When pre-season became interesting

At some point after the middle of the 1990s pre-season became a thing of interest.

Perhaps it is the rise of Sky Sports and the need for constant football, perhaps it is the public’s thirst for the close season to end as quickly as possible, perhaps it is clubs trying to spin out two or three extra big money games in a season but whatever has caused it pre-season in modern football has become much more of a big deal.

Looking at the likes of Guiseley who had Bradford City on the pre-season fixture list until recently the games against league opposition offer a chance of a pay day in excess of most league matches. Kendal Town play Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic and walking around the Westmoorland town one would struggle to miss this fact – that and the fact that Chas Hodges is playing in town soon – which is a marked contrast to the games within the regular season which pass without note in that part of the Lake District.

Certainly City’s return to action against Eccleshill United was eagerly anticipated with a good number of Bantams fans looking at pre-season as a welcome return to normality.

Turn on the ubiquitous Sky Sports News today and you will see highlights from pre-season matches up and down the land. Last year when Newcastle United lost 6-1 in pre-season to Leyton Orient then Sky’s talking heads damned the Magpies to a season of struggle in The Championship. They won it.

So in tone and in the minds of supporters and on the balance sheet pre-season seems to be interesting in a way which it was not previously. Pre-season matches happened for sure and occasionally they would be seen in the newspaper (as is my recollection) and talked about in vague terms by very few who seemed to have a mystic view of the new players on the first day of the season.

Steve Gardner turned up as an unknown on the opening day of one year with the words “He looked good in pre-season” offered by a City sage who had seen such things. The sage was considered rare and some what obsessive – like people who go to more than one date on a band’s tour – while extrapolations about Gardner, as with Newcastle, turned out to inaccurate.

At City the change over from a pre-season which was the preserve of the dedicated and the players probably occurred around the time that Chris Kamara was manager and City played Newcastle United in which Peter Beardsley and Tino Asprilla weaved majestically and a high quality Middlesbrough side in a two day period and then went on (again, if I recall) to play Santos of Brazil in a game which saw the only – to date – overhead back heel volley goal.

Compared to that the reality of the season seemed something of a let down. The circus had come to town and then left us with some reality where Norwich and Swindon – not Newcastle and Santos – were the opposition.

Peter Taylor managed Southend at the start of that period and Gillingham around the middle but perhaps it is his experience a England u21 manager which shapes his thoughts on how preparation games should be treated. He talks about how the Bantams could have played some big teams at Valley Parade – Premier League Burnley played at VP last season – but for the newly laid pitch but it is clear that Taylor sees these matches as build up to Shrewsbury Town on the first day, no more or less significant than any other training session and certainly not wasting the fresh grass on for a few extra quid.

So City have no big name on the fixture list – Rochdale are the highest placed side we face – and a swathe of games against low opposition including North Ferriby United who City play at one on Saturday afternoon. Taylor talks about the games in terms of being build up, fitness getters, and while supporters can watch the manager does not see them as being spectacles. His threat to take his team home at half time at Eccleshill says all you need to know about how Taylor prioritises.

Not for him an evening watching Beardsley and Asprilla run rings around his players. Not for him bowing the knee to boys from Brazil.

So a City squad of around twenty-two will be split into two teams of eleven with the aim of fitness not performance. City are without Michael Flynn (Groin), Tommy Doherty (Calf), Luke Dean (Broken leg) and Jake Speight (Broken promises) but Tom Adeyemi will make his debut following his arrival on loan from Norwich City and have Matthew Tipton and Lee Morris looking to earn contracts.

The game kicks off early for those who fancy a trip to Grange Road but one doubts that anyone will be encouraged to slam in an overhead backheel.

Another season starts with expectations outstripping realism

The World Cup final is two days away as Bradford City start a season in which Peter Taylor is mandated to take his team to promotion.

Starting by taking on Eccleshill United at Plumpton Park City’s manager is has a contract which last until the end of the season with the expectation being that should the Bantams not be starting next year in League One then they will be starting it with a different gaffer.

It is hoped that Taylor has the raw materials in place – he has a new flat pitch, money for overnight stays but crucially not the next training facilities he wanted – and has augmented a squad which last season finished fourteenth in the division.

The hope for Taylor – and all – is that the additions of Jake Speight, Tommy Doherty and Shaun Duff can make a significant difference. Mark Lawn has called Doherty a player good enough to play in the Championship which he may be but he, as with the rest of the squad, line up as League Two players against no doubt another twenty three sides who have squads peopled with players of similar quality.

Everyone has their great hopes at this time of year, everyone has their own ideas of how they are going to be the team that gets promoted.

A view of League Two – a League that Taylor has taken teams up from – tells us that the teams which win promotion are those who have a season marked with resilience. Rochdale recovered from the 3-1 defeat we visited on them at Spotland last season but City did not from the 3-0 defeat at the same ground the season before. The Bantams tendency under Stuart McCall to be able to carry any defeat into the next game as a merciless hangover was a marked characteristic of this.

Mental and physical preparation are key – Taylor’s talk of training facilities is recalled – and as the City manager starts his one chance at this club with these players he does so without the things he asked for. A realistic view of that is that once again the manager is in a position of having to over-perform in order to perform as expected.

Tonight Taylor will play players for forty-five minutes each changing the eleven at half-time but retaining the 433 he is set to play in the season for both halves. Speight, Doherty, Duff and Lloyd Saxton are expected to make d├ębuts while Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall will make first appearances as City players proper.

Look out for Omar Daley – his last season ruined by injury this term he starts from a full pre-season – and for James Hanson to see if he and Gareth Evans can continue on the form they showed last term. Steve Williams has competition for his place from Zesh Rehman, Oliver and Duff and it will be interesting to look at the styles of those central defenders although all four are big lads able to clean out the backline.

Taylor has strikers Matthew Tipton and Lee Morris on trail. Morris was linked with City at various times in his younger years. The forward who made his name through his blistering pace is now thirty and has been released by Hereford United while Tipton has been released by Macclesfield the Welshman having had a career around the lower leagues.

The season starts tonight and ends in May 2011 which will be one hundred years since City won the club’s only major honour. Expectations are that we will have something to celebrate then.

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