Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

Fleeting success

Sadly it seems that success in football – as in life – is always fleeting.

An ethereal thing almost as soon as it is grasped then success is gone, dissipated in the desire for a better success. We look back a decade to Bradford City celebrating staying in the Premiership only to set sights on European football and a “kicking on to mid-table finish” the next season. That year Manchester United won the treble and since have never been happy with domestic success alone since.

It is in our reach that we define our tragedy and doom ourselves to discomfort, or so it is said. Wycombe Wanderers under Peter Taylor were promoted from League Two two years ago and seem on course to celebrate similar success this year having seen this sojourn back to the fourth tier as an unwelcome diversion from progress. There was a time they were happy to be in the League.

What we have we do not value, and we want more or so it seems, and to this maelstrom we welcome Dominic Rowe and Alex Flett.

The (new) boys are back in town

Two of David Wetherall’s junior side Fleet and Rowe have been given squad numbers and the chance to claim a place in the match day squad. At the moment City’s new numbers 31 and 32 are welcomed to the first team squad with open arms and optimistic smiles. “These two,” the mind trots to thinking “could be big players for us.”

The mind is right to do so. That skinny sixteen year old who filled in for Ces Podd in 1982 was in Flett and Rowe’s position and and he turned out well. Watching the progress of players like Don Goodman, Andrew O’Brien and Dean Richards was a source of pride and joy for City fans in years gone by. Soon though this joy of the first team squad will fade.

Because then they will be required to be substitutes, and then “impact substitutes” who change games and then when they start they will quickly be required to make manifest difference on the field. Each time what was considered an achievement would be relegated to being a kind of failure. The rapidity of which this happens is always astounding.

However it is a natural thing – and often a good thing – to press all the players for more. There is a disappointment that comes when a player seemingly plateaus. When he gets onto the bench and is in and out of the team, or when he gets into the team but does not excel in it.

The diary of a journeyman footballer

This situation has repeated itself in City’s recent history. Names like Danny Forrest, Craig Bentham, Tom Penford come haunting from our recent past and no sooner do they than someone advances the ill-advised words “not good enough” evidencing that with the fact that one struggles to find a young player released by City who has come back to League football. Jake Wright and Emile Sinclair spring to mind, few others.

In his diary of a journeyman footballer Left Foot Forward Gary Nelson talks about the effect of releasing young players and how it breaks not only their prospects but their career paths. Nelson ponders on how such players could be expected to turn around their careers after such a sudden and grinding halt advising then team mate Kim Grant to stay at Charlton because the facilities are better and moving down never promises anyone a first team place.

Looking at the current Bradford City team which is besieged with often vitriolic criticism it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have gone had Tom Penford and Craig Bentham been in the the midfield. Football would be a lot better if everyone stopped looking as players as discreet replaceable commodities and started looking at them as raw materials to be crafted with.

Not that Bradford City behave in a way which differs from the majority of football clubs but the majority of football clubs – and Bradford City – are not successful after the traditional close season squad purge and replace. Perhaps this squad purging is generally counter productive for football as well as for the players involved.

Had City decided that we fans would be denied the delights of watching Steve Claridge, Moses Ashikodi, Ryan Kendall, Willy (Not Billy) Topp, Mark Cullen et al and decided that they would retain Danny Forrest since 2005 when he was released would the action of working with and giving the assurance of continued football to the same player then, again, one wonders how would have turned out any different. Ashikodi did not stop relegation, Topp did not fire us to promotion.

The received wisdom in football is that players – and young players – excel or move out and that process is successful in ensuring the best prosper but perhaps the input and development of a football club could see that the players who are under this cream of the crop grow into good squad members and, in time, more?

One wonders if Rowe or Flett will make the bench on Saturday – Peter Taylor is talking about welcoming old heads into the side so probably not – but if they what impact they will be expected to make. Certainly it could be said that this is not the time for throwing in new faces to a struggling team.

The line up

Taylor’s side have not recorded a win since Monday the 3rd January 2011 surrendering play off hopes to relegation worries in the process. The solution to this is – it is hoped – arriving in the form of experienced professionals replacing younger players. Richard Eckersley and Mark Cullen have returned to Burnley and Hull City respectively as the Bantams welcome back to starting line up contention Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Michael Flynn.

That trio’s return – and the possible recovery of Steve Williams and the delayed debut of Scott Dobie – could give the City side a radically different look to the previous game.

Jon McLauglin seems to be recemented into City’s goal with Lenny Pidgeley missing presumed “a bit injured, maybe.”

The back four would seem to be set for an overhaul with Lewis Hunt at right back and Simon Ramsden taking Shane Duff’s place as defender and captain alongside either Luke Oliver or a fit Steve Williams. Luke O’Brien is expected to stay at left back.

The midfield three of Jon Worthington behind David Syers and Tom Ademeyi is hard to break up – Syers plays well and Ademeyi retains his place regardless of performance – but Michael Flynn might be expected to return their of in the attacking three.

Flynn’s ability to add to the forward line could see him in place of the departed Omar Daley alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans but such a move would not open a slot for Dobie or fellow new arrival Kevin Ellison. Taylor has rarely used Flynn as a midfielder.

A word on Daley

A word on Daley who – it would seem – has played his last game for the Bantams. The players inconstancy has been mentioned after his departure and in a way that is somewhat unfair on the winger assuming firstly that constancy is a base requirement rather than a rare thing in professional football and secondly making a criticism of the times he was unplayable on the field. “Constancy” and the pursuit of it is perhaps is the most ludicrous of all football terms. I kid you not, dear reader, when I tell you that I could be Bradford City’s most constant player were I to be given a shirt. I would be constantly very, very poor.

There is something unpalatable about the criticism of players – and Omar especially – for inconstancy. The demand seems to hem players in. Is it better that a player try nothing which may result in something good for fear of looking bad? One of the most encouraging things about watching David Syers this year has been his willingness to be brave in his play, is he mistaken to do that for fear that when something does not come off he will be labelled inconstant?

Which is not to say that players should approach the game in a random manner – there is a constancy of play which is not to be confused with constancy of performance – but rather that the heart of improvement is the ability to try and risk failure.

Give me, for one game, Leon Osbourne leaving players for dead and rifling the ball into the goal and I shall be happy to worry about his ability to repeat that later. I would have players who have a constancy in doing the brave thing, rather than ones who succeed every time at doing the easy thing.

These notions are thoughts of the future and the immediate problem of Daley’s exit is more mundane. Chief in his duties was pressure applied to defending players who attempt to recycle the ball. An opposition corner cleared long by City and Daley chased defenders into an early ball. Without Daley able to apply that pressure – often a facet of his ability to get to the vicinity of a clearance in quick time – then I fear that recycled possession will but the Bantams under increased pressure.

In short that without Omar to chase the ball down, and the threat of his pace, City will end up without a release ball and under pressure more. One of Ellison and Dobie may be able to provide an alternative outlet ball for defenders lashing it away because a failure to do so will result in City defending upon defending, and that has been a problem all season.

Riches

And so – for once – City have some riches (if riches is the right word) of resource to be embarrassed by and Peter Taylor gets a chance to field Flynn in one of a few positions while all Flynn needs to do is return the team to the type of form it was in before his absence and avoiding relegation should be a success.

But a fleeting success at that.

Didn’t you used to be Hereford United?

Hereford United sit below Bradford City in the football pyramid at the moment – that is not that easy – and dismissed manager John Trewick who himself had taken over from Graham Turner, the manager who guided the club to promotions from the Football Conference and League Two two years ago.

The Hereford side mugged Bradford City in the first season under Stuart McCall were a big bunch of guys who assembled by Turner at the cost of only half of City’s purchase that year Willy Topp. Ben Smith who was signed from Weymouth for £20,000 in January 2007 and the rest of the squad were either picked up for free – or – in the case of nine of them including Robbie Threlfall they were brought in on loan.

Turner tried the same policy the season after with less success. The team that finished the previous season third and included the likes of Theo Robinson who now impresses for Huddersfield Town and Peterborough’s Toumani Diagouraga ended up bottom of League One with seventeen loanees coming and going in the season including once again Threlfall and former Bantam and, erm, “team mate” of Mark McCammon Moses Ashikodi.

Not that one should dismiss Turner’s methods for taking a team from the non-league to the division above City but the whole story of the rise and fall of Hereford United in the last three years is illustrative of the perils of building teams of loan players. Any progress made is done so on foundations of sand. The players brought in that brought success one year are gone the next and the manager is left scrabbling to find players of a similar or higher quality.

Loan players are a fact of life in all the leagues of English football outside of the Premiership and the odd additional face can help a club, get the mix wrong and the team is full of players who have an eye on the way back to their parent clubs. It is a mix that more often fails than succeeds, but it does sometimes succeed as Hereford prove.

Peter Taylor’s approach to loanees underlines his abilities as a manager. He has brought a half dozen new faces to the squad but few of them have gone straight into the team. Gavin Grant has not been put in over Omar Daley, Mark McCammon has not gone in over James Hanson, Luke Oliver had to bide his time rather than being put in over Steve Williams.

As with his retention of Wayne Jacobs and his keenness to sign Peter Thorne up as a coach Taylor values stability and knows how to maintain and maximise it.

The Bantams are in exceptional form having taken twelve points in the seven games Peter Taylor has managed (two home, five away) and now are looking up the table to climb towards a play off target that most think is unreachable. Other aspirations have been established: to finish in a higher place than last season, to end with a positive goal difference, to maintain a two points a game average over the next two months.

The Bantams continue with Matt Glennon in goal although Simon Ramsden will miss the game injured at right back so Jonathan Bateson is expected to fill in. Luke Oliver and Matthew Clarke continue in central defence and Robbie Threlfall stays at left back behind Luke O’Brien who is on the left flank.

Lee Bullock and Adam Bolder are building a partnership in the middle with both given a ball winning remit while Omar Daley may make the right hand side despite an injury last weekend. Should Omar fail a fitness test Gareth Evans may return or Gavin Grant could be given a chance to make his first start for the Bantams.

New face Ryan Kendall will probably start on the bench with Michael Flynn continuing up front alongside James Hanson.

Hereford’s aims are to stay in the division which – thanks to Grimsby Town’s continued inability to make a fist of staying in the league – seems likely to be achieved. The Bulls are looking to put a wretched year behind them and come back stronger next season.

They may do, they have before..

So This Is It. City Doing Bad Doing Good

In a nutshell anything other than a win for Bradford City at Chesterfield will see the Bantams relegated.

David Wetherall’s side go into the game without Kelly Youga who joins Mose Ashikodi and injured back to the Premiership following his stay at Valley Parade and looking for results and miracles. If wishing made it so City would stay up but football is hard and our own mistakes have been compounded by refereeing point stealing leaving us where we are now.

Should the worst have happened at five on Saturday then City will not go into administration but will be starting next season with the cheapest season tickets in football after Julian Rhodes decided to honour the pledge for the 7,000 fans who have applied. City fans will pay £136 next term. One can only hope that this signals a turn around in the fortunes and atmosphere at VP. Julian Rhodes deserves it to – his actions today should be followed throughout football. As City falter on the field the ideas off it are laudable.

Rhodes says

As I keep stressing, the club’s future depends so much on the backing from the fans.

That is laudable too.

Also worth backing is City fan Nick Kitchen’s campaign to Bradford Council to get them to financially help City out. The title of the campaign is “Campaign Backing For The Bradford District Council To Help Support City Financially” and already over 600 Signatures.

If you see Nick collecting signatures around Keighley shopping centre, in the Bantams Bar, at the club shop before a game or in Chesterfield then give them a sign if you agree. If you get doorstepped in election week next week then you might wants to ask red, blue, yellow or “other” what they think before voting.

Anticipation Has The Habit To Set You Up For Disappointment

There is something wonderful about the sense of anticipation before a big game. In a good two decades plus change of watching City I’ve seen bigger than Saturday’s relegation crunch against Leyton Orient but the stomach churning wait – the mixture of excitement and dread – is the same this Friday as it was the weekend of the 9th of May, 1999.

Remember that weekend at Wolves I recall a sense of foreboding not at the idea that City might not win the game or might not be promoted but at the idea that a resolution was going to come at all. From the Sunday before when Birmingham beat Ipswich 1-0 to put City in the driving seat for promotion to the kick off at Molineux on Sunday we enjoyed a suspended animation of being on the brink. For seven days the mind buzzed with pleasure delaying thoughts which inexorably drew to a close once the first ball was kicked.

The ninety minutes at Wolves was pretty much Hell but everything up to that was a blast.

Which is how the mood for Saturday’s game is. Right now City are in good form going into a crucial game – we are potentially safe, wonderfully poised and waiting for the swing of genius that will make a crucial difference – but come 15:00 reality will set in and two hours later wonderful poise will be either realised or not. City will either be looking at a win or two from two games to stay up or look at League Two.

Not strictly true. A draw delays things. No one seems to have considered the possibility that City might draw the game despite the fact that Orient will most likely come to Valley Parade to get a point and keep City beneath them.

City go into the game minus Moses Ashikodi following his broken leg at Brighton but with Spencer Weir-Daley – SWD – ready to fill the gap. The striking change aside David Wetherall has picked a settled side in marked contrast to Colin Todd’s later tendency to tinker. That Wetherall has nailed down a best team – even if it is not the best team – has started to bring rewards of which the anticipation is one.

Ashikodi Returns To Watford As The Anticipation Begins

Moses Ashikodi returned to Watford for a scan on what is a suspected broken leg sustained in the win over Brighton as the anticipation in the run up to City’s biggest game in years began.

The Bantams face Leyton Orient at Valley Parade with the possibility to get out of the League One relegation zone and push towards safety. Orient say that City would rather be in their position than ours and that may be true with 43 games gone. When 44 have been played things could be very different.

Nevertheless Ashikodi – who has built and impressive partnership with Billy Paynter – will not take part in the run in. The striker’s return will allow Spencer Weir-Daley a crack at the cult hero status Mozza was cementing.

Weir-Daley is a good match for Ashikodi – both offer pace and finishing – but perhaps lacks the aggression that the Watford man brought to the forward line. How curious that the future of this club sits in the partnerships and fitness of a Watford, a Southend and a Nottingham Forest player. How ironic that out man with the most bottle is off saving a different club from relegation.

One wonders if Windass is keeping an eye on events at Valley Parade. One wonders if he is feeling the anticipation.

Game On

Football is great in the sun. At least it is for Bradford City fans. I think it goes back to wins over Wolves and Liverpool and the bright sun that those games were played in. When the sun comes out and spring is in the air City seem to start the good stuff.

The good stuff being Billy Paynter’s goal in the first half that gave the Bantams a life-saving 1-0 win at Brighton.

Paynter struggled all afternoon after getting clattered in the first minute and stooped in to score after Kelly Youga had heading against the bar. Moses Ashikodi ended the game on a stretcher and the fact that both City’s borrowed forwards could end up out for next week’s massive game with Layton Orient is worrying but the fact that next week means something is down to a dogged display from the Dave Wetherall men today.

Watching Young and Ashikodi and Paynter today got the mind racing to what City will be like as a team next season. We have no idea what division we will be in, who the manager will be and we don’t know if any of these guys sweating and running in claret and amber will ever set foot in Bradford again after the end of the season.

City were lucky for sure with Brighton three times pinging the bar and posts and for long periods we lacked real firepower but doggedness saw us though. Stand in outstanding midfielder Eddie Johnson take a bow after a quality performance that suggests City might have an inbuilt replacement once Marc Bridge-Wilkinson returns to Port Vale in the summer.

So games 44 and 45 of the season see the Bantams facing Leyton Orient and Chesterfield with Leyton promising a place out of the relegation zone for the winner and Chesterfield after that perhaps sending them down should results go the way. One note on the fixture list if Leyton Orient’s last day meeting with Huddersfield Town, an easy three points should Town not need them, and the fact the Londoners have to entertain to Nottingham Forest. Chesterfield have play off chasing Oldham on the last day and Northampton next week. They will see a win agianst us as crucial.

City face Leyton Orient at VP, away to Chesterfield and then finally at home to Millwall. Game is most definitely on.

Two Sets Of Rules As City Face The Fall

Ask me about why Bradford City have struggled this season and I have a single, clear , unequivocal answer for you. I look at the goal that was chalked off at Scunthorpe and I remember Steven Schumacher’s red card against Blackpool and I add to that the incongruous decision to send Joe Colbeck off after City took the lead against Oldham at Valley Parade and I say without doubt that the most important factor has been the decisions given by referees.

More of which later. City took a long trip to Bournemouth for what was tagged as a must win and with Eddie Johnson filling in for Mark Bridge-Wilkinson in the midfield it seemed that the Bantams would leave empty handed despite heroics by Donovan Ricketts but a very late header from Spencer Weir-Daley in the 92nd minute left the Bantams with one of the four points many were suggesting City needed from the Easter weekend and hope seemed to return.

Against Oldham that hope was manifested and dashed.

Moses Ashikodi used his pace to get onto the end of a Billy Paynter flick down and lashed a shot in half way through the second half and it should have been enough to give City the win. Of course it was not because as it traditional this season the referee had yet to come into play.

Mr R L Lewis gave City a throw in at the Midland Road/Bradford End of Valley Parade and Oldham’s players grabbed the ball only to throw it away to the corner flag when they saw that the decision had been given the other way. No card was shown despite what it expressly stated in the rules of the game. Ten minutes and one City goal after that Joe Colbeck was given a second yellow card for banging in a cross after taking the ball over the touchline.

Two incidents which are denoted identically in the rules – in fact the are covered under Rule 12 Point Four: Cautionable Offences which says

A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he… delays the restart of play

Both offences denoted the same way in the rules so I am desperate to know why Mr Lewis believes that one results in a yellow card and the other does not? I assume that League One is played the rules of football FIFA set out so why is one offence cautionable and one not?

Without assigning a reason for it – I’m looking for answers not giving them – to give the same offence one punishment for one side and another for the other is bias.

It matters not what the opinions on the players involved are – many said that Colbeck was stupid to get himself sent off and cost us the win – but I believe that considering that this decision, that the Schumacher sending off at Blackpool, that Eddie Johnson’s disallowed effort against Yeovil, that David Wetherall’s goal at Scunthorpe compared to Robbie Williams’s for Blackpool are going to cost us our place in this league then we deserve an explanation why the most simple tenant of the game – that the rules are applied equally for both sides – is not being applied at Valley Parade.

To add insult to the technical offence that Colbeck committed Oldham’s goal scorer Luigi Glombard played the game protected by a yellow card shield recklessly tackling Mark Bower – take a look at Rule 12 again – before finally getting booked for “over celebrating” his goal. The connotation of the rules of football – the spirit of the game – are not that a player can swing wildly for the ball endangering his opponent and not be cautioned then feel the force of the law for being happy to have equalised. The spirit of the rule dubbed “kicking the ball away” is not to punish players who run over the byline in the attacking half and cross the ball to the keeper anyway any more than they are supposed to punish strikers who finish when offside.

The fact that it was Colbeck – so often and so ill a figure of ire at Valley Parade – dulls the edge of comment. Close your eyes and imagine it was St Jermaine Johnson in his final game at the club. Remember the fury and put it behind a player who actually wants to play for this club.

So there it is. The ball game perhaps and with four games left City need three wins from a trip to Brighton, home clash with Leyton Orient, a visit to Chesterfield and the final game of the season at home to Millwall.

Three wins would give 52 points and probably safety. I’d take the points from Blackpool, Yeovil, Scunthorpe and Oldham but it looks like this club is going to take the fall for a serious of Refereeing decisions which the charitable call the utterly poor state of officialdom in football today.

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