Radio times

A Manchester United-supporting friend came along with me to the recent Northampton game. Having been to very few live football matches over his life and used to following his team via a Sky subscription, he joked after Bradford City had come close that he “keeps expecting to see a replay”. I chuckled back, “aye, and where are the commentators?”

Yet now that the club has reversed last season’s controversial decision to have no live radio coverage of home games, there are two sets of commentators broadcasting live from Valley Parade to the rest of West Yorkshire on matchdays. And with a strong desire to follow how the Wales v England game was progressing on Saturday, but not wanting to listen to Radio 5 Live commentary of it while watching City v Shrewsbury, I had a go at listening to BBC Radio Leeds while at the match.

Such practice of listening to the radio commentary of a game you’re watching live is not unheard of among football supporters, and a quick glance around me before kick off suggested there were plenty of other people tuning in to keep up to date with the big international. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable experience to have my regular view of a City game be accompanied by the voice of Derm Tanner – not least because it drowned out the usual moaners.

I’m used to Derm’s excellent commentaries of course, as when I can’t make a City away game I usually tune into his station’s coverage. Nevertheless there was something peculiar about seeing for myself the action he was describing. As David Syers charged forwards down the right wing, Derm was telling me and thousands of others that Syers was on the attack. We’re all used to commentators from watching football on TV, but in a live environment it took some getting used too as the chanting from the Bradford End could be heard to my left and through my earphones.

Most enjoyable of all though was getting to hear the views of City legend John Hendrie, who co-commentates with Derm for home games and the occasional local away game. I’d never heard him in this capacity myself, and his considered views added some depth to my following of the match.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was his less than positive views on his former team mate and current City manager, Peter Jackson. Speaking just as the match was about to start, Hendrie declared that he thought City “could do better for a manager than Jackson.” When midway through the first half Jackson got into a heated argument with the 4th official that saw him creep onto the pitch, a disapproving Hendrie groaned “what does Jackson think he’s doing acting like that?”

Hendrie was especially unimpressed with Jackson’s team selection and, at full time, suggested it had contributed to the defeat. “So you think Jackson picked the wrong team?” asked Derm. “Well I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the one he has.”

His points – that Scott Dobie should be given an opportunity up front and that Syers is wasted in a right back position – were difficult to argue against. It is easy to criticise from the stands or the comfort of the press box of course; but with Hendrie’s vast experience playing and a short stint managing Barnsley,  his views carried some weight and were interesting to hear. It was certainly more insightful than the bloke who sits near me, who spent the whole 90 minutes alternating his target for abuse between Jake Speight, Gareth Evans, Luke O’Brien and Michael Flynn.

Ultimately it was a novel experience, listening to live radio coverage of a typical afternoon at Valley Parade. As supporters many of us rely on local radio to follow the Bantams when they’re on the road, but the furore over the home commentaries last season suggests they’re plenty of people in the region who follow the Bantams via the radio when they’re playing at Valley Parade too, rather than go to the game.

With some doubt over the future of local radio and its football coverage in particular, the service Radio Leeds provides is something we should be grateful to have.

I’ll be earphone-less as normal in future, trying to ignore the moaners and getting behind the team. But I’d certainly be more willing to get plugged in again on occasions; enjoying the game in the company of professionals who have insightful opinions to offer and who are genuinely on our side.

Now all Derm needs to do is sort out those action replays.

Dealing with the modern rumour

A lie can be around the world before the truth has got out of bed – Paraphrasing Mark Twain (et al)

The rumours of a fall out between Julian Rhodes, Mark Lawn and Peter Taylor were scotched as quickly as they could be by Bradford City with Monday’s T&A having both sides dismissing the idea that Taylor had told Lawn to “pay him off and he would go away” and focusing on the season ahead but as the wheels of truth – and we assume that the club’s position on things is the accurate one although it must be said it has not always been in the past – ground into action the flight of fiction had already lit the sky.

The rumour quickly started to gain the appearance of fact in the hours after a 2-0 defeat to Port Vale and the long Sunday that followed. Even when presented with a disclaimer – “this might be rubbish but…” – the rumour became a source of debate. If Taylor was going who would replace him? What would be the effects of him going? The ramifications of Lawn falling out with a second manager in twelve months. Even without attesting to the validity of the rumour the debates that started from the assumption that it was true were in motion all before the club could make Monday’s statement.

In a sense the damage had already been done. The fiction might as well have been fact and when the truth came out it did so too late to wind back the thought processes of a weekend. Taylor had enjoyed the support of the full support (more or less) and now he does not and the rumour played a part in exposing that regardless of its truth. One might think that people are mad for saying that this manager should be replaced after six months but if the last two years at Valley Parade tell us anything then it is that eventually the manager’s critics will overwhelm him, and they will get their way.

Even if the rumour is not true it has started the end of Peter Taylor’s management career at Bradford City. It is just a matter of time now as to how long it is before the critics who proudly outed themselves this weekend get their way. The rumour has damaged Bradford City.

However Bradford City are not unique and like most public facing businesses in many industries they struggle to cope with the impact that new media and especially the contributory world wide web has had on their customer relationships. Be it selling football, selling widgets or selling salvation one can find someone on the web who will speak against you. Amazon has the highest customer satisfaction scores in the history of measuring these things but at 93% USA and 83% UK the company still have at least one in twenty people who are not happy. It is impossible to please all the people all of the time.

Nevertheless companies who invest much less in customer satisfaction as Amazon do will try and when they do they encounter problems. The rumour circulated for days without comment from Bradford City – and on an Official Message Board which the club police and thus take notice of – while previously statements had been issued in real time to dispute and challenge opinions. On the Telegraph and Argus website Bradford City board member Roger Owen was vocal in his defence of the club to one respondent inviting him to come down to the club for a conversation within an hour of a negative comment being made and the bizarreness of that approach was illustrated in this weekend of the rumour. For 48 hours the rumour went unaddressed by the same people who will invite you in for a talk an hour after you say something they do not care for and – rightly or wrongly – that lack of rebuttal added to the idea of validity.

The lack of a coherent media strategy is obvious but perhaps more difficult is coming up with a comprehensive and consistent way for this club – and any club – to deal with the discussions of supporters. Do Bradford City talk about Jake Speight from an ethical point of view? Do Manchester United address the reports of Wayne Rooney’s private life? Mike Harrison of the City Gent was talked about in high places for his comments but is there a need at all for clubs to respond to comments made by fans in anyway? To counter balance that if the club does not respond to anything which supporters say are they detached and aloof from the very people they should be engaging with most.

That City messed up when Owen engaged once instantly but waiting this time is not the result of a significant failing at the club just that the practice they are engaged in is massively difficult. How does one sit at the centre of comment and respond even handedly without appearing disconnected?

Ultimately City – like many businesses and public profiled people – struggle to balance the need to control misinformation with the dangers of appearing to validate some comments by not denying them.

Would Taylor go into the three lions den?

There is a level of speculation in the summer months of closed season which borders on the curious and the report that Peter Taylor is being touted as potentially a possible addition to the England coaching line up is perhaps as odd as it has got for Bradford City and the football rumour columns for sometime.

Taylor – who managed the national side in Italy – is said to be Italian Fabio Capello’s choice of an English man to add to his coaching set up nestled somewhere between Stuart Pearce and Franco Baldini on the increasingly lengthy technical areas which International sides have.

The report will probably – in time – be filed amongst the things that did not happen as most of these things are although it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the possibility of the Bradford City boss combining his duties at Valley Parade with those at England. Perhaps he would miss the odd match leaving Wayne Jacobs in charge of the Bantams but running both jobs at once would seem feasible.

Taylor was England u21 manager and Hull City boss at the same time and Kevin Keegan managed both Fulham and England at one point. It is hard to imagine many conflicts of interest. Should Wayne Rooney be moaning to some rag like tabloid that he does not think it is fair that he be dropped just because the coach knows new England striker James Hanson from working together at VP then perhaps a problem will have emerged. Failing that aside from divided attention there are few minuses and – as the England coaches probably have an in with a good few players – considerable pluses.

From City’s point of view should a request come for Taylor and a chance be there to work out some sharing agreement then why not. It would also give the Bantams a chance to give Jacobs a bit of on the job manager’s training, something few number twos ever get.

From England’s point of view though appointing Peter Taylor would – from a public relations point of view – be something of a nightmare.

One can almost read the articles now. “What can you say about the FA that – when faced with the post-South Africa malaise of the game – responds by bringing the manager of that well know success story Bradford City into the set up?” The criticism writes itself. “Taylor – an exciting prospect in FA coaching ten years ago – is a step backwards for the national game.”

It might not be true, but since when have the newspaper ever let the truth stand in the way of a viciously judgemental op-ed?

“What can you say about the FA when their idea of discipline is to employ the man who twice gave a job to footballer turned murder Gavin Grant?” These are the lions that devour the English game and while Taylor is a man of some confidence and standing Bradford City could probably do without its chosen one being mauled for the sake of sating the public’s appetite to read attacks on any and everything connected to the national side?

If Taylor is the outstanding man – the man who can make a difference between the choking of South Africa and the glory of qualification – then what a wonderful thing it would be to share him between our nation and our club.

Unless he does make that seismic difference though the men at Wembley would do him – and us – a better service by give Taylor a wide berth.

The Prediction Plague

Much of the maladies of the modern media can be put down to a move from reporting events as news to doing it as preview and prediction.

This is true in all spheres of life – I didn’t vote for Dave or Nick but I’m at least prepared until they do something I don’t care for before getting annoyed at them – and especially true in football that talking about a thing that may happen is given the same breath as talking about something that has.

So as we stand on the eve of the kick off if the 2010 World Cup there is barely an element of the next four weeks that is not speculated on.

The performance of various teams for sure is a subject as is the behaviour of Referees, the organisation of matches, the quality of football, the flight of the ball and the after effect on the host country.

Some interesting, others not, but surely not a problem. Prediction, aside from in gambling, never caused much of a problem.

It seems that prediction, which was once the province of the pundit, is the stock in trade of the watercooler and everyone is fulsome in their opinion.

Where once a confident Cloughie would talk of events to come as if he were recalling the past now everyone relates the future as if it were past events. From Rodney Marsh and his damnation of City in the Premiership to that bloke Roger who wants to tell you England will be knocked out in the quarter finals and that you can’t look past Germany everyone seems to want to tell you what will happen, rather than telling you what they thought about what has.

As an example consider Joe Colbeck the ginger haired right winger who divided opinions for City for a few years. Those who had decided that Joe would never make it as a professional football heaped abuse on him in games. Science has a law about it – the act of observation changes the result – but in common parlance they tried to nobble him.

Which is to hit on the problem with prediction in that the predictor too often attempts to ensure that what they have said comes to pass, or at least seems to.

So football writers who dismiss Emile Heskey devote column inches since his selection to talk about what a bad decision it was rather than waiting for the outcome of that selection and reporting.

In that reporting too one can often – when reading the back pages or the front – wonder if an even hand is given or if the agenda supported is to ensure the prediction appears to be right unless proved manifestly wrong.

One has to wonder what the point of prediction that England will lose in the quarters are or that Spain will win the World Cup. These things will be evidenced in short order.

There is a chap – nice chap – who sits in front of me at Valley Parade who confidently declares “Its in” whenever the opposition put a cross into City’s box. Should the ball be converted he will nod and grimly state “Told you” but should – as most often occurs – the ball be cleared he will not confirm his mistake nor acknowledge it. It is harmless enough but also pointless enough the only real analysis being that sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it does not.

Pick any of the teams kicking off in South Africa this week and one could say the same. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t but being wise after the fact if a prediction is correct – particularly a negative prediction that something will not happen rather than something will – is hardly impressive.

I could predict that Spain will not win the World Cup but considering how infrequent wins are and the fact 31 other teams are trying to it is probable that they will not. I could predict that Peter Taylor will leave Bradford City without the club having been promoted and considering that of the club’s near 100 seasons of play only eight of them have resulted in elevation I’d be favoured by probability that I would be correct.

Predicting negatively – saying what will not happen – has never impressed me and I predict it never will.

If predicting what will not is easy then saying what will is guess work and one easily becomes the guy warning if crosses coming into the box. Often one is proved right in the fullness of time but only because eventually all things happen. My brother is keen to point out that for the one time he was wring about Southampton being relegated from the top flight he had been accurate in saying they would not many times previously.

Me, I prefer to wait and see for England, for the other nations and for City. Reporting on what has happened is analysis, saying what will is guess work.

It is astrology vs astronomy. I could tell you, fear reader, that I see a last four if England, The Dutch, Brazil and Ivory Coast and that with gun to my head I’d say Holland but I’d much rather talk about why those guesses are proved wrong – should they be – than take credit for sooth saying if they are right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Silence

Maybe I shouldn’t care, but I do. After all, I never listen to the radio commentaries for home games, because I’m almost always there. The one time I wasn’t there last season, I was too ill to listen to anyone. I get to quite a fair number of away games too, although sometimes you wonder why you bothered. And, since I don’t even live within the area where the main radio commentaries can be heard, the only option I have is the internet, which will still be there. So why should I be bothered?

Well, two reasons. The first is a young friend of mine. He comes with his dad to as many home games as he can, but misses some because he’s at a residential school in Worcester. It’s a very special school for a very special group of youngsters. They’re all blind or partially sighted. My young friend has no sight at all and, sitting in the Midland Road, relies on the radio commentary to add to his other sensory perceptions. Without a commentary his enjoyment is lost and neither he nor his dad, who’s effectively his carer, will come to games.

So there you have my very personal reason for urging those who can address this issue to do so. I’m guessing City has more than one blind fan and the club tell me that they used to provide a commentary service using some ‘very expensive equipment’ which was lost, stolen or broken. On Saturday my young friend and his dad have been given the chance to sit behind whoever is doing the commentary for the internet. It may work; it may not. We shall see. But it took some organising and the original response from the club was not helpful. And therein lies my second reason for being bothered.

When my young friend and his mum went down to Valley Parade to hand in a letter and asked to speak to one or two people, they were told that they were busy, because there was a match on Saturday. A match on Saturday? Well, who would have expected that at a football club? Once mum had made a call to the press, the same people were not too busy to talk to the media about the issue and then to mum herself. Of course, this is an issue where the very subject matter reduces the extent to which the regular media can be involved, but it doesn’t prevent some of us from putting in our two pennyworth.

I gather that on Saturday, while I was finding a parking space in the vicinity of Meadow Lane, both of the local radio stations interviewed senior people at Bradford City. Both interviewees seem to have said that all this is about how much the radio people should pay for the privilege of live commentary. It seems the club thinks that £430 per game is the right figure, although I’m not sure if that means £430 each or shared between them. (I think it’s the former.) The Director of Operations says that the club will not ‘give away’ this right. They didn’t ‘give away’ the right last year or the year before or in the many years before then. What he means is that they think they’ve underpriced it. (I do not use the word ‘undervalued’ for reasons that will become clear in a moment.)

Well, if they have underpriced it, so have a lot of other clubs. I believe that the sum City want is about double the going rate in League Two, although the Director of Operations may well be able to prove otherwise. If he can, I shall agree with him that the price is now right. And our local stations seem to have negotiated a suitable price for live commentary at a club just to the west, who play in a league above us, and for live commentary at opponents’ grounds.

And when he was asked about those who, for reasons of infirmity, can’t get down to Valley Parade, the Director of Operations seemed to suggest that consideration would be given to the club’s paying for their subscriptions to the internet service that will be their only hope of receiving live commentary for home games. It would be best not to think about whether they already have the necessary computer equipment, expertise and financial means to have broadband access, just in case this awkward question might reveal how little thought had really been given to their difficulties.

But it’s that word ‘consideration’ that forms the second reason for my being bothered about all this. It seems the whole argument is about money; the difference between the £430 per game the club says is an offer still on the table and whatever the radio people paid last year. (It could be that £430 represents an increase of as much as 66% on previous years, if I remember accurately and believe a snippet of a conversation I overheard some months ago.) The possibility of bringing in a small amount of extra revenue, as against the risk of losing all the revenue the commentaries used to bring in, seems to have taken priority over the enjoyment of fans, young and old, who rely on radio commentaries. And at the moment the revenue from radio commentaries will be precisely how much? Good business deal there, then.

Professional football, at least from the date of the formation of the Premier League, is first and foremost a business. Like any other business, it relies on its customers for its income. Unlike most other businesses, its main customers are called ‘fans’, at least in the lower leagues, where the ticket income is a significantly higher proportion of the club’s revenue than it is in the TV sponsored world of the Premier League. That sounds a little like a captive audience, like a group that can often be taken for granted. I should know. I’m one of those who can be taken for granted by Bradford City. But those currently responsible for running the club should know that it is not they who can take me for granted, but the team. And there are thousands of others they take for granted only at their peril. Radio commentary is not something to be bought and sold like a second hand car. It serves more purposes than some might have perceived and it produces more, intangible and unquantifiable benefits than might be immediately obvious to the bean counters.

In his play ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ (a very different type of ‘fan’), Oscar Wilde gave one of his characters the chance to say that a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Cynicism is no way to run a business. Still less is it a way to run a business that relies on fans. A rethink is not too late. It might yet bring in some income and at the same time show a willingness to think about the fans.

Wouldn’t that be quite an achievement?

England is mine, excitement my riposte

As far as England wins go the 4-1 duffing of Croatia was one of the more satisfying and Fabio Capello’s telling comment after – “This is the start” – suggested a dawning of kinds for England.

Of course we are constantly told – and will be told again – that England is the country of footballing false dawns and that while a win for the three lions last night is appreciated it is really just a tease – a set up – for failure to come.

Which in a way is true because having an exclusive set of winners numbering less than 1/25th of the entrants the likelihood of anyone starting on the road to winning the World Cup actually winning the thing is slight. As well as England play there is always the propensity that we may come up against another top class side who are on top of their game and not progress. I think they call this quarter-final heartbreak in the print media.

The print media now clouds talking about the England national side to such an extent that results are now less important than good publicity. The printed media in the country long stepped over a line that their remit dictates that they should report the news but not get involved in it and now they procrastinate at how 4-1 takes the pressure off Capello as if it were not pressure they were applying.

They cloud everything about the England team losing sight of the heart of the game – the quickening of the pulse when Walcott fired across the Croat goalkeeper, the fury of seeing Joe Cole poleaxed – and muddy the reason any of us would be interested in the first place.

The last time England lost in Zagreb I had been invited to select my eleven for the game and did so using Scott Parker and Gareth Barry as a midfield. I was told by someone who dreamed of putting Rooney in that mythical “hole” which I have yet to see on a football field that should I pick that side I would be slaughtered by the press. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’d win matches.”

So used are England supporters of looking at the team through the prism of its coverage – or in the case of games being hidden away on pay-per-view channels the lack of coverage – that we have on the whole forgotten the raison d’être of the game. The excitement is the thing. Always has been, always will be.

The notions that success and failure can only be judged on winning a World Cup or a European Championship is something that needs to be addressed. We should reject the notion that we are too stupid to understand if a team is or has not playing well unless we can see its name on a list of tournament winners and reject those who pedal it.

More so than that though we should counter such arguments with a remembrance if the thrill of Theo Walcott lashing diagonally past the keeper after being set up by Rooney, of Michael Owen charging at the Argentina goal after a Beckham pass, of Bobby Moore stepping in to take the ball from the greatest player to ever pull on a shirt and kick a ball.

England is mine and I’m not ready to give up that excitement.

Andorra could beat England – The secret they do not want you to know

England will beat Andorra on Wednesday night, but there is the possibility that the tiny team could sneak a 1-0.

There was a chance – one supposes – that Bon Accord faced up against Arbroath on September 12, 1885 they thought they had a chance of a win. They were beaten, and some, so from that point on it was decided that seeding competitions was probably a good idea. Relying on the assumption that the seedings are calculated reasonably accurately, any match of any two teams in any competition, there exists the real possibility that team A can beat team B and vice versa.

Regular top ten ranked England and Andorra – 182nd – as one of the more one sided games in any competition, but in the weekend that the FA Cup’s qualification started when the first or third rounds are played, we will hear that two teams separated by not more than a couple of dozen places in the pyramid are to play out a foregone conclusion.

It will be – we are told – unthinkable that a team from League One could beat a Premiership team because football is not that competitive.

Likewise when Liverpool faced up to Standard Liege it was “embarrassing” that they only won 1-0 AET.

This was not Bon Accord or Andorra but rather two teams that had qualified as the cream of Europe. Nevertheless there is something afoot that is there to tell us that is a superior group of teams that are to be considered unbeatable.

On Saturday Newcastle United would have gone top of the Premier League should they – and I quote BBC – “Upset Arsenal.” Upset was previously a word used for non-league clubs knocking out sides from the top two divisions.

Two teams in the same league should not – and cannot – “upset” each other. Teams play matches – much as City did and lost on Saturday and Tuesday – and from that a winner can emerge. Unless the competition is woefully unbalanced then either can win without employing the terminology that one would use to describe Bon Accord doing over Arbroath or Andorra beating England.

Nevertheless as one of the (in)famed top four, Arsenal are judged as only to lose games as a shock result and while perhaps a case could be made for this in the Premier League – more of which later – it cannot be the case in leagues in which the top clubs are promoted at the end of each season.

Yet this coverage of football, where results of games amongst the same or similar divisions are seen as preordained by the press and then the public, has taken a grip to such an extent that losing to a team below/a team that has spent less money than you/a team that is less famous than you/a team that has recently been promoted (delete where applicable), is considered to be an upset for them and a disgrace for you.

Take City’s 2-0 defeat to Southend in the first home game of 2005/2006. Southend went on to win the title that season and City only flirted with play-off places, yet on that night it was considered a massive upset and one which Colin Todd was to be held accountable for. In actual fact it was a game – pure and simple – which was contested and won. The resultant blow to City’s morale – on and off the field – shaped the season in a rather ugly way. We believed we had been humiliated and reacted thus, yet in eight months time Southend were promoted and the result put in the context of playing the best, statistically, in the division.

Without the negativity of that August night the Bantams might have mounted a promotion campaign (Go with me on this one, dear reader, for the factors around it matter less than the understanding that it was possible in theory) and should we have played Southend on the last game of the season it could have been a top of the table clash.

Nevertheless, the belief was that City had been beaten by someone poor and thus were poorer. That City had been shocked and thus were shocking. That City were upset.

Back to the Premier League which this week is in uproar over the signing of Kevin Reeves Robinho. The indication being that Manchester City will now create a “top five” by spending flipping great wodges of cash on players who cannot get into the Chelsea and Real Madrid starting line-ups, has been common in the media and on the streets.

“The week that turned the Premier League on its head” one tabloid – adding the Kevin Keegan curio and the fact Alan Curbishley has left West Ham after the best start to a season in a decade to the pot – blazed and one could be mistaken for paying no interest to the Premier League on the understanding that it is, in fact, all decided by who has spent well in August. Read enough red tops, listen to Mark Lawrenson enough, and you would think that the table in May is sorted out now.

However Newcastle, before the fall out, drew at Old Trafford. Chelsea drew at Spurs. Liverpool drew at Aston Villa. All three viewed as shock results. It takes a special kind of mentality to see a shock or two every weekend and still consider it a “shock”. Whatever the agenda is behind the idea that there is an unimpeachable set of clubs who should win every week, the effect lower down the leagues is that a club like Bradford City who have set sights on promotion are expected to do it flawlessly. One is expected not to perform like a Manchester United, but rather like the projection of what Manchester United achieve which – oddly – not even Manchester United can do.

We have a situation of impossibly high targets and unachievable goals. No club can ever be as good as they are expected to be and no manager can ever do as well as is expected of him. Kevin Keegan – probably exiting stage left at St James’ – is the only man the fan’s there will tolerate because they will forgive him perceived failures in competition and the non-domination of football leagues and matches. We know this because our fans feel the same about Stuart McCall.

Fabio Capello’s England side will no doubt beat Andorra but a win in Croatia – a high task – is what is expected and anything less will be considered failure because Capello’s job is to win in every game and that is understandable, if not realistic, but open your mind to the thought that Andorra could win.

Not that they will, but they could.

Open your mind to that thought – look around at the times when the less fancied of two teams wins such as Chester’s 5-0 mauling of Barnet last weekend or Doncaster winning promotion last season – and you will see that football is not the haruspical and predictable procession that some would have you believe it is.

Square pegs, round holes

So yet another England international passes us by and we hear journalists and pundits asking that old chestnut of a question: “Why are we playing with a naturally right footed player on the left side of midfield?” Steven Gerrard occupied the left sided position this time to accommodate Frank Lampard in a central midfield position with Gareth Barry along side Lampard with David Beckham on the right hand side. Previously Steve McClaren had been slated by the press for England not qualifying for Euro 2008 but what about Capello and his tactical decisions and team formations?

From what I witnessed last night on the ITV highlights show, Capello picked a starting 11 very similar to what McClaren would have chosen if he was still England manager. So then we hear Tony Adams and Andy Townsend mulling over England’s starting midfield players with square pegs and round holes muttered.

I believe that as long as the England manager picks the supposedly best 11 individuals rather than the player who is best for a certain position we will win nothing.

It’s been discussed plenty of times before and I’m sure that it will do so again in the future. Why do England managers have to accommodate both Gerrard and Lampard in midfield? Whilst they are both quality players we have seen over several years now that they can’t play in the same midfield. Why not pick Stewart Downing as the left sided midfield player? Is it because he plays his club football for Middlesbrough who are perceived as a smaller club in the Premiership?

Anyway, whilst I’m bothered about how England perform I’m more bothered how Bradford City are performing. Which got me thinking; has Stuart McCall got a similar dilemma to Mr Capello?

In Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley we have two good right sided midfield players so how does Stuart accommodate them both in the starting 11? Answer: he is currently operating with one of them on the left side of midfield. Is this a good thing? Only time will tell. What about Kyle Nix? Personally, I believe that we look like a more balanced team when Nix operates on the left with either Colbeck or Daley on the right. Similar occurrences can happen in defence when you get a team playing a left footed player at right back or vice versa.

This isn’t a new problem that has faced football managers and it will always occur. Supporters often talk about successful teams having balance and partnerships. For me, City have looked a better team when we’ve had a balanced midfield with the likes of Paul Showler, Mark Stuart or Peter Beagrie playing on the left side of midfield. As for this season, we will just have to wait and see who McCall picks as his left sided midfielder.

Usain Bolt, Omar Daley, Fabio Capello and Bradford City

I do not really know who Shawn Crawford is and I’ve never heard of Walter Dix. I confess too with a shameful lack of patriotism that I’d not really heard of Christian Malcolm until yesterday. I know who Usain Bolt is.

Usain Bolt – the man who makes Omar Daley look sluggish – won the 200m in Beijing with the sort of performance which would make his competitors wonder if they were engaged in the same race as him. His eight foot stride bounded him past and away from the seven other athletes who could just watch him win.

Such clarity of victory, such obvious excellence, is rare.

Bolt’s win caused celebrations in the streets of Kingston not seen since the national football side scored at the World Cup in 1998. One can bet too that Omar Daley was on his feet and he probably wondered by Bolt’s now famous languid arms out celebration is not dubbed “lazy”. One hopes Daley can feel motivated by his country man’s success and certainly it will be interesting to see which of Saturday’s goalscorers pay tribute to the World’s fastest man in celebration.

However, unlike Bolt, Daley is not the master of his own destiny. Football – in its beauty – tests all skills, not one and while if he could finish a bowl of Corn Flakes I’m sure someone would – and will – give Bolt a go as a striker it is a combination of skills including sprinting that is required to excel and that combination must be used alongside others doing the same.

Not that one could say that about Fabio Capello’s England side as they achieved the not easy task of being utterly thrashed 2-2.

Capello’s continuation of the policy of forcing the most talented midfield player we have – Steven Gerrard – to drift away from position to accommodate Frank Lampard Jnr has seen him fall foul of that oldest of accusations for the man in his chair. That the national side are less than the sum of their parts.

Coverage of the England national team has overtaken the results as a barometer of performance and the doublethink required to say that the Czechs are a great team of players – such as Petr Cech – who light up the Premier League while simultaneously holding that England should easily beat them is astounding.

One would think that the dominance of an Usain Bolt was common in sport – certainly England are expected to show it – rather than scarce and that when faced with Bolt’s powerful performance all the other competitors simply have to decide to run quicker to beat him. “Get a move on Malcolm,” the shout would go, “Get your arse into gear and run. Lazy Malcolm!”

Athletics, Football and to be honest most other things are multi-polar and when Usain Bolt runs as well as Usain Bolt can, then how do you catch him? When Brazil are on top of their game, how do you win the World Cup? There is the long held belief that should England “get it right” then 1966 Mark II will follow but what if we come up against the Usain Bolt of football in a quarter final game? No matter how “right” we get things – and Capello will know that it must be more right than last night – we are always subject to someone else getting it “righter”.

Bradford City are held to a similar yard stick to Capello’s charges – they are expected to win regardless of the opposition’s quality – but are seen by some – including Rochdale boss Keith Hill – as the Usain Bolt of League Two able to stretch long legs and stride away from the rest of the clubs should the application of our abilities be correct.

Are City the real deal?

The papers were full of it, “OK 4-0, but don’t think this makes you any good”.

It seems that the boys of the press are sticking by the mid-table, 10th, bottom half, probably not go down predictions that they had tagged City with despite the thumping of Barnsley on the first day. No surprises there. The paper don’t need a memory, if they had one they might ask why the man who they said would not be at the club at Christmas if things were going bad scored an overhead kick for us in division one.

But the question remains. Are City the real deal or is this just opening day delight before the averageness that awaits?

Personally I thought City looked a class above Barnsley and I did not think Barnsley looked that bad. The discipline that saw Gareth Whalley on the goal line to clear Kevin Gallen’s shot just after Ashley Ward had scored his first penalty was the best example of what City have got and the other sides have not. Barnsley attacked pretty well, but defensively they and a lot of other teams in the division are a shambles.

David Wetherall, Robert Molenaar and on his day Andy Myers are good enough to get into any back four in this league but there is more to it than that. City are post-war London. The blitz has gone but the spirit is still there. The oneness that repelled some very good teams for the past two years is a sponge for the Nationwide league’s better forwards.

Whoever the members of the back four are, now that the cursed Ian Nolan has gone, will not matter because the motto and the mindset will be the same. For all the headlines of Benito Carbone’s overheads or Ash Ward’s Man of the Match display, its at the back that City separated themselves from Barnsley.

So if you are going to stay strong at the back and your forwards are likely to create you something, and lets face it Carbone, Ward, Blake, Jess et al are all creative Peter Beardsleys before they are deadly Gary Linekers.

The next 45 games are going to tell us if City are the real deal or not, but yesterday should have seen the guys at the papers reassessing the Bantams. They have us pegged as a Watford, bounced out of the Premiership with tails between our legs, but we had confidence build up by the solid back end to the season (Leeds excepted). It will take winning until March before they sit up and take notice of us on Fleet Street.

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