Drone / On

The 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers at Valley Parade followed on from the previous three one goal each affairs against Gillingham, Millwall and Oldham Athletic as Stuart McCall’s team continue to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

Delight in that McCall has in a short space of time managed to create a team which mirrors much of what was wonderful about watching the manager play his own game. One could argue that City have become – in seven or eight of the players – a team of defensive midfielders so calm in possession, so unhurried in their play, and so pleasing on the eye.

But frustrating that the defensive midfielder is not the creator and the team lacks creation. With James Hanson restored to the starting line-up Romain Vincelot opted to break the pattern of short passes between players who were alive to possession and hit the big man from afar with a well floated diagonal pass.

Le Rory, or Rory Le Cardle. The more things change, one is forced to think, the more they stay the same.

Last season’s Bradford City seemed to get exactly what they deserved from every game. If they were poor or off the pace they were beaten. If they were together and strong they got a point or sometimes more. This season’s vintage the opposite seems true in that every week one is left with the feeling that City were due more but that some Olympian conspiracy had denied them what was rightfully theirs.

This is a trick of the eye though and of the brain. If The Parkinson Years – which will be cemented as The Parkinson Rivalry with next week’s trip to Bolton – taught us anything it was to focus on results as being the purpose of a way of playing. Attractive football that does not succeed is ultimately not attractive football.

Because frustration is not attractive. Mark Marshall’s contributions today include a lashed shot in a crowded which bounced up in the defence and was headed in by James Meredith to make the game 1-0. His replacement after seventy-five minutes Filipe Morais’ contribution was a poorly selected pass to a closed down Haris Vuckic that saw Bristol Rovers break away and score.

Both seemed to be to be the result of this frustration. The City forward play too up much of the game but again one struggled to recall a lot of spurned chanced. Consequentialism suggests that what Marshall did was good – it resulted in a goal for us – and what Morais did was bad – it resulted in a goal for them – and one wonders if McCall is happy with his team playing on such a knife edge.

The knife edge was deep into injury time when Vuckic headed towards goal from a few yards out and Rovers keeper Kelle Roos saved well. Had Vuckic’s effort fell a foot behind the line then the lingering worries that this team does not create enough may have receded.

As it is those doubts still hover.

Hover

Sixty-five minutes into the game a drone hovered over Valley Parade.

It was an amusing story in the morning that the Referee took the players from the field and the game was delayed.

But what it was not was the reason to start a conspiracy theory but start one it did. The Occumist view applies here. There may be concerns about television rights, or about other teams scouting, or about using the drone as a method of attack but – probably – the Referee’s biggest worry was that it might drop on someone’s head.

Perhaps his own.

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.

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.

James Hanson’s exit to Millwall highlights the benefit of managerial stability

At time of writing Millwall seem to want James Hanson more than James Hanson wants Millwall but rumours in football has a habit of becoming true in football and while it is an unwelcome thought for many, if not most, that City’s modern day icon might end up playing for another club it is a thought that is increasingly crystallised in the mind.

For the sake of argument, and for this article, let us assume that Hanson is heading South and ask ourselves why Bradford City would be in a situation where a popular player is being allowed to join a rival club for a not substantial sum of money,

It is said that Hanson will cost Millwall £500,000 some of which will go to Guiseley as a sell on payment leaving the Bantams with, well, not that much. I’ve said before that I believe Bradford City’s board allow themselves to do bad deals and shall not labour the point.

Suffice to say that Hanson is not going to Millwall because a deal that was too good to turn down came on, nor is he going because he needs to change clubs, nor after the successes of last season could anyone say with a straight face that the club needed the money.

Why Millwall want Hanson

It is not that hard to see what would attract Millwall manager Neil Harris – himself a burly centre forward – to Hanson. Over two games in the FA Cup last season the City striker bullied the Lions until the were kittens.

One could almost say that it was the pinnacle of Hanson at City if it were not for Aston Villa and his leaving of Ron Vlaar in his dust which reminds us – and perhaps suggests to Harris – that Hanson is not the one dimensional player that some have accused him off. Indeed one recalls Keith Hill saying of City’s patterns of play after the Bantams best Rochdale 2-0 at Spotland that had he had James Hanson in his team then he would play like City do too.

Such talk underestimates Hanson in my opinion – and seemingly in Harris’ too – and I would point to his rangy finish against Burton Albion amongst his many successes with ball at feet but I, Hill, Phil Parkinson and probably Neil Harris at Millwall know that having Hanson in your team urges you to play in a certain way.

Seemingly Harris wants Millwall to play like that in League One next season and Phil Parkinson does not want Bradford City to.

Why Phil Parkinson does not

2014/2015 is remembered as a vintage year for Bradford City – Chelsea and all that – but a quick reality check recalls a season in which Phil Parkinson tried and failed to change the club’s style of play which saw a low at half time against Halifax Town in which it seemed unlikely that the Bantams boss would remain the Bantams boss.

Parkinson hit the reset button on his City side which struggled to try play with a playmaker rather than with supply from the flanks and were in danger of going out of the FA Cup in the first round. Filipe Morais became an effective force on the right hand side and fits better in a three when following Halifax and a return to confidence the playmaker returned.

It had its moments but eventually failed to push for promotion largely because of the problems with injury to Andrew Davies. In brute mathematical terms the playmaker formation did not produce enough goals to make up for those which which went in when Davies was not present and Christopher Routis was.

Parkinson had tried to change his forward players using Billy Clarke behind James Hanson and Jon Stead on occasion, and Billy Knott behind Hanson/Stead and Clarke on others. The change seemed to be more tinkering than fixing the problem the the number of goals (by which I mean chances to score goals) was suffering because the supply came in the same way to the same players and from the same areas.

To make a playmaker formation work this season when it did not last a more fundamental change is needed and that change seems to be in moving Hanson on. Already the club have tried – and failed – to sign Andy Williams as a replacement.

This is where I part company with Parkinson in my thinking. I believe that Hanson has the capacity to be the forward that Parkinson is looking for. The one in three man to go with a one in two man and I base that opinion on having seen a good chunk of the 225 games James Hanson has played for Bradford City.

But there’s the rub.

The problem with stability

If you watch Bradford City home and many away games you may – in the past five or six seasons – have seen James Hanson play around two hundred times. You’ll have seen him play well, and seen him pay badly. You’ll have seen him at Wembley in June and at Torquay in December. You’ll have an educated view on James Hanson.

José Mourinho has probably seen James Hanson play once.

So who knows James Hanson better? You or José? Modesty aside logic forces you to answer the former.

This is – in embryo – the argument for stability in football management which used to be the province of this website and the main point of discussion between supporters. A reason why it is bad to change manager is that a new manager has no experience of the players in his charge.

The majority of the time a new manager arrives at a club and on the strength of a few weeks of training and a couple of games making a number of value judgements on players which necessarily have to be less informed than they should be.

Being hypothetical again imagine Phil Parkinson had joined Sheffield United and we were now starting the Stuart Gray era at Valley Parade. How could Gray make an informed decision about a player he may never have seen kick a ball? And probably had never met?

The answer, in practise, is that a manager like Gray cannot do that and do rather than looking for what they need within the ranks of a club a new manager brings in “his own people” at the club’s expense and allows squads to be broken up without them getting a chance to show their qualities.

But this is not the case with Phil Parkinson and James Hanson.

Parkinson has probably seen as much of Hanson playing at anyone needs to – certainly more than Neil Harris has – and he has worked with Hanson day in day out for years. He knows James Hanson well enough that he can make as qualified, as educated a judgement on a player has any manager at Valley Parade in my memory has.

It will make me sad if Parkinson thinks that the future of Bradford City does not include someone with the heart, and the usefulness, of James Hanson and I might wonder how much the manager wants to force a style of play and at what cost he will go to do that but I could never accuse him of doing these things rashly, or without everything he needs to make a judgement call.

Which is the benefit of managerial stability. Assuming Parkinson is making the decisions around Hanson – and is not under financial pressure to make them – then one is forced to see those decision in a long term context. Parkinson has tried to make what he wants to do work with a squad that included James Hanson, and now he believes he needs to try it with a different squad.

Putting a manager into a position in which he can make this sort of nuanced, fine decision to improve squads rather than the constant overhauls which used to mark the club’s summers is exactly where we want the club to be.

But I’m still hoping that we might get their with Big Jim Hanson up front.

The rise and pause of James Hanson

Having watched them fail to cope with his muscular style in the FA Cup it was hardly surprising that Millwall put in a bid for James Hanson. The London club – who will compete with City in League One next season – have seen the effectiveness of the Bantams bluntest object first hand and were evidently impressed.

The Lions bid has been rejected. The word from Bradford City was that it was not near the amount the player is valued at which sounds troublingly more like a negotiating tactic than a hands off notice. We await developments with a sense of worry.

For most who cast an eye over Valley Parade in the past five years James Hanson’s rise is the rise of Bradford City. Emerging from nowhere – he did used to work at the Co-op – to heights previously unprecedented and very unexpected. It was Hanson who scored the goal which took City to Wembley in 2013 and who the BBC choose to use as their representative of the club in their coverage of that League Cup final.

It is not hard to associate the tall striker with all the good things that have gone on at City in the past few years. He was the man of the moment in the greatest moment to date at Villa, he scored a superb strike at Burton Albion in the playoffs, and he worked his backside off on the left hand side against Chelsea. In-between he puts in the kind of hard working displays that he promised back in 2010.

But there is a temptation to ask what the limits of using a player like Hanson are. At League One level the teams that do well have a powerhouse forward like Hanson but the higher up a club goes the less used the more obvious parts of Hanson’s game are. Strength and the ability to hold the ball become necessities at some point although that point is a deal higher than the middle of League One where City are at the moment.

One is tempted to look at the stalled progress of Hanson’s former partner Nahki Wells and suggest that somewhere in the middle of The Championship – the hurdle that Huddersfield Town cannot manage to leap over – there is a gradual change in playing style away from the type of football that gets you into the league at the bottom and towards the type of football that gets you out of it at the top. Wells and Hanson were a classic big man/little man pairing and that is out of fashion at Watford and Norwich where promotion is being celebrated.

Indeed much of what Bradford City under Phil Parkinson do could be said to be out of step with the successful teams of the division above. Football as a whole sneers at City’s physical play, direct football and hard work ethic. That sneer is turned away after Chelsea, or Sunderland, or similar but only in those instances. The prevailing narrative of football is that what City do week-in-week-out is some how less teams that pursue “pure” football.

Parkinson is given awards for his work but none of the managers who lost at Stamford Bridge is tempted to imitate him.

Which gives Hanson, and Parkinson, a moment of pause. Will City’s rise be a result of the same patterns of play – albeit with refinement – or will the club, management and players have to change to progress?

The journey to Ithaca

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Alan Sheehan, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Andy Halliday | Billy Knott | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Mark Yeates, Billy Clarke, Matthew Dolan

I

“Did not Odysseus beside the ships of the Argives offer thee sacrifice without stint in the broad land of Troy? Wherefore then didst thou conceive such wrath against him, O Zeus?”

Within minutes of the kick off of Bradford City’s defeat at Reading the game was written out. Before the first goal – a header at a corner from Hal Robson-Kanu – the Bantams players looked leaden footed, and heavy, and no good could come of this.

This game was the conclusion of a run of three games in six days that travelled 850 miles with a squad of around twenty players. When an innocuous shot hit Andrew Halliday and looped over Ben Williams to make the game 2-0 Reading had won before ten minutes were out.

It was not that Bradford City had not made a game of the game, it was that they could not.

II

“Cyclops, if any one of mortal men shall ask thee about the shameful blinding of thine eye, say that Odysseus, the sacker of cities, blinded it, even the son of Laertes, whose home is in Ithaca.”

Tuesday night in Coventry.

The locals had offered a 2 for 1 Valentine’s day offer with the assumption that Bradford City – away at Chelsea on the weekend the offer was announced – would not stand them up on the date.

By the time the Bantams did go to Coventry City Steven Pressley had been sacked from the Sky Blues. As his time came to an end Phil Parkinson was basking in the glow of besting Jose Mourinho. “The other special one”, or “dark ages football” as Pressley had said.

As it was City ground out the first half at The Ricoh Arena only to go behind to a goal at the end of the first half by Frank Nouble. Parkinson asked his side for more in the second half and got it. James Hanson ended the game forcing a header across and low to get past Lee Burge but Burge pushed the ball away.

The win would have been just reward for the effort but the effort seldom brings the reward you would want so much as the consolation along the way. Mark Yeates approached a free kick from twenty five yards and drill-curved the ball around the wall and low into the goal.

Yeates celebrated by kicking an advertising board in half. Perhaps he would have renamed the ground had Hanson’s header gone in but the point was a good result.

For Parkinson though his eye must have gone to the level of effort put in by his team which is in a race for promotion in League One which is often as much attrition than it is about ability. Every effort to recover a game is a resource which cannot be tapped again.

That at the end of the season City had beaten Coventry City at Valley Parade and drawn at The Ricoh would be a riposte to Pressley’s view about City and the dark ages, but Pressley was blinded now anyway.

III

And City moved on. Jordan Pickford exited to the blind at Sunderland to be replaced by Jak Alnwick from Newcastle United. Jason Kennedy joined Oliver McBurnie and Aaron Mclean out on loan.

The squad thinner and thinner, the demands on it more and more.

IV

And on the fifth the beautiful Calypso sent him on his way from the island after she had bathed him and clothed him in fragrant raiment. On the raft the goddess put a skin of dark wine, and another, a great one, of water, and provisions, too … Gladly then did goodly Odysseus spread his sail to the breeze;

The sight of Gary Jones comforts the heart.

Notts County at on Saturday and City have patched a team together to face Jones’ midfield that features Christopher Routis and Matthew Dolan. Gary Liddle played every moment of a season for Notts County but his legs looked heavy on his return to Meadow Lane.

He is not alone.

Filipe Morais has returned to the side following injury but the energy levels that follow him to in the position to do what he should do while allowing him the licence to do what he wants is missing. Andrew Davies’ resting continues and it starts to become clear that the injury that sidelined him at Coventry City is more than a trick of the light.

Jones’ energy levels are the stuff of legend at Bradford City but the heavy winter has taken its toll on him. The game is more a struggle than a battle.

Still City are in the ascendancy.

Jon Stead scored after good work from François Zoko but County always looked capable of replying and Mike Edwards equalised. A point away is a good return and County are slowly ticking towards safety but with a game with Reading kicking off in 51 hours Parkinson could only worry.

Elsewhere Reading have dropped nine of the ten outfield players that make up their starting team. They are beaten four goals to one by Watford in The Championship. The sacrifice is obvious and available because Reading have concluded that they will not be promoted, while Bradford City fight on multiple fronts..

Gary Jones – and Garry Thompson – wished Bradford City players good luck on the way off the field and one could have spent a lifetime in the wash of nostalgia. The days when Jones and Thompson took on a challenge like Reading and emerged victorious, and took the spoils of victory, and all was golden and good.

V

Think for a moment, dear reader, and consider my offer. I would give you one moment at a football ground to stretch out for all time and to be all the moments at football. Pick the second that Hanson scored against Villa, or the sight of Arsenal’s fifth penalty coming back of the post, or Mark Yeates giving the world and the fireworks at Chelsea, or Wolves away or Liverpool at home.

Pick one and it is forever stretched before you as an endless sea, and you forever adrift on that sea, never to see land again but in the most blissful of ignorance.

The moment when Gary Jones pumped his fist at Wembley as promotion was sealed stretched out until the horizon and over.

And you would reject the offer?

You would.

VI

“Achilles, no man aforetime was more blessed nor shall ever be hereafter. For of old, when thou wast alive, we Argives honored thee even as the gods, and now that thou art here, thou rulest mightily among the dead. Wherefore grieve not at all that thou art dead, Achilles.”

“Nay, seek not to speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should choose, so I might live on earth, to serve as the hireling of another, of some portionless man whose livelihood was but small, rather than to be lord over all the dead that have perished.”

Two goals in the first ten minutes and Bradford City are suffering not just the effects of two games in three days but the cumulative effects of the constant attrition of playing in League One. It is not that a player rested three days ago might be expected to be fresher than one who has rested for six it is that the inexorable navigation of games takes something which all.

The difference is not the binary state of being fresh or not. It is a team at 75% playing one at 60% (or fill your own figures in here) and the rest Reading gave up a game for is put into a whirlpool of effects which have left City incapable of putting in a performance to make a game.

Second to set off, second to the ball, and second best one would struggle to fault the City player’s effort. They gave all they could offer, but there was nothing to give. Jamie Mackie scored a third after Filipe Morais was sent off for a high foot on the once again superb Nathaniel Chalobah and one was left to conclude that City had lost the chance of a semi-final not after the odyssey that followed the 0-0 draw at Valley Parade but on the rough, unplayable field at Valley Parade that has begun to characterise Bradford City’s season.

One wonders if this game represents what The FA want from the Cup. Bradford City’s reward for progressing further in the competition is to be put into a position where the club is handicapped as the quality of the opposition increases.

A League One club plays Halifax Town after a third of the season. Millwall after a busy Christmas but every game after the third round brings a postponement which has to be played mid-week. By the time Reading at home came along City had been playing weekend-midweek every week for over a month.

And all the time the possible opposition gets harder and harder. That Reading were not Chelsea ignores the fact that they were the fourth side City had faced from a higher division. As the games get harder, the ability to play those games gets less and less.

And I do not say this as a complaint or to propose a solution but just to underline the absurdity of the situation and perhaps to illustrate how impressive it is that any club outside of the top 44 of the Premier League and Championship should get this far in The FA Cup. Last year’s beaten semi-finalists Sheffield United won more FA Cup games than the losing finalists Hull City, and as many as winners Arsenal.

VII

“Come, I pray thee, goddess, tell me this thing truly, if in any wise I might escape from fell Charybids, and ward off that other, when she works harm to my comrades.”

People on the pitch.

A sea of people perhaps becoming the sea of moments to stretch out as Reading reach Wembley for the first time since 1927. A sea of people ebbing and flowing in front of the Bradford City fans looking for trouble but not knowing what trouble really is.

A sea of people and through it walks Steven Darby. Fearless, heroic, in failure and in success. Steven Darby and Rory McArdle cutting through a sea of people fearless, heroic, in failure and in success.

A sea of people and through it walks Steven Darby.

Eleven games remain. The next three are at Valley Parade before the end of March.

And so then on to Ithaca.

Millwall, Yeovil Town, Chelsea and the most important thing in life

Before we begin

Ask me who I think the best manager is I say Brian Clough. Ask me who my favourite is I say Bobby Robson.

There are many reasons I have such high regard for the former England and Newcastle United manager and I am not alone in holding him in high esteem. The Brazilian Ronaldo was signed by Robson’s PSV aged seventeen and considered the manager a Second Father.

Robson brought a dignity to his football. When asked about Diego Maradona’s handball in 1986 he said only “Well, he knows he cheated”. When asked if he thought about what would have happened had his England side not lost on penalties to West Germany in 1990 his reply was a haunted “every day.”

When he watched his Newcastle United team beat Bradford City 4-3 and was asked about the poor defending on display he told the journalist who asked him that he has seen a brilliant game of football between two great teams and that he should go home to his family happy.

“That is what I’ll be doing.” he said.

Only one team in it

Shall we clarify how much of a favourite Millwall were presented as before the FA Cup Third Round. There was a chance of an upset at The New Den on the Saturday morning but when the game kicked off the media focus was elsewhere. The City game lurched back and forth with one team taking the lead, then the other. One wondered if there could be a cup tie giving more entertainment.

Two goals for Billy Knott and a couple of defenders struggling to cope with James Hanson who – if City lost – would probably have been the player sold in January to balance the books. The game seemed to matter.

At 3-2 with ten minutes on the clock it seemed that Bradford City would have something of an upset but Ricardo Fuller scored late and in the reply it was considered that City would have more of a chance.

Favourites now then. Valley Parade bustling after a successful campaign to hashtag-be-the-difference based on the anticipation of a fourth round trip which would take City to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea.

Chelsea were and are top of the Premier League. It was anticipation. The chance to be against the best.

And then it began

And it was over very quickly.

The sixth minute dismissal of Mark Beevers was already against the run of plan. The Bantams had put in three corners before Andy Halliday put a ball forward to James Hanson who outpaced Mark Beevers. Beevers who pulled him back and the Referee did as they do.

Two minutes later Hanson was heading a flicked on corner in to suggest that City should start preparing for the trip to Chelsea. Ten minutes later and another ball in was loose in the box watched – watched – by three Millwall players. Jon Stead had time to cross oceans and acres to put the ball into the goal. He did.

The rest of the story, dear reader, you know. Halliday, then Knott again and Millwall ended up paying their supporters back for turning up.

And so we asked the question

Were Bradford City good or Millwall bad?

The question did not dare suggest itself until after Saturday’s trip to Yeovil Town. Millwall gave up but – it must be remembered – they gave having started from their position of strength in the first game.

When Lions manager Ian Holloway talks about how he has never seen a team collapse in that manner he excuses himself of amount of time which passed in which the advantage in the tie – not just the replay – past from South London to West Yorkshire.

That a team has a poor performance is almost always the result of a good display by the opposition. Bradford City had got into a habit of making games difficult for opposition sides from the divisions above in the League Cup. Make every free kick difficult, make every throw in prompt, run for every ball to make the defender run too, make every passage of play into something that presents a difficulty for the opposition.

Bradford, 2000

When Bradford City beat Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League on Benito Carbone’s home debut the performance represented something of a high watermark.

I once saw David Wetherall – defender in that side – asked if he thought that City had only won because Chelsea were so bad that evening that they beat themselves. Wetherall could hardly understand the question and struggled to answer.

He mumbled “erm, not really.”

Bradford, 2015

As Millwall manager Ian Holloway kept his team in the dressing room for an hour following the game Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side took the plaudits.

There was a crispness to how the playmaker midfield – abandoned of late but reasserting itself – worked with Billy Knott in the forward midfield position and all over the pitch players could be proud of great performances.

The pitch was covered with high watermark performances. Filipe Morais’ ability to find the rhythm for the inside midfield role as distinct to that played when on the wing seemed like a justification for his two and a half year contract. Morais is a more useful player than first he seemed and his ability to play simple football most often sets him apart from other players who show off tricks to try convince all that they are more useful footballers than they are.

Andy Halliday was praised for his steady work ethic. The back four for their solidity. When Alan Dunne throw James Hanson into a wall and goalkeeper David Forde punched Billy Knott in the face City were even praised for how they all stood together in the brawl that followed.

For City talk moved to a game with Chelsea of course, but also to play offs and possible promotion. By contrast Holloway was telling his charges that eight changes would be made for Saturday and a new captain would be appointed as they prepared for something like a slaughtering.

And that night I remembered my favourite maxim of Bobby Robson.

Having won European trophies with Ipswich Town, and having been knocked out without a win of Euro 88. He had taken England to semi-finals but been the subject of very personal criticism Robson had experienced enough of football to advise this:

“You are never as good, or as bad, as people tell you you are.”

Yeovil, 2015

Perhaps it was the idea that the club he was playing was selling tickets for another match on the day they faced his side but Yeovil Town manager Gary Johnson sense that his team which had not won since September would get something against City.

It was in the air.

The Bantams too light in the tackle perhaps fearing suspension, too slight in the challenge perhaps fearing injury. Or perhaps a ten minute game against Rochdale followed by a mid-week cup tie on a heavy Valley Parade pitch just took it out of the team. Either way City were a shadow.

Gozie Ugwu scored the only goal of the game and Parkinson will have been pleased with a second half where his team pressed more but City suffered a second league defeat in two. This one was against the team bottom of the league.

And so in an atmosphere of discontent over tickettng for the Chelsea game Parkinson’s side were driving back into ill temper.

Not good enough was the general tone and in fact not good. The unexpected high watermark was expected to be the new standard.

Here comes the fear

Chelsea manager José Mourinho described the game against Swansea City as “the perfect game

The Londoners were magnificent in putting five goals past Swansea City without reply. They have a fluidity in their forward four which one doubts Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle will have faced before and they have John Terry and Gary Cahill ready to go man for man with Hanson and Stead.

It would be a folly to suggest that Chelsea have all the ability by City have character because without character Chelsea would not be the top of the Premier League.

And they are top of the Premier League, and they are playing well.

Chelsea are playing the best football in the country at the moment and they have won every league game at Stamford Bridge this season.

One wonders what to expect next week in West London. One wonders what we will go home and tell the family.

Lisbon, 1992

When he was appointed Sporting Lisbon manager in 1992 Bobby Robson appointed José Mourinho – then a scout at another club – as his interpreter. Robson took Mourinho to Porto, and then to Barcelona.

When paying tribute to Robson following his death Mourinho said that Robson had told him the most important thing in life:

“You are never as good or as bad as people say you are.”

What they heard back at Chelsea as Rochdale beat Bradford City

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Alan Sheehan, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Andy Halliday | Billy Knott | James Hanson, Jon Stead | Matt Williams, Mark Yeates, Jason Kennedy

With all due respect to Millwall FC

Dear Mister Mourinho,

Allow me to start, Mister Mourinho, by saying let us be thankful that any fourth round tie between Bradford City and Chelsea will be played at Stamford Bridge.

I arrived in this part of West Yorkshire in biting cold, and watched a game on a wet pitch which cut badly under foot. Mister Mourinho, if you want to avoid the same, you will try beat this Bradford City within one game.

The weather aside I do not envy the man who was sent to watch Blackpool beat Millwall 1-0 for I have much to tell you Mister Mourinho and tell you it I shall.

There is much about this Bradford City which you should know

This Bradford City are a which will not be defeated, even in defeat.

Today Mister Mourinho I saw a football injustice when Bradford City were beaten in the last moment of the game by Rochdale Football Club having performed far better than Rochdale Football Club during the course of the game.

That this Bradford City played the game with only ten players was hardly noticeable Mister Mourinho. Indeed often in the game it seemed that Bradford City had played the game with eleven players and Rochdale Football Club had played it with ten, but that was not the case Mister Mourinho.

A player on loan from Sunderland (prob. not play. Gus is like that) in goal for Bradford City was sent off after ten minutes.

What shall we say about the sending off Mister Mourinho? Shall we just say that you would not have found it acceptable were it Thibaut Courtois dismissed for denying a goalscoring opportunity when the striker had run so wide and did not have control of the ball.

You would say Mister Mourinho that it was not denial of a goalscoring opportunity because the striker had run so with and did not have control of the ball. And you would be right Mister Mourinho, although I suspect you would not continence the possibility of being wrong.

And for the striker who were fouled Mister Mourinho I found myself wishing that he, A player called Matthew Done, was to be playing against John in two weeks time. I found myself wishing as he constantly tackled late on defenders who were clearing the ball on Mister Mourinho that he were to try that on John and found myself imagining what John would do in reply.

A note Mister Mourinho. We should be careful if Gavin Ward referees one of our games. Today he allowed a penalty to be scored from a rebound when the taker was in an offside position as the ball was struck. He made mistakes that compounded mistakes. He is a weak and poor Referee and obviously easily influenced and carried away Mister Mourinho. The beautiful game deserves better Mister Mourinho even at this level.

Character

But when reduced to ten players this Bradford City showed character Mister Mourinho which suggested that they were not a team to be taken lightly even with the obvious gap in quality between our side and theirs because that gap in quality would be seen by this Bradford City as another challenge which they would attempt to overcome.

With ten men this Bradford City played cleverly Mister Mourinho keeping the ball well and using their strength at set plays. James Hanson and Jonathan Stead are bustling centreforwards who upset defenders. Hanson wins most balls played into him and that was the case when a free kick was played too deep. Hanson headed it back and Stead headed in an equaliser. Perhaps Mister Mourinho I might suggest that Gary Cahill and John are a suitable pair to play like on like and I do not want to tell you how to do your job Mister Mourinho but I do worry that they may eat Nathan Ake for breakfast.

The supply to Hanson and Stead comes from Billy Knott and Fillipe Morais. Both have previously played for us in their youth.

Knott is a player of constant motion Mister Mourinho and the energy of Bradford City dissipated as he left the field after being the most influential player on the field for long periods of the game. He will make wrong decisions and expend energy needlessly on occasion but between errors he is the agent provocateur.

We must force Billy Knott into mistakes to cloud his judgement Mister Mourinho, rather than allow his head to be clear. Ignoring him is not an option. He is Bradford City’s finest irritant.

Your friend Fillipe

Fillipe Morais I believe you know. He is not the svelt wide player he was but he has a muscle about him and the ability to play intelligent football that shows your own influence Mister Mourinho. He is a player of discipline and has some strength in the tackle. He has expended his game since first you met and seems comfortable in a number of positions. That a local dubbed him The Man-o-War may please you Mister Mourinho, or it may not.

These players are anchored by Garry Liddle who is serviceable in the pass but not as strong in the tackle as a holding midfielder could be. Today his role was to break any play coming through the middle for Rochdale Football Club and he did break any play coming through the middle for Rochdale Football Club.

The defence is strong although Alan Sheehan, who plays at left back ideally but is covering central defence, is a weak point. All four can play the ball effectively long. Mister Mourinho if we stand away and let them play the ball long then they will pick out forwards with accuracy and while we can call this the dark ages of football we must not mistake it as such.

There is a measured control to this Bradford City Mister Mourinho which I cannot stress enough.

A measured control

With ten players remaining on the field for Bradford City Mister Mourinho Liddle was forced to put in the work rate of two players rather than one player and he did put in that level of work as did the other players of Bradford City. If I could underline one thing Mister Mourinho it would be the level of effort which Bradford City perform with and the character they have in their team.

Mister Mourinho we would beat them if we matched that character, and as with today we could expect to beat them as they will be at a disadvantage (numerical today, perhaps more obvious against Chelsea) but we must match that character.

Because, Mister Mourinho, that is the single most impressive thing about this Bradford City. The character which saw them outplay Rochdale Football Club with ten against eleven will see them come back from defeat today to carry on an unlikely promotion push which seems to have little chance of succeeding just as the team have little chance of beating Chelsea if they beat Millwall.

But if something is made of little chances Mister Mourinho it is made by character.

Yours,
The Scout

Why Sunderland should be begging for Jordan Pickford to play in the FA Cup

Preamble

The BfB legal advisor Joe – who is a man who just occasionally gets time off – enjoys playing Poker. He plays it and he is good at it. Very good.

Often he is asked ask to teach you how to play the game. Those who are are told to get out their wallets. You must bet in training what you do not want to lose. Only when the stakes involved are significant can you learn about how the game is really played.

You can play for pennies and for counters but that will not teach you how to play when the turn of a card actually matters. To get better at Poker – Joe says – the game has to matter.

Mu-Hill-Whaeal

A trip to Millwall for the third round of the FA Cup was nobody’s choice for a reward from beating Dartford. One doubts too that the Londoner’s would have been especially pleased to see themselves paired with Bradford City.

Ian Holloway’s side are struggling in The Championship while Phil Parkinson’s City team bubble in the middle of League One. Not much to pick between the two.

The strength of the teams that either side puts out could tip the game in one direction or another and no result could be considered much of a shock nor will be considered season defining.

Other ties were far more appealing. There was much flapping about the idea of last season’s final being replayed, and of a repeat of the 1973 final when Leeds United go to Sunderland. Sunderland’s interest in the competition being is significant importance to City’s on loan Jordan Pickford.

Remembering Jordan Pickford

Pickford arrived at Valley Parade looking as full of rawness and potential as any goalkeeper I can remember seeing. In his opening month one wondered if the rawness would be exposed to deeply that his potential be lost.

Pickford’s communication with the back four was so poor it was counter-productive. He came for crosses and then dropped back, or came and served only as a distraction, or did not come at all and saw the ball go past him. He was a liability.

But his reflexes were excellent, and his positioning good, and he made impressive saves some of the time. Even that communication problem was mitigated in some way by the fact he shouted at all. The sooner a nineteen year old goalkeeper learns that it his job to shout at seasoned defenders to get them into position the better for everyone.

Real football

A player only learns those things from what is termed “Real Football” but what “Real Football” is is open to interpretation and context. When a modern Premier League player gets a first cap for England against San Marino in a World Cup qualifier he has probably never played against worse players but the experience of a real international is useful. What use it is to someone with fifty caps is less clear.

For this definition when talking about Bradford City and Jordan Pickford we shall say real football is football where the result matters and where something important is at stake. Something like three points, or a place in the next round, or a manager’s job, or just the emotions of supporters.

When Jordan Pickford got into real football at Valley Parade the mistakes he made, and he made them, were forgiven because of the obvious potential in the rest of his game. Pickford needed games. And Pickford got games. Every league game so far. And now Pickford is realising the potential he has.

When Sunderland watch Pickford’s improvement over the last five months they must not recognise the footballing man compared to the juniors kid who joined City, but they must also have been expecting such a transformation, else why send him to Valley Parade in the first place?

But Pickford had played games before on loan outside the league with Darlington and Alfreton Town, and in it with Burton Albion and Carlisle United, with about seventy games under his belt thirty five of them in the league.

Cribbed maths could tell us that it has taken fifty professional football matches for Jordan Pickford stop having to rely on potential as the justification for having him in the team. Sunderland have to find a club, or clubs, who will give a player a season of games they could think of taking him back and having him in their team.

The tickets on the last train home

A first team place in the Football League is a rare thing. Each week less than a thousand players will get onto a field the Football League. Only assuming each team plays two loanees a week in the fourteen who can play then less than one hundred and fifty players are loan players places are available.

That one hundred and fifty includes players like Jon Stead who is both loaned from another Football League club and not a player in development. How many spaces are available for a player to be loaned from a Premier League cup for first team games when he needs development rather than being able to offer something immediately? One hundred? A dozen more, a dozen less? For twenty Premier League clubs with a few dozen kids each.

We are accustomed to looking at this from the point of view of teams loaning players. That teams like Bradford City are given the chance to have a player (like Pickford) who could go onto Premier League or International football and that they sometimes pay for this but sometimes are allowed to borrow future talent for nothing at all.

From the eye of a needle

Rarely is the idea flipped around.

A first team shirt in the Football League is a rare thing. One of the biggest assets that any club has is that it creates eleven development opportunities every week that clubs loaning players out want.

Teams like Bradford City’s side gives them away for free at best, or sometimes even pay for the privilege.

Every player I have ever been impressed by with has proved this to be true. Being able to run fast or kick a ball accurately is one of the first steps a player needs. The rest of the steps he learns through playing in real football matches. And more specifically applying himself well in real football matches.

Without this the talented youngster becomes the typical non-league nearly man who could have had his shot at the big time and seems to have the skills but never does work hard enough.

If clubs in Bradford City’s position knew the value of what they had they would charge clubs to take their players on loan rather than just looking at the system as a way of filling shirts. If clubs loaning players understood the value they would be willing to pay.

And if Sunderland understood the value of playing in a competitive, FA Cup tie at Millwall that really matters to the development of Jordan Pickford they would not be refusing to allow him to play, they would be begging Bradford City to put him in the team.

The horror transfers

Is he worth £35m? To Liverpool, No, to Newcastle he is priceless.

So was the discussion over Andy Carroll’s exit from St James Park to Anfield – one has to wonder if had Peter Taylor joined the Magpies three weeks ago what he would have thought of losing the target man (and if Luke Oliver would have replaced him) – and the impact of the totemic striker’s exit seems set to weigh heavy on the minds of Newcastle United supporters, Liverpool fans having all but forgotten that they have sold their other “World Class Player” to Chelsea this same day.

Until a ball is kicked the winners and losers of transfer deadline day seem to be mostly in the mind and as Geordie supporters beat themselves up over the exit other football supporters with a twinkle of empathy will recognise in their own club’s history when a player exited but seemed to take more with him.

Those are the transfers that hurt. Those are the horror transfers.

As City fans we’ve seen this kind of exit taking emotion a number of times. When Stuart McCall left the club in May 1988 to join Everton it seemed obvious that the years of progress were coming to an end but there was not an unexpected departure. McCall, and team mate John Hendrie, were expected to leave having giving promotion a good try and so when they did there was a grim resignation that the good times – unless the money was reinvested well and it was not – were probably over. They were not horror transfers.

Likewise when dynamite Des Hamilton or Andrew O’Brien left the club to go to St James’ Park few felt the exit in the heart. O’Brien left when City were all but down while Hamilton was iconic for his goal at Wembley but his exit to Newcastle United for £1.5m was considered to be a nice bit of business and – if anything – the Magpies over paid for a young player who had looked good, had potential, but not shown consistency as yet.

The manager who signed him: The same Kenny Dalglish who is spending £35m today.

Those transfers broke banks rather than hearts and for the real horror transfers one must look elsewhere. The exit of the much respected Eddie Youds in 1997 to Charlton Athletic was unfathomable with Chris Kamara obviously still wanting the player but Geoffrey Richmond announcing the that books had to balance. Promotion followed a few years later and so Youds is a footnote rather than a true horror.

A horror transfer leads one to question the direction the club is going and for the answer to echo back: “Nowhere.”

A blow softened by the team reshaping to bigger and better was the double departure of Don Goodman and Martin Singleton to West Brom. Both players had been part of the promotion side of 1985 and their exits seemed to rob City of attacking talent. The arrival of Rocket Ron Futcher with eight goals in ten games healed all wounds.

For the real horror transfers there can be no happy aftermath, no consideration of how the player who has been so cruelly ripped from one’s grasp might have fit into a team that did well, and for that we must go to Christmas 1994.

John Docherty – who seemed to be a football manager so evil as to be picked out of a badly written backstory in Roy of the Rovers – decided that as his team did poorly the entire squad would be put up for sale. Unsurprisingly for a sale entitled “Getting rid players we don’t want” most of the men had few takers however the talented defender Lee Sinnott and heart of the team Lee Duxbury did attract interest, from Huddersfield Town.

Any straw poll of the better member of that squad would have put both players towards the top and a host of lightweights Docherty signed from his previous club towards the bottom yet it seemed – and it came to pass – that the moustached twirling evil Docherty would be selling out players, so he could bring in more of his mates from Millwall.

Both Duxbury and Sinnott ended up celebrating promotion for Huddersfield Town while City simply meandered nowhere robbed of character and watching our players perform for our rivals. The heart sinks to recall it and the money paid – a combined fee of less than was paid for Tony Adcock – was frittered away aimlessly.

Eventually both players came back to Valley Parade, but the horror never faded.

We will always have Barrau

There was something refreshingly ecstatic about Xaviar Barrau’s reaction to both his goals at Valley Parade in this 2-2 draw with Millwall on the final day of League One for Bradford City for a year at least. Barrau wheeled away twice in delight after twice giving the Bantams the lead in a game which could not have had less meaning had it been played as a friendly but still seemed to warm the heart.

Heart warming first was the immaculate silence for the 56 supporters of 11th of May, 1985 observed at both ends of the ground. Whatever reputation Millwall supporters have they got some marks in the plus column at 2:58 on Saturday afternoon.

David Wetherall’s reputation seems to have survived his first spell in management. In the post game walk around he is applauded for his efforts over the past fourteen games and the past seven years and should this be his final game in management at this club then one hopes he can get a go elsewhere at some point. Wetherall is backing his predecessor as captain to be his follower as manager saying

“I would be absolutely delighted if we got Stuart McCall here as manager. I haven’t got a clue if it is going to happen, but I think that it would create such an interest in the club and around the city that it could only be good for Bradford City. With Stuart McCall in charge we could get the club going in the right direction and I could play a part in that on the pitch and not from the dugout.”

Wetherall’s last act as City gaffer was to use a 433 formation – unseen since the days of Jim Jefferies and Bryan Robson – to make up for the holes left in the side when Wetherall calmed down following last week’s fury following the Chesterfield capitulation. Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley were absent leaving a forward line of Joe Colbeck, Omar Daley and Barrau in front of a midfield of Steven Schumacher and Tom Penford sitting atop Craig Bentham who protected a back four of Edghill, Mark Bower out of sorts and position on what could be his final game for the club, Matthew Clarke and Ben Parker. Donovan Ricketts kept goal.

The result was a City team more capable going forward than has been seen in recent weeks but susceptible at the back. Twice Barrau gave the Bantams a lead which was pegged back in short time by the visitors who punch for punch looked no better than the team that will start life as a League Two club next term.

None of which is to suggest that City unveiled a prototype for promotion next term but rather that given the chance and without the pressure it could at least be enjoyable to watch the Bantams again. The first half was satisfying until Joe Colbeck knocked in a low cross just before half time that Barrau muscled a defender for and blasted into the bottom corner. Barrau charged to the bench to celebrate with David Wetherall and as he ran a season of frustrations seemed to drift away behind him.

At some point we have to zero the clock on this club and start from even. Let it be now.

Millwall equalised a minute after half time after making a sly substitution and slipping on an extra forward without telling anyone. The extra man snuck in behind Mark Bower as the left footer played on the right hand side and the annoying but reasonabiliy ammusing Darren Byfield beat Donovan Ricketts.

Nevertheless City had a sort of dominance attacking with some flair down the right and pace down the centre. Omar Daley charged at centrebacks all afternoon and at one point freed Joe Colbeck who slipped the ball into the path of Barrau for the Frenchman to fire into the top corner and celebrate equally exuberantly as Lenny Pidgely in the visitor’s goal blasted a poor linesman suspecting offside. Within two minutes Millwall were level following a cheap free kick poorly defended and a low shot by Tony Craig.

City had the chances to win the game notably when Steven Schumacher – more on whom later – blasted over following good work and when Barrau was felled in the box sparking a scuffle that saw the Frenchman booked and butted by goalscorer Craig. Wetherall gave sixteen-year-old Leon Osborne a debut in the place of Daley and withdrew an injured Joe Colbeck who despite setting up both goals was lightly booed by a section of supporters than shall henceforth be know in a knowingly supercilious manner as “The Idiots”.

“The Idiots” will always have a voice at City – the have not learned after forcing Dean Windass on his way – but hopefully the more bums on seats Julian Rhodes and his cheap seats can get next term the more they will be marginalised to a point where their voices are counter-productive whimpers not destructive shouts. “The Overtly Sensitive” can join them for all I care. Yes Steven Schumacher used some shop floor language to City fans last week but having been in football crowds for the last twenty five years I can guarantee he has had worse said to him and frankly to use his slip into effing and jeffing as a stick to beat him is the worst kind of politicking.

If a person does not care for the way Schumacher players or the performances he has then say it. Anything else I pretty much could not care less about.

Next season will be different. Different team, different manager, different supporters, different atmosphere hopefully – more like the backing off the post lobbing a ball around ten minutes at VP today please – and different heroes and favourites. Exuberant knack for goal scoring and joy at getting a goal? Different Dean Windass too by the look of things, and this one is a Frenchman.

Into The Darkness as City Face the Last Day of League One

We always worried that the final day of the League One season this year woudl have City having nothing to play for but I doubt we ever thought it would be like this.

Colin Todd’s team is going to end up in mid-table mediocrity I recall people saying. Perhaps Todd put that on his CV as a plus point judging by how we have plummeted since he left.

To be fair to David Wetherall and Julian Rhodes it would seem that City – Todd and all – have been dodging bullets for years and failed to this term. We start in League Two next year because that is the way that we are being pushed and yes that is down to finance and yes that is boring to read and only half of the truth but there it is.

So news this week that Julian Rhodes is talking to investors is music to the ears. The scale and feasibility of investment in the past nine years – since The Rhodes Family in fact – has been risible so a measured approach would probably be best. If someone wants to help with the rent then that is cool but if someone is coming to buy players then let us not fall for it again. It is a year since Peter Etherington was going to put us in the Championship. Look what happened.

Rhodes wants a new manager in place within three weeks and will be talking to Stuart McCall about the job so this could be David Wetherall’s final game as gaffer. He has Donovan Ricketts in goal and Ricketts had made enough mistakes this term to suggest he will still be around next. Richard Edghill is probably going to get a final game although John Swift would be – in my humble opinion – a better option. Wetherall’s mistake is fielding too many players who have no investment in the future of the club. He needs to start to look at the players who will be around next season so like Swift Simon Ainge should play and probably will in place of Wetherall who will step down to sub.

This could be his last game at Valley Parade – he deserves a rapture of applause when he appears.

Mark Bower is fancied by Burnley so this could be his final game. Ben Parker at left back will return to Leeds but may be back as they lose players. He his a decent player and would be welcome.

Omar Daley, Joe Colbeck or Ben Muirhead have the two flanks – perm any two from three they all have their merits. Steven Schumacher is forgiven for swearing at City fans last week – tempers were frayed – so take the midfield role with Tom Penford. I’m a confirmed fan of Penford’s cool midfield calm and believe he should have been considered long before this stage of the season. Eddie Johnson is out injured.

Billy Paynter and Joe Brown are expected to start up front with Spencer Weir-Daley returning to Nottingham Forest. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Billy Paynter and Spencer Weir-Daley are expected to start up front with Joe Brown and Nick Smith standing by in case Weir-Daley’s injury problems continue. Weir-Daley may return next season – rumour has it we have offered him a two year deal – and should Paynter be kicking his heels should he be released from Southend then he would be welcome too.

Welcome too no doubt is the break. Next season needs to be so much better.

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