Nahki / Armstrong

And so the rumours continued.

Greg Abbott announced that Bradford City were interested in signing Adam Armstrong from Newcastle United while The Times are reporting that Armstrong’s parent club are now interested in Nahki Wells who, should he move to St James’ Park, would trigger a percentage clause in the transfer deal that took Wells from Bradford City to Huddersfield Town and give Bradford City the cash to spend on a striker.

The breathlessness of the above is indicative of a change in football over my eighteen years writing this website.

It used to be that football supporters lived for the football matches. Now the matches are a frequently ignored data point in the continuing narrative of squad gathering. Hull City’s victory in the first two games of the Premier League season is a quirk in the story of a team with too few players.

Bradford City beat Coventry City, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United in eight days but this has not stopped the conversation around the club being entirely about who should be brought into – or moved out of – the squad.

Improving the squad may or may not be something that is needed this season – that would be a retroactive judgement made in May 2017 and speculation before that – but it is hard to imagine what football supporters would do in August if they were not talking about squad gathering.

Football supporting is now Pokemon Go with young men filling in for Pikachu.

Two

Nevertheless there are two things to note about the current cycle of rumour around Adam Armstrong arriving on loan from Newcastle United.

Notice how it is Chief Scout Greg Abbott and not Manager Stuart McCall who is talking about Armstrong. In fact it is Abbott who leads much of the conversation about recruitment to the club.

This in itself is in keeping with Abbott’s remit at Valley Parade and no bad thing but it is as stark a contrast with Bradford City up to the Summer of 2016 as one could see.

When Archie Christie had Abbott’s role he was geographically abused for having taken too high profile a role in transfer dealings and taking control away from the flailing Peter Jackson.

It is almost impossible to imagine Phil Parkinson’s Chief Scout Tim Breaker fronting a discussion on a target as Abbott does. In fact the first time most City fans heard Breaker’s name was in the revelation that he had left the club with Parkinson to join Bolton.

Abbott’s increased profile is a good thing. For football clubs to get better at transfers there needs to be a group-think approach to recruitment. Too often deals are done by managers to best serve the aims of that manager rather than the club.

The £250,000 that Phil Parkinson was able to reuse from the deal that took Oliver McBurnie to Swansea City was reused in the manager’s budget that season but as McBurnie starts to impress in Wales it is worth wondering if the long term aims of the club have been best served in that deal. I’m not the only one to have worried that after Parkinson, Lawn and Rhodes there is little left behind at Valley Parade.

Transfer group think is not popular in the English game – Liverpool’s transfer committee is seen as a problem – where any control taken from the manager is seen as a bad thing inherently.

my years of football have convinced me of it.

So Abbott speaking for the club is a change but and so it what Abbott is saying.

Should Armstrong join City on loan – perhaps as a result of Wells joining Newcastle United and freeing up the younger forward to move on – then City will be able to play Armstrong and Jordy Hiwula up front. Obviously this are two loan players.

City’s bid for Matt Green and the reported – or perhaps that is hopeful – interest in Adam le Fondre suggest that the alternative to a young loan signing not is an older permanent deal.

Which is a contrast to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims when the new owners arrived.

Much was made of the fact that City could find value in signing released players from Premier League Academy football, turning their careers around, and developing them. That was how Bradford City would scale from being a League One club to being a club able to get into – and stay in – The Championship.

Hiwula or Armstrong or Josh Cullen might play well for City but the value for that will go elsewhere. City might get promoted because of their contributions but – we are told – when they are gone City will not have a Championship quality team.

Which suggests that either the plan has changed – let us hope not – or the plan was never there – let us very hope not – or that City are caught up in the Pokemon Go of squad gathering as much as the supporters are and that a deep breath would be best for all.

What are we trying to achieve and is signing Armstrong the way to achieve it?

On the day that Wells was to join to Newcastle United then City will be richer than they were. How is that money to be spent? Is it a scatter-signing for a player in August 2016? If it is how is it going to work better than when Stuart McCall scrambled for signings in his first spell as manager when the budget fluctuated wildly?

Which returns us to the central question of 2016 which is how are City without Parkinson, Mark Lawn, and Julian Rhodes going to be better? Indeed are they going to get better? There is no reason to assume an era of success will be followed by another and every reason to assume it will not be.

Is The Rahic Development Plan still being followed? Is it being followed by everyone at the club? If it does then it would make more sense rather than bringing in Armstrong to find a promising teenage striker we own or can own – such as Reece Webb-Foster – and give him the development time.

And while doing that take any money that comes from a resale of Nakhi Wells and use it to fund infrastructural additions which will make the club able to stand up in the Championship.

Club / Preview

It will become obvious, dear reader, how little new Bradford City owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp are like former Bradford City owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes and how that difference is going to change the club over the coming years.

It was noticeable when talking on Radio Leeds that City’s James Mason told a story about how Stuart McCall – when he was approached for the City job in 2007 – was told by Julian Rhodes that had he not accepted the role then the club may fold. Indeed we might recall that the weekend after McCall’s final game Rhodes was faced with the same existential question over the club.

As Lawn and Rhodes recede into City’s history – where they will enjoy a luxurious place no doubt – one can expect lips like Mason’s to continue to loosen and the stories to tell themselves. When they do Bradford City will have moved on.

And moved on with Rahic and Rupp who are starting to generate warmth amongst City fans. Rahic took to a flat cap in Wednesday night and impressed people. His plan is to prepare a club for The Championship and allow football osmosis have its effect.

Having kept the season ticket prices “low” – of in German terms “high” – there was a move towards lower match day prices to £20. One wonders how far into a German model the pair will go and one assumes not to giving 50%+1 of the club away to supporters.

Rahic and Rupp’s changes to the club are glacial. There is much talk about improving the infrastructure around the club which had been previously underfunded with what seemed to be an effort from previous manager Phil Parkinson ensuring that as much of the budget was spent on the first team as it could be. It was noticeable that the new Bolton Wanderers manager has noted that he was not wandering around his new place of work in awe of the facilities he now had at his disposal.

A stark contrast to Benito Carbone’s statement that when he arrived at Bradford City he could find “Nothing that resembled a football club.”

City’s trusty facilities in Apperley Bridge have been subject to improvements but one wonders how much of Rahic and Rupp’s planning might include a move away to somewhere bigger, better, and more well suited. Peter Taylor had agreed a move to Weetwood in Leeds and Geoffrey Richmond was keen to build new facilities at the top of the M606.

City’s scouting structures have never been especially well stocked but in Greg Abbott Rahic and Rupp – and Stuart McCall – have appointed the highest profile person in that position the club have ever had signalling an increase in importance of the role. Forget Abbott as a former player City have never had a former manager in the role.

The importance of Abbott will become more obvious in time but from Rahic’s statements it seems that something of a transfer committee – or at least a transfer group think – has been build up where manager, chairman and Chief Scout get heads around a table to discuss not only the current transfer hunt but the plans for the future.

Assuming that Abbott’s future is not tied directly to McCall’s this gives City a possibility of institutional retained knowledge. Also it summons up the image of Parkinson and his Chief Scout Tim Breaker sitting down with Mark Lawn to talk over – rather than tell – which players they should be signing.

When do these changes manifest themselves? Slowly, one suspects, but in a determined way the fabric of the club around Bradford City is going to be different from this point on and different in a way which builds into place structures which have long been needed.

Unfamiliar / Preview

Matthew Kilgallon joined Bradford City on a one year deal from Blackburn Rovers bringing a level of excitement to some supporters at the end of a summer where things at Bradford City fell apart and were put back together again.

The usefulness of Kilgallon’s recruitment will be seen in time. He and Nathaniel Knight-Percival joi in the central defensive position and Nathan Clarke and Rory McArdle remain. This gives Stuart McCall’s Bradford City three or four – depending on your view on Clarke – strong choices to start in the middle of the defence.

At the other end of the pitch things are different and attacking options are thin on the ground. McCall arrived in June to find James Hanson still at the club he had left five years ago but one could argue that Hanson and his colleagues players in attacking positions: Mark Marshall, Paul Anderson, Billy Clarke; need improvements on last season’s performances to be significant.

Teams score goals, not players and while four of those mentioned above could be more creative than converting – the flick down from McArdle’s diagonal ball is an act of creation – none could be said to have created enough.

Tony McMahon’s withdrawal to right back form the right wing – where he spent a season under Phil Parkinson – is a curious move from McCall exactly because it removes the one player in the Bradford City team who excelled in creation last season.

Drop

His name dropped into the preview it is worth acknowledging that Phil Parkinson is going to have more of of an impact on Bradford City 2016/2017 than Stuart McCall will. Parkinson – who of course exited for Bolton Wanderers in June – built as much of a monolith as football allows a manager to create in the modern game at Valley Parade.

Parkinson took his backroom team with him to Bolton and his backroom team – it is reported – took everything they had worked on with them. Once again – just as with the situation a few months prior to Parkinson’s arrival at Valley Parade – the file cabinets that contained scout reports were empty and the structures around a football club were scant.

And it is this way because Parkinson wanted it this way. The former Bradford City manager had had experiences sharing out the power at a football club previously – most notability at Hull City – and found it wanting. Parkinson fought a hard fight against unspecified directors with unspecified roles to make sure that he had some control in every aspect of the footballing side of Valley Parade and he won those fights.

There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop young players and so Stuart McCall arrived to find no young players with first team experience. There was no pressure on Parkinson to create a squad which was sustainable from one season to the next. There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop a squad with resale value until new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp arrived at the club and – within a few weeks – Parkinson was gone.

Rahic and Rupp arrived to replace Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes as Bradford City owners and began to talk about a future in which the squad was shaped around recycling the waste product of Premier League academies.

That last statement sounds needlessly dismissive and should not. If one looks at the example of The Chelsea Academy of the last fifteen years one can only think of a single player – John Terry – who was not waste. Millions are spent on players who are discarded for not reaching and elite standard but are able to be turned around and made into useful footballers.

A production line of turnaround players is as close to a business model as the game at lower levels has ever had and one which Rahic and Rupp believe they can benefit from. Clearly the club they bought was an ill fit to achieve that.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes freely admitted that they could see no other way of the club going forward than someone arriving and injecting more money and, as the ultimate result of that paucity of thinking, they were prepared to give Parkinson total control of all football matters.

Which is not to say that Parkinson should not have enjoyed carte blanche to do any or all these things as he sees fit. Parkinson’s methods showed constant year-on-year improvement and perhaps would have continued to do so but without the manager ceding some control they would not have aligned with the owners.

Parkinson used many short term contracts, and Parkinson used many loan signings, and Parkinson was not entirely interested in developing young players, and if the club are now interested in long term permanent signings of young players then it starts from a negative position.

Which is a long way of saying that the 2016/17 season – the first post-Parkinson season – is defined by the decision taken by Rhodes and Lawn to allow Parkinson to be the entire centre of the footballing side of Bradford City. There was no institutional retention of knowledge – the scouting cupboard was bare – and that is the result of choices made before June 2016, not after.

Five

Phil Parkinson’s final finish for Bradford City was fifth in League One and it is that which – rightly or wrongly – Stuart McCall will be measured against in the next twelve months as will Parkinson at Bolton Wanderers.

Both measurements could be unfair. For Parkinson his record of first season success is thin and the Trotters would be better to be prepared to wait.

For McCall he is a manager who started late and without structures which are necessary. McCall has not walked into a Southampton where the manager is an appendage to a well run system. He is at a club which – both rightly and wrongly – allowed itself to be defined by its manager and who has now gone.

There is much work to do to replace Parkinson and while Rahic has an idea of the shape that he would like the club to take in the long term there is no reason at all to believe that any of the work ahead of McCall, Chief Scout Greg Abbott, James Mason or Edin Rahic can be achieved without any negative effect on performance.

That Bradford City that finished fifth last season is gone and progress must now be judged anew.

These are unfamiliar times.

Timeline / Reboot

There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss, but when it looked back at us, you blinked – Bruce Wayne, Crisis

There was a point in the history of Bradford City where the club took one turn, and could have taken another.

To be more accurate these points happen all the time but watching Stuart McCall take a Bradford City through pre-season at Guiseley I ended up thinking back to the days of January and February 2007 when Dean Windass was allowed to leave City and join Hull, and Colin Todd was sacked.

Todd’s contract was up at the end of the season and it was an open secret that Julian Rhodes wanted McCall to replace him. The need for totemic best player Windass seemed to be over with Rhodes convinced that the Bantams had enough points that David Wetherall could not possibly get them relegated in his time as manager (which he did) and had he not Rhodes might have used – not certainly not needed – an investment from then supporter Mark Lawn.

And had Rhodes excersized restraint and kept Todd, or Windass, or both, or taken another option then McCall may well have arrived in June 2007 to the very type of situation he found himself in some nine years later.

But these things happen all the time. Had Notts County’s one yarder in the first round of the League Cup 2011/2012 gone a foot lower then there would not be a Phil Parkinson legacy – such as it is – for McCall to adopt.

That legacy is not to be understated either. Parkinson has left City in rude health. The leanness of the squad in summer which caused so much consternation is purposeful and a feature of the majority of clubs outside the higher reaches of the game where lengthy deals on players are more often liabilities than assets. Only the foundations are secured in League One football these days.

And the foundations off the field are secured.

Parkinson – as far as the story is told – never walked into the boardroom and demanded money the club could not afford for players and given how easily led the boardroom seemed to be that is a good thing. That the squad last season was patched with loan players rather than panic purchases says a lot.

List the players from last season who City owned to still be at the club this season and names like Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby – both absent today and for the start of the season following operations – would be iterated through. Ben Williams and Jamie Proctor would not.

“The owl of Athena spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” – as Hegel should have said – and it seems that dusk has not come yet for Parkinson.

Rather than a reboot of 2007/2008 and McCall’s first time as Bradford City manager in League Two it seemed that the manager was on the road not travelled, and playing in what could have been.

What was was an entertaining encounter. It would be wrong to talk about Guiseley as more than an extended and expensive training session and so to pick out specifics rather than trends seems to miss the point of the exercise.

Those trends though seemed positive.

The young players who stepped up from the lower ranks which Parkinson ignored and played with the élan of The Lisbon Girls allowed out to party for the first time. Daniel Devine’s name suggests itself.

The trialists looked lively in a way that seemed different to those Parkinson brought in. All looked capable and some looked impressive. The wheat from the chaff comes in spending time with the characters and seeing how they fit into a unit which is what games like this are all about.

It was good to see George Green make a long awaited debut. George Green and the subject of paths not taken is interesting assuming you remember the name.

And of the new signings Nathaniel Knight-Percival did not have much to do while Nicky Law Jnr set up an equalising goal for Tom Hateley (trialist) to score from. That moment when Hateley equalised revealed the game for what it was. The Bantams were happy to kick the ball around but would not go home in a defeat. The gears shifted up after falling behind showed a team working fitness rather than working to win.

And all seemed new. Parkinson has left something good at Bradford City but his exit seems to have taken with it some of the stolid tenancies which mired City’s thinking. All that was good seems good and all that was not seems new.

Which is not something that one would have expected.

Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Selection / Manager

First this then what? While the history of BfB remains unwritten if I were to follow our friends at A Post in doing so there would be a large chunk of that about the process of recruiting managers.

Because while Bradford City have not had to appoint a replacement manager for some five years in the five years before the practice was becoming so common as to have started to be tedious.

The transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson was something of a disorganised fumble with the candidates being interviewed not understanding the remit of the role they were applying for. Colin Cooper is believed to have told Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that were he to get the job he would sack Chief Scout Archie Christie and Rhodes reply – as reported by Christie – was that Christie’s input on the manager would weigh heavily on the process.

At the time Rhodes and Lawn had wanted John Still the then Dagenham and Redbridge manager (who is now manager of Dagenham and Redbridge again) to take the position but were turned towards Parkinson as a better option.

Jackson’s appointment was a Sunday afternoon nonsense where it seemed that the club had decided that as a former player Jackson could skip an interview process for who would replace Peter Taylor and go straight to the manager’s chair,

Jackson had been working in a care home when he got the call to become a football manager once more. In my view he was barely adequate in his performance and the problems of his appointment were those of his departure. No matter how Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp go about recruiting the new manager for Bradford City one doubts it can be worse than that period of the club’s history.

Peter Taylor had been an outstanding appointment to replace Stuart McCall bringing to the table a seniority which McCall lacked and a proven track record of success. Taylor’s time at the club is rightly not fondly remembered but it is his professionalism rather than the lack of material which stopped him from sticking a few boots in on the way out.

The Shane Duff fish story speaks volumes.

Taylor’s appointment is perhaps the model that Rahic and Rupp – and any other chairman looking – would best follow when looking for a new manager. Selecting a candidate who had achieved success is important but much more important are multiple successes across different situations.

This adaptability is probably what attracted Bolton to Parkinson. Parkinson has worked on a budget at City at first, and at Colchester United, and he has shown an ability to take on big occasions at Chelsea, Arsenal et al.

There is an element of confirmation bias in Parkinson’s appointment.

The news that Chief Scout Tim Breacker is leaving with Parkinson comes as music to the ears as the club badly need to readdress that area. Parkinson’s recruitment was becoming an problem at Bradford City. Of the players he was happy with Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and Kyel Reid were all picked up a long time ago and if there was a faultline between Rahic and Parkinson along the idea of recruitment then one would struggle to suggest that the manager should have been allowed to carry on doing things the same way.

Likewise following the defeat to Millwall I expressed a concern that Parkinson had created a kind of Oakland Athletics in League One (The Oakland A’s being the subject of the book Moneyball) which was able win in the grind of week to week football but were found wanting at the sharp end of the season.

That concern was just that – a minor concern, rather than a fully stated question – and of course is denied by memories of Aston Villa away and Stamford Bridge but while the strength of Parkinson was his team’s ability to grind out results and sneak 1-0 wins that was a weakness when overplayed.

One should never be critical the the days of milk and honey ended but Millwall game illustrates this concern. In one of the forty five minute periods – the first – the Londoners dominated City and in the others the Bantams were arguably the better team but did not repair the damage done.

Perhaps more significantly to the concern is that in those three forty-five minute periods that followed Parkinson’s side did not seem as if it could repair the damage of being 3-1 down. Keeping game’s tight and nicking goals works over a longer period, less so in a two legged tie.

But would overplays this at one’s peril. Parkinson was an exceptional Bradford City manager and as Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp look for his replacement they must hope to keep the best of Parkinson.

Parkinson’s teams were seldom out of games. Rarely were the side over a goal down and always did it look capable of getting something out of an encounter. One of the more compelling reasons to follow Parkinson’s City on the road was the fullness of the ninety minutes of football. Never being out of a game was a watchword of the previous manager, and hopefully will be one of the next.

This was in no small part down to the spirit Parkinson’s side had which was second to none seen at Valley Parade. One could write books about how the players aided each other through bad moments that stopped bad games and probably still not understand exactly how that team spirit worked. Suffice to say whatever it is needs to remain, as to Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle the chief proponents of it.

Finally Parkinson’s pragmatism needs to be a factor in the new manager especially when confronted with the stated iconoclasm of Rahic and Rupp who have a clear idea of how they want the Bantams to play (“High pressing, exciting”) but may have to accept as Parkinson had that tactics are created to suit players and situations. Parkinson’s final season at City was defensive by necessity. The new manager, whomsoever he may be, should hope to make sure that he understands this.

Wandering / Parkinson

If Phil Parkinson is going to Bolton Wanderers – and at the moment it seems that he is not – then Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp would be confronted by the perennial problems of Bradford City which dominated their predecessors tenure.

How does a football club give the manager total control while retaining institutional knowledge of how to bring success?

If Parkinson and his team were to leave, and it seems that he will not, then what at Bradford City is there to carry on the good work he has done? There is no Director of Football, no powerful Chief Scout, no Youth set-up turning out talent, no facilities that guarantee quality. It seems that the whole of the footballing side of Bradford City is Phil Parkinson.

Which is no bad thing.

Parkinson is the start and end of the football side of Bradford City because – one suspects – he wants it that way. His experience sharing power in a structure at Hull City that worked out very poorly. The club is shaped the way Parkinson wants it and that is probably why Parkinson is not looking to leave Valley Parade any time soon.

The manager as “club builder” is a massively out of fashion thing in football at the moment. Even the word “manager” is often not used to describe the man who picks the team who is often described as a “Head Coach” or “Chief Person Selection Architect” or similar. The structures to support the man who picks the team have long since bled over the lines that a person like Bill Shankly or Sir Alex Ferguson would have considered the remit of the manager.

And this may be no bad thing – too often clubs give a former player with no business, scouting, or planning experience the final say on everything at the club and a remit of a few months to start to show progress. Sharing the responsibility around a football club is a very good idea from the club’s point of view. The manager does not always agree.

Take, for example, the story of Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United. People all over Europe are scratching their heads as to why the Spaniard would go from The Champions League and Real Madrid to Tyneside and the Championship in the space of twelve months. The answer seems to lay in the responsibility Benitez has been promised by Newcastle United. He has been told he will have the final say on everything. That he can have the club builder at a club which (considering Leicester City are reigning champions) has genuine potential in European football.

No club of the size of Newcastle United in the rest of Europe wants a club builder manager. The offer is too tempting to refuse. Benitez could turn it down and find a club who want him to pick the team and sit on a transfer committee – and that might be a club that wins a league – but to control everything is to be the sole author of any success.

One assume that the same offers come into Parkinson – albeit under the radar – and are met with a response that unless control is near total then the City boss will stay where he is. Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri is praised for how little of the set up he found at Not Filbert Street he changed. Winning the Premier League is massively impressive but it is a shared success.

Any success Parkinson has – and a promotion and a cup final is pretty impressive – he is the sole author of. The difficulties Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had – and Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic now face – is how best to support Parkinson’s efforts without bleeding over the lines of his responsibilities.

Buy / Bye

Bradford City have been sold to German company ER Sportsgroup for £6m with current joint-chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes being replaced by Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp.

Rahic and Rupp will arrive on Tuesday and will continue to work with some of the current Bradford City staff but – troublingly – are attached to unsavoury noises about preferring Uwe Rösler to Phil Parkinson as manager.

This choice on manager is an early the acid test of Rahic and Rupp. I have said before that there is nothing about the playing side of Bradford City other than the things Phil Parkinson brings and to remove Parkinson would be to buy the club and throw away one of its defining features. To do that is just not the mark of sensible men.

However on Tuesday when Rahic and Rupp outline their plans for the club – and the newly formed ER Sportsgroup is called “group” indicating that the pair might have bigger plans than owning one League One team – should those plans include any form of youth development then one can see where problems with Parkinson’s methodology would arise.

Rahic and Rupp would do well to focus on improving recruitment at Bradford City in the short and medium term and recognising that Parkinson best serves most medium term aims. The club works better in The Championship and with better recruitment – and one notes Rahic has worked in scouting at Stuttgart – it would get there in short order.

However should the long term vision differ from Parkinson’s then – ultimately – they would replace the manager but in doing so without something very impressive to replace Parkinson with in terms of a structure and a pattern of success they would be damaging what they have bought.

If Rösler is arriving to serve that aim of assisting Parkinson then he is very welcome. There will be more on this, one suspects, in the weeks and months to come.

On Lawn and Rhodes one gets into matters of hagiography. One can read no end of appraisals of how they have saved the club in one way or another and the most nauseating of these are those with claim to speak for all Bradford City fans.

My views differ and if that is something which will hurt your sensibilities then return to the streams of praise and glory elsewhere, otherwise progress duly warned.

While he is a crashingly superb chap Julian Rhodes has proved himself dubiously effective at Bradford City in the tasks that he most often credited with.

Rhodes and Lawn are talked about as, indeed talk about themselves as, custodians and stewards of the club but Rhodes was there when £8.5m was paid out in dividends from the club which would spend a decade or more riddled with debts. Rhodes was there when the club went into administration with huge debts having received some of those dividends.

Rhodes was there when the club’s main assets (Valley Parade) was sold to one of its own board members in a deal which benefits that board member but will financially hamper Rahic and Rupp and has been a millstone for the club ever since. Rhodes was there when the club went into administration again in 2004 and watched as £500,000 from supporters pockets was what kept Bradford City going.

Rhodes was there when the club took a 9% above base rate loan from a new director which – were it not for Parkinson’s team’s historic League Cup final appearance – would still be outstanding and costly now.

I know Rhodes has done good things for the club and I appreciate the efforts he has put in and will be sorry to see him leave for reasons that – when I read the above litany – I cannot fathom. The impression seems to be that Julian Rhodes has always wanted to do well and perhaps, had he not ended up with the characters in the boardroom he did, he would have.

But that is not the case, at least not when one considers the club were in the Premier League and ended up at the foot of League Two via two spells in administration.

Perhaps the most honest history on Rhodes’ time at the club is that he represented rationality amongst irrational men and without him the forces of irrationality that allowed a football club to sell its home, to give its money to its directors, to come so close to non-existence, would have been more damaging that they have been.

As it is history named Rhodes the man who took City to promotion twice, and not the man at the club that went into administration twice, and that is nice for him.

History is set to lavish praise on Mark Lawn too, although one wonders for how long.

Lawn is a strange character to meet. Myself and Jason McKeown (mentioned again, like some forgiven child of mine) had a stand up argument with Mark Lawn where the joint-chairman had a tantrum at us for not having painting him in a better light in an interview that painted him in a good light.

Because the tantrum fell in the middle of an interview we were conducting with someone else it was recorded on Dictaphone and made for a curious listen later. Lawn’s main gripe seemed to be that we had been accurate in our reporting of what he had said and that were we more professional – Jason is, I’m not – then we would have changed what was said to something that was not said, but that he wished he had said, because it would have been better to have said that and not what he did.

I mention this because a lot of what I read about Mark Lawn seems to be from people who have had not had the pleasure of meeting him but judge him and his contribution entirely on the progress of the club.

Lawn gets credit because the last few seasons at Bradford City have been very good to watch and there is a reflection from that. How much impact he had on that, how much he created that, is something that will come out in time no doubt.

Lawn was – before Phil Parkinson’s arrival – the joint-chairman who took it upon himself to organise a training match to give a trial a South African player who – according to a ludicrous scene described in former manager Peter Jackson’s book – was not good enough to be a footballer. Lawn then abandoned the game because the players in the other Bradford City squad would not pass to the inferior newbie. That the City squad were involved in the charade Jackson details goes a long way to describing Valley Parade at the time just before Jackson left to be replaced by Parkinson.

He may also be the joint-chairman who – according to former player Shane Duff – used to insult the players performances as he served them lunch in the (admittedly excellent) 1911 Suite at Valley Parade. Imagine being at your work and hearing something like “here is your fish, and by the way you are garbage at your job”. Imagine being the manager trying to build a successful team in that environment. Imagine believing that doing that was a way to bring success. The mind should boggle.

These are two examples, many more come through grapevine. Many who encountered Lawn had a story of curious behaviour but vested interests and the desire to stay on the right side of the club are powerful motivators. With the need to stay in his good graces no longer important you might start to hear a second side to the story of Mark Lawn’s seven years at Bradford City and his role in the progress under Phil Parkinson.

You can choose to believe – Dear Reader – that Lawn went from failed scout (and, perhaps, demotivational chef) to architect of football success in the space of a few months if you wish but I would suggest that if you do then you convict yourself of naivety.

Your choice.

What should not be accepted though is the suggestion that Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn saved Bradford City.

Lawn’s claim to this has always been a mystery to me. Lawn invested in the club and a good deal of the investment – a loan and some funds – was spent on a promotion campaign with an increased playing budget. There was no promotion but the club did not go out of business as a result.

Had Bradford City not spent that money then the club would have achieved at least the same outcome but – considering later it would get to the League Cup Final with a smaller budget – there was no reason to suggest it would be endangered without it. Just that City wanted to spend more money to get promoted. The only danger of a bust was, not for the first time in City’s history, the result of trying to get a boom.

If Mark Lawn never offered his money to City then City would have just had to make do with (in one season in L2) a £1m smaller wage budget and still not have been League Two’s lowest spenders.

Mark Lawn as the saviour of City is a myth.

Julian Rhodes’ credentials to the honourific are a little better.

Rhodes and his family have invested into the club as well as taking out of it but given an appreciation of the comprehensive view of his time one might be tempted to suggest that Julian Rhodes saved the club from himself, or at least from situations in which he was involved.

It would be wrong to minimise the efforts Rhodes (or Lawn’s for that matter) has put in to Bradford City but equally wrong to overstate them. If he is to be credited as saving the club then he must also be attributed as being there when the club was put in danger.

Which is the crux of the matter.

When Bradford City was put in danger in 2004 following a schism between Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb it was not Rhodes who saved the club. It was you.

You and other supporters.

The supporters of Bradford City, and the community of Bradford and football at large, found around £300,000 in the space of a few weeks which was used to fund the club over the summer where football clubs have no income.

This ensured that when Rhodes wanted to return, and for that matter later when Lawn wanted to invest, there was a Bradford City at all.

Without that £300,000 – £300,000 raised by you and people like you and added to by Rhodes (see below) – Bradford City would have not been saved. Neither joint-chairmen at the time (Gibb and Rhodes) would fund a summer without income. When August and paying customers came round again Julian Rhodes was able to launch a CVA that gave him ownership and control of the club without Gibb and – according to the Kroll administrators at the time – with no debt.

That there was a Bradford City to sell for £6m in 2016 is because of the money you gave in 2004. Money you did not give as a loan at nine per cent, or in exchange for shares, or with any expectation of being paid back.

Julian Rhodes as the saviour of City is a myth.

It was not Julian Rhodes who saved Bradford City, nor was it Mark Lawn.

It was you.

If you want to give that credit away then again, your choice, but be very wary of anyone who wants to give it away for you or to take it from you.

As the club changes hands to new owners then it is worth remembering that the reason there is a Bradford City is not because of Rhodes and Lawn, or Richmond, or Gibb, or Rahic and Rupp.

It is because over the years supporters decided it would not let the club die despite the decisions in the boardroom by people who come and go.

Lawn and Rhodes are not the custodians of the club, nor are they saviours of the club. You are.

We are.

People can name stands after Rhodes if they like or build statues of Lawn if they have that much metal but never let anyone say that those people saved the club.

You did that.

Not the boardroom, the fans.

They messed up, you fixed it. You always do. You have the power, not them. Owners, directors, chairmen and all will come and go at Bradford City but you will remain.

You saved the bloody club. You are the bloody club.

Mr Rupp and Mr Rahic need to know that as they arrive at Valley Parade tomorrow.

End / End

All good things, it is often said, must come to an end and so it was that on the 48th game of a season that started with an unsettlingly easy 4-1 defeat at Swindon Town Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City acquiesced to remaining in League One for another season.

City lost a two legged game 4-2 to Millwall and while there was plenty to be said about those games: why was that wall lined up like that? Why was a handball to deny a goalscoring opportunity not the cause of a red card?; more needs to be said about how City got to the play-offs.

Parkinson’s team had been built to win promotion, but struggled badly, and what was built was rebuilt. 2015/2016 was the year of two the Bradford City teams. The first was a team with flying wingers – even in the inside midfielders were wingers at heart – and had a name goalkeeper and a pacey forward. The second was a nailed together collection of talented loan players, short term signings and making the best of what was there.

And to that extent the success of this Parkinson this season – his ability to forge a team from scraps – is also his failure in that the summer recruitment of 2015 has more than anything shaped the campaign. That failure is shared – very little at a modern football club is down to one man – but the lessons from it need to be understood for the club to make progress.

The success of this season was the return of Kyel Reid as Parkinson attempted in a reboot of his team. Lee Evans and Josh Cullen were better than anyone can expect a pair of loan players to be and Reece Burke showed no little ability but each of those successes is a retrofit to a mistake in the summer. Jamie Proctor, who others adore but I have reservations over, arrived a swap for Devante Cole.

Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall had campaigns which neither would like to remember. That Anderson’s was hampered by a broken leg was unfortunate but neither before or after did he look like he was going to prove as useful to the side as Reid has. Likewise Tony McMahon’s season leading number of assists is impressive but his place on the right hand side of midfield was a result of his failure in the holding midfield role Cullen would take.

It is impressive that Parkinson found a way to make McMahon work – he is certainly the City manager’s type of character – but had McMahon, Anderson, Marshall et al started the season as well the likes of Evans, Burke and Cullen finished it then the play-offs would have been a consolation in a failed promotion bid rather than a richly deserved reward after playing catch-up.

The failure to recruit a goalkeeper – remember Jussi Jääskeläinen in a City shirt – which concluding with a disinterested Brad Jones wandering away led to Ben Williams which in turn led to a team necessarily stacked towards defending. Williams deserves some credit for a record number of clean sheets this season but never had a City team been so committed to not allowing the opposition to cross the ball and that commitment to defence and mutated the team into a glass-jawed pugilist able to take nine our of ten blows but incapable of landing a knock-out blow and on the canvas when something gets through the guard.

The credit for Parkinson is that he recognised that he had to shape his team in this way and – after doing so – shaped that team superbly. The fix worked, and some, and the fact that City were in the play-offs at all is a success far outweighs the problems in the first half of the first leg, and the second half of the second, and for that matter in the summer of poor recruitment.

Without Parkinson everything that is good about Bradford City would be lost.

Change

Next season everything about Bradford City changes.

The game that Bradford City play is changing. The next time you watch Bradford City a player making a foul while trying to play the ball in the penalty area that denies a goalscoring opportunity will not be sent off with the penalty and a yellow card being punishment enough.

That player would be sent off were the foul outside the penalty area leading to the potential for a situation where a player in the first minute of a game might beg the referee to place the offence in the box, not outside it, thinking that one down with eleven is better than level with ten.

Also a dog can head the ball into the net now, and it can still be a goal.

The players Bradford City play the game with is changing. Obviously a large number of the current squad are either out of contract or were on loan. A retained list will come out which will probably reduce the squad by four or five – we may have seen the last of Billy Knott, and that is a shame – while Lee Evans has already bid farewell to be followed by the other loan players. We will miss you Reece Burke. We will not miss Wes Thomas.

Loans in the style of Wes Thomas will not be replaced. The FIFA laws of the game have long been out of sync with how loans work in the Football League and the Football League have finally had to comply. Loans will be made in transfer windows. The team at the end of August will be the team at the start of January – Paul Anderson broken leg or not – and so more pressure is put on clubs to get their summer recruitment right.

We will never see another Kevin Wilson month loan cameo at Valley Parade again.

The club or Bradford City is changing. You do not need me, dear reader, to tell you the rumours around the ownership of the club or how much credibility those rumours have gained. The Rhodes family – who own 66% of the club – have long since said they are prepared to sell.

Whatever the reasons why the sale has suddenly become motivated, and whomever the new owners are, the challenges for the club remain and were unconquered in the co-chairmanship of Juliand Rhodes and Mark Lawn. The story that Bradford City missed out on Leicester City’s en vogue Jamie Vardy caused some amusement earlier this season but City seem to spend the summer months missing out on targets. Andy Williams ended up at Doncaster Rovers when Parkinson wanted him, Mark Beevers reached the play-off final with Millwall having sat around a table with City.

This is not a new problem. Chris Brandon once stunned his manager Stuart McCall by revealing how much he had been able to negotiate as a weekly salary. The club missed out on the chance to sign Gary Jones 12 months before he actually arrived having shown him around Valley Parade. Just after that Parkinson told me and Jason (The WOAP man, when he was still of this Parish) than every club needed someone who could get a deal over the line.

Recruitment is identifying targets and acquiring them in the most efficient way. If it were Lawn and Rhodes, of Mr Palidini, or the Germans, or the contacts George Galloway had (who never seemed to materialise, like all of Galloway’s promises) the task would be the same. Find more players to choose from and then the choice is made, sign them for the right price.

And this is the final headline of length, and with sub clauses, about how change will happen

That Parkinson was able to make a superb season out of the wreckage of the Summer 2015 recruitment is testament to his abilities as a manager. He got it wrong, and then got it right, and his right was bigger than his wrong.

But as Bradford City as a whole woke up with a sad heart after play-off defeat its worth noting that any failures done did not happen on the field against Millwall but in the summer before.

Bradford City need to be better at recruitment or this season will happen again, which might be no bad thing because it has been a blast, but were we to get recruitment right then we have a manager peerless to get the best out of them.

Parkinson’s best ever Bantams keep their eyes on a further prize beating Aldershot 2-0 in the FA Cup First Round

Phil Parkinson ventured the opinion that the current Bradford City team who progressed to the Second Round of the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory over Aldershot Town was the best the manager has assembled in his time at Valley Parade.

Indeed many of the statistics which jump out from the game support Parkinson’s supposition. Ben Williams connected a fifth clean-sheet in a row on a night where he was never seriously tested and Rory McArdle looked comfortable alongside Nathan Clarke at the heart of the defence in a way that one could only have dreamed of after the opening day defeat to Swindon Town.

Indeed Billy Knott who was a passenger on the road to nowhere at at The County Ground on the first day has taken massive strides to where he should be as the type of take responsibility midfielder which is needed in League One promotion teams. It was Knott who flighted a fine long pass wide to Greg Leigh who burst into the box and deftly finished to end the game and three quarters deadlock between these two sides.

The quality of Leigh’s goal was something to observe but while Parkinson talks in glowing terms about his team that idea – of quality – is not often heard connected to the Bantams. It is interesting that while supporters may talk about City as necessarily hard working at best the manager is prepared to be proud and state that this win – a 2-0 over Aldershot – was the result of the best team he has put together.

Move back some five years or so and Peter Taylor’s Bradford City were beating Aldershot – then a league side – by a similar score and not pleasing chairman Mark Lawn. Lawn had recalled how Taylor’s side were less entertaining in only dispatching The Shots by this score rather than the more entertaining 5-0 that Stuart McCall’s side beat them. Indeed the City co-chairman said tellingly about the McCall side that “it was a different type of football but I believed it was a type of football which would get us out of this league.”

Now it would seem that the manager is confident enough in his positions – and why should he not be – that he is able to declare that it is this team, and this style, that will bring promotion again rather than bowing to the idea that his City side would be more atheistically pleasing.

More power to Parkinson’s elbow. Who knows what the viewer at home thought of the FA Cup tie that was featured on BT Sport but in the lashing rain of Valley Parade one could not help but admire the determination which the team put to the cause.

Determination in staying with a game plan and the game plan was to edge this game as it is all games. Keeping chances at a premium one end costs them at the other. Injury to James Hanson is a worry – Aldershot were given a Refereeing pass by man in the middle Keith Hill for some rustic tackling – but Tony McMahon’s penalty after Luke James was felled in the box put that worry back to being Saturday’s problem.

The next round promises Chesham United at Valley Parade – a team lower in the pyramid than Aldershot but equally deserving of the respect that Parkinson paid his first round opponents that manifests itself in taking the same approach to Cup games against the non-league as League games against rivals – and the hint of more to follow.

Last year Parkinson’s team beat Chelsea on its way to a quarter final. Parkinson thinks this team is better.

Bury, Wigan Athletic, styles of play and the reductionism coming to Bradford City

Constructionism

Three ways of playing football in a week on show at Valley Parade, and three different outcomes.

Foremost was Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City who – revitalised after a poor start to the season – play a direct game and press high looking to force mistakes from an opposition.

Parkinson’s side look to make the most of set plays and do. Both goals against Bury and the single strike against Wigan Athletic were the result of corners. That this will be the case was obvious as Wigan put eleven men into the penalty area every time Tony McMahon or Lee Evans crossed. It worked on fourteen occasions. On the other James Hanson headed past Jussi Jääskeläinen for an equaliser.

Wigan’s response to City’s strengths was to try counter them – naturally enough – while trying to play to what they believe are their own better qualities. Gary Caldwell’s Wigan side are quixotic in a belief that every move must be built from the goalkeeper to defender and forward and Jääskeläinen never once kicks from his hands. The try pull the compressed Bradford City side forward because Caldwell – as well as Parkinson – knows the need to counter the opposition.

David Flitcroft at Bury falls somewhere between. As the second goal – a deflection from former City man Reece Brown – bounces into the Bury goal Flitcroft forgoes his attempt to pass the ball and ends up with four players across the forward line. They will score in the dying seconds of the game when a long punt from the keeper is flicked on and then over shoulder volleyed past Ben Williams without having touched the floor from keeper’s hands to the back of the goal.

Flitcroft’s five man midfield met Parkinson’s strong banks of four in a first half in which both teams tried to make sure that there would not concede. Rory McArdle headed in just before half time from another well delivered corner. Bury hope to control games, to shut down games, away from home and as with Wigan they successfully identified Parkinson’s plan and looked to counter it. Bury are a burly side – more so than City – and at the end of the game Steve Davies run in the side would be ended as he begins three months on the sidelines.

This physical approach is also seen when Wigan Athletic score having felled the oak of James Hanson with a high tackle. This was not illegal – at least not illegal today for this referee – but City always seem much worse at dishing out this kind of physical play than they are at receiving it. The likes of Billy Knott might put in the odd sliding tackle and deserve the odd card (although not Knott today who is booked for being pushed over) but City seem incapable of making a tactic out of this.

The strategic physical approach is all over Wigan’s play. They are beasts one minute brittle the next and Chris McCann earns the ire of the crowd for faking a foul every time a striker goes near him. McCann is not injured, he will not miss three months, but he successfully stops City from pressing high as they fear more bookings.

This behaviour is effective and not isolated to the left back. You will not read about it in the morning papers when you read that Wigan Athletic try play the game in a better way than Bradford City but Gary Caldwell’s Latics gamify the Referee’s decision making process. Any Referee will book a player for persistent misconduct after five fouls and most players commit at most four in a game. An act of fabrication – be it in foul or reaction – adds to the natural attrition of discipline and scares back players pressing high.

To their credit Flitcroft’s Bury do not react in the same way and battle man for man with a City team which is getting used to hunting in packs. Knott starts to look capable as he did before his dalliance with the footballing graveyard of the “Attacking Midfielder”. He runs down players alongside Evans who provides a more than useful pass. Bury’s struggle to contain City as they leave defensive duties in search of two goals and Mark Marshall is criminally profligate in front of goal.

City miss enough chances to win the game against a Bury team which is aptly described as free-spending by four or five goals ending instead with a seemingly slim 2-1 victory. The response to the game is muted – the late goal took a gloss off the match – and needlessly so.

The draw with Wigan results in Tony McMahon punching the air as if in victory. McMahon was persona non gratis at City a month ago but having come into the bolstering right wing role his delivery and attitude have found a place and a balance with Kyel Reid on the wing opposite. McMahon is the spirit of the new City that emerged four games ago and has not lost since. His energy allows for a high pressing game and his delivery is useful. More over though what he does is working, and often that is all that is needed.

Neither Wigan nor Bury will adapt their games to exploit City’s most significant weakness of the season. Wigan artfully try to pass through Rory McArdle and Reece Burke while Bury look to play into a single striker. Neither cross to exploit the gap between Ben Williams and his defensive line and the goalkeeper has two good games to build confidence right up until Michael Jacobs hits a shot from the edge of the area that the keeper gets to but does not keep out.

For Caldwell it seems to be a matter of principal that players like Yanic Wildschut – too expensive for Bury who tried to bring him in from Middlesbrough – be able to dribble through the opposition. Later in the game Grant Holt is on the field but the service to him is not apt and he struggles. Caldwell can be proud of how rarely his team resorted to playing crosses directly to strikers if that was his aim but his aim counter-acted what often works against Bradford City.

And so City win and Wigan draw and Bury lose. The approaches to the game are different in many ways. Bury want to stop the home side playing but fail to do so and then become more direct than any team could imagine. City look to maximise set-plays and deliver the ball early and direct while Wigan Athletic want to play on the floor and take as long as they can about it. If Wigan cannot play how they want they will not play – simulating imagined offences – while Bury will be burly and too much so as they try claw back into the game.

Reductionism

The increasing level coverage of football has not increased the depth of that coverage and unnecessarily there is a reduction of the complex to try to be more digestible than it is. Ockum’s razor asks you to make things simpler but not more simple than they should be.

And so the way a team plays football is reduced from the multitude of variables to a single almost aesthetic consideration. How the ball arrives in the final third of the field. Is it lofted in from a defender, played from a winger, passed from a midfielder. Pick a variable and label a team forgetting anything else that most obviously is involved. Colin Todd called Phil Parkinson “the enemy of football” on the basis of such a reduction.

That reductionism has started a train of thought amongst Bradford City supporters which normally one could ignore – this is about the football and not about supporting the football – were it not to do more than form a significant part of the discussion around the pitch and start to impact what is on it.

With Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes already declaring that for City to prosper in football it would be necessary (in their opinion) for an injection of funds and perhaps their exit there is little prospect of City taking the approach that either Wigan or Bury have of trying to spend more than the rest of League One to escape it. It is possible – and I would say preferable – to be promoted without this sort of financial investment but as most teams are attempting the same that becomes hard to ensure. Would City with – as was wanted – the odd Doncaster Rovers player here and Jussi Jääskeläinen there be guaranteed promotion. No.

So without success – or perhaps guaranteed success – the questions become not about if something will be achieved then how it will be. It is not if City will finish in the upper-middle of League One it is how will that happen.

And so the suggestion is that without guaranteed success then the way that the status quo is maintained becomes important. If we are not going to be promoted then – the thought goes – can we at least be entertained? Do we deserve what oft sacked Steven Pressley described as “dark ages football

And of course this assumes one is not entertained already.

There is a school of thought – one that I subscribe to – that entertainment in football is not synonymous with passing football and that how the ball is delivered into the final third is but one of a number of things all of which can be entertaining. I have long since recognised in myself that I do not go to Bradford City games to watch Barcelona’s passing style. Indeed if I wanted to see that I would go to Barcelona – or at least watch the disturbing last bastion of acceptable nationalism on Sky TV – which I do not and will not do.

I would consider this to be symptom of a footballing culture which has allowed television to reshape it and is currently in the process of letting new media complete the mutilation. Highlight TV shows like Match of the Day sold the public the idea that one did not have to watch a full game to understand it, one could just watch a slice of it. It is garnished with a uncritical critical media who for largely commercial reasons repeat this same trope that watching football matches is of the waste of time that is the difference between ninety minutes and the highlight clips. To hear Robbie Savage blindly reading out appearance, league position and goal statistics to support his idea that a single incident can be extrapolated into the entire make up of a player is to commit suicide of the intellect.

This of highlight slice is further shrunk into clips of the highlights of the highlights which are distributed on YouTube creating a contextless football which is all about a series of ten seconds slowed down and repeated until one is convinced. One has never really appreciated the difference between the types of football supporter if one has not had to break up a work conversation with someone else who ventured to a Millwall, or a Walsall, or a Torquay to hear the progress of YouTube scouting on the latest player linked to a high up Premier League team.

At that point one can almost certainly guarantee that what you enjoy as a regular watching a League One team is not the same as what someone who has the mediated top flight football experience enjoys. It really matters to those people what pace EA Sports assign a player in FIFA 16. Really matters.

And it is for those people that football has contorted itself and continues to do so. The mindset that is rife in football – the middle ground – is one which suggests that only the things which make a good highlight reel are of value.

One is tempted to suggest that every person in a stadium has a set of elements they enjoy in the context of a football game and that while it will be true for some of them that they have haphazardly wandered into Valley Parade having mistaken it for Nou Camp BD8 for many, if not most others it will not be. For one person football might be about community, another it might be about victory and nothing else, and another might want to watch wingers beating men (one of the most exciting sights the game has to offer) and very little else.

It became obvious to me that I watched football to watch the narratives created around a set of players. To watch a boy become a man and a man accept – or not – the responsibility for how he plays his own games and then for his team’s performance. This arc is – to me – endlessly fascinating in its differences. Some players thrive, others do not, and watching a team over a series of weeks and seasons is watching the progression of that narrative. That Stephen Darby went from skinning kid to captain was a thing to be seen and to be enjoyed, that James Hanson went from the man who worked at the Co-op to a League Cup final was enjoyable in itself and that enjoyment had little to do with the type of football played.

(This contrasts sharply with the Mercenary team of Colin Todd where the likes of Bobby Petta, or Steven Schumacher, or Marc Bridge-Wilkinson were lauded for failing to take responsibility for the general performance of the team field and singled out for praise for individual displays. There was no need – under Todd – to make sure all your team mates played well, just yourself, and that attitude which Todd allowed was – to me – the enemy of football. Likewise at the moment Phil Parkinson’s neglect of the youth set up and disinterest in bringing through players is not something I enjoy.)

Yet the mix of reductionism and a belief that there is a single criteria of enjoyment is pervasive in discussions on the game to a point where it starts to be a metric to criticise a manager as if he had failed. The less one plays in this way which is perceived as what everybody wants the more a manager should be called to account. And at Bradford City we talk often about how we have “fans as chairmen” (I would argue we abuse that phrase) but by virtue of Mark Lawn/Julian Rhodes being fans they can be assumed to be vulnerable to the same moods as fans.

There is a constant background noise against Phil Parkinson for his way of player (“bilge“) but will anyone be critical of Gary Caldwell for trying to pass through the middle of a team who are so obviously vulnerable to crosses? Will anyone – other than the odd City fan – be critical of him for ostensibly allowing his players to fake fouls and injury to avoid having to cope with Phil Parkinson’s high pressing team?

One doubts it. Aside from not winning the reductionism in football criticism has it that only the way the ball arrives into the final third of the field is a subject of debate and criticism. Were I to watch City players behaving as Wigan’s were yesterday – “tactical simulation” might cover the charge very well – I would enjoy the game less regardless of result but factors like Parkinson’s unwillingness (for whatever reason) to “tactically simulate” are not brought into the discussion about the aesthetics of managers performances.

All other factors are filtered out until one returns to this idea that if the team is not to be successful it should play the game in a specific way regardless of the issue that maintaining a way of playing as dogma can be – and was in the case of Wigan – counter-productive.

Assuming Parkinson does not continue his trend of upward movement at City – and that is not a safe assumption to make – then he will increasingly be called to account for his approach to the game. Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allardyce, Charlton Athletic under Alan Curbishley, Manchester City under Peter Reid, West Ham United every other manager it seems that football is littered with clubs that believed that they should be playing the reduced, different, “better” type of football and slumped as a result.

This will be the discussion at Bradford City – if not in League One now then in The Championship later over the course of the manager’s three year deal – and the people who assume that all share their view that Parkinson’s approach to the game which is direct but is also honest is inherently worse than (for example) Caldwell’s passing and faking or Flitcroft’s controlled midfield and less controlled aggression. They will assume it is commonly held that a team that passes the ball into a striker’s feet is inherently better than a team of character, or a team of players who test and surpass their limitations, and they will demand it.

And you may agree with that, dear reader, but if you do not and if you believe that there are many thing about Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City you would not change then you had better prepare to take a corner and argue for what you want.

The reductionists are shaping the middle ground of football to be a bland nausea of highlights and YouTube clips. They want to take Bradford City and shrink it to the three clips that will look good on Football League Tonight.

If you do not want that you had better get used to tools of opposition against this reductionist mindset and get good at making your arguments.

The obvious quality of Phil Parkinson and how he could be the decisive factor in 2015/16 Promotion

The season starts and one thing is obvious: Bradford City will be promoted.

That is obvious. It is obvious because I’ve read it in FourFourTwo and it is obvious because Bradford City beat Champions Chelsea last season and that must mean that Bradford City can win League One.

It is obvious because City have brought in some real quality in the form of Paul Anderson and Mark Marshy Marshall, and while seeing Andrew Davies go is hard seeing Mark Yeates and Andy Halliday go is not.

And it is obvious because City finished a place off the play offs last season, and every season Phil Parkinson has improved Bradford City’s league finish, and as we all know no one ever gets in the play offs and does not win.

It is obvious and because of that it is a thought that has passed the mind of even the most negative Bradford City supporter.

No matter how many layers of cynicism a person might surround themselves with one cannot escape that feeling on a sunning Tuesday morning that this year is the year that City return to the top two divisions for the first time since May 2004.

But wait…

A Barnsley website who had, one assumed, lost Jason McKeown’s email address asked me to preview the coming season. They asked what my realistic view on the Bradford City season was. I chewed my pen (metaphorically speaking) and considered beating Arsenal, beating Aston Villa, late serge and beating Burton, Wembley again, beating Chelsea, getting to Wembley for a major Cup Final.

It struck me that at Valley Parade of late realism is in short supply.

And perhaps in that context it is excusable if all of us go on a little fantasy safari when considering the prospects for the season that starts at Swindon on Saturday.

The counter to those thoughts are the huge gulf that was obvious between Bradford City and Bristol City in the mauling of last season and the general lack of character in the team around that time. Reality comes in wondering if the Bantams have a Marlon Pack/Luke Freeman pairing as Bristol City had or a back line as strong as the one that took Preston North End up? Or a 25 goals a year striker?

At that point obvious stops being the operative word.

The multi-polar world

The temptation is, of course, to take the team one follows in isolation and to consider that if your team has done well in recruitment, or preparation, then it will improve in absolute terms in League One. League structures are always relative.

You can be better than last year (or worse) but your position will on the whole be decided by the strength of the other teams in the League. Was the Benito Carbone team in the second year of the Premier League worse than the one which finished 17th the year before?

It certainly was at the end of the season but after the other win over Chelsea in August 2000 was the team worse or was the problem that there were no Watford, Wednesday and a woeful Wimbledon dropping like a stone to finish beneath them?

Football is a multi-polar world. Your league achievements are necessarily measured against the other teams around you. It might be obvious that City have improved (or not) but have they improved more than the teams around them in League One?

Looking at the teams in League One this season first day opposition Swindon Town lost in the play off final last season which normally denotes a challenger but they seem to have lost a lot of players and are blooding a new team.

Relegated clubs can be strong but few will fear Millwall considering how easily the were brushed aside eight months ago at Valley Parade. Wigan Athletic have a lot to do to end a losing mentality which has come into the club since it got to an FA Cup final three years ago. As for Blackpool it is very possible they will carry on where they left off last season and finish bottom.

The likes of Peterborough United, Doncaster Rovers, and Barnsley would all argue that they have as much of a right to be considered promotion contenders as anyone. Scunthorpe United, Bury and Fleetwood Town have spent money to get where they are but not Bristol City levels of money and even if they had sometimes when you spend money you get Aaron McLean.

I have a belief that Burton Albion are worth considering as having an interest in the play off places. They are a club that seem able to transcend managerial changes and maintain steady progress. Coventry City have potential and in Tony Mowbray they have a pragmatic manager.

All of which leaves Sheffield United as being everyone’s favourite for promotion. They reach semi-finals, they bubble under in League One, they have a strong fan base and get great noisy crowds. They seem to have everything that a club that is trying to get out of League One wants.

Except for the manager.

They have their second choice as manager.

Nigel Atkins manages Sheffield United now but they wanted to take Phil Parkinson to South Yorkshire. It seems that the Blades boardroom came to the same conclusion that echoes around the City manager.

Parkinson: Special One

If all league football is relative then perhaps management is absolute.

Perhaps a manager who improves a team always improves a team. Perhaps when Parkinson is given the chance to manage – a chance Hull City did not give him in his brief time at that club but did at Colchester United – he will always improve a club as he has Bradford City.

It is hard to draw a conclusion but Parkinson’s admirers are many and growing with every achievement.

From the outside when looking at the twenty four teams lining up in League One some teams have spent more, and some teams have more season ticket holders than others, but no team has a better manager in a better position to manage his club than Phil Parkinson at Bradford City.

Parkinson has carved a space out for himself. He arrived at a club where Mark Lawn was accusing the players of not passing to a prospective signing, that had had a manager who (reportedly) felt bullied out of the club, and where the dysfunctions at the club had become endemic.

The success Parkinson earned on the field gave him the scope to create the role he wants off it. Parkinson is as powerful a manager as Bradford City have had but still had challenges to his role. One could worry about how success would be maintained should he exit if one wanted but more important would be ensuring that he is allowed to do his job and shapes the club around that.

We are, perhaps, lucky that the Sheffield United approach and the moment Parkinson had to bend the knee to the boardroom were separated by six months. Imagine starting this season without Parkinson. Where would thoughts of promotion be then?

When looking at which teams will be promoted what is most often the decisive factor? It is not in the quality of players but rather the quality of manager. The thing that unites the clubs that went up was that they had experienced managers who are spoken of in terms of their quality.

What Steve Cotterill, Karl Robinson and Simon Grayson offered last season is the thing that Phil Parkinson offers this. Likewise when José Mourinho got over his defeat at City by winning the Premier League it was – we are told – because he was the best manager. Success – the theory goes – goes to the best manager.

That, at least, is obvious.

The three things that Phil Parkinson is looking for in a player

Talking about the squad that Phil Parkinson is putting together Mark Lawn let slip an insight into the Bantams Summer transfer dealings.

Between what some thought were indiscreet comments about where Luke James fits in the squad and a his belief that Parkinson is building a stronger team this season than last Lawn gave an indication as to the theme of the last few months of City’s recruitment.

…look at the wages that people are paying now. Because the increase in the Premier League is vast, it trickles down. This year’s wages are probably on average 30-50 per cent more than last season. That’s right across the board at all levels.

They come, they go

Adam Drury spent a little time at City on trial this summer. He has moved on to Blackpool. Jamie McCombe played too but does not seem to be joining the club. Sanchez Watt scored against Farsley but he does not seem to be returning to the club.

Andrew Davies exits and it seems to be without reasons although money is never far away from the reason that footballers do anything. The summer has been players coming in and going out and perhaps Lawn gives an indication as to why this has been happening.

There are three requirements for a player, judging from the outside, if he wants to join Bradford City in 2015.

First he must offer what Phil Parkinson sees as an obvious improvement on last season’s team in the managers eyes.

It’s not difficult to see the progress of this idea through the last two years in League One. Players like Jason Kennedy, Mark Yeates, and Gary Liddle have had varying degrees of success at replacing members of the squad which won promotion.

Kennedy was no Gary Jones. Yeates did not play like Kyel Reid but created about as much, Liddle improved on most of what Nathan Doyle did and while he lacks Doyle’s ability to maintain possession while marked I’d say what he offered in other areas made him an improvement.

The aim of most football recruitment is at least the Yeates Return. Which is to say that the team gets no worse. Parkinson seems to have tried this season for at least a Liddle Return. That players are obviously better.

Parkinson abilities to achieve that will be seen in time but his modus operandi seems to be born out by his approach to the goalkeeping position.

I consider Ben Williams to be a poor keeper in comparison to Matt Duke or Jon McLaughlin but I would not sign a keeper who was as good as Williams for the sake of it. Parkinson would not either and seems to have settled on Jussi Jääskeläinen a player with hundreds of Premier League games played under his belt.

Parkinson, seemingly, does not even entertain the risk of an as good as and wants to see clear water between the player going out and the player coming in. That is ambitious.

Character

Which leads us to the managers second requirement and one I often talk about which is the character of the individuals signed.

Parkinson is all about the character. I’ve only a vague idea how one assesses a player’s character but I that it is part of player scouting and I know its important to Parkinson.

Leyton Orient’s captain Nathan Clarke signed for City yesterday motivated by his desire to return North for his family. Parkinson seems to be of the belief that a team can not have too many leaders and without wanting to doubt N. Clarke’s abilities one suspects that leadership has attracted City.

Character and the search for it has probably played more of a role in the summer than is obvious. Watching pre-season games is a tenth of a trial of a player. The rest is to do with how he gets along with team mates, staff, and how he conducts himself.

I would not like to suggest that Watt or Drury failed on those things but inevitability some players are better footballers than they are men and that is exposed during a week at a club.

Cost

Nevertheless, and returning to Mr. Lawn’s point, the third factor that comes into play is how much money players are asking for and the value that that represents.

As Phil Parkinson stood proudly next to recruit from Ipswich Town Paul Anderson that question of value seemed to be more pressing. Anderson is likely to be joined at City by Jussi Jääskeläinen. Both come with the excellent pedigrees and ringing endorsements as to their characters.

It would seem that while Mark Lawn has drawn the conclusion that League One players are asking for more money this season Phil Parkinson has opted to try sign – for want of a better phrase – Championship players who still expect to retain Championship wages.

One wonders how much competition from sides higher in the pyramid for Anderson, or Jääskeläinen, or Steve Davies, Josh Morris and Nathan Clarke and how much the increase wage demand City are finding has come from deliberately trying (and succeeding) to bring in players who are 30%-50% better.

Using the power of home supporters to bring down the prices for away fans

For some of us, it is a matter of principle. It is going to hurt to do this, but the board of the Supporters Club & Trust have collectively decided not to attend this game. – Bristol City Supporters Trust on the season opening game with Sheffield Wednesday.

The attempts of Bristol City supporters to mobilise a boycott of one their club’s games is not new in the bowels of English football nor is it likely to have any serious impact on the authorities who it targets.

The Robins Supporters – or some of them at least – are refusing the £39 entrance fee to Hillsborough to watch Bristol City’s return to The Championship. The argument is almost entirely economic on their part in that they believe that a pound short of forty is simply too much to pay for a football match.

The economics of the situation go deeper than the reach of one club into the pockets of supporters of another. The higher up in football one attempts to go the more the expenditure of clubs is, and the more the income rises to match that. Clubs pay out more to stage a Championship game than a League One game and do that by higher TV deals, and higher admission prices.

Stroke Leo: £20 a time

Football runs on a common assumption that the higher up a team a person supporters in the pyramid the more money they have to support them. I’m a Bradford City supporter as an accident of birth – I am because I was raised in Bradford – rather than as a function of what I earn.

Bristol City as a club are no strangers to the idea of throwing a lot of money around – we remember their approach to last season’s League One – but the club Bristol City and the people who follow them are not the same.

The governing assumption in football support is that whatever our football club do we are conspirator to and that we lend our support to. On the most case this is a harmless assumption although I know of a good few who have involved themselves with clubs (myself included) who end up with a Go Set A Watchman moment.

In the case of teams like Sheffield United, or Oldham Athletic, when they were trying to sign Ched Evans that assumption is tested to breaking point but those cases are rare. Most of the time if our club do it then we have done it.

This was illustrated to me in an argument with Rochdale Football Club (No, not that argument with Rochdale Football Club) when I suggested on this very site that £20 admission to a League Two game was too much and was told by Rochdale’s fans that “I charged the same.”

Do I? Personally?

Economics is ethics

Refusing to pay to go to Sheffield Wednesday for Bristol City supporters is an inherently ethically based act but when they stand on a point of principle the ground beneath them is shaky.

Well meaning though they are the Bristol City Supporters Trust compare the price they pay to £25 that Reading and in doing so charge Sheffield Wednesday with this greed rather than the culture of football that gives us these assumptions.

If only this were someone else’s problem and Bristol City’s trip to South Yorkshire was on a Tuesday night in January and priced accordingly.

Which is not to criticise the Bristol City Supporters at all just to suggest that they redirect their ire. The people at Hillsborough probably do not care about what Bristol City fans think. The people at Ashton Gate probably do.

Mark and Me, Me and Mark

I once suggested to (Joint-Chairman) Mark Lawn that Bradford City look at extending the policy of affordable football – which is an economic rather than an ethical decision from the Valley Parade boardroom – to away supporters.

Mr Lawn said that the support had 1,000 “walk ups” a week – this was back in League Two – who paid £20 each and I suggested that had someone travelled all the way from Torquay to watch a League Two game they deserved a medal for services to the game rather than what I considered to be an expensive admission charge.

To his credit Mr Lawn agreed with the principal and said he would have a look at it. He was unhappy with the interview that that meeting resulted in and I could not say what happened to the idea.

So I speak from experience – albeit thwarted – when I suggest that the Bristol City Supporters Trust should be talking to their boardroom about how much away supporters (and home fans without season tickets) pay and that Sheffield Wednesday supporters should be doing the same at Hillsborough.

Clubs listen to their own supporters, not someone else’s, and it is with their own clubs where supporters have power.

There is an obvious solidarity here. You get your club to bring prices down, we will get ours to do the same.

Using the power of home supporters

Bradford City have – almost by accident – become a case study in how to build a fan base that has resulted in the superb #onefournine effort. Massive credit goes to James Mason at the club for realising the potential and for starting enacting a social reform in football pricing.

When any club says they simply have to put up prices they can be directed at Bradford City as a riposte which says that building a fanbase is about committing to making football affordable.

I’d like a constitution of Bradford City that enshrined affordable football as a permanent value but failing that I’d call on the club to take affordable football a step further to away fans and to walk ups. I’d like a pricing structure for season ticket holders, walk ups and away fans that was built around a common ethic that football is affordable for football supporters.

I’d like the club to reduce the price for the Torquay supporter who has come from Devon, or the walk up at Valley Parade, or anyone to (for example) £10 not because of the economics of the situation but because of the ethics. I’d like Bradford City fans to politely suggest to those who run Bradford City that they do this. I’d like those who run Bradford City to politely suggest to boardrooms we visit that they do the same.

Away supporters have no power in football. They are the moveable problem that home teams deal with as a crowd and then forget about. It is perhaps overstating matters to suggest that to the home team away fans are second class citizens but you will, Dear Reader, have your own experience to draw on on that conclusion.

But home supporters have a degree of power over the clubs they support. Home supporters can put pressure on their club and put points on a club’s agenda. A boycott of away fans represents a smaller policing bill, a boycott of home fans represents a probem. We have power as home fans.

I think you, I and the Bristol City supporters should start using that power for the common good.

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?

The reasons Phil Parkinson might join Sheffield United

Sheffield United want Phil Parkinson to be their manager having made an approach for the services of the City boss yesterday which was rebuffed. Rumours are rife in these matters – the Blades are also said to be keen to talk to Nigel Atkins – but it seems that the South Yorkshire side will return with the promise of more money as a managerial transfer fee to sweeten the deal for the seemingly outgoing chairmen pair of Rhodes and Lawn.

Aside from the obviously open nature of the Blades approach the promise of money always being a reason why bad footballing decisions are made at Valley Parade it seems sure that at some point as he picks up an award for his work at Valley Parade this season at half time in the FA Cup final Parkinson will be considering if his future is in West or South Yorkshire.

We all know why Parkinson should stay.

He has assembled a squad with the character he believes is necessary for success. He has the prospect of a wealthy set of backers. He has been in the situation of jumping ship for a seemingly more sturdy vessel before when he joined Hull City from Colchester United only to be shipwrecked before.

If anyone knows the impact of moving clubs on a career heading on an upward trajectory it is Phil Parkinson. We do not recognise it at Bradford City but Bradford City were Parkinson’s last chance saloon. If Parkinson had failed at City there was not another job for him elsewhere in professional football management. He would be wary of returning to that situation should a trip to Bramall Lane be successful.

We know these points by heart now. The heart of Bradford City wants Phil Parkinson to stay so why would he leave?

Why indeed. We know this list in the darker places of our heart too. That Bradford City have a limit which Mr Lawn and Mr Rhodes have set a little too readily and that limit is not a significant distance from where City are now.

When Parkinson talks to his board they talk about getting to the middle of The Championship. Sheffield United will talk to him about the middle of the Premier League. Such overweened ambition may be best avoided for any manager but ambition is not easily ignored for the ambitious as we remember from the last time one of the Steel City two came asking for a gaffer.

Then there is the prospect of a Director of Football arriving at Valley Parade in the shape of Neil Warnock. Warnock – a Sheffield United supporter – is reported to be incoming chairman Gianni Paladini’s choice for a role supporting Parkinson. Some suggest that Parkinson will see this as a negative. He has said previously that is is happy to work in such a structure noting in a conversation about Director of Football elect Archie Christie “everything club needs someone who can get a deal over the line.”

I am of the belief that a Director of Football at City is badly needed to support Parkinson and that a manager who wants to run a modern club single handed is condemning that club to an existence of slight returns but the usefulness of someone in an overseeing role is not the subject of this discussion. If Parkinson moved to Sheffield United he would be welcomed by Scott McCabe who holds the title Director (Football Club) and John Stephenson who is Head of Football Operations.

There is no choice to be made between the two roles that leaves Parkinson in singular control of the club except – perhaps – in a Bradford City without Paladini and with the current board.

But therein is the problem. The current board who forced Parkinson to bend a knee this season and who have a perfunctory relationship with the manager. The boardroom which is – by nature of having co-chairmen – schizophrenic and has on a couple of occasions have seemingly been so ready to boot the manager out of the club that former players say that have been sounded out about an interim role.

One can see the outline of shapes but it is hard to get the detail about Parkinson’s relationship with the board from distance but that relationship – should Paladini not arrives – could be the key to the manager’s future of the club.

Buying Bradford City and worrying

The deadline for Gianni Paladini’s exclusivity on a bid to buy Bradford City will expire at midnight tonight and by tomorrow morning the club could have a new owner.

Should that happen Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes and David Rhodes will leave the club – taking the rest of the current board with them – and be replaced by Paladini and his friends who seem to include a number of the London mega-rich. The numbers water the eyes: £10m for players, more for wages, and Valley Parade bought back.

But there is worry.

…be happy

Any change of ownership brings a worry for the supporters of a football club with good reason. David Moores – the owner of Liverpool during good times at Anfield – was only prepared to sell the club to people he could trust but ended up saying of “I hugely regret selling the club to George Gillett and Tom Hicks.” The recent history of Manchester United is the story of an aggressive takeover making the supporters pay for someone else to own the club.

At the other end of the spectrum at York City John Batchelor was happy to attempt to strip any asset he could from that club. He died aged 51 and his epitaph was his frank statement “I fuck businesses, its what I do.”

The annuals of football club ownership since the 1980s are the story of opportunists taking what they can from clubs like ours. Like the generally held view that all politicians lie, all football club chairmen are out to rip off the fans. While it is cynical to admit it people who want to buy football clubs are considered guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.

The third way

There is an alternative of course and it is one that was briefly considered during Administration in 2004. Supporter owned clubs are some of the success stories of the modern game. FC United of Manchester, AFC Wimbledon, Exeter City. Stupid names but stories of the sort of community commitment that we would all can only dream of at Valley Parade.

Restarting Bradford City as a community club at the bottom of the pyramid did not happen but Julian Rhodes pulled the club out of administration promising that the fans would be at the heart of the relaunched Bantams as a kind of middle ground. This manifested itself in a season ticket pricing policy. More on that later.

That third way of fan ownership exists for the clubs most abused. If City could not have been saved as a business in 2004 then an AFC Bradford City would no doubt have sprung up. It is always the final censure for anyone looking to buy a club.

End of aside.

What to worry about

There are worries about what Paladini would do at the club – worries caused in no small part by the film Four Year Plan – and how he will fund what he does and the reason that he does it. We – the Bradford City community – need to listen hard to what is said and not be distracted by the promise like £10m on players.

The sleight of hand that focuses the eyes on the field while distracting the mind as money is taken from the club is the realism of modern football. The Glazers did this at the biggest club in the UK. It happened in 1999 when Bradford City went into the Premier League and (approx.) £9m were taken out in dividends by the Directors.

One of those Directors was – of course – Julian Rhodes who has since ploughed money back into Bradford City. He was also on the board when one of the board members sold the club’s biggest asset (Valley Parade) to his own Pension Fund.

The price Valley Parade was sold for – considering the rent paid by the club to play there – was an amazing deal for the then chairman Gordon Gibb. Ostensibly this was a deal done to “save the club” but the club was not saved and less than eight months later the business failed.

Anyone can understand the worries that a new chairman and a new board could work against the interests of the club as an institution and of supporter but many of those worries have been manifested at the club in the last few years.

Mark Lawn loaned the club money at a nine per cent interest rate above the Bank of England base rate. The board then sanctioned that money to be spent on what could best be described as player gambles. Large wage budgets for Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor (remember the phrase “push the boat out”) which the board acknowledged it could not sustain and resulted in teams being built and ripped up in the space of weeks were the board’s way of showing ambition but they could never be described as being necessary spending as evidenced by how the club finally found promotion when the budget had been reduced.

That is a point worth recalling. Bradford City did not need the money which it borrowed from Mark Lawn to stay in business, it borrowed it to try improve the business with promotion. Mark Lawn did not “save the club” as he seems to be credited with. Without him the club would have had less money to spend on players but still would have had a larger wage bill than many others in the League Two we took part in.

The boardroom borrowed money – from one of its members, and at a great rate – to take gambles on winning promotion that failed only to pay that money back later from the club’s winnings on the field from Wembley 2013.

And I’m not complaining about that but what I am saying is that if Paladini were to arrive at Valley Parade tomorrow saying the he would lend Bradford City £10m to pay for players and he would take it and more back when the money rolled in he would probably be viewed as an opportunist looking to make what he can and gambling with the club’s future.

You either believe that situation is risking the club’s future, or it is ambitious football business, but it would be the same for both and not different because as far as we know Paladini does not have a Bantams tattoo.

Not worried about

This is what I am not worried about.

I’m not worried that he will rename the club and change the colours because Vincent Tan did. I’m not worried he will try change the name of the club because Assem Allam did. I’m not worried that Paladini will do what Massimo Cellino has done at Leeds. I’m not worried that he will do what Francesco Becchetti has done at Leyton Orient.

Do we assume that Paladini will turn up to board meetings drunk, or high, or boasting about which of the club staff he is having an affair with which are all things which English chairmen at the 92 clubs have done.

We don’t assume he will threatening legal action against you own clubs fans. Or be banned from driving for being drunk. Or cheer the opposition during games. Or call the team rubbish to their faces. Or call them a waste of money. Or racially abuse one of his own team’s players. We don’t assume he will do any of these transgressions which were all done by English chairmen of Football League clubs and we do not read concerned articles worrying that a new owner at Valley Parade is liable to do them.

Too much of the debate about Gianni Paladini is framed in a context of his nationality with unpleasant undertones. When you start suggesting that Paladini will want to change the the club name or colours you probably need to ask yourself good questions about why you made that comparison.

We continue

The Rhodes commitment to supporters as seen in the low season ticket prices has been held over fans frequently as being on the verge of ending rather than being enshrined as part of the club putting the fans first. The weekend when Mark Lawn decided, then changed his mind on the club being put into administration following his car being damaged. Allowing the Valley Parade pitch to get into such a poor condition that it is laughed at by other teams managers. The much talked about ban on The City Gent from Valley Parade. This week’s unveiling of a new shirt which was not Claret and Amber stripes.

I’ve heard arguments about all these points: the finances dictate prices, why not wind up the club if your car is vandalised, its not our fault the pitch it bad, the City Gent should be supportive or what is the point of it, Nike control the shirt design; and you can decide for yourself how valid those defences are but as you do imagine if they were not coming from the “proper Yorkshireman” and others on the current board, but from Paladini, and how reactions would differ.

My point is that we should worry about that Mr Paladini might act in ways which are against the best interests of the Bradford City community, just as I believe we should worry more about what the current board do, and I should have worried more about what Geoffrey Richmond’s board was doing back when I started BfB back in 1998.

I am worried about what will happen to the club in the future if it is taken over, but I am worried about what will happen to it if it is not. The Football Association and the Football League have singularly failed to do anything to control the owners of football clubs. Most of the time most of the chairmen in football act in their interests and not in the club’s interest.

I’m worried about that.

What the club should tell the BBC to do with their television money

The fourth round of the FA Cup – for Bradford City – was all about how fans were not going to be able to watch the game in person. The fifth round seems to be able how fans will not be able to watch it at home after both the BBC and BT Sport acquiesced on the chance to show the Bantams tie with Funderland (or Sulham, if you prefer).

Of the eight ties five will be shown on television and one of those games will not be Bradford City’s which – as a result – means that Bradford City will not be paid the not inconsiderable sum of £250,000.

This has caused consternation with supporters furious and the club even going so far as to announce the lack of news on the website. In keeping with the vast majority of the games that Bradford City play the Funderland tie will not be televised. Nor will Colchester United on Saturday although this is not mentioned

The idea of television companies paying football clubs to show matches was a compensation for the number of supporters who would stay away. It does not take a flying pass in further maths to see that the £250,000 figure represents far more than the difference between a 12,000 and a 22,000 full Valley Parade. The television money is equated to prize money and all are upset that City’s win over Chelsea has not deemed them worth selecting for that prize.

Mark Lawn, who can always be relied upon to resurface when a television camera is present, led the complaints saying the BBC “they don’t understand a thing about football” and added that the television companies had “let themselves down”.

Lawn makes the point that City’s win over Chelsea last week created a ten year spike in Match of the Day audiences but the BBC probably do know a thing or two about football and television and they know that people did not tune in to watch Bradford City win but rather to see Chelsea lose. That that loss came to City is – for them – immaterial.

Which is not to say that Lawn and many, many others who believe that Bradford City vs Fulham – let alone Bradford City vs Sunderland – represents a better two hours of television that West Brom vs West Ham are wrong but rather contemplate for a moment concepts of loss aversion.

One could be excused for thinking that TV executives had crept into Valley Parade and lifted a quarter of a million pounds from the safe rather than not wind-falling the sum to Bradford City. Forsaken gains are important in the world of potential that is League One football in a way they are not in the rest of life.

Football clubs regularly accept risk and risk that leads to loss, and seem to act like potential gains are guaranteed. One only need look at how Bradford City approach the sell on clauses of Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley to see that.

There is an uncomfortableness to the club’s stance on not having gained from a television match, and the club comes off like a petulant child not getting what want but think they deserve. A full Valley Parade (#bethedifference, again) and a football performance should be the club’s focus and tantrums about not being on television are unseemly.

Not only unseemly but a missed opportunity of
sorts. When sixteen teams are left in the FA Cup – all in the same position on merit – it is by definition unfair for one to be gifted £250,000 by virtue of a random draw and one not to be.

Had Funderland come out at Manchester United/Cambridge United then would Bradford City deserve to be given £250,000 more than the winners of Preston North End/Sheffield United? Are we comfortable with the idea that the BBC/BT Sports are the arbitrators of that decision? At the moment the Market has decided that Bradford City will not be on television. Reward for beating Chelsea is not something the market is interested in.

After all the ties are created at random from a group of teams who – the FA would argue – have an equal right to be there. Assuming that £250,000 is a sum of money which makes a difference to a League One club then it is obscene that it is distributed in such a random manner?

After all fifteen teams cannot create a fifth round of the FA Cup. Fourteen cannot. Each club is as as important as the others in this round if only to give a breadth to the choices for television viewers.

If television has £1m to put into television five of eight ties of sixteen teams then split £1m down sixteen ways and allow all the teams – who have all equally earned it – to take a slice. Television has far too much influence over football for my taste. I’d rather it were minimised, and that steps were taken to minimise it, rather than see my club grabbing greedily for it.

If your view, dear reader, is that Bradford City should be on television against Funderland because it represents an attractive tie then you have my agreement but I disagree fundamentally with the system that allows television companies to give an ad hoc reward one team over another for the same achievement of getting to the fifth round.

When the club had the national spotlight – and a co-chairman who is vocal – I’d prefer that point be made.

How the Reading job showed City’s Parkinson problem

Why Colin Cooper did not get the Bradford City job

I heard a story from the horse’s mouth. Colin Cooper, in interview with Joint Chairman Julian Rhodes, was asked how he would work with incoming Chief Executive Archie Christie and Cooper was clear.

“I would not,” he said, “I’d get rid of him.”

“Well,” Rhodes is said to have replied, “he is making the decision.”

The dream job comes up

As soon as the statement was read out that Reading had “parted company” with Nigel Adkins Phil Parkinson’s name was being mentioned in connection to the vacancy. Within a few days Steve Clarke had been appointed to the job.

Parkinson is to Reading what Stuart McCall is to Bradford City – or Peter Beagrie perhaps – but a man of some significance at Elm Park and his performances as Bradford City manager could hardly suggest his name more.

However Parkinson’s achievements – and other Football League achievements – seem to be unimpressive when it comes to recruiting managers in the Premier League. This tendency to forgo Football League managers has started to spread downwards.

Which saves a problem

All of which saves Bradford City looking for a replacement for Parkinson and the upheaval that that would bring.

It would be foolish to say that Parkinson is a peerless manager and that City could not replace him but remembering that the last time the people in the boardroom were asked to come up with a name to manage the club that name was Peter Jackson.

When one looks at the difference between the club then and the club now it is hard to find anything which cannot be put down to Parkinson. From Wembley to Wembley, Wells to McLean, the club is built in the image that Parkinson wanted.

Which is not to criticise

And this is not an overt criticism of the boardroom just a recognition that they greatest achievement they have in the modern Bradford City is not getting involved and allowing Parkinson to build the club as he wishes. The impressive thing is how much Parkinson has built on his own.

Of course he has had Good Lieutenants at his sides but compare the years under Parkinson to the conflicts at the club between Peter Jackson and Archie Christie, or Archie Christie and Mark Lawn, or Mark Lawn and Peter Taylor (or rather, some of his players), or Stuart McCall and Two of the Boardroom and on and on.

Since Parkinson arrived Bradford City have not so much been a club united as a club with someone to stand behind and follow. Right now Parkinson is running Bradford City and everything at the club is adjunct to that.

The boardroom request to play more attacking football is characterised as just that – a request – rather than a demand. When Parkinson could not get his team playing around a playmaker he decided to revert to his previous less attacking formation and not a peep was heard publicly from the boardroom.

What would be left?

Without Phil Parkinson Bradford City have very little at the club on the footballing side. One assumes that on his exit Parkinson would take his backroom team with him – they all signed contracts at the same time suggesting that unity – and once Parkin et al leave then there is no chance of continuity.

For the right reasons they appointed Phil Parkinson with a remit to remake the club as he saw fit. To their credit they have largely stayed out of how Parkinson has run the club. I have worried in the past that Parkinson needs some support in his role and that the club lacks institutional knowledge retention but I’d be more worried is this boardroom started to tell the manager how to do his job. When it comes to football at Valley Parade Phil Parkinson is by a good distance the domain expert.

The boardroom are stuck in catch 22. They found success by giving Parkinson free reign to do as he wants but then they are under the constant threat that Parkinson could be tempted away and they would be left with nothing.

This is the Parkinson problem and without a solution there must just be relief that when Steve Clarke was appointed.

Why Steve Cotterill left Phil Parkinson lost for words

From these marble halls

In the marble halls of Arsenal’s Highbury ground sat a besieged Stoke City manager Alan Durban under criticism from a press corp who had had to suffer The Potter’s defensive tactics attempted to frustrate the home side.

Unsuccessfully as it turned out – Arsenal had won 2-0 – but Durban was unrepentant on his approach. He was not going to send out an attacking team that Arsenal would look good beating. He had come with the aim of splitting the points.

Told that the ninety minutes had not been entertaining he offered up a reply to posterity: “If you want entertainment go and watch a bunch of clowns.”

He does not detach from reality for long

Perhaps it was frustration at seeing his Bristol City team fail to beat a Bradford City side which was in poor form before Tuesday night’s 2-2 draw that prompted Steve Cotterill to say that Bradford City would see the game as a good point gained where as he reflected on two lost.

Cotterill’s comments not would be appreciated by his opposite number Phil Parkinson. “We were the only team trying to win it, Bradford came for a draw and they got it.” Parkinson disagreed.

Cotterill’s frustrations are understandable – his team twice led the game – but he allows them to cloud obvious (if received) wisdom. A manager who loses sight of the idea that any point away from home should be welcomed as the most which could be expected is one who is unnecessarily detached from the realities of League football. Cotterill, one of the brighter managers in the game, does not detach from reality for long.

Nor does Parkinson who was quick to point that he had sent a team out to win and but for an injury and a foul on Jordan Pickford they might have done that. Parkinson has good reason too make the correction too.

His remit to create an attacking team this season has been laid out in the boardroom and Cotterill questions the City manager’s attempts to achieve that.

Wanted: A bunch of clowns

At the start of the season Julian Rhodes talked about how the board had told Parkinson that there was a need for City to be more attacking this season. Indeed Rhodes’ ally Mark Lawn had been “the last to sign off” on appointing Peter Taylor as City manager because he feared that the football would be less attractive.

Parkinson is not required to win promotion, just be more entertaining while maintaining a similar position to last season, and Cotterill is suggesting that the opposite is true. “We (Cotterill’s Bristol City) couldn’t get the tempo of our game going in the first half because Bradford kept slowing things down, but fair play to them for that.”

The accusation that Phil Parkinson’s teams are not engaged in creating exciting football matches is not uncommon. The first time Parkinson came onto City fans’ radar it was during a spat with then manager Colin Todd in September 2005 in which Todd accused Parkinson’s Colchester United team of “killing the game as a spectacle.”

Parkinson’s response was confident and erudite in it simplicity. “He’s looking for an excuse for his team’s failure. Rather than analysing his side’s performance, he’s looking to blame me and it’s disappointing from a man of his experience.”

“I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

Parkinson’s position has changed, or been changed. As City manager he has to justify his tactics to Julian Rhodes and the Bradford City board who wanted more attacking football.

Is Parkinson failing?

So is Parkinson failing to do as he is told by his employers? If he is then what will the ramifications of that be?

Answers to these questions are not clear. If City are less attacking then losing Nahki Wells – a transfer was handled in the boardroom after the player had declared he wanted to leave – would have to be taken into account. Some players are just more exciting to watch than others.

But the difference between this season and last is more than players in shirts. Last season’s wingers have been replaced by (save us from the dumbing down of the word “diamond”) a three man midfield with a playmaker between the forward lines.

Fast, flying wingers are the most elaborate display of attacking football the game has to offer regardless of the result of that play. Teams with flying wingers will always be loved even if they lose because they are attacking. Yet Phil Parkinson allowed Kyel Reid to go unreplaced in the City squad.

Mark Yeates’ playmaking role is less about skipping over tackles and more about intelligent use of the ball. When winger moves end (if they end poorly) it is in sprints and limbs. When playmaker’s do not achieve their aims it ends in the ball being shuffled back to defenders.

When playing well a playmaker is insightful but looking for flashes of insight to play killer balls is not as “attacking” as flying wingers, at least not in the meaning which Rhodes seemed to present it.

Are City more attacking this season? Steve Cotterill does not think so, and not do I, and one doubts that the boardroom does.

So what does this mean for Phil Parkinson?

What does Phil Parkinson say on the subject of attacking football when he sits and talks to his bosses?

He may point out that with the team in poor form its not clear if a City playing better would not look better, or he may point out that this time last season City were on the back of an amazing run that led to promotion, or he may say that the team is more attacking as is shown by the result especially away from home.

You will have you own thoughts, dear reader, on if those arguments are compelling and if Parkinson has delivered what he was told to deliver – attacking football.

Perhaps though when told not only that he should win but how he should win Parkinson might regret not having taken a lead from Durban and stuck to the line “I don’t have to justify my tactics to anybody.”

But he did not, and so he could not offer it as a riposte to Steve Cotterill either.

Bradford City left considering credit where credit is due

Carl HcHugh already has scored more important goals for Bradford City than his last minute looper from a corner over Port Vale which gave Phil Parkinson’s side a first home win in months but weight lifted off shoulders at Valley Parade has seldom been greater.

McHugh got his head to a corner put into the box by Gary Jones which seemed to have gone beyond the young Irishman but had not and then was describing an arc Chris Neal into the back of the Vale goal. It denoted similarly to the goal which was decisive against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi finals last season but connotations were massively different.

This was relief, it was all relief.

City had looked like being frustrated again. Frustrated by a team which played strongly but has only won once in twenty one fixtures. Frustrated by a by a Vale side who played for a draw save the odd enterprise forward that Jon McLaughlin can be pleased keeping at bay. Frustrated by a referee Mark Brown who seemed to have decided that he would keep bookings and controversy to a minimum by ignoring what deserved one and would have caused the other.

And that frustration came to an end when McHugh’s goal went into the goal which itself came some had been convinced that the Bantams did not look like scoring. They streamed away into the dark Bradford night frustrated at City’s inability to score.

And while those people were ultimately wrong it was not hard to see how the conclusion formed.

As strong as the back two of Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies looked and as well as Stephen Darby at right back and McHugh returning to the left after his cruel exposure at Sheffield United played the Bantams did not threaten goal enough.

James Hanson is Sir Bobby Robson‘s one in three man and does all he needs to but Aaron McLean is struggling to play off him.

McLean seems to need more room than is available when a solid defence close to a deep midfield is deployed as it did today with the risible Anthony Griffith playing a holding role for the visitors. Still McLean’s endeavour does not falter and that earns him his chance to play in a City side swelled by victory.

In midfield Nathan Doyle seems not to be as he was while Gary Jones retains a level of energy and application which one cannot help but be impressed by but Jones’ work rate would be impressive for an eighteen year old.

The two wide men offer contrast. Adam Reach asks a question of a defender almost every time he gets the ball and sometimes the answer is simple – you can’t go past me but you can have a throw in – other it is not and every time he makes the defender work. Kyle Bennett is too easy to defend against and while one feels that there will be occasions where things go right for him in a spectacular and impressive way those occasions will be fleeting. Reach does more than Bennett but one gets the feeling Bennett will one day do something Reach could never do.

Bennett is a frustrating figure – an un-Parkinson like player – but he has the benefit of being defensively disciplined. Reach is a much harder player to play against for defenders and Bennett still has to show that he can be useful to the team on a consistent basis.

Nevertheless Bennett was one of the last off the field at the end of the game after Jones had led the applause for the supporters who had not gone for the early bus. They make an impressive noise, these City fans, and they do it regardless of wins or goals.

And they seem linked by symbiosis to the Bradford City team who seem refuse to give up on games, or on the spirit in the club, or on the manager that must have come close to the sack.

The players must have known that had spirited defeats become meek surrenders then the manager Parkinson would have struggled to keep his job and its to their credit that they did not let that happen. One hope that they continue to not let it happen at home to Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday.

Its credit too the boardroom at Bradford City that they have watched three months or more of games with only a single win but did not flinch. No articles distancing themselves from Parkinson, no whispers that the boardroom might be unhappy, no suggestions that things “had to turn around soon”. Just support for Parkinson and what he carries on trying to do. Credit is due to Messrs Lawn and Rhodes for resisting baser urges.

Urges which would have said – correctly – that the way a chairman wins over support is to be seen to be doing something even though that the best course of action was to do nothing other than support Parkinson in what he continues to do.

And will continue to do on Saturday taking what he can from the last few months. I confess I’ve no idea what Parkinson did when McHugh scored – goal celebrations I do alone – but I imagine he allowed himself a moment of relief before looking soberly at the team, and where improvement is needed, and how to get that improvement from the players.

A year this week Parkinson was preparing his team for Wembley in the League Cup final. The team was beaten that day but that defeat became a tool of motivation for the rest of the season.

Having looked the end so squarely in the eye in the last months one waits breath bated to see what Parkinson will make of this opportunity.


And if you, dear reader, want to know more about Port Vale then BfB points you to One Vale Fan which is a site older than this one.

This briefing against people who leave City has to stop

It did not take long when Nahki Wells left Bradford City for Huddersfield Town that the subject of our neighbours from the West’s predilection to interfere with dogs (In which way? The worst possible way) started to be talked about. Nahki shoots, Nahki scores, Nahki and your Labrador. You know the sort of thing.

The humour might not be to everyone’s taste and the aggression between the two teams is often troubling but the claim is so absurd as to be the laughable subject of a joke. It might not be to me or you (or it may be) but a comment like that made about our former player is a joke.

There is something less funny though about a tenancy that has come into the narrative when someone leaves Bradford City. There is something sinister.

Take, for example, former manager Stuart McCall who Mark Lawn told myself and Width of a Post‘s Jason McKeown was ill when he left Bradford City to the point where Lawn worried that he would no longer be able to carry out his duties. No matter what one thinks of McCall’s abilities as a football manager the man was at City for another six months and has had three years at Motherwell without being unable to do his job because of ill health. In fact here he is fronting a Scots anti-smoking for better health campaign.

And while one would not doubt the stress that McCall was under at City the last few years have not painted a picture of a man too ill to work. Nevertheless that was the discussion when McCall left the club.

Tom Doherty – we heard – had let Peter Taylor down rather than the manager failing in some way. Shane Duff was “just a van driver now”. Even Reece Brown was “somebody’s brother” on exit. I’m not going to get into talking about Archie Christie but I witnessed first hand the man changed from being considered as having a word unimpeachable at Valley Parade to being spoken about – again from people at the club – as being untruthful. The “ill health” you heard of has not prevented Mr Christie from carrying on his career.

Again take your own view on what is accurate but be aware of the change which happened over the course of a few days.

Then onto Nahki Wells. Disruptive Nahki who if left unsold would destroy the morale of the squad which he has been a happy part for two and a half years or so the counterpoint to questions as to why he needed to move on so quickly went.

Now it may be true that Wells is all those things – I never recall the rest of the squad refusing to celebrate with him and they seemed to get along well – but if he is then this tendency was only brought to life after he left and was far from apparently in his character over the course of the two trips to Wembley. Did that look like a squad with poison running through it? I shall say that it did not to me.

But it seems that like the joke about Nahki Wells and the dogs there seems to be a reaction to changes at the club from people who carry enough influence to effect the conversation in the Bradford City community that (to borrow a Malcolm Tucker term) briefs against he who has left.

The community end up with a piece of information which seems to come from a source with authority what cuts against the grain to suggest that an exit decision was the right decision.

This has to stop. It is poisonous itself to the ability for the club to learn from is history. Every decision – in the light of briefing – is rendered so obviously correct and no question as to if it has worked is ever asked.

This has to stop. Its undignified, it lacks the character that our community should demand, and it impedes our progress as a club.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Mark Lawn

@michaelwood your ongoing personal vendetta got boring months ago. #bcafc
@Love_13_Hate 11

Vendetta – noun: Any prolonged and bitter feud, rivalry, contention, or the like.
Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary

When I closed BfB down in 2011 it was not at the urging of Mark Lawn and while I have made this point a great many times there seems to have been an idea taken root that because “he closed down my site” that I had a personal vendetta against him.

By reopening the site having had (and wanting) no contact at all with Mr Lawn I hope that that accusation levelled at him – that he closed down the site – can be laid to rest. He did not and would no doubt take a dim view of people saying things which were not accurate about him.

I have no personal vendetta. In fact I have discovered a great many things since Mr Lawn started his involvement with Bradford City that are entirely personal about him, and his private life, and his family life. I consider all those things to be entirely none of my business and certainly not the business this website. That is because one thing I can tell you, dear reader, for sure is that whatever disagreement I have with Mr Lawn it is not a “personal” one.

I disagree with a great many of the things he does in his position as Bradford City joint-chairman.

I disagree with the way I am told he treats the people around him, I disagree with what I see as him having held the loans – yes loans – he let the club borrow over the club like the sword of Damocles, I disagree with the way he styles himself as a “custodian” of the club, I disagree with the way he represent himself when he is called on to be the public face of the club, I disagree with how he approaches the business of the football club.

And these disagreements come from having interviewed Mr Lawn, and having had “lively” conversations with him and with people claiming to represent him. It comes from having reported on the day he arrived at Bradford City and a good many of the days since then, and it comes from my experiences as a Bradford City supporter.

It comes from thinking that Bradford City as a football club is badly run at board level. That in the majority of important respects we make the wrong decisions. On manager retention, on player budgeting, on future planning, on negotiations. I disagree with the way the the club is run.

I’d rather not disagree.

I’d rather that the club operated along the lines I’d consider to be “well run” and that the other things I know were not the case but my experience tells me they are and I am hostage to that knowledge.

When I talk to someone who has seen these things first hand, or I experience them myself, I might wish that they were not the case or even – on occasion – wish that I did not know them but I cannot not know them, and my views are formed by that.

I really don’t have a vendetta against Mr Lawn – personal or otherwise – I just want to hold the man that owns a part of – and ostensibly runs – Bradford City to a good standard and when he falls below that I reserve the right to say so.

I wish that were less often the case.

Lawn: The Development Squad will continue

Speaking to the T&A Mark Lawn has confirmed that Bradford City will continue with the Development Squad following Archie Christie’s departure from the club.

To confirming the club’s intentions to retain the DS Mark Lawn said:

We’d like to thank Archie for all the good work he has done with bringing players in and putting the development squad in place. That will still continue.

BfB understands that Peter Horne will take control of the Development Squad.

The time and the place for Michael Flynn

At a Q&A session in the week – and again in the Telegraph and Argus – Michael Flynn has talked about his belief that while the Bradford City’s plans on developing players are well meaning but the club should focus on the first team squad and should direct all the resources at getting promotion.

City’s skipper speaks out and people listen. It is good to hear the thoughts of any of the players even if they did prove to be slightly off the mark when talking about the cost of the development project (he apparently claimed Development Squad players earn £300 per week, a figure way off what Archie Christie, who is in charge of the club’s budgets, told BfB when explaining the £145 a day cost for the whole set up) – although some of the players might object to their leader talking in public about their pay packets – but is this really the time for Michael Flynn to be voicing his thoughts on the way the club manages its resources?

Signed by Stuart McCall, Flynn has played under four different managers at Valley Parade. Peter Jackson seemed set to dump the number four casting him to the depths of the squad but Flynn’s big performances saw him work his way back into the first team up to being captain. Every manager has grown to appreciate the Welsh midfielder as much as the supporters who he acknowledges diligently at the end of every game. Three times the job of manager of Bradford City has come up while he was at the club. He has – as far as we know – yet to apply.

That sounds factitious but is worth consideration. Flynn is telling the club how it should be spending its resources and his suggestion is that we should direct everything – George Green money and all – into getting out of League Two. If that sounds familiar it is because it is the modus operandi of Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s second season, and in Peter Taylor’s season at the club.

It is the ideas that brought Paul McLaren to the club for a season, and Tommy Doherty and we recall how those seasons turned out. Flynn’s comments echo John Hendrie back in 2009 when he talked about throwing more money at the first team. Lots spent, some promise but ultimately no return and much of what was in place before had to be taken apart after. One might argue that the club is still recovering from the decision to spend the money that came from Fabian Delph’s sale on the first team. One might also say that we are on a long road of recovery from Geoffrey Richmond’s six week plan that we should put everything into a first team that would stay in the Premier League. Certainly it is hard to argue that we are not recovering from allowing Peter Taylor to build a one season squad last term.

If it is Flynn’s opinion that it is the Second Season of McCall/Season of Taylor plan that Bradford City should be following – perhaps hoping for third time lucky – then there is a time and a place to make that statement. The time is when a new manager is being recruited, the place is in a job interview where he tells Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes why focusing everything on the first team will bring promotion this time when it did not in the previous two attempts. That time and place is not in the last three paragraphs of a T&A article.

None of which is to say that Flynn should not vocalise his thoughts or that the club should not allow its captain to talk about his thoughts, but Flynn needs to explain just why the throw everything at promotion approach will work in 2011/2012 or 2012/2013 when it did not in 2008/2009 or 2010/2011.

The club deserves credit for trying to break a cycle of failure which has seen us slide down the leagues each time thinking that if we could just get back up a division then we could start planning for the future. Even if the current development squad project was to fail then merits of trying a different approach rather than repeating the plans of past seasons – which many would say failed – are today are still valid (and perhaps even more so in future), and they are still laudable.

Even if the captain might not agree.

The ‘worst squad in the league’, and where the priorities should be

Saturday’s dispiriting defeat to Hereford once again provides cue for a discussion that is, over the last few weeks, increasingly being aired in the national media – could Bradford City become the first former Premier League club to be relegated into non-league?

The current league table certainly suggests that could be the case. With over a quarter of the season played, the lack of points on the board is starting to go beyond being labelled “poor start”. The undoubted potential which has been regularly witnessed is so far going unfulfilled. There had been signs of improvement in the previous three games prior to the loss to Hereford; but unless City quickly recover from this latest set back, uncomfortable fears about the possibility of falling out of the Football League will be difficult to shake off.

Adding fuel to that fire – and with some pretty poor timing in hindsight – were Joint Chairman Mark Lawn’s pre-Hereford comments on BBC Radio Leeds that he thought the squad Peter Jackson had built during the summer was “the worst in the league”. That squad has since been added to by Jackson’s replacement, Phil Parkinson; but still, what sort of a message is Lawn trying to convey with this statement?

For although Guy Branston has been moved out on loan to Rotherham and it’s rumoured Jack Compton’s loan deal is going to be terminated this week, by and large the group of players Lawn called the weakest in the division are still at the club. The comments may or may not be personal to individuals, but it seems harsh and unfair to be so critical of a group of players who are battling hard to gain or keep a place in the team.

Rash judgement

Nor does it seem particularly well-thought out. The team Jackson built during the summer may well have proven to be the worst in the league, but only four league games of football were played before he walked away. Is it really fair to have made a judgement on the squad so soon? And how can anyone at that stage have realistically evaluated the 23 other new-look squads and concluded they were all better than City’s?

No one could of course, and so one is left considering Lawn’s statement as being a veiled attack rather than something he realistically believes. We can reasonably assume that Lawn was criticising Jackson directly – the person handed a transfer budget this summer and who ultimately made the decision on every player it was used to bring in. But there were other people involved in those choices, too.

So some people can view Lawn’s criticism as a partial attack on Archie Christie, the newly-appointed Chief Scout and Head of Football Development who was tasked with finding suitable players for Jackson to consider. It can be judged to be criticism of Colin Cooper, assistant to Jackson – but who well-placed sources suggest had a much more hands-on role in the summer recruiting, team selection and tactics than an assistant manager might usually enjoy. Lawn probably only means to single out Jackson, but Christie, Cooper and a host of players brought in this summer might also have caused to feel miffed upon hearing his viewpoint.

But the poor start to the season was not just about people. When City played Aldershot in the opening game of the season they did so with hardly any knowledge of who the visitors would be. The  empty filing cabinet inherited by the new scouting set up could only be filled by watching matches (a friendly game offering a limited source of information) – and on opening day that cabinet was more or less empty.

If you give any value to the work that Christie and Nigel Brown are doing in filling that filing cabinet at the club – and if you do not you should – then you have to conclude that Jackson’s squad was playing in the dark.

A false start

There is no doubt that Parkinson has sought to do things differently to Jackson. He has strong ideas on the kind of players needed and wasted no time in bringing those in. Parkinson spent his time out of football scouting, Jackson – and this is meant in the nicest possible way – worked in a care home. Jackson wanted to sign Gary Jones on large wages and had never seen of Richie Jones. His contact book was out of date and some of his signings showed that. Nevertheless those brought in who have lost their place under Parkinson can, with some justification, feel aggrieved by the lack of opportunities they have received over recent weeks – sadly for them, that’s football.

When they have been called upon by Parkinson, the players Lawn’s criticism can be viewed to include have let no one down. At Huddersfield, Mark Stewart, Compton and Chris Mitchell made positive contributions. Stewart has started every game that City have won (if you include the two penalty shoot out wins). Nialle Rodney showed his potential against Huddersfield and Torquay. Ross Hannah has scored two important goals from the bench. Branston stepped in for Andrew Davies impressively last week.

City’s captain may have gone for now, and in time some of the other summer signings will exit the club too. But that doesn’t mean they are all bad players and it doesn’t mean that – had Jackson being prepared to show more fight in the job – they wouldn’t have performed well in time. The point of a manager – and the point of setting a plan of progression – is that things improve over time and not that they are good within four games (and this is before we recall the start made in the promotion season of 1998/99, which at the time was a huge lesson for us all).

Jackson’s squad in those opening games of the season featured faces from the Development Squad and in that one must take a cue from the name: Development. There was a decision taken at the start of the season to fund a development project and to stop looking at the first team as the be all and end all of the football club in the way, for example, Peter Taylor had.

When Jackson left the club the Development Squad numbered four or five players and a number of the youth team – and cost less per week than the lowest paid member of the first team squad. It is not that the Development Squad had sucked up resources from the first team, but that the first team was to develop with the addition – in time – of the Development Squad.

Had Jackson not taken bat and ball home then – in a month’s time and just like Parkinson – he would be taking delivery of Terry Dixon (“Championship player in a non-league body”) and have Scott Brown to call on to replace Michael Flynn, or Andrew Burns to bridge any gap between Liam Moore after he returns and Simon Ramsden before he does.

One might – in time – ask questions about how good the players who come out of the Development Squad are, but the policy at the start of the season supported a squad which was designed to improve and not just over the course of this season, but over the next one too.

The plan for promotion is a two-year one. The results four games – or even twelve games – into that, when the onus is on the club to perform in games 47 to 92 of those two years are hardly worth commenting on when the plan is to spend 1 to 46 improving. It is like criticising the kid on his first day of school for not knowing the things he has come to school to be taught.

Re-visiting pre-season’s objectives

City began this season with everyone talking of it being a building one. A sensible strategy, considering how far from the goal of promotion the Bantams had been in the previous two campaigns. It was also a strategy that allowed Jackson to sign players with the potential to grow with the club, it enabled Christie to launch the Development Squad initiative without the pressure that it would be binned nine months later if it hadn’t produced enough first team players.

Most importantly it suggested an end to the season-after-season-cycle of signing a load of players and releasing a host of others, which has meant such a constant high turnover. The club has a four-year plan of getting into the Championship, and one assumes budgets and transfer policies have been agreed on the basis that no promotion this season would not be a disaster and will not spell cut backs.

As City sit third from bottom of the Football League, a revisit of these pre-season aims is more timely than ever. Promotion would be welcomed this season – but not expected or demanded. Therefore the objectives are surely to shape a squad of players who can be good enough for at least a top seven finish at the end of the 2012/13 season.

There is no reason to believe these aims have changed by appointing Parkinson – in fact it would be ludicrous, given the fact he wasn’t around to build in the close summer, to demand more of the City manager than was expected of Jackson. When BfB spoke to Parkinson at the training ground last month we asked what his aims for the season are and he replied that the initial one is “to be in the top half of the table around Christmas”. A reasonable objective and one that deserves questioning at that point if it is not achieved.

In the meantime, more short-term pain might be unavoidable as he tries to find the right team. In the wake of the Hereford defeat, the usual hysterical message board reaction occurred with anyone and everyone blamed. There will be further murmurings from people outside the club that a relegation battle is on the cards. This is unavoidable of course, but the club itself has to rise above it and present a calm, rationale and positive front. Lawn himself probably knows this better than anyone, but his radio comments help no one and undermine those efforts.

That said though when Lawn talks on the radio he speaks his mind as any fan does (as if he to prove this, he also commented that he was about to become a granddad again but had travelled to Hereford because he is a fan). Perhaps that is the difference unperceived in this radio interview and previous ones. When Lawn ran the club seemingly from top to bottom these were the thoughts of the Chairman. Now the chairman has more help around him then he is more of the fan than he has been allowed to be. His exasperation is matched by many supporters, because it is spoken as a supporter.

Beating the drop

Ultimately, the first objective for this season has to be to avoid relegation. It may be lacking ambition to say that and it certainly feels like setting the bar low; but the idea of it actually occurring is difficult to contemplate. We need to get to around 45 points as soon as possible. And, if and when we do, we can then talk about revised targets for however many games are left.

The club badly needs a season of stability, so that the squad can be developed in a way that can spark momentum needed to succeed in realising Christie’s vision of Championship football by August 2015. Jackson’s departure was a dreadful start in that respect, but the future is more important than raking over the past.

Time is more important than timing. The league table looks bad now for sure, but the true importance of this season is not how we begin it but the shape the squad and club when it ends it.

Archie Christie Day: Part 3/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 2 and started in Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember the name: George Green.


The stereo remains off on the journey from Woodhouse Grove to Valley Parade, enabling us further opportunities to ask Archie Christie more about why he is here at all, given he is unpaid. “Julian Rhodes said last night ‘if nothing else, just get things done for the club’,” revealed Christie. “I can make money off the back of the club but I don’t make a penny. And the club know that and they like that.”

We talk about a description of Christie that has been repeated by almost everyone we’ve spoken to that day – he gets things done. “That’s what I do well. I get things done,” he nods. “I get the preparations done, I get the opposition done, I get the budgets done and I get the deals done. I get things done. I don’t have any arrogance and I don’t have any ego, I don’t take the criticism so I don’t take the praise. The plaudits are for the players and the manager. I just get things done for the club.”

But why this club, and what possesses him to take on such a massive challenge? “I want to do it because I want to turn Bradford City into a giant. At Dagenham we went from the bottom of the conference into League One. We beat Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Colchester. Bradford City can go to the Championship, and we can compete with Leeds. And on an equal footing. Not as second term neighbours, but as equals. Our 20,000 against their 20,000. Our 11 versus their 11. That’s what I want and believe.”

The conversation turns to young players at the club that he rates, and how far they can go at City and beyond. For someone who has been at City for such a short time, his level of knowledge of all the players – from first team to junior – is impressive, and one wonders whether previous first team managers would have such a detailed overview of the club. As we tell him the stories of Geoffrey Richmond and the excesses of that era, he is interested but unsurprised having already been filled in by Julian Rhodes.

“If we got back to the Championship I would then come up with a new strategy,” he comments as we pull into the Valley Parade car park. “So that we never have to worry about the bad times ever again.”

A first Bradford pint

The 1911 Club inside the Main Stand is marketed as a venue for business lunches during the week, but today (1pm) the beautifully decorated restaurant is empty of customers. Julian Rhodes is talking to the Yorkshire Post’s Richard Sutcliffe, with the pair about to head off somewhere so the Chairman can be interviewed. Julian is warm and welcoming to us both, trendily dressed while sporting a pair of beach sandals. “I’ve never seen him without sandals,” quips Christie.

In the corner sat reading the paper is another director, Graham Jones; a kind and softly-spoken man who is very friendly as we chat to him for two minutes. There’s a Board meeting at Valley Parade due to start in half an hour, which Christie has to attend. We don’t have much time left with him, so we follow him as he takes us outside into the padded seats that provide a terrific view of Valley Parade.

“I’ve not had a beer in Bradford up to now” Christie reveals, as he hands us each a pint that he’s just bought for us from the bar and begins to sip his own. The sun is beating down and the view feels familiar yet always engaging. We talk about recent games and about the potential crowds we could enjoy if the club was to climb back into the Championship. The here and now – getting some results quickly – is clearly vital, but Christie’s ideas and plans are more focused on further down the line.

“We’re starting to put together an infrastructure and mechanism into place that will stand this club in good stead for years to come,” Christie explains. Do you feel like when you joined you had a blank canvas? “Totally. Before I joined I wrote the Chairmen a 16-page report, on ‘if we want to change this is how we have to change’. Doing the same things and expecting different results, that’s a sign of madness, someone once said. We have to change, and this is how we change.”

Selling young players is clearly going to be a vital part of that strategy, but Christie doesn’t believe it should detract from the bigger picture. “Dagenham sold three players this year for one million and fifty thousand pounds,” he points out. “Who did we sell?

“We need to bring in boys that we can sell on and sell on at the right price. Along the way we have to sell some of our kids to generate revenue, in order to get to the Championship. By putting mechanisms in place, we can build sustainable income for when we are in the Championship.”

Of all the things we’ve seen and heard, the fact Christie joined a club with no scouting structure remains the most shocking. “Every Saturday we’re now watching games, and then two or three nights a week. We’ve got scouts covering the whole UK now. We’ve even had a fan from Romania who wants to set up a scouting network for me in Romania. A fan! We’ve got a proper scouting network now.”

And suddenly he jumps to his feet and leads us back into the 1911 Club, where he’s arranged lunch. It’s a good job we can eat fast, because in no time at all he’s back to work.

“I look like a fat Fabio Capello!”

Past the club shop and beyond the ticket office booths, a small door take us into the Bantams Business Centre where the offices of the joint Chairmen, youth development, finance and other admin staff are based. On the opposite side of the long and narrow corridor are small businesses that are providing vital rental revenue to help the club, and you get the impression City’s own staff will be moved to alternative rooms inside the stadium itself as and when demand for their small-but-homely offices increases.

Archie’s office is at the end of the corridor, and around five other staff members share it including the club’s press officer, Mark Harrison. Christie’s desk seems small and humble – amongst the other staff, rather than hidden away on his own in plusher surroundings. He clearly gets on well with everyone as they swap catch up stories, while he logs into his computer to check emails. These emails include a written transfer bid for George Green from a major Premier League club which he needs to print out and take to the Board meeting. He’d quickly spoken to Julian Rhodes about this offer – which had been made on the phone earlier – back in the 1911 club. We were witness to the surprise in Julian’s eyes regarding the bid’s size.

The sheer number of letters, emails and DVDs Christie receives from footballers looking for a trial at Bradford City is mind-boggling. CVs run for three or four pages each, coming from players stuck in reserve teams at other League Two clubs to kids knowing they are on their way out of a big Premier League club and in need of a break. And those are just the applications from players in this country. There are others from as far away as Australia.

Kath Brown, the club secretary, pops in to finalise the Dominic Rowe paperwork and discuss a range of different queries for Christie to sort out. “When are you back in?” she asks. “Not until next week” is the answer, as he lists the range of tasks he’ll be undertaking around the country on behalf of the club (mostly related to Green and securing the best possible deal for the club in view of the number of clubs chasing him). It seems he does not do days off.

Julian calls him twice. The Board meeting has started, where are you? He’s heading to the door with various bits of paperwork to show them, but all the while having banter with staff, who seem to enjoy his company and are giving some back. A fresh-faced work experience kid is helping Mark Harrison with content for the official website. “Please do me a new stock image to appear on the website, will you?” orders Christie. “The one you use at the moment, I look like a fat Fabio Capello.”

“This is my Manchester City”

We walk out with him as he heads to the Board meeting back inside the stadium, and we head home feeling utterly exhausted. Christie thanks for us for coming, and hopes we’ve got plenty to write about. Hopes that fans will have the chance to appreciate what he actually does. Hopes the criticism will recede. “People keep saying I’m just waiting to move to Man City. I’m not, this is my Man City.”

He starts to walk off, before turning back to us and pointing upwards at the giant Main Stand that towers high into the blue Bradford sky. “This place is a cathedral. I want to turn it into a fortress.”

And then his phone rings yet again.

In conclusion

It was 11:30pm on a Wednesday evening two weeks ago when I – Michael Wood – first talked to Archie Christie about myself and Jason spending a day with him. I was watching some a really bad movie on ITV4, he was still working. That is the first recurrent theme you pick up when dealing with Archie.

He works hard – to a level I’ve never seen before in any of the businesses I’ve worked with or for – and he is entirely focused on Bradford City. Only once during the entire day did Christie involve himself in something other than Bradford City – a thirty second call about a problem at his home – and unless directly asked he would not talk about anything other than Bradford City, his plans for the club, and how he intends to achieve those plans.

It was startlingly single-minded and it was exactly what I want at Valley Parade.

Hard work is a virtue of course but it would be wrong to let you, dear reader, go away with the idea that Christie brings only effort to the club – although do not doubt that he brings that and in abundance. There is an efficacy to Christie’s efforts and an aim to everything he does. During the day we were able to see deals (and other structures) put in place which will help City for years to come and I can put hand on heart and say that without Christie some of those deals – and one especially – would not have happened. Or had it done, would not have happened in the massive way it has.

All these deals will come out in time. Scott Brown will play for the club, as will Terry Dixon and Andrew Burns, and other people at Bradford City will have taken a share in those achievements, but from what I have seen, and who I have talked to, Christie is the start of those things. General George Marshall once said “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Christie would appreciate that point. BfB has talked in the past about the need for Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes to bring a football expert to the club and so – as our day wound down – I asked Christie if he would consider himself that football expert. He flatly rejected the term. “I bring business planning to football, that’s all.”

Football businessmen – which is to say people in the boardroom of clubs – have a reputation for not being the sharpest you will meet, but talking to Christie he shows an intelligence at odds with the profession he is in. When speaking about the criticism and abuse he has had from a section of the City “supporters” (quotes mine) he offers us the explanation “I am Jean Valjean.”

Christie speaks five languages, and has fluency in four of them. “English is the one I’m not fluent in” he jokes in a gnarled Scots brogue. He has built up and sold his own business – retiring at forty – and been a part of £800m deals to sell one company. His last board meeting, before joining City, was with NCP before that multi-million pound sale.

At some point one’s cynicism has to admit defeat.

Archie Christie does not need Bradford City as much as – and I mean this most sincerely based on ten years of decline and having seen plans coming to fruition in the course the day – Bradford City needs Archie Christie.

Which begs the question as to why is he involving himself at all? He could have been a Premier League scout – “I’d be bored” – so he is not looking at moving on. He seems financially well enough off to not need money from the club and does not get any anyway working for expenses as he does. He confirmed that he does not get a commission for selling players, be they Development Squad, youth or first team. When his achievements bubble to the surface – and they have so far – they often do with someone else’s name attached.

How to get to the core of a man’s motivations? Why does Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan own Manchester City? What does Abramovich get out of Chelsea? Neither make a profit. Why does Sir Alex Ferguson carry on at Manchester United having already done everything he could ever hope to?

Why etch your name in stone? The restoration of Bradford City offer someone a great work to carry out which is beyond the scope of what could be offered as a cog in the machine of a Premier League club. No other club in football can match City’s potential while being so obviously in need of new ideas. After watching fifty years of football perhaps Christie just thinks he can do football better. I know I would do it.

Swimming lengths and treading water in the shallow end at half seven in the morning we talked to Christie about Carlos Tevez who had refused to play for Manchester City in the week – he was none too complimentary – and later at breakfast in front of the gathering of young players he looked with disdain at the headlines about Titus Bramble.

Looking out over Valley Parade later in the day he talked about moral absolutes. His most offended moment is when he talks about having read that following Craig Thompson’s suspension for Hearts for sex offences against children that City would soon see Christie draping a City shirt over him and announcing him as a new signing. “I have daughters,” he says, “why would someone say that?”

There is a morality to the man but it is not worn falsely. After talking about Marlon King we ask him about Jake Speight who was jailed after signing for the club for assaulting his former girlfriend and who was not in Jackson’s plans. Christie sold Speight on his first day at Valley Parade after the club had had no interest in him previously and got back what Peter Taylor had paid for him. We asked him how he did it and his answer is matter of fact. “I knew Dean Saunders needed a striker.”

Another player – signed to the Development Squad and talked about by Christie when he arrived – was sacked on his first day having been arrested for an assault, and lying about that assault on a woman. Christie checked out the situation and tore up the contract just signed. “A seven stone lassie,” Christie says, “but the fans don’t see that. They say ‘He promised us this player.'”

Perhaps that is why he is involved at City. Essentially a blank slate on his arrival, Bradford City offers a chance for someone to build a club almost from new, and to do so in a way which does things the right way.

“Spend a day with me…”

Archie Christie made us a promise before we started this endeavour. “Spend a day with me and if at the end you don’t think that I’m the hardest working man, working so hard, for the good of Bradford City then I’ll walk away.”

He is that hardest working man. But it is not just an appreciation of the effort which one takes from a day next to Archie Christie – it is the purposefulness of that work, and how utterly convinced we were that what he is doing is absolutely what needs to be done at Bradford City if the club is ever to turn around.

The things which I (Michael) have been talking about for the twelve years I’ve been writing this website Christie is doing. Everyone involved with Bradford City since Geoffrey Richmond has talked about wanting to get promotions, wanting to turn the club around, but until Christie none have ever had the objectives to go with those aims. No one has ever convinced me that they know how to do what they are setting out. Until now.

It is a great credit to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that they saw Christie and recognised that he could bring to the club what had been lacking in the past decade (and no slight on them) and we applaud them for taking his advice.

If, reading this, you are thinking that the acclamation is coming a little too thick, we would appreciate that – without experiencing the day we have – it is not easy to see just how hard working, and smart working, Christie is. You will just have to take our word for it. If you have been waiting for Bradford City to return to direction of the mid-to-late-1990s then the wait is over, or at least I am convinced it is.

If you seek to criticise Archie Christie then we’d wonder what you want from a person involved in Bradford City? The man works very hard and – on the basis of what we saw – gets a very good return on that work which without him we would simply not have. And he does it for expenses only, while generating the club in his first three months (by rough maths) enough to pay for the Development Squad five or six times over. Any idea that Christie and his Development Squad cost the club money is a lie. Any idea that Christie had Peter Jackson sacked is a lie. Any idea that Christie is taking money out of the club is a lie.

Christie’s origins before Bradford City have an element of mystery in them. There is talk about how much he actually did for Dagenham following some clarifications the Essex club issued, but their manager John Still talked on the phone to us about the long standing relationship the two have had and he was not alone in his admiration for Christie. From City’s young players to our manager to the manager of a top Premier League club to that manager’s chairman. The meshing together of the day told its own story.

We could understand people saying that Christie could be difficult to work with by virtue of the fact that in the late afternoon we were shattered and knew that he was carrying on working for another half a dozen hours or more. He demands commitment from the people around him but we have no problem with that, and in fact we’re glad that someone who will not put in that effort finds it hard to work at Valley Parade.

Conspicuous by its absence during the whole day was the sense that there was any disharmony around Christie’s role at the club. Director Graham Jones – who we bumped into at Valley Parade – could not speak highly enough calling the job that Christie was doing fantastic. The three young players – when talking about Christie – did so with a genuine affection and did not flinch from saying how much Christie had done for them. Scout Nigel Brown and Youth Supremo Peter Horne both talked about how Christie had given them remits to work and – in the case of Horne – that Christie made his job easier by taking some of the tasks he did not feel he was as well suited to on.

We’ve seen with our own eyes what Archie Christie is doing for Bradford City, and in turn for us supporters, and we could not fail to be impressed.

Third bottom of the Football League, no win in six games and we have reason to be optimistic.


With special thanks…

In addition to thanking Archie Christie for being so welcoming and open to Michael and Jason, BfB would also like to thank everyone else who kindly took the time to speak to us over the course of the day. In particular this includes Andrew Burns, Scott Brown, Terry Dixon, Peter Horne, Alex Llevak, Steve Parkin, Phil Parkinson, Nigel Brown, Julian Rhodes, Graham Jones and also the staff who share an office with Archie.

Everyone we talked to we were given the chance to talk to without Archie Christie being present and everyone we talked to was as open as you could hope for. There is a level of privacy which had to be respected but that was not especially stringent or out of keeping with any professional environment.

A surprisingly good fortnight for Mark Lawn

18 days on from a rather unpleasant-looking storm brewing over Valley Parade, it’s hard to imagine how the past two weeks could have gone any better for the Bradford City Board. When Peter Jackson resigned as manager on Thursday 25th August, the lack of explanation initially offered left Joint Chairman Mark Lawn on the receiving end of some truly venomous criticism. Yet just like the summer interest from Steve Parkin in taking over the club, Lawn has avoided any serious blows and emerged in a stronger position.

Sometimes you just can’t win and, having dallied for a long time appointing a replacement for Peter Taylor last season, the speed at which Lawn and Julian Rhodes recruited Phil Parkinson following Jackson’s walk out was viewed by some as too hasty. Yet a period that could have been so disruptive and difficult has proven to be a relatively smooth affair.

Michael Flynn’s last-minute penalty on Saturday means the team still hasn’t lost since Jackson departed – a notable statistic given four of the five previous games had ended in defeat. Parkinson has made three exciting signings that have undoubtedly improved the squad, while at the same time not dismantling the team building that had taken place before him. City have being drawn to play rivals Huddersfield Town in round two of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Colin Cooper’s decision to quit the club last week is the only genuine negative moment in two weeks of good news.

When the storm clouds gathered, Lawn was typically not shy in sharing his views. But while he may not be blameless for Jackson’s departure it’s hard to dispute that – fronting up to a potential crisis – he has shown strong leadership that has made a positive difference. It could easily have gone much worse this last fortnight, and Lawn could have justifiably pointed the blame at others for that happening. But while most managerial changes in recent years have seen this club go backwards, the early signs are that we are still moving forwards.

Lawn probably won’t get it from some quarters, but he deserves credit for this and for maintaining the long-term approach that it appears he and Rhodes chose to instigate this summer. Since the end of last season the pair have secured the club’s immediate future at Valley Parade by pouring more of their own money in, addressed the long-standing training ground problems and revamped the way young players are recruited and nurtured. They could have just as easily told Jackson to make do with Appleby Bridge – it’s not as if he was complaining – and thrown all the money into a playing budget and make it a ‘promotion or bust’ season yet again. Instead they have focused on a new vision to improve the club.

Jackson’s departure was the first test of this strategy, but instead of being tempted to tear it up they sought to take decisions that ensured its continuation. If the rift between chief scout Archie Christie and Jackson was as bad as some say they could have handled that very differently, such as by sacking the former Dagenham scout. We don’t know the ins and outs of what really happened, but it’s clear the pair retained support for Christie and backed him to continue the job he has started.

Time will tell how successful Christie’s development squad will prove. A sad fallout from the whole Jackson saga is that a number of supporters now view Christie in a negative light and seem less willing to support the development squad idea. But in making this appointment during the summer it’s clear Lawn and Rhodes sought to find a football man to instigate a strategy they are not qualified to manage (and – not that BfB believes Lawn cares what we think – we did tell him). That’s not to say Christie is some form of genuis (his role at Dagenham may have been slightly overplayed), but clearly he has strong contacts and has brought in some talented players from Scotland and England.

It appears getting rid of him – if that ever was a consideration – would have left a bigger hole than Jackson did.

Lawn appeared to handle the criticism he received remarkably well. It seemed he accepted why he was targeted and didn’t seek to make it worse by arguing back. He didn’t challenge his critics to a fight, and he didn’t label those who questioned him ‘morons’. Instead he concentrated on getting City back on track. It’s too early to judge whether appointing Parkinson is a great decision, but initial signs look very promising.

Lawn will probably never be widely popular among City supporters. But the fading levels of criticism towards him probably illustrate just what a good job he and Julian Rhodes have done in guiding the club over this unexpected bump in the road.

Parkinson offers Lawn a chance to revisit his moment of decision

Phil Parkinson’s arrival at Bradford City might be the repetition of the familiar sight of the club unveiling a new manager but for Mark Lawn his appointment represents a chance to revisit the most decisive moment he had taken as The Bantams chairman, and to try put right what went wrong.

Parkinson replaces former City captain turned manager Peter Jackson coming to the club with a CV that suggests that one should not expect expansive, attacking football. When City team drew 1-1 with Parkinson’s Colchester United in 2006 City boss Colin Todd called the man who now takes his seat “the death of football.”

It is fair to say that Parkinson is a footballing pragmatist although how this pragmatism will impact his City team is debatable. Having spent the summer talking about replacing Pat Rice as Arsene Wenger’s number two at Arsenal perhaps the negative football that raised Todd’s anger so was the best he could get out of his Colchester side, and that at Arsenal he would had done things differently. At City it might be worth seeing what practicalities he puts in place.

Nevertheless it is the icon replaced by the pragmatist. It is hard to not cast the decision as Mark Lawn’s chance to revisit the change he made at the club in 2010 when Stuart McCall was replaced by Peter Taylor. Lawn proudly stood alongside Taylor and there was a suggestion that amateur hour was over and a “proper manager” had taken over. Twelve months later and Lawn was recruiting again. Parkinson was interviewed for that position but Peter Jackson favoured.

Even in retrospect it is hard to piece together what went wrong with Lawn’s appointment of Taylor. He was welcomed to the club on the strength of his reputation for winning promotion – his CV is more impressive than Parkinson’s – and he pointed the club in the direction of the improvements which are now trumpeted. The new and better facilities were a demand of Taylor’s which were promised, then said to be not required, and then given to Peter Jackson.

But things went wrong – very obviously – and Taylor left after twelve months. Mark Lawn was the last of the board to agree on appointing Taylor but agree he did and he spent the summer pumping up City as promotion favourites.

When talking about Taylor’s team as being on the way out of football saved by Peter Jackson Lawn might deal in exaggeration but he also exonerates himself of any responsibility in the failure of the club to challenge for promotion that year. Lawn made his move in replacing the manager, his move failed, and Parkinson offers a chance to revisit that.

One wonders though is Lawn has learnt from the mistakes made with Taylor as he takes the chance to relive them?

Back when there was talk about Colin Todd being sacked as he approached 100 games in charge of City his record split pretty evenly down in thirds between wins, defeats and losses but – at the time – it was a better record that Parkinson (his Colchester team were top of League One at the time) had after the same number of games. In other words two years plus change into Todd’s contract he was doing better than Parkinson, when Parkinson got to three years his team were well on the way to promotion.

Parkinson’s old boss Alan Pardew has been given a five year deal at Newcastle United – a club no stranger to replacing gaffers – as an indication of how much the chairman believes in the decision he had made. One year, two years, the indication is still that the club is going to see how things go.

The club have stated that there is an aim to reach the Championship in five years time. If Parkinson is the man to start that process off then are we to take it he is not the man to finish it? If he is worth giving being trusted with the first two years of that process why not all five? Obviously his contract would be extended were he to do well but once again we are in the process not of finding the man we want for our future but rather auditioning managers on a short term basis to see if they are worth keeping in the long term.

This season is for building, and in the last year of his contract Parkinson must follow that the next is for promotion and should he achieve that the he will have earned himself the chance to be the club’s long term manager.

So Mark Lawn gives a manager a remit to get promotion next season – which is what he did with Taylor – and hopes that things go better than they did last time.

One hopes that Lawn has learnt more from his mistakes than the ability to repeat them.

Another search for a manager begins

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will be used to looking for a new manager and – after three appointments two of which lasted less than a year and a bit – they show no signs of having a grasp of the right criteria to make those appointments.

When Stuart McCall “resigned” from the club the question we asked was what the plan was for the recruitment of his replacement was. A lot of these questions have been answered with the move to new facilities at Woodhouse Grove and the appointment of Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Director of Football Development.

There is a plan at the club which Christie was brought in to implement to develop players for the first team – and to provide more players for the manager with a more extensive scouting network – which aims to take some of the onus of recruitment from the manager and have a retention of knowledge beyond the man in the dug out. Unlike the situation where Peter Taylor left and his backroom staff were sent away with him Jackson having left yesterday the players have familiar faces around them.

It is this type of system which saw an end to Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle United and – in a way – Alan Curbishley at West Ham but is increasingly common in football. Indeed on Jackson’s last day at Valley Parade Michael Flynn told Radio Leeds that Colin Cooper took the players through their paces while the manager spent the morning on the phone to football managers trying to find a striker on loan. The team and manager lunched and went over the plan for the Barnet game, then resigned.

(It should be noted, and as an aside, that Keegan’s contracted stated that he would have the final say over players brought into the club and when the club’s Director of Football Recruitment Dennis Wise signed Xisco – the issue which Keegan resigned over – Newcastle United were in breach of that contract and while Keegan resigned he later successfully sued the club for constructive dismissal. One wonders what the detail of Jackson’s contract was.)

The manager’s remit is the first team and the requirement is not for an holistic club builder but rather for a game winner, and someone who with coaching and deployment can edge a performance an inch or two better. There is a list of managers who were considered to replace Stuart McCall (now Motherwell): Peter Taylor (now Bahrain), Steve Cotterill (now Portsmouth), Russell Slade (now Leyton Orient), Peter Jackson, Lawrie Sanchez (now Barnet), Jim Magilton (now caretaker assistant manager Shamrock Rovers), Dean Windass (working for BSKYB), John Coleman (still Accrington), Iain Dowie (no club), Martin Allen (now Notts County) and Wayne Jacobs. Six months ago John Hughes (no club) declared an interest in joining City and John Still (still Dagenham) interviewed for the position.

How many of these fulfil the remit which Jackson was being asked to work within? Certainly John Still – the victorious Dagenham manager of last week – would do having worked with Christie before but one has to wonder how much of an appreciation of what skills the next manager needs to have, and how those skills are distinct from those which were required when looking for McCall or Taylor.

Having appointed a big personality in Jackson – and perhaps had personality clashes – Lawn and Rhodes may be tempted to opt to bring in a younger manager who is more malleable, less set in his ways of how to run a club, and able to work within the current structure. They would do well to avoid “Yes” men.

The aim of the club is to have an appointment before next week’s trip to Morecambe which suggests that there is someone in mind – probably someone who has talked to the club six or eighteen months ago – but that Lawn and Rhodes do not have the clarity to bring someone in immediately. Were John Still to be the choice then one imagines a call would be made, a resignation drafted, and the new man revealed on Monday. The fact that there is a week until appointment suggests that there are discussions to be had and a choice to be made. There is a suggestion that three interviews will be held this week. One has to wonder what Lawn and Rhodes think they will hear in those interviews which they had not heard in the last two rounds, and how they will be able to sift the answers to get the right man. We are to assume that Jackson and Taylor were both the most impressive people in interview.

The early runners

The link to John Still – who talked about how he would have joined City were it not for the uncertainty over the future of Valley Parade – is a strong one with the Dagenham manager being in the final two of the club’s thoughts when Jackson was appointed. The club would – not doubt – have to pay Dagenham to free Still from his contract.

Impressive in the last round of interviews was former Hibs and Falkirk manager John Hughes who is out of work at the moment and could come in without any compensation payable. Hughes is a strong candidate for the job but one might expect him to be appointed this morning rather than next week if he is the chosen one.

Former players Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass have their name’s mentioned often in connection with the job. Beagrie has shown no interest in moving into management thus far but Windass has made his desire to take over the club known – Terry Dolan as his assistant – and could fit in as the type of rookie manager who may appeal to the board who have had problems dealing with experienced number ones.

Former Barnsley manager and City man of the 1980s John Hendrie is also an option although one might wonder how many conversations Hendrie has had with Stuart McCall about the board at Bradford City and how that would colour his view of the job were it offered.

City have always been fond a bit of fashionability and so perhaps Jim Magilton – who is working as caretaker assistant at Shamrock Rovers who qualified for the Europa League with this superb strike last night may be an outside bet having talked to the club previously.

Other names work mentioning include Colin Cooper the current caretaker manager and former player and Farsley manager Lee Sinnott. Paul Ince has been mentioned – his promotion with MK Dons would impress the board almost as much as his collection of shiny medals but his track record is patchy.

Finally John Coleman has interested City in the past.

The week we lost patience

It was always coming – the loss of patience that has fractured Valley Parade this week – but the surprise was not that it has arrived in such a short space of time but that the harbinger of trouble came from a sight thought consigned to City’s history. Luke Oliver in attack.

Oliver lumbered into the forward line and five days later Peter Jackson – the man who called the job as Bradford City his dream come true – was walking out of the club leaving a stunned playing squad and a lot of questions.

Questions that everyone – including Jackson – will struggle to find answer to. As he woke up this morning the former Huddersfield Town, Lincoln City and Bradford City manager is no longer a football manager. The Bantams pulled Jackson out of retirement – he was literally in a nursing home – and gave him one of 92 jobs in professional football.

And, Jackson said, the job he really wanted over all others. Think about that for a moment. Right up until – as Michael Flynn testified to – Jackson put on his suit and headed to the board meeting at Valley Parade Jackson was a man (according to himself) doing the job he had always wanted. Two hours later he became a former professional football manager now. Before City no one wanted him, and his experience of the last six months will do nothing to add to his employability.

What could have happened in that boardroom which would make a man inflict such a destiny on himself?

Retracing the steps following the defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge on Saturday it is hard to say. During the week Peter Jackson went back on his ideas of building a squada squad we are told has been bolstered by additional funding – after a game which had seen his side booed off.

Jackson talked about how great the supporters had been to him, how they had stuck by the team, and in doing so drew a line between the malcontent and those who did get behind his side. There are people who use Valley Parade as a place to vent their spleens and I have made my thoughts on those people known but there are more people who have turned up to Valley Parade regularly over the past decade through some pretty thin thin. Ten years without much manifest progress.

Those people – who Jackson credited as sticking by his team – are wondering what must have happened in that two hour board meeting that means that Jackson lasts only six months compared to the years they put in.

The Daggers game saw patience levels tested. It was the second home defeat of the season in only two games which levelled the number of home defeats which Stuart McCall’s side suffered in the 2008/2009 season, the point being illustrated not being about managers but rather about promotion prospects. For those who – with levels of optimism unjustified – thought that City were in the title hunt this season that was enough to see them lose patience. Perhaps Jackson – or members of the board – were amongst them.

It is said that in one board meeting former manager McCall threw a DVD of a game at a board member after a badgering session. Perhaps there was nothing for Jackson to throw. McCall carried on that season until he felt that promotion could not be achieved, Jackson had 42 games left but – we are told – believed that the club could do better with someone else at the helm.

For Peter Jackson it seemed that his patience with his four strikers was at an end and he declared that he would be bringing in an experienced striker. Jackson’s decision had some logic to it – a team that is not winning because it is not scoring will do no good to the education of any of the squad – but even were one to accept Jackson’s analysis that the problem City are facing is to do with not having enough smarts in the forward line his solution was by no means foolproof.

Recall – if you will – Peter Taylor’s signing of Jason Price – a player who has since moved on to today’s opposition Barnet – who was very much the type of experienced striker that Jackson talked about bringing in. The thirty year old Price looked good at Valley Parade but his presence did not spark a turn around in Taylor’s side’s fortunes and on his exit we were left with the same squad of players we had before his signing, although their noses had been put slightly more out of joint by having someone brought in over their heads.

If Jackson was under pressure to sign a player and did not want to – and there is no indication that he was not keen on bringing someone in or that he had not attempted to do so – then he certainly toed the party line. If Jackson did try a quarter of the managers in football to try find a new player and drew a blank then the suggestion he resigned on a point of principal of the club recommending via Archie Christie a new forward would paint the City boss in the most churlish light. If you have spent all morning being knocked back for players, why get upset when someone else has helped you out? Upset to the point of leaving your dream job.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

It was a chilling sight when all six foot seven of Luke Oliver lumbered into the attack for the end of the defeat to Dagenham. Not that Oliver cannot be trusted to do whatever job he is given as well as he can but that the situation in which – James Hanson having been removed – there was the requirement for a target man seemed to suggest that having taken off Hanson Jackson had – in effect – changed his mind.

Four games into the league season and it seemed that Peter Jackson was flailing. Pre-season was spent with the players playing a tight passing game which lasted but a half against Aldershot Town. Since then there has been a commitment to putting foot through the ball and trying to win anything from James Hanson’s head. Players like Mark Stewart – signed with one way of playing in mind – are decided to be too lightweight for the hustle of League Two football.

There is an irony in League Two football. The teams in the middle of the division play a big man, hit-and-hope type of game splitting the teams in the league who try to play the game on the ground. Those who play a passing game well are able to beat the lump up merchants and so rise to the top while the bottom of the league is full of teams who get muscled out, fail to press their passing game, and suffer under the strength of players in the division.

The best and the worst teams play football in League Two. Playing a physical, hit-and-hope game practically guarantees a place in the division next season. Get a couple of big lads and ping the ball at them and – like Peter Taylor’s team – you will still be in League Two at the end of the season.

Which sounds a good prospect after four games and one point but – in two years time – when City feel they have developed the development squad to such a degree where a promotion push is needed then a new way of playing the game is needed to get above the morass.

City’s best performance of the season to date – the game with Leeds United – was based around the kind of passing game which Jackson did not deploy against League Two teams for fear that his players will be muscled off the ball.

Looking at City’s four goals in five games this season three of them have come from what could be classed as passing football, the other being a set play flicked on by Luke Oliver at Oxford. Jackson needed to have more faith in the players he had brought to the club – and in his own judgement that he could bring them in and put them into a starting eleven which could work in League Two – and perhaps it was the thought of retrofitting muscle into his side which played on Jackson’s mind during that board meeting.

One wonders what was said and between whom. For sure in the days and weeks to come both the departing manager and the joint-chairman Mark Lawn will speak about their versions of events and probably reality will sit between them.

In the back of a Ford

City face a Barnet side who seemingly had no chance of being in League Two this season. Adrift at the bottom of League Two they looked to be relegated but for a late season push which saw Lincoln City cast out of football once more.

Having had a trip to Burnley in the League Cup in the week Barnet arrive at Valley Parade without a win since the opening day and on the back of two 2-2 draws. They are managed by Lawrie Sanchez who twice wanted the Bradford City job and have the aforementioned Price, Steve Kabba and Izale McLeod as a potent strike force.

With Colin Cooper expected to be put in charge of the team it is hard to say what the side would be. Martin Hansen has returned to Liverpool after a loan spell which – if anything – should teach him of the need to shout more. Jon McLaughlin would hope to return having played in a Reserve game at Rotherham in the week but Jackson did indicate that Oscar Jansson will start and that the club want him to sign for a longer loan deal.

Steve Williams was in line to return to the back four and – on form – Guy Branston would have had to be man to step down for him with Luke Oliver putting in excellent displays however news of Williams’ set back in training questions that. Robbie Threlfall and Liam Moore are expected to continue at full back.

Jack Compton will be wide on the left. Michael Bryan has yet to flatter and at the moment he – like most loan players – stands accused of using up a shirt that one of our squad could have. Not to put too fine a point on it but it is hard to see how picking Dominic Rowe in the three games Bryan has been at the club would have seen things pan out differently and Rowe would have been three games wiser.

None of which is to criticise Bryan just the wisdom of bringing him to the club given the long term aims that Archie Christie’s development project has outlined. Far be it from me to side with Mark Lawn but given a choice between what Christie talks of and the reality of signing more Michael Bryans, Ryan Kendals, or Louis Moults I’d side with the man who said that we should take a longer term view. Chris Mitchell could come in on the right.

Richie Jones and Michael Flynn – when they were not watching the ball sail over their heads – put in a good display against Dagenham and Redbridge. Dagenham, home of Ford, prompts a motor metaphor in most men and in this case it is that the pair represent an engine running away without the driveshafts and gears that connect it to the wheels. With Jackson’s 442 having been so static there was power generated but that goes to waste for the want of connections to the extremities.

Which returns us to the subject of Mark Stewart and how he would provide that connection dropping between the lines and allowing for some interplay between midfield and attack but – in a game of hoof ball – his skills are negated. Ross Hannah probably did enough to secure himself a starting place in the side next to James Hanson in the starting line up although Nialle Rodney might get a chance. All four of the strikers would – in my opinion – do well with good service.

Which is why the sight of a long ball being pumped to Luke Oliver is a good reason to lose one’s patience but probably not the reason that Jackson’s patience for the machinations of working at Valley Parade ran out.

There is a rumour that Peter Jackson wanted to bring in Danny Cadamarteri from Huddersfield for a second spell at City and that Mark Lawn blocked that on the grounds that having seen Cadamarteri he was unimpressed. This lacks the validity of being a good enough reason to quit your dream job, and again what could one say about a manager who thought Cadamarteri was the answer the City’s goalscoring problems?

Perhaps the biggest question of Jackson’s departure is how well he would have done in the fullness of time. He leaves an unimpressive record behind him of four wins, four draws in eighteen. There was a sense though that Jackson was just getting started and that things would improve. Would they have improved on the basis that Danny Cadamarteri was coming in to point us in the right direction? We shall never know.

Mark Lawn is expected to make a statement today about yesterday which was a remarkable day in Bradford City’s history and Peter Jackson is never shy of the media so will be getting his version out. Both will tell a story and it will probably involve an argument which got out of hand and a number of men who would not back down.

Patience, it seems, was in short supply.

In case of emergency, spend money

“The money has gone.”

It is an old story which has been heard at Bradford City – and at other football clubs – up and down the land for as long as the game has been professional and so as Mark Lawn revealed that cash from the cup ties against Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, and the monies earned from Tom Cleverley’s contract at Manchester United had all gone it was all supporters could do to not roll their eyes.

The money is always gone, according to chairmen, but there are different levels of gone.

The Carling Cup game with Leeds United is rumoured to have brought the club in £200,000. Any good chairman would immediately put the necessary in a tax account (although not Gordon Gibb, another story) and then Lawn tells us the money was put into the playing budget. Said Lawn “We immediately upped the manager’s (playing) budget by £100,000, so that’s gone.”

City bid £100,000 for Romain Vincelot on the day the club played Silsden. At that time Guy Branston, Mark Stewart, Ritchie Jones, even Scott Brown had already signed for the club and the likes of Nialle Rodney and Nakhi Wells were on trial. There was talk of divesting the club of some players – Michael Flynn used to figure on that list but is in the first team now – and perhaps some of the budget has gone to keeping him. Perhaps too it has gone on retaining Robbie Threlfall rather than playing Luke O’Brien.

It seems impossible to believe that the players brought in since Silsden have represented an excess of £100,000 over the ammount club were planning on spending. Jack Compton does not a £100,000 spend, nor does Martin Hansen, nor does Oscar Jonnson. At least I assume they do not. Perhaps borrowing a Spurs keeper does cost six figures, but I would be very surprised if the money in the player budget is spent.

Not spent but gone from the club’s point of view in that it has been earmarked for spending. In this week that Peter Jackson looks for an experienced striker it will probably be spent this week – or a chunk of it will be – although it seems that City have found that bringing in a good forward on loan in the week before the transfer window closes is not easy. Go figure.

The money is always gone but this time – it seems – that it is gone on bringing in loan players and fresh recruits. It is probably wise to keep a cash reserve for emergencies – had Flynn left City then we would probably be looking at making a signing to cover David Syers – but you will have your own thoughts, dear reader, on if not being able provide supply to four capable forwards constitutes such an emergency.

Peter Jackson goes there and back again as City look for experience

Peter Jackson’s young Bradford City team are more passionate and hungrier than the squad he inherited from Peter Taylor. Take Guy Branston out the starting eleven and the average age of the players is in the low twenties.

The aims that Jackson – and the club – made clear in the summer is that in putting together a young team the manager is creating a future for the club. The last four season – three under Stuart McCall and one under Taylor – have seen four different teams with a half dozen players changed every time. These “overhauls” were the subject of Jackson’s close season planning. They were to become a thing of the past. That is the plan.

Or was the plan. Today news comes out of the club that City are looking for experienced players. Ignore, for the moment, the idea that the Bantams are talking about breaking the budget offsetting that mentally against the £200,000 raised by playing Leeds United which was offered for Romain Vincelot and consider the sort of signings which Mark Lawn is referring to.

Maybe bringing in a couple more experienced players to help the young kids out will help. That’s what we are trying to search for and do – Mark Lawn

Think back less than twelve months to Lee Hendrie’s short time at Valley Parade. An experienced player, one who performed well, and then vanished leaving us with a few more points that we had before he arrived but nothing we could take forward with us. The point of the plans of the summer was to stop short term recruitment. Has this plan really been reversed after five games?

If – as with Hendrie – bringing in old heads gets a few points what impact will it have on the players who were brought in with the promise that they would play

When some players aren’t performing, I know there’s back-up now. We might bring in a young player and put him out on loan. We can still keep a close check on him and bring him back ready to put in the team – Peter Jackson

Which is to say nothing about the fact that the problems that have caused City’s early season form is not the fault of the players but rather of the way they are playing. We could bring in Wayne Rooney but if we whack the ball at him over sixty yards and expect him to do pinpoint knock downs to a single team mate against six opposition defenders then we would get the same return out of him than we do from James Hanson.

Player for player you could swap out someone, and put in someone experienced and not make a massive difference with the players playing in the way – and in the shape – they were in the previous two 1-0 defeats (or rather at the time of concessions in the previous two 1-0 defeats, Chris Mitchell’s midfield role at Accrington was very useful.)

City’s best performance of the season saw a free interchange of the two midfielders David Syers and Michael Flynn with Jack Compton and Mark Stewart. Much of the play which has resulted in few chances has been static with players lacking any dynamics in their performances. Ross Hannah and James Hanson have been pressed against the back line constantly, the midfield has been a straight line, the full backs never getting past the wide men.

Of course Peter Jackson is not standing on the touchline screaming at Ross Hannah to not drop between the lines or Liam Moore to never go beyond Michael Bryan (we hope) but it is the role of the coaching staff to emphasise that need. Perhaps bringing in an experienced player, putting him on the field for a month, and pointing at him while telling Hannah et al that one should “do that” is a way for Jackson to educate his squad but it seems like a big turn around in a short space of time.

Everyone would be a football manager and everyone has their ideas on how a team should play. Mine involve supporting full backs, a drop off striker, one man wide and one tight in the midfield and a holding man to win the ball back. It is that last position – someone to sit deep in the midfield – which Jackson’s side lacks but every other position to play the way I would is covered in the current squad.

The same is true for Jackson. Bringing in Michael Bryan simply duplicated what Dominic Rowe was doing in pre-season. He has four different strikers: One who is superb in the air, one who is rangy and fast, one who drops deep and moves, and one who finishes well and has a stinging shot; but he has no supply to them. Jack Compton could provide that but seldom does he come have options around him when he gets the ball, nor does he get the ball in dangerous positions. Perhaps the players at City could not do the jobs that Jackson wants them to, but they should be given a chance to show what they can do in an organised team.

Poor early season form was expected and the manifestation of that is not especially enjoyable to watch but less enjoyable is the idea that the club is prepared to give up the plans of the summer because of a few bad results.

The work in progress

48 hours on from the red hot away atmosphere at Elland Road on a sunny Yorkshire evening, the quaint surroundings of Steeton AFC’s Summerhill Lane ground and a heavy downpour formed the more grounded backdrop to the Bradford City Development Squad’s place of work.

They were here for a friendly against their West Riding County Amateur Football League counterparts – a derby with none of the intensity of Tuesday but with plenty of meaning for all on the pitch. The serious stuff has got going for City’s first teamers, but for almost everyone wearing the lovely pink kit this evening it was an opportunity to prove they are capable, one day, of promotion to the senior squad.

City's Development Squad in development

City's Development Squad in development

Much has been said over the summer about the Archie Christie-led initiative of tutoring a group of younger players, so they can potentially be good enough for first team action over the next few years. But as the football season gets into full swing, it’s likely the Development Squad will become largely forgotten. Indeed some of the usual message board trouble makers have already attempted to criticise City devoting a budget to Christie, while hinting at a rift between him and first team manager Peter Jackson.

But if Jackson really doesn’t care for all of this, he must be desperately short of things to do in an evening. Tonight he, joint-Chairmen Mark Lawn and Head of Youth Operations Peter Horne watched from next to the City dugout while Wayne Allison – surely a Jackson appointment – barked instructions at the team alongside a near-silent Christie. Interest within the club for the Development Squad is clearly strong.

The treacherous downpour and lack of team sheet meant this writer struggled through his rain-soaked glasses to identify everyone who was playing for City this evening. From the first team squad there was Jon McLaughlin in goal for the 90 minutes, Leon Osborne leading the attack and – yes, he is still alive – Lewis Hunt at centre back. Meanwhile new loan signing Michael Bryan lined up on the right flank and enjoyed an encouraging evening.

An up-for-it Steeton made the sure game was competitive, but as City got into their passing stride they were clearly a cut above. Scott Brown, who isn’t allowed to play for the first team until he turns 17 in November, was once again utterly masterful in the centre of the park. The Scottish teenager effortlessly sprayed the ball around with great accuracy and confidence, spotting things others don’t see. He is Bradford City’s secret weapon for either later this season or next, and the potential is huge.

Dominic Rowe took a spot on the right wing and drove the team forward well, though his positional awareness still needs some work. Adam Robinson looks a great prospect at centre back, while the number three (who’s name I wasn’t sure of, sadly) was terrific getting up and down as left back. Up front Osborne showed a much greater level of maturity compared to his petulant display at Silsden a month back, and it was great to hear him offering rookie partner Darren Stephenson advice and encouragement throughout.

It was Osborne who put City in front after he was played through on goal and rounded the keeper. Soon after Stephenson – who earlier had missed an open goal, albeit from a tight angle – struck a second from inside the box. The rain was incessant in the first half and my lack of coat or hat soon had me shivering. Suddenly a comforting arm was placed around my shoulder, before I turned round to see who it was and to accept their offer of a handshake. It was Jackson,  walking around supporters saying hello. The personable style of this man is hugely impressive, I think I’m developing a man-crush for him.

Shortly after a half time interval made entertaining by ear-wigging Allison’s team talk on the pitch, it was 3-0 when a young substitute – who I believe to be Kieran Djilali, on trial from Crystal Palace and very sharp –  finished emphatically from just inside the box, and the rest of the game seemed like a typical second half pre-season friendly where little happens. The cross bar was struck towards the end by City and Steeton’s players looked increasingly agitated with each other; Luke Dean was assured in a less familiar right back position.

A decent evening’s work, though the quality of opposition and basicness of Steeton’s ground symbolised how there is some way to go for the Development Squad strategy to achieve its objectives. This is no overnight route to success, and in things don’t go well on the pitch this season the conviction in maintaining this long-term approach may be tested by some.

But if, as per usual, the first team fails to live up to expectations this campaign, there’s great comfort to be had from knowing that a Plan B is already in operation.

David, Goliath and Tom Cleverley

It is hard to not fall into the trap of painting Bradford City’s attempts to claim some of the loan fees paid by clubs to Manchester United from clubs who have borrowed one time City youngster Tom Cleverley as being a kind of cheeky David trying to sneak Goliath’s wallet out of his pocket and in doing so dismiss City’s claim as being opportunistic.

There is something cunning about the Bantams’ claim for slices of the money paid by the likes of Watford and Wigan for the player. It seems that City – bolstered by the player’s move into the England senior squad and Manchester United first team picture – have been alerted to the terms of the deal and almost certainly those terms and the sell on clause in them was nothing at all to do with these loan fees and everything to do with the idea that the midfielder would bubble around at Old Trafford before Gabriel Obertaning his way to Newcastle United to deliver City a slice.

In such a context then Mark Lawn’s professional to professional approach is likely to fall on deaf ears. After all Wayne Rooney’s Gorilla chest vests do not come cheap.

Legally though the claim would depend on the definition of a loan and in that City’s case builds. Loans is a colloquialism for the correct term “temporary transfer.”

The loan system is a pathed cow path that replaced a team making an agreement that they would sell a player and buy him back later. The registration transfer might be temporary but it is a transfer and if money changes hands to enable it then there seems to be a reading of the contract that entitles the Bantams to some of that money.

After all were there no formal loan system and Cleverley had been sold to Wigan with a gentleman’s agreement that he would – if he played well – return to Old Trafford for a similar amount plus a bit for the Latic’s trouble then there would be no question of the Bantams getting a cut.

No doubt this will head to the football authorities. Bradford City – £45,000 a week for Benito Carbone – make poor Davids to anyone’s Goliath and so one wonders how much sympathy would be engendered. A decision in favour of City would help any club who had lost a player to the top flight only to see him loaned around the leagues and there is certainly a claim that the spirit of the agreement is that the Bantams would benefit from any financial gain that comes from the player moving to another club.

Reports suggest that Manchester United have offered to settle for £50,000. City might accept that. How often does any club go up against Manchester United and win off the field let alone on it? Regardless of who is right, often football favours might.

Doing the right thing on the price of football

Q. What do you get if you travel 630 miles to watch your club play at Valley Parade?
A. After the sixty odd pounds you will put in your tank for petrol – a bill for £27.80 each.

Or at least that is what today’s cost of football survey tells us with City coming top of the League Two list of expensive days out.

A list that is – well – not right at all. The vast majority of people who go to a game at Valley Parade will be using the cheapest season tickets in professional football to watch the club and while a pie and a pint might set you back a bob or two the cost of getting into the ground – for most – is superb value.

The BBC’s figures show walk ups – to use the vernacular Mark Lawn did when talking about the 1,000 – 2,000 people who come to Valley Parade for a game who do not have season tickets including the supporters alluded to in the opening paragraph who would have travelled up from Torquay to watch the Gulls play City.

The same price would be paid for a guy who walked 630 meters from Bradford city centre on a Saturday afternoon and one wonders how often that happens. The door price at Valley Parade – over three times the season ticket cost – is expensive.

Need it be that way? BfB talked to Mark Lawn and he said that no one at Valley Parade had really considered bringing down the walk up price.

The pricing at Valley Parade is one of the things we can be genuinely proud of our club for. When times are hard for people Bradford City are not gouging into your pocket, they are showing a loyalty rarely afforded to fans in football. And they are doing the right thing.

Perhaps – in the interests of stability – City might look at the idea of the Price of Football survey and create their own shopping basket to tie the season ticket price at Valley Parade too. Football should cost the same as a trip to the cinema (currently VP is a bit cheaper), or a medium Pizza Hut Pizza, or three pints of bitter, or the average of these things. A built in escalator would stop the price of the season ticket falling behind inflation while underlining the message of cheaper tickets – that they align the price of football to other activities a person does.

And perhaps the walk up price should be the same. Tied to that figure with extra on top to reward people who commit their cash. If £7 is the cost of the City shopping basket then perhaps double it for walk ups. £14 is a more attractive proposition than £20.

That is fair, if old fashioned, thinking. A more modern and more radical approach would be to charge the same for both and to season ticket holders added value. Reductions on shirts, away travel, that sort of thing.

One doubts though that £6 – or £13 – difference will matter that much to the fan coming up from Torquay who obviously is following his or her club regardless of price. Those people deserve a medal for their commitment.

At the moment though the club is doing the right thing on pricing for season ticket holders and – if possible – it would be good to see them extend that where they can to walk ups. City are doing great things to keep football affordable for the fans who make the commitment to the club, it would be good to find a way to reward the most committed fans of other clubs, and set an example to the rest of the game as a way to do the right thing in football.

BfB meets…Bantams Banter

The 2010/11 season may have been one to forget for everyone who cares about Bradford City, but the introduction of a dedicated podcast – Bantams Banter – was a rare bright spot competing against a tide of widespread misery.

Presented and produced by City supporters Tom and Dom, the regular series of downloadable audio shows quickly grew in popularity – as the pair’s comedic style when talking about City became a must-listen for Bantams fans around the world. “Over time, word of mouth has spread about the show and we ended up with a 100,000 downloads last year,” Dom Newton-Collinge told BfB. “We want fans to feel, when they’re listening to it, that they’re getting an honest view on City matters. Like they’re at the game almost, sat next to their mate. We tend to say what we see, which is what all the fans do. And I think that’s why it has been so well received.”

“THEY’VE NEVER TOLD US OFF ONCE. THEY COULD EASILY HAVE DONE.”

There are just under 10 minutes until City’s friendly with Guiseley is about to kick off at Nethermoor Park, and BfB meets up with Dom at the front of the main stand to interview him about the success of Bantams Banter. Sidekick Tom is unable to make it, as his cousin’s band is playing at the 02 Academy in Leeds. Our discussion about finding a suitably quiet place to chat leads to Dom suggesting we gatecrash a part of football stadiums he is very familiar with from his podcast work – the press box.

A quick negotiation with the Telegraph & Argus’ Simon Parker later, and we’re clambering over empty seats to the quiet annoyance of City’s official website editor, Mark Harrison, in order to find an empty spot. On the row in front of us, a few seats to the right, are Mark Lawn and other members of City’s Board. It’s a slightly surreal experience; though for Dom it seems more a case of sitting with good friends like Mark Harrison – oh, and close to the guy who once made him redundant.

“I worked for Bradford City for a few years,” Dom explained when I asked him about his background. “I was the assistant press officer, which included getting to travel with the team to away games. It was the best job in the world: I’ve been a season ticket holder since before I can remember.

“Then when Mark Lawn came in there was massive changes. They thought things would be better when Stuart McCall took over, but it didn’t work out. So I got back from a holiday in New York, where I’d spent every bit of money I had saved up when I was working for City, and Lawn said he was going to have to let me go, and made me redundant. I was absolutely gutted.”

Not that Dom was out of work for long, with BBC Radio Leeds’ Derm Tanner straight on the phone with an offer to work with him. Dom revealed, “He taught me all the ropes – everything I know in radio now I learned from Derm really. I was at the BBC when I got a job offer from Sky, and I ended up working for them doing horse and greyhound racing commentaries. I knew nothing about them at all! I hated the job, they knew I hated it and they laid me off after six months.”

Now working for a local radio station in Bradford with his friend Tom, the pair began to develop the idea of Bantams Banter and a podcast dedicated solely to Bradford City, featuring hard-hitting opinions mixed with humour. They approached the club, who agreed to the idea, and when the show launched in August 2010 it carried the club’s ‘official’ tag.

“Well it was official until they listened to it!” laughed Dom. “Then they said they liked it, but the Football League would have something to say. But even though it’s no longer official, the club are really good about it. They really like it and they try to do everything that can for us, such as meeting the players.

“They’ve never told us off once. They could easily have done. They know we push the limits, but they accept that it’s just honest views.”

“BECAUSE THIS IS OUR OWN THING WE CAN BE MORE RISQUE AND EDGY ABOUT IT.”

As unplanned as this location for our interview was, with the match having now kicked off, it seems like the perfect way to chat to Dom given the format of Bantams Banter. Last season a podcast was produced for every home game, and the majority of the content is recorded while they watch the match live from the Valley Parade press box.

“We put loads of research into it before we launched Bantams Banter, in order to discover what works,” added Dom. “We listened to Chris Evans, BBC Radio 5live. Just trying to gather as much information as we could, and then thought how can we take these shows and make them our own?

“We’re trying to introduce a new way of reporting and new style of media. There’s been a bit of a breakthrough recently where you can be more silly and people like it. We’re trying to introduce that to sport. Soccer AM have done it and stuff, but because this is our own thing we can be more risqué and edgy about it.”

Initially the podcast got a lukewarm response with few downloads, but Tom and Dom stuck at it and, over the course of the season, its popularity grew considerably to around 4,500 downloads per game. “After the first few we thought ‘it is worth it?’ because we were getting about 100-200 downloads. We persisted with it and tried to make it look as professional at it could. It’s worked out now and really taken off.

“To be honest I feel quite shy and embarrassed about the fact I do the show, but I want people to listen to it and I want people to download it. I’m not going to profess that we’re some type of media geniuses or anything, it was just lucky the idea works, and we’ve got the people who download it to thank for that. Because without anyone downloading the podcasts, it would be nothing really.”

“ONE OF THESE DAYS I WILL GET MY HEAD CAVED IN – IT WILL MAKE A GOOD PODCAST!”

That producing the show while a game is underway comes across so natural on the podcasts is testament to the pair’s broadcasting abilities. Trying to record an interview under such circumstances at Guiseley quickly showed me how difficult it must be to remain fully focused on producing the show, though Dom admits the pair quickly forget the fact they’re even recording.

“When you do a podcast of the nature we do you forget that you’re on. That is one of the reasons it works well I think because we don’t have to think about what we’re saying it’s more natural. You can tell it’s not very professional and that we don’t really think about what we’re saying.

“While regular radio commentators just need to focus on that afternoon, we recognise we need to make sure our content carries into the week. Not everyone listens to it straight away, that’s why we try to make it funny if at all possible, because humour keeps something fresh. We try to give listeners something to laugh at. They don’t want to hear us say ‘Hanson has tripped over’ they want to listen to ‘oh bloody hell Hanson’s fallen over, what a donkey!’

“If you listen to our podcasts now from last season, you can still laugh at it. Even though the game’s months old.”

And this approach led to many memorable moments on the show last season. Highlights included the dramatic Stockport home game, where listening back you could vividly relive the pain we all experienced during that nerve-jangling 90 minutes. On another occasion they recorded a podcast from Crewe’s Gresty Road, and found themselves confronted by angry home fans when they cheered a City goal.

Dom recalled, “This big group of people sat in front of us were absolutely going for it – shaking their fists at us, telling us where to go, all sorts. Tom was really nervous. But something happens to me when I step into a football stadium, where I turn into an absolute nutter and I don’t care. One of these days I will get my head caved in – it will make a good podcast!”

“HE SAYS HE’LL ONLY WEAR IT IF WE GIVE HIM PICKLES EVERY WEEK, WHICH WE WON’T!”

In addition to recording the majority of each show live at the game, they carry out interviews with players and management. Manager Peter Jackson is a keen fan and this week invited the pair to view the new training facilities, while even the players are enjoying the extra attention the podcast – and the range of t-shirts – brings.

“Guy Branston loved the t-shirt we’ve done about him, though he did give us a bit of stick – he says he’ll only wear it if we give him pickles every week, which we won’t!” laughed Dom. “He was also telling us that he really likes the idea of the podcast and the t-shirts, because players at this level don’t necessarily get the opportunity to have that sort of attention. So it’s really good for morale. They think ‘oh I must be good because I’ve got a t-shirt’.”

Aside from the recording, production is time consuming. It can take around two days just to edit down the amount of content they have, in order to produce the final version. Fortunately with such a close working relationship, the pair get on really well.

“We’ve had tiffs sometimes when we don’t agree, but we realise the other one is only arguing because the other’s idea isn’t necessarily the best,” explains Dom. “When the show goes to the editing table for instance, there are bits that I cut out because Tom’s said something stupid. And he’s the same with me if he thinks I’ve pushed it too far.

“From start to finish Tom and I do everything. We know there’s a cap on our audience. At the end of the day Bradford City are not like Man United with 300 million fans. We know it’s not going to make us millionaires, but as long as people are enjoying it and it is making a difference – like helping the club out by raising money for the youth team through selling t-shirts – then it’s worth doing.

“Every penny we make goes into the podcast. The equipment isn’t cheap, my lap top broke last year for example. We went through a phase of thinking ‘should we charge for it?’ because many podcasts do. But at the end of the day we thought why should people have to pay for it? We enjoy doing it. We didn’t want to lose listeners because we’ve worked really hard to build a listener base.”

“IT’S THE MOST POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE THAT I’VE EVER SEEN IN A CITY TEAM.”

That said the show doesn’t exactly pay the bills, and the pair are hoping to develop their radio careers. They recently recorded a demo with Derm and are hoping to hear back from BBC Radio Leeds with good news. Not that they’ll be stopping Bantams Banter anytime soon.

“I’d never want a job that would stop us doing Bantams Banter. On Radio Leeds you’ve got to censor yourself more, and that’s not really us. We’d love to do it, because we want to be known and we want to get Bantams Banter more known. We think that if we are working at Radio Leeds, we can also attract more listeners to Bantams Banter.”

Ambitions for the new season including building on the podcast’s success by doubling downloads, while they are currently developing new ideas to gradually bring into the show. “One is try and pop out to an alternative sports clubs in the Bradford area like archery, and try and find out what it’s all about, “ revealed Dom. “It just adds something else. There’s going to be Bradford City fans doing these alternative sports and we want to hear from them.”

With the new season just around the corner, the duo are gearing up for getting back into the Bantams Banter swing of things and will be producing a podcast for the Bolton friendly. As the interview comes to its end and we pay more attention to the players on the pitch at Guiseley, Dom is filled with as much enthusiasm as any City fan about the team’s prospects. And his close access to the players – not to mention his previous employment at the club – make him a useful barometer of the mood around Valley Parade.

He explained, “I like the new morale that’s going on. It’s the most positive atmosphere that I’ve ever seen in a City team. I remember when we got relegated at Chesterfield and being in a changing room with grown men crying, like David Wetherall.

“I’ve got every faith with Peter Jackson. I like the fact he’s willing to take a risk in signing young players. He knows what he’s doing in this league, and he’s a Bradford City hero. He’s been here and done that, and managed throughout the leagues.”

To listen to last season’s Bantams Banter podcasts, click here for the iTunes store. The Bantams Banter website is under construction and will be available soon.

Vincelot rejects Bradford City, but the club’s spending intentions are made clearer

Defender-come-midfielder Romain Vincelot completed a move from Dagenham & Redbridge to Brighton for an undisclosed fee last Friday, after Bradford City had emerged as an improbable and highly unlikely rival to the Seagulls for the Frenchman’s signature. Having failed to persuade him a future up North in League Two was more attractive than competing in the Championship on the South coast, all eyes will now be on what the Bantams do next.

Like just about every other supporter who read the Sky Sports story that City had made a six-figure bid for Vincelot earlier last week, I initially dismissed it as utter rubbish and an unusual case of that website getting its facts wrong. It’s just short of a decade since the Bantams last spent so much money on one player – Andy Tod – and the recent financial issues that had threatened to see us depart Valley Parade this summer suggested such resources were not available.

But then joint-Chairman Mark Lawn told BBC Radio Leeds that a bid to Dagenham had been submitted – and while that offer may have been short of six figures, it will still have been significantly high. From pleading poverty to landlord Gordon Gibb a few months ago, City apparently have money in the wallet as they shop around for new signings. That money won’t be going on Vincelot, but a statement of intent has been made.

The source of this surplus money is no secret – the windfall of a cup tie at neighbours Leeds United and the fact Sky Sports are screening it live. Ticket sales for both sets of fans are reported to be good, and City’s reward for the evening is reputed to be around £100k before a ball is kicked. This pile of money wasn’t planned for when the budgets were drawn up last May – we could just have easily faced a uninspiring first round trip to Scunthorpe United for no tangible financial benefit – so like finding an extra tenner in your jeans pocket the morning after a night out, why not treat it as a bonus and spend it freely?

Indeed Lawn and Julian Rhodes can argue that, without this surplus, they have already successfully done the boring bits of budgeting – and the club is in a much healthier position for it. The stadium rent situation is as resolved as it can be for now, new training ground facilities are already in use, additional coaching staff have been acquired and the Development Squad is up and running. With season ticket sales holding up surprisingly well given the crushing disappointment of last season, everything seems to be falling into place.

So why not use this unexpected bonus on bringing in one, better-calibre player? Manager Peter Jackson is said to have a playing budget comparable to last season, but given how badly that went one can argue an increase in this area is required in order to improve the squad’s capability to achieve promotion. A marquee signing can trigger many things – a warning to rivals, an increase in season ticket sales and a confidence booster for the squad. Certainly a big signing this summer would alter the outlook of what people expect City to achieve.

Yet still, spending this windfall on just one player? At this level more than most, football is a team game and the lessons that can be taken from the clubs which have been promoted from League Two over the past few seasons is that collective endeavour usually triumphs. Chesterfield last season and Brentford two years ago are notable examples of teams that had several good players but without standout stars. Would one luminary player make such a major difference to City’s prospects, or would signing two or three good-if-not-stella players be a better use of this money?

But beyond how to spend it is the usual fear of what happens if the season goes badly, just as it has so often in recent history. If a year from now the club has finished mid-table and Jackson’s replacement is told he needs to get rid of high-earners and work on a reduced budget – will spending a large sum on one player be looked back upon as a clever tactic?

While there is so much to laud the joint-Chairmen for regarding the off-the-field planning this summer, the lack of consistency to the playing budget over the years remains a concern. Perhaps this windfall should be largely left for a rainy day – if Jackson needs it mid-season for instance. Or perhaps most of it should be used to help with next season’s preparations, so if things don’t go well the consequences aren’t as severe as they have been in recent seasons.

Even more worrying is how this potential spending would look if financial problems arose again. What if City need to go and speak to Gibb again over the next 18 months about the rent? Would he be more sympathetic, or would he note that – when City hit the jackpot with a cup draw – they fritted away surplus money on an under-performing big name and conclude it is not his responsibility to help?

That is not to suggest that Lawn and Rhodes are being reckless giving Jackson all of this money. But if this windfall is used to buy someone else, after failing to sign Vincelot, and the club later regrets the outlay and the wages; it’s worth considering how it might look to other people.

What we learn as Parkin fades away

His attempts to buy Bradford City, and then to join the board of Bradford City, seemingly having failed local businessman Steve Parkin seems to be moving on and away from Valley Parade.

Said Park “It’s cooled off a little bit. We’ve had further talks and can’t get to a deal” which seems to translate towards the idea that he wanted the club for less than the price tag put on it and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes knocked him back.

He talked about joining the board but again those talks seem to have stalled. The less said about other things, the better. City move on and are seemingly more able to distinguish between the bend in the arm from the but that one sits on with appointments of coaches, scouting networks and the like starting to resemble a plan for improving the club.

So what have we learnt from Steve Parkin’s attempts to buy City? Firstly – and surprisingly perhaps – that while Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are not everybody’s cup of tea they seem to represent familiarity. The last four years seem to have taught the chairman a thing or two about running a football club – the impotencies of sacking managers, the ineffectiveness of wholesale squad changes, the need to bring in the best backroom staff you can – and that is not worth swapping for whomever comes along with the only attraction seemingly being that he is someone else.

Secondly that the Bradford City books are in a good state. Steve Parkin’s people looked over them and liked what they saw. The club are investable – if you have enough money – and that suggests that the business the club is doing is on a sound footing. The curiousness of the summer is that while it started with the threat of administration it ends with the knowledge that the bottom line does not put anyone off.

However people are put off by the idea of a Bradford Sporting Club. The Rugby chasing people of Bradford Bulls seem to be in a sticky situation and the football club regularly lurch in and out of such a state. Perhaps neither look across at the other expecting stability and supporters certainly have no great will to united.

Parkin seemed to offer very little and there were question marks around what he could deliver that could not match even the slight returns that the current board have brought. Four years of League Two football is thin, but many club has been ruined by unscrupulous owners and all emerged as Parkin did as wanting to improve the club. Perhaps the greatest thing we have learnt, as City fans, is that we cant get fooled again.

Rhodes and Lawn have promised to move out of the way – with the caveat that they will not be out of pocket – should someone come along who will improve the club and nothing Parkin said seemed suggest he was that man. He had some plans to improve the club but everyone does and his seemed no more fated to success than Lawn or Rhodes’ and perhaps much less having not been tried.

Parkin moves on saying “Unfortunately I’ve got a very big deal going down right now with something else which I’ve got to get over the line.” One awaits to see what it could be.

At Valley Parade though Lawn and Rhodes sit a little more comfortably in their seats having had their guardianship of the club tested, and passed that test.

The development squad and a plan to improve the club

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

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

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

And so modern squad football was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For once, the fitness question has a different answer

Readers of long-time Bradford City fan John Watmough’s outstanding Counsel and Criticism column for the City Gent will be only too aware of the number of occasions a new Bantams manager has complained about the fitness of the players. And, as the players returned for pre-season today, at improved training facilities, latest manager Peter Jackson has taken his turn in bemoaning  the condition of the squad he inherited.

So often has the Telegraph & Argus relayed such sentiments from City gaffers that one can’t resist feeling as weary and cynical as John when reading them. If every new manager really had gone onto improve the players’ fitness when they arrived, City should be putting people forward for the Olympics. It comes across as a cheap shot, a chance to talk down the past and propose that behind-the-scenes training exercises they have instigated – which we’d otherwise never notice the fruits of – will make a positive difference.

Though Jackson has at least has gone further than some of his predecessors in his plan to address the supposed problem – with the appointment of Nick Allamby as fitness coach. Allamby, former head of fitness at Middlesbrough where he worked with City assistant manager Colin Cooper, will help the players through pre-season and then two days a week once the campaign gets underway. His arrival is the latest dot in a more joined-up thinking strategy that seems to involve finding experts and letting them run their own areas of the club, rather than the manager controlling and taking responsibility for all.

After all, what does a football manager know about fitness? As a player they would have been required to follow exercises set out by their club’s coaching staff and their own focus would have been on building and maintaining their own. When undertaking the necessary coaching badges that all managers have to complete these days, learning about fitness and how to build it in players would have undoubtedly figured on the courses. But that hardly makes them an expert in an area that almost every City manager seems to take pleasure in deriding their predecessor for.

At lower league level and City in particular, fitness experts are rare if ever used. When taking over as caretaker manager in 2007 David Wetherall did employ the outside help of Sports Scientist Ed Baranowski to improve the players’ fitness levels, but the results of Wetherall’s attempts to implement a high tempo playing style were poor. With managers before and after, the fitness side of matters has apparently been down to the manager and coaching staff to implement. There’s probably little wrong with this if all of City’s rivals are doing the same; but in a league where the tiniest of percentages can make a huge difference, Jackson and Cooper’s move to bring in Allamby could make a tangible difference.

Allamby’s arrival follows Archie Christie’s appointment as Chief Scout, with his very own budget to work with and objectives to achieve. And suddenly Bradford City’s future does not quite seem solely the responsibility of the manager, but a number of different experts working towards a universal goal. A well qualified person to pick the first team on a Saturday, a specialist scout to unearth hidden gem players that can form part of that selection, and a skilled fitness coach to ensure each and every player is at their physical peak. Other key figures at the club such as Peter Horne will also have a big role.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that it is difficult to place the credit for this developing off-the-field strategy on one person. Cooper has brought in Allamby with Jackson’s approval, while it appears Christie’s arrival is more the work of the joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. There is apparently some like-minded thinking in Lawn, Rhodes and Jackson’s vision for next season, and hopefully with it will be a better chance of achieving those goals.

A year ago it seemed Peter Taylor was the only person with a plan, with Lawn and Rhodes bending over backwards to help put it into action. Taylor’s superb track record meant this was understandable, but the fact he didn’t see out his one-year contract left the club struggling for direction when he departed. Perhaps the pair have learned from this experience and are consciously doing things different now instead of devoting almost every penny to signing players – the new training facilities, after all, were their initiative.

This time around, it can be argued the buck for failure won’t rest solely with the manager. Those who have access to the bigger picture will be able to look at every area and assess where it might be falling down. That way the long-term planning doesn’t need to end when the manager departs.

Wishful thinking maybe, but if and when Jackson is relieved of his duties in the dugout it would be nice not to have to read other staff being placed on gardening leave and for everything to be torn up yet again.

Unwanted attention

Some 500,000 new businesses are launched in the UK every year, but the recently-formed Bradford City Limited is one to prick the ears of everyone with claret and amber matters close to their heart.

Bradford City Limited was registered with Companies House on Wednesday 8 June 2011 – six days before businessman Steve Parkin told the Yorkshire Post his desire to purchase Bradford City Football Club from current joint owners Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. The publically available documents list Marc Feldman as the new company’s only director and his own company, Harkers Associates Limited, owning 100% shareholdings.

Previously, the club’s company name was Bradford City Football Club Limited. Following the agreement to buy the Valley Parade offices, ownership of the club was transferred to a newly formed company, BC Bantams Limited.

There is no stated link whatsoever between Feldman and Parkin, or the club’s current Board members, but the timing of this new company’s registration and choice of name would hint of some relationship between Feldman and the prospective investor.

Which would be hugely worrying if so. Newspaper reports from August 2010 reveal that Feldman received a 12-month jail sentence – suspended for two years – for a £159,000 fraud, with health and family problems saving him and his business partner from serving time. Information on Harkers Associates Limited is slim to non-existent.

Is there any reason to be concerned? Probably not, after all the words ‘Bradford’ and ‘City’ are hardly exlusive to the football club. One might like to think that Feldman’s actions in setting up Bradford City Limited are something Parkin, Lawn and Rhodes would be unaware of or – if they are – do not see as a concern.  But recent amendments to laws on similar company names (made April 2011) do suggest that Bradford City Limited would require permission from the football club in order to use it.

According to Chapter 8 of Companies House’s guidelines – Objections to Company Names:

You could be required to change your company name after incorporation if: the name is ‘too like’ an existing name on the index…In general a name is ‘too like’ an existing name if: the differences are so trivial the public are likely to be confused by the simultaneous appearance of both names on the index; and/or the names look and sound the same.”

There is an exception to the rule:

The ‘same as’ rule will not be applied in the following circumstances: that the proposed company will be part of the same group as an existing company; the existing company consents to the registration of the proposed name; the application to register includes a letter/statement from the existing company which confirms its consent to the incorporation of the new company name and that it will form part of the same group.”

Of interest to this situation is ‘opportunistic registration’:

Opportunistic registration is the term applied to a company or LLP which registers a similar name to one in which another person has goodwill.  There is no restriction on who can complain.”

So City’s Board and/or Parkin could have cause to complain about this new company, or there could be some connection with the increased likelihood that the club ownership will be altered soon – either with Parkin joining Lawn and Rhodes or buying City outright. BfB has no reason to believe the latter is true, and would not claim otherwise.

If Feldman has no connection with this football club – at present or at any time in the future – let us consider this article to be a load of gibberish from a handful of over-concerned supporters. If, however, a convicted fraudster has some interest in the Bantams, let those who he has conversed with speak up to explain what is going on.

BfB would prefer to look foolish in raising these concerns than to have cause to feel genuinely concerned.

Three wheels: Steve Parkin, Julian Rhodes, and Mark Lawn

Steve Parkin looks set to join the Bradford City board have tried – and seemingly failed – to buy the club from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes.

Lawn and Rhodes had stated that they would walk away from the club without making a penny profit should someone come along who could take City to the next level (and probably levels above that) and seemingly Parkin did not fulfil that criteria and so rather than being welcomed with open arms as the white knight he has just been allowed to saddle his horse next to Lawn and Rhodes.

So in that context Parkin is welcomed to the club. His investment is welcome and any management knowledge and experience he can bring is useful too although one cannot help but worry about the practical application of having – ostensibly – three chairmen at a football club.

Geoffrey Richmond used to say that a business needed only one boss and he did not mean Shaun Harvey when he made that pronouncement. Richmond’s time at City failed for the lack of checks and balances on his omnipotence so perhaps having chairmen two and three to keep an eye on chairman one is no bad thing.

However the principal of having a single boss – honorifics aside – is a good one and while Mark Lawn has been the front of City and Julian Rhodes behind the scenes (although, I understand, very much active) the club has lacked direction for sometime now. Stuart McCall filled the gap at the club in his time, Peter Taylor in his, but one doubts Richmond would let a mere manager be the face of the club.

Richmond knew the benefit of broad shouldered leadership. Larger than life Richmond appointing his managers and took the criticism when they did not work out. His’s massive persona took the pressure off the rest of the club. “This is the direction,” it seemed to say “and if we are going the wrong way, blame me.”

Contrast that with the last few years.

So of the three – if Parkin’s moves come to fruition – it seems a good idea for City to pick a one. A one to set the direction of the club and to lead it off the field with the other two keeping an eye on that one – a better eye than Rhodes was able to do on Richmond at least.

One boss to set the direction and in doing so to protect his appointments, and the players, allowing the likes of Peter Jackson, Peter Horne and Archie Christie to get on with their jobs with a defined remit and knowing who they answer to.

Christie joins the slow climb

The day after attempts to wrestle control of Bradford City away from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes began City appointed a man called Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Head of Football Development.

If you have heard of Christie, well done, because the majority of City fans will read his credits as being Dagenham & Redbridge scout, of finding the odd player for them, of earning a bit of cash and will be only slightly impressed. Christie comes without the promise that he will be unearthing gems.

However his appointment does point to an increasing sense at Valley Parade that four years into the job of chairman for Mark Lawn and more for Julian Rhodes that the pair have started to work on augmenting the club off the field.

A new pitch – Peter Taylor took credit for that – came in last season and during this close season David Balwin was able to announce that the club had secured new facilities for training. Small steps for sure but more and more City are taking in the trappings of clubs that do well. Christie’s appointment is another step forward.

He may – or may not – do a wonderful job as head of the team of scouts he is assembling but perhaps more important is the fact that the club have addressed the need to make recruitment less about the contacts of the current manager and more about a long term process of finding players.

Stuart McCall brought in the likes of Nicky Law Jnr, Ben Starosta and Kyle Nix from Sheffield United, Peter Taylor brought in players from Wycombe Wanderers, Peter Jackson dragged in Jon Worthington. When Christie’s team is up and running then there will be a further source of talent.

This ties the future of the club less to the whim of managerial hiring and firing and more to the work of a team which – one hopes – will be permanently in place no matter who is picking the team. Christie’s go towards promising stability.

Which perhaps is why Steve Parkin’s approach is not being welcomed with open arms – an approach denied by Peter Hood of the Bradford Bulls. The after four years of frantic chasing success on the field Mark Lawn et al seem to have started doing things right.

Parkin’s bid lacks the substance to earn supporters’ leverage

There was a plan to build a bridge from Midland Road over Canal Road, and across the Valley to link Valley Parade with the other side of the City.

The plan – which was talked of much but I confess I have no idea how seriously it was took being but eight at the time – was supposedly the brain child of then chairman Bob Martin and would fund the clubs rise from the foot of football. By bridging the valley Valley Parade would be fuller, so more people would mean more money and more money would lead to an improvement of the club.

Not long later and Bradford City had called in the official receiver – administration in old money – to be bought back and re-established by Stafford Heginbotham and Jack Tordoff. On the plan to build the viaduct across the Valley which Martin had said would bring in the missing people to Bradford City Heginbotham said only that the club had to be based in the real world and not in cloudcookooland.

Steve Parkin’s bid for Bradford City may – or may not – include a significant bridging project across the Valley that divides Bradford but probably does not. Despite talking to the Yorkshire Post about his bid for the club and for our egg chasing neighbours at Odsal the Bradford Bulls Parkin has done little to outline his plan for progressing both clubs.

His stated aim is to share facilities – a good idea for sure if one considers the costs of running two ticket offices and extrapolates – but such vision hardly requires a change of ownership to achieve. Parkin talks about being the man who can stop the Rugby club and Football club distrusting each other. Perhaps Martin’s bridge idea was realistic in comparison.

Moreover though Parkin has a plan for both clubs to share a single ground – the most cost effective one – which would be Valley Parade. A summer of trying to get out of the deal with Gordon Gibb to rent Valley Parade had proved that it is not cost effective to escape that deal contract leading one to conclude that Parkin has a plan to divest the Bulls of Odsal and move them to Manningham.

Parkin’s plans expand to creating a new stadium for both clubs to share but there is no indication as to when such a project would be undertaken. The ramifications of recession should make construction costs cheaper so a plan that includes waiting for an upturn to provide the funds for a new ground would seem flawed. Parkin is not oblivious to this suggesting that he could pick up another club for nothing which had an asset of a ground. He is not incorrect, after all Gordon Gibb did the same to City.

Parkin’s offer to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes compensates them £750,000 each for the club and pays back Mark Lawn’s loan over 18 months with and extra £750,000 based on performances and such a deal would leave the current owners out of pocket. Lawn and the Rhodes’ family recently bought the business block next to Valley Parade and while different people will give different figures for how much the chairman have invested and how much the club is worth there is no onus on them to sell for a price they do find acceptable.

One might argue that the pair promised to leave the club if someone came along with an offer which did not leave them out of pocket but that has not occurred in this case with Parkin’s offer failing short of that mark. Lawn and Rhodes have another promise to balance – that they would only sell the club to someone who could improve Bradford City – and thus far there is nothing in Parkin’s bid that guarantees he would do that.

Were Parkin looking to invest Jack Walker money into the club then there would be a pressure for the current chairmen to exit but he does not. He talks of the same kind of effects which the current board are tying to achieve and there is very little reason to believe that he would enjoy the success that eludes Lawn and Rhodes.

Parkin wants the club and he wants it for a price that is not as attractive to the current owners but if he has a masterplan which makes him a better option – which suggests that Lawn and Rhodes are standing in the way of the club’s progress – then he has yet to reveal it. Recalling Bob Martin’s bridge plans one might worry that without sight of those plans, they could be anything.

Perhaps Parkin’s plan is summed up with his phrase “I want to invest as much money in the team as possible as that is the most important part of any football club.”

Mark Lawn says the exact same thing.

One can only hope that Parkin has to offer something other than simply being someone else to impress the supporters of Bradford City as he – ostensibly, and through the press – attempts to use them as a crowbar for leverage in his attempts to get the current owners to accept his offer.

Lawn and Rhodes deserve fair treatement from all as Parkin’s offer puts them under pressure

There are two huge considerations for joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes when deciding on Steve Parkin’s offer to buy Bradford City – one of which people expect them to act in a certain way upon simply because they are City fans, the other of which demands greater attention in their capacity as supporters.

With Parkin having laid out his terms in a plain but somewhat biased way via the Yorkshire Post, Rhodes and Lawn have been backed into a corner with some directing their anger at the pair for rejecting an initial bid. The first of those considerations – whether to accept the offer on the table – is one easy for others to make, but few people in their shoes would be willing to write off so much money no matter how much claret and amber blood runs through their veins.

The offer to Lawn of repaying him his latest £1 million loan – overlooking the fact he has invested some £3 million in total since joining the Board in 2007 – plus pay the pair around £375,000 each would appear derisory. Quite how much Rhodes and his family have ploughed in over the years must be considerably more, and Julian disclosed to the club that the Board has collectively invested £5.5 million into the club.

Parkin has offered the Board the potential to receive further returns dependent on the club’s performance, the precise details of which have not been disclosed. But even taking this into consideration, Lawn, Rhodes and other Board members are being asked to sell the club for a fraction of the amount of money they have pumped into it. That doesn’t seem fair in anyone’s book, and one can understand Rhodes’ response in the Telegraph & Argus that they believe the club has been undervalued.

The popularity of Lawn and Rhodes waned badly in the wake of the Valley Parade rental negotiations, but whatever your view on the way they have operated the club it seems unfair to criticise them for rejecting an offer given how much money they would surely lose. Yes they are City fans, but they have family and their long-term future to consider. They have both put money into City when others have not – and in Rhodes’ case, saving the club from going out of existence. They have both already showed they are true City fans for these past actions, and so it seems unfair to criticise them for not simply stepping aside minus the wealth they have kindly shared with us.

If we were in their shoes, would we really be prepared to act any differently?

Beyond that though, the pair have a huge responsibility towards the second important consideration – the suitability of Parkin owning our football club. The club have stressed that they are yet to receive full details of Parkin’s plan, and if and when they do get to view it they can evaluate whether it really is in the club’s best interests to potentially join forces with Bradford Bulls.

On the face of it there are plenty of potential pitfalls. A few years, Huddersfield Town supporters complained loudly about the club being owned by the same people as Huddersfield Giants, with accusations the Rugby League outfit got favourable treatment and greater investment. Similar frustrations have been heard from Wycombe and their sharing with London Wasps.

The principle that both City and the Bulls would get equal treatment might sound fair, but is it viable in practice? Let’s say City are doing well but the Bulls are struggling, would money be directed towards the Rugby club to ensure they can improve – potentially slowing City’s progress? And what would the overall objective of the Bradford Sporting Club be? Right now, the two outfits are more competitors than colleagues.

A hole in Parkin’s proposals today came from Bulls chairman Peter Hood, who declared that they have had no contact from Parkin, despite the millionaire stating to the Yorkshire Post they are in favour of the Sporting Club proposal. Indeed the whole Yorkshire Post article was so focused on City and not the Bulls that one has to wonder just how serious Parkin’s Sporting Club intentions are. But also what happens if City accept Parkin’s offer but the Bulls reject, would the deal to buy City be put in jeopardy?

Then there’s the stadium situation. Parkin has talked of building a new stadium for both clubs – though whether this is at a new venue or rebuilding Valley Parade or Odsal is unclear. Parkin or Rhodes and Lawn in charge, the Gordon Gibb lease situation would be the same and City are tied to their home by a contract which to break could involve administration.

Do we want to move anyway? Parkin talks of the Bantams easily being able to become a Championship club again, and if that was to happen we would already have a perfectly suitable stadium to play in. What on earth is the point in building a completely new football stadium, aside from the lease problem? Surely it would cost a lot more money to buy land and build a new ground, than to purchase Valley Parade from Gibb?

Those are the main talking points so far, but the motives for Parkin purchasing City are also very unclear. With no previous connections to the club, Parkin will be looking to make money from his investment and that is understandable. But that isn’t necessarily the same motives and interests of us supporters. Would we see steep season ticket price rises, for example? No one looking to make money from football would see the current strategy as the best way forward to achieve this objective.

It is the responsibility of Lawn and Rhodes to fully evaluate the proposals Parkin puts forward, not simply for the terms of the sale – but the suitability of him as the owner of Bradford City. A comparison can be drawn with Liverpool and the farce over George Gillet and Tom Hicks owning the club, with how previous owner David Moores – a true Liverpool fan – sold up without undertaking the necessary due diligence over the suitability of the Americans. He was heavily criticised in hindsight, later responding via a letter to the Times about his actions.

If Parkin took over the club and it didn’t go well, for whatever reason, Rhodes and Lawn would share the responsibility too. They are the custodians of this 108-year-old club, and it’s their duty to pass it onto the right people in time. It would be foolish to sell it onto the first person flashing a wad of cash, just because they make big promises about spending money on new players. If Parkin is the best man to take the club forward, the pair have a duty to act accordingly – but first of all they need to take proper time to establish whether this is the case.

Two huge considerations – tough decisions that few of us would ultimately want to swap places with them for, no matter how easy it is for us to demand what Lawn and Rhodes should do next.

Steve Parkin looks to form Bradford Sporting Club

The Yorkshire Post has this morning revealed that millionaire Steve Parkin – Chief Executive of the company Clipper Group – is looking to buy both Bradford City and the Bradford Bulls to form a joint sporting club.

An initial offer has been rejected by the Bantams, but Julian Rhodes has disclosed that talks are ongoing. Parkin’s plan would eventually include building a new stadium for both clubs, though in the shorter-term both would share one venue – either Valley Parade or Odsal.

Parkin also told the Yorkshire Post:

Under the plans, the day-to-day running of both Bradford City and Bradford Bulls would be done by two hand-picked management teams. They would be run independently but both be divisions of Bradford Sporting Club.

“People have tried to do this in the past but because of the individuals concerned it has never got off the ground. It is almost as if neither side trusts the other sufficiently to believe their own club won’t lose out.

“I believe it would take someone like myself to make it happen.”

On buying City specifically Parkin added:

I was approached on behalf of Bradford City quite a while ago to see if I would be interested in investing. I was, basically, offered a third of the club. That is not how I work, I instead prefer to be in overall control.

“Despite that, I did have a couple of conversations and then looked at the books. I thought things were going swimmingly and a week last Friday I believed the deal would go ahead. But then Julian and Mark came back to say ‘no’.

“My offer to buy Bradford City involved me raising around £3m. As part of that, Mark would be paid back a £1m loan he has in the club over 18 months. I was also willing to pay £750,000 for the shares owned by Mark and Julian with a possible further £750,000 based on performance.

On the talks with Rhodes and Mark Lawn, Parkin disclosed:

I wanted to set up a capital structure, whereby existing shareholders would retain 25 per cent of the shares in the football division of Bradford Sporting Club but have no voting rights. Any dividends would then be paid if the club was making a profit. That way, they would be paid on a performance-related basis. The same would apply to the Bulls with existing shareholders having 25 per cent of the shares in the rugby league side.

“Unfortunately, Julian and Mark didn’t want that. They wanted it to be guaranteed. I can’t accept that. There is no point me raising £3m and handing over £2.5m for Bradford City, which is basically not worth a lot in the open market.

“I have looked at a few football clubs and there are a lot who can be picked up for nothing. And they have assets, such as owning their own ground. That is not the case with Valley Parade.

In response, Rhodes told the Yorkshire Post:

Discussions are ongoing and we appreciate Steve’s interest. His accountants were impressed with what they saw.“We will always do what is in the best interests of Bradford City and, in that respect, we are still waiting to see Steve’s business plan.”

All of which is fascinating stuff and the next steps will be very interesting. BfB has recently heard of interest from another investor too, so although Parkin’s proposals are worthy of consideration it may not be the best deal on the table.

Parkin, who tried to buy Leeds United in 2004, is currently on the Board of Guiseley AFC and earlier this year was in discussions with Wakefield Wildcats about purchasing the Rugby League club. Instant comparisons can be drawn with Geoffrey Richmond and Gordon Gibb in Parkin being a well-made businessman keen to make further money from investing in sporting clubs.

Whether City’s Board will welcome this public announcement is unlikely. It will surely increase the pressure on them to sell the club – and the terms that Parkin has revealed, which they have rejected, will led to fierce criticism from some. But while the lure of more transfer funds and even moving to a new stadium with lower costs is appealing to some, it’s important this offer is fully consdered and the longer-term interests of this football club stay in mind.

Is Parkin the best person to own our football club? Time will tell, but without the full facts ourselves we have to rely on Rhodes and Lawn to make the best judgement for all our best interests.

Losing the losing culture

The Bradford City joint-chairman Mark Lawn is rarely shy in expressing his opinion, but in the two weeks following the club’s announcement it was staying at Valley Parade next season the 50-year-old has become especially vocal in his views. Some of the opinions expressed disagreeable perhaps, but much of it has been worthy of note.

Lawn’s latest comment, that he believes there is a “losing culture” surrounding the club, certainly offers an interesting talking point. Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Lawn revealed his determination to instil a winning mentality that has even included him talking to youth team coaches Peter Horne and David Wetherall to ensure it’s adopted at all levels.

All laudable in principle, but what exactly is a “losing culture” in the first place? And how do you ingrain a winning ethos into the fabric of the club? A losing culture would allude to issues over mentality and the habitual or characteristic mental attitude in responding to situations. Psychological issues, in other words. Culture, however, suggests it is more to do with the working environment rather than problems with individuals (and years of changing personnel, with no tangible difference, backs this up). So how can that be reversed?

Lawn also commented about his losing culture view: “I said that to one manager here and he hit the roof.” This reaction – either from Stuart McCall or Peter Taylor – would appear understandable given it is was their job to build the right atmosphere for players to give their best, so it would seem like a personal criticism over their ability and attempts to do so. Peter Jackson has previously made similar statements about a losing culture existing at Valley Parade, but this is easier for him to say when he was trying to secure the manager position and present himself as the solution.

Now he has to cross the line to being on the side of the players, and in time may find others declaring he is part of the problem.

And by then the viewpoint will probably be very different for Jackson. From inside the confines of the dressing room he leads, next season he will have a much greater appreciation over the level of pressure he and his players will be under to deliver results from those outside of it. Supporters who will cheer when things are going well, but who are very quick to hammer players when they are struggling rather than offer encouragement. The losing culture on the field is heavily contributed to by those in the stands.

Then there’s the boardroom. McCall will be able to tell Jackson only too well about the weight of demands City’s Board are capable of placing upon the team and manager. Roger Owen’s attacks on McCall in December 2009 were said to have led to the City legend angrily confronting Owen; while Lawn’s own relationship with McCall, a long-time friend, had become so strained they were no longer talking. Over the last few weeks Lawn has publicly criticised Taylor’s style of management too. McCall and Taylor were once looked upon so favourably, but when the chips were down both can argue they were not supported as adequately as they believe they should.

At Bradford City we supporters and Board members have become used to seeing the team fail to match our expectations and so possess a mentality of quickly turning on them when they do. People justify booing and screaming abuse on the basis that – if they didn’t – the players would think they can get away with under-performing and so, because of the boos, they will try harder in future. Those who try to go against this grain by offering encouragement can find they are criticised too. Last season, for example, I was shot down at one game for trying to be supportive of Luke O’Brien.

We fail to achieve our goals year on year, and the frustration builds. Come the next season optimism is allowed to flourish and the atmosphere improves for a time; but as soon as things start to go wrong criticism is quickly aired with the weight and baggage of the past decade of failure. Too many people are quiet and shy in praise when the team actually is succeeding, but are ready to jump down their throats when they start to fail.

That’s a lot of responsibility for the players to have to bear, and it could be argued that Taylor especially could have done things differently to ease that pressure. In the home dressing room last season, he put up special signs for every year the club had achieved “nothing” in a season, going back to 2000-1, as a way of motivating them. The thinking, presumably, was to get the players to contemplate how much success would be cheered if they could deliver it to the club, but you could argue this history became a burden. Certainly the players didn’t respond in the way Taylor would have intended.

So much of the expectation on the club is out of the control of the players and management, and so it has become a problem they alone cannot fix. Already Lawn has talked optimistically about City’s playing budget next season, and come August many of us will be joining him in building up the club’s chances of promotion. It’s good to be confident of course, but expecting too much seems to set us up for disappointment and leads to negativity and anger towards the players.

Success in football so often goes to those who react best in defeat; but when the boos and grumbles are so loud, the pressure for the next game grows so large and reminders of recent failed history are so regular it hinders the team’s ability to produce that perfect reaction. If only we could stay on their side in the bad times as well as good, they would surely be more likely to look forwards with determination rather than dread.

This losing culture runs through the whole club and, as interesting as it is to talk about tackling it, perhaps the only way we’ll ever build a winning mentality is when we truly recognise that we all have a major role to play in making it happen.

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.

Lawn and Rhodes earn the right to repeat in optimism

It was a busy time for Bradford City as the domino topple began.

First City were assured of staying at Valley Parade, then the talk was of having one of the bigger wage budgets. The wonderfully enthusiastic Ross Hannah – a man who could teach the club a thing or two about PR even if he does not get goals – started talking about the new training facilities before Peter Jackson was finally nailed down with a one year contract.

Breathless, and then some, for City fans who seem to have had a summer of worry lifted. In its place came flooding a sense of optimism.

How appropriate that optimism is is questionable.

Peter Jackson arrived at City taking over from Peter Taylor who saw his side picking up 1.16 points per game. Jackson took over and achieved 1.08. This is mitigated by the idea that Jackson was using Taylor’s team just as Taylor was using Stuart McCall’s. The horror of repetition comes when one notes that both Peters had one year deals.

Jackson does not have time to shape and build a squad. Like the man before him he has to – because of his one year deal – make a winning team from day one.

As another Peter (Cook) said we have learnt from our mistakes and can repeat them exactly.

Mark Lawn told us that Peter Taylor’s one year deal was all the club could afford but – unless Jackson has managed to increase his week to week wages pro rata by over 500% – this is not the case with the new boss.

It is no negative reaction to Jackson to say that he will be as subject to winds and ghosts and outrageous fortune as his predecessor. I would love to be celebrating promotion in May next year but I’d prefer that at that time I was following a club that was following a plan for progress than one which was changing everything once again to rush a promotion campaign and the chances of that are once again left in the lap of what happens on the field.

Jackson needs to get lucky. Lucky with injuries, lucky with his team blending together, lucky with the players he can sign, lucky with the run of the ball in August to start building belief. Personally when it comes to luck in sport I’m with golfer Gary Player – the harder you work, the more lucky you get – and in Jackson I see a man who will work harder than most.

Still Jackson and the season offer little reason to assume that this year will be better than last. The budget is big, so it was last year, the manager has had experience, so was it last year. I have hope that Jackson’s 442 is a much better week to week formation for a League Two campaign and the new facilities are a reason to be cheerful.

However with the fear of financial oblivion gone and the worries over Odsal removed Bradford City have been able to perform the slight of hand of putting together – more or less – the same proposition as last season and having everyone excited about it. It is selling your 10p each lighter as ten for a pound, and yes it is the sort of trick that man used to pull.

It remains to be seen though if this time the promotion push – rather than the club building – will bear fruit because every year in which the push to get out of League Two goes ahead of improving the club the gap between City and the League One and higher clubs we aspire to join increases.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes deserve the optimism though having backed up their ownership of the club financially once more and shown some innovative smarts while doing so. There are few reasons to believe that next season can be any worse than last and a couple of reasons to believe that it will be better, foremost amongst those being the brush with oblivion in the summer may have focused the mind of all at the club be their directors or supporters away from the ideas of inter-fighting and towards what we want for the future of the club.

Peter Jackson confirmed at City manager

When Peter Jackson called Geoffrey Richmond on Boxing Day 2001 to tell the then City chairman that having accepted the job the previous day that he would turn it down that foreseeing the state the Bantams were heading into with Administration he would be able to bide his time and – one day – get to manage his home town club when they were in a better shape.

Having been appointed Bradford City manager today by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes on a full time basis one would wonder if he might have done.

When Jackson turned down City he forewent a chance to take charge of a club heading for administration for a second time and heavily burdened with the debts of the first. Today he takes charge of a City bolstered by news that the club’s home at Valley Parade has been secured and a position with the remaining landlord has emerged which suggests that Bantams have a security going forward which has been lacking for years. The club has begun to look forward to a world of increasing income rather than worrying about it decreasing and – with that it mind – it seems that Jackson’s City will have one of the largest playing budgets in the division.

Indeed with only twelve senior players and four first year professionals Jackson is charged with building a team from bones rather than dealing with shedding players. He does so with the much needed and long awaited training facilities – I’m told he uses them – which means that the squad he assembles will be allowed better training than the players who were at the club in 2001. Ross Hannah will have better facilities than Benito Carbone.

Jackson’s audition for the role of City manager – as with Peter Taylor before him – was far from impressive guiding the club to the lowest finish in decades and recording a win percentage which (as with Taylor) would need to be significantly improved to begin to challenge for promotion. Jackson’s team – as with Taylor’s – was hammered together from what remained from the previous manager’s side and ill fit his requirements. Jackson’s elevation of Jon Worthington from bit part to anchor said much about the different needs of his team, one wonders if with a wage budget decided Worthington may be called back.

Jackson’s history as a player at City twice, and as a manager at Huddersfield twice, is well known and the term opportunist seems to suit him well. Perhaps in 2001 Jackson saw no opportunities at Bradford City, and perhaps now he recognises he has one.

Jackson signs a one year contract along with Colin Cooper who will be his assistant manager.

More on the Valley Parade office block purchase: a deal seemingly based on logic, a blueprint for the future?

Left with such little public information about how the Valley Parade rental negotiations were progressing over recent weeks, rumour and debate has been allowed to fill the void. It therefore became easy, as a general silence emanated from the Boardroom save for the occasional thunderous comment from Mark Lawn, to look upon the situation as boiling down to personalities: Julian Rhodes v Gordon Gibb – who is right? Yet rather than it being a case of who wins the moral argument, the major breakthrough in this saga could ultimately not be have been more ordinary.

A simple, run-of-the-mill property deal, between the football club and the one of the two landlords who, for the most part, have been largely ignored over the previous weeks. How big a role the personal grudges that surround Gibb have ever played in, or will factor into, the ongoing talks between City and his family Pension Fund is highly questionable. But Prupim – owners of the offices which have now been acquired by City – have neither been painted as good nor bad throughout.

They were the dispassionate business people, receptive to cries for help but with their own, very different priorities. That, in contrast, the negotiations between City and Gibb have occasionally been painted as playground fights may be wholly unfair. Ultimately the same calculated approach from Prupim that has led to this important deal for City will no doubt be echoed by the decisions the Gibb family Pension Fund make.

This time, it may not actually be personal.

The outcome of those Gibb negotiations – clearly still vital for the club’s future – are for another day, but the fact the Prupim deal allows City to remain at Valley Parade will probably be looked back upon as the most significant step of the whole process. The threat of moving away beyond next season is still there for now, but the office block deal has strengthened the club’s ties with its century-old home. Not since the possibility of moving to a revamped Odsal was first aired in February 2009 has City’s long-term future at Valley Parade appeared so secure.

As the inks dries on the Prupim deal, it should not be quickly forgotten that – yet again – the Bantams have had to rely on their owners digging deep to preserve the club’s future. Ever since the first spell in administration back in 2002, City’s income levels have not been self-sufficient enough to run itself. From tredding water under the Rhodes family into and out of League One, to Lawn’s £3 million loaned to the club since taking joint control in 2007, Bradford City has not been able to stand upon its own two feet and, going forward, this has got to change.

We are yet again grateful to the Rhodeses, Lawn and – on this occasion – David Baldwin for putting their hands in their pockets to prop up the club. Criticism towards the Board has been fierce in recent weeks, and despite this deal is unlikely to fully subside; but the bottom line is that, without them, we would not have a club to support, and this latest move shows that continues to be the case. There is credible talk of interested investors taking over this summer, if some of the overheads can be reduced, but such speculation has been rife before. The Board can’t plan for what ifs and maybes.

What’s unclear about the latest deal is the terms of repayment to the Rhodes family, Lawn and Baldwin. But undoubtedly they have put their neck on the line and deserve to be compensated in time. It would have been easier for them to break the lease and push City towards administration – even walking away and lining up as creditors – because as a football club that might have been the only realistic option looking solely at its balance sheets.

Whatever mud people continue to sling at them, Rhodes and Lawn are clearly Bradford City supporters who share our best interests. Success on the field may be lacking under their control so far, but our ongoing existence – and ongoing existence at Valley Parade – are not achievements to be sniffed at.

That said, the news that ownership of the club has been transferred to the newly-formed BC Bantams Limited throws up some question marks that it would be good to see addressed by the Board. It’s not that we should be necessarily suspicious – after all, tying up the office blocks and club ownership into one company means we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the Gibb Valley Parade deal which has caused so many problems – but understanding the thinking behind the new company would be welcomed.

Where this all leaves the remaining negotiations with Gibb’s Pension Fund is unclear. On the surface you could argue this places Gibb in a stronger position, given the club had seemingly presented him with a ‘reduce rent or we’ll clear off’ ultimatum and now gone back on it. The fact that the club are now more able to pay the rent offers the Pension Fund trustees less incentive to reduce their investment return. But on City’s side, at least there is more time to strike a mutually favourable agreement in the long-term.

In the meantime next season promises to be interesting. City spent a lot of money bidding for promotion this season just gone, and they failed miserably. Much of the budget was supplied by Lawn loaning money to the club, and he has gone on record to say this investment won’t be repeated. So the question is whether City will spend the surplus savings from the Prupim deal on a sizeable playing budget in a push for promotion, and how this might be perceived by the Pension Fund.

Say, for example, City sign Clayton Donaldson – which would involve beating off plenty of interest from other clubs – it would hardly look a cheap signing. Parading him around Valley Parade and then complaining they’re struggling to pay the rent on the roof over our heads would appear a contradiction unlikely to be viewed sympathetically.

Unless the knight in shining armour that is an investor really has appeared over the horizon, City badly need to be operated within its means next season. A competitive playing budget is still essential, and the inevitable cuts compared to last season will be of concern given City only just avoided relegation. But we can no longer operate in a promotion or bust manner, and Lawn’s revelation today that, without this deal, players’ wages would have not been paid this month illustrates how troubling the overall picture remains.

Everything, it seems, needs to start again from the basics. The team’s underperformance last season has prompted as big a clear out as contracts will allow, and so next season’s principle aim must be to improve on the last rather than be judged solely on whether we fall short of the play offs. The manager – Peter Jackson or otherwise – needs time to build the squad without fear of the sack following successive defeats. Off the field the club must start making a profit each year, rather than having losses covered by the joint chairmen’s pockets or the occasional youth player sale and add on.

From the outside, the Prupim deal was one conducted without the usual heavy emotion that Bradford City matters usually trigger. It was done in a calm manner based on sound logic, with an eye not just on the moment but of the future. Let’s try and make it the kind of sensible thinking that everything connected with the club is built upon.

Bradford City to stay at Valley Parade, next season’s planning begins

Bradford City’s Board has this morning announced the club is to stay at Valley Parade rather than leave their 108-year-old home, after it agreed a deal to buy the office blocks from landlord Prupim.

The deal, which involves David and Julian Rhodes, Mark Lawn and Dave Baldwin setting up their own parent company called BC Bantams Limited to transfer both the ownership of the office blocks and – curiously – the ownership of the club, will see the Valley Parade overheads reduced enough for City to be able to afford the remaining rent for now. Talks with Gordon Gibb’s pension fund are also said to be ongoing, but the rent that City will now receive from owning the office blocks will be enough to pay the stadium rent.

The previously silent Julian Rhodes told the club website: “This move does help to ease all of our more pressing problems and means that we are saving the Club a lot of money in the process. I’m not saying it solves everything but it means we will be able to stay at Valley Parade for next season.”

With this important news confirmed, the club can finally make proper plans for next season. The season tickets are expected to go on sale again shortly, and BBC Radio Leeds has revealed the next manager will probably be appointed within 24 hours. However it may not be interim manager Peter Jackson, as expected, with an interview due to take place this week with another candidate. A logical guess might be that this is Accrington manager John Coleman.

Whoever takes the reins, they will be moving into the manager’s office AT Valley Parade, they will be plotting a league campaign AT Valley Parade and they will begin the season not on minus points. We’re staying at home, and while this saga is far from over today represents a significant step and is a moment for every person with Claret and Amber in their heart to cheer.

The worst kept secret, and why it is being kept

Dario Gardi let the cat out of the bag. City are keen on his striker Clayton Donaldson.

Depending on which set of rumours you believe Donaldson is already a Bradford City player just waiting to be unveiled, or the Bantams are stalking him like an obsessive runs after an unattainable pop star.

Either way it seems that Bradford City are interested in the 27 year old Manningham born League Two top scorer.

Donaldson is leaving Crewe Alexandra on a free transfer and Gradi mentioned City amongst the interested parties despite the pressing fact that City lack some of the basics to make a bid for the player.

Basics like money. Every player at the club – perhaps not including Ross Hannah and a half dozen younger players – has either been freed or is up for sale. Some suggestions have it that City will have a wage budget of half a million pounds next season, perhaps less. Not a lot of money to be signing anyone’s top scorer.

Yet still the club have these high ambitions.

The most obvious suggestion would be that City are planning for two eventualities one in which the club hits a cash crisis and heads to Odsal, or stays at VP with a vastly reduced budget, and another when negotiations over ground rent goes well and (however ill advised) there is a plan to go full tilt for promotion again.

The question then begs itself a plan made by whom? Mark Lawn suggested that the signing that Peter Jackson had made already in close season – Hannah from Matlock Town – is the sort of player that any manager would by thus dealing with the challenging question as to why it seemed Peter Jackson was spending money for next term when he was on week to week contracts. Surely that is for the manager for next season to do.

Donaldson represents more of a significant investment than the younger striker from Matlock Town and signing him sets in stone a chunk of the club’s spending for the next two years, perhaps longer. Not any manager would choose to spend a hunk of money on a centreforward and so one must either conclude that Jackson has approved the decision to make a move for Donaldson on the understanding that he is “his sort of player” or that the manager is not playing a significant role in negotiations over new players.

The former is a better prospect than the latter. A third way, that these things are planning on the fly, is too dark to think about.

It is not hard to see why City might want to keep the duality of planning under wraps but it is almost impossible to see how they hoped to achieve that aim.

No one at Bradford City has ever proved they are especially good at keeping secrets long before Tim Berners-Lee started his good work and they have not improved since. That City have to keep potential moves for players a secret is unfortunate.

Unfortunate but perhaps it is necessary. If a deal is struck with the landlords of Valley Parade then the Bantams will have to move quickly to assemble one sort of squad, if such a deal is not reached be the Bantams at Odsal or at VP paying more than they would like another sort of squad needs to be created and – possibly – a different manager is needed to do that which would explain why Jackson remains on a week to week deal.

When Mark Lawn sits opposite Gordon Gibb and Gibb asks him why the club are trying to sign players when they are pleading poverty Lawn replies that they are doing what they can to plan for two seasons next year: One with, one without;

In that context City are not putting forward the appearance that they know nothing because – in practical terms – they do know nothing.

The Valley Parade talking shop begins

With the Premier League and FA Cup – perhaps – both being awarded today Mark Lawn hopes to end his season with a result as he is joined by Bradford City’s life president Jack Tordoff joins him in negotiations with the Flamingo Land Pension Fund – aka Gordon Gibb – and office block owners Prupim.

The City delegation hope to restructure the rent payments in order to link them to the position of the club in the football pyramid suggesting that the health and progress of Bradford City the tenant is in the interests of all. Prupim have indicated that they are prepared to negotiate. The property management company own the offices and carparks and have over £16 billion of assets in their portfolio.

One can imagine that – for them – this is a routine negotiation with a sole tenant who wants a rent reduction. One can imagine that in the last three or four years they have done this very many times.

The Pension Fund – on the other hand – are often personified by Gordon Gibb and there is bad blood between Gibb and City’s Julian Rhodes. The whys and wherefores of that bad blood are oft debated but getting to some facts Bradford City signed a deal on Valley Parade in early 2004. This deal was in place for five years at what Gibb had described as (but few other might call) a “pepper corn rent” at which point the rents were increased to a level which the club believe as unsustainable.

Tordoff’s return to the front line of action at Valley Parade has brought with it rumours that the club’s former chairman will be returning to the club as head of a consortium.

Looking at three of the men around the table Tordoff would perhaps have some sympathy. Rhodes, Gibb and Lawn have all got involved in the club and could all feel as if the situation they have ended up with it far from the one they wanted.

When Tordoff arrived at Bradford City in Stafford Heginbotham’s board he believed that football clubs drew their players from the City they were in in the way England draw their players from a country, or so it is reported.

During his time as chairman Tordoff infamously declined to sign much needed centre forward Jimmy Gillian for £70,000 because “he could break his leg next week” as well as option to sign the cheaper Mick Kennedy rather than the available Andy Townsend to partner Stuart McCall in the midfield in 1988.

Tordoff left the club to be replaced as chairman Dave Simpson and most seemed pleased by that. Some call him “Uncle Jack” Tordoff and not only is the name appropriated from the former Blackburn owner Walker but so are the happy memories. Tordoff returns to the public eye far more popular than he left it.

Which perhaps is the lesson learnt by all four people who have been Bradford City chairman sat around the table as the Valley Parade talking shop beings.

Dave Baldwin outlines the challenges, and now we wait

Sitting in the BBC Radio Leeds studio next to Dave Baldwin – the Bradford City Head of Operations telling listeners about the club’s latest position financially and on the rental talks over Valley Parade – offered a somewhat unique and surreal view of current matters. But above all else I personally took away stronger feelings of relief, encouragement and reassurance.

Baldwin took the time to honestly outline where Bradford City Football Club is at, ahead of a summer of huge uncertainty and unrest. Those explanations and reasoning may not be something we can all fully agree with, but compared to the majority of the messages we supporters have heard to date they were at least enlightening and detailed.

A huge part of the frustration in recent weeks – as City’s position dramatically shifted from trivial worries that the playing budget might be reduced a little next season, to full-blown fears over whether we’d even have a club to support – has been the drip-feeding and stop-start nature of the communications we’ve received. At times the club’s future has been painted in the bleakest of terms, leaving us to question how sincere these warnings were and – if they were entirely accurate – how the Board had allowed the financial position to become so bad.

Dave veered away from the hysterical, and instead calmly discussed the issues facing the Bantams and the solutions they are actively pursuing. These are difficult times for the club, that much was clear, but it’s not the end of the world we might envisage. There will at least be a Bradford City to support next season, and the Board is endeavouring to ensure it is a Bradford City playing at Valley Parade.

Once we’d finished the programme, Dave turned to myself and BBC Radio Leeds’ Derm Tanner and joked how he’d “wait and see how some supporters twist my words”. In the recent past words uttered by Mark Lawn and Baldwin have been presented in entirely different light by some fans, which Lawn admitted to BfB in January had caused him to rein back speaking publically. There is a growing sense of unrest from fans towards the Board at the moment, and those who want to garner further ammunition to throw at them can find – or already have found – bits that Baldwin said on Radio Leeds to use against them if they wish. But whatever your view of their strategy, it is better they communicate to us honestly than not at all.

The audio of the hour-long Radio Leeds programme can be found here (note: link content only available until Monday 16 May).

So now we wait. Rumours are flying around rapidly – some ludicrous, some seemingly credible, some shocking, some encouraging – and BfB won’t irresponsibly report on these. But what is obvious is that the outstanding issues that we take into the summer won’t be cleared up for some time. Baldwin is hopeful of a decision over the rent negotiations soon, but it may take weeks. In the meantime season tickets are on hold and the managerial vacancy is likely to remain unresolved.

One criticism to come out of the programme is the assertion by Baldwin that any agreed rent reduction would help the playing budget for next season. Certainly it would be irresponsible for the club to use all of any savings they are able to agree on the short-term objective of promotion. BfB understands, however, that interim manager Peter Jackson has been informed the playing budget for the manager next season could be extremely low, should the talks not go well and City remain at Valley Parade. To put it one way, the much-talked of £750k budget Dagenham were promoted with last season would seem luxurious in comparison.

Endlessly throwing resources only on the playing budget would be reckless; but without extra revenue or savings from somewhere City could once again struggle stay in the league next season.

Patience is the name of the game. As supporters we want a positive resolution to these talks, we want to be looking forward to kicking off the season at Valley Parade, and we want to be debating football matters like summer signings and pre-season friendlies.

But these talks with the landlords are not just about next season, but the future of Bradford City for years and decades to come. So we have to tolerate the delay, and hope it proves to be worth it for entirely the right reasons. As much as many supporters don’t trust the Board right now, we have to hope that they continue to share the best interests of every supporter and that they will take the correct decisions.

Having heard what Baldwin had to say, I’m more confident this will be the case. So long as they remember that it’s good to talk, and to keep us fans in the loop as much as possible.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part two, off the pitch

If there was one chant that must have been music to the ears of Bradford City chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes it will have been the chimes at Southend that rang “Love the club, hate the team.

The team which failed on the field were cast as no hopers who could not care less and the manager who brought them to the club maligned. Regardless of your feelings about both players and manager(s) those in the boardroom must have thought it was just a matter of time until the Valley Parade ire would be turned in their direction.

And, dear reader, you will have your own thoughts on how justified that ire would be.

The season started off with Bradford City’s directors proudly backing Peter Taylor as the new manager although later Mark Lawn would tell us that he had reservations about the appointment having watched Taylor’s style of play. Nevertheless City – according to the directors one of whom had reportedly fallen out with former boss Stuart McCall – had the right manager in place and promotion was on the way.

Mike Harrison of The City Gent disagreed and felt the wrath of Valley Parade being unceremoniously called into the club to explain his prediction of eighth. Come the end of the season the “ludicrously optimistic” jokes wrote themselves but one could share a worry for the Bantams directors had they not handled the situation so poorly. Feedback loops at football clubs and Bradford City have been in a negative loop all season. Taylor’s arrival was an attempt to change that with the hope that positive thinking off the field would be manifest on it. That change of culture – from negative to positive – is important but the way to achieve it is more a matter of winning hearts and minds than applying the strong arm.

The club’s confidence stemmed from Peter Taylor’s appointment and from the traits which Taylor brought which were lacking in the previous manager. One could argue past the return of bovinity about the merits and methods of both but Taylor had been involved in success and knew what that success looked like. When he told the club that the team needed overnight stays, new suits and Tommy Doherty then the directors put hands into pockets and found the money for them, or so it was said.

Doing, and having to do

Savings were made at Valley Parade: A burst pipe fixed here, a new lighting system there; but most impressively Mark Lawn announced that – with some sadness – City were relocating to training facilities in Leeds with Apperley Bridge no longer considered suitable. The day before pre-season and suddenly Apperley Bridge was fine, the training facilities Taylor demanded to join the club were not forthcoming and the mood for the season was set. After the cameo of Lee Hendrie he and his uncle John were at a supporters evening chaired by Lawn who made it clear that despite the urgent need of the summer to replace the facilities they must now be considered good enough. He told BfB that they had to be, because there was no money to change them.

Taylor, in the meantime, had started using the relaid Valley Parade pitch to train on and credit to all that it withstood a bad winter better than many other surfaces. The trapping of success include a good surface and on that City have progressed this year. The supporters – underwhelmed probably – respected it enough to stay off it after the final game of the season.

The winter of bad weather also saw a season ticket promotion which prompted calls of amateurism from the club on the one hand and on the other asked questions about the strategic direction of the club. There is a worry that the club create direction and policy on the hoof and looking at a “cheap and cheerful” promotion which prompted a response of being “cheap and nasty” those thoughts seemed to be confirmed. It was not just the cackhandedness of the advertisement but its inability to communicate the message that City’s season tickets were superb value, a message which was lost in the infamous Santa Dave advert.

All of which led to a comment in The City Gent and threats passing from club to fanzine. Legal action was mentioned and once again the club was at loggerheads with supporters. One has to wonder if – on reflection over the season – these fall outs between the directors and the supporters which increasingly crop up should be approached differently. Mark Lawn’s car is vandalised and he talks about winding the club up. Mike Harrison talks out of turn and there are threats. The City Gent’s John Armitage criticises and there is talk of legal action.

Perhaps it is time to look at a new approach?

2004, and all that

Administration looms large over the summer and it will be said that this is not the time to talk about anything except securing the future of the club but those who battled to put the club in the hands of Julian Rhodes in 2004 for Mark Lawn to join him in 2007 will recall only too well the talk of how supporter would be at the heart of the new Bradford City. The club saved by the fans would not forget the fans. If 2010/2011 tells us anything it is that the supporters of Bradford City are to toe the line.

I speak as someone who has sat with Mark Lawn this season. He is not an unreasonable man and in talking to him one cannot help but be sympathetic to a man who clearly loves the club, clearly is trying his best, and clearly is crying out for assistance. Jason and I heard him talk about how the supporters interact with the club. How the OMB is used in anonymity and how a “Friends of Bradford City” scheme could be used to raise much needed funds and while these things are true the tone of the conversation stands as a stark contrast to 2004’s rhetoric. The club that was saved by the fans putting in a six figure sum is now telling them what to think, or so it might seem.

Lawn cuts an isolated figure at times. He admits to his blustering style but one wonders if it belays a worry that his aims for the club will never be realised. He is at great pains to paint out that his door is always open but one wonders if an open door is enough. Bradford City as a club pledged itself in 2004 to be more about the supporters. Perhaps Lawn and his fellow directors need to engage with supporters in a more active way. Show me a hundred Bradford City fan and I’ll show you a hundred skilled people across many fields. The only time these people ever get asked for help is when there is snow to be cleared from the field on a winter afternoon.

Indications from the club are that there are developments on this and it will be interesting how much the club are prepared to let go in the interests of supporter involvement. The benefits of supporter involvement are all in engagement. At the moment Bradford City is a product consumed by supporters – and in that context the customer complaints procedure is pretty bad – and how long any club should carry on in that way is debatable. In 2004 this was going to be our Bradford City. That spirit needs revisiting especially as we once again skirt the waters of administration if only because the loss of it has contributed to rendering the club in the position it now finds itself in.

Should this not all wait until after Administration?

There seems little doubt that Bradford City are in for a torrid summer and one might think that talk about learning the lessons form 2010/2011 off the field can wait until we know for sure that there will be a 2011/2012. Were you to think that, dear reader, you may be correct.

However our experience after 2004 tells us that things said in the heat of a troubled summer fade in the winters of a season and many of the problems the club finds itself in can be put down to the distance that emerged between supporters and City in the last ten years.

The atmosphere at Valley Parade is atrocious but with supporters set firmly is customers rather than invested parties there is little invitation to do much more than pay up and turn up, little reason for many to treat professional football as a thing they are invested in.

In addition the boardroom is out of touch with supporters. For sure there is a note of websites such as this one, of the Official Message Board, of The T&A comments section, of The City Gent but these are the publication of enthusiasts not the word of the man on the Clayton Omnibus. Small samples taken as representative have informed decisions made with the club.

Geoffrey Richmond would not take a meeting with any supporter’s organisation which numbered fewer than 4,000 members but – in a very real way – handfuls of people on the Internet are setting an agenda which the club respond to and those people are not necessarily representative of the general view of supporters and it is that general view of the people who tossed tenners into buckets in 2004 which the club losing sight of.

Moreover though as the club struggles to survive once more the need for vigilance in the boardroom could not be more clear. Supporters are a constant for the club which is under threat from a boom or bust policy which targets promotion. The spirit of 2004 suggested that involvement from supporters would create guardians for the club within the boardroom to prevent us from reaching this situation again.

Yet here we are.

The lesson of 2010/2011 off the field is a correlation between the deterioration of the relationship between Bradford City’s boardroom and Bradford City’s supporters

Gordon Gibb’s Pension Fund finally responds to Bradford City

BBC Radio Leeds has this evening reported that Gordon Gibb’s Pension Fund – one of the two Valley Parade landlords – has finally responded to Bradford City’s requests for talks over the current rental arrangements.

Responding to press criticisms from joint-Chairman Mark Lawn, legal representatives for Gibb have stated they are willing to speak with City and have asked the club to outline their full proposal for the tiered rental approach they are seeking.

In more negative news, however, the club’s late payment of wages to the players in April could be repeated this month, due to ongoing cashflow problems. It’s hoped these are short-term issues which can be prevented in time and, with Gibb’s representatives finally showing some willing, the longer-term problems may also slowly be on track towards a resolution of sorts.

City pay the wages late while battling for a rent reduction – two issues that should not be linked

As the negotiations over a Valley Parade rent reduction go quiet for the time being, this morning the Telegraph & Argus has reported on another financial problem that will strike fear into the heart of every Bradford City supporter. Mark Lawn has revealed the players received their wages late this month, because according to the Joint-Chairman: “money’s tight and we’ve told them that”.

Simon Parker of the T&A presumably asked Lawn further questions on this matter, but no further information has appeared (either online or in today’s printed edition of the T&A); so, as supporters, we are left with a number of questions. How late were the wages paid? Why were the wages delayed? How bad is the financial situation at the club? And how on earth has this being allowed to happen?

First though a note of sympathy for the players. In recent weeks they’ve been heavily criticised and at times deservedly so; yet if they’ve been asked to put their bodies on the line to fight for a club unable to pay them – at least on time – one can understand how uncertainty and fear might have effected their performances. Let us not inflict upon our players the stereotypical ‘overpaid prima donna’ tag – many will be on wages comparable to you and I. Were we to receive our own wages late, we would struggle with the bills and feel let down by our employees. Bradford City League Two footballers have the right to feel the same way.

In the end though they have been paid, and so attention is firmly back onto the financial strength of the football club and its ability to meet its future obligations. BfB has already reported on how the club’s Abbreviated Accounts paint a gloomy picture, and so we should not be dubious over Lawn’s claims the club cannot survive another two years under the current status quo. But still, that does not explain how City can be struggling to pay their players now.

Surely the club budgeted sensibly and accurately last summer, when handed then-manager Peter Taylor a sizeable playing budget to build a team with? Therefore how can they be so short of money before the end of the season? True, attendances have been below expectations this season, and the club has so far not put season tickets back on sale for next year. In addition, Taylor will probably have received some form of contract settlement when he departed in February – Lawn has previously admitted the club was paying Taylor well – while interim manager Peter Jackson presumably isn’t doing the job for free. Colin Cooper has also been hired to assist Jackson, while previous coaches Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis were placed on paid gardening leave.

We can argue about the rights and wrongs of the management and coaching staff situation, but of the above financial issues only low attendances have been beyond the Board’s control. Is around 1,000 less fans turning up every fortnight the difference between players receiving their wages? Let’s imagine this season had gone to plan and City were in Wycombe’s position now – would the club have been able to pay wages on time?

And beyond questioning the logic of awarding Taylor a playing budget the club now appears unable to have afforded, let’s not forget Taylor was allowed to go over this budget too. Lewis Hunt’s arrival pre-season put City over budget, though Scott Neilson did depart to Crawley for a transfer fee shortly after. Taylor was then allowed to bring in Lee Hendrie on wages that, come January, the Board had to tell the manager they could no longer afford. And what about those young defenders signed on loan while first team players such as Zesh Rehman, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall sat on the bench?

The Board has no right to interfere with on the field issues; but if Taylor was asking for yet more money to bring in players on loan, they were surely entitled to challenge him back over why well-paid first teamers were being overlooked, especially if money was tight.

Lawn has probably disclosed this revelation about players being paid late to tie it with the pressure he is putting on the Valley Parade landlords to agree a rent reduction, but it’s highly questionable whether the two are linked. The club may not be able to afford to play on at Valley Parade under the current terms for much longer, but spending relatively huge sums of money last summer and now struggling to pay the bills is an entirely different situation – one which the Board must shoulder responsibility for.

City knew the terms of the rent before the season started; and, as much as we can all agree how unfair it is we are forced to pay such large sums of money to people whose ethical validity for owning Valley Parade is highly questionable, it doesn’t excuse apparently poor budget planning elsewhere. The implication of linking the two – whether Lawn meant to or not – is regrettable and one has to wonder what the two landlords make of the club’s requests for rent reductions while it has seemingly spent money it cannot afford on other things. It’s a bit like pleading with the gasman that you can’t afford to pay your quarterly bill, because you’ve spent it on a brand new state-of-the-art TV.

It is not Gordon Gibb’s fault the players got paid their wages late this month. Lawn will know that too and perhaps only intended to disclose this information to soften us supporters up to a move away from Valley Parade. Yet by taking this route he has left the Board open to criticism and doubts over its ability to be sensible and prudent.

Clearly these are very worrying times for this football club, and what it will look like and where it will be playing when next season kicks off on August 6 is a question no one can answer. But while we can’t change the past, it’s time for everyone to radically think about the type of football club we want and the type of football club we can afford.

The club hired Taylor on a one-year contract because that’s all they could budget for, yet allowed him to sign players on two-year deals and on sizeable wages. The expectation is that we have to be promoted each season, so too much resources are placed towards this while neglecting other important factors or adequately considering the consequences of failing to achieve it. The club’s strategy is entirely the prerogative of the manager, who is always under pressure and fear of the sack after a couple of games are lost.

And now it leaves us fearing for the club’s very survival, again. In his first ever interview when investing into the club, back in 2007, Lawn quickly pointed out he wasn’t another Geoffrey Richmond; yet recent statements and actions leave us Bradford City supporters fearing how true that proclamation will actually turn out to be.

Mark Lawn asks us to believe the gloomy picture he presents

Because if we get relegated, we will have to pay for it for the next ten years.

These words about Bradford City, spoken in September 1999 – a month into the Bantams’ first-ever Premier League season – read like a prophet of doom given how true they turned out to be. But when you consider whose mouth these words poured out of, the fact it was subsequently ignored is enough to make you cry in anguish.

For this quote came from then-City Chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, to FourFourTwo magazine almost 12 years ago. In fact, examine the full quote and see if your heart doesn’t sink.

I’m not prepared to have a situation whereby the club spends money that it doesn’t have and it all goes wrong. Because if we get relegated we’ll have to pay for it for the next ten years. I’ve seen it happen at other clubs and I’m not going to let it happen at Bradford.

This quote – from a magazine cutting which a friend recently passed to me – offer a new twist on the well-trodden tale of how Richmond steered the club into the mess it is still struggling to get out of. Such prophetic words of wisdom; but the fact Richmond was so understanding of the potential consequences of his six weeks of madness, but went ahead with it anyway, suggests a higher level of foolishness than even many of his fiercest critics would credit him for.

He really did appreciate the stakes involved in the reckless gambles he took.

Richmond – most noted for declaring he’d deliver Premier League football to the Bantams within five years, when he took over – perhaps has a new infamous quote to rival his “six weeks of madness” confession. Meanwhile we struggle on, wondering if we can ever put the past behind us.

The latest financial worries – is this really a crisis?

I wonder what quotes Mark Lawn will be remembered for? Having deliberately kept a low profile for a year, the current joint-Chairman has been regularly interviewed in recent weeks as he tries to bring landlords Gordon Gibb and Prupim to the negotiating table, over the possibility of reducing the rent.

On Saturday Lawn was in full flow again, this time declaring to us supporters that he is not playing games and this is a deadly serious situation. With a strange hint to those who bought season tickets last December (are we to be asked to contribute more, I wonder?) and a new revelation that City could move to a new home by the start of next season – potentially making the Crewe game a week Saturday the last-ever Valley Parade match for the Bantams – Lawn was determined to shoot down those who still doubt the Board’s true intentions.

One can understand the scepticism that prevails in many supporters. The financial information that has been put into the public arena, for example, does not suggest as bleak a picture that is now being portrayed – leaving many to question Lawn and City’s motives. City currently have to pay Gibb and Prupim around £370k per year, each, while the club’s wage budget for this season – £1.5 million – is twice what many League Two clubs operate on. As Lawn was keen to tell BfB in January, Dagenham & Redbridge was promoted last season on a £750k budget.

Perhaps instead of wasting money on a talented player like Tommy Doherty – who, BfB hears, refuses to play for City, despite being fit, and is happy to sit back and take a sizeable wage home each week – we could be using it on more important matters?

Whispers from within the club, meanwhile, suggest the £1.3 million annual running costs for Valley Parade are presently more or less covered by off the field sponsorship and income generated from renting out the offices. The season ticket money more or less covers the playing budget too. So a suspicion remains that a rental reduction is more aimed at providing a stronger wage budget, or making up for the fact previous playing budgets have been supplemented by loans from Lawn and Julian Rhodes, which won’t be the case this summer.

Behind the headline figures, City’s accounts paint a bleak picture

Bradford City’s 2009-10 financial accounts show City made a profit of around half a million – though this was only because of a near £1 million windfall from Leeds United selling Fabian Delph to Aston Villa. For the 2008-09 season City made a loss of £765,000. That came after City pushed out the wage bill to £1.9 million and – with this season’s playing budget at £1.5 million – we can intelligently assume the club will also make a loss this season.

BfB has, with the help of two people far more qualified on these matters, taken a look at City’s Abbreviated Accounts for the year ending 30 June 2010 (these accounts are publicly available for anyone to view). They paint a very troubling picture, in that the club has a net deficit on its assets. This means it has more liabilities (ie financial obligations, such as repaying loans) than assets (money owed to the club by other parties, etc). This is a terrible position for any company to be in, and some people – probably outside of the football industry – might even argue it should be wound up unless proof of future profit potential can be provided. A basic valuation technique would suggest Bradford City is worth approximately minus £500K. No wonder a rent reduction is being pursued so urgently.

The good news is that this net deficit position has improved compared to a year ago, by around £500k. The club’s cash balance assets has also grown considerably (from around £13k in 2009 to approximately £224k in 2010). However, this appears to be due to the windfall received from Delph – meaning the club’s net deficit could grow the wrong way again come the end of this season. The Delph money is a one-off bonus, rather than a sign the City are becoming financially stronger.

Clearly this financial situation cannot be sustained in the medium to longer-term; and so Lawn’s comments that the Bantams won’t exist in two years time under the current status quo actually do seem credible. Given the club has made no public comment over its accounts, it’s no surprise people are currently doubting Lawn’s bleak assessment over the future of the club. However, the financial picture that is emerging from City’s books would suggest that the Telegraph & Argus’ insistence of labelling the current situation a “crisis” isn’t the tabloid sensationalism it might appear.

But what about those liabilities? The loans to Lawn and Rhodes

One unresolved question is the situation regarding those loans that Lawn and Rhodes have put into the club over the last few years. BfB has seen documentation of a loan Lawn made to the club on 15th March 2009, which states interest will be charged annually (payments due monthly) at 9% above the Bank of England Base Rate (which means it is 9.5% at present, and would increase when, as financial analysts expect, interest rates begin to climb again over the next couple of years).

This interest rate certainly jumps off the page in terms of questioning how good a deal this really is for Bradford City. A business looking to undertake a loan would typically find much more favourable terms from a bank than 9% above Base Rate. However, it would be questionable whether a bank would loan the sum of money Lawn has in the current economic climate, especially to a football club viewed financially as a risky investment.

So 9% above Base Rate could therefore be justified on the basis that the risk factor for Lawn is significantly high. Were City to go into administration or even bust, Lawn would find himself towards the bottom of a pile of people to receive money back from any surplus cash. Football rules on this deem that football creditors must be paid first – so Doherty, for example, would come before Lawn in getting what they are owed. It’s more likely that Lawn would be asked to accept a percentage of the money he is owed in a Creditors Voluntary Agreement, along with other creditors.

Nevertheless, on paper this looks like a potentially lucrative deal for Lawn. Though away from the black and white facts of the documentation, this writer has every faith Lawn is – and will continue to – act in the best interests of the club.

Is this all a smokescreen so Lawn and Rhodes can sell the club?

As much as Lawn wants to stress the grimness of the situation, for supporters, because there are a number of knowledge gaps, speculation and doubt has been allowed to fill in. We’ve all asked ourselves whether it’s a matter of Lawn needing to convince us supporters of the severity of the situation, in order to convince Gibb and Prupim. Are our emotions being put through the mill in order to stir some emotion inside these two parties? And is there anything we can do to help? (Trip to Flamingoland, anyone?)

Some argue Lawn is looking to offload the club and be paid back his loans. And so he is trying to make City a more attractive investment proposition by reducing the overheads, such as by moving to a new stadium with more favourable terms. However it’s dubious whether the revenue streams of moving to Odsal or wherever would be as rewarding to an investor as they are at Valley Parade.

Sponsorship, merchandise, corporate hospitality – all still likely to be generated in a stadium elsewhere, but arguably not to the same level because other parties may get a cut of it. Unless, for example, someone was prepared to switch all the advertising boards back and forth between when City and the Bradford Bulls play at Odsal, joint advertising deals might need to be negotiated – which may not be as viable for local businesses in these difficult economic times. A stadium also cannot realistically have two different names, in terms of sponsors, so City could lose the annual revenue from Coral Windows.

Lawn and Rhodes have always stated they would be willing to step aside if someone credible wanted to take over the club, and perhaps the pair feel that they are unable to prop up this club financially anymore. Any outside investor would be looking to make a profit from owning Bradford City, plain and simple. So if reducing the overheads could attract a responsible investor, the joint Chairman may feel this is the best course of action for the long-term good of the club.

Lawn’s legacy could rest on the result of these negotiations

There is so much that we supporters don’t know about the situation for us to easily fall in line with all of Lawn’s words and place our full faith and confidence that the Board’s actions will provide the best solution for Bradford City Football Club. As such, Lawn and Rhodes have to accept their words will be disputed by some, put up with some criticism and face their reputation taking a hit if these talks don’t go the way it’s hoped. Notwithstanding, the threat of moving to Osdal would appear to be much more serious than many of us give credit – the club may really not have a choice on this unless the landlords are willing to help.

In a season where we supporters can argue the players have let us down badly and the manager messed up, we hope and pray that the Board – through these talks – can deliver an outstanding performance that safeguards the future of the club for generations to come.

And if Richmond’s quote in 1999 defines his time for all the wrong reasons, let us hope Lawn’s words to us in January this year characterises him for all the right ones:

But what I can say to Bradford City fans is that I will make sure this club always stays alive, and that is one thing that I will always do. But to do that it means I can’t be throwing money around and we’ve got to live within our means.

Another chance to end the season that did not start

Watching Nottingham Forest sneak into sixth place in the Championship at the expense of Leeds United it was remarked that one might not have predicted Forest would do so well after their defeat to Bradford City in the second game of the season.

That evening David Syers’ debut goal and an extra time strike from James Hanson gave City a 2-1 win and seemed to kick start a season which promised much. That early indication was as close as the club got to the season starting in earnest and some eight months on as City fans watch a team struggle with relegation one feels a little robbed of a year of football.

Not that we expected much from the season – Mark Lawn and the rest of the Valley Parade board did to such an extent where The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for predicting that the Bantams would be finish a place outside the play offs. Mike was – it seems – right that we would not be in the top seven.

One might wonder though what impact the predictions and preferences of supporters have on a football club. There was a school of thought – helped by the financial mechanics of the bookmaking industry – that City would be favourites this season which went alongside the predictions for Harrison (and from myself, for I was no more confident) and all these are set against a near constant stream of negativity which is tied to the club like a stone around the leg of a drowning man.

On that subject one can only look in envy at groups of supporters who realise the impact they can have on their team. City fans – it seems – have long since made a choice that the players are very much on their own and as the Bantams look for three points to end the season without relegation they do so alone.

Luke Oliver – a target for abuse regardless of his performances – sneered at City fans singing to him and his team mates that they were not fit to wear the shirt over at Accrington and will have gone into the dressing room to hear Peter Jackson agreeing but nothing in the club invites Oliver or his team mates passions.

One year contracts that make sure your future and the club’s are not tied together, abuse from supporters on the days you flog your guts out, and talk of the club not even starting next season.

For sure any professional pride you have might mean you want to win, but on the days when your opposition have the same professional pride and a crowd who want them to do well, who encourage them and who try lift them, playing for a manager who lives and breaths the club then one wonders what we want the mercenaries who we gather together every summer to care about?

Assuming the current crop of players – those who are “encouraged on” by being told they represent the worst Bradford City team in forty years – can steal three points in the next three games then the club – assuming that it can struggle into next season without the self inflicted wounds of administration – then let they be the last who are so poorly assembled.

My belief is that players are much of a muchness at this level and that the current set will be replaced by players no better, no worse, but that it is up to a club, a manager and a set of supporters to build those players into a team. The club can offer contracts of a length and a stability that encourage the players to realise that their futures are tied to the team’s performance, the manager can instil belief and desire in those players, and that supporters can – for once – decide to swallow the scream of abuse which vents their own frustration but creates or furthers the cauldron of negativity which Bradford City has become.

Or not, and we can try carry on like this.

Jon McLaughlin seems ready to return for Lenny Pidgeley in goal for the Bantams as we look to record a win over Aldershot which could end relegation fears. A defeat for Barnet at home to Oxford United and a win for the Bantams would see City safe mathematically.

Lewis Hunt will continue at right back with Luke Oliver paired with either Lee Bullock or Steve Williams should Williams have recovered from illness. Luke O’Brien will hope for a recall at left back over Robbie Threlfall.

Tommy Doherty is – we are told – fit to play but not being selected. Mark Lawn spoke about only wanting to sign players who wanted to play for Bradford City and it seems that Doherty was certainly amongst the those covered in that criticism. Not that the criticism is especially valid. Most players we approach would want to play for the club but the trick is making sure that they still want to play for Bradford City after a few months.

Instead Jon Worthington and Michael Flynn make up City’s midfield. Flynn’s efforts are seemingly the target of criticism themselves by some supporters with the idea being that since he has returned from injury he has “struggled for form” or “been rubbish” depending on your vernacular. Dropping the players who put in effort, in an attempt to get more effort, is no solution I could subscribe to.

Kevin Ellison is fit to return but will most likely be kept to the bench as David Syers and Omar Daley take the wings although there is an idea that Peter Jackson will use Daley as a second striker alongside James Hanson with Jake Speight dropping to the bench alongside Gareth Evans.

With undoubted ability – recall Northampton last season – and a willingness to work hard on many, many occasions Gareth Evans cuts a forlorn figure which perfectly represents the Bantams lack progress.

Seldom does one see a football who has so obviously had all the joy of playing football squeezed out of him.

Now we ask players like him to squeeze out just one more win, before sending them away and replacing them with the next set of hopefully to be crushed on the broken wheels that make no progress.

Lawn returns to Accrington and revisits the idea of putting Bradford City into administration

The last time Mark Lawn went to Accrington Stanley he left with his car vandalised and spent the weekend threatening to wind Bradford City up by withdrawing the loan he has made to the club. This time as Lawn heads for the Crown Ground he talks about moving City away from Valley Parade.

Speaking to the T&A Lawn confirmed what BfB reported yesterday that the club had opened talks with the Football League about what they were calling a last-ditch scenario of leaving VP to move to Odsal. One would assume that this would mean refusing to pay the Landlords of Valley Parade and the clubs offices and being open to and expecting either to both to pursue the club for being in breach leading to the club seeking a third spell in administration for protection from the creditors.

The phrase “administration as a formality” has been used before at Valley Parade by Julian Rhodes in 2004 as he looked to et the club from Gordon Gibb who voted in the CVA for Bradford City to die rather than end up in the hands of his former boardroom rival. That time City came as close as can be to going out of business as could be imagined – Ashley Ward made the casting vote – so I treat the idea of a strategic administration with scepticism.

As should Julian Rhodes. My understanding of the Football League rules about who can and cannot be involved in running a football club have it that having been involved in “multiple insolvency” evenings he would not be involved in the business of Bradford City 2011 in an official capacity.

He could buy a season ticket though – many of us have – but where that season ticket will see us sit is something which should what Mark Lawn is talking about come about will change. One wonders what consideration has been taken over this from Bradford City. Fans who are happy enough to go to Odsal might not be happy to move from seats they have occupied for over a decade and will but upset but there are supporters who do not want to go to Odsal and will be knocking on the door of Valley Parade demanding their money back.

How many of the Bradford City supporters who have season tickets now will still follow the club to Odsal? We might guess at a percentage and we might curse those who do not want to but unless someone has a figure as to how the impact of moving on supporters then should this move be considered? Has anyone at Valley Parade taken the temperature of supporters about moving from Valley Parade? Does anyone know what the supporters want?

What about the club’s business partners? Our understanding of the deal which sees Nike replace Surridge as the club’s shirt supplier will see Nike take over the club shop which is a part of the offices which City are talking about defaulting on the rent of. How secure is this deal? How transferable? Has the most iconic brand on the planet been told it will be backing a club with a level of support which no one – at the moment – could even have an educated guess at?

What about other businesses which have backed City? Are they going to be left out of pocket again by administration? Have they been warned?

Ross Hannah and Michael Rankine are non-league strikers rumoured to be in talks with City. Back in 2002 Nicky Law had agreed a deal to sign Thomas Hitzlsperger and – from Grimsby – Michael Boulding but those deals died in administration. If Hannah or Rankine were to pick up the T&A today what confidence could they have in those deals coming to fruition (let alone that the man they are talking to at the club will be there next season).

What about Mark Lawn’s loans? If City go into administration and then Lawn becomes a creditor. £2m worth of loans represents a significant vote for whatever is on the table in terms of a CVA but after a CVA has been accepted those loans are gone. Is Lawn prepared to write off the loan he considered withdrawing fifteen months ago as he drove away from Accrington?

One would love to suggest that Lawn is bluffing or that he is firing shots across Gordon Gibb’s bow to try get him to the negotiation table and see City emerge with the best deal but one cannot guarantee that. The club are talking to the Football League about how to make leaving Valley Parade work. It might not be the idea that you or I, dear reader, would have chosen but it seems to the the prevalent idea.

The vote of some confidence

If Bradford City are confident going into the Friday night game with Southend United then one might wonder why David Baldwin – when talking about the £1 entry into Tuesday night’s game with Burton Albion – described the match as a “six pointer”.

City need a win between now and the end of the season to ensure League Two safety – although even without that win the teams below would have to outperform many a previous year – but it seems that that win will be the six pointer of Burton and not the evening in Essex.

Nevertheless the club are sure of a win – seemingly – with Mark Lawn talking about how City cannot afford to keep paying for Valley Parade in League Two when discussing the possibility of leaving the club’s home which is owned (in part) by former chairman Gordon Gibb.

Lawn is seeking negotiations with Gibb and with Development Securities who own the offices in the hope of getting the £700,000 a year rent reduced. How much one might realistically expect to get knocked off that figure is questionable but if one assumed City could get a 10% reduction when in this division the £70,000 seen gets swallowed up by player costs. Is is worth leaving our home over a sum which equals one Tommy Doherty for a season? Certainly Mark Lawn believes so giving City two years at the current status quo.

Nevertheless Lawn seems to be prepared to talk about City being in League Two next season and so – one assumes – he believes that that win will come. Certainly the club is showing enough faith to be able to forgo using recognised right back Lewis Hunt and watching Lee Bullock trying to play the role and giving away a goal last week one might wonder how the club have the hubris to do such a thing.

If the club are worried about relegation – seriously worried – then weakening the side seems massively counter productive leading one to think that while the talk is of six pointers and so on the belief is that next season will be another season of football in the lowest division.

City go to Roots Hall to find a Southend United team expecting the same. The Essex club are staying at this level and wind the season down having not achieved all they would like on their return to the bottom division.

Peter Jackson – who we are told is one of two names in for the job along with Essex rival Dag & Red manager John Still – takes his City team into the game with changes afoot. Jon McLauglin is expected to retain his place in goal but Lee Bullock seems set to make way for 18 year old Adam Robinson to make his debut at right back.

Robinson was promoted from the reserves and has a chance to make a play for Hunt’s position as second strong right back for next season. The rights and wrongs of the Hunt situation aside if financial reasons push City towards being forced to use our young players rather than bringing in players for cover that could be no bad thing.

Luke Oliver and Steve Williams are expected to be the central defensive pairing with Luke O’Brien returning to left back and Robbie Threlfall being dropped.

The midfield is without Michael Flynn – once more in the forward line – so David Syers will get a chance to partner Jon Worthington again and will hope to make a better fist of his performance while Leon Osbourne seems set get the call on the left. The right hand side is more questionable with Gareth Evans choking in his chance to lead the line and seeming set for being out of his ear but for the injury to James Hanson. Evans may feature on the right should he not be used up front.

Without Hanson and Evans Jake Speight is likely to be paired with Michael Flynn.

The stark warning as Bradford City’s future is presented in the bleakest terms

While doing the media rounds today, Bradford City Joint Chairman Mark Lawn has issued the starkest of warnings: maintain the status quo, and there will be no Bradford City Football Club in two years time.

As we exclusively revealed last week, the Bradford City Board is attempting to renegotiate the terms of the Valley Parade rental agreement. The club currently has to find £1.3 million annual running costs to use their home of 108 years, and as fortunes on the pitch continue to stall the ongoing existence in League Two is proving to be a huge hinderance.

So Lawn has, as is his way, laid it out in plain terms. No success in renegotiating the rental terms, and the club will have to move out. This could take place within a year. Lawn tonight told BBC Look North that the club cannot survive two more years in League Two at Valley Parade under the current arrangements.

The Yorkshire Post claims Odsal is the most likely destination if City move out. Much has been discussed about the home of the Bradford Bulls over the last two years, with a proposal to redevelop the ageing ground quietly falling by the wayside as the effects of the UK’s deepest recession since the 1930s have squeezed public spending and corporate appetite for construction.

At present the Bulls could lose their Super League licence, such are the inadequate facilities at Odsal. With it’s unsuitability for football seen when City moved their in the 1980s – while Valley Parade was rebuilt following the fire disaster – it seems a hugely unattractive option that wouldn’t be chosen lightly.

As would the potential path to get there. The club has previously admitted breaking the 25 year lease they are bound to at Valley Parade would likely lead to a period of administration. In recent days, reliable rumours have surfaced that the club views going into administration as a route they may be forced to take.

Such a scenario would be one to fill every City fan with dread – we need only remember that the club’s second spell of administration, back in February 2004, was initially presented to us a technicality that we shouldn’t be concerned about. Five months later, we stood on the brink of losing our football club forever.

Moving to Odsal, potentially going to administration – these are all unappealing options to anyone with Claret and Amber in their heart. Therefore the focus returns to the club achieving a positive outcome to these rental talks. The Yorkshire Post – which has confirmed the club is looking at the rental proposal BfB had suggested (not that they are acting on our idea) – has revealed Prupim, the company City rent the Valley Parade offices from, are willing to talk about a rent reduction. However stadium Landlord Gordon Gibb is apparently unprepared to talk to City. Though a spokesman for the Gibb Pension Fund told the Yorkshire Post they have had no direct contact from City.

Why are these talks being played out in the public arena? If the club is in such dire straits, why are we persisting with cheap season ticket deals and £1 offers for home games? Why are we wasting precious money on unproven non-league strikers like Jake Speight? All of these questions circulate around the head and are not a criticism as such of City; but one has to wonder whether the seriousness of the situation we’re being presented with is quite backed up by the club’s actions.

If Gibb is the key to Bradford City’s future, shouldn’t we be banging down his door and begging him to be reasonable; rather than threatening to abstain from a 25-year agreement via the local paper?

There are worrying times for the club. Lawn has revealed that we cannot carry on as we are, and the answers apparently lie with people who semingly don’t have the club’s best interests at their heart and have very different priorities.

We can only trust in Lawn and Julian Rhodes – owners and custodians – to act in our best interests and find the solutions that ensure the future of the club is preserved and we can continue for another 108 years at least. But in the meantime, as we read the situation presented so gloomily by Lawn in the local paper, we feel worried and pessimistic and helpless and scared.

So many times over the past decade we’ve endured miserable failure and tried to stay positive by declaring it can’t possibly get any worse. As this disastrous season comes to a close, let’s hope that for once we are proven to be right.

Is there any solution to Bradford City’s Valley Parade problem?

BfB understands that Bradford City are attempting to negotiate with Valley Parade landlord Gordon Gibb over the terms of the current rental agreement. It would be wholly inappropriate for us to publicly disclose any details of these talks – due their high sensitivity – other than to say that City’s Board is trying to find a compromise to this ever-present problem.

As the 2008-09 and 2009-10 financial accounts show, the current rental and running costs City must pay annually to use Valley Parade are hindering their ability to achieve success on the field. City’s overheads are covered by income not generated by the football, and the playing side is paid for by season ticket sales and gate receipts in general. With season ticket sales on track to be lower next season, it means the playing budget will be reduced for City’s next manager. However, the club’s existence is currently assured by other income streams.

That said, the Valley Parade situation remains a millstone around the club’s neck. The idea of moving to Odsal was floated two years ago, but now seems as unlikely as the council’s  redevelopment of the Bradford Bulls’ home which was proposed at the time. City have attempted to talk to Gibb about buying back the stadium, but the former Chairman’s asking price is too high. A 25-year lease means City are left paying huge annual rental payments which are undermining efforts to revive our ailing fortunes.

So the Board – as Gibb’s people seem happy to disclose to other people – are looking to negotiate new rental terms that would be more favourable for City. At present City are paying £1.3 million per year in rent and running costs, and in January Mark Lawn told us that Gibb was earning a 15% annual return on his original investment.

Gibb has no reason to agree to reduced terms, but if the rent issue remained so difficult that it threatened the existence of Bradford City Football Club, he could suddenly be left with no annual return and a piece of land that would be difficult to sell in the current climate. So one must hope the club can convince him that it is in his interests to help them along the way, while still providing him with a healthy return.

One solution could be to broker a structured rental deal that can help both parties achieve their aims – City to climb up the leagues and Gibb to build his family’s pension fund. Lawn told BfB that: “This club needs to be in the Championship. In the Championship we survive and we survive well. That’s where we need to be. The overheads suddenly don’t become as bad because we need this type of stadium to survive.”

So one idea could be – and this is a BfB suggestion rather than necessarily a proposal on the negotiating table – that the rent is restructured for which division City are in. In League Two revenue is clearly more tight, and the size of rent becomes such an issue that it holds back the club. If the rent could be more favourable now, it would only enhance the Bantams’ ability to earn promotion to League One. Here the rent could be increased again, and then increased even further if and when City return to the Championship and benefit from far greater revenue. All the way along, rent would be manageable to the club.

For that to work, Gibb would have to accept the rent would be lower for now, plus an inherent risk that he would never receive the same level of return if City continue to bumble about on the field. For that reason, City would have to make the terms more favourable in the Championship (and, hey 20 years is a long time, so include Premier League terms too) than they are now, so that Gibb could potentially receive an even greater return on his investment.

All of which may seem unattractive to Gibb, but the alignment of two goals – City to climb to leagues and Gibb to make more money on his investment – would in many ways be more agreeable to all. Right now the two parties don’t get on well, and while that may not be such a problem for Gibb one would like to believe there remains some feeling for the club he once cared so passionately about.

Whatever the solution, we need to avoid looking at Gibb as the villain and beating him with a stick. The club badly needs his help and, as much as we might argue it is unfair he is getting richer because of us, if that objective was at least parallel with our objectives it would surely be the best compromise from a far from ideal situation.

We watch on with interest, as these talks are clearly vital to the club’s future.

Bradford City made half a million profit in 2009/10, but it’s not all good news

The Yorkshire Post has this morning revealed Bradford City made a £501,000 for the 2009/10 season – largely thanks to the sell-on clause in the deal which saw Bradford-born Fabian Delph transfer from Leeds to Aston Villa for £8 million in August 2009.

The Bantams received an initial £800,000 windfall for the part they played in developing the young midfielder. The Yorkshire Post also claims that total has risen to just short of a £1 million due to further clauses being triggered – chiefly Villa qualifying for Europe and awarding Delph a new four-year contract.

Were it not for the Delph money, City would have made a loss of around £299,000. For the 2008/09 season, where the Bantams had spent big on wages – a £1.9 million playing budget – but missed out on the play offs, the club recorded a loss of £765,000. One can take an educated guess that City will make a similarly high loss for this season, having again pushed out the boat.

All of which is troubling. Without the unexpected windfall from Delph, City would have lost over £1 million over the previous two campaigns and something similar this year – whether these totals includes loans provided by Lawn and Rhodes is unclear. The decreasing success of the subsidised season ticket scheme will add further pressure, and Julian Rhodes, Mark Lawn and the Board are left in a position where unless they keep investing more of their own money the club is left in an incredibly weak position.

The Valley Parade rent and running costs amount to £1.3 million each year. If the ownership situation could be altered this situation would ease, but it would be wrong to assume that it would lead to City making a profit each year as many of the running costs would still need to be met no matter who owns the deeds to the stadium. And that’s before we consider the costs involved if the club were able to buy back Valley Parade. People often say that you should never rent a home as it’s “a mug’s game” and City are in a similarly position of being trapped and effectively throwing money down a blackhole.

Clearly next season is going to be a tough one financially. The club has spent big on wages again this year and there were other sizeable costs last summer, such as relaying the pitch. With season ticket sales unlikely to match or better this season’s, the resultant playing budget for whoever takes over as manager will be significantly reduced and with it expectations must surely recede.  A huge consideration, when selecting the manager, must be their ability to deliver over-performance on a shoestring budget.

What of the longer-term future? Unless City can get back to the Championship, it’s unlikely revenue streams will significantly increase anytime soon – unless they abandon the season ticket initiative. The Valley Parade situation looks unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, if ever. Outside investment remains a faint possibility, but City are far from an attractive proposition. The possibility of further windfalls from other former City youngsters – most notably Tom Cleverly and Andrew Wisdom – remains, but is hardly something to build a five-year business plan upon.

Rumours have recently floated around that another administration is a possibility, but hopefully this can be filed under malicious nonsense. Nevertheless, these are somewhat worrying times for Bradford City and, as gratefully received as the Delph money clearly was, it cannot prop up the club forever.

Do we need a manager or do we need leadership?

Is the solution to Bradford City’s problems in a new manager?

Someone has to pick the team, train the players and so on but first and foremost perhaps we need some leadership at the club.

At the moment, I am embarrassed. The last six weeks are no way to recruit a new manager and the process will leave no one either satisfied, or with the reputations they came into it with intact.

Mark Lawn and the Bradford City board look weak and indecisive. Why take so long to pick someone for a role which seems to have such a limited shelf life? Why spend half a season appointing a manager when the last one (who was also appointed after such a process) was done away with after six months? The public perception is one of a board good at procrastination.

Peter Jackson can’t really make his mark on the job or the club until he has the job officially, so is only going to end up doing poorly and setting the message boards alight with impolite requests for his dismissal – if it can even be called that – from a role he can hardly get started in. Jackson cannot provide the leadership when he might be back on the streets at the end of the week.

This weakness in leadership is in evidence throughout the club. We, the supporters, are fed snippets by the club but none of these bits of information which suggest improvement is ever followed up. What does Omar Khan an associate director of City do? I’d like to know if he organises events so that I can go to them. What does Roger Owen do at the club? They were both lauded when they joined up, but we’ve heard little from them since and seen no evidence of any success that has derived from their presence.

Why do I receive email updates from Leeds United and Huddersfield Town, but not from City? Email is a simple, cheap form of communication. Every man and his dog has a blog these days, but not Bradford City.

The club is poorly managed and will only continue to deteriorate unless drastic changes are made. We have a hopelessly outdated website, no regular communication (I don’t even receive my season ticket in the post, I have to go and collect it!) and no spokesperson. The players talk and are hauled up before the manager, the manager issues comments and the board comment on the manager, and then board say nothing. In BfB interview with Mark Lawn the chairman admitted that he had withdrawn from talking to supporters.

News, both good and bad is spread via rumour on the message boards, meaning that much of what we are told is completely fictitious, even malicious at times. False rumours gain currency, the the true rumours are then picked up a day or so later by the T&A and appear often to ‘clarify’ misconceptions.

All of this happens and the idea persists that the new manager will solve the problems, and that he will be able to solve the problems, when increasingly it seems his job is marginalised to the point of being a lesser appointment. The manager becomes a a Lieutenant without a Major.

Sort that out first, then worry about appointing a new manager.

Rewarding the wrong things

Bradford City are going to be looking at appointing a new manager soon and and in doing so will be asking a question as to if it is worth rewarding Peter Jackson for his work as “interim manager” with a full time contract. It seems difficult to believe the will be the case.

Two games – indeed two defeats – ago Mark Lawn talked about Jackson’s performance not being enough when the manager had a record of seven points out of twelve which edged the former skipper at just under two points a match. Having been told that those performances were not good enough one wonders if Jackson will be considered for a job the description of which seems to be “promotion form, all the time.”

Perhaps it was the idea that performance as well as results influence thinking in the mind of Mark Lawn – one half of the joint chairman and the half who was last to agree on appointing Peter Taylor owing to his style of football – that prompted Jackson to keep David Syers out at right back and put Tom Adeyemi in central midfield alongside Michael Flynn rather than Jonathan Worthington.

In theory Flynn and Ademeyi are an expansive middle two with one promoting and the other driving forward but in practice this team – as with all teams – perform better with a ball winner and Jackson’s results show that. When his team dig in, results follow, but without Worthington (or a similar player) much of the good play that City were capable of a month ago is theory, nothing more.

Ademeyi deserves a place in the team, Syers deserves a spot in central midfield, or so the thinking goes. The practice, as is often the case in football, differs.

Exhibit A: Jake Speight. Given three out of ten by one Sunday newspaper last week and generally considered to be not very good Speight was dropped today for Scott Dobie. While Speight has been doing whatever it is he does up front – you may not, or may, care for it – Dobie has been nominally out of position and seemingly either incapable of playing that role of having a lip out sulk and putting in very little.

His reward for such slight returns was to be given a role alongside James Hanson in the forward line and seldom did he seem to offer anything to suggest his was a better option. Jackson’s rewarding of Dobie’s anonymous performances make it hard to demand effort from the rest of the squad. “Play hard, because if you don’t you will be given a place in the forward line.”

Darren Stephenson or Chib Chilaka – who came off the bench for Dobie in the second half following five goals in his last two games – seemed to merit the position more and certainly seemed to put in more effort.

Not that City’s side lacked effort on the while today – nor that Jackson could not have looked back on the game without thinking that his team was hard done by – but some of what the manager was doing to impress at Morecambe with the characterful 1-0 win seemed to slip away, sacrificed on the alter of the more attractive.

The home side tipped a performance towards them from kick off edging, but not firmly beating, the Bantams and it seemed only a time before Jon McLauglin would be beaten. A shot pinged off his bar but it took a penalty by John Mousinho after Steve Williams’ jump in the first half was oddly penalised to give Stevenage the advantage. Mousinho is to Stevenage what Tom Doherty was to Wycombe Wanderers three seasons back. A player to envy.

But what good is envy? The Stevenage players continued to edge each tackle and carry on firmly in the play off zone after the win which was to follow in the second half but it is not because they are to a man better than the Bantams eleven. The idea that City’s players are inherently worse which seems to mark any half time in which the Bantams trail is not backed up by a look at the opposition teams which best us. We have League Two players, but so does every other club in League Two, and the challenge for every manager at this level is to get those players outperforming the division.

City’s second half display showed some character and Chilaka’s entrance helped matters but it seemed the Bantams were struggling on scraps. David Syers and Luke O’Brien pressed up the flanks and some supply from Adeyemi and Gareth Evans proved some delivery but it seemed that City were going to battle in vein.

Jackson will have looked at having to deploy Lewis Hunt in the middle with Syers at right back and ending up with Luke Oliver – a former Stevenage forward – back in the forward line. He will look at Tommy Doherty’s return in the reserves and Michael Flynn’s struggle to get in the game today and he will see options returning to his squad and he will probably wonder if he will get to be the one who decides how the midfielder returns to the squad, how Oliver is put back in the side, how to solve the goal scoring issues.

Syers scored, a tidy finish after Chilaka pushed the ball back to him in a crowded box, and it seemed that City might get a reward but the wrong things are seldom rewarded in the end, and Darius Charles won the game.

Jackson’s hopes hang in the balance as the feel-good factor recedes

Suddenly the unifying feel-good factor witnessed at the Globe Arena two weeks ago seems like a distant memory. 180 minutes of subsequently apathetic football have loosened Peter Jackson’s grip on pole position for the manager’s job full time. It may be wrong for his chances to fluctuate game-to-game like this, but this afternoon and last week have hardly offered compelling evidence in support of the interim manager’s cause.

Speaking ahead of this disappointing defeat, joint-Chairman Mark Lawn revealed it is likely Bradford City will make a final decision on the next manager around Easter time. Therefore Jackson probably has at least another four games in the hotseat to build a stronger case than his first five games provide. Few would doubt he has made an impact as he reaches his one month milestone in charge on Sunday, but seven points from 15 is hardly a significant improvement on the six points Peter Taylor collected during his final five games.

And therein lies his major issue to date. There just isn’t enough of a difference to the way City are performing with Jackson at the helm when looking at the widening picture. Initially the Bantams were playing a much more appealing passing style of football compared to efforts under Taylor. Yet both today and last week there has been a frustrating reverting back to direct football that sees the ball punted aimlessly in the direction of Jake Speight and James Hanson. Jackson can argue he doesn’t want his players to perform in this way, but this would hardly generate confidence over his leadership abilities.

Amazingly in a game where they were so clearly second best, City took the lead and for 10 minutes looked on course to sneak an undeserved victory. But a very impressive Shrewsbury side demonstrated why they are in the promotion shake-up by coming back to earn a valuable win. Rarely do dropped points look acceptable when you’ve held a lead in a match; and, although Shrewsbury’s winner came with six minutes left on the clock, the fact City had been unable to curtail their opponents’ dominance from kick off reflected badly on everyone.

Sure there were mitigating circumstances. Much of the pre-match focus was on how Jackson would compensate for the injured Luke Oliver at the back, but ultimately the absence of the suspended Jon Worthington was more crucially felt. City’s midfield four were badly out-gunned for much of the game and lacked the energy and drive to function as an effective attacking force. They lacked a David Syers.

Syers himself was thrust into a right back role he at least looked more comfortable performing compared to his efforts in this position against Northampton a week ago. With Lewis Hunt moved over to centre back to cover Oliver and putting in an extremely strong display, Jackson could argue he’d made the right call. But as the midfield already featured two strikers as widemen, there remained a suspicion all afternoon that there were just too many players lining up out of their best position, tipping the balance in Shrewsbury’s favour.

Particularly as Tom Adeyemi was asked to perform a defensive midfield position which appears more naturally suited to Syers and certainly isn’t ideal for the on-loan Norwich midfielder. For the first 45 minutes especially the midfield four were on the back foot and struggled to find time and space to attack, with Michael Flynn very average again. Shrewsbury hunted in packs down the flanks, forcing Gareth Evans and a much more willing Scott Dobie to defend for much of the half. But with so many players forced deep, the front two of Hanson and Speight were left badly isolated.

In other words, it was the same balance conundrum that Taylor had failed so badly to solve.

Were it not for an outstanding display from Jon McLaughlin, Shrewsbury’s dominance would have been rewarded with a 2 or even 3-0 half time scoreline. After getting away with making a hash of a low cross into the box, McLaughlin maintained his confidence and made a terrific double block from the dangerous Matt Harrold and Mark Wright. Just before half time Nicky Wroe was played clear on goal, but McLaughlin stood up well to make a brilliant one-on-one block. At half time all four sides of the crowd afforded the keeper a standing ovation.

City did begin to improve in the second half, with Jackson pushing Adeyemi further forwards so he could link up with Speight and Hanson. Though McLaughlin was still busy, having to tip over David Davis’ long-range shot and later on keep out Wright’s header. Darren Stephenson was handed a senior debut in place of the woeful Speight, and the crowd’s positive reception to his arrival helped the players to temporarily stem the tide.

Midway through the second half Adeyemi took advantage of a woeful punch downwards from Shrewsbury keeper Ben Smith to volley the ball into the roof of the net from the edge of the area; and for Jackson and City it was looking like a good day after all. Yet the wily Graham Turner made two inspirational substitutions – bringing on Tom Bradshaw and opening-day-of-the-season-City-tormentor Lionel Ainsworth – that re-shifted the momentum again.

City switched off from a throw-in, and Bradshaw struck with venom from distance to beat McLaughlin at his near post with 13 minutes to go. The substitute then won the game on 84 minutes after Jon Taylor had got free of Syers on the left – despite a strong suspicion of fouling the makeshift right back – and crossed for him to tap in.

In between City had effectively played upon Smith’s hesitancy in goal by swinging in some decent crosses that left him flapping. The best chance saw Hanson’s excellent run and cross for Dobie to head home thwarted by a defender on the line. On another day and with a bit more luck City could have won it instead of going on to lose, but then again they had benefited from some good fortune in defeating Rotherham and Morecambe.

In the end the day lacked conclusions. City are just about safe from relegation, but another few points are still required. Jackson could have been packing up his desk at full time, but Lawn’s pre-match comments revealed the assessment will go on a while longer. Lawn also claimed that results are what matter, and one has to wonder whether Jackson’s chances are little more advanced than a game of musical chairs. Will his latest result be win, draw and lose when the music stops – and will that determine the outcome?

Almost every manager I’ve known is popular at first – and there’s always that period where we almost believe they’ll be a superhero in what they are capable of achieving, before over time they prove themselves to be human with flaws that drive their popularity downwards. So while the six other managerial candidates can still hide behind their cape and remain superhero in their potential, Jackson – with some questionable team selections, iffy tactics and average performances – is left to reveal his defects that all the while reduce his chances.

Two weeks after looking a shoe-in for the job – for Jackson, you begin to suspect this story isn’t going to have a happy ending.

The question we all struggle to answer

In the immediate aftermath of Bradford City’s underwhelming draw with Northampton Town last Saturday, Pulse Sport’s Tim Thornton asking of interim manager Peter Jackson if he could explain why his team had performed so poorly prompted the response: “erm, no, not really”. After a season of under-achievement Jackson’s predecessor, Peter Taylor, might have broke into a wry smile had he been listening; but given Jackson is effectively undertaking a practical interview for the permanent job, his answer was far from reassuring.

Whether Mark Lawn was listening is a moot point, but this week the joint-Chairman has publicly uttered lukewarm comments about the job Jackson has done so far which suggests his full time appointment is not the formality it was beginning to appear two weeks ago. Not only did Lawn criticise the team’s display against Northampton, but the performance in beating Morecambe at the Globe Arena the week before.

Lawn told the Telegraph & Argus, “The results…have been steady so far without setting the world alight…We were flat on Saturday and need more out of them than that.” Above all else, that last comment can be assumed to be directed solely at Jackson. The message that the bar needs lifting much higher.

It’s a strange assessment period for Jackson. While five other managerial hopefuls brush up their interview skills or wait for a call, Jackson’s chances of getting the job are poised so finely on the results each week. The wins over Rotherham and Morecambe prompted loud calls for him to win the recruitment battle, but after Northampton the support towards him has become more muted.

As it stands, tomorrow could be his last game in charge – though it seems highly likely he will be given another month in charge at least. While the fate of other candidates may lie in the ability to answer the right questions, Jackson must place his in the players he inherited.

What more can he do? Well blooding youngsters is one election strategy that could win him extra votes. After plenty of youth players impressed while playing for the reserves in midweek, it seems probable that Jackson will award at least one senior debut from the bench on Saturday; with a couple at least poised to make the matchday 18. Leading the case is midweek scorer Darren Stephenson, who has been publicly praised by Jackson, while the much-hyped Dominic Rowe is also in contention.

With the Northampton draw firmly quashing talk of a late of play off charge, City’s final 10 games have largely become meaningless. It’s therefore an ideal opportunity to introduce youngsters into the first team and few people would view Jackson in anything but a positive light for doing so, unless results were adversely affected. If Stephenson, Rowe or Adam Robinson were to have an impact, Jackson – who had a fine record of introducing youngsters at Huddersfield – would find his stock would considerably climb. It is a gamble of sorts, but one suspects it is one Jackson needs to take if he wishes to remain the front-runner.

Expect the starting eleven at least to be full of senior players tomorrow. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal despite Lenny Pidgley’s return to fitness, but the back four will see changes with Luke Oliver suffering a rare injury. Last week his early departure prompted a reshuffle that saw David Syers play right back and struggle to adapt. Lee Bullock’s impressive performance as centre back for the reserves offers Jackson the opportunity to partner the midfielder with Steve Williams and keep Lewis Hunt at right back, with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In midfield an injury to Kevin Ellison and the suspension of Jon Worthington throws open opportunities for others. Syers will want to play in the centre alongside an off-colour Michael Flynn, while Tom Adeyemi, Leon Osborne and Scott Dobie will be in contention for Ellison’s wide midfield position. Gareth Evans, who continues to polarise opinion, is perhaps the only certain midfield starter. Had Worthington been available, one wonders whether Jackson would have been forced to leave out Flynn as he struggles to find form following a long lay-off.

Up front will be James Hanson and Jake Speight. On paper it is a little and large partnership that offers great potential, but the lack of understanding between the pair last week was troubling and must improve. Despite scoring City’s last two goals, question marks remain over their ability to find the net regularly and Dobie and Stephenson will be pushing to provide competition.

Shrewsbury – thrashed 5-0 in their last away match, rock up to Valley Parade firmly in the thick of the promotion battle. On the opening day Graham Turner’s out-thinking of Taylor set the tone for a dreadful Bantams campaign which has led us to yet another meaningless run-in and managerial head-hunting. The thinking that these times are opportune moments to plan early for next season and ensure the team hits the ground running was quickly undermined on that warm August afternoon at the New Meadow, though no one there to endure it could have imagined this season would have gone this bad.

An outstanding manager with a superb track record, a strong playing budget that saw some quality arrivals during the summer, a weaker-looking division that the bookies predicted the Bantams would be masters of. Jackson struggling to explain last week’s under-performance is something we should all be able to relate to – all season long it seems we’ve been equally lost for words.

What are City asking the six?

There are six football managers being interviewed for the job of Bradford City manager which Mark Lawn hopes to have appointed around the start of May but as lists circulate as to who these names may be a more pressing question, perhaps, is what those six might say.

More to the point what the questions might be when asked. What are the Bradford City chairmen going to want to know from those who sit in front of them?

The questions that present themselves are hardly tempting. “How do you deal with having really poor training facilities, a situation that is not going to change?”, “You will not have the biggest budget in the division but it will be assumed you do, how do you cope with that?”, and of course that old chestnut “Your team wins one nil, the crowd boo, do you praise them after?”

The success of any interview process is dependent on a rigid definition of the requirements of the role and in this the Bantams come unstuck. For sure everyone knows what is wanted from as a result of the process: promotion; how to achieve that is a different matter.

Moreover how to assess if a candidate can achieve that represents something of a mystery. The question can be asked but who would answer in the negative?

Likewise the candidates cam be asked how they would approach the job’s finer points. “Will the players be required to wear suits? To enjoy coach journeying together?” None of these have proved essential indicators to job performance.

Much better would be to ask the candidates what augmentation the will have brought to City on a year on year basis. Ask the manager who wants the job in May 2011 what will have changed for the better at the club by May 2012 and if his only answer is “promotion” give him a wide berth.

The pursuit of promotion an end in itself has to end at City. The club’s long term aim seems to be set as sitting in the Championship and one promotion gained solely by gutsy performances on the field do not achieve this. That aim needs the club to start improving this like youth development and player realisation, which is to say getting the best out of the playing squad rather than allowing quality footballers like Tommy Doherty to become bit part players, making good on the investment in their services.

I’d like questions on those areas to be asked of the candidates. “How, considering the facilities, are you going to get the best out of the players?”, “How are you going to take the players we can afford and make them into players other people want to buy?”

Talk of promotion is pie in the sky. The next manager needs to arrive with some ideas of how to improve the club, not just what the results of improvement would be. The board need to make sure that the new man, the one of the six, knows that that is his remit.

Otherwise City are just Del and Roderney (sic) wishing to be millionaires next year, but just trusting to fate that they will achieve that.

I don’t want promotion

Unless Mr Jackson gets us on an unbelievable run, and I’m not saying that isn’t possible, 2011/2012 will be the 5th season that Bradford City have lined up in the 4th tier of English football. It will be the 5th time we have been proclaimed as one of the favourites for the division (it appears the bookies do sometimes get it wrong) and it will be the 5th time we hear comments from the club and the fans that we “must get out of this division”, “promotion is a must” and “we can’t keep going in this division on this budget”.

Now I know little about the clubs finances, other than what can be gleamed from reading websites like this one and the odd comment from Mr Lawn in the T&A but as far as I can see it, the club has actually survived, and unless we are in for a shock, will be there next year. So how important is it that we actually do get promoted and is the aim of promotion actually helping us?

We have seen differing strategies for gaining promotion each year in this division, McCall simply being here was one, a Large budget was another, scouring the lower leagues yet another and finally the hiring the best available manager for the job (which at the time, Taylor unquestionably was) and giving him everything he wanted. All have failed.

The reason they have failed is because we, as a club have forced them to fail. There is much talk of time being needed for managers to stay in a job to build a team. McCall had plenty of time but on the other hand only ever had a season at a time. Nothing was ever carried on from one year to the next. Taylor didn’t have the time (and I’m glad he didn’t have any more) but again, would only have had a season at a time. The talk was always of a new reduced budget next year (and I fully understand why this was needed) which would have resulted of an overhaul of the playing staff again had he stayed.

This all sums up why I don’t want us to go up next year, because if I do, we won’t, or the year after, or the year after that.

In my mind, and bearing in mind, my biggest achievement in football is doing 24 keep ups in the park and beating Ben Shuttleworth aged 11 to the ‘Longest throw in’ award (I was 26 at the time), we should be setting ourselves up as a 4th Division team. We should be having a budget that will remain the same year on year, based on season ticket sales. We should be saying to Peter Jackson, we want to improve on this season, that is all. You don’t need to get us up, or even in the playoff’s, we just want to improve and build.

There are numerous examples of this working, look at Dagenham, Bournemouth, Exeter, Rochdale. All have built teams and built form without the added pressure on them. When they have been high up in the table they have known they have been performing above expectations which then relieves the pressure on them, making it easier to play.

After what Peter Taylor has provided us with this year, all I want is to see a team I can relate to and a team that will go and try and win each game they play. We have forgotten that ultimately football is entertainment. 90 minutes to be thrilled, excited, disappointed, angry and overjoyed. We are all looking at football as 46 games, desperate for that promotion. When it comes, will it be as good as we have built it up to be? Probably it will, but it will be a hell of a lot better if we have enjoyed the ride as well.

A few more wins this season and it won’t have been too bad… still, we had better go up next year…

What to swear when you are in Rome

Bradford City want to talk to Accrington Stanley’s John Coleman about being the next Bradford City manager. Coleman wants to talk but it seems that Accrington Stanley want compensation for their manager and City do not have that sort of money. Insert your own comment about paying interim managers here, dear reader, I’m all commented out.

Nevertheless it seems that Coleman would like a word with the Bantams too making all the noises around the idea that City – as a club – can take him where his ambition drives. After 526 games at The Crown Ground the 48 year old believes that he has something else to give at a bigger club.

He is right – or rather he is right that Bradford City are a bigger club – but how much he has to give is probably not his decision. Third in the list of the longest serving managers to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger Coleman has been in his job since 1999. Peter Taylor was in his for forty six games.

Taylor’s replacement – on what if John Coleman or fellow interviewee John Hughes had their way would be a very short term basis – by Peter Jackson has been greeted with some considerable delight in some quarters. It is a generational thing of course and to those who are of a certain age then Jackson alongside Stuart McCall, Ces Podd and John Hendrie in the club’s pantheon. The image of him kissing the curiously tube like Canon League Division Three trophy in May 1985 is no one’s enduring image of the day, but it is the one we would all prefer to remember one.

Replacing the five time promoted Taylor Jackson – as with Stuart McCall compared to Colin Todd – pales into insignificance for experience but it is hoped that his connection to the club will steer him good. That in having the club in his bones his belief will be a more powerful agent than anything that the hired hand could muster.

In his bones, perhaps in his blood. There is much made of the colour of the Oh Neg that flows through the man’s veins. If Stuart McCall was the wounded idealist feeling every result – even his next job saw him with claret and amber – and Peter Taylor the academic unhurt by scores then Jackson is the opportunist able to find the right thing to say at the right time.

When in Rome swear you are claret and amber, unless talking to Lazio supporters then you bleed blue and white.

Which is not a criticism of the man just a recognition – were it needed – that if one wants to have a career in professional football one needs to be flexible about one’s passions. George Graham managed Arsenal, John Rudge went to Stoke after decades at Port Vale. Matt Busby played for Liverpool, John Hendrie for Leeds. Perhaps Jackson is Bradford City’s Brian Clough ousted from one rival to lead another.

Certainly if he is the opportunist then this short term role he has at City is his opportunity and opportunity that has been presented because of his connection to Bradford City. It is not easy to imagine the likes of Andy Richie or Mel Machin (The shoulder’s to Jackson’s time at Huddersfield) being given the Valley Parade job let alone being well received in it. Jackson’s prior connection serves him well.

We should not speak ill of this shield of popularity – it was that shield and its ability to allow the manager space to build the club which had me excited about Stuart McCall’s appointment – but with John Hughes and John Coleman interviewing and rumours that the club has set its sights on Keith Hill (Quote Mark Lawn: “We would all like a Keith Hill”) or Rochdale or Alan Knill of Bury (Para-Quote Mark Lawn: “But even there I’d be thinking play-offs three times and no promotion?”)

In Jackson City have one of the better qualified and highest profile of any of the people considered to be connected with the club in a significant manner – although Carlisle United manager Greg Abbott and the guy at Motherwell who did what Rangers could not might be considered above and Ipswich’s Paul Jewell certainly is – but considering the Bantams alarming turn around of players per season in the last fifteen years it is not surprising that a whole host of managers have some Bantams connection.

Chris Wilder – the Oxford manager – meandered to Valley Parade at some point in the 1990s before exiting for the team he supported in Sheffield United but one has to wonder if three months at a club a decade and a half ago is even worth considering as a prior connection to the club.

And so City’s joint chairman are presented with a choice between Jackson – who represents a significant link to the club’s past – and one of the interviewed managers who has no connection but (in some cases) great track records. In short, it seems, they have a chance to decide between the club hero or the CV. There is an irony there.

The question is an open one. What, if there is one, is the benefit of a club appointing a manager who has a previous connection with that club?

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

Taylor gets a final chance to write his history

Peter Taylor exits Bradford City after Saturday’s game with Stockport County which is described by joint chairman Julian Rhodes as “possibly one of the biggest in the club’s history” but the judgement on his time at the club will not follow until the end of the season.

Taylor’s time at City has been marked with upset over negative play and managerial mistakes as well as the manager criticising supporters who he revealed today were the cause of his decision to leave but his position in City’s history will be written in May when he is either written off as an experiment gone wrong or written in stone as the man who had Bradford City relegated out of the Football League after 106.

An assessment which would be harsh for sure – you do not go from the Premiership to the Football Conference in just over a decade because of the guy who got the job twelve months ago – but one which will no doubt be made. Taylor’s only input into this writing of history is the tone he sets in his final game.

The final game with Stockport who – in something of a minor irony – have helped to seal the manager’s early exit. Mark Lawn and Rhodes talked about their requirements for the medium and long term when thinking about the next appointment but it cannot have escaped their notice that by changing manager Lincoln City and Saturday’s opponents have turned seemingly moribund seasons around with revivals.

There is something to be said for that approach too. It is football in the ludicrously short term – the financial position being what it is and relegation hovering City may only have a short term left – but increasingly it seemed as if the players had lost belief in Taylor and that they might benefit from another voice in the dressing room.

Be it David Syers and Tom Ademeyi being given the midfield roles against five Lincoln players, Scott Dobie being given the job of chasing high balls or Luke O’Brien and Lewis Hunt playing full back without anyone supporting them when they are doubled up on the players are coming under criticism for decisions made by Taylor, and on occasion that criticism comes from Taylor.

That they stop thinking that following the manager will lead to success is a problem addressed by Taylor’s exit, although after that one suspects the problems will begin and that chief amongst those problems will be finding a new manager who has the same effect on City which Steve Tilson has had on Lincoln to some degree or another.

If the benefit of Taylor’s exit is a change of voice in the dressing room then there seems little benefit in appointing Wayne Jacobs until the end of the season but the assistant manager has twice taken control of the club as caretaker in the past. The two week gap that follows the Stockport game suggests City will have time to bring in short-term appointment and that a caretaker taker will probably not be needed.

Names suggest themselves: Phil Parkinson and Brian Laws mentioned in one breath, Dean Windass and Terry Dolan in another. Martin Allen has previously impresses Mark Lawn and could get a chance to do again but those problems are for Monday. Saturday is more pressing.

The effect of Taylor’s departure on that game is hard to measure. The City players responded to Stuart McCall’s departure with a loathsome display at Accrington Stanley in Peter Taylor first game. In his last one might expect the squad to be equally nervous although perhaps they will feel they have something to prove to the outgoing manager. If they spot a trenchcoat in the main stand they may feel they have something to prove to the incoming manager too.

Taylor is likely to stand by the players who have figured in the majority of his squad although there is a sneaking feeling that he may employ a 235 1911 style in a final flash of “attacking football.”

Assuming he does not Lenny Pidgeley will keep goal behind Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver who more than most will be effected by Taylor’s departure one suspects and Luke O’Brien. A middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi seems set to continue – one has to wonder why Jon Worthington was brought in – while the forward three could feature a return for James Hanson alongside one of Scott Dobie or Gareth Evans, and Kevin Ellison.

These players are tasked with winning the game – an everyone in for a pound offer which sadly was not extended to the visitors should see a few more bums on seats – and starting writing what could prove to the the last chapter in the 58 year old manager’s career.

A win and graceful retirement to Newcastle United’s backroom awaits, a defeat and he starts to become the man who killed a club.

The managerial failure cycle – bad choices or bad strategy?

The recent demoralising defeats to Port Vale and Chesterfield have once again heaped the pressure on Bradford City manager Peter Taylor. This weekend the Bantams face a crucial home game with Stockport that could determine his immediate future, but already it seems implausible to believe Taylor will be employed at Valley Parade beyond the expiration of his contract in May.

It will soon be time to search again for the man to revive this ailing football club but the fact we keep going around this cycle of getting rid of a manager and replacing him with new one – with little success in reversing a slide down the leagues – can already leave us pessimistic that the next manager isn’t going to be any better.

To blame the club’s decline on poor managers would be over-simplistic and, no matter who takes residence in the dug out after Taylor, there will still be all manner of financial issues that hold us back. Yet so much is reliant upon the manager that it is such a key position to get right, and as thoughts soon turn to filling a vacancy it is a process that needs to be reviewed in order to increase the chances of it succeeding. We can’t just keep hiring and firing and hope the law of probabilities means we’ll stumble on the right manager eventually, can we?

Over the last few days Michael has written two excellent articles – here and here – on what the club and supporters might be looking for in the next manager. Too often, it seems, football clubs in general appear to have no thoughts on the right person to take their club forwards beyond sacking the present incumbent and waiting for CVs to file through in the post. It seems a backwards methodology in these days of recruitment specialists and head hunters and, as City apparently keep getting the choice of manager wrong, it’s worth posing the question of whether this is because as employees we keep making bad choices, or because the qualities we are looking for have either not been considered enough or were misguided.

Let’s try and find out…

Chris Hutchings
“Oh Wetherall’s free! Fantastic header!”

Sunday 14 May 2000, and Martin Tyler’s description of David Wetherall’s winner for Bradford City against Liverpool – which confirmed the club’s Premier League survival – is relayed around the world. A pitch invasion follows the final whistle and the celebrations in and around Bradford go on long into the night.

But something’s not right. Rather than looking joyous or even relieved, manager Paul Jewell is sporting a scowling face that radiates the pressure he has been under from media, supporters and his boss. A few weeks later he quits, fed up of the way he has been treated. And the last successful Bradford City manager we’ve had goes onto enjoy a fine career elsewhere.

It is at this point the look behind the strategy should begin; because although the steep decline that followed was more to do with finances than bad management, nothing on the pitch has proved a success since.

I never agreed with the decision to appoint Chris Hutchings as Jewell’s successor, but it’s difficult to dispute the logic that led to Chairman Geoffrey Richmond promoting Jagger’s assistant. Since Lennie Lawrence departed in 1995, Richmond had enjoyed great success promoting from within after both Chris Kamara and Jewell delivered a promotion and survival in the division above the following season. An Anfield-esqe bootroom culture that promoted continuity was a worthy blueprint.

I never agreed, because the circumstances were different. Kamara and Jewell took over a club with the resources and capacity to be better than they were, but City had now climbed to a level they had not previously reached for almost 80 years – and we needed some experience to help us negotiate uncharted territory. Instead Hutchings was entrusted with the biggest transfer budget this club is ever likely to have, and given a remit to improve the style of football and guide City to a mid-table spot.

History shows this was far too ambitious – not to mention damagingly expensive – and, as clubs like Stoke and Wigan continue to battle to preserve their top flight status year-on-year, the idea that City could prosper by turning to flair and playing 4-4-2 at Old Trafford now seems breathtakingly naive. A more experienced manager would surely have known that the strategy was all wrong.

Jim Jefferies
“It is my opinion that he was an undiluted disaster for Bradford City from beginning to end”

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it was no surprise that Hutchings quickly came under pressure as results were poor, and Richmond – to his later regret – failed to back his man and sacked him. What we needed was an experienced man who’ll who whip these under-achievers into shape. A no-nonsense manager.

Such requirements led to Jim Jefferies, a tough-talking Scot who’d enjoyed great success in Scotland, taking charge. Yet within weeks he was telling Richmond that the club was effectively relegated and needed to get rid of the fancy Dans. It was only December.

In the excellent ‘The Pain and the Glory’ book Richmond was scathing of the job Jefferies did, but in some respects ‘the Judge’ did a good job in at least helping the club prepare for tough financial times ahead by getting rid of high-earners and sellable assets before the end of the season. He was given little money to spend on replacements with City now in Division One, and it proved a thankless task trying to take the club forwards when so much quality was being taken out.

Jefferies left the club after 13 months, and with such fiscal times on the horizon, the search for a new manager centered on candidates with experience of finding lower league bargains and happy to manage on a small budget. Peter Jackson turned the position down, so in came the Lawman.

Nicky Law/Bryan Robson
“I’m just hoping we can bring back the 16,000 who were here for the first game.”

As City went through the turmoil of administration and emerged skint and picking up out-of-contract players from Brentford, it was difficult to imagine a better person to have in charge than Nicky Law. He managed the club well through a very difficult 2002/03 season – targeting battlers over flair – but was a victim of rising expectations soon after. The remaining high earners departed in the summer of 2003, and the wage constraints meant that Law struggled to find replacements good enough to keep City in the division.

So Law was sacked after 12 winless games, and with Gordon Gibb now in charge it is interesting to speculate how his approach to recruiting the next manager differed. Gibb had enjoyed success building a theme park with sufficient attractions to keep people visiting, and it was clear that much of the thought behind appointing former England captain Bryan Robson was to increase falling attendances.

It didn’t work, and a deflated Gibb would depart just 8 weeks later with Administration 2 just around the corner. Meanwhile Robson was benefiting from a larger budget than Law and was able to bring in experienced loan players, with a greater focus on skill over graft. Results were improving, and though it would probably have proved too little too late City might have managed to avoid relegation had the administrators not taken over and being forced to sell key players.

Robson was left trying to keep City up with players he’d declared only two months earlier to not be good enough for the club and who were welcome to leave. With the prospect of limited funds in League One, he felt it was a job he could not continue.

Colin Todd
“I honestly think Colin should be right up there for any manager of the season…I see him as the man to take us back up the football pyramid.”

With the club in such dire straits that summer, appointing a new manager was hardly the most important priority. Colin Todd, assistant to Robson having come close to landing the job the November before, was handed the reins. However sour it ended, it proved a good choice as Todd steadied the ship while the club limped on following the narrow survival of administration. An 11th place in the first season was beyond Julian Rhodes’ expectations:

I thought we would be facing a relegation battle. Bearing in mind this season was going to be about coming out of administration, I thought we might well be facing life in League 2 when the rebuilding could really begin.

Todd’s time in charge was categorised by low budgets and limited stability. He put together a decent team that threatened to finish in the play off picture, and though the following season saw little progress (another 11th place) the Bantams still only lost 13 games. Todd, however, was under pressure from a section of supporters.

Some argued the former England international lacked passion for the job, and that defeats didn’t hurt him enough. Some argued we could do better than treading water in mid-table. But when he was eventually sacked midway through his third season, City drowned.

Rhodes, who had previously backed his man strongly even during difficult times, admitted that the pressure of supporters and stalling attendances was a telling factor in booting out Todd, especially now he had just launched an innovative season ticket deal that required thousands of people’s commitment.

When it gets to the stage where they [supporters] stop coming then something has to be done. At the end of the day it’s their club.

He was right, only now it was our League Two club.

Stuart McCall
“I will see myself as a failure if I don’t get the club back up at the first attempt, and I’ve got the strongest desire anyone could possibly have to achieve that.”

So out with Todd’s lack of passion and after David Wetherall’s unsuccessful caretaker stint, the hunt for the next manager did not require an advert in the classifieds. We needed someone who cares, someone who will get the players going and someone who will not tolerate underachievers. We need arguably the greatest achiever of City’s modern history.

In came Stuart McCall, along with the investment of Mark Lawn that allowed the club to hand the manager a relatively strong playing budget for the first time since Chris Hutchings. McCall was the overwhelming choice as next manager from fans because of the passion he’d put in to the job, no one can argue they were disappointed on that front at least.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Stuart cared he was in his first manager role and working in a division he didn’t know, and the inexperience was to show as success continued to allude the club. McCall put his neck on the chopping board straightaway by declaring he’d be a failure if he didn’t guide City to promotion at the first attempt – but he did fail attempt one, and then attempt two, and he was on course to fail attempt three before he eventually quit.

Of course the experiences along the way helped him to become a better manager, and by the end he had enough knowledge of the lower leagues to be able to use a reduced budget to bring in non-league players that could make the step up. Nevertheless, just like with Todd, the lack of speed to the progress left McCall under heavy pressure.

The passion and how much he cared went against him in the end. We didn’t want someone who would be more upset than us if they lost, we needed a wise head who had a track record for success. Passion was good, but the very reasons McCall was brought in were no longer what the club was looking for. This time a job advertisement would be needed.

Peter Taylor
“4-3-3 can be 4-3-3 and not just 4-5-1”

Which brings us back to Taylor, who was appointed on the basis of his outstanding track record in delivering success and high level of experience. However, criticisms over the football Taylor favours have followed him throughout his long managerial career, and he is now heavily slated for style of play City have produced for much of the season. We know Taylor will be gone soon and, when the discussions over the qualities to look for in his replacement begin, it’s likely that style of football will feature strongly on the next list of interview questions.

So there we have it

“There’s only two types of manager. Those who’ve been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.” (Howard Wilkinson)

Hutchings to Taylor via Jefferies, Law, Todd and McCall. All were branded failures and, with such a cycle of hiring and firing helping the Bantams fall from the Premier League to League Two, one is again left to wonder what could possibly lead us to believe the next guy will prove any more successful?

But is it a matter of changing managers proving futile, or is our ongoing failure to find the right man more to do with the goalposts continually shifting?

Was Nicky Law sacked because the lower league manager route was wrong, or was hiring someone with great experience of handling small budgets actually a sound strategy that should have been continued? Instead of getting some guy who used to play for Man United to pack the stadium out, after Law should we have recruited then-Doncaster manager Dave Penny, for example?

Did Stuart McCall fail because he cared too much, or was the passion we hired him for the right quality required and Dean Windass should have been given the job instead of Taylor? We ask for one quality in a manager, don’t like some of the other characteristics that manager brings and then dismiss that original quality during the next search.

We want a manager who is not the last one, and so we go and get one – and in doing so we always find that the next guy is lacking some things but not the same things. So while we might have thought we’d found the solution, we end up finding a new thing to be the problem.

Circumstances – not least City’s changing financial capabilities – have changed often during the last decade. But as we soon start to prepare to recruit another manager it’s to be hoped the criteria will be more thought out than finding someone “not like the last manager.” Because over much of the past decade, that has often appeared to be the case.

Taylor stays as manager for now: probably the sensible decision, now for sensible planning

We may all carry very strong views on the subject but, ultimately, very few of us would have wanted to swap places with Bradford City Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn on Wednesday.

The day after the Bantams had disastrously suffered a fifth defeat in six games, Peter Taylor was called in for a meeting with the pair. And a decision over whether to sack the City manager or allow him more time to turnaround a sinking season must have been a difficult one to make. It carried a huge weight of responsibility, and only time will reveal whether retaining him for now proves the right or wrong call.

There is growing pressure for Rhodes and Lawn to take action. Taylor could not have picked a worse time to make catastrophically-bad management calls, and the situation is becoming desperate. Just like the Burton Albion postponement two weeks ago, the cancelling of Saturday’s game at Macclesfield seems especially ill-timed for Taylor. By the time City welcome 2nd-placed Wycombe to Valley Parade next Saturday, midweek results could have dragged them ever-closer to a desperate relegation battle.

And that’s why, despite the huge levels of unrest over Taylor from what can surely be considered the majority of City supporters, sacking him now is not the straightforward answer many assume it would be.

Lessons from the past

Certainly it would be interesting to gauge Rhodes’ take on the situation, and I’m sure the name of Colin Todd must be playing on his mind. Almost exactly four years ago Rhodes took the decision to sack the then-City manager with the Bantams slipping down League One but still in mid-table, and come May the club was relegated. The rights and wrongs of Rhodes’ actions then are still argued to this day, but it’s difficult to dispute that dismissing the experienced manager just after a turbulent period of transfers and replacing him with the club captain made City much weaker for the battle ahead.

Perhaps more telling is to look back a year before that, when Todd was under-pressure from a large proportion of supporters during the 2005-06. Just like in 2006-07 and just like now, the expected promotion push had faltered and City were becoming embroiled in a relegation zone. When Oldham thrashed the Bantams 4-1 in March, it looked curtains for Todd. Yet Rhodes stuck by him and Todd was able to turn it around during the final few weeks and ensure a mid-table position.

It is a repeat of that type of situation that Rhodes and Lawn will be hoping Taylor can deliver. Because as bad as the last few weeks have been for City, it should be remembered that, up to the collapse at Barnet, the players had proved they were capable of winning matches (just badly lacking consistency). The squad Taylor has built are not proving good enough for promotion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough to keep the club in League Two.

Equally Taylor has shown over the past 12 months that he is capable of turning around poor runs of form. It will take a long time for those of us who attended both games to forget the Accrington and Rochdale away games when Taylor first took charge last season. At Accrington it looked desperate, and no -one would have predicted City would follow up their worst performance of the season with their best to defeat the then-league leaders. Even earlier this season it looked bleak for Taylor and City after a dismal 1-0 loss to Morecambe – City won four of their next five matches.

Can City recover from Tuesday’s debacle? Taylor’s history suggests so.

The negligible impact of changing managers

It’s exactly a year to the day since Stuart McCall’s final match in charge of City. The 1-0 defeat to Bury left the Bantams languishing in 15th place and eight points from the play offs – they finished the season 14th and 10 points short of the top seven.

It can be argued Taylor halted the slide that had occurred during McCall’s final two months of the season, but that there was no improvement in results underlined yet again the ineffectiveness of changing managers mid-season. Sure at other clubs a new manager can have a dramatic upturn, but it never happens here. Sacking Todd didn’t improve the club, dismissing Chris Hutchings and Nicky Law didn’t prevent relegation in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Even when the club’s last successful manager, Paul Jewell, was first appointed as caretaker he failed to improve results instantly.

You have to go back to Chris Kamara to find the last time changing managers mid-season improved the club – and that was 15 years ago.

Lawn and Rhodes may not have been around to make all of these managerial changes, but they were involved in the club as supporters at least and they should know that the history of City changing managers mid-season has undeniably proven a flawed strategy. At best it makes no difference, at worst – like when David Wetherall replaced Todd four years ago – it can prove a fatal mistake. Neither may like Taylor very much right now, but the risks of removing him are so great that sticking by him at this moment is surely the sensible option.

Taylor needs to save the club in the short-term, then the Chairmen need to start focusing on the long-term

City’s situation doesn’t look great, but it could certainly be a lot worse. If a victory can be ground out and followed by another two or three quickly afterwards, relegation will no longer be the potential issue it is becoming and a mid-table finish will be assured. Right now City are battling to ensure they can enjoy a meaningless end to the season.

Whatever happens, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be our manager beyond May and, if the Bantams ship can be steered back onto a safe course, the thoughts of Rhodes and Lawn have to quickly turn towards finding his replacement.

And that above all is the futility of sacking Taylor now. It will cost City a certain amount of money to issue him an early P45 and to hire his successor before the end of the season. And, with the playing budget likely to be reduced next season, is it the best use of limited finances to make that change now because we’re sick of the dreadful style of football Taylor persists with?

Instead City can take their time, assuming results are quickly turned around. Rather than rushing in to finding the next manager, they can conduct a lengthy search and even enlist help from people outside the club in choosing the right person. They can think long and hard about the type of manager they believe can take City forwards, and start the recruitment process sooner rather than later.

Why wait?

Because why wait? Taylor wants to see out the remainder of his contract, City are highly unlikely to renew it. As long as results improve and City are comfortably in mid-table, what’s stopping Rhodes and Lawn from confirming to him there will be no new contract and that they are beginning the search for his replacement? Taylor can be free to see out the final few games, and his successor can be lined up to take over before the season ends.

That way the next City manager can assess the playing squad and make decisions on whether to offer out-of-contract players new deals and which areas of the squad needs strengthening in the summer; rather than arriving sometime in June with a number of players having left and limited opportunities to assess the players he has until next season gets underway. Taylor can even offer advice and information before he departs.

Maybe this isn’t a practical idea – though this sort of transition would take place in pretty much every other walk of working life, so why are football clubs different? Who knows, by taking this approach Taylor can even be assured of leaving the club with his dignity still in tact, rather than a scenario of his final few days being played out with City underachieving in mid-table and Taylor continually being quoted in the Telegraph & Argus that he is “hopeful of a new deal”.

In the end, most of us will get what we want

Let’s be frank – this is one of the bleakest periods supporting Bradford City we’ve ever experienced. The last 10 years have been woeful at times, but this current mixture of poor results and appalling style of football is crushing to watch. I’ve never known a season where City have won matches and I’ve still felt miserable, such has been the way some victories have been achieved. Taylor was an outstanding appointment a year ago, but for whatever reason it’s not worked out.

However, it’s clear Taylor will be leaving the club within the next few months. And so as much as some of us want him to depart instantly, in the end the potential negative consequences – plus financial implications – of speeding that process mean that sticking by him, for now, is the sensible option.

That said, if the league position gets worse the pressure for Lawn and Rhodes to act will become intense and they will have to re-assess Taylor’s immediate future .

This club has never fallen into non-league before, having been elected into the Football League in 1903 before a ball was even kicked. 100 years on from our greatest triumph of winning the FA Cup, it falls on Taylor to ensure we don’t experience our lowest-ever on-the-pitch moment.

We need him to turn it around urgently. We don’t have to like the guy, but right now we should be supporting Taylor in keeping our beloved football club alive.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part Two

Following on from Part One, our interview with Mark Lawn continues as we move onto the relationship with Bradford Council and the training facilities…

And we continue

BfB: How about the council, is there any interest on their part to help out?

I’ve worked very hard to build relationships with this council, and we now have an okay relationship with the council. They don’t do a lot for Bradford City Football Club, we don’t ask a lot out of Bradford City Council.

BfB: Following on from Valley Parade other people see the training ground as a significant problem – back in 2000 we had Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu and a flooded Apperley Bridge – and Peter Taylor was keen to address this problem.  Again how important do the board of feel the state of the training facilities is? What is being done to address this situation (if considered important)? Can the club’s aims be achieved using Apperley Bridge?

We’re looking at ventures, perhaps with a private company that may want to address Apperley Bridge to improve the facilities down there. But it’s in the very early stages so I can’t discuss who it is and what it is. It’s council-owned land, so we’ve got to talk to the council about it as well, but we are looking to get those facilities down there.

BfB: Are the players still having to get changed at Valley Parade and go down there?

Yeah they are, but under Peter as well they’re using the pitch here (Valley Parade) a lot. The pitch is in better condition now, so it will take it and then we can fix it and get it right (for matchdays). So they tend to use this pitch when it’s bad down there.

BfB: How important do the Board think the training facilities are?

It’s a little bit like a chicken and egg really. I mean you can turn around and say that’s been our training facilities since the 1960s and they got us into the Premier League. I mean the facilities have got to be improved, but they can be used as an excuse I think as well.

If I’d have been here in the Premier League I’d have made sure that we have something like Blackburn Rovers now have without a doubt. I’d have put money back into the club and into facilities like that. But Blackburn Rovers are struggling aren’t they? And then look at Middlesbrough, they are renowned for having the best academy for kids – and they’re dropping down the leagues. And I think that’s the state of the game today, because we have so many foreigners coming in. And Geoffrey had this thing, and maybe he was proven to be right. He turned round to me and said “It’s no use giving me a kid who is going to be good in six years – I need someone to score on Saturday.” And I think that goes right throughout the leagues.

You look at these academies, and the problem is they’re (young players) not coming through are they? I think that is to do with the pressure put on managers to get a result as well. They’re not under pressure to bring a kid through.

I think that Leon Osborne, personally, would be better if he could get a run of six or seven games – but who is going to give him six or seven games if he doesn’t perform after two? Because the manager has got the fans on his back.

BfB: Talking of young players, what did you think of the reception Joe Colbeck received from some fans when he came back recently?

I think they forgot that Joe gave his all when he was here, he might not be the best player in the world but what Joe did give you was 100%. And I’ve always thought that Bradford fans always respected players who gave 100%. I always tell new players who come here that “You can be rubbish, but if you always give 100% these fans won’t slag you off.” So it is a bit disappointing that Joe has come back and got that. We seem to have problems with wingers getting stick don’t we? You go back to Summerbee and things like that.

BfB: If Peter comes up to you and says he wants to bring in a loan player for Saturday, in the back of your mind do you think “Why don’t you just play Leon?” (for example)?

Yeah I’d like that because it saves us all money (laughs), it means the budgets are easier! But if he turns round and wants one that’s his decision. We’re in talks with a loan player now.

(Note: Lawn then discusses negotiations with a loan player but doesn’t reveal who. We later discover, at the game that evening, that it is Jon Worthington).

In terms of negotiations for players, we usually take it in turns and Julian is working on this one. I normally get the awkward ones (laughs). I was the one who had to tell Martin Allen he’d didn’t get the job (laughs).

BfB: And on Martin Allen, how close did he come to getting it?

He was very impressive. His commitment (pauses) and if we’d have wanted a cheaper option – he didn’t want paying!  He’d got a pay off from Cheltenham until October, so he just said I’m already getting paid. So if we’d have wanted a cheaper option we could have taken Martin on.

BfB: Going back to the training facilities, do the club think they’re good enough for our aims of getting back to the Championship?

Well they will have to be, because we ain’t got the money to improve them unless we go into a joint venture with a private company. That’s what we’re trying to do. We might not be able to put up capital, but what we can do is rent the facilities off the company at a guaranteed rent for 10 years – so they’re getting a return on their investment. So that’s what we’re talking about doing and hopefully we can get that cracking.

We’re trying to make the facilities better for everybody, but let’s just turn round and state a few facts. Did you know Blackpool still take their training kit home and wash it? Did you know Rotherham take their training kit home and wash it and they don’t get fed? We’ve got a chef who cooks for them here (Valley Parade). And not only that, some of them have got dietary needs and some want a bit of fish and the chef looks after them. He spoils them!

So, I do expect a bit more out there than what we’re getting – considering what we’re putting in.

BfB: Much has been said about the affordable season tickets which are being offered once again for a fourth year.  Do the board feel that this has been a success? Is that success qualified in any way? Would anything result in the club moving back to the previous pricing policy?

It’s a difficult situation of where you balance it. We could do with more money, and surely the fans have got to realise that we’re doing it for them. What gets me is that (pauses) I mean I don’t read the websites, but people tell me what they’ve read – people saying “we should be charging more money.” So I think “well why doesn’t that person donate another £100?” No one is stopping anyone who is paying £150 from turning round and saying, “It’s too cheap; here you are, here is an extra £100.”  We don’t get any of that. So all those people who are saying we should be charging more, well pay more. We’re not stopping you from paying more.

We looked at this year in particular because of the recession and we thought, it’s going to be a tough year and a troubling year for people – everything’s going up, and people are going to be down. And you know what if you can still get to see a football match, you’ve got your ticket paid? I think that (the season ticket initiative) it’s a great idea.

I don’t think that Bradford City get enough credit from the Football League and the FA. We’re doing it, and no one is praising us. Four years we’ve done this, and not a single bit of praise from anybody. People turned around at first and said “you’ll never be able to keep it going.” Well we have kept it going.

The demographics in Bradford – it’s not the best paid here. So we’ve got to keep it reasonably priced.

BfB: So is the pricing a permanent thing?

As much as anything can be permanent. We’ve got to get prices up, but the Board still want to make football accessible. I think we’re still the only club who do under 11s free – everywhere else it’s under 7. And we don’t get any credit for that. We don’t win Family Club of the Year, Huddersfield do. And when they quote why they won that they say “under 7s go free” – and our under 11s are free. Maybe we don’t shout about it enough.

BfB: From an ethical point of view I believe the pricing policy to be utterly commendable – times are tough and City are helping people out for one, for two why should it cost two and a half times more to go watch football than it does to see a film? – but considering that ethical basis would the club consider extending the offer to include people who pay on the door and to include away supporters? If not, why not?

The away fans is something we’ve not thought of to be fair. They are getting in same price as our fans because of Football League rules. So if we did that we’d have to do walk ups (City fans who pay on the day) at that price as well.

Now to be fair we’ve said if you want to put your money there ahead it’s cheap, if you want to pay game-by-game and choose when you come or not, it’s a little bit more expensive. Because those people are subsidising the people who do buy cheap season tickets.

BfB: Do you get many fans who turn up on a game-by-game basis?

We get about 1,000. 1,000 when we’re not so good (laughs) and you can get 2,000 when we’re doing alright. I think we’ve got a fan-base, realistically in this league, of about 13,000-14,500. I think that would go up by 3 or 4,000 if we went up a league. And for some games, certainly, we’d be filling it if we were in the Championship. We play Leeds United – well they’d want 5,000 for a start.

BfB: Before you joined City, Julian agreed deals with Surridge and EMC to run the club shop and catering facilities respectively, are these deals proving financially-rewarding?

Absolutely brilliant – he stitched them up like a kipper! We’ve never taken as much money as we get from EMC, even when we were in the Premier League. We are having to renegotiate the deal with EMC this season, so they will continue but perhaps not as a good a rate going forward. What people need to realise is that the staffing levels, just to build and maintain facilities like that, is frightening. You can’t just get temporary staff in, you need a fair bit behind you.

BfB: Do you find there is a massive difference between what people perceive the problem is and what the problem actually is?

Well I was the same! Before I came on board, I didn’t realise what was involved with running a football club. It is very difficult, and there’s lots and lots of problems that you’ve got to sort. I used to think “why don’t they do this?” and then you come in and you understand why.

BfB: Any examples of that?

(Thinks for a few seconds). One of them was food for the footballers. I thought “bugger it; I’m a chef I will do that.” But you can’t because you’re too busy doing everything else! So you think there are roles that aren’t necessary, but they are when you get involved. It’s not as simple as you like to think.

BfB: Words like “failure” are banded about for most clubs in football – for Chelsea second in the Premier League is failure, for Aston Villa that would be success – and the term loses its meaning if it is not rigidly defined on a club-by-club basis. So what do the board consider to be a failure for Bradford City at present and what constitutes a success? Is there any middle ground between the two?

Well you have to have bite-sized chunks don’t you? And my first bite-sized chunk is that we’ve got to start finishing in the play offs. That’s got to be the minimum bite-sized chunk. Every season we don’t get into the play offs is, in my view, failure.

BfB: And then, does it get to the point where we finish in the play offs and that becomes acceptable or do we then say that’s not?

Not more than twice! I wouldn’t be happy losing in the play offs more than twice. If I was the Bury chairman, I wouldn’t be happy about losing in the play offs two or three times. I’d be starting to ask questions.

BfB: Which brings us onto the long-term. 18 months ago I was present at the VP Fans Forum where Mark you stated the club’s objective is to be in the Championship in five years. With only three-and-a-half years to go that vision may not occur in this time frame, but do you believe the club can still rise up the divisions in the next few years?

Well 18 months ago I put £1 million in and that was part of the thing that got blown (laughs). So, like with any aspect of business sometimes you’ve got to change your thinking. Look, our business plan is still to get there but our business plan has been curtailed by (pauses); I don’t want to speak ill of people, but we put a lot of money into this club and it didn’t work.

BfB: It’s almost like a snowball effect in that if we got one promotion we’d build momentum…

Yes I think so. If we got one promotion we’d get more fans. I think the base is there to bring more fans in. I think we’ve got a hardcore of around 7,500 fans – real hardcore. I think 7,500 would watch us if we were playing on Peel Park. And then I think we’ve got another 2-2,500 who are dependent on things like where we are in leagues. And I think we’ve probably got another 5,000-10,000 more fans where it depends where are in leagues, how we’re doing and whether they can pick and choose games they want to come to. I might be wrong but that’s where we are abouts.

BfB: Do things like the size of the fan-base come into it when we’re talking to people like Nike and EMC?

Without a doubt. When they see things like our season ticket sales for this year and next, it’s that sort of thing they want to get on board with. They realise that, if we can get up these leagues, they got a base there. You know Bradford City Football Club – and I’m not being derogatory to other football clubs here – Bradford City are a proper football club, that’s been starved of success. You’ve only got to turn around any look at what happened when we went to Wembley. If we could give the Bradford public success, I think they will come out and watch us. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

BfB: Is more outside investment needed to climb the leagues?

It’s a difficult situation that, because you look at other football clubs. Look at MK Dons, they got out of this league by having the biggest budget. I think there budget that year was £2.5 million.

BfB: That’s a lot for this level…

Well we had £1.9 million once, and we didn’t get out of this league. So is it the budget? Then you turn round and see Dagenham get promoted with a £750,000 budget. So is it the budget? I think it’s down to managers, I think you look at managers and it’s getting that right manager.

As for us, I don’t know if we’ve been kicked by Gypsies or something (laughs), whether we are cursed, but you look at what we’ve done. We’ve put in lots of money, we’ve brought in an established manager in Peter Taylor who has been a success at every single level that he’s been at – and certainly this level – and up to now it’s not worked.

I’m still not giving up on this season, there’s still a lot of games to be played. But what we do need to do realistically is go on a run of winning five games. We need 69-72 points by the end of the season, that’s what you need to get in that last play off position.

BfB: So you don’t see that more money is the only thing that will get us success?

Well more money often buys more success whereas more money for us didn’t buy success. It did buy MK Dons, it did buy Peterborough…

BfB: What about the lad Tom Cleverley? If he moves on from Man United do we get a similar kind of pay out to Fabian Delph?

Not quite as good. The one that’s good is if we get the lad from Liverpool (Andre Wisdom) – that’s better than the Delph. Knowing our luck he will probably play for Liverpool for the rest of his bloody life (laughs). Have a great career, and never move on!

BfB: Would we put that money straight into the playing budget?

Yes of course. This club needs to be in the Championship. In the Championship we survive and we survive well. That’s where we need to be. The overheads suddenly don’t become as bad because we need this type of stadium to survive. Everything works in the Championship, once we get into the Championship. So everything needs to be directed on getting players to get us into the Championship. Then when we get there, we can turn around and start looking at buying new facilities, etc.  First of all it’s how can we get out of these leagues?

BfB: What is your view on the way the non-league players have developed at the club? For example some people are calling David Syers player of the season…

Well let’s not call him player of the season because they always go then don’t they? (laughs). I think Syers has a long way to go but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s shown he’s got it if he can keep improving. I think that (James) Hanson needs to keep improving as well, but I think he can go on. I do think Hanson should be playing in the Championship. If he can keep learning from old pros and stuff. That is how to be a centre forward, I’m not talking about his lifestyle, but how to make the right runs, etc. If he can learn that I think he can play in the Championship. I think Steve Williams has also got the potential. There’s not been as much fuss about him like Hanson, but if he can learn as he makes the full transition he can go far.

One thing I would say is that the transition can be a problem, and this is where the PFA should be getting involved and helping. They have to quickly learn to become athletes, because they haven’t been brought up as pros. And perhaps this is a transition that maybe we could help better with – because it’s a big leap for them. It’s not just the training, but a matter of I’ve got to watch what I eat now, I’ve got to watch what I drink now, I’ve got to go to bed early. It’s that sort of thing that, at non-league level, they don’t really need to do. So perhaps we could do a little bit more for them.

BfB: No one doubts how hard you and Julian work and how much you have put into the club; it must be so frustrating for you to see the club continue to fail on the pitch despite your best efforts…

I have a lot of sleepless nights. When I bought into the club Julian shook my hand and said “Welcome to Bradford City, now you become an alcoholic insomniac!” I said to him “I think you’re joking” and then talked about my Driver Hire company which had a turnover of £75 million and 120 franchises – “You don’t think I can run a football club?!”

When we lost to Morecambe in the first season I rang Julian up the next day and said “I’m in the alcoholic-insomniacs club!” And I think it’s been like that ever since (laughs)!

BfB: But you do seem to enjoy it?

I have a passion for the club because I love the club. I’m probably the only Chairman in the Football League that has a tattoo of their football club on their arm. I had an argument with Peter Risdale at one of the Chairmen meetings, because I said “I can’t understand why, if you’re a Leeds fan, you’re at any other football club.” I would never be at any football club but Bradford City. It’s hard work, and I certainly ain’t here for the glory or money. I’m here because I’m a fan, so I didn’t understand him. He took exception to that!

BfB: It’s been really great to talk to you like this and I’m sure our readers will be delighted to have this opportunity to hear your views. As a final question, what are your favourite memories of supporting Bradford City over the years?

(Long pause) Oh the ones I can tell you (laughs). Darlington away (1969), I was nine-years-old. My sister took me on the coach. It was my first success. Then we had the bleak years didn’t we? I think everyone forgets that.

I’ve supported them since 1964, I think. My first game, Southend United I think it was. We won 3-0 and I thought that’s what always happens!

Also, Cambridge away (1984/85). Leaving my coat on the barbed wire so everyone could use it to get over onto the pitch! I ended up kissing John Hendrie, I don’t think he appreciated that! (laughs) I’ve known John and the players from then a while before and those lads aren’t as aloof as they are now. If you could get that spirit now – they used to be singing songs on the bus going home. And they mixed with the fans as they weren’t aloof. Maybe they’re under more pressure these days, I don’t know. Certainly there is more expectation on Bradford City players now than there was then.

But the best day of my life was Wolves (1999). I’ve got four girls and a boy and we took everyone down except for the wife. After the game they all just dived on me and I ended up in tears. The whole family was crying with joy. That’s something my wife is really upset about because she missed that, and it’s something that you can never take away from me. Pure joy between myself and children at that stage.

Wembley was good too, but I spent most of it throwing up in the toilet with nerves. Even though we battered them didn’t we? (Laughs) I didn’t really enjoy that one!

Post-amble

What is the perception of Mark Lawn? That he is a blunt man but a passionate one, perhaps? Perhaps that he is a Bradford City supporter first and a chairman second. Going into – and coming out of – an hour and a half conversation with the man these perceptions seemed confirmed.

He speaks as he sees it for sure and that may or may not be a good thing but few could doubt that his dedication for the club, and for bringing success to it. Talking to the man he seems as desperate and one might not agree with or appreciate way he is taking the club to try achieve that but not his commitment to, and his honesty about, wanting those achievements.

Moreover though talking to Lawn – the first contact that BfB has had with the club – there was a feeling of a man (or a group of men) isolated from a support with both sides entrenched into positions of opposition. There are plenty of brickbats thrown over the walls of Bradford City at Lawn and his fellow directors – we have thrown a few ourselves, and no doubt will again – but for all the things lobbed over the wall it seems that, if you try it, the door is open.

Anyone trying to enter with an idea, an inspiration, even a constructive criticism might be surprised at the welcome they get.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part One

Mark Lawn sits opposite us and jokes “I’ll tell you what bits you can put in, I’ve worked with media before.

How did we get here?

There are reams of conversation around the people who write for BfB about Mark Lawn, and about Bradford City, but never any contact with the club. It is a kind of house rule going back to the days when Geoffrey Richmond ran the club with something akin to an iron fist and famously dismissed a long set of questions from the Internet Bantams with a series of one word replies.

So many questions too, none of which will be answered but all speculated on ad nauseum. The season stumbles from promotion hunt to relegation battle and the questions continue begging for answers which speculation and rumour will not provide.

Jason McKeown takes the plunge, contacts the club, asks for an hour of the joint chairmen’s time and we sit and wait. The wait goes on and we expect nothing but are wrong and, as the club suffer defeats on the field, an invitation is extended to us to go to Valley Parade Tuesday lunchtime.

Julian Rhodes would be attending but another meeting rules him out – that turns out to be the negotiations for the signing of Jon Worthington, or so we guess – but Mark Lawn is going to answer what we ask.

Overlooking the pitch

So there we are, in a suite overlooking the pitch, with the club chairman that we have criticised any number of times offering a welcome smile as we set about trying to set a few things straight.

Lawn is a funnier man that you expect him to be. He is welcoming although seems a little guarded at first before relaxes and answers all our questions in an honest and occasionally light hearted, occasionally sombre manner. One feels the weight of expectation hanging over the man as he talks, the knowledge that the expectations he has for the club are mirrored and magnified by supporters.

And so to the main event

BfB: What are your views on the season to date?

Not good enough, I would have expected us to be in the play-offs at least although we are not a million miles away but I have to say we have to do a lot better in the second half of the season.

BfB: It’s good to hear what your opinions are, because it seems to us that – over the last 12 months – you and Julian have kept a very low profile and haven’t communicated to supporters or the press as often as you have in the past. Is this a deliberate ploy?

No, no. That is basically because when I have done it, and when I came in I did get involved, and people treated me like garbage, you wonder why you should do it? I was talking to people and they were taking it out of context it. I spoke to Julian and he said “That’s what you get, you try be helpful, you put out and tell people what is happening and you get slagged off.” Eventually it just wears you down. It’s just worn me down.

BfB: Do you see a way that that position would change?

Don’t get me wrong I don’t want people to love me at all, but for people to mis-quote me and to do things like – I’ll give you an example – for people like (City Gent’s) Mike Harrison to slag me off by email saying I’m putting money into a restaurant in Baildon that I own, which I don’t own, I just bought as an investment property to pay rent. (Mike’s email) has been taken as gospel and then the rumour gets taken into all sort of stupid craziness. It frustrates you when people do that.

BfB: Geoffrey Richmond was “mouth on” all the time. Would you be more vocal if success came?

No, I would be if people stopped quoting me out of context when you tell them things that they don’t want to hear such as transfers in January (and the fact that there is no money for them). There are only two people who put the money in and we have done that for the last three years.

I’ve funded Stuart to the tune of £1m. That year (2008/2009) Stuart had the highest budget in the league and I took a gamble – with my money admittedly – I took a gamble and it did not work. So I think that the fact is now that I don’t have any more money to put in and we have to look at other ways to do that.

BfB: It has been rumoured relations with supporters groups – specifically the Bradford City Supporters Trust – are strained right now.

There is no strain with the supporters groups. I think they should be treated equally. The problem with the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust is that they think they should have a priority arrangement. I think you should treat all supporters clubs on a even keel, and they don’t like that.

BfB: What’s your view on the role this organisation – and supporters in general – have to play in the direction of Bradford City FC?

I only look at myself as a custodian of the football club. I’ve been a fan, Julian is a fan, we both look at it like that, just like supporters ourselves. I think supporters groups have as important a role as we do.

I’ve been trying to get Friends of Bradford City for ages, Gladys – everyone knows Gladys if you’ve been around the club for the last thirty years – earned £5,000 a year for the club selling raffle tickets. If you could get ten of them, that is the average wage for a player and we could put that on the pitch.

If I’ve got supporters who want to do that then they can assign it to something like “We want it for this player” – obviously they can’t say who, the manager has the choice on that and even I don’t get the choice on that, I just get a choice on the wages and that is not much of a choice, it is “That’s what you have to pay him if you want him.” I’m willing to do that and I’m quite willing to do that.

We have coming through the gates 9,000/10,000 – that is what “clicks” through – someone could be selling things out there. That would be raising funds for the club and it does make a difference. And you look at Lincoln City and Lincoln City Supporters’ Trust, they raised money to get a stand built.

Our supporters trust seems to be more interested in “Why haven’t we got a black on our kit?” which I don’t understand. To clarify everything there never was and never has been anything on the football kit for the fire. The fact that there was black on was that there was black on it and it was a fishwife’s tale and blah, blah why we did it.

When I came we put the ribbon on and the ribbon is always going to be on the kit, because I believe we should never forget, I was here for the fire and it affected my life. I don’t think we should ever forget it so that is why I wanted to make sure we and the ribbon which is on but the commemorative ribbon has always been claret, never black, because of the club’s colours but sometimes if you have a claret kit you have to (change it).

It depends on the manufacturer. The manufacturer is going to be Nike, I can tell you that because it is launching on Thursday, but with it being Nike we can only do “stock kits”. The fact that we can go on to Nike is because Arsenal have gone onto Nike and now they have the claret, so they can do us claret and amber.

BfB: What happens with the shop?

Nike take over. Well not Nike, Sports For All who are a subsidiary of Nike.

BfB: How do you keep in touch with the mood of supporters. Do you go on the official club message board?

No, I used to but stopped when I read about my family being slagging off. I’m a great believer that if some lawyers want to make some money they really want to chase message boards, and not just football, message boards in general because the libel on there is unbelievable. They would make a fortune.

BfB: There was a time when you stopped, was there an incident that made you do that?

Yes, when they started slagging off my kids, I won’t take that. The incident that upset me more than anything else was the Accrington Stanley one when they attacked my car and then someone started going on “What’s he moaning about, we played crap.” What does it mean? So you can attack a car and you have the right to damage someone’s property? To me they are just vermin, absolute vermin and I don’t care who they are if they want to come get their season ticket money back they can. If anyone thinks that is right, to attack property, well they are not Bradford City fans as far as I can see.

BfB: We have a problem being put in a position where if we disagree with something, and the next person agrees but adds “so I smashed up his car…” then we are put in a difficult position.

The problem you have, running a website, and I’ve had this out with Mike Harrison – and I don’t know if you know but City Gent castigated David Baldwin – who worked for nothing for six months and does not work for a lot now because I don’t pay that well, I concentrate on getting as much money onto the pitch as I can, and they turn around and slag him off. Now editorially he should not have printed that because it’s not right and I told him that David could sue him because it is you, as editor, who would be sued. If it is Punch then it’s not the person who wrote the letter who is sued, its Punch for printing the letter.

(Editor’s Note: this was certainly true in the case of BfB vs Rochdale where the crux of Rochdale FC’s complains were drawn from the comments including our publishing of comments written by Rochdale supporters which we had published)

You need to be careful with your editorial rights as to what you are doing because one of these days someone is going to come and sue. If The City Gent had done that about me I would have taken exception to it. I think it’s a disgrace, people should think about what they are saying.

I’ve not got a problem with anybody taking a contrary point of view. Football is a matter of debate. I think David Syers is great, you might think he is a lump of cheese, that is what happens. You might say “I don’t think they should have set on Peter Taylor”, I might say “I think he is the best thing that has ever happened.” It is contra-point of view is football and that is great but getting down to personally slagging people off and saying they don’t do the work then that is when they have to be held responsible.

BfB: How does the club run on a day to day basis?

The day to day running of the football club is done by myself, Julian (Rhodes) and David (Baldwin) really. Roger (Owen) comes in a couple of days a week to help out and the rest of the board is there to be used as a springboard for ideas and things. None of them live a million miles away and they all come to the games and we talk. We have a board meeting once a month where we go through things as well which is on Thursday.

BfB: It was stated at the beginning of the season that Peter Taylor was operating with an increased playing budget compared to the season before, yet to date City have not been able to improve on last year’s efforts and mount a stronger promotion challenge. What do you put this down to?

Well that’s a good one. Well, it’s the players isn’t it? Does anyone think that the players we did bring in, we should not have brought in? Jake Speight for example. We paid £25,000 for Jake, you look at what he did at Mansfield, you look at his background and you think “What a great player to bring in” and he has not done it for us.

Doherty has done it at every single club he has been at, he’s come in, and he has not done it for us at Bradford City has he? He’s not performed to his best. I’m sure the players would all turnaround and say that. Some of the players we have brought in have not performed to their best and don’t think that they are not capable of it.

You don’t make a bad player overnight, you don’t go to being that. So I think we just have to try to get the best out of them. We look on paper a very good squad but sometimes when we play we don’t look as if we have congealed at all.

BfB: Recent poor results have of course placed Peter Taylor under a lot of pressure from disgruntled supporters. A couple of weeks ago, you were quoted in the Telegraph & Argus stating you believed he was doing a good job and hinted a new contract could be in the pipeline. We appreciate you will be reluctant to talk about Taylor’s future publically, but where does the Board see the managerial situation for the rest of this season and the next?

It depends on where we are at the end of the season.

Peter Taylor knows exactly where we have to be. I’m not going to put that out in public because it would not be fair to Peter Taylor and would not be a professional thing to say but Peter knows exactly what he has to do to get another contract here.

BfB: Is that an automatic thing written into the contract or (is it discretionary)

It’s a year’s contract and before we offer any extension to that things have to be achieved, certain goals have to be achieved. There is nothing written into his contract.

BfB: Before he arrived did you have any thoughts about the style of football he plays?

Yes I did, and out of the whole board I was the last one to make my mind up. I watched the games and – after the Aldershot game which was 1-0, 2-0, and we had beaten them with Stuart (McCall) 5-0, and it was a different type of football but I believed it was a type of football which would get us out of this league.

So far it isn’t working but everyone knew when Peter Taylor was coming that we were not going to get smooth flowing attacking football, that’s not his style. He tends to like his two lines of four and then hit them on the break and it has worked very well for him everywhere he has been. He needs to sort it out here.

BfB: Back in October, before we went to Barnet there was significant national media speculation Taylor had to win or he would be sacked. Was there any truth in these reports, or was it more to do with the press needing a story during a blank weekend for the top flight?

I think you have to look at the whole season on its merits. I can tell you exactly what happened before the Barnet game the Thursday before the game Peter came up to me and said that there were rumours in the press that Barnet was his last game and I turned round to Peter and said “Peter, you will be in charge for Cheltenham. That is definite, you will be in charge.”

So he knew, never mind Barnet you go concentrate on Barnet and Cheltenham so he knew what he was doing.

BfB: Would you ever use an ultimatum as a way to manage in the short term?

We are all looking at a certain standard of where we have to be. Where we are at present is not good enough, Peter knows that, I don’t need to tell him he is an intelligent man.

BfB: How much conversation do you have with Peter on a daily basis? Because he is 58-years-old and perhaps doesn’t need the same hands on the last manager might have?

I think a lot of people have misread how I’ve ran my businesses and it’s come across that I interfere a lot. I expect people to manage and then if it’s going I wrong I’ll sit down with them and discuss it. I don’t interfere with my management structure and I never did with (Lawn’s previous company) Driver Hire.

I put people into manage and, if they weren’t doing their job, then I sit down with them and say “Look, it’s not working. How can we help you and how can we go about getting this right?” I think it’s always better to work with people and try and get them on board, and that’s what we did with Stuart.

We sat down and said “How can we help you Stuart?” We did that with Peter when he was struggling through a period and that’s where the loan signings came in. We let our managers manage. Maybe we shouldn’t after the last four years (laughs).

BfB: That’s certainly very different from Geoffrey (Richmond)…

I don’t think that’s the way to run a football club.

BfB: On Thursday January 8th, 2009 you said in an interview with Radio Leeds: “Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club” yet thirteen months later the club has offered a three month, and a year-long contract which would seem to offer anything but stability.

The club has not changed its position on stability. When Stuart left he was an ill man. But still in my mind he is a legend. It wasn’t nice seeing what Stuart had to go through. And I think if anything Stuart was too near to the job and it hurt him too much, if that’s possible.

The reason that we’ve asked Peter Taylor to do a year is because we can only afford him for a year unless we have success.

BfB: So the club still follows a policy of stability for the long-term?

I’d love to get a Keith Hill. Everyone out there is looking for a (Rochdale manager) Keith Hill. And also, in not so much the same vein, (Bury manager) Alan Knill. People who consistently get into play offs on similar budgets or even smaller budgets. Look at (Dagenham & Redbridge Manager) John Still, when you look at when Dagenham & Redbridge got promoted his budget was only £750,000.

BfB: And how did our budget compare?

Ours was a lot more, certainly over double that.

BfB: How do you feel when you read someone like Paul McLaren saying “I’m a better player than I showed at Bradford”, but not offering to pay any of his wages back? Does that frustrate you?

You’ve got to appreciate that he’s probably said that for the fans. A lot of players, certainly ones who have been around a bit, know how to work the fans. And his comments were perhaps aimed at saying “It’s wonderful at Oxford” and that “it wasn’t wonderful at Bradford” and perhaps that’s a little bit of PR.

BfB: Simon Parker recently hinted that if the club fail to earn promotion this season the wage budget will be trimmed during the summer. Is this likely to be the case and, if so, are we set to see a repeat of two years ago where high earners are shipped out and the manager struggles to afford new players?

The plan for the summer is to stay within budget and do whatever we need to do to stay in budget. I don’t want this football club to go through administration again and that would be the last possible thing. I’m not going to say that will happen again but you never know, and I’ve got to say that, looking at this stadium, how would we afford it if we dropped into non-league?

But what I can say to Bradford City fans is that I will make sure this club always stays alive, and that is one thing that I will always do. But to do that it means I can’t be throwing money around and we’ve got to live within our means.

BfB: Estimated at costing over a million pounds a season before a ball is kicked Valley Parade is seen by some as crippling the club financially and being the most significant block in the way of the club going forward. How important do the board of feel the effect of the cost of Valley Parade is? What is being done to address this situation? (If considered important) To the board believe that City can achieve any of its aims with the current financial drag of renting the ground?

The running costs are about £1.3 million now. But in terms of the future it’s really gone fairly quiet now, because we don’t know what’s happening with Odsal. No one knows what’s happening with Odsal. And even if we did go to Odsal, it’s got to be better fiscally for Bradford City.

And although it’s a big stadium, fiscally sharing the revenue of things like the sponsors names might not be better, so we’ve got to make sure that if we go to Odsal at any stage it would be only because it would be fiscally better.

BfB: What about (Valley Parade Landlord) Gordon Gibb?

He’s overvalued the ground. And right now he’s getting about a 15% return on his investment every year. You tell me where you can get that, with a 25-year guarantee?

BfB: Do you think Gordon Gibb gets away with it in terms of the public attention? I mean Julian Rhodes gets flak for it. You take flak for not being able to do anything about it and Gibb sits there as if he hasn’t bought into a club and taken its biggest asset…

I would say that we have offered Gordon Gibb a fair return to buy it back. If he was a Bradford City fan, he would have let it go at what we’re offering, because he was going to make a good profit on the figures that we offered him. I can’t quote the figures but he wanted nearly double what we offered.

BfB: BfB reader Luke Bottomley recently told the site that he wrote to Gordon Gibb about the VP situation a year ago and was told an independent valuation of the stadium had been carried out (post-recession) and the ground is available at that price and that the City Board had been offered the asset on that basis when they had recently enquired…

Course we would, but practically speaking he wants (figure withheld) for it, not a penny less. How are we going to raise that?

BfB: If we were to move to Odsal, there’s the 25-year VP lease to think about.

We could not afford to break the lease without going into administration, unless we could purchase our way out of the lease. We don’t know what he wants for it (the lease). We’ve not spoken about it. Until we go to Odsal or are going to go to Odsal there’s no point in talking to him about it.

Certainly we would have to dispense with the lease and dispending with the lease means administration, which I wouldn’t like to do. But (pauses) I’m not counting it out, but turning around and buying him out of the lease is an option.

If we went into administration and moved out of here, the rates here are £130,000 a year. So he loses his rent and he’d have to pay the rates. And technically he doesn’t own anything inside the stadium because we own the fixtures.

BfB: Speaking of this and remembering Geoffrey Richmond leasing all the facilities inside Valley Parade. When he was unveiling Carbone at a press conference at the same time, did you trust him?

No! (laughs) Whenever I shook his hand, I always checked how many fingers I had left (laughs). I didn’t buy his 25-year season ticket, but I’ve been a fan for 40 years. I didn’t trust him with that amount of money. No I didn’t trust him. If I ever would have had to come across him in business back then, even a small amount of business, I wouldn’t have trusted him.

BfB: So what’s your opinion on him doing things like leasing back the fixtures and fittings like he did?

I suppose it depends what you do with the money. I wouldn’t say I’d never do it, but if I’d be doing it I’d have invested the money back into the team. But I wasn’t involved at that stage, so I don’t know where the money from the carpets etc went.

BfB: They were strange times to have supported the club through.

I would have thought so too! Because literally, when the club first went into administration they owned nothing. If he (Richmond) could have leased the paint on the wall I think he would have done! There was nothing they owned.

BfB: Strikes us as a very different set up now compared to then, that the club operates at a different level.

Well I’m a Bradford City fan. Geoffrey Richmond was a businessman who had come in to run it as business. I try to run the club as a business so I can make profit which I can put onto the pitch.

BfB: We are now, as we understand it, currently in the black – apart from loans to you?

We have an overdraft, a small overdraft facility.

BfB: Is it still the case that we are in the black?

Yes, but it depends on budgets this year and how it pans out. We struggling to put bums on seats which, you know, the results we’re getting ain’t good. So we need to be putting bums on seats. Now I’m sure you’ll now get comments on your website now saying “Sack Taylor” as though that’s the answer.

But I tell you, I would love for some of the people who say this to come in and run the club for a week to see what it’s like. Because they’d lose more hair than I do! And pay for the privilege of coming in. All that me and Julian get for running this football club is our mobile phones, and we pay the bills on them. We even pay our own petrol money to away games. I don’t get any wages, none of the directors get wages. There’s only David (Baldwin) who gets an income out of it, and it’s not a lot compared to what people in other companies in his place get. And that’s just because he’s got to put bread on table. So you’re quite lucky that you’ve got fans running this club.

BfB: Is there a lack of appreciation of the fact that the board are supporters?

My health has deteriorated since I bought this club. If I wanted to live longer, then I wouldn’t be involved. It is not easy running a football club but I’m not looking for sympathy from anybody, I chose it and I’m here but I look at what I’ve done at this club as failure, so far, and I’ve never failed at any club I’ve been in so I’m going to work harder to make sure this club gets some success, because the only way I know about business is that you work harder. I’ve never known any business when, if it is going wrong, you work less.

End of part one…

Next time, dear reader, Lawn talks about training facilities, season ticket prices, about how Julian Rhodes did running the club and about how much enjoyment he gets out of Bradford City.

Not a must win for Peter Taylor, but a must win

Another week another must win game comes around for Peter Taylor as calls for the manager to be shoved out of the Valley Parade door reach a crescendo. The most moderate City supporters can see no future under his management fearing his success sapping the enjoyment out of Valley Parade as much as his failure seeing the club go nowhere.

Taylor’s remit on arrival at City in March was very much about results and not performance with the previous manager’s teams being good to watch but ultimately not getting the results craved. Enjoyment is an emotion and not twelve months ago the talk was that it was not possible to keep a manager on emotion.

So results were all that mattered, and always were, and without any indication that there is any reason to hope that the manager who follows the current boss would be more successful. Mark Lawn has let it be known that he thinks (or thought, two weeks ago) that Peter Taylor is doing a good job at City. Peter Taylor is Lawn’s choice after not only a selection process but also an unprecedented three month probationary period in which the performances were no different than they have been this season.

Mark Lawn knows the inside of the club better than most of us and he says that Peter Taylor is doing a good job on the basis that – one assumes – he knows the conditions he is working under.

Ultimately Taylor is a hired hand at City and truth be told probably cares little for the club over and above his professional approach being tied into the success. There is no reason why he should. The last manager adored Bradford City and that point was oft used as a stick to beat him with.

So while the rearranged trip to Aldershot is a “must win” for Peter Taylor one has to wonder how much he will be upset by the outcome. City will struggle to get promotion this season from the position we find ourselves in (although hope springs eternal) and Taylor will no doubt not have his contract renewed but as he exits one doubts he will look over his shoulder with much regret – he asked for things to get the club promoted, was promised them, and they were not delivered – although his exit would probably see more problems for Mark Lawn.

Financially backing Peter Taylor has cost Lawn in the pocket for sure but the recruitment of the manager and trumpeting of the team as favourites for the division – to the stage where weight was thrown around at people who dared suggest City might be 8th this term – questions his judgement and fitness to find another manager.

“Let me slaughter your idol, and as a reward I shall bring you your heart’s desire.”

There is an almost Faustian deal that has been broken between Mark Lawn and Bradford City supporters. This writer made no secret of his desire to see Stuart McCall remain at the club and few would argue that this season would have been any worse but it seems that the promise of improvement – promotion no less – was the inducement which was offered to Bantams fans in exchange for McCall’s exit.

Not overtly, not bindingly, but that was the mood in the air and in the courts of the minds of Bradford City supporters Lawn is charged with breaking that promise. He got what he wanted, the new manager and the chance to preen in the local paper talking about professionalism and promotion and what did the fans who backed him in this “improvement” end up with?

A six-two-two formation and Mark Cullen

Picking Peter Taylor’s team is more tarot reading and not once has BfB been able to get it correct this year. The manager picks the team he feels will do best – I have no axe to grind with him on his team changes and recall previous managers being criticised for not changing their starting eleven – and in the last two games it seems to have failed to do so.

Changed are expected with Tommy Doherty waiting for a recall in the midfield over Lee Bullock and the attacking trio of James Hanson, Jake Speight and Gareth Evans all hoping for a place in the side.

I would expect Peter Taylor to keep the back four of Richard Eckersley, Shane Duff, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall with Luke O’Brien ahead on the left hand side of a five with Gareth Evans on the other flank and Tom Adeyemi, Doherty and Lee Bullock with James Hanson up front, or perhaps Speight. Honestly, it is just guess work.

But not a “must win” for Taylor. What is the worst that happens if he loses? Even if he were fired tomorrow he would walk away with a year’s money and look back and say with a great deal of honesty that he told the board what he needed to make City successful and those things were promised but not delivered.

Increasingly though these games are “must wins” for Mark Lawn. A report in the T&A in Saturday pre-emptively highlighted the idea that there is no one else to invest in City and questions about the joint chairman and how his actions in the last year have improved the club – indeed some would ask if they had not sent the club backwards – are increasing.

Some winning would be a good defence against that.

Mark Lawn and stopping thinking about promotion

Mark Lawn’s successes at Bradford City are limited.

Whatever one thinks of the man and his actions – not talking to his manager for nine months, threatening to wind the club up when three or four idiots vandalised his car, authorising spending £600,000 of money the club did not yet have for selling on a youngster Fabian Delph on players rather than facilities – it is hard to suggest that the vast majority of them have had the aim he desired.

That is because Lawn’s aims are two fold and firstly – and most obviously – it is promotion and three and a half years since he arrived the closest the Bantams have come to troubling League One seems to coincide with the moment when Lawn’s relations with his gaffer went sour. We all recall the hours and the times.

But I come not to bury Lawn but to praise him for his second aim – and the one which he is most tempted to drift away from – is perhaps more important than promotion. It is the financial stability of the club and the fact that in a game fuelled by Bradford City – on the whole – are in the black.

Season on season since Mark Lawn arrived Bradford City’s balance sheet has – more or less – shown the the club is not losing money and considering the significant and huge drain on the resources that the rent of Valley Parade from the Flamingo Land Pension Fund represents this is not to be underestimated. The club owe Lawn (and Julian Rhodes) a chunk of cash but that loan is (it is understood) offered at a rate that allowed the Bantams to stop paying debt maintainable and use those funds.

So when talk emerges that Bradford City are being looked at by investors as a potential purchase it comes as no surprise. A rare beast in football, a club that when they are purchased ostensibly at the price of paying back Lawn’s (estimated, correct me if I am wrong) £1m and whatever the club owe Rhodes then the business side is solvent from the first day of trading.

Lawn – apparently – is not short of offers for the club but most of them are more Peter Etherington than Geoffrey Richmond and the joint chairman sums up the situation saying “At present nobody can come along with the sort of investment that would make a difference.”

It would seem that Lawn is as stuck with his critics as his critics are with him and the frustrations of owing and working under the restrictions of ensuring solvency of the club show in his statements. He talks about supporters with wide eyes looking at other club’s spending saying “So unless somebody can find a magic money tree and give it a shake for us, (City’s ability to sign players in January is) not going to change.”

Lawn talks about waiting for the right man to take over rather than someone who would look to make a quick buck and he is right to talk in such a way but perhaps he is the right man.

One could talk about the business sense of the Bradford City board – The Santa Dave leaflet, please no – but the main problem seems to be a kind of cart before horse approach to that aim of promotion where everyone at the club is part of a mad scramble trying to get into the top three of League Two.

Promotion is set as the aim – Julian Rhodes talked about back to back movements up to The Championship – but with that contradicts the talk of solvency when teams like Notts County or Peterborough United are stealing the League Two title. Those clubs spend buckets of cash on the idea that they must ascend the leagues as soon as possible.

Those teams tough represent the exception and the rule in football is that things are won by the club with biggest club, rather than the biggest spenders. Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and (perhaps this year) Manchester City have all opened the wallet and tried to buy the Premier League title but if those big spenders fail then Manchester United win it as a default setting. No mad scrambles at Old Trafford, just maintaining the pace.

So rather than setting promotion as an aim create some objectives, set some areas in which City are to improve. I make no apologies for talking again about facilities because the higher up football one gets the bigger and better they are but the correlation between facilities and league position is unignorable.

There are plenty of things which are done by others which should be – and sometimes are – replicated at Valley Parade. Peter Taylor’s insistence on overnight stays is a good example of this as his desire to have a better playing surface (although his desire to suit and boot the players contrasts to Arsenal’s leisure suited lads).

Innovation has its place but is is naive to disguise failure to compete on various levels as new thinking and using the established pattens which have brought the promotion that Lawn and City crave to clubs like Rochdale and AFC Bournemouth – making the setting up of those established pattens as the aims – could prove more fruitful.

When asked about where the club will be in five years the tendency at City is to list a division – famously and with some effectiveness in building belief Geoffrey Richmond said “The Premier League” – but if the answer were about an increased turnover, better facilities, and so forth then perhaps the horse would go before the cart.

Perhaps making Bradford City a bigger club, a club with more of the trappings of a successful club, will bring that success and there is no reason that Mark Lawn – with a sound financial head – is not able to stop talking about promotion or bust and start talking about how he is going to make City bigger and better by whatever increments he can and let osmosis take the Bantams up the leagues.

At the moment Lawn is a Dave Simpson of a chairman – a hand on the tiller and not someone one always agrees with but someone who has as many good limits as bad – but there is no reason why the current chairman should not change the priorities of the club towards stable improvement in increments rather than boom or bust thinking.

The preview not written

There is another preview of City’s match with bottom of the league Barnet which will never be written.

In that preview City are all at sea having lost Peter Taylor to be Newcastle United’s assistant manager and are looking at what can be salvaged from the season that promised much and threatened to deliver nothing having been derailed by his exit.

Perhaps in that preview there would be a stark statement of a few facts about the season and the position that City are in which – if not designed to cushion the blow – would have pointed out that so far Taylor’s team have patchy form but the hope of improvement that is common with pretty much every City manager since the club slipped from the Premier League.

In doing so it would have said that we might not want to get too upset about Taylor’s exit because – from the point of view of what is in the hand, rather than the bush – City can easily get their hands on another manager to have high hopes in.

However such talk would have been scant consolation. In Peter Taylor City have a manager who not only is able to coach the first team but has a knowledge of what is needed to grow the club which is unparalleled amongst his peers, be they other League Two managers or former City bosses. Colin Todd would probably have been able to point out the necessities for improvement at Valley Parade: decent pitch, new training facilities, proper preparations; but never seemed to take the time to do so. Taylor has done and it is that knowledge, as well as his team and tactics, which the 58 year old should be retained for.

Taylor knows what works at a football club – even if he might not know how to get those things in place at City – and to hear Mark Lawn say the he considers the manager to be doing a good job despite the fact that the club is some way off the stated aim of promotion perhaps suggests that the joint chairman has heard Taylor’s suggestions and – having not delivered on them – shares some of them blame.

“Doing a good job considering the fact I promised him a new training ground and didn’t deliver one” might have been more accurate.

It matters little. As long as Lawn understands, to paraphrase Socrates, that all he knows is that he know less than Taylor then the chairman will do well and his focus now having heard his manager is staying is to get the new facilities and ultimately aim for the single lasting contribution which a chairman could make to turn around the club – which is to address the rent and Valley Parade situation. That, and that alone, will change the club in a permanent way.

So Taylor takes the team he could not leave into a games with bottom of the pile Barnet and in good form. A host of loanees have been retained with Richard Eckersley and Rob Kiernan joining Lenny Pidgley as “staying”, at least for a bit.

Jason Price, however, exits to be replaced by Hull City kid Mark Cullen who joins the club. Jake Speight has returned from loan but the front three of Omar Daley – able to drop back to make a midfield four – with in form Gareth Evans and James Hanson.

Tommy Doherty will hope for a recall but may be frustrated by Lee Bullock’s performance while Tom Adeyemi and David Syers provide super engines of energy in the middle. For both the biggest fear is that Monday’s win builds too much confidence, and Taylor’s job is to drum home that it was effort and not excellence which won the match.

Pidgley continues in goal with Eckersley at right back and Luke O’Brien on the left. Steve Williams’ four week injury on Monday is a blow with Kiernan set to replace him alongside Luke Oliver.

There are other match reports that replace Leon Best’s name with Oliver’s, follow Taylor to the Toon and securing a debut hat trick, but they are fanciful and City it seems are able to concentrate on the here and now.

Taylor’s show of loyalty focuses minds on the future

So how did you feel, deep down, when it appeared Peter Taylor was going to walk out on Bradford City to take the assistant manager position at Newcastle United?

In the hours that followed the Bantams’ important victory over Bury, it seemed inevitable that Taylor would depart for the bright lights of the Premier League, leaving City with another managerial vacancy to fill and a promotion bid on a knife edge. After the 4-0 crushing to Cheltenham less than a week earlier, remarkably top seven hopes looked stronger than they have all season, following the back-to-back wins over Lincoln and Bury. Taylor’s immediate future, in some doubt after the Cheltenham spanking, suddenly seemed secure. No one expected his departure to be his choice.

On Monday evening, as we considered the likelihood of Taylor’s exit, what were you hoping would happen? After Cheltenham, the number of fans calling for his removal seemed higher than ever. It would be foolish, but not at all surprising, to base such judgments on the current form guide, but perhaps a few of these people regretted their haste at the final whistle against Bury. If you called for Taylor to go after Cheltenham, was your mind changed by the subsequent results? And if it was, how would you have felt if Taylor had accepted a very attractive offer to move to the North East?

There should be little doubt that, had Taylor departed, the timing would have been awful for City. The January transfer window may not mean as much to lower league clubs, but with loan deals expiring and the need to strengthen the squad – not to mention the possibility of bigger clubs eying up the likes of Steve Williams – to be searching for a new manager could have disrupted the season significantly. By the time a new man was installed and had taken the time to evaluate the squad and bring in new faces, play off hopes may have already been over.

But instead Taylor elected to stay, demonstrating a level of loyalty that, sadly, we don’t see too often in football these days. Witness Micky Adams jump ship from Port Vale to Sheffield United. Note that Torquay’s Paul Buckle could be about to take the reins at Bristol Rovers. Recall Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet quitting Leeds United for Newcastle and Tottenham respectively three years ago. Few would have begrudged Taylor had he elected for a return to the big time, but he felt a responsibility and desire to stay:

The time wasn’t right now, and I think I’ve got a job to do at Bradford. I wasn’t comfortable leaving Bradford earlier than I need to, I know what the game is about, I can easily get the sack in a month’s time, I understand that, but I don’t really feel I want to leave at this particular time. I want to produce a team, I’ve come here, three months of last season and they’ve really switched me on. I’ve always had a special feeling about the club, and I’ve still got that feeling.

For loyalty to work, it has to be reciprocated, and that is what makes Taylor’s decision to stay all the more remarkable. All season long, he has faced criticism and abuse from a section of supporters. From booing his team even though they had won, vocally disagreeing with substitutions, racing to the dugout to tell him to go and slating his tactics; Taylor has had to endure a huge amount of stick.

This won’t be new to him of course; even after delivering Wycombe Wanderers’ only ever league automatic promotion he was slagged off by many of their supporters, while his unsuccessful spells at Leicester and Crystal Palace can’t have been enjoyable towards the end. But still, the treatment he’s endured for much of this season can hardly have left him feeling wanted.

Loyalty from his employers has also been limited – recall the lack of public backing Taylor received when he was under huge pressure last October. We at BfB have talked to death about his one-year contract and the flaws of taking such a short-term approach; and, with the chances of getting a new contract seemingly hinging on him steering the club to a top seven place come May, the possibility of unemployment come May is high. Don’t forget Taylor has his wife to think about and a normal life to try and lead. He could be set to uproot from Baildon in a few months time if he loses his job, so the prospect of greater job security in Newcastle must have been very tempting.

So having shown such loyalty, the question now is where this leaves us supporters and the joint Chairmen? Firstly, as fans, do we get behind Taylor and his decisions strongly enough? I must admit I do not and often find myself questioning his team selections and certain performances. Having in the past strongly backed Colin Todd and Stuart McCall, I feel jaded and less willing to be the one who jumps to the defence of Taylor. Surely it’s someone else’s turn to take the lead in backing the manager, especially those people who were so vocally calling for his arrival a year ago.

But that is hardly fair to Taylor on my part, and though I don’t like the manner he’s treated certain players and wish he’d sign some wingers to provide a greater supply line to the forwards, the prospect of losing Taylor on Monday filled me with fear and dread. Push came to shove, we as supporters had to consider whether we really did want him to stay or go. I wanted him to stay, so now I owe him the courtesy of more positive and vocal backing.

Whether you agree or disagree is down to your personal choice. But if you are pleased he has elected to remain at the helm, I’d urge you to think carefully the next time you want to criticise him or demand his sacking. Turning down another job doesn’t make Taylor a better or worse manager than he was before and shouldn’t absolve him from critical analysis, but let’s remember that he’s shown he really does care and is determined to do his best for us.

Todd used to be criticised for not showing enough passion and giving off an air he’d be just as happy to be employed elsewhere. Taylor has proved that, for him, this isn’t the case.

As for the joint Chairmen, the contract issue may now be one that requires action sooner than they might have liked. In fact Mark Lawn, speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, has indicated a new deal could be in the pipeline:

We are now talking to him about the future so it looks to me that we are moving forward with Peter Taylor as our manager.

“The future” may only relate to January signings rather than plans for next season, but having shown the club such loyalty the Chairmen are slightly backed into a corner of having to consider showing Taylor some back. Is it acceptable to keep him dangling and only reward him after success has been delivered, or should they back up recent kind words by showing faith and rewarding him with an extended contract now? Clearly there are risks in doing so: if Taylor agrees a new deal but City remain in midtable, the Chairmen will be criticised by some supporters for sticking with him for next season.

But equally, events of the last few days show how highly rated Taylor is within the game. As his current contract gets closer to expiring, what is the likelihood he will receive further offers from other clubs? And if, with a few games left, City are in the hunt for a play off spot, would the uncertainty over Taylor’s future have a negative impact on the team’s form?

Events over the last few days demand a change of attitude and outlook from us all towards Taylor. We surely cannot coolly applaud him in victory and loudly slate him in defeat anymore. We surely cannot keep him worried about unemployment by failing to back him. If we supporters and the Board believe he is the man to revive the ailing club’s fortunes, it’s time for actions to speak louder than words.

Otherwise the next time another club comes calling, he might just say yes.

Taylor staying with City

Peter Taylor has turned down the chance to become assistant manager according to City’s joint chairman Mark Lawn.

Lawn revealed that The Mags had contacted City after Christmas and a deal over the last five months of the managers contract was agreed indicating City’s willingness to allow him to leave. Taylor having indicated to Lawn that he is staying at Valley Parade has Lawn considering the matter close, although he admits that he can do very little should Taylor change his mind.

The interest from Newcastle United has forced Lawn to make a public statement backing his manager saying

Peter Taylor is Bradford City manager and I don’t want to lose him. He is doing a good job as far as I’m concerned. But we can’t stand in his way if a Premier League club wants to talk to him.

After two wins in two games Lawn’s comments backing his manager are a foot note in this story although when the Magpies contacted City and Taylor’s side had lost 4-0 at Cheltenham then it seems that the joint chairman was prepared to allow the manager to leave.

Taylor’s decision to stay – and the fact that it was Taylor’s decision – highlights the issue with the length of the manager’s contract and Lawn will come under pressure to offer his manager a new deal against his wishes to resolve matters on the basis of promotion.

At the moment Peter Taylor has a contract until the end of the season and is vulnerable to being approached by another club. If City want to keep the 58 year old as manager then it would seem prudent to offer him a longer term deal.

“If”, being the key question for Lawn. Does he want Taylor to be manager next season even if City do not get promoted? Unless he offers the manager a contract that decision may be taken for him.

Taylor to leave City for Newcastle United?

Having just beaten Bury 1-0 it seems that Peter Taylor is to exit Bradford City to become Alan Pardew’s assistant manager at Newcastle United.

The City manager – who celebrates his 58th birthday today – all but confirmed that there at been an offer for his services saying after the Bury game

There might be something in it but I’ll discuss that with the correct people. I don’t want to be rude to anybody, but there could be something in it, that’s all I can say.

Taylor is expected to begin talking to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes about his exit from the club and be on his way to St James’ Park before the end of the week although until there is a formal approach he is still City’s manager and there is a chance he will stay so.

Why he will go

Peter Taylor has five months left on his contract at Bradford City while Alan Pardew has five years and while no one would suggest that Newcastle United are a paragon of job security City’s decision to not make a longer term commitment to the manager has left him vulnerable to this approach. At 58, and under pressure at the club, Taylor may decide that the chance to work in the Premier League once more is too good to turn down.

Taylor was promised new facilities at Bradford City and these have not been delivered. As a training ground manager the day to day life as City boss is done in an environment which he, and the club who are looking for a replacement, consider unsuitable. Newcastle United offer some of Europe’s best sporting facilities.

Newcastle United have never been blessed with more sense than they have money and one can expect that they will increase Taylor’s salary to go further north and while Taylor no doubt is better off than the average man as he approaches sixty and looks at life beyond football that money would probably secure his family’s lifestyle.

A lifestyle which is under threat at Valley Parade. Two games ago a good number of supporters wanted Peter Taylor to be sacked and while he would be paid off for the rest of his contract he would be left looking for another job having “failed” in League Two. Joint chairman Mark Lawn has shown previously that he is sensitive to the lead given by the more vocal supporters and so Taylor may conclude – probably rightly so – that unless City are promoted then his chances of getting a new deal next season are slim.

Why he will stay

There is nothing like being the boss and life at St James’ Park would not be Peter Taylor being the boss. The success of a win against Bury would be – for the foreseeable future – the last time that Taylor tasted a victory of his own making.

To craft his own destiny, pick his own players, be his own man is something that Taylor has worked long and hard to achieve and no longer will he be able to do that. Eventually – and probably sooner rather than later – Newcastle United will tire of Alan Pardew and Taylor will be out along with the manager.

One struggles to think of a second reason aside from the appeal of honour – he has said that he will try get City promoted this season and has not seen that promise though – and so should there be an offer on the table then Taylor balances the idea of surrendering control of his day to day life to make that life easier and better.

What now for Junior Lewis

And what now for the rest of City? When Newcastle United sacked Sam Allardyce they relieved themselves of his thirty strong backroom staff and it seems that the Magpies have learnt the lesson of employing everyone they can so Junior Lewis may find himself without his Father-in-law’s protective arm. Tommy Doherty, Lewis Hunt and Luke Oliver will also wonder what futures they have being Taylor’s lads but the latter two being more favoured for their character rather than ability by the boss.

City – it would seem – would put Wayne Jacobs in charge for a third time but probably look for a new manager. The disruption may spur the team on, but most likely would end City’s hopes of promotion which grew with the last two wins.

The next few days will be interesting, although perhaps more important are the long term lessons which will come from Taylor and his anticipated exit about showing a commitment to your manager and the merits of that.

The season ticket struggle

the coming season will be my 30th as a season ticket holder and I can honestly say that never have I been so reluctant to renew. In recent seasons It has been in hope more than expectation but this time even the hope is fading into a sea of despondency.

I’ve finally been to renew. when I got home I asked myself “Why so low this time?”

I wrote a list when I got home of all the “Problems” at my club. it was quite a long list so I crossed out all the minor grumbles and grouses.

I wasn’t entirely in agreement with McCall’s departure but was open to being convinced by his replacement when I heard it was Peter Taylor who is a man with an unblemished record in the lower divisions. Surely such a man could succeed at City?

This man, with his vast experience and respect in the game. Surely, after half a season he should know by now what his best eleven is! Instead the team is chopped and changed every game: win, lose or draw;

The joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. I have sadly concluded that they are unable to bring success to the club. Like surgeons at a hospital who, when faced with a seriously injured patient, don’t know how to heal the man so they have him put on life support where he stays for years while all they can do is hope that something will turn up.

We will always be grateful to Julian that we still have a club, but surely the time is long since past when we should have begun making progress. Unfortunately, in the Rhodes family it’s the father who is the captain of industry. nice guy though he is, it’s not the son! Similarly Mark Lawn, a man who had one good idea that made him a millionaire. After that, the cupboard is bare!

To use modern parlance, neither man seems able to think outside the box. there are no big ideas forthcoming. All we can expect is more of the same!

Now to the club itself. In the past it has been said to me on more than one occasion (admittedly by non City fans) that by comparison with clubs from similar sized cities (Leicester, Hull, Nottingham, Wolverhampton etc.) City’s worst is worse than their worst and lasts much longer. This is hard to refute. in the 80’s Hull, Wolves and Bristol City all plunged to the bottom division while in dire financial straits and with the all too realistic threat of extinction. All 3 stayed only 2 seasons in the basement before starting the long road back. City have done 4 with the 5th already looking a certainty.

So there you have it.

Like a drowning man clinging to a bit of wreckage, the only thing I cling to is the memory of the last time things seemed dire under the Dave Simpson board. Skint with debts piling up. Geoffrey Richmond, the good one before he succumbed to megalomania and his self confessed period of madness, was just around the corner, about to come in and galvanise the club, setting us on the upward path.

As Taylor fumes about the OMB will Lawn and Rhodes take action?

A month ago Peter Taylor set himself at loggerheads with the joint chairmen of Bradford City in a demand to be given full throated backing but today the City manager has taken on the people who really decide if he has a job.

Peter Taylor told the users of City’s Official Message Board who started rumours that James Hanson had been left out of the City team for the game with Bury because he has been out drinking that they should “got to go and get a life” and branded them with the damning phrase of “Not Bradford City fans.”

In taking on a section of the club’s official message board Taylor takes on the people who – with systematic campaigns – were able to unseat the previous two Bradford City managers. With the club seemingly using the Official Message Board as a barometer of the mood of supporters in a very real way Taylor is taking on the decision makers of Bradford City.

Taylor denies that Hanson was dropped for going out drinking. The City manager said

I picked Jason Price and Omar Daley for that game because that’s what we wanted against two centre halves who don’t like playing against that type of player. I don’t go on these websites but somebody drew my attention to this one. Because I’ve had to look at it, I’ve read certain other things. I’m not convinced these people are Bradford City fans. They will just drive players away. They can’t be proper fans to talk about things like that. It’s unbelievable, really.

Unbelievable to Taylor perhaps but often believed and certainly given some regard by the club by virtue of the name. That the club run an “Official” message board is no bad thing, that it is so loosely policed is astonishing. When Rochdale FC took legal action against this website their complaint covered only one comment on the article and four in the comments which BfB was liable for publishing (Two from Rochdale supporters, incidentally). The club sits in a similar position and the laissez faire attitude towards moderation allows for some remarkable statements that emanate.

Indeed the club’s own moderator Jon Pollard was attacked with some horrible allegations on the Official Message Board and at the time one had to wonder how the club could maintain a system so often used against it. Taylor has brought attention to this problem once more, but no one at the club could say they are not aware of it.

So if one assumes that the club are aware of the problems of the Official Message Board – and it should be said that for all the ills of the OMB it played a key part in the attempts to save the club in 2004 and is most often used for what one would want it to be, fans talking football with fans – then perhaps they do not believe it has much impact other than being an indication of what supporters think. That one can take the temperature of the support from the OMB, but that the individual aliments are of no importance.

Peter Taylor, the man at the club who knows the most about football, disagrees and with the club returfing the pitch and looking for new facilities to keep the manager one wonders what they will do to follow the manager’s recommendation as to another way to improve the club.

In the short term now the man they pay to tell them how to make the best football club is telling them that some people on the OMB are harming that club will they take action or choose to ignore the manager? Tell him he can make do with the situation on the club’s own website like he as to make do with Apperley Bridge. The club dragged in The City Gent to talk about a preview they found too negative, yet the pay for the Official Messageboard.

Moreover though Taylor is saying that the club that they need to work on redefining being a Bradford City fan. There was an agitated argument in the Kop in the Oxford game when James Constable waved an imagined yellow card to suggest Luke Oliver should be booked – an action which is mandated as a caution in the Laws of the game – with one side being chastised for bias for demanding the official take action. The current definition of bias at Bradford City – for some fans – is to want City treated even handledly under the rules of the game.

The culture of the Bradford City Official Messageboard – with its anonymity and one user/multiple name – is often similarly negative as it the mood on a match day. Not a question of rose tinted glasses or optimism but rather allowing the negative – no, the destructive, to be unopposed.

Having taken on Lawn demanding backing and not blinked Taylor will hope for a similar result. In seven months the manager’s contract will be up or renewal. One doubts he will receive much backing from the people he has criticised today, should he not be unseated before, leaving Lawn and Rhodes to decide how much credence to give to the Official Message Board and how much they should listen to Taylor’s recommendations on how to take Bradford City forward.

Taylor’s revival avoids a pressing problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricky Holden’s Defence of Mark Lawn

The following appeared in The City Gent #167 in reference to an article in the previous issue by Ricky Holden. It is included here for completion.

After taking in Ricky Holden’s spirited discussion of Mark Lawn on page 31 of issue 166 heartened to read such a passionate defence of the man and as I looked through the article it stuck me how few of the points Mr Holden batted away were ever brought to joint chairman as criticisms.

Mark Lawn used to travel on the CTC coaches and is a proper City fan the article screamed and one would be mistaken for thinking that there was a campaign against the joint chairman that sought to expose him as a fraud who oversold his association with Bradford City. In the three years of covering his involvement at City on BfB never have I heard anyone suggest that Lawn was not the passionate Bantams fan Ricky Holden states he is. One can only wonder why Lawn is defended against charges not levelled at him.

It is certainly true that people accuse Lawn of having a gruffness to his public statements and as Ricky Holden says he is rough around the edges but again seldom is this ever seriously used as criticism against him. On the BBC recently Lawn’s “University of Hard Knocks” saw him – paraphrased no doubt by the article author – more or less suggest that the Bantams were doing all they could to attract Asian supporters by having a Chicken Tikka Pie. One could, if one wanted, find any number of ways to portray Lawn over this and few of them would illustrate him will but again there is no campaign against the man because of his manner public speaking.

“The one thing,” Ricky Holden tells us, “that I do know is he is 100% Claret and Amber” and with that it would have been interesting to settle the term “100% Claret and Amber” with “I spent the weekend deciding if I was going to withdraw my loan and put Bradford City into administration” but again Lawn is forgiven and afforded the honorific “Supporter Chairman.”

One would be satisfied to write the article off as a passionate, if slightly misguided, defence of a man who takes his fair share of criticism if it were not for the statement that Lawn was “the only one willing to put his money where his mouth was” which is increasingly said of the chairman and so inaccurate as to be insulting.

Insulting to the people who in 2002 and 2004 spent summers raising money to keep the club in business and to everyone who did at that point put their money where their mouths were and did so to the tune of hundreds of thousands. That there was a club for Mark Lawn to invest his money in/loan his money to is because of the community of Bradford City supporters who put their money, time and efforts where their mouths were and stopped the club from going out of business. It is said that Bradford is a poor City – indeed financially it is – and the people of this City squeezing out £250,000 in eight weeks is the stone wringing its own blood. An act which deserves more than being written off as not having put money where mouth is.

One could write books on Lawn and his actions at Bradford City and opinion over the man will no doubt be divided but let us not create a revisionism that insults the people who have kept this club going – the supporters – and affords their success to the boardroom.


Michael Wood
www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk

What Price a win for the man who can’t do anything right?

In the week in which is was invited – but declined the opportunity – to give his manager Peter Taylor a statement of public backing a new public persona for City chairman Mark Lawn emerged: The man who can’t do anything right.

As Peter Taylor – buoyed from a 2-0 win at Barnet last weekend but thought to be a defeat away from being fired – seemed to rearrange the deck chairs bringing in striker Jason Price who on arrival was pronounced not fit enough to play Lawn was stuck between the rock of delivering the ringing but seemingly hollow “vote of confidence” in his manager or putting forward a more honest and realistic assessment of the situation at the club.

He gave the latter and in doing so perhaps he wondered how he had ended up in the situation he is. Taylor – a fine appointment the arrival of whom appeased those critical at the exit of Stuart McCall – had become a political millstone around the chairman’s neck. Even when he did the right thing, Lawn perhaps concluded, he could not do the right thing.

These thoughts evaporated over the course of an afternoon which proved only the old adage that there is almost nothing in football that cannot be mended with a cracking home win.

Building on last week’s victory at Barnet and a return to a 442 Taylor sent out a side that saw Omar Daley playing off James Hanson as last season’s player of the season returned from his time out injured with the type of performance that justified the anticipation of his return.

Hanson rounded off an afternoon that saw City enjoy long and deserved periods of control with a low, powerful strike from outside that box that arrowed past goalkeeper Scott P Brown beating him at his front post owing to the pace with which the striker leathered the frustrations of a spell on the sidelines with.

Hanson’s goal came as another fruitful combination with loanee Jason Price came to fruition the half time substitute taking a ball in with the defenders seemingly incapable of getting near the man mountain of a striker who is deceptively mobile and wonderfully haired.

Indeed it was Price’s head – not merely a housing for that impressive hair – which figured in the decisive goal of the afternoon as the Bantams pressured Cheltenham’s defence. The left hand side combination of Luke O’Brien and Lee Hendrie enjoyed much joy all afternoon and it was that axis which saw a cross to Price who powerfully returned the ball across the box to Hendrie who performed a close range overhead kick to give City the lead.

As good a goal as it was – and it was with the style of the finish equalled in impressiveness by Price’s strength at the far post standing as powerfully and solid as the Colossus of Rhodes at the far post and celebrating not with the players who had peeling away in front of the kop but with the Midland Road which has – with the rest of the fans – taken the boisterous forward to heart.

With a brilliant performance Hendrie’s afternoon as captain could hardly have been better but ended with him limping from a ludicrously heavy foul which seemed to have been prompted by the scoreline – “just because you’re losing” – but resulted in no card from referee Darren Drysdale.

Drysdale is infamous for having Dean Windass banned for five matches for a comment made in the car park and is – perhaps – the weakest referee in the entire Football League. He lacks not common sense but logic giving a series of decisions which seem to mis-assess the servility of offences. What can one say about a referee who thinks that being shouted at in the car park is a massively greater sin than a two footed lunge by a player who is angry because his team is losing?

Drysdale’s linesmen seemed to be penning City in giving James Hanson offside three times – each one controversially – although the flow of the home side’s pressure saw Price break though and Brown make an impressive save when one on one which denied the striker what would have been a deserved debut goal.

That Taylor’s recruitment of Price – the half fit player and all that – gave City purpose in the final third it was his bringing in and finding a place for Oliver Gill that did much to help City at the back. Gill and his fellow Manchester United loanee were impressive with the now centreback Gill combining with Steve Williams in a great defensive display.

Gill’s performance – capped with a superb clearing tackle at 2-1 – was even more impressive considering the character he and the side showed when a nothing of a cross was weakly headed by the loanee defender into a no man’s land between keeper Jon McLaughlin and Cheltenham midfielder (and one time Nicky Law target) Joshua Low who finished tidily.

The collective shrug, the recognition that the Bantams were playing well, and the spirit shown to shake off that error and continue what had been a good start to the game, James Hanson lashing over within the opening minutes. Indeed when Luke O’Brien roasted the Cheltenham full back on the touchline and crossed for David Syers to throw himself at for a diving header it was the least that City deserved.

Perhaps then Lawn might have looked over at noted that Taylor was summoning performances from a team of guys on loan from Old Trafford and guys who last season were playing non-league and working part time. Throw into that the guy who played in Hungary last year – Tommy Doherty was immense putting the the kind of performance that was promised when he arrived – and concluded that if it seemed that he could not do anything right in his back or not of the manager in the week then perhaps he could by simply no doing anything at all.

Indeed perhaps Lawn might conclude that if he can’t do right for doing wrong then perhaps he should try doing nothing at all. Lawn started the season with a plan (and perhaps not one I would have approved of, but that is not the point) that Peter Taylor has the remit of achieving promotion for Bradford City this season and until that is not going to happen (and perhaps after) then he will remain manager.

Football teams are made over time and after two wins on the bounce Taylor’s side starts to find a shape and way of playing which brings the best out of its members Lawn doing nothing is a way of doing something and with more afternoons like the 3-1 win over Cheltenham it may yet prove fruitful.

With Price – and a steady nerve – the man who can’t do anything right might just get what he wants.

16 words for 16 games

So this is it then. A week after the must-win game at Barnet, Bradford City manager Peter Taylor takes his side into a game he must not lose – or it appears highly likely he will be asked to pack up his desk on Monday morning.

Earlier in the week Taylor publicly called for his two Chairmen to clarify his position in the wake of mounting speculation. Mark Lawn chose to respond with just 16 words, that fell a long way short of backing his man. It’s not only what those 16 words meant, but the hundreds of other words Lawn opted not to use. Taylor will surely be disappointed by the fact his employer turned down the chance to offer his public support.

It has been argued, and perhaps with good reason, that Taylor’s own comments asking for clarity weren’t the cleverest and that in a sense Lawn was backed into a corner. But if the public face of the Board really still believed in his manager, this was the opportunity to dismiss the speculation as false and reaffirm his commitment to the man he offered a contract too just five months ago. He did neither.

So it all comes down to Cheltenham at home. From the outcome of Saturday’s result it seems we are to determine the entire season’s prospects – and the long-term future of who should be charged with steering this ship. And yes, you can argue that all of the other previous poor results will have contributed significantly to any P45s issued next week, but if that’s the case why not just sack him this week? Why wait and let the outcome of one football match determine the next few months and years?

It is simply ludicrous to apparently be in this position. A win this Saturday does not make Taylor any more suitable to do the job than a defeat would prove he isn’t. But this is where short-term thinking gets us.

Taylor, who signed the one-year contract before Northampton last season, has since taken charge of 16 games – winning six, drawing two and losing eight. It’s true that some of the performances have been amongst the worst we’ve ever seen, and no one could argue he’s so far done a good job. But to hand someone a contract and to then be prepared to tear it up after 16 games, and when asked to defend their choice of manager to be only able to find 16 non-committal words of support?

It is pure madness.

But for now the hope is that last week’s encouraging performance against Barnet will have provided the spark City’s campaign desperately needs. There have been some false dawns of late – Gillingham home and Rotherham away – but the  league form guide of won two, drawn two and lost two from the last six matches suggests the club might be slowly turning the corner; particularly when it’s recalled the four prior matches had all ended in defeat.

In order to really get into the groove, it’s hoped there won’t be many changes to Taylor’s team sheet. Jason Price’s arrival on loan and Jame Hanson’s return to fitness mean it’s unlikely Luke Oliver will remain up front, but all eyes will be on whether the back four is also tinkered with. Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien are emerging as the two main contenders for player of the season, but both have been dropped before and could be again if Taylor decides to push Oliver back into the centre of defence.

Oliver Gill, who it’s been suggested has to play every week under the terms of the Man United loan agreement, could be moved to left back again – but it would surely be daft to make any changes at all. Zesh Rehman, an inspirational leader last week, should at least carry on at right back and, with Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt out for sometime, plus Reece Brown rumoured to have returned to Old Trafford due to injury, a run in the team surely awaits. Shane Duff will hope to be fit and selected against his former club. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal.

In midfield a week off seemed to have helped Tommy Doherty’s fitness and form at Barnet last week, and he will be counted on for inspiration again. For much of the season the movement in the attacking third has been poor, which has clearly limited the effectiveness of Doherty to produce incisive passes. At Barnet fellow midfielders Leon Osborne, Tom Adeyemi and Lee Hendrie provided that movement and should all continue. Lee Bullock and David Syers wait on the sidelines.

Omar Daley received words of encouragement for his performance up front last week and will probably partner Price, with Hanson starting from the bench. These sudden extra forward options push Chibuzor Chilaka, Louis Moult and Jake Speight further out of the picture; though the latter will hope a scoring performance in the reserves midweek will be rewarded with a starting spot.

There is a long way to go for Chilaka, Moult and Speight to make a bigger impact at City than we’ve seen from them so far. But the 16 words of Lawn suggest it will probably be another manager trying to get it out of them.

Stand by your man(ager)

With an international weekend that didn’t even feature England until Tuesday, it became one of the big media stories of the week.

Struggling, free-falling, inept Bradford City had gone from the Premier League to one place off the bottom of the Football League in 10 years – and Peter Taylor was football’s next managerial sacking. Compare the national media attention before City’s trip to Barnet with the low-key post-match coverage of the 2-0 success, and it was clear the press hadn’t got their story.   

But as the journalists switch attention back to Fabio Capello, the immediate future of Bradford City remains decidedly unclear. How true were those various media reports that the Board were going to sack Taylor if he couldn’t pull off victory at Underhill? And what happens if City lose to Cheltenham on Saturday? Or win that, but lose at Burton the Saturday after?

Such thoughts have clearly also been occupying the mind of Taylor, who via the Telegraph & Argus today has called for his joint Chairmen to publicly clarify his position. It is unclear what dialogue has been taking place behind the scenes prior to last Saturday – or what will be said inside the Valley Parade corridors following today’s news reports. But the ball is firmly in the Board’s court to speak or let their continuing silence appear deafening.

No subsequent comment, and the pressure will only build up as the 3pm kick off against Cheltenham approaches. It’s hard to believe Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will publicly declare that Taylor must win on Saturday or he’ll be sacked – if that’s their intention – but they have now effectively been backed into a corner where it will be easy to assume that’s the case unless they come out and deny it. If this was a game of chess, Taylor would now be saying “Check” to the joint owners. 

So what if the press had made the whole thing up to grab attention during a quiet period? The strength of feeling against Taylor from a significant amount of City supporters means public denial of the rumours from Lawn and Rhodes will be heavily criticised by this group.

And let’s not forget that both Taylor’s predecessors, Colin Todd and Stuart McCall, were only occasionally the subject of public comment over their futures despite been under similarly heavy pressure for months. In January 2007, after 18 months of Todd been under pressure from fans, Rhodes finally told the media he might be sacked in the near future (and Rhodes’ dismissed him a month later). McCall was on the receiving end of public criticism from City Director Roger Owen a month before he eventually quit. Meanwhile Lawn had not only stopped speaking to McCall, he refused to speak about his manager’s future publicly.

But that doesn’t make it okay to sit in silence now. Taylor has every right to feel frustrated that he alone is left to carry the can for City’s poor start to the season. At the best of times, managing a football club is a stressful experience which carries a high degree of pressure. For all of the ill-feeling over poor results to rest upon only his shoulders is a huge burden, and he is entitled to believe his employers should be willing to support him through a tough period.

Public backing can ease some of that pressure, enabling Taylor to continue working with greater confidence. Surely this would help him to do a better job, and surely he deserves every ounce of help he can get to turn around this disappointing start.

Some fans have already argued he doesn’t deserve any support, but how would each of us feel in our own lives if you heard a rumour you might be sacked at work this week, and your boss refused to comment? Would that help us to keep our mind on the job? Would it encourage us to offer the same level of commitment we would if we felt settled and happy? Would our performance improve or get worse? Would the whispers of others bother us? It’s a vicious circle, and the current situation appears to have influenced some of Taylor’s decisions.

But above all else, sitting back and saying nothing while Taylor feels the heat is poor leadership and is absolving responsibility. Everyone employed by the football club – not to mention us supporters – should be doing everything they can to haul the club out of this slide. Whether doing everything they can for the Chairmen includes sacking Taylor is another question, but if they continue to employ him they should be supporting him and making sure he has the best available tools and resources to do the best job possible.

And if Taylor is ultimately to be told “Checkmate”, a huge degree of ownership falls onto Rhodes and Lawn’s shoulders too. It was the City Board who decided to appoint Taylor – after sifting through a number of applications and sitting through a series of interviews with the best candidates. It was the City Board who opted to offer Taylor a new contract last April, following a successful trial. It may be the City Board who determine Taylor should be sacked just 12 games into the season.

If Taylor is to blame for the current problems – and that, dear reader, is a matter for debate entirely – then surely they are to blame for appointing him in the first place. So if Rhodes and Lawn still believe they made the right decisions last February and April, the least they can do is call up Simon Parker right now and make it clear they are behind their choice of manager.

Where does one see Bradford?

A view which normally shows Bradford, but is foggy, taken this morning on 8th of October 2010Waking this morning in Bradford and looking out over the City one could not notice – as the photo shows – that something was missing. Indeed Bradford, it seemed, had gone.

From the back window of Clayton you can normally see Lister’s Chimney and the view over BD8 but not Valley Parade which as the name suggests is under the eye line, hidden from view.

One has to wonder what has been going on hidden from view at Valley Parade this week. A defeat to Hartlepool United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came almost without a blip so expected was it after the woeful 1-0 loss to Morecambe at the weekend. Peter Taylor was linked to a move for Calvin Zola – Calvin Zola is not coming – and TalkSport and the Daily Mirror both noted that this weekend’s game was win or bust for the City manager of six months.

Despite the board of many and the co-ownership it seems that Mark Lawn will be the one to make that decision. Lawn famously said that he “had 2,000,000 more reasons to be frustrated” than other City fans and if one agrees to the idea that the more you have money the more you can care about your football club then one can only imagine how Lawn feels watching the things he has put into place to replace Stuart McCall that should have worked failing so miserably now.

Say what you want about McCall’s exit – and we have all said lots – but Lawn’s recruitment of Peter Taylor was a clear way forward and an outstanding appointment of a manager with a great track record. One might argue the length of the contract has caused problems or that the failure to get training facilities sorted out are restrictive to what the manager can do but few would say they should be the cause of a woeful run of form.

Would City be in any different position now if Lawn had given Taylor a five year contract not a three month one? Perhaps, but as Lawn – we are told – is considering paying out Taylor’s contract then the brevity of it becomes useful in this situation at least.

Taylor’s team take on Barnet who struggle at the foot of League Two also. Jon McLaughlin has kept goal no better and no worse than Simon Eastwood did but is more favoured and perhaps that says much about the nature of support at City. What is an offence one season may not be the next.

Reece Brown is not expected to return from injury to be right back so Zesh Rehman will continue while Oliver Gill is supposedly enforced at left back. Shane Duff is expected to return from injury to partner Steve Williams in the middle of Taylor’s defence. Lee Bullock will sit on top of them with Tommy Doherty expected to return alongside him.

If it is win of bust for Taylor then he should probably play Doherty. A weak midfield will lose the game and thus his job and so it will hardly matter if Doherty misses the first game of Dean Windass, Peter Jackson or whomever’s time in charge.

Michael Flynn’s recovery from injury came to a grinding halt at Hartlepool United where his hernia which was thought cleared turned out not to be after his substitute appearance. Lee Hendrie will fall in as the left hand midfielder – let us not say “wide man” and Omar Daley is expected to play on the right with Taylor adopting a 4411 as strikers appear at a premium.

Luke O’Brien seemingly is out of both the midfield running and left back. It is said that there are players in the dressing room who would not be upset to see the back of Taylor but that O’Brien is not one of them. Such shows great restraint by a player who has been ousted from the City team so often. Tom Ademeyi seems to float in and out of the side with little reference to his performance. Leon Osbourne and Robbie Threlfall both seem to have had time in the team which has come to an end.

Luke Oliver will no doubt lead the forward line and while I would not concur with the idea that he should not do that because he is “out of position” – few would have complained if midfielder Flynn had been fit enough to take the position in the attack – the fact that Oliver struggles to play the role effectively is a problem. Calvin Zola was rumoured to be arriving and did not and as Peter Taylor looked around the world of football for a striker to borrow his vision was as blank as the fogged look over Bradford this morning.

James Hanson edges closer to fitness and perhaps Taylor might be able to risk him, Gareth Evans is out for three months. Taylor”s inability to get the levels of performance out of Evans that they player is capable of minimises the effect of this – he was not playing well – but as a player he can do and the frustration of watching good players play badly under Taylor is epic.

City have gone four games without a goal and Taylor has a selection of strikers for the the role off the main striker. Louis Moult, Jake Speight, Chib Chilaka. Name the striker and he is not scoring enough goals. The net seemingly fogged for Bradford City.

Peter Taylor will hope to cut through that fog, to get the win, to extend his stay at the club which looks increasingly like it will be coming to an end with the next defeat. Should that be the case then Mark Lawn’s view at the future at Valley Parade would be as fogged as the view from it.

Where would we go next?

Thinking in three months blocks as City face Hartlepool

A lot can happen in three months at a football club.

Three months ago Luke O’Brien faced an uncertain future at Valley Parade when – three months previous – Peter Taylor had arrived at the club and signed a player who had been scouted by Stuart McCall in Robbie Threlfall and the former Liverpool loanee had won his place in the Bradford City team.

The local left back was given a standing ovation for warming up on Saturday – an acknowledgement from supporters who thought his being dropped for Manchester United loanee Oliver Gill – which is a far cry from the criticism that the player was given when Threlfall arrived. O’Brien had – some supporters attested to – been embarrassed by the new signing, probably wished he has a contract and had a future at Guiseley perhaps.

How times have changed.

Indeed three months of loan play at Bradford City and Threlfall was coveted in the Summer but with the rider that City would never be able to land the player from Liverpool. His signing – three months ago – was a part of a series of arrivals that saw City supporters and the wider football public start tagging Peter Taylor’s Bradford City as favourites for League Two.

The past three months have seen Taylor’s stock diminish in a way that few would have thought possible on his arrival but that some worried it would after his initial three months at the club. Taylor’s football at the end of last season was dour but carried on along the same average points achievement as the previous manager had struggled to better and it was assumed that those were the seeds out of which an oak of promotion would grow.

Three months ago Taylor gave Bradford City’s board a list of requirements which could see the club improve on the field. Taylor wanted a flatter pitch, a more professional attitude and new training facilities and while the ground is flat and the players are now wearing very nice suits the plan to move to Weetwood fell through. Three months of the dog poo uneven pitch of Apperley Bridge has perhaps shown that Taylor’s judgement was correct – City did need to sort out the training facilities if they were going to progress.

So perhaps three months down the line of working in a situation which he did not to – Taylor, it is believed, would not have joined City were his demands not met – perhaps the manager will turn to the board in any one of the rumoured “emergency summits” at the club and tell that that he cannot be held liable for failures that he has given the solution for, but that solution has not been put into practice.

What Taylor can be held responsible for is the way that the Bradford City team have been playing which after three months is grinding on the eye. If the first three months at the end of last season seemed like a long time it did – at least – end with decent run that avoided the worst finish for the club since 1966. The fact that this last three months has seen City amass only eight points from ten games with a won one, lost one cup record has caused the time to drag.

The season has seemed a very long time indeed. Taylor was brought into the club not to play pretty football or to be friendly with the players – indeed these were cited as negatives about the previous manager – but to get results.

When people talk about the attractiveness of the football then people speak out of place (although one might agree with them) because the winning side in the argument over Stuart McCall established an idea that “you can’t keep a manager because of sentiment”. That those people will not stand up for Taylor and tell people who go dewy eyed for watching a City team under McCall which tried to play football and did so with vigour and energy is (on the whole) a character flaw on their part but should not count against the manager who has a single remit: promotion; and until that remit it unachievable should carry on with the full backing of all.

You, or indeed I, might not like that idea but such is the non-sentimental view that was allowed to take hold at Valley Parade when some fans and some people in the boardroom decided that they wanted to oust Stuart McCall as manager. They won the day (if not the argument) and to them the spoils.

Three months ago saying these thoughts would have provoked the ire of the club. David Baldwin interceded on a Telegraph and Argus message board argument, The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled over the coals for suggesting that the Bantams would finish 8th in the table (one wonders how many in the Valley Parade boardroom would take Mike up on his offer if it could be made so right now) and should you believe the rumours City’s Football in the Community Officer and weekend wireless pundit Ian Ormondroyd was given a forty five minute grilling by his superiors because he was not enthusiastic enough on his radio commentary.

One can imagine Mark Lawn’s frustrations at Ormondroyd, Harrison et al and he is left looking foolish at his insistence that City followers be positive about the football which has seen City in the lowest position many, if not all, can recall and he might ask how was he to know that Taylor’s team would be performing so poorly three months into the season.

Indeed three months previously the appointment of Taylor was heralded by many (including me) as “outstanding.” Indeed were one to line up the runners and riders for the Bradford City job post-Stuart McCall then the pragmatic, experienced Taylor who had significantly achieved success and repeated that success. Would still be the best choice.

Lawn gave Taylor a three month contract and then – after that initial three months – a one year deal which represented promotion or bust for the manager and much has been talked about that in the situation that City currently find themselves in but perhaps it might be worth considering those first three months.

Taylor’s side did not excel at the end of last year and the football was seldom good to watch. The manager was abrasive then and had the same way with the media as he does now. After three months of working with Peter Taylor Mark Lawn decided that he was worth a one year contract.

Consider that for the moment.

Lawn had the longest trial period for a manager in Bradford City’s history on which to judge the replacement for a manager he spend half a season seething about and planning to replace. It was – perhaps – the most considered managerial change the club has ever had and ten league games later we are where we are and – it is said – that “the board” have given Taylor two games/a month to improve or face the sack.

Having had three months working with him, and a good few months thinking about who he would replace Stuart McCall with, sacking Peter Taylor would be the single greatest statement of failure Mark Lawn could make. It would make the most significant act of his joint chairmanship an utter failure, and absolute failure and one which would totally question any qualifications he has to make another similar decision in the future.

If after working with Taylor for three months Lawn offered him a contract (and that is the way it appears externally) and now wants to rip up that contract then how can he be trusted by the rest of the board to be involved in a similar recruitment process again? In three months time if Bradford City do have a new manager then one has to hope that someone else has made the appointment.

However in three months time things might have turned around totally.

Taylor is on the low ebb of a ten game bad run but bad runs are not uncommon in football and had he had won over eighty points and then in the last ten games limped over the line to promotion after eight points in the last ten games then few would suggest he should be sacked (although some, no doubt, would) which is in effect what happened to Keith Hill at Rochdale last season.

Hill’s wheels falling off the wagon at the end of last term was as unexpected as Taylor’s side suddenly getting two points a game or more for the rest of the season but if such a thing happened then both teams would have had losing runs – one at the start of the season and one at the end.

So should the club turn around then perhaps it should do it tonight in the Associate Members Trophy at Hartlepool United where Peter Taylor is expected to field a side which differs from the eleven who started on Saturday – one would struggle to dub that “the first team” – and could give any number of players chances to win back favour.

O’Brien and Threlfall may both hope to be fielded although word has it that Oliver Gill has been guaranteed a place as a part of his loan deal from Manchester United. The same could be true of Reece Brown at right back.

Michael Flynn looks set to play some part although Tommy Doherty – injured but on the bench on Saturday – is not expected to play. Chib Chilaka might hope to replace Luke Oliver in the forward line, one wonders if Oliver’s favours stretch to this competition.

On the whole though City’s problem is not one of personnel – there are very few that would agree with the assessment two sets of three months ago that Stuart McCall’s legacy was a group of poor players when players like Gareth Evans have gone from bulldog exciting to stolid woe under Taylor – but of attitude. Players like Louis Moult are in the running for a place although the Stoke striker is said to be counting the days until he can go home.

The entire squad is peopled with players who could perform better but are not doing. Three months ago I suggested that the mark of Taylor as a manager was in how much of a performance he got from Zesh Rehman. A player with pedigree he represented raw materials which I expected the manager to sculpt in a way that his predecessor could not. To smooth edges and motivate, to bring back to the path of progress and to get the best out of.

Rehman is benched for a Manchester United reserve despite two other right back injuries. Tonight he is the very type of player who might get a chance to show Taylor what he can do and in doing so preserve Taylor’s job and reputation.

Three months ago few would have thought that.

How Soon is Now?

Had Peter Taylor looked to the heavens during the Morecambe debacle, and he had ample reason to do so, he would have seen a flock of pigeons flying in perfect formation over the Bradford End. These birds of little brain easily outperformed their human counterparts a hundred feet below on the Valley Parade pitch.

Those who look for real grit and determination were rewarded when the ball flew into the Kop. Two kids were on the ball in an instant. Suddenly, fists were flying, as well as a cloud of popcorn, as the youngsters fought over the ball. It would be unkind to suggest that it turned physical when one of the boys realised that his protagonist was about to give the ball back to the players…

Just when you thought things could not get worse at Valley Parade? On the Kop we had a light hearted rendition of Yazz’s ‘The Only Way is Up’. By ten to five Bradford City were sitting one place off the bottom of the entire Football League. Suddenly, the dawning realisation is that the only way is not up… baby.

Peter Taylor received some fearful abuse. This was not the usual derision following a defeat. This was raw anger. We are staring into the abyss. Did I really hear Morrissey sing ‘all my hope is gone’ at halftime? The line is from the song is ‘How Soon is Now?’ That sentiment must be hanging over Valley Parade, hanging over the Lawn, Rhodes and Taylor households and hanging over many thousands of City supporters.

Where now? What now?

Changing a defence that had gained a valuable point at Rotherham was criminal. Dropping Luke O’Brien, City’s most heartening performer in the early part of the season, was illogical. Bringing two debutant, on loan, teenagers (yes Man United, blah blah blah) into the defence verged on the suicidal.

As the second half trundled along to its inevitable conclusion some fans sang sarcastically ‘Taylor for England’. A reference to reports that Taylor is (was?) being lined up for a coaching job under Fabio Capello. Quick as a flash another chant began ‘Taylor for Scotland’. People laughed, it was the most dangerous sound of the afternoon. You can lose football matches and recover, but lose credibility and you are finished.

What we lost on Saturday wasn’t just a football match. We lost our hope. A repeat of the infamous ‘We Want Football’ chant that defined John Docherty’s reign at Valley Parade is surely only a matter of time. Under Docherty City were once, even more infamously, booed onto the pitch. We haven’t hit that low point … yet.

When you say it’s gonna happen “now”/well, when exactly do you mean?/see I’ve already waited too long/and all my hope is gone.

The clip show

Don’t you just hate it when a sitcom resorts to doing a clips episode? A tedious plot which somehow requires the main characters to spend half an hour looking back on the funniest moments of the past, so the majority of the episode is just about re-living past highlights. It suggests laziness – or a lack of ideas – on the writers’ part. And it should be redundant in these days of DVD boxsets.

Well we at BfB are not lazy – or at least not being any more lazy than we usually are – and we’d like to think we’ve still got plenty of ideas; but with recent events feeling something like Groundhog Day, a step into the archives is an interesting way of placing some perspective on our current woes.

So here goes

Let’s begin in April 2009 and an article written by former BCST man and much-valued BfB contributor Richard Wardell. With Stuart McCall on the brink of leaving as a promotion bid collapsed, Richard argued against those calling for Dave Penny to be installed as manager by offering a vision of the future.

It was a warm Tuesday evening in late September 2009 and as the City supporters trudged away from Valley Parade, there was much talk about whether the appointment of Dave Penney in the summer had been the right move by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn following Stuart McCall’s exitNow that Penney and City had suffered their third consecutive home defeat, this time to league newcomers Burton Albion which left them in the bottom half of Division 4, many City supporters were questioning Penney’s appointment.

What’s so astonishing about these words is how close to the truth they are now, in September 2010. Replace Burton with Port Vale and Penny with Taylor, and the words pretty much describe the current reality. So far the decision to replace McCall has not worked out in the way some fans argued it would, and that has to register with people who are already beginning to tell the rest of us that Taylor’s removal is now the answer.

Taylor arrived last February to widespread acclaim. Everyone was pleased he was to become our manager this season, including a minority who are now slating Lawn and Rhodes for appointing him.

Let’s go to the Official Message Board – so often the platform for supporters’ views the club pays a lot of attention – to remind ourselves. A poll of who should be next manager saw Taylor come out on top with 53% of the votes, with the second highest votes coming for Martin Allen with 22%. 116  supporters voted, a decent representative of City fans. The day Taylor was confirmed to widespread joy, one fan commented, “I would love Taylor to bring [Tommy Doherty] into strengthen the midfield!”

The point of digging up such old comments and poll results is to highlight how everyone has a responsibility in the views they air. The changing of managers allows every one of us the chance to put ourselves in the position of the owners and decide who we’d like to see installed in the dugout. The fact the majority of fans clearly voted for Taylor in February – and voted he remained when a new contract was discussed last April – means we must take some responsibility for his appointment.

It’s therefore deeply wrong to so readily drop that support and pretend you never wanted him – and to blame Lawn and Rhodes for making a decision you had called for. And if supporters are going to ignore their old views or pretend they never aired them, how are there opinions now in anyway credible? Like Lawn and Rhodes, we need to be giving the manager support during this difficult time, because the majority of us appointed him believing he was the man for the job.

There’s also a big question mark about where calls for Taylor lead us. The club have only been prepared to back him for a short time, how long will the next guy get? Suddenly the club is not been run on the basis of a long-term plan, but on the form guide. It’s a highly unlikely-route to success that will only succeed in ensuring an increasingly regular vacancy is unattractive to sane managers.

Or as Michael excellently put last February:

For as long as BfB has been going I’ve been hoping that the correlation between often changing managers and a lack of success might be grasped by all at, and who watch from the stands at, Valley Parade. Alas it seems not to have been and the virtues of sticking with a manager – any manager – and allowing them to build a club and a dynasty rather than a single team are lost.

Taylor, with his training ground demands, perhaps represented one last chance to allow long-term thinking to work. An alternative strategy has yet to be aired – or perhaps even considered – by anyone.

An increasing criticism of Taylor in recent days has been his TV commitments. Over the last fortnight Taylor has appeared on the BBC, Sky and ESPN – usually offering punditry on the England national team. The complainers argue he does not have his mind on the City job and is failing to manage the players – he should after all have them in for 25 hours a day training. But if City were winning no one would bat an eyelid over his TV work.

So the question is does it make a difference? Let’s go back to Taylor’s track record for our next clip. To May 2005, when Hull were celebrating a second successive promotion. Or to May 2006, when Hull were celebrating staying up in the Championship. Taylor was the manager who oversaw this memorable chapter in the club’s history – but that wasn’t all he did. He was also England U21 manager.

That’s right, Taylor managed two football teams at the same time, and was hugely successful in the club one. Suddenly spending an evening in a Sky TV studio doesn’t quite seem so disgraceful, does it?

Let’s fast forward a little bit, back to McCall as manager. We all dreamed his appointment would lead to instant glory, but only three months into the job there was a crisis as City suffered eight winless matches and fell to fourth bottom of the Football League. Eventually results improved, and although the damage to City’s promotion bid was already done for that season at least, the turnaround in form was impressive. City finished 9th, thinking “if only” about that poor autumn run of form.

There are obvious similarities to the current poor run of form Taylor is trying to turn around. Let’s recall how bad it was in the autumn of 2007:

Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the…final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.

That was describing the infamous 3-0 defeat to Accrington, but it could equally have been an account of the recent 2-0 defeat to Southend. The point of looking back on this miserable time is that we know City were able to turn it around, just like they can this time. And unlike in 2007, if the turnaround can occur soon there will be much more of the season left to climb up the league. Back in 2007 the players looked hopeless and you couldn’t see us scoring