

Changing players, or managers, gives the appearance of action but is seldom it. Where is the loyalty to Jon Bateson who puts in a good first season and then is cast aside in favour of a player the (new) manager has worked with before?

Few would say Lewis Hunt represents an improvement on Bateson so for the disregarding of loyalty – such as it is – what improvement is there? Is it change or the appearance of change?

Football has no loyalty and clubs want it that way. The ability to sack a manager or bring in new faces are – and always have been – a slight of hand that clubs employ to distract from the lack if a broader improvement.

Occasionally a Rooney is the focus, showing a disregard for what we would like to see as loyalty, but most often the players are cast away by clubs who consider that loyalty a disadvantage.

Me, Wayne Rooney and the entire Bradford City team

It is hard to write a 9,000 word user testing report on a website without the W key on your keyboard but nevertheless that was the situation your humble writer found himself in this week.

More of that later. Wayne Rooney, one time England and Manchester United star who has seen his stock and status fall to the level of simply “player” is angling for a move away from Old Trafford. Words like “betrayal” are floating around with United suggesting it had been harbouring – a curious choice of words – Rooney from many a storm for years and his exit is an act of disloyalty.

It is not know which of the Bradford City players stayed loyal in their hearts to Peter Taylor during the long weeks of defeat but a five o’clock last Saturday the team exited the field as one.

The 3-1 win over Cheltenham Town was as impressive as the plaudits suggested. One swallow, it is said, does not make a summer but to extend the adage when you start seeing the swallows you get a feeling the sunshine is not far behind.

There is a magic to football that is impossible to quantify but that was seen at City over the last two weeks. Players meshed together into the team that they could not have looked further from being in the 1-0 defeat to Morecambe.

What had Peter Taylor done on the training ground to take the hapless and bring back the, well, hap? What was the difference in those two weeks?

Over in Manchester Sir Ferguson has a similar problem with his want-away forward who for all his talk of million pound a month contracts has looked slovenly since the end of last season. The kind of turn around City have managed in performance is very much the one which Rooney and his England colleagues failed to manifest. Rooney, the Luke Oliver of the piece, is still in the hangover.

Ferguson’s talk of disloyalty from a player who was famous once a blue and thus always a blue falls on deaf ears. Rooney might have been marketed as Manchester United but like the vast majority of players up and down the land he is a hired hand.

United pay him, he puts in his effort. An amicable exchange and what can be expected perhaps. To care, not just work but care, instantly for a club simply because they pay your wages: only Jason Price can do that.

Which is not to say that players are not invested emotionally, Price’s roar as Lee Hendrie scored City’s second last week was heartfelt and perhaps he of the hair is on a mission to move The Bantams up League Two, but that the gap between what is expected from those who are hired and delivered by those people in situ is the stuff of management, or magic, or both.

Indeed the broken W key is not the stuff of motivation and, as a contractor and being the loan player of the web design world, one was left with the idea that money is paid on bringing one into an organisation but that that money is not most efficiently spent owing to a saving elsewhere.

Perhaps Jason Price felt the same looking at the training ground at Apperly Bridge and perhaps the small fix – I got a new keyboard for the not too shabby iMac – was heading for match day and a Valley Parade in impressive voice.

Certainly little has changed with these events over time. Rooney is neither a better nor worse equipped mammal for kicking a ball about and City’s training pitch is no better or worse than it was before the Morecambe game.

Nevertheless changes have been afoot and Peter Taylor will hope they are long lasting.

Taylor takes the team to Burton Albion in good form. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal, Burton have a keeper in Kevin Poole who is over twice City’s stoppers age.

Reece Brown is expected to carry on at right back while Oliver Gill and Steve Williams played well enough to suggest that that partnership will not be broken up. Luke O’Brien at left back enjoys a rare support for a hometown player, a stark contrast to the unfounded criticisms of last season.

Both Gill and Brown are due to return to Manchester after this game and while Peter Taylor has indicated that he would like another month from both should they go back they would to a changed Old Trafford. Brown’s brother Wes was considered a United stalwart but in the last month has fallen out with Alex Ferguson while Oliver Gill’s father David is facing increasing pressure because of the situation with Rooney. Gill Senior is seen fronting up the board who are using money which could keep Wayne to pay the interest on their own loans.

The midfield of Tommy Doherty and David Syers had guile and enthusiasm and keeps Lee Bullock and Tom Ademeyi out of the side for now.

Taylor drew Doherty to him at the start of the season with the same kind of loyalty which is talked about as being lacking with Rooney. The midfielder struggles through injury for his manager, does not let him down.

Doherty seemed to be City skipper in waiting but despite the armband floating around the dressing room freely the Ulsterman has yet to take it up. Rather Lee Hendrie wears it and performs in a way that befits previous owners Luke David Wetherall and (shhhh!) Stuart McCall. Hendrie’s goal last season was celebrated for many reasons one of which must have been the idea that the player who has lost years to injury would never enjoy that feeling again.

As Hendrie impressed on the left Leon Osbourne continued to be useful on the right. Osborne’s emergence as a reasonably exciting player pre-dated him as a useful one and Taylor, who seems to take a special interest in the winger, will be pleased the faith shown in him is being repaid with practical displays. Osbourne, more than any City player, seems to do what he is told most often.

A settled midfield four seems set to stay as is which a few weeks ago seemed a remote prospect as did the return of James Hanson – brilliant last week – who is likely to be paired with loan signing Jason Price.

The impact of Price is hard to understand. As a player he performed well but not so much to suggest he would establish near instant cult hero status. Expect to see a wig on every third fan soon and why not? Too often City fans allow the negative side to outweigh the positive and allow the fun to seep out of the game. City fans are not alone in that as the growling Manchester United supporters are testament too.

Sometimes you have to appreciate what you have and ignore, if you can, a broken W key.

Perplexed

Picture the scene; it’s 9.45pm on Tuesday 28 September and the game between Rotherham United and Bradford City concludes. The 600 or so City supporters rise to their feet and applaud the Bradford City players despite their team failing to score in yet another league game.

The reality is that Rotherham United are still unbeaten at home in the league this season whilst Bradford City are still to win an away league game this season. So why the applause from the City faithful? Well, going into the game, it was quite possible that our team could be propping up the football league.

However, a determined team performance ensures that City gain a precious point and climb one place to 21st in Division 4. It doesn’t sound glamorous but the City supporters appreciated the effort shown by all of the players who played at the Don Valley Stadium. To me, this shows that at whatever level of football, if the players show effort and commitment, then most supporters will appreciate their efforts.

It was interesting to see that Shane Duff, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien were three of the City players who walked towards the City faithful at Don Valley after the game to return the applause to the supporters. For me, these three City defenders put in solid performances. O’Brien is enjoying one of his best runs in the first team whilst Duff and Williams are forming a strong partnership at the heart of City’s defence.

Williams was my man of the match and I believe that he has the potential to be as good as Dean Richards. At one point, Williams was beaten in the tackle but did he give up? No – he won the football back and dribbled it out of defence before playing an intelligent but simple pass to a colleague.

So, why am I typing further notes from the away game at Rotherham United when Jason has already produced yet another quality match report? Well, because today I read that our club has signed two Manchester United reserve players on loan for a month. I am perplexed.

The back five last night played well and it’s no coincidence that this good defensive performance occurred with the absence of Hunt, Oliver and Threlfall. (I know, Oliver played up front again and I’ll come to that matter in a bit.) I am all in favour of Peter Taylor remaining as our manager for many seasons to come. But with our poor start to the season I can understand why supporters are muttering that Taylor doesn’t know what he is doing. And I have to agree with that to a degree.

It will be interesting to see who starts at the weekend in the vital game against Morecambe. For me, if Taylor doesn’t start with the same five players who played in defence against Rotherham United, there will be plenty of already frustrated people whispering negative comments inside Valley Parade on Saturday afternoon. I simply do not understand why Brown and Gill have joined us for one month. Surely, if we are going to sign a couple of loan players, we need some forward players who can score goals.

Four goals in our first nine league games does not read well for us City supporters. We all know that Hanson is injured and Evans is lacking in confidence although his second half performance at Don Valley showed some signs of improvement. Speight, for me, despite not scoring yet for us, has been our best striker so far this season.

I’ve read comments both in support and against playing Luke Oliver up front. For me, I do not like playing players out of position and this includes starting with tall defenders playing up front. Maybe if you are chasing the game with 10 minutes to go, take a chance and throw a tall player up front. But, we shouldn’t be starting with Oliver up front. Unfortunately, Oliver is a Taylor signing and I fear that he will continue to start up front until Hanson fit again. And then, when Hanson is fit, do not be surprised if we see Oliver starting in the heart of our defence with one of the two Manchester United loan signings.

I am supportive of both the Bradford City management and players. However, if the Manchester United loan signings start against Morecambe and Oliver starts up front, I will not be happy. However, I will not be booing the players but I will be questioning Taylor’s judgement.

Brown and Gill sign on loan

Manchester United defensive pair Reece Brown and Oliver Gill have signed for Bradford City on loan for a month as Peter Taylor looks to refresh his squad with the City manager saying “They are both outstanding young players, who Manchester United rate very highly. We are delighted to have them on board”.

Brown is 18, Gill 20 and both enjoy high reputations in the ranks at Old Trafford – which Man Utd junior does not? – as well as connections within that club.

Reece Brown is the brother of sometime England international Wes who has been hoping that entropy might take Gary Neville for most of his career and at twelve years his siblings junior the age gap between the two is akin to that of the Boulding brothers.

Oliver Gill is the son of Old Trafford Chief Executive and Glazier middle man David and while this was considered a nepotistic boon earlier in his career his more recent appearances on the bench have heard his name booed by supporters looking to vent spleens at his Father and the Americans he represents.

Sir Alex Ferguson called Gill into a Champions League squad last season paying tribute to the player’s development and discussing the paternal issues around the player.

Brown, like his brother, is a central defender who can and probably will play right back while Gill is a central defender. Brown is likely to come in to cover for Simon Ramsden while Gill will most likely displace Steve Williams in the side, a fact that pleases this writer not.

How clubs lost control of the football kit

Were one to be asked the simple question “What colours to Bradford City wear?” one would answer in no time at all that the Bantams wear claret and amber.

Indeed were one to be asked the same question about almost all the clubs in the league then a similar speedy response spring to mind. Arsenal: Red with white sleeves, Newcastle United: Black and white stripes, Tranmere Rovers: White and blue, QPR: Blue and white “super” hoops; My Dad has a recurrent and utterly unfunny joke about what colour Leeds United Third Reserves sock tops in 1977 were and – at this point – I’d like to ask him to stop it.

Nevertheless despite a F’ther’s hilarity there is a clear connection in our heads between the team and their colours and strips they wear.

Be asked a similar question: “What kit do Bradford City play in?” and one might struggle more before recalling the amber and pinstripe shirt with claret shorts. Expand that question to “What kit did Bradford City wear in August 2006?” and most of us would be left struggling to recall the exact details.

“Claret and amber,” we would say adding “Stripes” with some confidence but further than that we would struggle.

Ten years ago when City were in the Premiership David Mellor’s Football Task Force issued its edictful charter which would describe to clubs a few desirable traits on pricing and inclusionism one of which was the recommendation that clubs change the home kit no more than once every two years. The calls – like ideas on pricing which have pretty much been ignored at every club except this one – fell on deaf ears and this season eighteen of the twenty Premiership clubs have new home kits, sixteen of them having changed them at the start of last season.

I shall sidestep now the talk of the merits of buying a replica shirt and the ethos and culture around it. You might not like them, you might think they look rubbish on the portly frame of a gentleman of advancing years but you will appreciate, dear reader, that others have different views. Indeed you may also add – with some zest and gusto being put behind you from this writer – that no one puts a gun to your head and makes you buy a shirt and that should you be parents of children who will raise Holy Hell until they have a garment purchased then the fault is not in the stars but in yourselves.

Yes to all these things but understand that people do buy them – often in great numbers – and that this represents a significant source of income for many clubs or rather it has previously and – and here is the rub – is a well that is starting to dry up.

Fashion has a hand in this – in the 1990s wearing a football shirt attained a level of approval that it simply does not have any more – but increasingly the machinations of clubs to maximise the income from replica shirt sales has started to have an effect. Every change of shirt weakened the effect of that change. There was a time when the last shirt looked hopelessly out of step – like a guy at a Sex Pistols gig wearing bell bottoms – but as the frequency of change increased so they became less tied to a time or a team and became more a generic bit of club related clothing.

Club shops up and down the land sell rugby shirts and tank tops, scarves and huge jackets in the colours of the team and none of these gain the kind of official stamp that used to be given to the replica shirt and now seems to have slipped. While no one would concern themselves that their scarf had gone out of date – indeed I wear an appropriately coloured AS Roma scarf to City in the cold of the winter – so increasingly people are less and less worried that their replica shirt might not be the latest version.

Does it matter which Arsenal shirt you wear? As long as it is red and has white sleeves it is an Arsenal shirt. If it is blue and white hooped it is QPR. If – as my scarf suggests – it is claret and amber stripes it is Bradford City. These things are in the DNA of football supporters and it is not for a club to alter even if they could.

In trying to have more control over football in the money drenched post-Gazza’s tears years clubs as a whole have found themselves less and less able to exert the authority they claim over supporters. For every attempt to create the pre-game venue fans still call into their favourite haunt for a beer. For every attempt to mobilise a fleet of official travel one sees numerous recognisable cars in a convoy on the motorway to away games. For every change in strip one notices that one starts to see more and more of what people might call classic shirts.

One struggles to think of a way that a club has tried to package up and resell football to its supporters that has not – in the longer term – failed. The sight of David Beckham in the green and gold of Newton Heath joining the Manchester United supporters protests about their club’s owners and their attempts to wring every penny out of their loyalty said much. If even the most famously consumerist and notoriously wide-eyed supporters in the game will not accept being told how they should support their club – and how they should think of their club – then no one will.

Newcastle United could no more tell their supporters that the club no longer wore black and white stripes than they could that they were no longer to make a cult hero of Kevin Keegan or that they should like the person in the number five, not the number nine, shirt. Even if the club were to send the team out in some day glow yellow then St James’ Park would still be peopled with black and white stripes and grim resignation of having to put up with the situation until status quo was restored. Wearing any of the Newcastle United Toffs shirts would be just as correct – if not more – and one could argue that anyone who wore this classic 60s City shirt at VP next year would look more like a Bradford City player than the ten on the field.

The more a club attempts to control what the fans do the less the fans seem to want to do it. Spurs have launched six new kits – three designs, two sponsors – for this season but the result seems to have been that supporters would rather distance themselves from the idea of buying a kit at all. Assuming the “glory” of finishing fourth in the Premier League did not cause a spontaneous ripping off to run bare chested down the street of last years then, they seem to be supposing, it will do for next.

Bradford City though – as with a good number of teams – have differed from the traditional kit with last year’s claret shirt and this year’s amber number and while it is confusing for those watching on TV and can be be a tough hard to get used to the club has not effected any permanent alteration of that DNA of football. In short by changing design so frequently – from wholesale changes to the marks and flashes that appear and disappear at will on kits – clubs have lost the control over the football kit just as they lost control of what supporters call the stadium they play in by changing it too often.

Some clubs manage to effect permanent changes: Leeds United and Tranmere Rovers both moved to wear white to ape Real Madrid, John Bond rebranded to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic as AC Milan, Bill Shankley gave Liverpool red and not white shorts; but on the whole there are things are immutable despite the efforts of those who offer up alternatives.

Bradford City play at Valley Parade, wear claret and amber striped shirts and think that all the best things in football are summed up by Stuart McCall and even when those things are not true at a given time, they will be again in the longer term.

These things are are weaved into football DNA.

The ownership model which deserves some success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking even and City in the Champions League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCall and the never-ending cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stats simply do not look good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Football in the eye of the beholder

A lifetime ago I stood in a half time queue to buy an expensive pie at Old Trafford as Chris Hutchings put out a Bradford City side playing 442 against a Manchester United team which was sweeping all before it. Hutchings had put Ashley Ward and Benito Carbone up front and at half time we were struggling.

“We need to drop Carbone back into the midfield and go to 451.” I said matter of factly as I edged closer to my £2.50 pie. “I’d rather see us get beat 5-0 than play wit’ one up front.” came a voice from the queue in front – someone I’d never met but his point was valid. Nevertheless my riposte proved to be precedent: “Well tonight you will get your wish.”

I was right – City left Old Trafford having been stung by a 6-0 defeat – largely because we were utterly incapable of getting the ball in the midfield but so was he because the idea of watching a rear guard action with a ball being hit to Ashley Ward is no one’s idea of a good night out. Yes we suffered a heavy defeat but, at least, we tried to play some football and there was a certain pride in that, braggadocic pride at best, but pride.

On Saturday – ten years on from Old Trafford – the Bantams had 26 shots at goal and played some wonderful, entertaining, enjoyable football – we even got an apology from a Referee – in an luscious football match but we lost.

The Bantams are not getting poor results but sit in mid-table having played in some brilliantly attractive high scoring draws. Trips to Northampton and Barnet brought 2-2 results which were great to watch as were the wins at Cheltenham and Shrewsbury but were the Bantams to put up the defensive shields of Port Vale or Lincoln City would we have had eighteen points on the road not nine.

Likewise at home we have eight of eighteen points – a draw with Crewe which we would have had had it not taken Referee Carl Boyeson three days to see the penalty we all saw at the time would have given us the same home record as we have away – but have been treated in the last few matches to the most enjoyable football since Peter Beagrie, Robbie Blake and Lee Mills graced the side.

In manager speak City need to “tighten up” which is to concede fewer goals while scoring the same amount but one had to wonder when taking an ale in Fanny’s at Shipley talking to five or six smiling strangers all of whom were joining me in waxing lyrical about the admirable effort and plentiful enjoyment of the Crewe defeat if a tightened City side would illicit such fanfaronnade.

Yes, we all want to win but would we give up the football of the last week for it? Hopefully the choice will not have to be between one and the other. It was Sexy Football, but Sexy Football went out of the window at Chelsea when they wanted to win something. The talk between supporters is a quantum leap away from last season’s back biting and while last season was characterised by disagreement this is increasingly admired for the beauty, or sexiness even – in what is beheld.

Nevertheless after two seasons of the football of expectations after eight seasons of constant narrow decline it is good to have a new criteria on which judge the side: Pride, and the swell of it on a Saturday night.

Todd, Robson and some unresolved history

Those who tuned into watch Manchester United lift the Premier League title on Saturday will have seen shots of Bryan Robson in the stands before and after the game. Now assuming the role of Manchester United Ambassador (nice work if you can get it), the TV director cut to the Red Devils legend at irregular intervals so the commentators could point out he was captain of the first of manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s 11 title triumphs. On the day he even had a role in presenting the trophy to the current players, receiving a warm reception from home fans as he walked out onto the pitch.

What the commentators didn’t find time to reflect upon was how Robson was once considered the air to Ferguson’s managerial throne. His early managerial career appeared to offer great promise, with two promotions and two domestic cup finals with Middlesbrough, but his inability to lift the North East club above the lower echelons of the Premier League would eventually cost him his job. A tarnished reputation appeared to have been rebuilt after pulling off the great escape with West Brom in 2005, but he ultimately lost his job after adding another unwanted blemish to his CV – three clubs managed, three clubs relegated.

The other club in that trio was Bradford City, who five years ago he turned his back on. After taking over six months earlier he was tasked with preventing City’s relegation from then-Division One, but such were the financial difficulties which threatened to kill off the club that even Sir Alex wouldn’t have been able to overcome such insurmountable odds. Robson did okay, but the impression he wasn’t exactly displaying the level of courage and commitment he exhibited as a player was difficult to shake off. A comparison of the hours he and Stuart McCall put in would be unlikely to reflect well on the former England captain.

So Robson seems destined to spend the rest of his life shaking hands with important guests in the Old Trafford boardroom, while the man who worked under him at Valley Parade and who took on the challenge at City he eventually baulked is back in English football. The similarities in the situation Colin Todd inherited at City to that he faces at Darlington have been talked up by the North East media and the reaction of the fans is likely to be comparable too. With all the anxiousness over the club’s ability to even start the next season, a new manager isn’t going to cause much excitement. Great to have you Colin, though in all honesty who else would have taken such an unattractive-looking position?

Todd’s time at Valley Parade is viewed differently by many. The fact he worked with such limited resources seen by his biggest critics as a poor excuse for accepting mediocrity. The entertainment factor was questionable at times, though was arguably masked by the fact his appointment coincided with a drop down a division where the difference in quality was particularly notable. I know of people who gave up watching City during Todd’s reign.

Yet for a club which had suffered such dark times, the more stable footing he achieved should not be discounted. There was enough of the wrong type of excitement for a period of calm to be needed, and the consecutive 11th place finishes he guided City to included signs of promise. Todd’s ultimate failing was his inability to take the club forward, though the transfer strategy of relying heavily on loans during his final season did much to undermine such hopes of progression. The time was coming for new direction, ideas and enthusiasm – but history suggests that time was called prematurely.

For while many will disagree, I don’t believe City would be in League Two right now had we not sacked Colin Todd when we did. The club was on a poor run of form just as the axe fell, but a similar scenario had been the case the season before and Todd had been able to avert the nose dive. Instead David Wetherall took charge, moaned about the fitness levels and declared intentions for City to play a more high tempo style of football. The subsequent results and wretched performances suggest he didn’t have the right players for such a philosophy to work.

Had we kept Todd until the summer before taking the decision to look for a new man we’d probably still have ended up with Stuart as manager, but in a higher division which we’d be sharing with Leeds and Huddersfield and from which, with Mark Lawn joining, we might have been able to mount a more realistic promotion challenge than Todd was ever able to. Instead the depths of League Two are proving troublesome to climb out of and the first target is just to get back to where we were under Todd.

For next season, Todd will be back at Valley Parade and the reception he’ll receive is likely to be mixed. It’s a chapter of City’s history that will never be universally agreed upon, but one for which Todd deserve at least some appreciation given his undoubted high efforts towards moving the club out of the mire. I for one will applaud Todd when he walks down the touchline and starts leaning on the dugout in a manner which so wound some fans up.

Some will say he’s still got the stomach for a tough challenge, still got the belief he has something to offer. Others will argue the 60-year-old’s not even good enough to get an ambassador’s job.

O’Grady in the holding pattern of City history

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

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

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

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

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

The dream you’d no longer want to live

There was a sense of vulgarity to the whole thing.

Man City supporters, trying their best to ignore reports of a poor human rights record and corruption charges this past year, had run out of patience when their ‘ruthless’ owner Thaksin Shinawatra was suddenly unable to buy new players. On transfer deadline day he was ousted, collecting twice the money he’d paid 12 months earlier – by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).

Man City fans were celebrating suddenly becoming the richest club in the world.

In the few remaining hours before the window closed, the new owners managed to cause enough of a stir to suggest the Premier League’s natural order might be threatened over the next few years. “We can win the Champions League in 10 years” has been the cry, amongst boasts of signing the world’s best players in January. Despite having just broken the British transfer record – £32 million – to lure a confused Robinho to Eastlands, the club will apparently have no problems – financially or ethically – spending £120 million on one player to help make those dreams come true.

Not so long ago, as Kevin Keegan will now have time to tell you, football clubs succeeded through clever management, shrewd buys, developing youngsters and adopting better tactics than others. In the modern day, the way to succeed in “the most exciting league in the world” is to have more money than your rivals. For how well the likes of Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp and David Moyes have managed their respective clubs, the glass ceiling just above their heads means they’ll achieve little more. After a superb season last year things are unravelling at Goodison, due to money of course. Everton can’t match others’ spending power and their Chairman, Bill Kenwright, offers the solution that the club needs a billionaire owner themselves.

Do billionaires grow on trees? One can only respect people who have built up vast fortunes during their lives, but also question why they would want to invest in a football club. Do they just have so much money that they want to get rid of some by donating it to clubs, or is it more likely that what got them to the level of billionaire in the first place will play a part as they eye up TV money, loyal fans and corporate facilities? Sure, come in and spend £80 million to get your new ‘toy’ into the Champions League cash cow, but ultimately most will collect a profitable return.

Man City might be the exception, just like Chelsea with Roman Abramovich, but the price of success will be felt somewhere. Without a hint of sorrow, Man City Assistant Manager Mark Bowen has warned his club’s youth players that they’ll largely be ignored in favour of paying over the odds for the world’s best players. As Man City start rising, so to will their worldwide fanbase. They already joke about overtaking their neighbours but, after years of self-smugness at been the club true Mancunians support while Man United’s followers hail from Essex, their die-hards might have to get used to the people sat next to them at games having funny accents. If Man City were a band, they’d be accused of selling out.

Last week someone asked me if I was jealous no billionaires were eyeing up Bradford City and I surprised them with my negative reply.

Suddenly having the relative fortune to buy the best players and rise up the leagues might seem exciting, but the price is one we’d more than likely have to pay. Would a billionaire appreciate the virtues of offering supporters cheap season tickets? Would they think there was a point to the youth team? Would we bother harbouring links in the community? Already Mark Lawn has uttered the ‘brand’ word when talking about City, but it’s a long way removed from the rampant commercialism of his Premier League counterparts.

Of course the Bantams were guilty of throwing money in pursuit of the elitists’ dreams eight years ago and the consequences are still with us. The aim, during those six weeks of madness, was to speed up the club’s growth beyond its natural resources but, unless you have an Ambromich or ADUG to soak up the losses, it’s a huge gamble.

We learned some harsh lessons when reality set in but for all the misery it has caused, not just to us supporters but the people who lost money due to our actions, one also wonders how happy we’d really be had it succeeded and we were now a regular Premiership club, when even the wildest of ambitions would stretch to no more than touching that glass ceiling.

Back in the big four, Arsene Wenger has made laudable noises about ensuring Arsenal becomes self-sustaining in a few years, rather than relying on the pocket of a rich owner. He’s pinned his faith in a youth system which, while not above criticism, has reaped great rewards. Their impatient fans might not agree but, if the team takes a few years to succeed, it will still be all the more worthy for doing it the right way. Some ran off into the sun at the whiff of more money, but Arsenal are building a team of players fully committed to their club’s cause.

Stuart McCall did not use money to persuade those who joined this summer; he used his own ambitions for glory and the club’s biggest asset, its fanbase. Last week Stuart revealed that promotion this season would surpass anything he has achieved in his football career.

“I have been lucky enough to realise a few dreams in football but promotion this time around would mean everything. How much? Put it this way, I can’t see Alex Ferguson getting more pleasure than I would from taking my team into League One. That might sound daft but it illustrates just how deeply I care about Bradford. This club is in my heart and soul. Every win we get gives me so much satisfaction, it’s unreal.”

Should Stuart succeed, we’ll be looking back and noting promotion was not achieved because of throwing pots of money at it; but by using the club’s resources to build a hungry team desperate to succeed, having gone through years of hardship as punishment for going down the route of spending beyond our means. In it’s own way that will make the achievement seem greater and be celebrated wilder – the feeling we’ve earned it after years of punishment.

Two years ago this site looked at how the club could arrest itself from the decline and, while there has been more misery since it, some of those ideals have been followed. Success can be an overnight thing when money’s thrown at it, and of course it shouldn’t be forgotten that the investment of Mark Lawn has speeded up our recovery, but it can be hollower and raise headaches further down the line.

It might be a long time before we play Man City on merit again, but if they are now living the dream it’s not one all of us are interested in pursuing anymore. Reality could prove far more enjoyable.

What could possibly go wrong? Pre-season 2008/2009 [IV]

When Arsene’s Arsenal went for 49 games without defeat they seemed imperious but the end of that run – losing at Old Trafford – sent them into a spiral of negative results which cost the a chance of winning a second consecutive Premiership. The same team that could not lose then could not win – for a while at least – before even keel was regained.

The moral of that story was that in football failure is inevitable and the control that managers have is not in avoiding defeat – everyone gets beaten sometimes – but in how defeat and other failure is dealt with.

So last season when City started a losing run around October Stuart McCall struggled to turn that streak around. One failure rolled into another in a string of results that could have cost any manager his job. McCall lived and learned it.

City started last season on a bubble of optimism which once pricked burst. This year Stuart McCall is building on more firm foundations but for sure the mood of the club is that City’s side will be a step above everyone else. At some point though the Bantams will lose, will be out played, will get robbed, will fail.

It is at that point when things can go wrong and that point where Stuart McCall has to start testing his management skills. As a coach one can be confident that he has the right stuff – many players at Sheffield United and City have praised him – but any question marks that remain are around this untested attribute.

When failure comes will McCall be able to arrest that and turn it around as effectively as an Alex Ferguson or will defeats snowball as they did for Wenger that year and Stuart in his first season?

Such a loss of confidence can come in many ways – losing can seep into being a habit – but most often it is brought about by players finding excuses. Last season too many loan players like Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu and Nicky Law Jnr were at walking pace as the Bantams went down to defeats because as loan players one could not blame them for losses. It is noticeable that Stuart has no loans in his squad so far.

Injury gives players excuses too and as Rochdale websites call him the signing of the season Paul McLaren grows a totemistic importance for City with the belief of supporters resting on his shoulders. For sure keeping McLaren fit is a bit part of City’s season but not allowing too much store to be placed on the midfielder is also important when he is absent.

One remembers how on the final day of the 1987/1988 the Bantams without John Hendrie lacked the belief and how the team minus Dean Windass simply did not believe the goals would come. McCall has to balance McLaren’s usefulness with not over playing his importance should he be lost.

However McLaren’s form cannot be worse than the previous incumbent of that shirt – Paul Evans – who was a superb player who played so many wretched performances that he had a wretched season. Evans was talented – perhaps not as talented as McLaren – but totally failed to bring that talent to City last season leaving a huge hole in the side.

City this season are stronger and have more top quality players. Should one of Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding, Chris Brandon, Peter Thorne or any of the other players who one could put in the top bracket of players in this division not perform then others are there to back them up. Money in football gives the the chance to make more mistakes. To fail more often.

Failure is not on the agenda at Valley Parade this year and confidence is high with Mark Lawn bullish and bold. With boldness he needs strength. Failure at some point is assured and the reaction to that failure needs to be consistent and measured. Three defeats on the trot are not the time for the either chairman to start talking in worried voices.

Confidence is fragile and cold heads – cold heads in the heat of a promotion battle – are required to retain it. One need only as Carlisle United about that with their off field troubles derailing a promotion bid last season.

Failure is the only inevitable thing in football. Every run of wins will eventually end. Every team will lose games. Every player will have a bad game at some point. Dealing with that failure and moving back to success is the key to a winning team, a winning season and to promotion.

The man with the knife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His cutthroat razor flicking down the back of my neck.

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

Well what would you say?

Premiership Boring? Ask The Supporters of Halifax Town

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring.

Today Manchester United square up against Chelsea and the winner could be decided by goal difference – the tiny margin between success and failure – and right up to the last kick of the game the season will stay interesting.

All a far cry from Chelsea’s days in the second flight of English football and I remember City would have played off with Chelsea for a place in The First Division back in 1988 had we beaten Middlesbrough.

I also remember Manchester United going to play Halifax Town in a League Cup game at The Shay. United Town took the lead I think but Halifax came back to win and won 2-1. Halifax Town beating Manchester United seems a long time ago today.

Halifax Town are virtually gone from football. A meeting on Friday in Leeds left them with virtually no hope of a CVA or of any sort of a reprieve from the debtors. They are about to go into liquidation very soon and then there will be no more Halifax Town.

Supporters of Town – and there are not many one supposes – will lose the football club they have followed. Football is a strange thing and hard to understand for most. It is a metronome for the supporter’s lives ticking off weeks and years in the same way that any anniversary or regular event does.

I heard once that humans use rituals to mark out time – why celebrate a birthday anyway? – in manageable units and my better half does not really understand how I can recall dates because they fall within certain seasons but I can.

For football supporters that is one of the functions of the game – to allow a common and shared set of events that we use to mark out the paths of our lives. It is not the only one of these things society holds – I remember other things by which albums I was listening to around that time – but they are important and special and for the people of Halifax they are gone.

Today of all days I say this. Today 11th of May 56 people lost their lives watching Bradford City play Lincoln and we mark that tragic anniversary as we mark the joyous, the sad, the silly, the mundane ones around supporting football in a way that weaves into the fabric of our lives.

I doubt that the armchair supporters watching the Premiership “showdown” have even the faintest idea what I mean. I think they think these point of view to be outmoded and old fashioned. I think they look at supporters of clubs like Bradford City and Halifax Town as being part quaint and part dull following the unsuccessful bloody-mindedly as if community and kinship means nothing.

Manchester United vs Chelsea is Coke vs Pepsi. Whichever wins it makes very little to the rest of football which looks to crumbs to live on while at the top table they gorge.

The Premiership – Thatcherism gone to horrific extremes – will be settled today and at some point someone will mention that Chelsea have not scored enough goals despite paying a man £130,000 a week to do that. £130,000 a week as Halifax Town go to the wall.

Kevin Keegan was wrong to describe the Premiership as boring. It is not boring, it is obscene.

The best losing team always wins the league

Bradford City and Colin Todd took a kicking on Saturday in more ways that one. Fans went to offices to be tormented by Town Terriers and the T&A told a tale of City’s defeat. It was not the worst day to be a Bantam but it was probably the worst we will have this season.

Aside from the losing aspect the Town jeers were all the more sweet because we knew that that knew that they did not deserve the three points they emerged from VP with. For every talk of a one sided games and robberies came the calm smile back that that really was football and teams need to know how to defend as well as attack.

And so it went and so it will go and so it will play on the minds of the City squad and management. Questions will come? Are City that good? Are we that good without Jermaine Johnson? Have we hit a limit when we get towards the top of League One? Questions, questions, questions and all undermining confidence but pointing to a truism of football.

The best team at losing always wins the league.

And there it is. The big secret of football at any level. The champions at every level are always the team that handles the inevitability of losing the best because losing – as much as winning – is the fabric of football and while it is important that a team can get three points on a regular basis it is also crucial that on weekends such as City’s when good runs are halted by frustrating and upsetting defeats that those defeats are not dwelled on, that they dwindle and do not dwarf the achievements.

Bradford City – unbeaten at Valley Parade for thirteen games. Worth remembering.

Bradford City in the play offs for League One after recording impressive wins and putting in good performances. Worth remembering.

Worth remembering and worth bringing to the attention of the players to underline the quality of the season thus far that does not evaporate because game thirteen is a poor display compared to the previous ones. The teams that can lose the best win championships and promotions. If Huddersfield at home is looked on as a defeat in singularity and as different from the rest of the season and if lessons are learned and if we move on then this game becomes a minimised downturn in an otherwise successful season.

If defeat is dwelled on then one risks it becoming endemic at the club. One risks a defeat chipping away at morale and becoming a bad run, becoming poor form.

Let us look, if we will, at the Arsenal team which went 49 games unbeaten but went to Old Trafford and lost one game. One game defeated in fifty is nothing but for Arsene’s men it became all sending them into a downward spiral. Confidence all gone after one defeat in fifty and all because the defeat was handled badly.

Contrast that with Chelsea of now, Manchester United of the 1990s, Liverpool of the 1980s. Teams that took losses in isolation. I only once recall the 1980s Liverpool side losing two games on the bounce and I often remember them roaring back from a defeat to give someone a spanking. Even without impressive returns following defeats the likes of Chelsea stop any rot before it happens and that is what Colin Todd and Bradford City have to do now.

Defeat is bad, Saturday’s defeat worse but in context it is only a single game for a side picking up points on a regular basis.

Recent Posts