Preview / Absurd / Regret

In his preamble to musings on philosophy Danish poet Søren Kierkegaard commented “Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both.”

Debt

Racing Universitaire Algerios goalkeeper Albert Camus remarked “After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences, what I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”

Camus was not much of a goalkeeper and retired early with novelty remembering him as better than he likely would have been. His aphorism about what he owed to the game is as accurate enough for consideration as the first football season to be played behind closed doors kicks off on Saturday.

There is a lip service paid to the idea that the match attending supporter is the heart of football. This is obviously rendered untrue by those who live The Ladbrokes Life, or who watch Soccer Saturday every week, or who support Barcelona while living in Bradford who are capable of having an experience of football supporting that does not rely on attendance.

“What is football without fans?” was the question, and we will get an answer.

Hope

Over the summer Bradford City have rid themselves of around a dozen players who one struggles to find anything positive or celebratory to write about.

Hope Akpan was not as bad as a mass of people would have it but never did anything to suggest he should be missed.

Those players have been replaced with a second collection of players who are on the whole younger, and those player have been added to by a half dozen players from the youth setup which stands as a lingering testament to the planning done by Edin Rahic while he was chairman of Bradford City.

All this recruitment is best judged in retrospect but it seems highly unlikely that Bradford City have traded a group of League Two quality players for a group of League One quality players. Indeed it seems likely that while the players will have different characteristics they will on the whole be of a similar quality.

Absurd

Narratives around football centre on a type of control which the game seems to rarely, if ever, afford.

One player leaves only to become top scorer, another ends up in the semi-professional leagues and you would do well to see the justification in that given their performances for City. City sign the best player in the League and he is awful but the guy who could not get on the bench at Carlisle is great.

What makes a single recruitment successful? How much was Nahki Wells a success because of two huge morale boosting goals in his first few games? Why was the tireless Billy Knott of Chelsea not a player worth keeping? There are answers to all these questions in principle but that answer is so much a compounded of variables as to be unknowable in practice.

We look at these events and mesh them together in an extrapolation trying to establish that grouping unknowables together makes something knowable by the aggregate. We call that a good transfer window because the alternative seems too dark for us to be comfortable with.

By the time he had given up the goalkeeping Camus had started to look how the human condition attempted to create a sense of events and senseless world and dubbed the condition the absurd.

Absurd

Stuart McCall is planning for a season without striker James Vaughan who scored seven goals in free play last term. McCall should not replace Vaughan with another player so much as he must look to recreate Vaughan’s goals in the sum of play.

Twelve months ago Gary Bowyer assigned the task of goal scoring to a subset of the forward players. This tactical approach Hugo Meisl considered old fashioned in the 1930s but is very much the way the English football operated then and has until very recently.

In his second spell as Bradford City manager McCall tried to create a more multifaceted approach to the game in which players are required to contribute to more to the many areas of play than Bowyer’s teams were required to.

Assuming McCall does this again Vaughan’s goals are replaced if this distribution of attacking play brings one more goal from echo other outfield position. This seems a better way of replacing the striker than chasing another name player through the Wasteland.

Likewise a stronger team can be built from distributing defensive play throughout the team. Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United who task Oli McBurnie with breaking up opposition creative play by blocking passing lanes between their defence and midfield. To Wilder McBurnie’s success in doing that is as important as his scoring goals. McBurnie has six in thirty six for Sheffield United but Wilder judges him on the goal difference while he is on the field.

In City’s opening game – a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup last weekend – McCall showed signs of having a similar broader view of the impact of a player on the field. The City manager borrowed the Sheffield United trick of the central defender overload which saw Anthony O’Connor crossing to Harry Pritchard into space created by the forward players Guthrie and Novak not looking to score but rather moving away and taking defensive players with them.

There has never been a question of McCall’s passion but his tactical acuity has been called into doubt seemingly to provide a counter to that passion. McCall is a tactical facsimilator rather than an innovator and watching his career has shown that.

Absurd

AL: Belief. Motivation. Motivation, motivation, motivation! The three M’s. That’s what football is about. It’s all about motivation.

CA: Motivation, I follow that.

AL: You’ve got to get those boys on the pitch, motivated. It’s no good saying go out and buy some ice cream, go to the pictures. You’ve got to tell them what they’re doing. You’ve got to motivate them onto the pitch. Push them out with forks if you need to, but get them out onto the pitch. And then when the game’s over, get them in again.

CA: Now, you went to Hartlepool, and you had this system of getting them angry. Was that – Rage.

AL: Well, you know rage is very much an adrenaline inducing factor in all sports. I mean Linford Christie wasn’t in a good mood when he won the hundred metres, was he?

CA: Well, he was afterwards.

AL: Yes, but you’ve got to be in a rage to bring out the best in yourself. And what I do to my players, one of the tactics, this was an early tactic, is to kidnap their wives. Or girlfriends! Girlfriends or wives. I’d send them all on a bus up to Grimsby, with no ticket back, and, errm, the lads went mad. They were – One game against Rotherham, my whole team was sent off, almost as soon as they got on.

CA: Yes. Right. The other sort of weird thing you used to use. I’ll not say ‘weird’, but –

AL: Odd.

CA: Odd.

Alan Latchley, by Peter Cook

Absurd

When one looks at the 2020/2021 season to be opened in front of empty stadiums with teams trying to work out how to exist under a very poorly implemented salary cap it seems obtuse to question a club’s ability to create and stick to a long term plan.

It seems entirely obvious to suggest that Bradford City’s planning is limited and limited to subsisting with the hope of promotion but not the expectation. I may not be especially happy about this I am not tempted to direct this ire towards Julian Rhodes, Stefan Rupp, the man who runs the social media or the chap that cuts the grass.

There is an idea that Bradford City should be creating a plan to move upwards in the Football League and that failing to do so convicts the club, the people who run it, and anyone who does not share the Sisyphusan zeal of a lack of ambition.

I am reminded of an episode of South Park where the gang finds out that a group of Gnomes have created a three step plan that explains recent clothing theft. Phase one reads “Collect Underpants”, phase three reads “Profit” and under phase two there is a large question mark.

How one fills that question mark defines how one approaches the 2020/2021 season at Bradford City and perhaps football itself.

Some fill the question mark with blind faith and optimism, some fill it with statistical analysis and talk of tactics, some fill it with a demand that someone else fills it. Ultimately this might be a reflection of each supporter’s locus of control

However there is an answer as to what is in the question mark space but it is not blind faith and clapping harder or the idea that the club is secretly machinating against one’s best interests. It is simple, failing neo-liberal economics.

Neo-Liberalism

The changes in football in the 1980s and early 1990s are best understood as being the impact of neo-liberal economics on the game. In 1985 Tottenham Hotspur FC set up a Holding Company which owned Tottenham Hotspur FC allowing it to sidestep the rules of the Football League at the time which prevented owners from taking money out of a club in any significant way.

As with the privatisation of British Gas, British Telecom and other utilities Football – a hitherto break even activity – had found a way to join the Reagan-Thatcherite consensus that the market should govern activity.

No Bradford City fan needs me to say what football was like in 1985 nor do people need me to help them recall the years between then and Hillsborough. As Adrian Tempany recalls in his essential book having failed to defeat football through policing and identity card regulation the Thatcherites deregulated all that could be and made the game the market’s problem.

The market solved many pressing problems within football like unsafe, crumbling stadia. It increased the quality of the play which it started to call “the product” and began to invest in support infrastructure in a way hitherto unknown.

But while the market created the improvements needed it unsurprisingly began the tendency to monopoly – or in football’s case an oligopoly – which characterises the economic system. Whereas once the football boom was for everyone the capitalistic filtering of wealth to the top began.

Consumption

The successful clubs demand more consumers and cannibalise support. The language of football is the language of the unregulated market. Of assets and of performance, and failures to perform as expected. The language of football supporting is all but colonised by the language of consumption.

Soon after The Football Industry started to recatagorise football as a product that product stopped being the ninety minutes of a game and started to be the victory within that game. Football Clubs sell themselves as Glory Machines and supporters become consumers of that product rather than enablers.

Defeats then are recatagorised not as events in the life of a supporter – as things to be experienced – but as support issues similar to when your Netflix stops working. The clamour for refunds after a poor away performance is no different to the extra month on your package given when you were not able to watch TV for a night, called the customer complaint line, and they need to placated you.

Twenty five years after the deregulation of the football markets and supporters of Bradford City are now inefficiently assigned resources in a system which would prefer us to trade season tickets in for Sky Sports subscriptions.

Dysfunctional

There is no secret as to why Bradford City cannot create and execute a plan for improving Bradford City, just the unspoken realisation that we are living in a failing world created by our neo-liberal choices.

The tendency to monopoly has centralised football into an industry which functions at the top of the game and is increasingly dysfunctional the further down the pyramid one goes.

It is a laudable traditionalism in football that prevents the market’s answer to the problems being realised as clubs fight tooth and nail to retain their status but just because the likes of Bradford City refuse to bow to the market pressure to be subsumed into the higher echelons of football it does not mean that those market forces are not present.

One can have all the blind faith, or all the red faced anger, concerning City’s ability to create and maintain a plan one wants it will not alter the realities of operating in an unregulated and predictory marketplace in which there is no more easy a way for a League Two team to rise up the leagues as there is for the local Greengrocer to withstand the onslaught of Amazon and Tesco.

And lest this be read as a suggestion that no one cares about Bradford City it is not so, it is worse than that. A small group of people care a great deal and a huge group of people care that we and the rest of League One & Two just go away.

Phase Two: “Smash the capitalist system.”

Seems unlikely.

Unlikely

Increasingly, and in my opinion as a misguided attempt to deal with the absurdity characterised by the question mark of phase two, there is an attack on that supporting football as being counterproductive. That engaging in support is an unsophisticated act of blind loyalty, or blind faith, or both.

This attitude is as present as Bradford City as it is elsewhere and holds to itself as if too much optimism, too much loyalty, will let the people in the shadows of the boardroom off the hook for coming up with a direct path from the exclusionary level the club is in now to something better.

The faith that – given everything we know about the system that that Bradford City operates in – the difference between success and failure is the want of creating and sticking to a plan.

This too seems to be an act of naive faith on the par with the false correlation that clapping harder will make players perform better.

Phase Two: “The Rhodes Plan.”

Seems unlikely.

Optimism

Football is optimism.

Football is the optimism that the things a football club does – be they well planned or seemingly random – coalesce into something that wins football matches.

It is the optimism that for one factor that can be controlled and done well the tens of other contributing factors which beyond control will run the right way.

The only sense we can make of a football season is a retrofitted forced narrative in which we convince ourselves we could have had control so we can tell ourselves that we will have control of it in the future. In this way we try tell ourselves we can can control the world around us.

The last six months since 2019/2020 ended early on a Friday afternoon and everyone went home should tell us that the control is beyond us. Optimism is the sine qua non.

It is Camus’ view of The Absurd writ large. To characterise the optimism of football fans as something which football no longer needs is to pathologise the act of football supporting itself while surrendering to the neo-liberal view where football supporters are replaced by consumers of the football product.

Preview

We take all that, do it over nine months, and call it the 2020/2021 season.

I agree with Kierkegaard.

One can involve oneself in the emotional reach of a football season or not, but either way one will regret it.

Mister / Definitely

Uwe Rösler is definitely joining Bradford City who are definitely going to be selling Bratwurst at half time and definitely paying one and a half million for Reece Burke who definitely posted a picture of himself in a City kit and he will definitely replace James McDarby who is definitely joining Parkinson at Bolton with Jamie Proctor who would definitely have scored twenty five goals this season as would Dylan Mottley-Henry who is definitely in the Barnsley first team by Christmas and definitely would have been brilliant for us as would George Green who is definitely the English Antoine Griezmann and Stuart McCall missed out in him because he is definitely not a proper manager and definitely just signing his mates which is odd because we definitely have not signed anyone but when we do sign people we will definitely be signing cheap German players who will definitely not be good enough but will be in the team because Edin Rahic definitely picks the team and all this definitely would not have happened if the Germans had not forced out Parkinson because the old boardroom definitely would not have forced a manager out and we definitely are going to be awful this year and definitely will be rubbish and under prepared and Greg Abbott definitely let Nahki Wells go because he does not know a good player when he sees one and why didn’t we sign Tom Bradshaw anyway because without him there is no chance at all of promotion and without Josh Cullen there is no chance of even winning a game and the young players are definitely not going to be given a chance because Omar Daley is definitely coming back.

But I expect promotion.

Definitely.

Timing / Signing

There is a worry, dear reader, that good signings are being made in League One and that shod of a manager Bradford City are not making them.

This is a problem of course. Without having a manager, a chief scout, and with having chairmen who have just arrived it at the club one doubts that anyone has a list of targets to bring in or if they do that that list is especially impressive.

The most impressive run of signings in City’s recent history came in the summer of 2012 when within a month Rory McArdle, Gary Jones, and Stephen Darby all arrived. Their arrival was Phil Parkinson’s coup and probably had not little to do with the fact that all three had played for Rochdale under Parkinson’s assistant Steve Parkin. One wonders how long a signing like Rory McArdle or Gary Jones takes to make. Jones had been shown around Valley Parade the season before he arrived but stayed at Spotland suggesting a year long chase for him but for all we know Phil might have turned to Steve one afternoon and told him the club needed a good central midfielder and Steve got on the phone.

Nevertheless the worry is that as City stand still signings are being made and the Bantams are missing out.

Using the summer transfer windows from 2010 to 2014 as a five year sample (which excludes last season, for fairness, as I’ve criticised it heavily in the past) Bradford City signed forty five permanent players. This includes loan signings being made permanent in the summer but excludes loan signings. Here is a list of those players.

Of the forty five players signed I’m going to say that fourteen were successful. By that I mean that in the season they signed they started at least two thirds of the league games the club played in the season that follow.

This criteria might seem to err harshly but the question at hand is about if the type of players needed for success are being sucked up while City are managerless and not about prospects or good pro squad men.

Any player who signed but started less than a third of the club’s games is marked as a failure.

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started more than two thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 27 May 2010 – Luke Oliver – 100.00%
  • 30 May 2014 – Billy Knott – 79.49%
  • 7 June 2012 – Rory McArdle – 100.00%
  • 9 June 2014 – Gary Liddle – 100.00%
  • 22 June 2012 – Gary Jones – 100.00%
  • 27 June 2014 – Billy Clarke – 82.05%
  • 4 July 2012 – Will Atkinson – 68.42%
  • 4 July 2012 – Garry Thompson – 68.42%
  • 5 July 2012 – Stephen Darby – 86.84%
  • 13 July 2011 – Ritchie Jones – 79.17%
  • 29 July 2012 – James Meredith – 84.21%
  • 4 August 2012 – Nathan Doyle – 89.47%
  • 9 August 2010 – Dave Syers – 73.17%
  • 29 August 2011 – Kyel Reid – 66.67%

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started less than a thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 16 May 2014 – Matthew Dolan – 7.69%
  • 27 May 2010 – Lloyd Saxton – 0.00%
  • 30 June 2010 – Jake Speight – 31.71%
  • 1 July 2011 – Mark Stewart – 20.83%
  • 2 July 2013 – Jason Kennedy – 11.63%
  • 3 July 2013 – Mark Yeates – 23.26%
  • 6 July 2011 – Scott Brown – 0.00%
  • 8 July 2011 – Patrick Lacey – 0.00%
  • 13 July 2011 – Nialle Rodney – 0.00%
  • 14 July 2011 – Andrew Burns – 0.00%
  • 20 July 2012 – Alan Connell – 21.05%
  • 22 July 2011 – Nahki Wells – 29.17%* See comments below
  • 30 July 2013 – Raffaele De Vita – 13.95%
  • 1 August 2013 – Matt Taylor – 2.33%
  • 5 August 2014 – Ben Williams – 30.77%
  • 5 August 2014 – Mo Shariff – 0.00%
  • 5 August 2014 – Matthew Urwin – 0.00%
  • 18 August 2012 – Carl McHugh – 31.58%
  • 31 August 2010 – Chib Chilaka – 0.00%
  • 31 August 2011 – Dean Overson – 0.00%

I shall let you, dear reader, pick more bones out of those two lists but my interpretation of them are that our recent history points to successful signings being made early – in June – and that the closer towards the start of the season one waits the less likelihood there is that the player will play a significant role in the coming year.

There is, of course, a caveat to all this and it comes in the form of the Parkin/Joned factor mentioned above. That a glut of successful signings were made in June is probably more to do with ongoing relations that it is to do with the time of the signing.

We enter into post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking here. That successful signings are made in June is a factor of having the relationships and structures in place to make those signings. In short if all the work was done (at any point) previous to the end of the last season the signings will come in June.

If we consider the end of July and start of August to be the time when clubs who do not have those relationships make signings based on who is left following the players who are picked off because of Parkin/Jones style relationships (what we call scatter-signing) then City – with no relationship at the moment – would be operating in that way were they to be bringing in player now.

Scatter-signing in June is to replicate the behaviour of August two months early.

Bradford City do not have – or do not seem to have – those relationships or structure in place at the moment. There is no one at the club who knows a Gary Jones to bring in in order to bring him in in early June.

Should Nicky Law Jnr return with Stuart McCall then there would be a June signing because of that relationship but that is not the same as sitting a manager in the office in June and telling him to bring in five faces before the Euro finish.

The clubs who are working on signing Gillingham’s Bradley Dack – who City’s Billy Knott seems to have joined the Gills in anticipation of him leaving – have been working on that signing for months. Even if City’s new manager was to be on the phone buying players today the June signings would probably be out of his reach.

And so talking about not signing players in June misses the point. It is not that the players are not signed it is that – I would say – the structure that need to be in place to bring in a Gary Jones or a Rory McArdle need to be in place before June.

New chairman, new manager, new era and all. We have to accept that Bradford City are forced to sit out the June 2016 recruitment.

The Neville Southall problem returns to Bury as City draw a blank in the FA Cup third round

Bradford City fans saw the end of Neville Southall’s career, Bury fans saw the start. Southall – who many regard the best goalkeeper of his era – played 39 games at Gigg Lane and presented manager Jim Iley with a problem.

Southall’s predecessor John Forrest had kept goal for the Shakers for twenty four years but such was the new goalkeepers nascent ability was such that that Iley’s strikers – who included future PFA chairman Gordon Taylor – were struggling to beat the him in training.

So much so that Taylor and his team mates got used to spending training sessions putting their best efforts at Southall and seeing them saved.

They got used to not scoring. And they lost confidence.

The Phil Parkinson era

Southall had been gone seven years, Iley four, when Phil Parkinson made his debut for Bury. City manager Parkinson played 145 games at Gigg Lane most of them as the position of midfield spoiler that he would make his hallmark at Reading.

There is an adage that one can trust a manager to know his own position. The suspension of Nathan Clarke following a sending off at Gillingham that also saw Reece Burke injured and then returned to West Ham United had given Parkinson a problem in the middle of his back four. Rory McArdle needed a partner and while Christopher Routis had returned to fitness Parkinson had previously dropped Gary Liddle back from the holding midfield berth to he him in the role.

And that approach had failed. It had failed at the end of last season and failed at the start of this and – to my estimation – it had failed not because Liddle can not play the position (he spent a season in central defence at Notts County before arriving at Valley Parade) but rather because he was missing from the middle of midfield.

Phil Parkinson decided he would not be without his Phil Parkinson.

The best from the worst

Liddle in central midfield presented the problem of using Christopher Routis in the heart of the defence – a role he has not played since Joe Garner spent fourteen minutes ripping him apart before he was sent off – in front of a keeper in Ben Williams with whom there is a direct correlation between McArdle and Burke being in front of him and him keeping a clean sheet.

One recalls with horror Williams struggling to set the defensive line at the start of the season and the number and type of goals conceded as a result.

Looking over the field and almost half the City players: Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Kyel Ried, James Hanson and James Meredith; had joined the club as it struggled in the bottom half of League Two. Bury are a peer at of City in the top half of League One and all those five players are worth their places a league and a half above where they were when they first got on a training pitch with Parkinson.

Which is something to describe in assessing the skills of Phil Parkinson. He picked up the players signed when CIty were (arguably) at their worst and got the best out of them.

And so it proved with Routis, and so it proved with Williams, who both performed superbly. I would have written off Williams as not worth the work to improve but when Andrew Tutte got behind McArdle in the first half and was in a one on one situation with the City keeper my heart was not in my mouth as Williams narrowed angles, made himself large, and ended up pushing the ball away.

Likewise Routis kept le coeur from la bouche most of the afternoon matching McArdle for vigour and showing the physical strength that was missing from his game previously. He went too far and one two footed tackle in the second half should have seen him sent off.

Parkinson had decided that the way to battle Bury was to battle Bury and City were physically robust bullying the Shakers into the playing the game as the away team in the own stadium a fact made easier by the decision to put Bantams fans behind both goals. They do not like it when you suggest away fans outnumbered the home around these parts but that seemed to be the case from my corner of Gigg Lane.

What did John Iley do about that problem?

Having been bullied onto the back foot by a City team pressing high Bury struggled to create a tempo to their play and while they had two chance to snatch a lead it would have been snatched. The Shakers best moment ended with Darby and McArdle taking control of the ball between them in a six yard box scrum and wandering away with it as if it were a training game.

But at the other end of the field the Bantams struggled to convert chances. Tony McMahon hit the post with a free kick, Liddle headed wide when everyone expected him to score, and Hanson scooped over from inside the six yard box in the last minutes of stoppage time. Confidence is obviously low and shows with all City’s players.

Difficult to score against but labouring at the other end with strikers. What did John Iley do about that problem?

The Iley way

Iley effectively banned Southall from training – albeit with a smile – and in doing so allowed the 1981 vintage Bury strikers to get used to scoring in practice again. Southall’s rise was inexorably unaffected.

The Shakers ended the season blasting in fours and sixes, clearly with confidence recovered, and finished above City in the 1981 Division Four table. Southall left for Everton and glory at the end of the 1981 season and so the problem solved itself the next season having been fixed on the training pitch before.

And one suspect that it is on the training pitch that Parkinson will solve his team’s goalscoring problems. The team are defending well, are creating chances, are controlling games. The ball will not go in and confidence has suffered as a result but Parkinson (and I) believe that it is easier to add goals to a team that defends well that stop a free scoring team conceding.

This is Parkinson’s way. He builds teams that are hard to beat and capitalises on what can build the confidence. Sixth choice striker off the bench against Rochdale blasts it in and he becomes Nahki Wells. Middling League Two team beats Arsenal and Parkinson galvanises the club around it. City bob along in League One, beat Chelsea, and end up a a place outside the play-offs.

Parkinson takes a clink of the light of confidence and bathes the players in it. How that is done will probably not become a part of football folklore like Iley and Southall have but everything we have seen from Parkinson in the last five years suggests it will.

Three more years as Phil Parkinson signs up but deserves more at Fleetwood

A false premise

Bradford City would have beaten Fleetwood Town with some ease were it not for a mistake by Ben Williams where the keeper fell behind the line trying to catch Jimmy Ryan’s free kick.

Phil Parkinson – who signed a three year contract to carry on as City manager this week – will have been pleased with how his team responded. James Hanson equalised after a great run by Devante Cole fed Josh Morris who crossed to the number nine who finished well.

And Cole hit the post later, and headed wide, and Hanson flashed another wide and with the last action of the game Steven Davies headed in a Lee Evans free kick which was ludicrously flagged offside by a linesman who – frankly – was pretending that the part of the rules that mention “benefit of the doubt” are simply not there…

The three types of mistake

It turns out that there are only really three types of mistake in football.

There is the type of mistake in which a person tries to do a right action and fails. This is the striker missing the open goal, the defender bringing down the player he tries to tackle, the goalkeeper who – in this case – goes behind the line with the ball.

We see this kind of mistake all the time in football. The stray pass is less highlighted than Williams’ mistake but is a version of the same. That Williams made the mistake is more costly than a Billy Knott pass that went past Morris and into touch does not mean the essence of the error is not the same.

A person tries to do something and does not achieve it. Mistake number one.

One is left with the conclusion that to blame Williams for the defeat is to punish him by virtue of the position he plays. It is – in this consideration – no more of a good idea to apportion blame to Williams than it would be to Devante Cole for trying to hit the goal but hitting the post.

Dropping a player for making a mistake is an obvious managerial mistake. It presupposes that the replacement player will never make a mistake – which is not true – and it sets the precedent that all players in the team are one slip away from being out of the team.

A team cannot play with confidence if it is one bad pass, one off target shot, one slip on the line away from the Reserves. A good manager knows this.

The second mistake

The second is the mistakes in which a person thinks he is doing the right action but is not.

This is the kind of mistake which defines how limited a player is. The best example to come to mind is Paul Jewell who – before he was a great manager and a decent centre forward – was a terrible winger who would sprint past a man well enough but never raise his head when crossing the ball.

Every cross randomly shot into the box for no one at all. It did not matter if the actions Jewell took of firing the ball over without looking were taken well or badly they were the wrong actions (or they were only right by chance) and so they were mistakes.

We deal with these mistakes all the time saying things like “that is the sort of player he is.” We do it with James Hanson who scored the kind of finish which he rarely scores because his skills are more battering ram than fox in the box. We did it with Hanson’s former strike-partner Nahki Wells who could sprint past any defender and would have considered the kind of goal which Hanson claimed at Fleetwood to be all in an afternoon’s work but seldom involved himself in the approach play as Devante Cole did all afternoon.

Which is not a criticism of Wells but an acceptance that some players do the wrong things – this second type of mistake – and some do not. Cole’s afternoon in front of goal could have been more fruitful – misses are mistake one – but his all round play promises so much.

Cole involves himself in build up, he moves into position in the box, and he thinks about what he will do on the ball before he gets the ball. Even when these things do not come off – be it hitting the post or blazing over the bar – they have such scope.

Cole does not make this second type of mistake but Ben Williams does when he pushes the defence out further than he can cover when he comes off his line. If you are convinced that this is Williams’ problem then Saturday’s mistake was neither here nor there. I want a goalkeeper who can control the area in front of him and Ben Williams does not do that well enough to be a part of a successful team.

As it is there seems to have been a waiting for Williams to make a mistake – a type one mistake – before he can be dropped which should it happen seems undignified and troubles me. If I make a value judgement on how Williams keeps goal I find myself wanting someone else but that is an honest decision. Parkinson using Saturday as a pretext to make the change he wanted to but could not seems like a decision fudged.

The third mistake

The third type of mistake a person can make in football may not really a mistake at all. It is to follow instructions that bring about the wrong action. It is for a full back to stay back and hold the line rather than attack because those are the manager’s instructions. It is for a midfielder to not chase down the ball but to keep in position. It is for Rory McArdle to play a long pass to James Hanson because that is how Phil Parkinson has instructed the team to play.

One can hear these described as mistakes often. “Just hitting it long” seems to be a bugbear and when Steve Davies came on for Cole late on as Parkinson looked to consolidate what he had rather than go after what he wanted at 1-1 there were noises that the manager had brought the wrong player for the occasion on.

Davies, as it happened, scored with almost the last touch of the game heading in after a free kick but it was ruled out – another type of mistake – but he remit was to come on and hold the ball up front which he did as Parkinson’s game management came to the fore.

Another game without defeat builds confidence within the squad which was Parkinson’s aim from the opening exchanges of the season. Players who were lagging behind the line are coming up to speed – Paul Anderson was his most impressive today – and players like Billy Knott are being given challenges which they rise to.

The premise of Parkinson’s management at City has always been gradual improvement through a squad which stood together. Parkinson’s progress is not about smash and grab raids and it is about not losing, and taking a point even if you did deserve more.

Bradford City vs Manchester United vs Rangers vs Everton in the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that never happened

Fargo

This is a true story about a four team football tournament that never happened but was going to happen at Valley Parade in the Summer of 2012 at Valley Parade, Bradford.

The tournament would be hosted by Bradford City and feature three of the biggest names in British football: Rangers, Everton and Manchester United.

It is a strange story and one which seems out of keeping with the profile of the club at the moment but take my word for it, it did happen.

Some of the names have been left out to avoid embarrassment for the people involved who did embarrassing things.

This does not include David Moyes who, if he reads this, may feel embarrassed.

Sorry David.

Flashback episode

Jason McKeown and myself, when we talk, invariable talk about the day we spent with the Chief Scout and would-have-been Director of Football at Bradford City Archie Christie. At the time we talked about the day as like being on Jim’ll Fix It but now we don’t.

The day had an unreal air about it. The aim for Christie – the 49 year old Scot who had recently arrived at Bradford City – was to show what he did in a day and how what he did did not conflict with manager Phil Parkinson but rather augmented Parkinson but thinking back I believe there was something else behind our invitation.

Christie lived in London but worked out of the a Bradford hotel most of the time. The conflict between Christie and the people he worked with like Mark Lawn, Roger Owen, and Peter Jackson I could – and perhaps will – write a book about but suffice to say that at the end of long, hard days of work the gregarious Christie went back to The Cedar Court hotel at the top of the M606, and was alone.

I imagine that Christie thought when he took the job that he would have more to do with the people around Bradford City. I imagine he thought that he would be part of a group of people, a gang, and that he would trade stories about his adventures in football and about the club he had joined but instead was spending a lot of time in a featureless Bradford hotel.

I think he probably wanted someone to talk to about Bradford City, and I think that someone was me.

Everton Part 1: Tom Cleverley

Tom Cleverley signed for Everton under freedom of contract and for no transfer fee this week leaving Bradford City without a percentage payment on the deal which took the England international – then a twelve year old child – to England’s biggest football club Manchester United.

Bradford City co-chairmen Mark Lawn is honest about how much the club were expecting that one day Cleverley would leave United and sign for someone in a deal which activated City’s sell on clause but that will not happen now and so City were – in his reading of the situation – out of pocket.

The detail of the transfer that took the twelve year old Tom Cleverley from Bradford City’s to Manchester United included a percentage of any transfer fee paid for the player, and it included a payment for each Football League/Premier League appearance the player made and – I believe – ended up netting City about £75,000*.

At Bradford City it was thought that that £75,000 was dependent on Cleverley playing for Manchester United. It was also thought that the “sell on clause” percentage applied to full transfers, and not loan deals.

However in the Autumn of 2011 Christie he drove over to Old Trafford with a copy of the transfer deal in hand and demanded the money be paid for the games played for Leicester City, Watford and Wigan on loan, and a cut of any loan fees that United were paid for Cleverley.

Christie’s point was that the transfer deal didn’t specify that the games Cleverley played had to be for Manchester United – they could be for anyone – and did specify that City were entitled to any transfer fee which included temporary transfers. The Scot was prepared to sit in the reception area until someone would deal with him, and agree with him.

He camped out for a few hours in Manchester before returning back to Valley Parade with a cheque from United for the amount which went straight into manager Peter Jackson’s budget.

The fact the money arrived for Peter Jackson to spend rather than over the following years may, or may not, been significant but what was useful was the conversation which that Christie had started with one of the biggest clubs in the World.

Christie used the opportunity to create a relationship with people in the system of Old Trafford. The terms of the relationship seemed to be that Christie would keep Manchester United informed of developments at Bradford City, and in his newly set up Development Squad and Manchester United would compensate his Development Squad Fund for that to the tune of £45,000 over a period of time*.

Money, and The Development Squad Fund

The Development Squad Fund is always a source of some confusion. It confused me and I had a good look through the spreadsheet. I knew how much the young player who Christie had offered the chance to turn their careers around at Bradford City were being paid and let me tell you they were not millionaire footballers.

Players were on around £100 a week. Christie believe that that would root out players who wanted the lifestyle of a footballer rather than to be a footballer. To live on £100 a week in Bradford you had to really want it*.

As with all clubs The Football League give money to Bradford City to be spent on for youth development some of which created a part of the fund as was appropriate because it featured some of the youth side.

The fund was augmented by other money that Christie could generate from the squad itself. This might include the Development Squad being paid to play closed-doors friendly matches at other clubs, or it might include anything raised by loaning out Development Squad players*.

This money then went into a separate pot to the manager’s budget and could not be used by the manager because it was – in part – made of Football League grants and could not be spent on transfer fees or first team players.

Christie controlled that separate pot and used for his Development Squad. From this pot players like Scott Brown, Dean Overson, Dominic Rowe, and Nahki Wells were paid, although they were not very much.

Some of the players who joined the Development Squad from other clubs were given a simple proposition by Christie. “You’ve failed as footballers to this point, your previous club does not want you, and you are going to have to get a real job now but we at Bradford City will give you a last chance. Impress us and we will put you in our first team and you do not have to go work in a Supermarket.”

Nahki Wells’ name stands out on the list because he embodied that proposition whereas the rest have had more modest careers as footballers, or no careers at all.

Wells’ name seems to justify a project like a Development Squad for clubs like City – who benefited from his transfer to Huddersfield Town for £1.25m – and justify too Premier League clubs like Manchester United investing in what are ostensibly rivals to make sure that any gems they – or their rivals – accidentally let go can be polished up and returned to the crown.

Wells has not gone to the Premier League football but Cleverley did, and so did Fabian Delph. Delph and Cleverley were both spirited away from City very young and coincidentally both played in last week’s FA Cup Final. They made the big time.

Of the tens of thousands of eleven and twelve year olds kicking a ball every weekend how did Delph and Cleverley ended up becoming the subject of real football transfers. How do clubs like Manchester United or Leeds United (who bought Delph from Bradford City) even find out that if they watch that specific game of the thousands they could watch in a weekend then they will see a future England International?

The answer seems to be from relationships such as the one which existed between Bradford City and Manchester United as a result of Archie Christie’s involvement in making Manchester United pay for Tom Cleverley.

A Person with a Black Book

In the World of Advertising Agencies (in which I have worked) there is always a New Business department and within that department there is always a Person with a Black Book.

In that book is a list of names and the names are the Person’s Contacts and those Contacts work for potential Clients. Probably the Person has got his or her job because of the names in that book and the prospect of linking Agency up with Client that Contacts represent.

After a while the Person moves on to another agency and takes the book with them. At the new Agency the Person start getting in touch with Contacts who by that time have moved to different Clients and work is done. Even though the Agency and the Client are different the Person and the Contact are the same, and that is how the business works.

What is important though is that the relationship between Agency and Client is actually a relationship between Person with a Black Book and Contact.

I’ve worked in an Agency where the Person with a Black Book has been fired on a Monday and on the Tuesday the Contact has taken the Client’s business away. This is how I am used to business working.

Advertising is a strange business like football is. It seems in both that the people have all the control they need but they do not. No matter how much work you put into a Pepsi campaign if Coca-Cola do a better campaign you lose, and no much how much work you put in in a football match if the other team do it better you lose.

In this world without control people are loyal to people.

Whatever relationship there was between Bradford City and Manchester United was really a relationship between Christie and someone at Old Trafford who was taking an interest in making sure that the Red Devils knew what was going on in the youth set-up of various clubs to make sure that they would be on hand when the next Cleverley, Delph, or Andre Wisdom or (in 2011) George Green emerged.

Whoever that was at Old Trafford – and I have no idea who it was – would probably be highly sought after for the contact book he had and likewise the contacts Christie made at Bradford City would stay with him wherever he would go after.

The cost of being Manchester United

All this might seem odd but think that Manchester United spent £59m in a transfer fee on a single player last season, and paid that player Angel Di Maria a further £280,000 a week in wages. It is estimated that Di Maria will cost United £70m over the course of five years.

By way of contrast in 2014 players who were signed young at United were often paid much less than those bought in for large transfer fees. Juan Mata was paid £140,000 a week, Shinji Kagawa £80,000 while Danny Welbeck got £75,000 and Cleverley got £40,000.

This means it would probably cost United a six times more over five years to employ of Angel Di Maria rather than Tom Cleverley.

In that context it is not hard to see why a club like United will have relationships with teams like City. To bring in a serviceable first team player when young represents a massive saving for a club even at Manchester United’s level.

Team #2: Manchester United

So it was that Manchester United agreed to take part in a four team tournament at Valley Parade in the summer of 2012 along with Bradford City which was of course an agreement between Archie Christie and someone at Old Trafford. City would be playing their full team and United would not which is how – one suspects – the agreement could be made.

The tournament was designed to fill a part of Phil Parkinson’s pre-season plans on the one hand and to showcase Bradford City on the other.

It was something Christie would have liked to do when he was working in his previous role at Dagenham and Redbridge before joining City but the poor facilities at that club prevented that.

Dag&Red is no place for entertaining the glitterati of British football but Valley Parade – a Premier League standard ground – is. Christie was a place where football people could be networked and the club could re-build relationships within the game.

“He runs up and down and kicks people”

At the start of 2011 Liverpool signed Jordan Henderson for £15m from Sunderland and some four years later that would seem to have been a good investment. Henderson has blossomed into a very good player.

At the time though Henderson was considered a curious signing by Reds boss Kenny Dalglish and was the poster boy for the idea that football’s valuations of transfer fees had lost touch with reality.

It was probably that reality which had prompted the Bradford City’s board to be somewhat amused by Archie Christie’s statement that he could get over a million pounds for fifteen year old junior player George Green. At the time Green was unknown even in Bradford City circles.

Christie had told me that the other co-chairman Julian Rhodes told him how much City were hoping to get for Cleverley and that he would be impressed if Christie could get more for Green.

Christie did. Everton paid £2m for the youngster in October 2011.

I once asked Archie Christie if he thought George Green was worth that much money and he shrugged his shoulders and indicated that most players values had little to do with their abilities and much to do with how many people wanted to buy them.

With George Green the value was set by a bidding war which was started out by Spurs following a game Green played on trial for Alex Ingerthorpe junior side (Ingerthorpe is now at Liverpool, and a great example of a person who has taken his contact book with him to another club) and the bid went to a number of clubs before eventually settling on Everton.

One of the suitors was Glasgow Rangers.

Christie’s relationship with Rangers had started long before I crossed paths with him and would carry on after. Christie involved himself in one of the many takeover bids for the club he supported and would have – when asked – call Rangers his dream job.

Christie saw Rangers as the perfect club for Bradford City to sell George Green to explaining that he wanted the youngster go to a club who would then sell him after he had progressed as a player and so City’s sell on percentage clause value would be maximised.

I believe* that Rangers put a bid in for Green and that bid included City getting their choice of the Rangers youth ranks to take on loan to Valley Parade. I was asked who I would take and joked “John Fleck“, to which Christie indicated that not only did he agree but that that would be the deal.

Fleck turns up at Valley Parade as an impressive Coventry City player now and again but at the time signing him seemed unrealistic.

Negotiations with Rangers seemed to have produced an offer and part of the negotiations included Christie telling his opposite number at Rangers that Green would eventually be a better player than Henderson who “runs up and down and kicks people”

Rangers agreed – or rather someone at Rangers agreed – to join in the four team tournament in 2012 and like Manchester United they would be sending a young side. They may have had a similar agreement in place about the Development Squad or being kept informed but not long after they were thrown out of the Scottish League structure after spending more than they could afford and many of the staff left the club, including Fleck.

I asked Christie what he really thought of Henderson and he said he thought he was a good player. I asked him how Green was worth £2m and sighted an example of another player who had sold for less and his reply stays with me now for its oddness: “I’ve Spice Girlsed this.**”

That Championship Manager problem again

We are a generation of football fans schooled on the computer game Championship Manager.

In Championship Manager every player has a value set by the game as a function of his abilities as represented by statistics. The higher the stats the more a player is worth, and the stats are (mostly) visible to all.

This is how we got to understand transfers as we grew up to a football world increasingly interested in money. We understood that within football there was a way of looking at a player and – with an experienced eye – knowing what his true value was.

Of course there is not. Not in reality.

We also know the economist credo that something is worth what a purchaser will pay for it. That proposition does not help us in trying to find how much a footballer is worth in the absence of anyone attempting to purchase him, or anyone making a bid.

City had had a single bid for Tom Cleverley and so Tom Cleverley was worth £75,000*.

With George Green bidders were set against bidders and the price escalated until a fifteen year old who only played his first League Two games this season (on loan at Tranmere Rovers) sold for more money than City would end up receiving for top scorer Nahki Wells when he left for Huddersfield Town three years, forty two goals and two appearances at Wembley later.

Nahki Wells was not Spice Girlsed.

Everton Part 2: “I was pissing by the door”

Tottenham Hotspur had put in a transfer offer for Green. This transfer offer was for £1.5m is unique in the entire history of professional football.

It is the only one which I have held in my hand.

I walked to the printer, I picked up the five copies, and I read one. It was six or seven bullet points detailing when City would get various payments for Green’s services and it was signed at the bottom by Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman.

None of the points were that Spurs would take part in the pre-season tournament at Valley Parade but Christie told Jason and myself that the North London team would be sending a side as he headed to a board meeting, transfer offer in hand.

Again the relationship seemed to exist between Christie and someone at Spurs, rather than Spurs themselves.

Eventually Everton made the deal and agreed to take Spurs’ part in the four team tournament. We’ve talked about this before, dear reader, but there was a curious aside and an interesting finish.

Christie was rarely in London but late one night – I was surprised by how late football does its business – during the bidding for Green I was on a call with Christie on his house phone when his mobile, paced within earshot of the landline, rang.

“Its Davie Moyes” Christie said excitedly before asking me to go along with anything he said to Moyes in the next five minutes. I caught my breath.

Sure enough the familiar tones Moyes could be heard from one phone to another and I heard Christie informed the then Everton manager that he could not take the his call because he was on the other line but rather than saying it was a conversation with me, he said he was talking to Bayern Munich General Manager Uli Hoeness.

Moyes did not believe Christie at first and so Christie offered to allow Moyes the chance to talk on the phone with his German rival. This inspired no little panic on my part as I imagined my inability to convincingly impersonate Hoeness.

I know no German at all and my accent is very much Bradford. I thought of the television programme ‘Allo ‘Allo and uttered the word “Ja” softly but audibly in practice. No one heard I assume.

I need not have worried. Moyes was convinced of Hoeness’ presence and hastened off the other line.

It struck me as embarrassing that Moyes should believe such a fanciful story as Germany’s leading football club trying to buy a young English player that no one had ever heard of but it turns out that at the time Bayern Munich were doing just that.

They were indeed one of the many clubs to express some kind of vague interest in George Green and later they signed Dale Jennings from Tranmere Rovers. They had set up a scouting network in the English lower leagues under the belief that English Premier League clubs might be ignoring the talent that was under their noses in favour of buying in players.

Munich may still believe that but the only player they signed from English lower league football was Jennings and he left for Barnsley after a few years. The English are notoriously bad settlers and this may put Bayern off but it is true that Bayern Munich have scouts watching English League Two football. Perhaps they are the only European club who do or perhaps not.

Maybe City games are occasionally attended by the Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan scouts all searching for the next big thing and fearing that if they do not over turn every stone in that search then their rivals will.

After our crossing of sorts I followed Hoeness’ career. He was jailed in 2013 for evading 30m Euro in tax and resigned from Bayern Munich. I tracked down a recording of him speaking about his case.

He sounded very German.

Team #4: Tottenham Hotspur Everton

The deal was done at £2m for George Green to join Everton.

Christie sealed it with a handshake and drove away only for – and this is how Christie related it – Spurs to get back in touch and Harry Redknapp himself to up his offer over Everton’s £2m to £2.4m.

The new Spurs bid was turned down because a deal had been agreed but not before Moyes had “become aware” of it and had sought assurances that he would not be gazumped.

It was important that Christie show that when a deal was made with Moyes all football knew it could not be broken. It was important in re-establishing Bradford City’s credentials in football as a club you could do business with.

Re-establishing because in 2011 City had twice been in administration in the previous ten years and that means twice evaded debts they should have paid. This could make people nervous around deals with City and so it was important to Christie that the club start a rehabilitation of their reputation as a club of good standing.

The handshake sealed the contract and this impressed Moyes who had already agreed to send an Everton side to Valley Parade for the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament and now agreed to send his first team as a show of gratitude.

That Moyes would send a strong Everton side was a mark of respect but it was the respect which would prove most valuable in the long term. I was started to see the point of the Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament that Christie was planning was far beyond good matches and bums on seats.

I had thought that football was an imperfect meritocracy before but now I was beginning to see where those imperfections were. Of course a lack of money holds you back in football but it seemed that a lack of respect was a problem too. If you are not taken seriously as a club then serious clubs will exploit you.

This could have been what happened with Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph and Andrew Wisdom who joined Liverpool when young all for small fees – I could not say – but I’ve been watching Bradford City for over thirty years and have always noticed that our best players leave us for relatively small amounts.

City’s 1980s heroes Stuart McCall and John Hendrie were good value for the teams that picked them up. Nahki Wells was good value for Huddersfield too when he joined them. The only time I can recall City selling a player and seeming to have got the better side of lopsided deal is Des Hamilton‘s exit to Newcastle United in 1998.

Then City were run by Geoffrey Richmond. He was a serious man indeed.

By assembling a group of big name sides to stand next to City Archie Christie believed that City would start to build networks, to get respect by association, and to become a serious club in the business of football.

The business of football was not unlike other businesses and was built on personal relationships and on being well thought of in the football community as being capable or at least that is what Christie seemed to think.

In writing this I read back this comment from Mark Lawn about the Cleverley deal which seems unlike anything else the co-chairman has ever said in its tone and content.

We’re currently in discussions with (Manchester) United. They are a professional and sensible club so I don’t see a problem.

That sounds like Christie’s words and not Lawn’s who is lauded for being the plain speaking Yorkshire man on Match of the Day. I mention this not to suggest Lawn did not say them but to show how the club was operating in those days.

The highest complement that City could pay the highest team in the land in negotiations – some carefully chosen words – was that they were professional and sensible. City – via Lawn – bestowed upon Manchester United the traits they were so keen to claim back for themselves.

Christie had been offered the Director of Football job at Valley Parade. He had a letter making the offer which he had – for reasons which would become clear – not replied to despite his having a plan in place for the Summer of 2012.

Before that though he would host a collection of influential football scouts and agents to watch a game at City as part of his building of City’s reputation.

It was relationship building but Christie told me he had seventeen people who could help him help Phil Parkinson get together squad he wanted. It was Archie’s way of announcing that City were a serious and credible football club that football could do business with again.

The game was Marine at home in the Second Round of the FA Youth Cup.

So now then

The Summer of 2012 Four Team Tournament never happened of course.

I have no idea how close it came to being scheduled or even if it been talked about at any level with anyone else at Valley Parade but Christie left Bradford City.

It would not surprise me at all if the people at the various clubs had – like Christie – moved on and that little is remembered about sketched plans to take teams to pre-season games.

David Moyes may recall agreeing to bring his Everton side but he has – famously – left Everton since for Manchester United and then Real Sociadad.

The person was at Rangers is almost certainly not at Rangers anymore and who knows who was in the depths of Old Trafford agreeing to bring whatever team to Valley Parade but one can imagine that that person makes it their business to make many of those deals every season.

I would not like to say if what Christie was planning at Valley Parade was unique but I doubt it was. I suspect football is littered with the plans of the ambitious. Not remembered as the agenda moves on, and perhaps not worth remembering to some.

I remember though. I remember because it was such an education into how football worked beyond how we – the supporters – assume it does.

It was arbitrary in a way that exceeded anything I could have imagined even after covering City for the ten years previous and it was more personal than anyone would think.

That is what makes football like any other business. It is not because of the money involved but because like any other business people want to do business with people they like, and respect, and believe can do a good job.

And while those relationships are crucial to a club they are not tied to the clubs but rather to the individual people at the club.

Epilogue: The Archie Christie Memorial Trophy

Summer 2012 in Winter 2013.

A Saturday of semi-finals and then a third place and a final on the Sunday. It was the Olympic Summer and I remember heat of the end of July but it was a cold Winter eighteen months later and I had not much to do.

  1. Bradford City
  2. Manchester United (II/u18)
  3. Glasgow Rangers II
  4. Everton

I played out the games using Championship Manager (FM2013) assuming that City would play Manchester United in the semi – City lost – and Everton would beat Rangers leaving a full strength Everton side to play a Sunday final against Manchester United.

Everton won. Moyes beat Manchester United.

So David did get something out of it whole thing, in a way, but I don’t think anyone else really did.


Notes

* These figures and deals are from memory rather than recordings, and could be inaccurate because of that, but they are to the best of my memory.

** Archie Christie died in 2014 and much of this article is made up of conversations only some of which were recorded so I have attempted to avoid verbatim quotes through out. Some stick in the mind though.

Aaron McLean and the middle of an Era

There is an overuse to the term “End of an Era” which has rendered the words almost meaningless.

Steven Gerrard leaving Anfield after nearly two decades, Sir Alex Ferguson leaving Manchester United after nearly three deserve the grand description. Most player comings and goings – and for that matter must manager changes – do not. The previous City managers before Phil Parkinson lasted about seven and eleven months each. No one’s idea of an era.

(This morning I heard that Steve in Accounts is moving to a different floor and thus no longer making the Friday butty run, and that this was the end of an era.)

And do the exit today of Aaron McLean from Bradford City is not the end of the McLean era.

No sun sets as the striker who’s body language seemed to perfectly betray his ambivalence for the club he had joined in January 2014 cancels the last year of his deal. McLean showed the occasional flash of why Phil Parkinson bought him but – more often – why Phil Parkinson should have stayed away from the forward.

For the City manager it was a rare example of confirmation bias. McLean at his best darted around the penalty area beating defenders and finishing with a touch, or moving slick off the ball, or he was a power house on the ball and impossible to knock off, and thinking about him one might remember that more than one remembered his meandering away from play, or his tendency to be static unless the game panned out exactly how he had thought.

If one thought on his signing – and perhaps think now – that McLean was right for City one remembers the good parts of his time in claret and amber and throws away the bad. We all have a tendency to be biased towards the facts which confirm what we want to be the case, rather than what is.

Too often not useful on the field and too often a square peg in a hole that his predecessor fit so roundly in one need to waste too much time on the reasons why Aaron McLean’s attitude did not find a place in Bradford City dressing room other than to suggest that the tight team spirit which pervades the club under Phil Parkinson could have been a hindrance to him.

The day after Nahki Wells left for Huddersfield Town he was playing golf with his former Bradford City team-mates (“Troublemaker” anyone?) who are clearly a close knit group of men. The players who fit in are improved by this – Filipe Morais springs to mind – but those who do not seem to be isolated figures.

Of course this team ethic does more help than harm and one can only feel sorry for a player like McLean if he has arrived to find himself a square peg off the field as well as on it, but not too sorry when one thinks of the wages freed up by his departure. Wages which Phil Parkinson is expected to spend on bringing Jon Stead to the club on a permanent basis.

A high profile signing such as McLean who has not worked out has ended many manager’s careers at clubs and there is a strong argument one could make that had 2015 not opened with Parkinson’s side beating Millwall and Chelsea then McLean’s failure could have had more serious ramifications for the City boss.

That it did not tells us something about where Bradford City are in the maturing middle of the Phil Parkinson era at Bradford City. The manager has had his beginning, and now has made mistakes and is allowed to learn from them rather than be punished for them.

McLean thus is Parkinson’s difficult second album. Learn from it, move on, but come back with something better next time.

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?

City beating Dartford in dressing rooms, manager’s offices and boardrooms

Bradford City beat Conference side Dartford 4-1 in the second round of The FA Cup with an ease which would suggest that the Bantams were old hands deposing of lower teams in knockout football.

It was hard to remember that three years ago around half the number of people here tonight saw City beat Burton 3-2 AET in the League Cup that concluded at Wembley in a game which less than half the first team played. Or so it seemed at the time when Gary Jones, James Hanson and Nahki Wells sat out the match.

If one were to look at the litany of failure than was Bradford City in knockout competition in the 2000s one would recall half teams being half interested playing in front of half full grounds.

The very obvious result of 2013’s run to the League Cup final and the transformative effect it had on the club has been convincing Bradford City that using games like this to rest players is a poor idea. Whatever one gains in freshness one loses – or perhaps just fails to gain – in the positive effects of playing teams in knockout football.

Winning games brings confidence. Confidence is what makes groups of footballers in football teams. One recalls how Phil Parkinson’s side found itself after Aston Villa and Arsenal, or indeed after Burton, and one cannot help but think that if anything is to come from this season over and above the middle of League One then it will come from a similar path.

So Parkinson prepares the team properly and sets out the team properly and one can expect that in the dressing room the team was told to take Dartford as seriously as any League One side faced and one also expects that that message has been repeated in at the training pitch. One also doubts that the chairmen will have questioned Parkinson’s decision to push the club forward in Cup competitions. The days of vague mumblings about the cost of progression either on legs or bank balances are over.

The club is changed. When walking onto the field the City team was noticeably unnoticeably changed from last week. Jon Stead was favoured over James Hanson who made a late appearance that would see him cup tied. Billy Knott and Gary Liddle were given the opportunity to continue what looks to be a fruitful partnership in central midfield and Filipe Morais was given the chance to replicate on the right what Mark Yeates does on the left.

Watching Phil Parkinson’s return to 442 the most obvious deficiency is a lack of pace in the side and the most obvious place to add that pace is on the right wing or in the player who plays off the front man. Which is to say where Kyel Reid or Nahki Wells played.

This creates a situation in which Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke approach games attempting to show how useful both can be almost to point to the other as being where the change should be made.

In fact today when City were leading by three or four goals Billy Clarke was upset with Morais for not finding him in the penalty area when Morais bulled away on the flank. The criticism of Clarke is that he does not threaten the goal enough – good approach play in Mark Stewart was the first thing that Parkinson was not satisfied with at Valley Parade – and so the striker looks to add to his tally wherever he can.

Today he did, a close finish after a scramble on ten minutes that set the tone for an afternoon where City would be largely untroubled. Jon Stead got a second twenty minutes later after turning in a low left hand cross from Yeates and all was going well at half time.

Morais’ third took a deflection to take it past Jason Brown in the visitors goal and Yeates finished off which a curled finish after delighting and tearing into a right back Tom Bradbrook who was never able to cope with the Irishman’s direct running and control of the ball. Lee Noble tucked in a nice back heel for the visitors who deserved something for their trouble and approached the game with a good spirit.

City’s back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and James Meredith coped with a new keeper Ben Williams sitting in for Jordan Pickford who Sunderland would not allow to play. The back four have joined together strongly and Andrew Davies is the keystone. There are rewards for progressing in this competition and Davies’ contract needs renewing. One hopes the one begets the other.

Bradford City go into a third round draw as a reward for the approach to knockout football which seems to have taken root at the club, at least in The League Cup and The FA Cup.

Dartford were treated with respect and respectfully beaten. There will be hope of what we might call “another Arsenal” to follow of course but seeing the club having learned something from the last few years one might thing we might settle for another Dartford.

Aaron McLean and the heroes of failure

The collective view of history

There is a view of history which holds that if there had never been a Genghis Khan, a Joseph Stalin, a Pol Pot, then the course of the world would have been drastically different. No Mongol hordes, no Cold War, no pogrom.

This is the individual view of history.

There is a competing view that suggests that those three people, indeed any person of history, is only of history because of the rising and falling of collective events. That if it had not been Genghis Khan then someone else would have been credited for leading the hordes, and history would have remember their name instead. That large groups rather than an individual caused the world to turn.

This is the collective view of history. It is less exciting, but probably more accurate.

From Pol Pot to Pulis

Stoke City’s rise to the place of mid-table in the Premier League is largely down to former manager Tony Pulis, and Pulis puts any success he has had down to a recruitment policy based on character.

When speaking about Ryan Shawcross Pulis commended the defender’s character – which is to say his desire to win football matches – saying that a team was built on players such as Shawcross.

“You can have other players who don’t have that (character),” Pulis added, “but only for eighteen months and then you have to move them on.”

The heroes of failure

Why do Bradford City supporters not curse the name Benito Carbone? Why is Ashley Ward’s time at the club given a light disregard when the memory of Mike Duxbury can cause grown men to froth at the mouth? What is it about Darren Morgan that has some City fans reserving a place in the inner circle of failure which even Aaron McLean – seemingly leaving City this week – need not fear reaching?

And what is this word scapegoat which is applied in defence of McLean? Has his treatment been unfair? What are the mechanics of failure at a club like Bradford City that can lionise one player and condemn another.

And let me start by saying…

When Aaron McLean leaves Bradford City, few will be upset. McLean has done well in the past proving his ability but did not do well at Bradford City. The sort of ability McLean is credited with is rare for Bradford City players over the last decade. Few players have been criticised for want of motivation rather than ability.

More common in the last decade have been the players who have shown a level of effort that defined their abilities. The words “give everything” are used about James Hanson, Gary Jones, and Andrew Davies. Players like Barry Conlon, Matthew Clarke and Lee Crooks were never said to be shirking, just that they were poor footballers.

McLean gets to nestle his name alongside Ashley Ward, Nicky Summerbee and Bobby Petta in the players who idled away their talents rather than had no talent to begin with.

In the worst possible way

Aaron McLean arrived to replace Nahki Wells. Wells enjoyed a meteoric rise at Bradford City. His speed and eye for goal were impressive and he played a role in taking City to Wembley twice in three months. After an early exchange of distaste for his choice of clubs following City it seems that Wells has settled back into his place in the hearts of City fans.

One might speculate that the fact that Wells has joined a Huddersfield side in the year they have achieved next to nothing is his saving grace for City fans. Were Town in the play-offs and Wells the architect of that, then things may be different.

But Wells is not an architect. The type of player he is – they are called “finishers” for a reason – puts him at the necessary end point rather than the engine room of a team. Wells was the end of a team of Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Hanson et al. Those players were the big characters who pushed the team. Wells, Nathan Doyle, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh were (seemingly, and by virtue of their exit) the “eighteen monthers” that Pulis talks about.

Being Phil Parkinson

Losing Gary Jones was inevitable. Phil Parkinson probably joins with the rest of City fans who watch the skipper playing for Notts County and wonders if there was another year in the now 37-year old midfielder, but giving him that extra year is a delay of the inevitable need to replace him.

Losing a player like Gary Jones from your team – be it from age or transfer – matters more than losing a player like Wells because of the type of strong character he is. Bringing in or building a replacement takes time and may not be achieved. Those old enough may remember the attempt to replace the massive presence of Stuart McCall with Iain Banks and wince at the memory. If you are younger, read “Gary Locke” for Banks.

It is Parkinson’s hardest job and while developing Billy Knott may be a long term solution, one suspects the City manager has concluded that he needs to bring a character into the side and is working to that end. At the moment though Parkinson puts out the team he has and that team has some qualities, although is lacking in others.

Who does not love Xaviar Barrau?

Who was the scapegoat in David Wetherall’s relegation side which was the worst team Bradford City have fielded in my lifetime? Who carries the can for those feeble months? Not Wetherall, and not his players. Spencer Weir-Daley’s many misses against Leyton Orient and Omar Daley’s giving up of the ball on the wing are critical memories but on the whole the players are not criticised. Kelly Youga (injured during his time at the club) is fondly remembered. Who does not a place in his heart for Xaviar Barrau?

Wetherall’s side were simply too poor for scapegoats. To single out one player is to allow a club and a culture at a club to be freed from blame. No one points the finger because no one has enough fingers to point.

Likewise relegation from the Premier League is never assigned to a group of players, and the likes of Benito Carbone are heroes of the club. Circumstances dictate that a scapegoat will not be found, at least not on the field.

Parkinson’s team are not so outgunned as those two examples. The are far better than Wetherall’s side for sure, and the rest of League One is – in relative terms to City – not as good as the rest of the Premiership was in 2000.

Phil Parkinson’s team are closer to success. Indeed at the moment City win and lose on the basis (seemingly, but probably not in the opinion of the management) of individual actions. Billy Clarke puts the ball an inch lower and Oldham away is a good point; Christopher Routis heads a ball into the stands against Sheffield United then City get a battling point with ten men and so on.

Just as two years ago Rory McArdle’s determination was the difference between winning and losing against Aston Villa in the League Cup semi-final. When the difference between success and failure is small there is a temptation to assign it to individuals and individual actions.

Stevie Gee

Importantly though one can only justify assigning success to individuals when margins are small. A scapegoat is the player who did not apply the marginal difference. The opposite – a player who applied the individual difference between success and failure – is what he call in football a hero

Watching the career of Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is watching that that theory in action. In European Cup and FA Cup finals (both of which ended 3-3) he has been heroic because he has been the individual difference between success and failure.

Last season his defensive slip against Chelsea – an individual mistake – seemed to cost his team the Premier League title. “If he had not slipped” is said with a misty eye by many, but few ask what would have happened if (now Liverpool’s) Dejan Lovren foul on Daniel Sturridge in November 2013 in a Southampton 1-0 win at Anfield had been given as a penalty.

Scapegoating is arbitrary.

Had Aaron set off in time

Aaron McLean’s first game at Sheffield United for City – a 2-2 draw – had the striker almost score the goal which almost built his confidence and almost put him on a run of goalscoring, and so on.

McLean is in poor form, and plays like a player in poor form, and many people (not me) consider that the problem City face at the moment is the need for a finisher. The logic follows easily that McLean, a finisher, could be difference between wins and defeats.

My view of football is increasingly more inline with Pulis, and it is more inline with the collective view of history. When Nahki Wells was scoring for City it was not because of his abilities so much as because of the team’s abilities (which he was a part of) and had you dropped Aaron McLean in then, McLean would be the “Goal Machine” his name so cruelly rhymes with. If you put Wells into the current City team, he would struggle.

The team struggles because of the recrafting job that is needed on its core following Jones’ departure. and the wider break up of the “History Makers” team that Phil Parkinson built. The eighteen months were up, and now Parkinson starts again. The manager is not back at square one, and the fact that the gap between success and failure seems bridgeable is a frustration, and causes this illusion.

Nahki Wells was a hero of Bradford City’s success.

Aaron McLean, because of his place in our history, is a hero of failure.

Parkinson should give McBurnie a place in the eighteen (but I would say that)

An even hand is applied to all, but I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

If you have read BfB for any period of time you’ll know, dear reader, that I am keen to see the youth of the club given a chance in the first team squad and that I think that a good club makes good players by playing them rather than being gifted them by good fortune.

That is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I like to think too that McBurnie shows the talent to justify elevation to the first team squad on a regular basis. Without a reserve team to blood him in the physical game of man’s football it is hard to comment on that side of his game but his cameo appearances for City have shown him as able to handle that side of football well enough to suggest he can handle some more of it.

I do flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I love the romance of the young player. I love the idea that the kid that started for City on Boxing Day 2013 spent Boxing Day 2012 playing Championship Manager. We saw it when Danny Forrest scored in front of the stand he used to watch City from, or when the man who used to work at the Co-op left a World Cup player on his backside at Villa.

It is that Roy of the Rovers drama and its one of the things I love most when watching the seasons of football.

But from a more pragmatic point of view we need Oli McBurnie.

A fast striker who – by virtue of his promotion from the youth set up – is not going to break the bank with wage demands he offers a way to trim the £500,000 overspend Julian Rhodes has talked about. In giving him first team games and making him a real part of the squad rather than a bonus we give him the environment to develop in.

Danny Ings was one of the Championship players of the season after his promotion from bit part player to starter after Charlie Austin left for QPR. Those longer in the tooth will recall how Dean Richards progressed when Phil Babb departed and the youngster was trusted with his place.

To me it makes sense for Phil Parkinson to see McBurnie as one of his main three. The fast one with the target man, and the hard worker. If that does not work out then we deal with that in the same way we deal with a new signing who does not.

When you see potential you have to put the work and give the player responsibility to make a good player. It might not always work, but not doing it never works and that is what City did with Nahki Wells, with Dean Richards, with Stuart McCall.

But even that is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I’m getting old.

I’m old enough now that I know a player’s Mum and I do know Oli’s. I’m not going to lie it gives me a massive amount of bias in favour of the young striker and that is going to have an impact on how I assess him.

But even as I admit that I still think that as the club talk about squad restructures and going half a million over “what we can afford” then we have the need, the opportunity and the ability to try crack one of the best prospects to have come into the first team for years.

So I think that when it comes to next season Phil Parkinson should consider Oli McBurnie as a part of his match day eighteen.

On the value of footballers

When Nahki Wells left Bradford City there was a suggestion that the fee the club got for the player was too little. Counter to that was the idea that the amount was correct and the reason it was correct was because in economic terms a thing is worth what someone will pay for it.

This is Economics 101. You learn it on the same day that you learn the supply and demand rules which lead to City who have a large supply of seats increasing demand by lowering price. All that something is worth is what someone will pay for it and so Wells was worth £1.3m. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

At the time of Wells’ exit I discussed Arsenal’s attempt to buy Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle United. Cabaye has been subject of another bid – £14/£15m from Paris SG – but still Newcastle United hold out for a price they have concluded Cabaye is worth.

Why? If a thing is worth what someone will pay for it then they have arrived at his value. Paris will pay £14m ergo that is what he is worth.

Of course not.

If that were true the would be worth both the original bid and the new one. One might conclude that must be something more to Economics than “its worth what someone will pay for it” and there is, and it is the ability of the seller to resist factoring into the equation.

If the seller is not motivated then the price of anything can – and in practice does – increase. In the case of Cabaye unless Newcastle United get what they feel is the price they want then they are not motivated to sell.

“The thing is worth what someone will accept that someone will pay for it” which raises question about the first part of the statement: “the thing” and what it is.

What is Yohan Cabaye? Or what is Juan Mata? What is Marouane Fellaini? What is Mesut Özil? Are they discreet economic entities? When one talks about footballer value in economic terms one must have a field of comparison otherwise one is simply saying Juan Mata is worth one Juan Mata.

Are these four footballers the same thing in economic terms then? All are top Premier League midfielders with degrees of international experience. The spread on bids on them this season ranges £8m to £40m. If we accept the fairly simple premise that these four players represent broadly the same “thing” then perhaps we have an answer as to why Newcastle United can turn down Paris’ bid for Cabaye.

If Cabaye is a Premier League midfielder, and if a Premier League midfielder costs between £28m and £40m then they are right to value their player within that spread with – one might suggest – how close they can get to the top end of those valuations being a reflection of their negotiation abilities and position.

The better Joe Kinnear does the closer Cabaye’s price is to £40m.

So we revise our statement to “a thing which is the member of a group is worth what someone will accept that someone else will pay for members of that group.”

Which is a workable definition we can apply to other transfer fees.

Let’s take – by way of example – the centre forwards of the early Premier League era who create a group.

Chris Sutton joined Blackburn Rovers for £5m. Les Ferdinand cost both Newcastle United (again, they make a lot of transfers) and Spurs £6m. Andy Cole cost Manchester United £7m. Alan Shearer left Blackburn Rovers turning down Manchester United for £15m and Dwight Yorke when he exited Aston Villa to join Manchester United for £16.1m.

If we pick our way through these moves they fit into that definition. Some were good deals and some were not. Most would accept that Blackburn Rovers got a lot of money for Shearer, Newcastle ended up letting two England centre forwards leave and replacing them with one who was arguably better but not so on the granularity we are applying. Manchester United paid over twice as much for Yorke as they did for Cole who could not be said to be significantly better and so perhaps one was a good deal or the other a bad one.

All these transfers in the space of a few years (in which we saw market inflation) and give us a spread of £5m – £16.1m. What was the value of a centre forward in the early Premier League era? If you did business well and sold to motivated buyers it was around £15m. If you ended up in a position where you needed to sell it was less than half that £15m. If you had Les Ferdinand it was £6m.

Which – returning to the question in hand – leads us to ask if the fee Bradford City got for Wells was correct and the reason it was correct was because what someone will pay for him. I would suggest that it was not correct for that reason, although that it was not incorrect.

A look at a list of players transferred from League One shows us a spread of values for players sold from League One clubs to teams in the divisions above.

The list goes from Fabian Delph costing £8.4m down. It includes Andy Gray being sold for £1.6m in 2010 which one might say is an example of a club paying far too much and Rickie Lambert’s £1.1m move from Bristol Rovers which does not look like great business now.

Change the same list to strikers only and one gets a spread from Dwight Gayle at £4.7m down. Wells is equal on this list of Andy Gray’s move five years ago. We extend the spread to £1.1m (Lambert) which is the first internal League One move rather than a move up. That point is arbitrary but appropriate and gives us a spread of values for League One strikers moving up the leagues of £1.1m to £4.7m.

That is the marketplace that City were selling into. That is the value of what Bradford City were selling. Of those 22 players in that marketplace Wells nestles right in the middle being worth an median average.

That is if one accepts that grouping of the market. One might say that one could exclude players who went to the Premier League and point to Nick Maynard’s £3m move to Bristol City as the high figure. I believe that most of the groupings one could make tell the same story.

And that story is that City did averagely with the value of Wells in the marketplace. Whomever was negotiating the deal with Huddersfield Town (and I could not say who was involved on either side) could be said to have performed adequately.

We might long for the negotiation skills that they have at Peterborough United or Crewe Alexandra who are able to sell players who have objectively achieved less than Wells for much, much more money but we do not.

And it is at this point where the club and supporters find a way to learn and move on from the sale of Nahki Wells. Wells and his City team mates over-performed last season and the club benefited more than could have been expected from that. It was an example of what can happen when a high performance culture is fostered.

The sale of Wells represents a return to adequate performance.

Why did it not work out for Alan Connell?

Alan Connell is a bit too smart for a footballer.

It is said that when he was carpetted by then Swindon Town manager Paulo Di Canio for going for a drink with three teammates following the Wiltshire club’s League Two championship which coincided with the death of Di Canio’s father than rather than take the ire of the Italian Connell opted for reasoning.

Something along the lines of that while he was in no way pleased about the death in the family he thought it was not inappropriate that he and his friends have one or two drinks to celebrate a job well done.

The fact Connell ended up at City shows the response to that from the manager.

Phil Parkinson is a less autocratic man than Di Canio and his successes are in building team spirit. Connell has become a part of one of those teams but only a small part. The emergence of Nahki Wells rendered Connell a bit part player and that – on the surface – is why it did not work out for Alan Connell at Bradford City.

Perhaps though – Wells aside – Connell was never Parkinson’s sort of striker. The City manager when talking about former City forward Mark Stewart said that he thought he was a good player but that he did not threaten the goal enough and the same could be said about Connell. He had scored one in three at Swindon but at City he rarely looked like repeating that at Valley Parade primarily because he did not get past defenders, did not threaten the goal, did not shoot often enough.

Everyone who said that Connell was a Robbie Blake kind of player was right. His goals come when he joins in attacking movements in the third phase. He joins in the link up play in the first, takes position in the second and makes what he can in the third. Parkinson’s teams favouring a ball to James Hanson with a flick down to the speedy Wells were never really suited to Connell’s play.

Not Parkinson’s sort of striker but very much Parkinson’s sort of player.

Connell’s demeanor and his role as a senior professional – only 30 but one of the older players in the squad – the manager used Connell’s professionalism as an example. He came off the bench and toiled often for little reward. He trained well and set a tone that the likes of Wells and Hanson followed.

It seemed to work out well for Parkinson and for City but not really for Connell.

Grimsby Town are asking after Connell. He deserves to do well there.

Can Parkinson afford to keep Kyel Reid during his rehabilitation?

The injury to Kyel Reid’s which will keep him out of the Bradford City team until the end of his contact shows an inherently cruel side to football which upsets even the most cynical of supporter.

Watching Kyel Reid has – for me – been a joy and I very much hope to do it again. There is nothing on the football field which gets my pulse racing like the sight of a speedy winger attacking a full back and Reid did that with jet heels. I hear people talk about making wrong decisions and I understand the meaning of such phrases but I find it hard at the end of a run in which my body stops breathing and I sit at the edge of the seat I’m on to criticise. I’m entranced.

Away from the personal point of view there is a pressing need for a speedy winger for Bradford City with Nahki Wells having departed the club and that is something which Phil Parkinson will need to address. Without the ability to get behind a defence with pace the Bantams allow the opposition to push a high line up the field and stop the one forward’s flick ons getting to the other in dangerous positions.

And while Parkinson has the option of playing the increasingly impressive Oli McBurnie it seems that the manager was planning to play the (not slow, but slower) Aaron McLean with James Hanson and allow Reid to run at defenders.

Without this option Parkinson is forced to look for reinforcements. McBurnie is a rare promotion from the youth ranks for the manager and it seems that if the funds are available then the budget would need to be increased to accommodate a replacement for Reid’s pace. Without that Parkinson will turn to Mark Yeates who does not have Reid’s pace and would pivot the way the Bantams play.

And while Parkinson could look to replacing six week injured James Meredith at left back he has to look at replacing Reid or risk that pivoting leading to the kind of fall off of results that happened the last time City were at this level and lost a player in the then sold Dean Windass. He could throw in Jordan Graham the loanee from Aston Villa but that would require a huge leap of faith in a player that has yet to kick a ball in claret and amber.

For the rest of this season higher defensive lines would require a slower build up and more midfield craft to counter and Parkinson’s side are not renowned for that. One can think of times when the Bantams have worked the ball around a compressed defence but examples of fast attacking play are more common.

What then for Reid though? Reid and Parkinson have been through some astonishing times together but the manager has to think as he hears that his player will miss the next eight months that – unless the calculations on budgets at the club are wrong – all the hopes for Reid’s recovery are probably not going to be able to extend to offering him a new deal.

In fact if Parkinson is to sign a player of the quality to replace Reid then he would probably expect to have to give away the part of next season’s budget that would have gone to a new deal for Reid. How cruel is it that as Parkinson seems in the position where because the club did not realise there valuation of Wells there is not funds to offer a contract to Reid for next season as well as a replacement player? We were following the Wells sale that the club was over budget. Extending that budget to include a new player who would come in on at least an eighteen month deal and keeping Reid as he returns to fitness seems unlikely.

It is grotesque. Parkinson’s other option is to muddle through the next four months and hope that Reid’s rehabilitation runs into pre-season and the player comes back able to pick up where he left off. One might hope that is the case Parkinson’s job at City depends on results and his hand may be forced.

If that is the case one is left with the memory of a sunny May day at Wembley and Kyel Reid’s contribution which will be so ill rewarded.

This briefing against people who leave City has to stop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Return of the Boy from Brazil

Fukuda Denshi Arena, Chiba, Japan, June 2013

We had come all this way, but there was no Boy from Brazil.

Valley Parade, Bradford, England, November 2012

Chesterfield are a stern footballing side and Bradford City are struggling to break them down. I’ve moved seats for the night parking myself next to Nick – young Nick if you will – who apologises for the frequent, violent bursts of swearing from one of his seat neighbours. “He is always like that,” my host says wearily and I nod full in the knowledge that were positions reversed I would end up saying the same thing about the people who sit around me.

“We fucking need to be fucking winning fucking games like this if we are not going to be shite.” The linguistics are laughable, the sentiment anything but supportive.

Wembley Stadium, London, England, February 2013

I will confess, dear reader, that there had been a time that I was partial to things Danish and in those few weeks of 1986 when the red shirted Scandinavians were enthralling in the late night glow of the World Cup in Mexico that Michael Laudrup was everything a footballer should be. The second round 5-1 exit to Spain derailing what seemed to be the birth of a new footballing power from the tiny Northern European democracy.

That defeat seemed to be born of a Danish belief that they were the anointed team that a thirteen year old in Bradford thought they were and was an object lesson in the beautiful game and how it rewards completeness. Six years later when the Danes won Euro 92 their most notable player was John Jensen, a holding midfielder.

That lesson that all games had to be won seemed to have settled in the mind of Laudrup. His Swansea City team were adorable on the ball and worked peerlessly hard off it. The victory over Bradford City – a handsome 5-0 – was made easy to take by virtue of the elan of the opposition.

Laudrup gathered his players into an honour guard to greet Gary Jones’ and his side on the way down the Wembley stairs. At least half the City fans had left Wembley when Ashley Williams lifted the Capital One Cup, deserved champions that they were. They will regret that.

Fukuda Denshi Arena, Chiba, Japan, June 2013

To suggest there is a manufacturer air to football in Japan is to mistake the construction of palaces for the tilling of gardens.

Arrive at Soga station, some forty minutes from central Tokyo, on the evening of a match is to better understand the idea of the sea of support. The yellow floor rises to the station which boasts a burger bar on one side of the corridor and profiles of the players along the other. Indeed the staff of the station have broken with the cliche of reserve and are wearing football shirts belonging to the home side. Make no mistake traveller, you are in JEF United country.

JEF United, founder of the J-League but now in its recently established second tier having failed to win promotion through the play-offs last season, are woven into the fabric of this part of Toyko’s industrial lands. They play in the Fukuda Denshi Arena, an 18,000 capacity venue a strong stone’s throw from a collection of oppressive looking oil refineries, and even at 75% full it is an impressive stadium. No running track, and the close to the action, the support is fervent without aggression.

The politeness which oils Japan’s societal wheels is evident. The Referee leads the players in a thirty second silent meditation before the match, the players bow to all four sides of the arena before kick off.

It is a derby of sorts. JEF United take on Toyko Verdy and both are chasing play off places. I know this because I have been following JEF United for a month now. The J-League is on hiatus while Japan play in the Confederations Cup and this game offered the closest available match on our tour of the Far East nation. JEF United have been in good form since they gathered my interest. They have won three on the bounce and can move up to fifth with a win against a Verdy side who would overtake them in victory.

In any language, this is a tasty encounter.

The J-League restricts the number of non-Japanese players, part of a plan that the JFA and its clubs follow that aims to create a game in touch with the communities they are based in (the full name of the club is JEF United Ichihara Chiba) and guarantees that the clubs are financially sustainable. The league has come a long way and a burst bubble since the days of Gary Lineker and Hidetoshi Nakata which marked its formation. Those were early years in what is a 100 year plan.

Following JEF United from afar is an abstracted version of football. JEF United’s top scorer – and thus one assumes their finest asset – is physically big striker called Kempes. Each team can have two designated non-Japanese players, and a single non-Japanese Asian player who is most likely a Korean. Like most of the non-Japanese players Kempes is Brazilian.

Taking up seats before kick off the stadium is an array of waving flags. All JEF United fans are given yellow hand flags on the way in and behind the goal the mass of yellow supporters fans are housed behind giant standards to be waved on queue. The singing is led by a megaphoned leader, and is as passionate as any I have seen.

On the other side of the stadium are Toyko Verdy. They have flags, they have songs, they have a singer with a megaphone. Having mingled with Toyko’s supporters on the way to the game I can also attest to the fact that they have nothing to fear. I’m told that fights have been seen at Japanese grounds but they are uncommon, and no one attempts intimidation. There are songs I understand: “Chiba, Chiba, Chiba”; and ones I do not but there is no aggression in the voices.

The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I catch my breath as the first ball is kicked. I listen for the voices of those around me. There is passion, but not aggression. No fists are shaken and when hands are raised the palm is open. It is football with a partisan edge but without an aggressive one and for the first time in weeks, in months, in over a year, I feel like I am home.

Looking at the line up though – and unable to understand the discussion as to why – there is no Kempes in the JEF United side tonight. We had come all this way, but there was no Boy from Brazil.

Back at Valley Parade, Bradford, England, November 2012

Chesterfield frustrate, causing the aggression, and ultimately take a point away from a City team which already look tired in a campaign that will include an historic run the League Cup, a good stint in two other competitions and victory in the play offs.

In six months time the league table will show Bradford City in the final play off place with 69 points, Chesterfield a place below with 67. A reversal in this game would have switched though positions.

If there is a reality to supporting football it may be on nights like this. The final reckoning will make this the keystone game in the season but how many would walk away from Valley Parade having enjoyed the match. If voices are raw and sore the morning after it is from those who shouted abuse, not support, through the game which would end up being decisive.

The reality of supporting football clubs is that these steps are the significant ones and, it seems, as much as the destination of Wembley (twice) and a victory parade in an empty fountain in the middle of Bradford was celebrated that was an antipathy on the journey.

The Pirelli Stadium, Burton, England, May 2013

One am, Friday night or Saturday morning. Queue for tickets in the bowl of the stands at Valley Parade. A line is drawn at about seven and no one who comes at what might be called a reasonable hour will get tickets. The queue is somber.

Having lost 3-2 in the first leg, and not playing especially well at Burton it seemed that Phil Parkinson’s team’s run was in danger of ending. Burton’s backline was repelling James Hanson’s strength and pushed Nahki Wells wide nullifying him. Burton Albion manager Gary Rowett had paid City the respect of doing his homework, and in doing so had found a way of snuffing out the threat that City poised.

And then there was a poor back pass that was too close to Wells, who has a turn of pace to surprise even those who feel ready for it, and then everything was as it was supposed that it should be.

Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, England, May 1999

After Robbie Keane scored for Wolves on the day that would end up with City winning 3-2 and getting promoted to the Premiership it seemed that the entire support had concluded that this was a bridge too far for the Bantams. That this noble effort would end in failure.

There was a core of strength in the players though, a belief which transcended the terraces and it was that which turned the game around.

Wembley Stadium, London, England, May 2013

It is easy, and rather lazy, to say that Bradford City put in three goals while Northampton were still taking photographs and waving at their families in the League Two Play Off final. Put that City team up against a side that had been the the National Stadium ten times and the result would have been the same. It was a belief, a belief in each other’s abilities and in the unit as a whole which was the DNA of Phil Parkinson’s side and the reason why the Bantams were victorious.

A long time ago Parkinson told a story about how he once let a player – a player some would have called the best at the club he was at – leave because he did not fit into the mentality that the manager was looking to build.

Toyama Athletic Recreation Park Stadium, Toyama, Japan, July 2013

And there he was: Kempes; The boy from Brazil.

Toyama is 263 miles from Chiba but we’ve come from Hiroshima via Kyoto because one of the things about wandering around a country with a backpack is that you need to find a destination. Hiroshima is about the distance from Bradford to Portsmouth four times over away. The Shinkansen is a thing of beauty.

We pull into Kataller Toyama. Its a big town or a small city. No skyscrapers but the odd tall building. Its hot but everywhere is hot in Japan in July and I’ve given up worrying about it. I have no idea what we are going to find but looking down the main street at the shops boasting with pride the local dish it is, evidently, Chickentown.

JEF United, away. There were ten thousand or more at the home match but around two hundred at this athletics stadium. Cups of barbecued chicken are available for very few yen under the stands. Going up to the away section you can see the kind of stunning mountain view that takes breath away in the midst of an oncoming shower. The chicken tastes good sitting on the grassy bank behind the goal before the rain and we attract a few glances. Being six foot two in a claret and amber shirt will do that. This is Japan and reticence and politeness are a culture. No one interferes.

The game is played out in an welcome shower of warm rain that cools the blood. A song comes up – the man with the megaphone is there again – and the songs are about Kempes. He will finish the J-League 2 season as top scorer but he is off the pace today and unimpressive. His first touch is woeful and he strolls through the game. To counter this the group of around sixty singers wave banners, sing songs and get behind their team, and the Brazilian.

They are rewarded and so am I. Yusuke Tanaka – number six – darts out of midfield and is found by a diagonal ball into the middle. He checks over both shoulders and he runs and completes and side footed lob from an angle over the home keeper who did not realise he was stranded until he saw the ball nestling behind him in the goal.

I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of better goals I have seen with my own eyes. It is beautiful. The acceleration from midfield, the precision of the finish, the ambition, the craft, the subtle magnificence.

The game ends 2-1 with and by the time it does I’ve joined the JEF support bouncing, singing songs in a language I do not understand, being welcomed having transitioned from interested outsider to lifetime supporter. #winbyall we like to say.

There was a bus back to Toyama – the stadium about forty minutes walk away – and not many people talked on the way back because even after the ebullience of football this is still Japan and there is a reserve to these things. I pick up words pulled out of few conversations like the old Fast Show sketch.

“Something something something Kempes.”

Kempes was withdrawn after about seventy minutes and unimpressive on the night. JEF United would finish the season fifth on to draw in the play-offs (lower team plays higher and has to win to progress). They will spend another year in J-League 2, a fifth out of the top division they were founder members of in 1994.

“Something Kempes something something something something.”

Valley Parade, Bradford, England, January 2014

James Hanson scores in the first minutes and Nahki Wells has gone to Huddersfield to be replaced in the first team by the son of one of my friends. Seventeen and eager his name is sung in support not just of the player but of the spirit which had emerged in the supporters of the club.

Something bigger than one player or than one person, bigger than bad results and bad performances. Something that speaks of an opposition to apathy and cowardice dressed as pessimism.

Something that sounds like support should. That sounds like belief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implosion avoided as the young Bantams come of age

Perhaps Mark Lawn is being economical with the truth over the degree of influence and pressure he and his Boardroom colleagues placed upon Peter Jackson. But as it became obvious it was entirely the departed manager’s decision to quit, uneasy questions began to surface over the squad building he has overseen.

Just how bad were these players, to prompt someone apparently proud to manage them to quit after just five games in charge? Had he detected the ship is sinking and so clambered aboard the first lifeboat available before anyone seriously questions his leadership? When Barnet disrupted 15 minutes of promising home play by taking the lead this afternoon, the despair that flooded across Valley Parade weighed heavily.

Although at least the gloom didn’t last long, because James Hanson headed home an immediate equaliser that – in time – could be looked back upon as the crucial moment in City’s campaign. However, even during such a short period of time losing, the cracks of implosion could be heard. Barnet’s opener was almost an exact replica of Aldershot’s first in the opening day 2-1 defeat of the Bantams, with Guy Branston inexplicably allowing Ricky Holmes time and space to charge into the box and send a low cross that Izale McLeod couldn’t miss from. As the game restarted Branston’s next touch was greeted by a smattering of boos. The team was being turned upon by the loud minority. Yet again. Sigh.

Hanson’s goal halted the boos and frustration in the stands, while on the pitch it breathed belated confidence into a young side that in the past five games had simply been on the wrong side of narrow margins rather than humiliated. It was a goal of genuine quality, with Mark Stewart receiving the ball in the final third and expertly laying the ball off to wide man Chris Mitchell. His cross was superb, allowing Hanson to glance the ball into the net. From seemingly on the brink of panic, the corner was being turned.

In a match up between two teams better going forward then defending, City gradually began to take control with so many of the new faces in particular enjoying a season’s best performance. Stewart looked easily-bullied and weak in his two previous league starts; today he ran Barnet ragged with intelligent running and far greater strength on the ball. Liam Moore recovered from a poor start to enjoy a storming second half at right back. Ritchie Jones linked defence and attack up nicely, while Jack Compton was always a threat on the ball.

Ironically this was the same team set up and almost identical line up to the one which begun the season losing to Aldershot. Mitchell looked lost as wide right midfielder that day, but on his recall gave City the balance in midfield needed to allow them to increasingly dominate. He tucked in alongside Jones and the energetic Michael Flynn when an extra body was needed in the centre, and tracked back well to support Moore at moments Barnet tried going down the flanks. When City attacked, he popped up in different areas that included providing width on the right hand side. On this form he is the answer to a midfield conundrum that has plagued the club since dropping into League Two.

And there were his deliveries. His cross for Hanson’s equaliser was breathtaking. Early in the second half, Hanson’s excellent persistence earned City a free kick out wide which Mitchell delivered perfectly onto Branston’s head for 2-1. (And at this point let us say those who booed Branston had no right to cheer this goal.) Five minutes later Mitchell pick pocketed the full back for possession before firing across another glorious cross that Hanson tapped home for 3-1. It was a genuine surprise he wasn’t involved in the fourth goal that occurred early in stoppage time.

But Hanson was. All four of the goals included him. Substitute Nahki Wells may have robbed a defender, dribbled past another and slammed the ball home for a mightily impressive first senior goal, but Hanson’s bullying of his marker enabled it to happen. It was the kind of low-key contribution many fail to recognise the importance of as they slate target men like Hanson.

It’s hard to remember the last time the former shelf-stacker played as brilliantly as he did this afternoon. Yet still, at 3-1 up, numerous fans continued to get on his back and slag him off in the most derogatory of terms. It should leave every right-minded City fan angry enough to march over to the booers and rip their season tickets out their hand.

If you thought Hanson was poor today and so criticised him – you are a moron. End of. If you don’t like being labelled a moron, don’t read this site. I’m sick of people like you ruining the matchday experience and confidence of players for no obvious reasons other than selfish. The people who booed Branston today – who admittedly was at fault for both Barnet goals, that’s hardly the point – deserve to feel very stupid tonight too.

Back on the pitch, the difference in the players from kick off to full time was colossal. The Leeds game had showed the potential offered by the new-look squad, but doubts over where it really matters were finally eased by the way everyone grew in stature and confidence. Against such a turbulent backdrop in the immediate build up, caretaker manager Colin Cooper deserves immense credit for maintaining the players focus and should now figure in the Board’s thoughts if they haven’t already decided who will be next manager. In Jackson’s final two games he was apparently losing his way in team selection and tactics, Cooper brought back a level of organisation that laid the groundwork to an excellent performance.

A performance that could easily have included more goals. In the first half Compton, Stewart and Mitchell both came close with decent shots that flew just wide, while Hanson should have scored (boo!) from a looping Compton cross. Once 3-1 up in the second half City sat back more, but before Wells’ fourth Mitchell forced a smart save from long distance. The inside of the post was also rattled by Wells a minute after his goal.

Defensively there remain concerns with crosses into the box not dealt with well, though even in this area there was improvement as the game went on. Oscar Jansson made a solid home debut that included three excellent saves, but he was beaten by Mcleod for a second time deep in stoppage time to put a slight dampener on the afternoon.

Though the atmosphere – which grew positive from the moment Hanson equalised – remained stirring to the end. The minority digs at Flynn, Branston and Hanson drowned out by enthusiastic chanting. I can only speak for myself, but after the Leeds game and the brave way the players had attacked our bitter rivals I fell in love with this team. I struggle to recall a more honest, hard-working group of players since those halcyon days of 1998/99. For sure ability wise they are not the best, but for effort and determination I am desperate to see them succeed. We’ve had too many false dawns to get excited yet, but this really could be the start of something special.

Which makes the decision of Jackson to walk out all the more baffling. One wonders how he spent this afternoon and if he now regrets not giving it one more week. But most of all – as we enjoyed Stewart, Mitchell and others prosper instead of being replaced in the team by loan signings – one wonders whether Jackson falling on his sword might prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Playing the season out in July

Pre-season football matches should never be mistaken for football matches.

For sure they look like football matches and to the unschooled they would appear to be football matches: twenty two men hoof a bit of leather around and occasionally stop to score, swear or stop for some other reason; but they are not.

Chief amongst reasons for this contradiction between what seems to be and what is is that pre-season football matches are not processed as football matches are by supporters and listening in around Nethermoor as Bradford City recorded a 3-2 victory over Guiseley proved this.

Firstly – and not least importantly – is the result which drifts into irrelevance almost on the sound of the final whistle. It matters not that the Bantams were the victors, nor indeed is the manner of the victory especially important. City twice trailed the team from two divisions below and came back to win but no prizes are given for character in friendlies. Contrast that to the next time a teams from two divisions away play each other in Leeds.

What matters on an evening like tonight is extrapolation. Looking at performances and casting an eye into the distance of next May and assessing how that performance will pan out.

So Mark Stewart – starting for City up front alongside skipper for the night James Hanson – touches in an equaliser to make the game 2-2 and is dubbed a “natural born goalscorer” destined for fifteen to twenty goals a season. His smart and accurate touch at the front stick after good work from Hanson is impressive. Hanson wins much all evening against defenders who include former Bantams Daniel Ellis, Mark Bower and Simon Ainge and back to his best Hanson will be a force.

Ainge twice goes close to giving his new club the lead over his old as City’s back four struggle to clear their lines and it is a weak headed clearance by Steve Williams that allows Alex Davidson to score the opener. Branston has to sort out Williams soon, so grumbles go, or we will have a problem. Chris Mitchell can hit a dead ball, but one worries about him at the back, unfair on the strength of a single mistake.

Extrapolations on goalkeeper Mark Howard are not good. Gavin Rothery scores the home side’s second which takes a deflection but leaves the keeper looking flat. In-between the two strikes David Syers gets onto the rebound from a Stewart shot and equalises.

There is much extrapolation about Jamie Green on City’s left who is a big winner on the night looking a player of some ability in a first half in which City struggle to maintain a tempo. When the Bantams retain the ball they look good – and players like Richie Jones are impressive – but there are spells in which play becomes frantic. Dominic Rowe bursts with pace but lacks composure blazing wide and over a number of times but he shows a usefulness. Extrapolating Jones’ ball out to the winger, and the winger surging forward, is enjoyable as City go in at half time behind.

More troubling though is the extrapolation of a team which loses the ball being punished too readily, and of a team which is not able to maintain a consistent tempo being too easily pushed off stride. David Syers’ goal masks a performance in which he has struggled to take control of a midfield and his replacement with Michael Flynn turns the tide in City’s favour.

Stewart’s equaliser comes, and then a superb delivery form Chris Mitchell is headed firmly into the goal by James Hanson. Hanson celebrates a goal against his former club and could have another later as City – despite the odd worry over being turned around too quickly when giving the ball away – keep the ball better and pass around the field with more fluency. Nahki Wells and Ross Hannah both test the home keeper’s palms and in the end the scoreline could have been more tipped towards the Bantams, but the result does not matter.

What seems to matter is the mood of supporters who wander away happy. Guiseley supporters have seen enough to suggest that their next season may be successful enough while City fans have seen enough trailers of what is to come to extrapolate from balmy July night to the sunny afternoons of next May and conclude that it might be a season they would enjoy too.

Searching for answers

Following a short journey from Chesterfield to Matlock with my wife’s uncle, I parked the car and was greeted by a friend who I’d agreed to meet up with for this pre-season friendly game. The three of us walked through a tranquil park towards a fish and chip shop that my friend had spotted. As myself and my wife’s uncle had eaten before we’d set off, we watched my friend tuck into Britain’s favourite takeaway meal of white flaky fish and chunky potato chips.

Upon entering the three-sided Causeway Lane ground, I was greeted by an elderly gentleman selling programmes. The programme which I purchased contained some interesting information including the fact that Matlock Town are due to play either Huchnall (although I think they mean Hucknall), Holbeach or Lincoln Moorlands Railway at home on 17 September in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup. My wife’s uncle also spotted the name of Vince Adams in the Looking Back article. Adams joined Matlock Town from Worksop 44 years ago. Apparently the significance of this is the fact that my wife’s uncle went to school with Vince Adams.

We make our way to the main stand and took our seats as the players warmed up in front of us. As I’m trying to make out who our new signings and trialists are, Peter Jackson and David Baldwin are deep in conversation by the dugouts. Who knows what they are chatting about? The tannoy announcer presents the two teams to us although it’s difficult to hear what he is saying. However we make out the name of Nathan Joynes in the Matlock Town side who played a couple of games for Bradford City a few seasons ago, whilst on loan from Barnsley. In the starting side for Bradford City is ex-Matlock Town player Ross Hannah who is also our captain for the evening.

The game kicks off and Hannah produces an early left foot right wing cross which unfortunately doesn’t reach Hanson in the six yard box. Hanson is then found in his own penalty area heading clear an early Matlock corner. The Matlock Town supporter sat next to my wife’s uncle informs us that Ian Holmes, the Matlock Town number 9, has re-joined them from Glapwell FC and is the one to watch in the Matlock side. Holmes is soon in the thick of the action and is brought down by Guy Branston. However, the resulting free kick is cleared by Steve Williams.

After the early exchanges City come more into the game with Lee Bullock passing to Hanson who shoots high and wide of the target. Luke O’Brien and young Dominic Rowe link up well down the left flank and from Rowe’s cross David Syers heads the ball into the back of a Matlock player. Holmes then shoots from long range but his shot goes wide of Rhys Evans’ goal. Evans is on trial looking to earn himself a contract with the club who he played for during the 2008-09 season. However, it’s not long before Holmes is on the score sheet as he thumps a header past him from a Bettney cross.

The first half continues with Joynes attempting a lob which goes over the cross bar. This proves to be his last action in the game as he is substituted shortly afterwards. Hanson then goes foraging down City’s left flank and shrugs off the attentions of Featherstone to create a shooting opportunity which hits a post and bounces out too quickly for Hannah to convert into a goal. It is then Branston’s turn to attack at the central defender goes on one of those runs that excite supporters. His left wing cross goes just over Hannah’s head.

With City gaining more possession, Chris Mitchell crosses from the right for Hanson to head City’s equaliser. That’s a headed goal for each number nine. Shortly afterwards, Matlock are presented with a chance to take the lead following a wayward pass from Branston. However, Ryan Mallon shoots wide. As the first half draws to a conclusion Branston, for reasons unknown to me, hurls some verbal abuse to O’Brien. Branston then sprays a forward pass which is nowhere near to a Bradford City player. O’Brien. The ultimate professional, however, doesn’t retaliate and tell Branston what he thinks of that pass.

The second half commences with Mark Stewart replacing Hanson. Stewart is soon into the action as he shoots just wide after collecting a pass from O’Brien. Rowe then pulls the ball back for Stewart but his side footed shot is saved by Kennedy in the Matlock goal. Mitchell produces another telling cross which Syers heads over the crossbar. City are dominating the early exchanges of the second half and Stewart shoots again, but this time Kennedy palms the shot away. Matlock then make a plethora of substitutions and have their first corner of the second half. Thankfully, Rowe is stood by one post and is able to prevent Matlock from taking the lead again. This shows the importance of having men by each post when defending a corner.

Midway through the second half Jackson decides it time for a few substitutions. Recent signing Ritchie Jones makes a surprise, but welcome, appearance following his transfer from Oldham Athletic. Jones slots into central midfield with Bullock reverting to centre back as Branston leaves the field. Trialist Nahki Wells replaces local hero Ross Hannah, who receives warm applause from the home supporters. City have another corner which Williams heads over before Jones tries his luck from distance with a long range effort which narrowly flies wide of Kennedy’s right hand post.

Recent signing Andrew Burns joins the action replacing Lewis Hunt and shortly afterwards Luke Dean and Scott Brown replace Syers and Mitchell. Wells then shoots from distance but fails to alter the score line. Hanson can now be seen sat in the main stand with fellow players Flynn and Osborne, who are both rested tonight following their appearances at Silsden two days earlier. With the game approaching the final few minutes, both teams have a chance to win the game. First a Matlock substitute drags his right foot shot wide, then in the final minute Wells is played in by Jones but Kennedy makes another smart save. The game finishes 1-1.

As we make our way towards the exit, Branston is seen having his photograph taken with a City supporter whilst Matlock’s forthcoming fixtures appear on a chalk board on a wall behind one of the goals. Another chalk board next to the turnstiles notes that the attendance was 364. These quirky little things are what I love about pre-season friendly games at non-league grounds.

Whilst Matlock Town gave City a good work out and looked like a team that will do well in this season’s Evo-Stik Premier League, Peter Jackson was left searching for answers as to how Bradford City will be able to break down teams in the forthcoming Division 4 campaign.

It all begins with the broadest of smiles

This felt weird. As someone who has lived within the Craven area for the majority of his 29 years on this planet, this evening’s short journey to Silsden’s Asda Foundation Stadium to watch Bradford City play Silsden AFC  seemed like two very different aspects of life crossing over, surprisingly smoothly.

Bradford City and Valley Parade is hardly a million miles away from Craven, but the escapism it provides on a Saturday afternoon is far removed from the familiar, everyday life the likes of Silsden are associated with in my mind. On the PA system tonight apparently boomed the voice of my old Geography teacher; among the sizeable crowd were non-City supporter friends I often share a pint with, plus other characters you see out and about and who provide the backdrop to evenings out.

They’re stood next to City supporters I know by sight if not to speak to following years of attending games far more meaningful than this. Where I live it still feels a surprise, if not a novelty, to see people wearing Bradford City clothing; yet tonight Silsden is full of claret and amber. The crowd inside the compact stadium feels like it could be bigger – though the attendance is over 1,100 – and, as the game takes place in front of the picturesque Aire Valley landscape I’ve called home for so many years, it all seemed to come together rather beautifully.

And coming together for the first time publically was the much-vaunted Development Squad, plus a handful of trialists and senior pros in Michael Flynn, Robbie Threlfall and Luke Oliver. Perhaps James Hanson and Guy Branston had been in manager Peter Jackson’s plans too – but if not kudos to the pair for turning up to watch. The three prominent players in the team aside, it was an evening of struggling to recognise unfamiliar faces for whom this friendly was about much more than building fitness.

Straight from kick off there was a focused rhythm to the approach of the City team. The ball was worked back and forth from defence, with midfielders Flynn and Scott Brown taking it in turns to drop deep and receive possession in order to bring it forwards. On the flanks trialist Jamie Green and Leon Osborne looked to provide movement, while recently signed forward Nialle Rodney immediately found favour for his willingness to track back.

The goals quickly began to pour in. First Rodney was played through and confidently rounded the keeper, before slotting home from a tight angle. Next Flynn ran and ran before unleashing a low drive into the corner. From another Flynn shot, Bermudist trialist Nahki Wells was able to tap home a rebound effort. Green headed a fourth and there was still seven minutes until half time.

But games like this aren’t really about the goals, and the attention was all on who was impressing and who wasn’t quite measuring up. The 16-year-old Brown – and it is hard to believe he really is that young – was first in line for accolades. His running, on and off the ball, caught the eye as he made good use of space; while his passing demonstrated remarkable skill and composure. His best moment during his 45-minute run out was probably an inch-perfect pass from deep that set Green away down the flank.

Rodney and Wells linked up well as a front two, while at the back emerging youth team prospect Adam Robinson measured up well in the centre, especially considering he has been playing as a right back for the reserves. As changes were made at half time that had no effect on momentum, another trialist Danny Kerr showed promise on the wing. It was also good to see Luke Dean in action; a year ago his season was effectively ruined after suffering a dreadful injury in the opening pre-season friendly.

The goals continued with Darren Stephenson racing through and nutmegging the beleaguered Silsden keeper, before Wells grabbed a second with a lob and Kerr latched onto a cross to slide the ball home for 7-0. At this stage Silsden hadn’t managed a single meaningful attack, but did improve towards the end and grabbed a consolation through Jim Bradley.

There’s only so much you can read into games like this, and on the day City confirmed the capture of Oldham midfielder Ritchie Jones and look set to blow the Leeds United cup windfall on one player, what opportunities will be available to those contracted or on trial and who played tonight is unclear. But while Jackson and his coaching staff were offered plenty of food for thought, for us supporters we headed home with a satisfied grin.

I love the intimacy of occasions such as these. It’s not that we’re especially any nearer to the players compared to a normal league game, but the more hushed tones and fact players and management mix more freely with fans makes it seem more personal. Stood behind the goal City defended in the first half, I was suddenly conscious that my conversation with this site’s esteemed editor regarding Jon Brain’s past humiliations against City was within earshot of the trialist keeper, and so had to ssh myself from saying David Brown.

Of course there was no edge to the evening; and each goal was cheered without a semblance of the passion and the elation we exuberate when the real stuff kicks off. But then there was also no nerves and risk of misery that so often overrides everything about following City. I’m not ready to get back on the emotional rollercoaster just yet, so the tranquillity of it all seemed perfect on a warm July evening.

Tonight was simply about enjoying a football match, and about remembering how much we love Bradford City. It’s sad how quickly both of these facts can become lost when the important stuff begins.

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