Nahki / Armstrong

And so the rumours continued.

Greg Abbott announced that Bradford City were interested in signing Adam Armstrong from Newcastle United while The Times are reporting that Armstrong’s parent club are now interested in Nahki Wells who, should he move to St James’ Park, would trigger a percentage clause in the transfer deal that took Wells from Bradford City to Huddersfield Town and give Bradford City the cash to spend on a striker.

The breathlessness of the above is indicative of a change in football over my eighteen years writing this website.

It used to be that football supporters lived for the football matches. Now the matches are a frequently ignored data point in the continuing narrative of squad gathering. Hull City’s victory in the first two games of the Premier League season is a quirk in the story of a team with too few players.

Bradford City beat Coventry City, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United in eight days but this has not stopped the conversation around the club being entirely about who should be brought into – or moved out of – the squad.

Improving the squad may or may not be something that is needed this season – that would be a retroactive judgement made in May 2017 and speculation before that – but it is hard to imagine what football supporters would do in August if they were not talking about squad gathering.

Football supporting is now Pokemon Go with young men filling in for Pikachu.

Two

Nevertheless there are two things to note about the current cycle of rumour around Adam Armstrong arriving on loan from Newcastle United.

Notice how it is Chief Scout Greg Abbott and not Manager Stuart McCall who is talking about Armstrong. In fact it is Abbott who leads much of the conversation about recruitment to the club.

This in itself is in keeping with Abbott’s remit at Valley Parade and no bad thing but it is as stark a contrast with Bradford City up to the Summer of 2016 as one could see.

When Archie Christie had Abbott’s role he was geographically abused for having taken too high profile a role in transfer dealings and taking control away from the flailing Peter Jackson.

It is almost impossible to imagine Phil Parkinson’s Chief Scout Tim Breaker fronting a discussion on a target as Abbott does. In fact the first time most City fans heard Breaker’s name was in the revelation that he had left the club with Parkinson to join Bolton.

Abbott’s increased profile is a good thing. For football clubs to get better at transfers there needs to be a group-think approach to recruitment. Too often deals are done by managers to best serve the aims of that manager rather than the club.

The £250,000 that Phil Parkinson was able to reuse from the deal that took Oliver McBurnie to Swansea City was reused in the manager’s budget that season but as McBurnie starts to impress in Wales it is worth wondering if the long term aims of the club have been best served in that deal. I’m not the only one to have worried that after Parkinson, Lawn and Rhodes there is little left behind at Valley Parade.

Transfer group think is not popular in the English game – Liverpool’s transfer committee is seen as a problem – where any control taken from the manager is seen as a bad thing inherently.

my years of football have convinced me of it.

So Abbott speaking for the club is a change but and so it what Abbott is saying.

Should Armstrong join City on loan – perhaps as a result of Wells joining Newcastle United and freeing up the younger forward to move on – then City will be able to play Armstrong and Jordy Hiwula up front. Obviously this are two loan players.

City’s bid for Matt Green and the reported – or perhaps that is hopeful – interest in Adam le Fondre suggest that the alternative to a young loan signing not is an older permanent deal.

Which is a contrast to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims when the new owners arrived.

Much was made of the fact that City could find value in signing released players from Premier League Academy football, turning their careers around, and developing them. That was how Bradford City would scale from being a League One club to being a club able to get into – and stay in – The Championship.

Hiwula or Armstrong or Josh Cullen might play well for City but the value for that will go elsewhere. City might get promoted because of their contributions but – we are told – when they are gone City will not have a Championship quality team.

Which suggests that either the plan has changed – let us hope not – or the plan was never there – let us very hope not – or that City are caught up in the Pokemon Go of squad gathering as much as the supporters are and that a deep breath would be best for all.

What are we trying to achieve and is signing Armstrong the way to achieve it?

On the day that Wells was to join to Newcastle United then City will be richer than they were. How is that money to be spent? Is it a scatter-signing for a player in August 2016? If it is how is it going to work better than when Stuart McCall scrambled for signings in his first spell as manager when the budget fluctuated wildly?

Which returns us to the central question of 2016 which is how are City without Parkinson, Mark Lawn, and Julian Rhodes going to be better? Indeed are they going to get better? There is no reason to assume an era of success will be followed by another and every reason to assume it will not be.

Is The Rahic Development Plan still being followed? Is it being followed by everyone at the club? If it does then it would make more sense rather than bringing in Armstrong to find a promising teenage striker we own or can own – such as Reece Webb-Foster – and give him the development time.

And while doing that take any money that comes from a resale of Nakhi Wells and use it to fund infrastructural additions which will make the club able to stand up in the Championship.

Wandering / Parkinson

If Phil Parkinson is going to Bolton Wanderers – and at the moment it seems that he is not – then Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp would be confronted by the perennial problems of Bradford City which dominated their predecessors tenure.

How does a football club give the manager total control while retaining institutional knowledge of how to bring success?

If Parkinson and his team were to leave, and it seems that he will not, then what at Bradford City is there to carry on the good work he has done? There is no Director of Football, no powerful Chief Scout, no Youth set-up turning out talent, no facilities that guarantee quality. It seems that the whole of the footballing side of Bradford City is Phil Parkinson.

Which is no bad thing.

Parkinson is the start and end of the football side of Bradford City because – one suspects – he wants it that way. His experience sharing power in a structure at Hull City that worked out very poorly. The club is shaped the way Parkinson wants it and that is probably why Parkinson is not looking to leave Valley Parade any time soon.

The manager as “club builder” is a massively out of fashion thing in football at the moment. Even the word “manager” is often not used to describe the man who picks the team who is often described as a “Head Coach” or “Chief Person Selection Architect” or similar. The structures to support the man who picks the team have long since bled over the lines that a person like Bill Shankly or Sir Alex Ferguson would have considered the remit of the manager.

And this may be no bad thing – too often clubs give a former player with no business, scouting, or planning experience the final say on everything at the club and a remit of a few months to start to show progress. Sharing the responsibility around a football club is a very good idea from the club’s point of view. The manager does not always agree.

Take, for example, the story of Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United. People all over Europe are scratching their heads as to why the Spaniard would go from The Champions League and Real Madrid to Tyneside and the Championship in the space of twelve months. The answer seems to lay in the responsibility Benitez has been promised by Newcastle United. He has been told he will have the final say on everything. That he can have the club builder at a club which (considering Leicester City are reigning champions) has genuine potential in European football.

No club of the size of Newcastle United in the rest of Europe wants a club builder manager. The offer is too tempting to refuse. Benitez could turn it down and find a club who want him to pick the team and sit on a transfer committee – and that might be a club that wins a league – but to control everything is to be the sole author of any success.

One assume that the same offers come into Parkinson – albeit under the radar – and are met with a response that unless control is near total then the City boss will stay where he is. Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri is praised for how little of the set up he found at Not Filbert Street he changed. Winning the Premier League is massively impressive but it is a shared success.

Any success Parkinson has – and a promotion and a cup final is pretty impressive – he is the sole author of. The difficulties Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had – and Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic now face – is how best to support Parkinson’s efforts without bleeding over the lines of his responsibilities.

Welcome / Willkommen

As far as first words go Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp had chosen well. They had bought Bradford City – they explained – because of the supporters.

In their opening statement Bradford City’s new chairman Rahic – who will run the club while Rupp funds from Germany – spoke about how “(he and Rupp) have seen the way the club and fans interact and the model of affordable football is very important to us… having witnessed games here at the stadium we know how passionate the fans are.”

Rahic made the right noises and continued “I met with Phil (Parkinson) this morning and we had a very encouraging discussion about the future.”

And with that a good deal of worry over the future of the City manager was assuaged although one would wonder what the new chairman and football’s fifth longest serving manager will have talked about. One assumes that Parkinson, planning for this summer’s recruitment, will have sought to have an assurance that he would not be replaced (By Uwe Rösler or anybody else) understanding the importance that that assurance would have when signing players. Chief Executive as well as chairman one imagines Rahic will involve himself in that recruitment handling contracts as his predecessors used to take turns in doing and will have given Parkinson and indication as to what sort of budget he will have.

It is perhaps this working relationship between Parkinson and Rahic which will define the manager’s future at the club. I have been convinced for sometime that recruitment in football is a full time job – or at least two part time ones – and that it is not something that can be left solely to the manager. I am also convinced that there is nothing as disruptive to a club that a structure that means that the manager ends up with players he does not want.

The Newcastle United experience where Graeme Carr recruits players for one of many managers to use is typical of the system in that it has both failed to bring a successful team and failed to find that many impressive players. Newcastle’s policies though are based on Olympique Lyonnais’s approach which – in the days before Paris SG’s oil wealth – saw them win the league eight times in a row under four different two year managers.

It is a give that a transfer policy that – and pardon the Wired speak – crowd-sources the transfer targets while not forcing those targets on a manager seems an model to pursue. Many opinions on a player have to be better than one man’s thoughts but one man’s thoughts – the manager’s – have to be conclusive. Lyon – it is said – based their model on the relationship between Brian Clough who would yes or no Peter Taylor’s ideas on players to sign, and on how the Anfield boot room of old would decide the merits of a player that Bill Shankly suggested.

Last season eleven new permanent signings were made at Valley Parade and none cemented a place the first team. As Parkinson approaches the busiest time for recruitment Edin Rahic’s first priority must be to ask how he can help the manager with this systemic failure at the club.

Nevertheless so far Rahic and Rupp’s investment in City – be it buying or funding the club – is one of many mysteries which will no doubt become clearer in time. Rupp sold a business for €150m but with the club noting that expectations in the short term should be managed – nearly always synonymous with scaled down – then we wait to see what the next few days, weeks, and months bring.

However a smile, some nice words about the fans and a thumbs up for Phil Parkinson is a good first day.

Parkinson’s success is seen in the shifting of the Overton Window when Bradford City beat Doncaster Rovers 3-0

The Overton window in politics

In political theory, the Overton window is the range of ideas the public will accept. According to the theory, an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within that window. At any given moment, the “window” includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.Overton Window, Joseph P. Overton

It is commonly held, and held for good reason, that the current and previous incarnation of The Labour Party (Miliband and Blair) are substantially to the right of the 1970s (Wilson) party and that the current Conservative policies are also massively to the right of where they could have been in the same decade. 1971’s Industry Relations Act from Ted Heath would put him left of current Labour thinking.

The Overton window is defined – broadly speaking – by the left and right of what the public will accept and so the two parties stand glaring across it. The window was dragged significantly to the right under Thatcher and so Heath would be out of step with modern Tories just as Blair would be out of step in the 1970s Labour movement. The left and right are relative to a centre which is defined by the greater populous.

James Hanson, predictable

Which seems to have very little to do with a Friday night in Doncaster and Bradford City wandering into the dressing room at half time scoreless against a Rovers side who – like Chesterfield on Tuesday night – looked very similar to the Bantams in approach and effort.

First half blows had been exchanged – weakly perhaps – and once again City seemed to be playing a game on a knife edge. Gary MacKenzie’s slip on Tuesday night had decided the Chesterfield game in the visitors favour and something similar would decide this game, or so it seemed.

Which was the frame of reference that a grumble about the predictability of City’s approach of hitting the ball to James Hanson came about. The speaker thought City needed to “get rid” of the man 442 had called the 45th best player outside the Premier League and one could waste ink on the denotation of this rather than its connotation: that City needed something to tip the knife edge in their favour.

Hanson was policed all evening by a Doncaster Rovers backline who know the striker’s threat and did what they could to respond to it. After forty five minutes they would have been pleased with their attentions – not so after ninety – but the instinct of City fans that the Bantams needed to add something less predictable alongside the thrust of James Hanson was telling.

At this stage of the season four years ago there was (needless, in my opinion) talk of City falling out of the League because of Peter Taylor’s management and Peter Jackson’s arrival was seen as something of a saving grace. Taylor’s team were never in danger of relegation and so any credit to Jackson for “saving” a club that was not in trouble is – in my opinion – misplaced but he is given that credit in wider public opinion.

The Overton window in football

Manchester City almost finished in the UEFA Cup places in 2005. At the time it was high drama in the Premier League. David James – goalkeeper – went up field to try seal this amazing achievement for the Blue side of Manchester but it was not to be. In the end Manchester City reflected on a good season but finished 8th.

A similar finish for Manchester City now would be cause for alarm. The ownership of the club – through Khaldoon Al Mubarak – has changed what the populous believe Manchester City should be achieving significantly. When winning the Premier League last season the reaction was muted – or so it seemed – because of failures in the Champions League.

The Overton window in football for Manchester City has shifted as a result of the massive investment in the club.

The same can be said for Chelsea who played league games at Valley Parade in the 1980s but now measure their success by European Trophies and Premier Leagues. It can be said to have shifted down for Newcastle United who go into a derby game with Sunderland hoping for local bragging rights and a secure Premier League finish as a return for a club that twenty years ago believed they would win the League. Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club has – in the minds of fans and the rest of football – made sure that ambitions should be limited and so they are limited to a window of achievement which is shifted downwards since the Keegan era.

It can be said for Blackpool who – when the North of England used to holiday there in the 1950s – were a team capable of winning trophies but as overseas holidays took business the Overton window for football slide down and down to a point where the team who had the Greatest Footballer ever (some say, Matthews himself thought Tom Finney was better) are now amazed to have had a year in the top division.

Four years ago the Overton window in football at Bradford City had shifted down to a point where relegation from the Football League was feared and the idea of promotion from League Two was considered to be all but unreachable. “My main aim next season is to play attractive football, but winning football as well” said Jackson, “I can build for the future.”

Something changed

What words were said at half time by Phil Parkinson at Doncaster Rovers we will not know but the outcome was incredible. In the second half the Bantams were yards ahead of the side that has matched them stride for stride in the opening forty five minutes. Gary McKenzie’s opener came from a scramble on the far post following a corner, and a cross in, but it was the result of pressure following half time that did not relent.

Hanson, tireless, chased down defenders all evening and in the centre of midfield Billy Knott and Gary Liddle stopped the home side having time on the ball. Indeed Knott – coming up against one time favourite of this Parish Dean Furman – can be pleased with his best performance in a two man midfield for City so far. His tendency to go missing went missing and Knott manifested his progress over the season in the display. Liddle battled through and Filipe Morais’ control of possession in the home side’s half showed what had been missing in recent weeks.

Hanson ran defenders down and made room for Billy Clarke to add a second. Tony McMahon got a third – his first for the club – filling in at left wing for Mark Yeates who felt his shoulder pop out ungraciously in front of the visiting supporters. McMahon seems ready to play anywhere for City just to be at City and that attitude is probably worth noting.

McMahon’s goal – picking up on a slip by Reece Wabara – completed a fine enough evening that Phil Parkinson walked the length of the away supporters to give thanks to those who had come down from Bradford. The scenes seemed as unlikely an hour previous as they would have done four years ago.

Which is Parkinson’s success at Bradford City and one which is not dependent on promotion being achieved this year although this result increases the chances of that. The shift in the Overton window in football upwards for Bradford City has it that City should be thinking in terms of a Championship side and thinking about how to win games against teams like Doncaster Rovers who have just exited that level. How can we win the game on the knife edge to chase a place in the Championship? It was not a question we asked four years ago.

And while Manchester City and Chelsea are foremost in clubs who have shifted their windows up through investment – and clubs like AFC Bournemouth, Hull City and others have had smaller investments and smaller shifts – most of the time when the Overton window for football shifts it is because of money coming in or (Blackpool, Newcastle United, Leeds United, Portsmouth) going out in City’s case it has been achieved on the field, with the same scale of resources, and no sudden injections of funds. In fact City have paid back investment in the last four years.

Which is truly remarkable. With the same resources (less, arguably) which were considered only good enough for playing “good football” at the bottom of League Two Phil Parkinson is measured against Bradford City’s ability to be promoted to The Championship.

Now that is success.

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.

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”.

The development squad and a plan to improve the club

Blame it on Silvio Berlusconi. Back in the early 1990s the man who would bring the term bunga bunga into common usage was the flamboyant chairman of an AC Milan team which sported Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard as the allowed three non-Italian players.

UEFA and Serie A rules mandated that a club could only have three non-Italians and so the practice was that the Lira went to a chosen trio of outsiders. Clubs were defined by the foreign players they had and Milan were the Dutchmen, across the City Inter were German with Jürgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme. It was a simpler time to watch football, and to be Silvio Berlusconi.

The future Italian PM announced though that Milan would be signing three more World Class non-Italians and – starting with the unfortunate Gianluigi Lentini – eight more Italians to create a second team which would play in European competition in the week. The one would be fresh for the weekend, the other fresh for midweek, and players would swap between the two teams.

And so modern squad football was born.

Bradford City’s own Phil Babb was a part of the emergence of the squad in the English game. in 1994 Babb and John Scales joined a Liverpool side managed by Roy Evans who already had the beloved Neil Ruddock at the heart of the back four and the maths did not match. Was Ruddock for the chop? Would Babb be out at left back (or up front, as he was at City)? What was Evans doing signing more than two top quality central defenders?

“Moving to a back three and wing backs” turned out to be the answer to the question poised by the question itself was illustrative. Growing up in the eighties my brother and myself could name the one to eleven of every team in Division One and that one to eleven was set in stone, seemingly unaffected as today’s line ups are by loss of form, injury and failing super-injunctions.

A team like Liverpool seemingly had no need for a spare defender – one sub, four four two and all – but soon the idea verbalised by Berlusconi would make the sort of questions that Evans face irrelevant. Within two years and in the run up to Euro ’96 Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United were signing Tino Asprilla when they already had Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole, Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer, Super Mac, Wor Jackie Milburn et al.

In 1981 Aston Villa won the League using only fourteen players all season. The modern football squad demands eighteen per match and a host of others to insure that even the League Two player is not required to take the field with the sort of injury which was played through in earlier eras after which players retired at thirty, and could not walk.

So we have a situation where Manchester City have over forty players in their first team squad as an extreme example and most teams could put out something approaching Berlusconi’s two teams a week. If you are on the edges of one of those huge squad – and Bradford City’s is 21 strong at current assessment – then you seem a long way from the first team. Unless you get to do something special from the bench you are a long way from the first team.

So while the dozen and some who regularly feature in the first team focus on getting from game to game the players on the edges – especially the younger ones – should be focusing on improvement. Enter the development squad.

It seems to have come from Archie Christie who came to Bradford with John Still when the Bantams interviewed the entire Dagenham and Redbridge backroom staff for roles at Valley Parade. Something had powered the Essex club’s rise from non-league compound to League One club and it seems that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes believe that Christie is it.

Chief scout and he brings in some young lads from Falkirk which seems a sensible move but not an unexpected one but as Head of Football Development Christie’s Development Squad offers something new.

Wayne Allison approves and has been recruited to coach “The Developments” as they shall be hamfistedly dubbed with his aim on taking players who have signed professional contracts after their two year apprenticeships but are not in the first team picture week in week out, or who are falling in the limbo between young player and first teamer, and concentrate on improving them as players over getting them ready for matches as the first team squad do.

Squad sizes have increased massively in the last fifteen years, but the focus of training is on preparing a group of players for the next game leaving those who play ready, and those who do not having wasted that time. The Development Squad offers a chance to make better use of those players allowing the first team to focus on preparation, and the fringe on improvement.

Of course the idea could be a failure. Dag & Red’s success might be down to something else entirely, Christie’s ideas might not be relocatable, it all just might not work but for once Bradford City have come up with a plan to improve the quality of the footballers at the club rather than trying the tried and failed method of trying to buy in promotions or assemble squads on a season by season basis.

A plan on improving footballers is a plan to improve the football club and, in effect, the first time since the Premier League that Bradford City have had a plan to improve the club that might work.

Welcome to the tactical sophistication

Watching City getting men behind the ball defending with numbers rather than quality and leaving the attacking side of the game undermanned it suddenly struck me what this “dour football” of Peter Taylor’s really is.

City lost 2-1 to Port Vale in the glare of a watching TV audience having tried to keep a closed shop most of the game but then after two goals – the second of which was offside – ended up unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes. It was not pretty stuff either, and ultimately whatever the plan at kick off, that plan did not work.

Having spent much of Friday talking about the principal that how if the job was offered in the summer Taylor’s name would still top the list of potential managers the practice of watching a dour, negative display jarred but the final reckoning City lost to an offside goal and were it not for a great block would have drawn the game. If wishes about Bradford City were snowflakes we would have woken up to a hefty covering Saturday morning, and we did.

However for all the dourness and negativity those two moments – had they fallen differently – would have given City a creditable result (a draw, assuming one of those snowflakes did not melt) and so Taylor would note that his tactical approach – while unsuccessful – was realistic in its chances of getting a result.

Were it not for a mistake by a linesman or a bit of pondering by Lewis Hunt that left John McCombe in to block then The Bantams would have had a draw at promotion chasing Vale. For all the negativity that is evidenced in the game the approach is practical, reasonable and realistic.

But it is dour and watching the game we wanted the players to break the shackles and entertain, going for a win.

We wanted the players in our struggling team to forget the fact that in frustrating and negativity the chances of a draw are there for all to see and to go for broke. We wanted the manager and players to play an attacking game at a promotion chaser, seeing if they could bring back a win.

There is a word to describe that attitude and the word is naive, or at least it was.

In football it is naive to look at away games – especially those against promotion chasers – as the chance to get three points. Away victories are uncommon. Look at any Saturday of results in The Football League and something between two thirds and three quarters of the results will be home wins, then draws will be the next most common, then away victories.

Sir Bobby Robson used to say that a team need wins its home games, draw away and should expect no better than that and will achieve its targets. Two points per game will get any team promoted from any league.

Perhaps Peter Taylor has this in mind. If he does he seems a long way off achieving it but that “long way” was a linesman’s flag away against Port Vale. No matter what you think of the approach or the manager’s approach his understanding that when one goes away from home one frustrates and tries to minimise opportunities knowing a draw is a good return is common thinking in the game, it is the realistic choice.

So we should use the terms that apply consistency, or so I realised when considering “dour football.”

This “dour, negative football” is “tactically sophisticated” as distinct from being “tactically naive”. Likewise the desire to see more “attacking football” – to see players who leave more space as they uncompress the game looking for space to play in – is to want the players to be more “tactically naive.”

This revelation ruined my evening and once again one of my Nan’s oft sage (although always containing the odd swear) turns of phrase came into my head. “Them buggars best be careful a what they wish for, cause they’ll get it.”

I never took to the phrase “tactically naive” because I could never think of the opposite to contrast this naivety with. The fans over the years that use the phrase against managers like Stuart McCall at City and Kevin Keegan at England must have had something in mind as the opposite, but I could not see it. If trying to win every game was to be considered tactically naive what was the opposite? What was tactical sophistication?

Naive has a good half dozen meanings in the OED but in football’s lexicon it seemed to point towards a kind of inability to accept certain pragmatic realities and react to them by changing an initial approach. It was being incapable of flexing tactically to cope with the opposition. A tactically naive manager was one who always ended up getting beaten by some veteran gaffer who saw the benefits of soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter. When Keegan’s Newcastle United lost 1-0 at St James Park to Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1995/96 it was the only time that his team had failed to score in a home game that season The Red Devils having frustrated the attacking flair of the Magpies and caught them with a Cantona sucker punch.

It was the “naivety” of Keegan for all to see supposedly in that his team out played but did not outscore their opponents. That season ended with Keegan’s famed “I’d love it…” speech which was used as proof that the grizzled old Scot had bested his naive foe. That dour football had bested attacking flair, the naivety of an attacking approach had been exposed.

“Sophistication” is probably not the word that springs instantly to mind watching last night’s first half of Bradford City’s football but there it was, for all to see, a sophisticated tactical approach which recognised the realism of the game and set out with a pragmatic plan to get a result.

It is old Arsenal’s 1-0 ways against new Arsenal’s being four up having gone on the road with a plan to play and after half an hour at Newcastle United only to ended up lucky to get a point. Arsene Wenger naive to carry on attacking at four up but wanting his team to play a certain way rather than accept the reality that closing the game down at half time would have meant coasting to a victory.

Knowing what we do about how teams come to Valley Parade with rows of defender and packed midfields and try nick a point, sometimes taking more, and expecting our team to play in a different way simply because it is more enjoyable to watch is laudable but it is the very stuff that was called “tactically naive” this time last year when Peter Taylor joined the club.

“Them buggars best be careful…”

This is the situation we are in. A popular consensus wanted Taylor and his “tactical sophistication” into the club and perhaps there would be more sympathy for the browbeating over how dour it can be to watch if – when watching a manager who wanted to play attacking football – the words “tactically naive” were not allowed to float around unchallenged so often.

“Move on”, or so we are told, but the point of this article is not to wallow in the blanket of snowflake wishes and memories but rather than to state that “move on” too often means forget to the point where as a football club we have become masters of Orwellian doublethink.

Attacking football is naive, and we want an experienced man who can play in a tactically sophisticated way. When we get that we want someone who can bring more flair and make the team more enjoyable to watch. Passion is not important in a manager, then we rage at the dispassionate figure on the sidelines. The manager does not have enough knowledge of the English game, but the next one is too parochial. The manager is too showbiz and interested in talking about his past as England captain, but the next one is too sour and grim.

Least we forget the purpose of constant war in Orwell’s 1984 is to waste the excess of production. This is exactly what City do when changing managers.

The club’s resources go not into improving the team but rather into changing it to suit the new approach – Omar Daley’s exit for Kevin Ellison being a great example of that – and then changing that back again when the mood sees fit to replace manager.

So while City slip to a tenth away defeat of the season – the most of any club in League Two although, worryingly, we have played more games than most – I reflect on how unsuccessful the approach has been but how much that twelve months ago it was presented as the solution.

This is important as we look for another solution.

The horror transfers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The preview not written

There is another preview of City’s match with bottom of the league Barnet which will never be written.

In that preview City are all at sea having lost Peter Taylor to be Newcastle United’s assistant manager and are looking at what can be salvaged from the season that promised much and threatened to deliver nothing having been derailed by his exit.

Perhaps in that preview there would be a stark statement of a few facts about the season and the position that City are in which – if not designed to cushion the blow – would have pointed out that so far Taylor’s team have patchy form but the hope of improvement that is common with pretty much every City manager since the club slipped from the Premier League.

In doing so it would have said that we might not want to get too upset about Taylor’s exit because – from the point of view of what is in the hand, rather than the bush – City can easily get their hands on another manager to have high hopes in.

However such talk would have been scant consolation. In Peter Taylor City have a manager who not only is able to coach the first team but has a knowledge of what is needed to grow the club which is unparalleled amongst his peers, be they other League Two managers or former City bosses. Colin Todd would probably have been able to point out the necessities for improvement at Valley Parade: decent pitch, new training facilities, proper preparations; but never seemed to take the time to do so. Taylor has done and it is that knowledge, as well as his team and tactics, which the 58 year old should be retained for.

Taylor knows what works at a football club – even if he might not know how to get those things in place at City – and to hear Mark Lawn say the he considers the manager to be doing a good job despite the fact that the club is some way off the stated aim of promotion perhaps suggests that the joint chairman has heard Taylor’s suggestions and – having not delivered on them – shares some of them blame.

“Doing a good job considering the fact I promised him a new training ground and didn’t deliver one” might have been more accurate.

It matters little. As long as Lawn understands, to paraphrase Socrates, that all he knows is that he know less than Taylor then the chairman will do well and his focus now having heard his manager is staying is to get the new facilities and ultimately aim for the single lasting contribution which a chairman could make to turn around the club – which is to address the rent and Valley Parade situation. That, and that alone, will change the club in a permanent way.

So Taylor takes the team he could not leave into a games with bottom of the pile Barnet and in good form. A host of loanees have been retained with Richard Eckersley and Rob Kiernan joining Lenny Pidgley as “staying”, at least for a bit.

Jason Price, however, exits to be replaced by Hull City kid Mark Cullen who joins the club. Jake Speight has returned from loan but the front three of Omar Daley – able to drop back to make a midfield four – with in form Gareth Evans and James Hanson.

Tommy Doherty will hope for a recall but may be frustrated by Lee Bullock’s performance while Tom Adeyemi and David Syers provide super engines of energy in the middle. For both the biggest fear is that Monday’s win builds too much confidence, and Taylor’s job is to drum home that it was effort and not excellence which won the match.

Pidgley continues in goal with Eckersley at right back and Luke O’Brien on the left. Steve Williams’ four week injury on Monday is a blow with Kiernan set to replace him alongside Luke Oliver.

There are other match reports that replace Leon Best’s name with Oliver’s, follow Taylor to the Toon and securing a debut hat trick, but they are fanciful and City it seems are able to concentrate on the here and now.

Taylor’s show of loyalty focuses minds on the future

So how did you feel, deep down, when it appeared Peter Taylor was going to walk out on Bradford City to take the assistant manager position at Newcastle United?

In the hours that followed the Bantams’ important victory over Bury, it seemed inevitable that Taylor would depart for the bright lights of the Premier League, leaving City with another managerial vacancy to fill and a promotion bid on a knife edge. After the 4-0 crushing to Cheltenham less than a week earlier, remarkably top seven hopes looked stronger than they have all season, following the back-to-back wins over Lincoln and Bury. Taylor’s immediate future, in some doubt after the Cheltenham spanking, suddenly seemed secure. No one expected his departure to be his choice.

On Monday evening, as we considered the likelihood of Taylor’s exit, what were you hoping would happen? After Cheltenham, the number of fans calling for his removal seemed higher than ever. It would be foolish, but not at all surprising, to base such judgments on the current form guide, but perhaps a few of these people regretted their haste at the final whistle against Bury. If you called for Taylor to go after Cheltenham, was your mind changed by the subsequent results? And if it was, how would you have felt if Taylor had accepted a very attractive offer to move to the North East?

There should be little doubt that, had Taylor departed, the timing would have been awful for City. The January transfer window may not mean as much to lower league clubs, but with loan deals expiring and the need to strengthen the squad – not to mention the possibility of bigger clubs eying up the likes of Steve Williams – to be searching for a new manager could have disrupted the season significantly. By the time a new man was installed and had taken the time to evaluate the squad and bring in new faces, play off hopes may have already been over.

But instead Taylor elected to stay, demonstrating a level of loyalty that, sadly, we don’t see too often in football these days. Witness Micky Adams jump ship from Port Vale to Sheffield United. Note that Torquay’s Paul Buckle could be about to take the reins at Bristol Rovers. Recall Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet quitting Leeds United for Newcastle and Tottenham respectively three years ago. Few would have begrudged Taylor had he elected for a return to the big time, but he felt a responsibility and desire to stay:

The time wasn’t right now, and I think I’ve got a job to do at Bradford. I wasn’t comfortable leaving Bradford earlier than I need to, I know what the game is about, I can easily get the sack in a month’s time, I understand that, but I don’t really feel I want to leave at this particular time. I want to produce a team, I’ve come here, three months of last season and they’ve really switched me on. I’ve always had a special feeling about the club, and I’ve still got that feeling.

For loyalty to work, it has to be reciprocated, and that is what makes Taylor’s decision to stay all the more remarkable. All season long, he has faced criticism and abuse from a section of supporters. From booing his team even though they had won, vocally disagreeing with substitutions, racing to the dugout to tell him to go and slating his tactics; Taylor has had to endure a huge amount of stick.

This won’t be new to him of course; even after delivering Wycombe Wanderers’ only ever league automatic promotion he was slagged off by many of their supporters, while his unsuccessful spells at Leicester and Crystal Palace can’t have been enjoyable towards the end. But still, the treatment he’s endured for much of this season can hardly have left him feeling wanted.

Loyalty from his employers has also been limited – recall the lack of public backing Taylor received when he was under huge pressure last October. We at BfB have talked to death about his one-year contract and the flaws of taking such a short-term approach; and, with the chances of getting a new contract seemingly hinging on him steering the club to a top seven place come May, the possibility of unemployment come May is high. Don’t forget Taylor has his wife to think about and a normal life to try and lead. He could be set to uproot from Baildon in a few months time if he loses his job, so the prospect of greater job security in Newcastle must have been very tempting.

So having shown such loyalty, the question now is where this leaves us supporters and the joint Chairmen? Firstly, as fans, do we get behind Taylor and his decisions strongly enough? I must admit I do not and often find myself questioning his team selections and certain performances. Having in the past strongly backed Colin Todd and Stuart McCall, I feel jaded and less willing to be the one who jumps to the defence of Taylor. Surely it’s someone else’s turn to take the lead in backing the manager, especially those people who were so vocally calling for his arrival a year ago.

But that is hardly fair to Taylor on my part, and though I don’t like the manner he’s treated certain players and wish he’d sign some wingers to provide a greater supply line to the forwards, the prospect of losing Taylor on Monday filled me with fear and dread. Push came to shove, we as supporters had to consider whether we really did want him to stay or go. I wanted him to stay, so now I owe him the courtesy of more positive and vocal backing.

Whether you agree or disagree is down to your personal choice. But if you are pleased he has elected to remain at the helm, I’d urge you to think carefully the next time you want to criticise him or demand his sacking. Turning down another job doesn’t make Taylor a better or worse manager than he was before and shouldn’t absolve him from critical analysis, but let’s remember that he’s shown he really does care and is determined to do his best for us.

Todd used to be criticised for not showing enough passion and giving off an air he’d be just as happy to be employed elsewhere. Taylor has proved that, for him, this isn’t the case.

As for the joint Chairmen, the contract issue may now be one that requires action sooner than they might have liked. In fact Mark Lawn, speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, has indicated a new deal could be in the pipeline:

We are now talking to him about the future so it looks to me that we are moving forward with Peter Taylor as our manager.

“The future” may only relate to January signings rather than plans for next season, but having shown the club such loyalty the Chairmen are slightly backed into a corner of having to consider showing Taylor some back. Is it acceptable to keep him dangling and only reward him after success has been delivered, or should they back up recent kind words by showing faith and rewarding him with an extended contract now? Clearly there are risks in doing so: if Taylor agrees a new deal but City remain in midtable, the Chairmen will be criticised by some supporters for sticking with him for next season.

But equally, events of the last few days show how highly rated Taylor is within the game. As his current contract gets closer to expiring, what is the likelihood he will receive further offers from other clubs? And if, with a few games left, City are in the hunt for a play off spot, would the uncertainty over Taylor’s future have a negative impact on the team’s form?

Events over the last few days demand a change of attitude and outlook from us all towards Taylor. We surely cannot coolly applaud him in victory and loudly slate him in defeat anymore. We surely cannot keep him worried about unemployment by failing to back him. If we supporters and the Board believe he is the man to revive the ailing club’s fortunes, it’s time for actions to speak louder than words.

Otherwise the next time another club comes calling, he might just say yes.

Taylor staying with City

Peter Taylor has turned down the chance to become assistant manager according to City’s joint chairman Mark Lawn.

Lawn revealed that The Mags had contacted City after Christmas and a deal over the last five months of the managers contract was agreed indicating City’s willingness to allow him to leave. Taylor having indicated to Lawn that he is staying at Valley Parade has Lawn considering the matter close, although he admits that he can do very little should Taylor change his mind.

The interest from Newcastle United has forced Lawn to make a public statement backing his manager saying

Peter Taylor is Bradford City manager and I don’t want to lose him. He is doing a good job as far as I’m concerned. But we can’t stand in his way if a Premier League club wants to talk to him.

After two wins in two games Lawn’s comments backing his manager are a foot note in this story although when the Magpies contacted City and Taylor’s side had lost 4-0 at Cheltenham then it seems that the joint chairman was prepared to allow the manager to leave.

Taylor’s decision to stay – and the fact that it was Taylor’s decision – highlights the issue with the length of the manager’s contract and Lawn will come under pressure to offer his manager a new deal against his wishes to resolve matters on the basis of promotion.

At the moment Peter Taylor has a contract until the end of the season and is vulnerable to being approached by another club. If City want to keep the 58 year old as manager then it would seem prudent to offer him a longer term deal.

“If”, being the key question for Lawn. Does he want Taylor to be manager next season even if City do not get promoted? Unless he offers the manager a contract that decision may be taken for him.

Taylor to leave City for Newcastle United?

Having just beaten Bury 1-0 it seems that Peter Taylor is to exit Bradford City to become Alan Pardew’s assistant manager at Newcastle United.

The City manager – who celebrates his 58th birthday today – all but confirmed that there at been an offer for his services saying after the Bury game

There might be something in it but I’ll discuss that with the correct people. I don’t want to be rude to anybody, but there could be something in it, that’s all I can say.

Taylor is expected to begin talking to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes about his exit from the club and be on his way to St James’ Park before the end of the week although until there is a formal approach he is still City’s manager and there is a chance he will stay so.

Why he will go

Peter Taylor has five months left on his contract at Bradford City while Alan Pardew has five years and while no one would suggest that Newcastle United are a paragon of job security City’s decision to not make a longer term commitment to the manager has left him vulnerable to this approach. At 58, and under pressure at the club, Taylor may decide that the chance to work in the Premier League once more is too good to turn down.

Taylor was promised new facilities at Bradford City and these have not been delivered. As a training ground manager the day to day life as City boss is done in an environment which he, and the club who are looking for a replacement, consider unsuitable. Newcastle United offer some of Europe’s best sporting facilities.

Newcastle United have never been blessed with more sense than they have money and one can expect that they will increase Taylor’s salary to go further north and while Taylor no doubt is better off than the average man as he approaches sixty and looks at life beyond football that money would probably secure his family’s lifestyle.

A lifestyle which is under threat at Valley Parade. Two games ago a good number of supporters wanted Peter Taylor to be sacked and while he would be paid off for the rest of his contract he would be left looking for another job having “failed” in League Two. Joint chairman Mark Lawn has shown previously that he is sensitive to the lead given by the more vocal supporters and so Taylor may conclude – probably rightly so – that unless City are promoted then his chances of getting a new deal next season are slim.

Why he will stay

There is nothing like being the boss and life at St James’ Park would not be Peter Taylor being the boss. The success of a win against Bury would be – for the foreseeable future – the last time that Taylor tasted a victory of his own making.

To craft his own destiny, pick his own players, be his own man is something that Taylor has worked long and hard to achieve and no longer will he be able to do that. Eventually – and probably sooner rather than later – Newcastle United will tire of Alan Pardew and Taylor will be out along with the manager.

One struggles to think of a second reason aside from the appeal of honour – he has said that he will try get City promoted this season and has not seen that promise though – and so should there be an offer on the table then Taylor balances the idea of surrendering control of his day to day life to make that life easier and better.

What now for Junior Lewis

And what now for the rest of City? When Newcastle United sacked Sam Allardyce they relieved themselves of his thirty strong backroom staff and it seems that the Magpies have learnt the lesson of employing everyone they can so Junior Lewis may find himself without his Father-in-law’s protective arm. Tommy Doherty, Lewis Hunt and Luke Oliver will also wonder what futures they have being Taylor’s lads but the latter two being more favoured for their character rather than ability by the boss.

City – it would seem – would put Wayne Jacobs in charge for a third time but probably look for a new manager. The disruption may spur the team on, but most likely would end City’s hopes of promotion which grew with the last two wins.

The next few days will be interesting, although perhaps more important are the long term lessons which will come from Taylor and his anticipated exit about showing a commitment to your manager and the merits of that.

Why all football managers will be hoping Newcastle United are relegated

It didn’t take long, in the wake of Newcastle United’s shocking decision to sack manager Chris Hughton, for Bradford City’s own managerial situation to be brought up in comparison. Looking ahead to a big month which could determine the Bantams’ season, one message board commenter declared that the club should sack Peter Taylor if results go badly, because (paraphrasing) “If Newcastle are going to sack a manager when 11th in the league, why shouldn’t we also take decisive action?”

And that, above everything, is the real damage of Hughton’s departure.

The world of football is looking at the Newcastle situation with despair. Ever since the knee-jerk decision to sack Sir Bobby Robson just four games into the 2004/05 season, the Magpies have been on a downwards spiral that surely required a revolving door to be installed on the manager’s office – to keep up with the huge turnaround. Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer all arrived and quickly left.

Goodbye Champions League hopes. Hello Championship.

Then by luck rather than judgement, it seemed, the rolling of the dice proved successful for once and the unassuming Houghton led Newcastle to an instant return to the Premier League. And what’s more, they’ve been doing rather well for a newly-promoted side which has barely had any money to spend. Thrashing rivals Sunderland and winning at Arsenal in recent weeks. Hughton’s last home game in charge was a credible 1-1 draw with Champions Chelsea, for goodness sake.

Media rumours of Hughton’s departure have circled for weeks, and the club did a poor job of dismissing those stories. It would seem owner Mike Ashley was simply waiting for an excuse and a run of five games without a win proved to be that window of opportunity. And so the club which seemed to have found stability and prospered is thrown back into turmoil.

But as the outrage and ridicule dies down, it is the ramifications of this sacking to the rest of football that carries the greatest concern. History tells us that – unless Ashley was holding out on Hughton and will give his replacement millions to spend in January – Newcastle will do no better for changing managers mid-season. Those same players will remain good on their day but lacking in other games; those inconsistent results will continue. Newcastle will not be ending the season back up to the late Sir Bobby’s Champions League standards.

Yet even in the high likelihood of this compelling evidence, other managers will find themselves under pressure and their Chairman compared unfavourably to Ashley for not having the balls to get rid of them. That Newcastle can sack a manager when the club are 11th surely means West Ham should dismiss Avram Grant for being bottom, that Wolves should fire Mick McCarthy as the club has been overtaken by the likes of Newcastle, and – yes – that City should ditch Taylor because recent results aren’t good enough for an ambitious club like us.

Because in time some will argue Ashley’s actions in sacking Hughton were not ridiculous, but the mark of an ambitious club owner.

Managers up and down the land must surely now hope that Newcastle are relegated from the Premier League this season, so that the folly of sacking the gaffer on the back of a couple of poor results can be emphatically rammed home. A Newcastle relegation won’t bring an end to unfair managerial sackings, but they could at least lead to a great deal more thought being applied than is often the case now.

Newcastle have raised (or perhaps lowered) the bar for the patience afforded to managers and lack of sentiment over any previous success they may have delivered. Taylor and co will have their own personal reasons for hoping it proves to be a monumental mistake.

Snow, swearing, and why we are not going to Aldershot this weekend

The game at Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground hosting Bradford City this weekend is off with the snow down there being worse than it is up here – and the BfB back garden test shows a foot of winter – and s the fact that the Shots are coming off the back of an FA Cup defeat to Dover, that they have signed the promising Wesley Ngo Bahang on loan from Newcastle United and the fact that they are 12th in League Two three places above City probably do not matter.

Indeed by the time this game is played – and we have been in the cancelled Aldershot trip trap before – the returning to fitness Gareth Evans may have been joined by the likes of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Michael Flynn or Shane Duff who could have crawled from the fitness room and burst back into action.

Likewise – depending on when the rearranged game is played – the likes of Tom Adeyemi, Louis Moult, Richard Eckersley, Jason Price and Rob Kiernan may have returned to their parent clubs while Lenny Pidgeley’s contract has expired. Such is the nature of modern football with the possibility that half the players on one side might no longer be at a club after the hand of nature intervenes.

The hand of nature intercedes in football increasingly commonly – it is to do with the effects of Global Warming moving the Gulf Stream – and clubs now switch to an orange ball in the winter months without even waiting for the snow. Ipswich Town added the blues lines to the orange ball in the interests of clarity. We get blasé about the orange ball but in the past it was the source of much mystery.

How many orange balls did each club have? What happened if during a snow game all the orange balls burst? Would a white one be used or would a game really by abandoned because the ball was the wrong colour? Perhaps most importantly why in July 1966 was an orange ball used for the blisteringly sunny World Cup final?

If we get blasé about the orange ball that is nothing compared to the tedium we have to the foreign player and his attitude to snow. There was a time when on the sight of snow a local paper would hightail it down to the training ground to find whichever South American or African player was employed by the club and would look suitability fascinated by the snow.

“He’s never seen the stuff,” the manager would say, “but he’s getting used to it.” The freezing player would be pictured in high jinx with his local team mates.

Most famously one of Wesley Ngo Bahang’s predecessors at Newcastle United Mirandinha was pictured messing around in the white stuff with team mate Paul Gascoigne. For reasons lost in the midst of time The Magpies Willie McFaul seemed to think that Gascoigne would be perfect for giving the Brazilian an introduction to the North East.

So Gazza and Mirandinha were thick as thieves with the Gateshead midfielder teaching the man from Brasilia about life in England. How to say Hello, how to say thank you and – infamously – how to say sorry.

The Gazza and Mirandinha combination came to Valley Parade for a Simod Cup match in 1988 where Stuart McCall played one of his two games against Gascoigne (the other being in Euro 1996, and after many glories at Rangers and Gascoigne dubbing the City man “the first name on his team sheet”, and each missed the games in the Premier League) and City were victorious 2-1. Mirandinha missed an open goal from six yards and Gascoigne looked good.

Mirandinha was an interesting player. Selfish, of course, and like our own Brazilian Edinho he seemed to keep a loose definition of tackling sliding in on defenders a little too often. One time early in his career at St James’ Park ‘dinha slid in clattering a defender to the ground as he tried to clear it. The Referee trotted over to have a word with the striker using the international language of the yellow card only for the striker to approach him with an apology in the words of English Gascoigne had taught him.

“Referee,” said the Brazilian his hands probably clasped together, “Fuck off.”

Which is probably why successful clubs employ people to settle players into their new environs and seldom allow the likes of Paul Gascoigne to do the job.

Willy Topp has gone, and it is to the sadness of all that he will not be photographed having a snowball fight with James Hanson or getting up to high jinx with Lee Bullock. There is Omar Daley of course, but for Daley the snow is the skiddy top that allowed Kevin Austin of Darlington rob him of a year of his career with the kind of horror tackle which has also mostly receded into football history but was – at the time – put down to the conditions.

A good reason why we are not going to be going to Aldershot.

Do Bradford City have the worst supporters in football?

Now we can begin to understand why City have such a poor home record? Yes, we have had some awful teams, but the atmosphere they have to play in is cynical and negative. It’s a perfect storm of poor teams with fragile confidence playing in front of the worst fans in the entire Football League. Yes, the worst fans and I mean it with all my heart. We are terrible, we have the numbers, but nothing else: no humour; no passion; no belief.

For a long time Dave Pendleton was the poster boy for Bradford City supporters. Hair thinning and with a twang to his voice that stakes him unmistakeably in the West Riding Dave was the man that was called on when television companies and radio stations requires a City fan. Back in the Premiership days ITV’s On The Ball’s sponsors picked fans to represent clubs and you to go back and watch the video you would see Dave in front of a pub fireplace in his classic 1970s City shirt telling someone off camera to cheer up because this time last year we were at Crewe. He edited the City Gent, got called on to write for The Guardian about the club. If someone from Bradford were to have written Fever Pitch it would have been Dave.

So when Dave Pendleton says that City fans are the worst fans in the entire Football League he is not throwing bricks over the wall at unseen targets. He is talking about his peers, and his peers should take note.

What is the best support?

Dave Pendleton’s comments about City fans being the worst supporters in football provoked an interesting debate and one which – in the days after – caused the long time Bantam fan to muse further. “I would easily be able to find examples of much worse behaviour from supporters of other clubs. The lingering threat of violence, and even seventies style racism, at several well known clubs for example. I made the comment more out of frustration. I want our fans to do better and I know they can be.”

Out of frustration but his comments were certainly recognisable. No matter where one sits at Valley Parade one can hear the sound of negativity most of the time and that negativity is expressed in curious ways. Some time ago I recall hearing an agitated debate between two grown men where one had taken objection to the other launching into vulgarities at City’s then right winger Joe Colbeck. The argument progressed as one might expect it would – one side calling for the other to be less negative or go home, the other defending on his right to have his opinion voiced – but it struck me that very few other places in society would this discussion occur.

Very few other places would a man feel he could stand his ground against someone who had called him for swearing violently at a teenager and almost nowhere else would a foul mouthed tirade be considered in any way supportive. Football supporting – and one uses the phrase loosely – had a different set of considerations. Pendleton pays tribute to the people he worked with on The City Gent, on the work of the Bradford City Supporters Trust, on those who assist in the Bantamspast Museum but – accepting that work – returns to notion “We have an inordinate number of fans who leap rapidly on any error a City player makes. More often than not these same people are the last out of their seats when a goal flies in and almost never urge the team on during a period of City pressure. Sadly, they have become the dominant voice of Valley Parade.”

Many would recognise this characterisation. The experience of watching games at Valley Parade is to be as to enjoy despite the atmosphere and not because of it. Infamously a winning team was booed off the field this season representing a new low in this dominant voice.

Anecdotally this seems to be the core of this growing concept of bad support – the leaping on of errors and reticence to encourage – and from that it may be possible to establish an idea of what might be opposite that. That good support might be a tolerance for failures and a readiness to (vocally) endorse the team with a positivity.

Understand here that we talk not about the individual supporters at Valley Parade – after every game where boos ring out the players wander over to applaud the more favourable fans who have stayed to applaud rather than spitting venom and wandering away – but rather of the idea of a communal voice. The single speaking of a people Legion which, as we will come to in time, may no longer be a relevant consideration.

What’s so bad about feeling good?

Mark Lawn’s car was vandalised leaving the joint Bradford City chairman livid. Over the course of a weekend he mused about how worth it it was keeping the club going with his money and considered withdrawing his loan from the club putting it back into administration.

This story – the threat of administration – is often mentioned by those who criticise Lawn but seldom is the vandalism considered as destructive event as the booing of the team on a Saturday. It has parallels being against those who are part of the club, obviously counter-productive and largely a way for those involved to vent spleen. The difference being that while criticising (and abuse without violence) Lawn is seen as different to the players. Criticising the chairman, the manager, the chief executive of a club is often considered a sign of distinction.

Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League despite a constant criticism of chairman Mike Ashley which is seen as only good sense while Liverpool and Manchester United’s owners are vilified but in all these cases there is a bar (on the whole) in booing the players on match day.

This website does not shy from venturing opinions on the chairmen of the club and considers it very much a part of the remit of the supporter to keep a watchful eye on those who own the club and criticise when called for.

There is distinction drawn between the two strands of criticism. At St James’s Park, Newcastle that distinction is drawn in obvious terms by supporter and writer Andrew Wilkins. “The team are the team and the reason we criticise Ashley is because what he is doing gets in the way of the team doing well. If we were booing that team then we’d be stopping them doing well too.”

Wilkins sees this point that negativity in the stands on match day has a directly negative manifestation on the team as unequivocal. “I take colleagues to St James’ and all they can do is talk about how the fans lift the team. I’ve seen it happen when a player does something and gets encouraged for it and just grows and grows during a game.”

There is little one can do to measure the levels of negativity within various teams and see if those teams correlate with the more successful sides and so one if left with personal experience to inform ones thoughts. The United fan I worked with in Manchester amongst a sea of Blues was so often lampoons as guileless, artificial and almost childish but his team won the league while the City fans floundered around the second tier proclaiming both their affinity to the concept of being “real football fans” and their belief that everything was – pretty much – hopeless at Maine Road .

One has to wonder if the cynicism which is so much a part of the idea of authentic football supporter is not counter-productive in itself and that the wide eyed positive optimism portrayed as plastic consumerist football is not a path to success.

Are there cheerleaders in Soccer? No, unless you count the fans!

The cheerleader is rarely seen at British football although they have appeared. First at Watford in the 1980s – Elton John was credited as getting them in because he had an eye for the ladies which suggests how long ago it was – and then sporadically at almost every club in the game.

They appear – these girls with Pom Poms – and work out a dance or two but somewhere around the onset of the dark nights when Winter starts they seem to disappear never to return. For a while Bradford City’s Bantam Belles started the season well but seemed to fade with the club’s optimism every year.

English football has no love of the Cheerleader (Scottish football has no facility, the weather in Aberdeen not being suited) and their absence is part of a general neglect of anything which could be described as pre-match entertainment. Mascot dramas, Opera singers, player interaction with the crowd; All these things have been tried and sit with the Cheerleader in the part of the history books reserved for the regrettable.

Bradford City is no different to most football clubs in this regard but it does contrast with our neighbours Bradford Bulls. The Bulls transformation from the cloth cap of Northern to the razzmatazz of the Super League was alarming to many but impressively effective and the continued sight of car stickers and t-shirts that testify to the time when the club were the best team in the World having won a pan-Continental challenge as well as four domestic titles.

Pop stars singing on the field, girls with pom poms, Bullman and Bullboy the stories of the atmosphere of Odsal had a near mythic status but those days – like the team’s triumphs in Super League – seem behind them. Bulls fan Phil Parsons sums up the mood saying

“(The Bulls) seemed a bit deflated as of late. Some of this is obviously to do with the results on the pitch but quite a bit of it has been because of things off the pitch as well. A lot of people wanted McNamara to go a lot earlier than he did and this seemed to lead to a lot of discontent among the fans. It was other things as well, for example the pre-match entertainment used to be excellent and a lot of it this year has been pretty poor and it’s just sucked the atmosphere out of Odsal.”

Parsons has signed up for the Bulls Pledge – cheaper season tickets if so many people get on board – but hopes that the club cab use the next season as a new start. “They should make a massive deal of it. Go back to things like having an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma just before kick off, the fireworks and having the teams walk out together, that sort of thing. Odsal used to have the nickname ‘Fortress Odsal’ because it was such an imposing place to come to as an away team and the fans loved it. That’s want I want back from next season.”

The correlation in the minds of both Parsons and Wilkins is clear. Good atmosphere off the field – however it is brought about – brings good results on it or at least contributes. Newcatle United’s players are inspired, Bradford Bull’s opponents are scared but in short that good support brings good football, or at least winning football.

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

If a good atmosphere begets good results then it might be worth considering what good supporters do which aids the players or hinders the opposition. Certainly City’s players and management have talked gravely about the silence of Valley Parade. Nicky Law said the crowd was worth a goal start for the opposition suggesting a reverse of the effect that the Bulls seek while Stuart McCall fumed at the booing of individual players suggesting that it hampered the team as a whole.

Peter Taylor highlighted the effect on the development of the younger players in the team of the players being booed suggesting that they would be less willing to do the things that help them develop into better players for fear of the Valley Parade ire. Joe Colbeck was never the same after he went to Darlington and came back with the confidence of having couple of games of the most purposeful practice without the censure in failure.

So we gather ideas of how good support – which we correlate with the idea that good supporters end up with successful teams – manifests itself. Speaking about match days and about what occurs during match days we emerge with a hypothesis: Good support is the tendency to allow for player’s failure giving those players the scope to both be more adventurous (and responsible) in their play and to learn from that experience (which is especially true for the young players) and to believe that the whole is best served by belief in the collection players.

It is difficult to quantify support outside of the realm of bums on seats and noise generated but anecdotally one finds it hard to recall occasions when the clubs which are known for having better supports who are yoked to success have gone against that hypothesis.

It was rare that Liverpool supporters attacked a player but the treatment of Lucas Leiva in recent seasons strikes a contrast to the story of singing while 3-0 down in Instanbul inspiring the players. The fear in football is that when the fans start to boo a single player that the ten other men worry that after a mistake they will be the next target. Peter Beagrie summed up this feeling in his comment about what constituted genuine courage on the football field – “Doing the same thing the twelfth that has left you on your backside for the last eleven because it is still the right thing to do.”

Manchester United supporters made a fable out of Deigo Forlan’s failure to score allowing the player the room to grow, Newcastle United idolise their number nine in a way that seemed to cause the current incumbent to grow a foot when the shirt went on his back. Even over at Leeds United where they are not know for tolerance they express to their players a belief that the club will do well in any division they are in should they apply themselves correctly.

It might seem trite – almost childish in its simplicity – but the supporters who are best able to suspend any disbelief they have for the duration of a game are those who do best in the longer term. The non-cynical attitude of children is mirrored – at least during games – by the fans of clubs who do well and the problem with children is that they grow up.

So now then

Cynicism is no bad thing and if more of football was cynical then the game would be in better health. If every season a 80 clubs did not plan the season on the idea that they would end up promoted then so many balance sheets would not be bright red.

Cynicism in supporters could can be helpful too. After Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete and Juanjo it was incredible that the levels of cynicism at Valley Parade allowed for another overseas superstar to have his name plastered on a shirt and anyone who showed cynicism probably saved themselves £40.

However when Topp took to the field the suspension of disbelief – the ability to park cynicism – was noticeable for its scarcity at Valley Parade. Nothing really suggested he would be a good player but we all convinced ourselves he would be Pele and so he enjoyed ample chance. Compare that with Barry Conlon who scored more goals in one game that Topp has got in his career and the problem becomes clearer.

This is mental gymnastics. The ability to double-think away from the cynicism that comes with following a club for seasons in which one learns that success is rare is a tough skill to learn and like any skill it is best reinforced when it comes with a positive result. If the double-think of supporting does not lead to results then people are less likely to do it – as with post-Topp City – but Beagrie would testify that it is still the right thing to do.

The supporters who have had the most experience of this working do it more often – Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United and so on – and one could say that the are the best supporters but one would shy from saying that the opposite are bad fans, or to come full circle “the worst fans in football”.

Just that of all the tools which football fans use to be able to do “good support” City fans use few. Perhaps supporters are not bad just not less good and in a competitive football environment in which all teams compete in the longer term City fans are not worse than many but a few clubs have fans who are better able to use their presence to boost their teams.

To those teams the spoils. The rest of us look disparagingly at the Manchester United supporter and his giddy belief that whichever kid Sir Alex throws in will be the New George Best or the Newcastle United fan who has his team’s number nine tattooed on his thigh they look back at us with sympathy.

For we have more of what they would call cynicism and they have more of what we would call success.

How clubs lost control of the football kit

Were one to be asked the simple question “What colours to Bradford City wear?” one would answer in no time at all that the Bantams wear claret and amber.

Indeed were one to be asked the same question about almost all the clubs in the league then a similar speedy response spring to mind. Arsenal: Red with white sleeves, Newcastle United: Black and white stripes, Tranmere Rovers: White and blue, QPR: Blue and white “super” hoops; My Dad has a recurrent and utterly unfunny joke about what colour Leeds United Third Reserves sock tops in 1977 were and – at this point – I’d like to ask him to stop it.

Nevertheless despite a F’ther’s hilarity there is a clear connection in our heads between the team and their colours and strips they wear.

Be asked a similar question: “What kit do Bradford City play in?” and one might struggle more before recalling the amber and pinstripe shirt with claret shorts. Expand that question to “What kit did Bradford City wear in August 2006?” and most of us would be left struggling to recall the exact details.

“Claret and amber,” we would say adding “Stripes” with some confidence but further than that we would struggle.

Ten years ago when City were in the Premiership David Mellor’s Football Task Force issued its edictful charter which would describe to clubs a few desirable traits on pricing and inclusionism one of which was the recommendation that clubs change the home kit no more than once every two years. The calls – like ideas on pricing which have pretty much been ignored at every club except this one – fell on deaf ears and this season eighteen of the twenty Premiership clubs have new home kits, sixteen of them having changed them at the start of last season.

I shall sidestep now the talk of the merits of buying a replica shirt and the ethos and culture around it. You might not like them, you might think they look rubbish on the portly frame of a gentleman of advancing years but you will appreciate, dear reader, that others have different views. Indeed you may also add – with some zest and gusto being put behind you from this writer – that no one puts a gun to your head and makes you buy a shirt and that should you be parents of children who will raise Holy Hell until they have a garment purchased then the fault is not in the stars but in yourselves.

Yes to all these things but understand that people do buy them – often in great numbers – and that this represents a significant source of income for many clubs or rather it has previously and – and here is the rub – is a well that is starting to dry up.

Fashion has a hand in this – in the 1990s wearing a football shirt attained a level of approval that it simply does not have any more – but increasingly the machinations of clubs to maximise the income from replica shirt sales has started to have an effect. Every change of shirt weakened the effect of that change. There was a time when the last shirt looked hopelessly out of step – like a guy at a Sex Pistols gig wearing bell bottoms – but as the frequency of change increased so they became less tied to a time or a team and became more a generic bit of club related clothing.

Club shops up and down the land sell rugby shirts and tank tops, scarves and huge jackets in the colours of the team and none of these gain the kind of official stamp that used to be given to the replica shirt and now seems to have slipped. While no one would concern themselves that their scarf had gone out of date – indeed I wear an appropriately coloured AS Roma scarf to City in the cold of the winter – so increasingly people are less and less worried that their replica shirt might not be the latest version.

Does it matter which Arsenal shirt you wear? As long as it is red and has white sleeves it is an Arsenal shirt. If it is blue and white hooped it is QPR. If – as my scarf suggests – it is claret and amber stripes it is Bradford City. These things are in the DNA of football supporters and it is not for a club to alter even if they could.

In trying to have more control over football in the money drenched post-Gazza’s tears years clubs as a whole have found themselves less and less able to exert the authority they claim over supporters. For every attempt to create the pre-game venue fans still call into their favourite haunt for a beer. For every attempt to mobilise a fleet of official travel one sees numerous recognisable cars in a convoy on the motorway to away games. For every change in strip one notices that one starts to see more and more of what people might call classic shirts.

One struggles to think of a way that a club has tried to package up and resell football to its supporters that has not – in the longer term – failed. The sight of David Beckham in the green and gold of Newton Heath joining the Manchester United supporters protests about their club’s owners and their attempts to wring every penny out of their loyalty said much. If even the most famously consumerist and notoriously wide-eyed supporters in the game will not accept being told how they should support their club – and how they should think of their club – then no one will.

Newcastle United could no more tell their supporters that the club no longer wore black and white stripes than they could that they were no longer to make a cult hero of Kevin Keegan or that they should like the person in the number five, not the number nine, shirt. Even if the club were to send the team out in some day glow yellow then St James’ Park would still be peopled with black and white stripes and grim resignation of having to put up with the situation until status quo was restored. Wearing any of the Newcastle United Toffs shirts would be just as correct – if not more – and one could argue that anyone who wore this classic 60s City shirt at VP next year would look more like a Bradford City player than the ten on the field.

The more a club attempts to control what the fans do the less the fans seem to want to do it. Spurs have launched six new kits – three designs, two sponsors – for this season but the result seems to have been that supporters would rather distance themselves from the idea of buying a kit at all. Assuming the “glory” of finishing fourth in the Premier League did not cause a spontaneous ripping off to run bare chested down the street of last years then, they seem to be supposing, it will do for next.

Bradford City though – as with a good number of teams – have differed from the traditional kit with last year’s claret shirt and this year’s amber number and while it is confusing for those watching on TV and can be be a tough hard to get used to the club has not effected any permanent alteration of that DNA of football. In short by changing design so frequently – from wholesale changes to the marks and flashes that appear and disappear at will on kits – clubs have lost the control over the football kit just as they lost control of what supporters call the stadium they play in by changing it too often.

Some clubs manage to effect permanent changes: Leeds United and Tranmere Rovers both moved to wear white to ape Real Madrid, John Bond rebranded to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic as AC Milan, Bill Shankley gave Liverpool red and not white shorts; but on the whole there are things are immutable despite the efforts of those who offer up alternatives.

Bradford City play at Valley Parade, wear claret and amber striped shirts and think that all the best things in football are summed up by Stuart McCall and even when those things are not true at a given time, they will be again in the longer term.

These things are are weaved into football DNA.

When pre-season became interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCall making the gamble

There was a time when Stuart McCall was talking about leaving Bradford City – but eventually decided to stay – that he was summed by a comment “Always has been a poor man’s Kevin Keegan.”

The comment – a thing by a supporter of another club on someone’s Facebook page – referenced the former Newcastle, Fulham, Manchester City and England manager’s tendency to threaten to exit when things did not go his way although one might look at McCall’s World Cup record and note that if Keegan was as able to poke the ball in in the penalty area in 1982 as Stuart did in 1990 then England would not have been going home from Spain. Stuart McCall is no poor version of anyone.

However if his threat to leave likens him to Keegan somewhat then the connection is fully made by the attitude that his side has shown this season in attacking. Both managers have had the phrase “tactically naive” thrown at them but also the adjectives “exciting” and “thrilling” as four months into the year Stuart McCall’s side seems to set itself the task of out scoring the opposition.

“We have to stop conceding two because we have to score three to win.” said the City manager which recalls Keegan’s adage “I’d rather win 4-3 than 1-0” and both managers – consider Keegan circa ’98 at Newcastle – field teams that defend a man down.

McCall’s side employ a back four with three midfielders working hard in front and two wide strikers staying – on the whole – in forward positions giving a side that defend with seven (Newcastle had a 442 but David Ginola never got back). The merits of this are plentiful – City look very dangerous on the break – but the downside is that when full backs add to wingers and central midfielders in a 442 attacking City unless the likes of Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson are alive enough to follow players back the Bantams are out manned.

It is exciting but it is always going to concede goals and the aim – as Keegan verbalised – is to win 4-3 not 1-0 not that the Magpies tended to do that week in week out but rather – as City did against Chesterfield in the 3-0 win earlier this season – use this attacking slant to get noses ahead early and dispirit the opposition.

McCall’s Bantams circa 2009 have problems with this. Chances and goals can be laboured and teams are left in games despite the Bantams battering. Hereford were beaten 1-0 despite City’s 11 shots on target and the visitors always had a chance of sneaking a draw.

It makes for exciting games but time and time again McCall must hope for a couple of first half goals that take the guts out of the opposition and a dull second half.

The chances of that seem increased by the idea of a return to fitness for Omar Daley – the reserve game at Grimsby on Wednesday may give the Jamaican a first game back although we have tried and failed to pre-empt the winger’s return in the past – and the idea that the player is exactly the sort of player who will turn exciting football in to exciting wins.

The veracity of that claim has yet to be seen but with the Bantams a third of the way into the season and placed just outside the play off zone it seems that in the absence of an entirely unexpected January recruitment spree Daley’s return the gradual improvement that being a team brings to the squad is the only way that the the 12th place Bantams will be higher placed.

The return of Daley seems to be the gamble of the season for Stuart McCall.

Alan and Stuart

They were 99.8 miles apart and the level of volume was different, but last Saturday Newcastle United’s Alan Shearer and Bradford City’s Stuart McCall received the same reception.

Alan had just walked into the St James Park arena he knows so well and is still revered for his heroics in – 206 goals in 404 appearances in a black and white shirt – at the start of a new chapter. Having retired to the comfort of the Match of the Day studio, he is back as caretaker manager with eight games to save his club from relegation. A pack of photographers surround him as a capacity crowd applaud and chant his name.

Stuart has just completed what has become a familiar walk from the dressing room to the dugout in the Valley Parade arena he knows so well and is still revered for his heroics in – 45 goals, but so much more in his 395 appearances spanning two spells in the Claret and Amber – for game 95 of a fledgling managerial career. Under pressure and increasingly unloved by some, the City boss nevertheless receives a great ovation from most home supporters ahead of a game his team must not lose to remain in the promotion hunt.

Alan was confirmed as caretaker boss on April Fools Day but the position of his club is no joke. A pitiful six wins all season has left Newcastle staring the unthinkable, the Championship, in the face. Only five seasons ago they’d narrowly missed out on a Champions League spot for a second successive season, after finishing fifth. Shortly after they sacked manager Sir Bobby Robson, then quickly went through Graeme Souness, Glen Roeder, Sam Alladyce and Kevin Keegan. Now boss Joe Kinnear isn’t well enough to salvage the mess and the under-performing club come under the control of one of its greatest performing players.

Stuart was confirmed as City boss in the summer of 2007 and how the club needed him. Since Paul Jewell was allowed to walk away in 2000, with City in the Premiership, the club has gone through Chris Hutchings, Jim Jefferies, Nicky Law, Bryan Robson, Colin Todd and caretaker David Wetherall, slumping to three relegations in six seasons. “We need some passion,” was the cry, and there was Stuart learning the ropes with Neil Warnock down in Sheffield, ready to go it alone.

Alan is what’s needed to save the club, is the general feeling of Newcastle fans scratching their heads at how a squad with the likes of Michael Owen, Damien Duff, Obafemi Martins, Steven Taylor and Kevin Nolan are in such a mess in the first place. One supporter sums it up by saying of Alan, “if he can’t inject some passion into these players, no one can” and most people can relate to times when their team is in such a mess that matters such as tactics, picking the right players and confidence don’t matter – you just want to see passion displayed. Passion can lift Newcastle out of relegation, surely?

Stuart set about rebuilding his beloved Bradford City and instilling passion but, very quickly into his first season, the pledge to deliver promotion looked rash and the team were underperforming. How can a legend like Stuart tolerate seeing his team thrashed 3-0 at home to Accrington? How can he pick less than committed players like Omar Daley? Eventually Stuart turns it round but there’s too much ground to make up and it quickly becomes a case of building for the next season.

Alan couldn’t have picked a worse opposition team for his managerial debut. Chelsea are still fighting for the title and second half strikes from Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda ensure there is no fairy tale start in the hot seat. Other results have not been kind and the situation is becoming ever desperate. Sections of the media are smug and pour scorn over supporters’ hopes that inspired words from their hero was all that was missing. One such journalist writes, “That’s the problem with Messiahs, things tend to get messy for them pretty quickly and, in this context, passion is a loaded word.” Does passion cloud judgement? Is passion a poor substitute for managerial ability?

Stuart appears to be getting it right second time round, with a blistering start to the season giving way to some gritted determination which keeps City in the automatic promotion into February. But it suddenly all goes wrong again and rising anger from some prompts Stuart into re-thinking his future and vowing to quit if a play off position isn’t achieved this season. “That’s the problem with Stuart, he’s not a manager,” becomes an oft-used phrase, in between loud booing and abuse at his players. Numerous arguments are started with the words, “he may be a legend, but…” Is passion a poor substitute for managerial ability?

Alan probably knew his Newcastle would lose to Chelsea and next week’s game at Stoke is now massive. It’s unthinkable that Newcastle could lose that one, maybe the one after that too. Three points is the gap to make up, but can a team which has been wretched all season be turned round by passionate words from the legend? Does he have the managerial ability? Suddenly the dream managerial appointment feels almost nightmarish. Surely Alan – 206 goals in 404 appearances – isn’t going to be man who drags his club into the Championship, is he?

Stuart is applauded as he walks to the dug out against Brentford because, even with his team on the brink of failure and facing another season in a division everybody hates, the vast majority are still desperate for him to stay on, still desperate for him to succeed. No amount of name calling behind an online alias can distort the fact many others still believe. That 45 goals but so much more in his 395 appearances means he is a leader we should not discard so readily. That if the club is going to be plotting for promotion to League One again during this summer, its better it is still Stuart doing it. City don’t play great against Brentford, but, despite the lack of quality, they improbably equalise in injury time. Credit to perseverance and also credit to Stuart for effective substitutions that changed the tide back in City’s favour. Would he be celebrating passionately on the touchline without some managerial ability?

Alan might be back on the Match of the Day couch next season, but Newcastle may no longer be appearing on it. Yet what if the great escape is pulled off? What if Shearer can get the passion back and get the results? How much more of a legend will he become to the Toon Army? And what chance would Joe Kinnear have of re-claiming his job with the inevitable pressure to offer Alan the permanent position? Not even Mike Ashley is that stupid.

Stuart might be out of work this summer, but what if Peter Thorne’s stoppage time equaliser is the turning point? What if the top seven spot is achieved? What if in seven weeks City’s players and management are dancing around Wembley with 30,000 City fans chanting Stuart’s name? No one would be calling for him to go then. Passion would be back in vogue.

Alan would learn in time that fans who, at this moment believe he can do no wrong, will eventually be compiling lists of why he doesn’t have a clue and why he needs to go. He will have to explain why a player who doesn’t look interested to the fans is a key part of his side. He will sign strikers not fit to lace his boots and face questions over his judgement. 206 goals in 404 games will in time be used against him. He may be a legend, but…

Stuart knows all of this and more, but is learning to have broad shoulders and that some things need taking with a pinch of salt. That for every fan pleased he’s picked one player, there are others scratching their heads and how ultimately this should not matter. He will know that, as he keeps building up the club in front of and behind the scenes. Working tirelessly to return the club to the sort of position it enjoyed when he, with his 45 goals but so much more in his 395 appearances, was playing such a big part of.

Alan and Stuart both have much resting on their shoulders during the season’s final weeks and there is much in common with the clubs they oversee. Both have been in the decline. Both have guilty of looking at the here and now and forgetting the bigger picture. Both have too often believed the answer to the problem is to bring in another manager.

Alan is still able to walk on the River Tyne water in Newcastle fans’ eyes, but Stuart’s untouchable status has long disappeared. Some fans argue his lack of experience has held back the club, though recent history hardly suggests a different manager would have done a better job in rescuing the sinking ship. Maybe the fact City are doing more than tredding water now is something Stuart deserves credit for. The passion to do more than a good job, but do a good job for his club; the increased experience to know what’s needed to deliver success, using his passion in the right way.

Whatever Alan and Stuart can deliver in these next few weeks, their commitment, work rate and desire to deliver a better future for their clubs will not be questioned. Not to save their bacon, not to look like heroes, but because they care deeply. Success and failure will mean more to them because of who it is for.

Perhaps the biggest lesson their employers and supporters could learn is where hiring and firing has got them and what they would lose if Alan and Stuart aren’t still in their respective dugouts come August.

Staying ahead of the curve – Port Vale vs Bradford City – League Two Preview 2008/2009

City face Port Vale at the end of a week in which Stuart McCall became something of an endangered species.

The departures of Premier League pair Alan Curbishley and Kevin Keegan leaves only Middlesbrough’s Gareth Southgate as a top flight manager who has played for his club.

Indeed Keegan and McCall both enjoyed the protection of legendary status at their clubs – people actively want them to succeed – and parallels between the two are often drawn.

Nevertheless Premier League has clubs owned by multi-nationals and League Two clubs by the local butcher and while the local butcher in this case sells the chips that guide Amaram missiles the differences between top and bottom are becoming more and more marked as the weeks go by.

Not least in the fact that coming off the back of two good-performance-shame-about-the-result City are more able to focus on the positives of the week rather than being scooped up in a 24 hour news cycle.

City have lost two games but performance levels are high and McCall has been able to minimise any negativity and move on to this game.

Matthew Clarke is in contention for a return after his ligament damage was downgraded to cramp and is expected to slot back in alongside Graeme Lee. Pauls Arnison and Heckingbottom are full backs in front of the goalkeeper Rhys Evans who causes concern.

Dean Furman is expected to drop back to the bench after a first start at Leeds with Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren in the middle and Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley out wide. Both wingers are in exciting form and there is little more watchable in football than an on form winger.

Peter Thorne’s form is not under question despite his penalty miss last week and the five goal hit man is partnered with Michael Boulding in the forward line.

The game represents City’s third away game on the bounce – we return to Valley Parade next week to play Exeter City – and fifth game of the season that has brought three wins and a defeat. Working out that a team will get promoted should it win all home games and draw all away then after five games split two home, three away the Bantams should have nine points which at present they do. Vale offers a chance to get ahead of the curve.

That curve of expectation and realism – unlike in the cases of best start to the season in a decade Curbishley and legend Keegan – still has some meaning at Valley Parade for Stuart McCall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that they will, but they could.

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

Changes In Institutional Memory

The optimistic nature of the football fan should never be forgotten and – in the case of Stuart McCall as he ends his first six months in charge at Bradford City – is a powerful agent in making the more important shifts in the culture that when crafted can generate success.

The recently deceased John Harvey Jones specialised in turning around companies but even he would be impressed with the way McCall’s men have gone from eight defects to play off dreams since Boxing Day.

It is business turn around at the speed of light and it works. Most clubs in football struggle not for the want of ability but rather organisation and motivation. A bit of positive thinking can do a power of good.

Take Newcastle United as a prime example. The Magpies are blessed with players as talented as any in the Premier League – Owen, Duff, Smith, Martins and Geremi would not be out of place in any squad in the top flight – but they flounder because as ill fated Big Sam found they are gripped by a culture of defeat.

Indeed so gripped is St James Park in the notion that the club will always under achieve that they see no irony in describing the big chair there as a poison chalice. Recast as ‘a job at a team that could compete’ – and there are precious few of those – then the role may be more appealing.

Appealing or not the problem Sam was beaten by at Newcastle and McCall addresses at City is one of institutional memory. Put simply just as a player learns patterns to be repeated in muscle memory so a club retains habits good and – in the majority of cases – bad.

At Bradford City since the fall from the Premier League defeat has become the default setting and while players, managers, chairmen and almost everything has changed the institutional memory clings onto the negative culture.

Ask one of the tea bar staff if City will win and they will say probably not. When new people come into the club at any level they are tacitly invited to join this way of thinking.

Shifting from negative to something more bright is difficult but not impossible and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are attempting manfully. The most significant move was bringing in The Legend McCall whose presence has been the most significant change in the culture of the club in recent years. His presence alone has stopped much of the negative thinking.

Indeed should Newcastle United be looking for a sign of the effects of having an Alan Shearer or a Kevin Keegan at the helm then they would do well to look at Valley Parade and McCall. It is not just the patience with which the Bantams fans stuck with the manager through that long period of defeats but the ease in which the mood of the ground was turned around.

Put simply with the club’s legend at the helm the supporters want to believe. That is a significant shift at Valley Parade.

Persistent change in institutional memory – to get a club to forget the (footballing) past and look forward – is a more difficult thing to master but Stuart is doing better than anyone at City in the last ten years. He is the shock to the system to change the memory.

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