City walked in a line and beat Rochdale 3-1 at Spotland

Heart and Soul

When Steve Davies arrived at Bradford City the role he would play in the squad seemed straight forward.

As a target man of sorts he would replace James Hanson when James Hanson could not play. City’s number nine is not without the odd strain for sure but as a man who spends Saturday afternoons being bashed around thirty yards of pitch Hanson – we recall – needs a rest.

In fact it was this need that prompted City to bring in Jon Stead on loan twice. The second time Stead wrote his name in the to the club’s folklore but in my estimation did too little else.

Stead could be the smart, give-nothing-up, resourceful target man that City wanted but was not too often – or rather was not when he did not want to be too often – and so he is in the middle of League Two at the Notts County inner circle.

No Love Lost

Alan Sheehan’s rather curious parting shot at City – that he could not get into manager Phil Parkinson’s inner circle of players – was a somewhat heartening thing for a team that seemed to be losing the very core that the left back who rejoined Notts County could not crack. Parkinson’s response – that Sheehan never cracked the core because he never was better than other players in the positions he played in – tells half a story.

Sheehan has shown some ability at his time at the club and one excuses him the drop in form after his mentor/dad died but he was never a player who led by example, and never one who put his heart and soul into a game. A professional for sure and one of the rank and file but no one ever left a match saying that Sheehan had run his legs down the knees, or committed himself to tackles, or any of the other cliché we use when talking about full-hearted players.

The Irishman’s finest moment in City colours had come twelve months ago at Rochdale where his ability with a dead ball from central defence turned the game which is much less than Jon Stead’s performance at Chelsea but if if Stead or Sheehan wanted an illustration of why a player with talent are outside the core of squads at so many clubs he need look no further than Steve Davies’ in the 59th minute at Rochdale chasing down James McNulty until the home defender slipped and Davies squared a ball that after ineffectual swipes all round was in the goal with Devante Cole running away happy.

New Dawn Fades

The enduring problem for Bradford City since the change in the team of 2013 has been a lack of character. The enduring problem for Bradford City fans has been being told this after every defeat only – following victory or a decent draw – to be alerted to the character returning.

I’m guilty of this myself of course and can only apologise in the hope that that buys some credibility back. There is a tendency to use the word “consistent” in the place of “excellent” in football – a team could be “consistent” by losing 10-0 every week – and the character of a team which is lacks character is the kind of lose-a-game/win-a-game runs which City go on.

Every win is assumed to the the start of a consistent run of other victories. A kind of endless Disneyland of football in which defeats never occur, until they do and reading the output of #bcafc on Twitter have the character of all the other Joy Division songs, or the lyrics of the one now oft sung.

When we say want character to end inconsistency we say that we want the team to win more and to lose less which is a statement with almost no content of use in it whatsoever.

Atmosphere

At Spotland where Keith Hill tells us – and I am legally not allowed to argue with him – that there were more Bradford City supporters in the ground than there were Rochdale fans City’s character was hardly tested at all. Perhaps it was the feeling of being tourists at home that robbed Rochdale something today. Andy Cannon chopped Tony McMahon in half on the touchline near the visiting supporters after 29 seconds and one might speculate that the noise was enough to keep the home side quiet for the rest of the afternoon.

Whatever caused it aside from a tidy finish by Peter Vincenti after a shot by Callum Camps has been deflected into his path City had little pressure to cope with. That Camps rans so far with the ball unchallenged was the only black mark on another good afternoon for Lee Evans.

Evans scored an opener for City when a McMahon free kick hit the wall and bounced invitingly to him. He floated a cross which Oliver Lancashire looped over his own keeper in the second half just after Cole’s goal to give the scoreline the entirely correct impression that the visitors won the game with something to spare.

Which is not to suggest that the Bantams faithful roared City to victory – although I’m sure I will read that too somewhere this weekend – just that the supporters like the team were surprised by just how little resistance Rochdale offered.

Leaders of Men

So the problem with the leadership shown by Bradford City’s players is not so much answered as fudged but there are things to reflect on for Phil Parkinson. The midfield was strengthened by Tony McMahon on the right hand side coming in to add to the middle two when needed. The balance of a one-wide/one-tight midfield with a central two players one of whom wins the ball and the other who goes box to box rarely fails.

Does Parkinson seen McMahon in his best eleven? One doubts that he does but without someone else to play that role – and with a need to have a more sturdy midfield more often – one can see McMahon continuing to feature. On the other side Kyel Reid returned from City and had a wonderful afternoon of spiriting with the ball at feet and crossing. This is – in theory – what Paul Anderson should have done but seldom wanted to.

Reid talks about playing with a smile on his face – which he does – but players like a player who has an understanding of how temporary careers can be when outside the higher divisions of English football. That Reid will run all day is the character which we have talked about lacking, as is Davies’ pressure which led to a goal, leading us to a conclusion which Sheehan – and perhaps Stead in a different context – missed: That running in a straight line up and down the left wing as often as you becomes the inner circle.

Phil Parkinson against the forces of wilful blindness

It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore – Margaret Heffernan, Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious

Two absolute legends gone in the space of a few days. I wish them nothing but the best – Mark Hainsworth ?aka @bcafcmark, Twitter

If Andrew Davies’ exit to Ross County this week was unexpected Jon Stead’s signed for League Two Notts County rather than Bradford City was confirmation for Bradford City supporters.

No one was sure what Stead’s move did confirm – that the club had less money that it seemed of should have to to be the prime concern – but Mark Hainsworth’s tweet recalls the way that City fans took Stead to their hearts after the win over Chelsea.

The fact that Stead had seemed to be Mr Huddersfield Town for a long part of his career hardly seemed to matter. Indeed as Stead put Chelsea to the sword he was technically a Huddersfield Town player and that alone seemed to be enough of a factor to ensure that Simon Eastwood’s career at Bradford City never got out of the blocks when he joined on loan from the team to the West.

City fans fell in love with Jon Stead and as Heffernan says it is not only true that love is blind it is staggering how much evidence we are prepared to ignore in that blindness.

Wilful blindness

Wilful blindness is a legal term applied to a situation in which a person deliberately avoids knowing information to avoid being liable for knowing it. In short it is why if someone gives you a £1,000 to carry a suitcase through HM Customs you are liable what the contents of the suitcase are.

Wilful blindness is carrying the case without opening the case because you know what you would find if you opened the case. It is when you avoid knowing pertinent information to avoid liability.

It is a dangerous trait to employ in football where liability is not decided so much as detected. If a Chairman retains the services of a manager being wilfully blind to the mistakes he is making results quickly remove that blindness. A manager can more easily be guilty of it. Playing a favourite player despite his failings is masked by the other players on the field but even that is eventually found out.

Do I not like that

Overall, people are about twice as likely to seek information that supports their own point of view as they are to consider an opposing idea – Heffernan

When Graham Taylor removed Gary Lineker in the final twenty minutes of his final game for England in 1992 the nation went into uproar at the way the England manager had cruelly ended the career of one of the finest strikers in the side’s history and sabotaged chances of progressing in Euro 92.

A sober remembering of the game – a 2-1 defeat – recalls that Lineker was playing poorly and the Silver Haired Goal Hanger admits so himself. That Taylor replaced Lineker with the monumentally average Alan Smith rather than – for example – fresh faced Alan Shearer was a whole different mistake but in removing Lineker Taylor worked against the wilful blindness of a country who were perfectly prepared to ignore The Static Crisp Salesman’s ineffectiveness which saw him not score in Euro 92, or in the run up to Euro 92.

It would be too much to suggest that Taylor was struck by inspiration when he ignored this common wilful blindness but there was something iconoclastic about his actions, even if they were fruitless.

Which Jon Stead?

The Jon Stead against Chelsea was a rare sight at Bradford City but it was an impressive one. Stead’s performance was inspirational and at the end of the season it was mentioned as the best single display by a player all year. It is impossible when thinking of Jon Stead not to think of that day.

But there were games against Chesterfield and Preston North End as City’s season fizzled out which were also a part of Jon Stead. His play was frustrating and he was easily marshalled by the more impressive defenders of League One like Ian Evatt and Paul Huntington.

Without knowing what he was offered by Bradford City – or by Notts County – to make him one of City’s highest paid players as was suggested would be to be wilfully blind to those games where Jon Stead was – well – not very good. Not very good or at least not very useful to the aims of scoring goals which has to factor into Phil Parkinson’s thinking.

Like Graham Taylor in 1992 dealing with Gary Lineker Parkinson does not have the luxury of looking at Stead with optimism and ignoring the information he does not want to be the case. If he spends his budget on a player on the hope that the high watermark of his performances will be the common and constant watermark then he will fail ass a manager.

He has to open the suitcase because he is liable for what is in it. Signing Jon Stead is an exercise in wilful blindness.

Yes, but which Jon Stead?

It would seem that Steve Davies has joined City to replace Stead and the standard that Davies will be held against is not the Stead of those games where he wandered, or looked disinterested, but the Chelsea and the Sunderland matches where he was at his best.

When Davies has failed to score on some boggy pitch in Bury he will be compared unfavourably with Jon Stead, but not with the real Jon Stead, but on the one we create out of the parts we want to remember.

But Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies played three season for Bradford City and played twenty eight league games in each. I think he was City’s best player last year and I would rather he was still at the club and not wandering the Highlands of Scotland.

If Phil Parkinson’s job on Jon Stead is to not be blind, is the same true of Davies? After all while I can say that the team was measurably better with Davies in the side I can bring to mind mistakes he made that cost games.

Likewise while talking about how the defender can play twenty eight games a season I ignore the fact that in his first season it was suspension and not injury that cost him matches, and that in the second half of last season injury compounded injury.

I think that he is worth a new contract but I am wilfully blind myself in this matter. I’m partial to Davies. He is my sort of player and I do not find myself wanting to think on his faults now he has gone.

But think on them we should else we ignore the obvious and create too high a standard for the next set of Bradford City players.

The end of a season which asked more questions than it answered

One could be excused for not knowing that Bradford City’s season finishes on Saturday at Crewe Alexandra such as the finality of the last home game of the season with Barnsley that saw the Bantams win by a single, excellent Jon Stead goal.

Stead hit a volley across the Tykes keeper Adam Davies and into the far side of the goal after a well floated Billy Knott cross had found the striker running deep in the penalty area. It was the type of moment of excellence that City’s season has produced sporadically and that suggested that the year that was could have been more.

Indeed next Saturday when 2014/2015 has ended and assuming a set of results The Bantams could finish the year a single place outside the play-off.

Seventh would underline the improvement of the year – Phil Parkinson will once again have improved on last year – but continues the theme of the taunting of what might have been for this team. On the final day of the season that saw City produce (some argued) that greatest shock result in history The Bantams will be playing for the chance to allow Notts County the chance to avoid relegation.

Notts County – home of Gary Jones and Garry Thompson, formerly of this Parish – played a small part in City’s season refusing to move a home game in the run up to the Reading FA Cup Quarter Final. The result was a knackered City being outplayed on the BBC which seemed to deflate the rest of the season.

Jones and Thompson and a host of other players who have been a part of City in the last four years were obviously absent from the post-game meander around the field. It was not so much a lap of honour or appreciation so much as an acknowledgement of the end of a chapter for Bradford City.

After four years of Phil Parkinson the manager had taken City to a point where the club had reached a ceiling of sorts and – with rumours of investment – contemplated which parts of its soul would be exchanged for a chance to crack that ceiling.

56

There is little to say about the observance of the minute’s silence, the singing of remembrance songs, the wearing of remembrance hoodies, the fact Roy Hodgson and FA Chairman Greg Dyke laid a wreath and so on which is apt to say in relation to the memorials for the fixty six supporters who died at Valley Parade in the fire of 1985 and who are commemorated at the final home game of the season.

People express their grief in different ways and I have spoken to a number of people who have an unease at the commercialisation and branding that has recently grown up around the tragedy as I have people who find the commemorations moving. Again People express their grief in different ways.

Martin Fletcher, for example, has channelled his grief and need for answers into a set of questions which make up a part of his work “56: The Story of the Bradford City Fire” and Fletcher has been criticised – and abused 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – for doing this. I’m not here to suggest that Fletcher is right or wrong although I am sure that he has the right to ask questions, and that asking question is the right thing.

On Saturday every ground in the country stood silent for a minute to remember for the victims of the fire of 1985. The England manager and the Head of the FA visited Valley Parade to pay respects. It was a national football event. It was the recognition which some people maintain the fire of 1985 has never had in the English football community.

Succinctly

Succinctly: It is time for the Bradford City community to step back and allow the bereaved families and friends to remember the individuals who died as they see fit.

We talk about “The Fifty Six” but to the wife that lost a husband, the son that lost a father, there is no fifty six. There is one or two or three or four with memories which need to be kept, graves that need to be tended, and years that never happened, and lives that were not lived.

We – the Bradford City community – are not involved in that and we need to recognise that.

Individuals who support Bradford City are, and often groups of individuals who support City are, and those people will go on tending graves, feeling loss, and being haunted on empty Tuesday afternoons in September regardless of the ribbon shown into the shirt or the silence at Goodison Park.

We need to recognise that.

Money

Driving away from Valley Parade on Sunbridge Road a Rolls Royce belonging the the Dorchester Hotel overtook us. The imminence of money is all around Valley Parade. Gianni Paladini, Bernie Ecclestone, Latish Mittal are reported to be in talks to buy Bradford City and to invest millions into the club starting with an eight figure sum just to buy League One players.

One side says that the deal is a long way off but other sources say that it is all but signed save creating a name plate for the honorary title that Mr Lawn will retain at the club.

Why buy Bradford City?

A list of clubs owned by people willing to sell which have shown the ability to fill Wembley Stadium is not a long one. It includes QPR – who the people who are trying to buy Bradford City own/previously owned – and a few other clubs.

There are worries about what new owners would do at the club. The worries seem to take two forms. That they might ruin the supporter base with expensive season ticket prices and that they might ruin the playing side by sacking Phil Parkinson.

On the second point it is probably worth remembering how insecure Parkinson’s job is under the current regime.

Earlier this season it seemed from the outside that Parkinson had to be dragged into apologising to board member Roger Owen after complaining about the state of the pitch. Parkinson had believed – with good reason – that the pitch was Owen’s responsibility and criticised that.

At one point I heard – and there is no guarantee of the veracity of this comment – that Parkinson had been told to apologise on pain of being held (and sacked) in breach of contract. He went home with this in mind but cooler heads prevailed and he humiliated himself with an apology the next day.

I repeat the no guarantee about this information just as there is no guarantee that the other times the the board have considered sacking Parkinson were accurate. Former players have been asked if they would be able to become Interim Managers, or so they say in private, but they could be lying.

Without winning

Bradford City’s have had spells under Parkinson where wins have been impossible to come by. When City went twelve games without winning in 2014 there was no full throated support from the boardroom to dispell the rumours that clouded Parkinson’s future.

There was uncertainty at a boardroom level – at least perceptually – and while it would be far from me to suggest that new owners would behave any different it is important not to idealise the current regime (not a problem I have) or forget how quickly things turned to see the exit of Peter Jackson, for example, or the situation at the club under Peter Taylor which Shane Duff reported as a picture of a manager undermined.

Worry about Parkinson’s job position under new ownership if you will, but if there is no takeover then worry about him under the current board too. The Devil you know might be better than the Devil you don’t, but they are both still Devils.

Bradford City are not so much managerially stable as they are successful. When Parkinson’s stock is low he beats Arsenal, or Chelsea, and it rises again. You can call this stable if you want but to do so is to ignore the meaning of the word as it is used in football.

If one were to buy Bradford City then chief in its assets would be Phil Parkinson and so removing him would seem counter-productive.

Were one to buy a League One club and look for the best manager available then Parkinson would be high on one’s shortlist anyway. It is not for me to ventriloquize Paladini but why buy Bradford City and sack Phil Parkinson? When looking at Bradford City’s structure or a vision on the field what else are you buying into?

Season ticket prices

Likewise if one were to buy Bradford City because of the support then why damage that with increasing season ticket prices? The current pricing structure has allowed for an increase in permanent support and the ability for City fans who are not taxed by massive home season ticket prices to spend more travelling away.

The broadness of City’s support which is not exclusive of people on lower incomes, nor the young, has given a lively and exciting fanbase. Why buy Bradford City if they intended to damage the support base?

One could increase prices per person with the drop in attendance and increase revenues in the short term but one risks decreasing numbers, (audio) volume and support levels to the point where City stop being an attractive club to buy.

Double season ticket prices and one might as well buy the comfortable few of Chesterfield, or the tidy support of Doncaster Rovers.

Sitting Bull

Phil Parkinson has ended a season having won plaudits on one hand, and been bullied on the other. In my hand I do not have a season ticket renewal form which – had it been issued around the time City were plastered over every newspaper in the World for beating Chelsea – would have guaranteed that the new owners would host 2015/2016 at 2014/2015 prices and probably been very well subscribed as a result.

This would have secured the impressive supporter base secured for another season. We hear constantly how the current boardroom act as custodians for the club but that does not extend to committing new owners to honouring the (good) practices in place for supporters at the moment, or so it might seem.

Bradford City has two assets: Phil Parkinson and the supporters; only bad business would change these on a whim.

The season ends, the season begins

Gary Liddle played well covering Rory McArdle in the centre of defence against an aggressive Barnsley attacking line up but his relocation from holding midfield seemed to highlight the problem of the season and why in a year of dizzying heights the Bantams end up firmly in the middle.

Liddle shifted out, Christopher Routis in midfield, Tony McMahon in the holding position, Billy Clarke in the role earmarked for Mark Yeates, Mark Yeates nowhere to be seen. The method of Phil Parkinson’s success is in character and – simply put – he does not have enough character to go around.

Rightly – in my opinion – Parkinson would rather play someone with good character out of position than give a shirt to someone who he believes does not have the mentality he is looking for.

Christopher Routis is the prime example. Often poor but also willing he goes his place because – to paraphrase – a better man than he is a footballer. With players out of contract in the summer the question that Routis poises (and he is by no means a great leader) is key.

How does Parkinson assemble a squad with both character and capabilities? What value do you put on each? Andrew Davies has both only plays two thirds of the season. Jon Stead has both but only for two thirds of the season and at other times his character goes missing. Should both be given contracts? Should either?

All season there has been an issue with players outside the match day squad struggling without Reserve football to engage them. Players who are decent enough when in the side are not options when in the squad.

The poster boy for this is Jason Kennedy who will leave City in the summer and look back at his time before Filipe Morais’ second half against Halifax Town as being his best while at the club. As soon as Morais started to play regularly and Kennedy stopped having games to play in it seemed obvious who should be selected and who should not be but it is easy to forget just how rusty players like Morais, like Francios Zoko, like Oli McBurnie become without Reserve team football to play.

Whatever reason there is for not entering a second string side into a Reserve League must be balanced against the impact it has on the fringe players of the squad. At the moment City can maintain around fifteen or sixteen players who can be called on to play and – tired legs, injuries and suspensions being what they are – that has proved too little to mount a promotion challenge.

The squad needs a depth of quality but – at the moment – the fitness of players outside the match day squad cannot be maintained and even when it can large squad beget their own problems with players too far away from a starting shirt to keep motivation and bad character creeping in.

If – as talked about – there is an influx of money into the club in the summer these questions become easier when answered by the fundamental questions remain unchanged. How to keep a squad of 22 players happy, and at peak fitness, and all getting on with each other. City and Phil Parkinson are nearly there and have been there at times this season, and over the last few years.

Get that right next year and – money or not – the end of season would be more than a 1-0 win over Barnsley.

The journey to Ithaca

I

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

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

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

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

II

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

Tuesday night in Coventry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III

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

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

IV

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

The sight of Gary Jones comforts the heart.

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

He is not alone.

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

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

Still City are in the ascendancy.

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

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

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

V

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

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

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

And you would reject the offer?

You would.

VI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VII

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

People on the pitch.

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

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

A sea of people and through it walks Steven Darby.

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

And so then on to Ithaca.

When the immoveable object met the immoveable object and Bradford City and Reading agreed to a replay in the FA Cup sixth round

Balls in bags

On Monday night, at Old Trafford, something well happen that has not occurred in over one hundred years. Bradford City will be in the draw for the FA Cup semi-final. The goal-less draw at Valley Parade in the FA Cup sixth round with Reading guarantees that the Royals will be in that draw too.

The immoveable object met the immoveable object in the first of the four quarter final ties and while City will look back to a chance or two which could have resulted in more the game which mustered only a single shot on target had the hallmarks of a pair of teams more concerned with losing than committed to winning.

Which is not to criticise either side for that approach – I spoke recently about how Phil Parkinson’s approach puts importance on not being out of a game – but to explain the dynamics of a game which promised everything and left tension unresolved.

Each side enjoyed a half of the game. The first forty five minutes Reading edged possession and hit the post through Pavel Pogrebnyak although the seemed to be a fast and loose being played with left hand touchline calls by a linesman who gave the benefit of geography to the Royals.

Nevertheless Pogrebnyak’s shot – along with a deflected effort by Hal Robson-Kanu – was all that Ben Williams in the Bradford City goal had to do. Williams’ inclusion over Jordan Pickford was a surprise but a pleasant one. Williams kept goal for every Cup tie while Pickford was tied to Sunderland.

“The guy that brung her”

That Parkinson kept faith in the keeper that had got him to the sixth round recalled Paul Jewell’s decision at Wolves in 1999 to go for promotion with the eleven who had been his most regular starters. “A girl dances with the fella that brought her”, I said then and I think it now.

Indeed after watching Ramires burst from the Chelsea midfield to put the Blues into a 2-0 lead Williams has not conceded a goal in the FA Cup. Thinking back to that day one recalls how Chelsea were lacking a Claude Makélélé in holding midfield.

While Chelsea had allowed the Bantams to build in the forward midfield positions Reading deployed a man to sit in front of their back two and make sure that Billy Clarke’s influence on the game in the first half was as minimal as possible. Nathaniel Chalobah sat next to Clarke and forced a gap between Jon Stead and James Hanson which split City’s forward options leaving the Bantams disjointed in the final third.

Chalobah put in a very impressive game – especially in the first half – and looked as if he may be the decisive difference between the sides until Phil Parkinson tweaked his approach at half time to play more through left and right midfielders and less through his front man. Chalobah – oddly – is on loan from Chelsea. He has a very brought future.

Tweak

Parkinson’s tweak was to have the ball played through Billy Knott and Filipe Morais – and to have Knott and Morais pick the ball up deeper – and then allow Clarke to drift left and right effectively taking himself and Chalobah out of the game.

And so City enjoyed more of the game in the second period. Morais had a chance just after half time which he passed when he could have shot – he seldom is accused of “making the wrong decisions” as a Kyel Reid or Omar Daley was although he probably does as much – and James Hanson swept a ball the wrong side of the upright after good work by Jon Stead.

The best chance of the game presented itself when Morais bent a free kick in and Andrew Davies connected but watched his headed chance take the paint off the post as it skimmed wide. Davies’ reaction suggested he knew that the best chance of the game had gone, but that the tie would have more chances in it, and so it will prove on Monday week.

Reading’s Pogrebnyak tried to handle the ball into the goal in the last moment. That was all the City defend had to cope with in the second half.

It would be easy to miss

In the swirl of a crowd of 24,321 at Valley Parade and the first FA Cup sixth round since the mid-1970s, and in the media coverage which seems to have decided that this game was not worth watching, it would be easy to not give credit to Phil Parkinson’s team. (Hob Nob Anyone? can give Steve Clarke’s team credit.)

That City went toe to toe with a Championship side is impressive. If one were to ask which side regularly played at a higher level one would be simply guessing an answer. There was a character needed from City’s side today to handle being favourites and there was a character needed to turn the performance around at halt time.

That good performances and great character are common does not make them less impressive.

Looking forward

One wonders what City have to do to win the second game which was not done today. Away from Valley Parade the Bantams have a tendency to replace Billy Clarke with Billy Knott and play Andy Halliday – a late sub today – to create a different shape to the midfield and that shape seems more effective.

City have won more games away from Valley Parade this season in League One than at home, and on travels to Chelsea, Millwall and Halifax Town have shown character in different ways. The Valley Parade turf was better than it has been (which is, of course, not down to Roger Owen who is not responsible for the pitch) but is heavy and the ball bounces little from it. A better surface will not suit City any more than it does Reading, but it will allow for City to play the tight triangles that much of Parkinson’s attacking play is built around.

City face trips to Coventry City and Gary Jones’ Notts County in the nine days before Reading. In League One today City slipped to tenth and the expereince in the build up to this tie did not suggest that the Bantams will be turning games in hand into three points.

1911, and all that

But those worries are for another day. It will be the 16th of March and City will still be in a cup competition and that has not happened in over one hundred years.

Not for Parkinson though. The manager who has as a modus operandi not being out of a game is not out of a tie. Nine days to assess Reading, and the game that passed, and to plot a victory which will make City more than a name on a ball in a bag.

Nine days cannot pass soon enough.

Here comes Crawley Town

Wes Thomas’ 18 goals for League Two Cheltenham Town last season understandably made him a man in demand. But rather than moving up the football pyramid, the 24-year-old has joined the league’s newest and most inexperienced club.

Crawley Town, promoted from the Blue Square Premier last season, have beaten off interest from other clubs – not to mention Cheltenham’s own hopes of retaining a striker they had rescued from non-league after a less than impressive time at Dagenham – to land Thomas. And while this may be largely considered unremarkable, the comments from Cheltenham chairman Paul Baker should be of concern to the other 22 clubs in next season’s League Two:

I’ve heard the package he’s on and he wouldn’t get that at a lot of clubs in League One, it’s staggering. It shows the money someone is putting in at Crawley to sustain the wage bill. They’re not doing it on gates.”

The rise of Crawley was well publicised last season during their extraordinary FA Cup run which was only ended in the fifth round, following a commendable performance in losing 1-0 at Manchester United. They earned promotion with a stunning 105 points – only losing three games all season, the last of which was on the 16th October 2010 – and in the FA Cup defeated League One Swindon, Championship Derby and League Two Torquay on route to Old Trafford.

More notable, however, is their financial strength that led to such remarkable results. Some £600k was apparently spent on transfer fees alone last season – astonishing for the Conference, and last season was a higher spend than all of the League Two clubs combined – while the aftermath of Derby’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat saw Rams manager Nigel Clough reveal some of his players were on lower wages than some of the Crawley players. True, Derby’s efforts to trim their sizeable wage bill will have caused them to pay very low wages for new signings, but it is still a startling fact that a club then-three divisions lower had greater financial capability.

For next season’s League Two campaign, the consequences of Crawley’s continuing high spending are becoming clear. Crawley are not just widely considered favourites for promotion, but in one bookie’s eyes ODDS ON favourites to climb straight into League One. Over the last few years, recently promoted teams into the Football League – with nothing like the resources Crawley enjoy – have had little trouble ascending into England’s third tier. It would seem the type of forwards momentum exhibited by the likes of Exeter and Stevenage will be replicated at the Broadfield Stadium next season.

The big question is how fair that is on the rest of League Two – just as whether Crawley’s spending was fair on Conference clubs last season. As Cheltenham’s Baker said, it’s not being achieved on their gates (average 2,535 last season, while the Robins’ – who couldn’t match the wages Town offered for Thomas – averaged 2,980).

The actual source of Crawley’s financial support has not been disclosed to date, with the financial backers brought to the club by late chairman Bruce Winfield wishing to remain anonymous. Before these backers arrived Crawley, who had suffered significant financial problems for many seasons, were said to be losing £400,000 a year. To go from this to suddenly spending £600k on players such as City’s Scott Neilson – not to mention the wages being paid for persuading talented players like Sergio Torres to step down to non-league – should be considered troubling.

Crawley’s owners may have perfectly good reasons for remaining anonymous, and there is no evidence to suggest the club or their backers are acting illegally, but the mystery surrounding the ownership issue is not good for the wider game.

And it makes for an interesting test for the Football League. The comparisons between Crawley’s financial might next season and Notts County in 2009/10 are obvious. County, bought by the enigmatic Munto Finance, spent unprecedented sums of money at this level to build a squad that eventually won the division at a canter. In County’s case, however, it was all part of an epic swindle that almost ended with the club collapsing.

The validity of the promotion they achieved is still hugely questionable, and for the rest of League Two the distorting affects it had on that season are still felt today. Fourth-placed Morecambe, for example, might feel a sense of injustice that they missed out on promotion to a club who were bending the rules. The 5-0 defeat City suffered on the opening day immediately put Stuart McCall under pressure and set the mood for a difficult season.

Yet the Football League failed to get to grips with County at all. The fit and proper rules in place were easily bypassed by County’s owners, and their inaction almost saw the world’s oldest professional football club go out of business. Like with Crawley, the FA claimed they had seen the necessary documents from Notts County that apparently proved the fit and propeness of Munto. Equally poor has been the Football League’s failure to establish the true owners of Leeds United, and the situation was only cleared up when the Elland Road club looked to be on the brink of the Premier League but were warned they might not be allowed in it if the ownership matter remained unresolved.

As a supporter of a club entering League Two next season I want to know that there is a level playing field. After Notts County, the Football Authorities have lost the trust that they can be left to ensure that publicly hidden ownership is for the good of the game. Fair play must not only be the case, it must be seen to be the case.

There is nothing to suggest the owners of Crawley Town are as crooked as Munto Finance or acting as dubiously as Leeds chairman Ken Bates, but in the interests of fair and honest competition they surely cannot be allowed to remain annoymous while the rest of the Football League must follow the rules. If Crawley’s owners are whiter than white – and let’s hope they are – they should have nothing to fear in revealing themselves to the authorities and their own supporters.

But beyond that, this ongoing situation of football clubs living beyond their means is not one to be encouraged. Crawley, like many other clubs in England, most notably Chelsea, apparently do not operate in a self-sustainable way; meaning they are at the whims of the investors and will be left in an almighty mess should they withdraw their backing. If it is wrong to compare Crawley to Notts County, the lessons of Gretna’s rise up the Scottish leagues and subsequent demise should be noted by all.

Crawley’s summer spending isn’t going to end with Thomas, and come August it looks likely they will have built a squad good enough to romp League Two. It doesn’t seem fair and, as long as the sources of their financial capabilities remains anonymous, there will be those crying foul over their approach and many others hoping it all comes tumbling down for probably the least welcome Football League newcomers of all time.

Top five reasons why a manager will be leaving Bradford City

In Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity the protagonist Rob explains how – after being dumped by sophisticated and seemingly smart girl Charlie – he surmises that he was playing of his league.

When dating Charlie Rob was out of his league – he decides – and he could never settle with the idea that she was with him which is why he spent the last few years with the gut wrenching feeling that Charlie was about to leave him for one of the guys who seemed to fit her better which she does. Read the book, its great.

Perhaps Mark Lawn will be feeling something like this as for a second weekend he reads that his manager Peter Taylor is being linked with a move away from Valley Parade and while last week it was the FA of Bahrain this week Meadow Lane and Notts County are reported to be interested in the City boss.

Rumours peculated that Taylor has a get out clause which will allow him to jump ship to a club in a higher division should they ask – we could probably dub this “The Hull City clause” – but it seems highly unlikely that having started to call in favours to bring friendplayers Tom Doherty and Luke Oliver to Valley Parade that the boss will move onto a club which has had to free all of the squad it could do and only has twelve men in the squad. County are as nailed on for relegation this year as they were for promotion last.

Nevertheless Taylor’s talent is well known – indeed that is the reason he was recruited to replace Stuart McCall – as is the fact that he is a hired hand rather than someone who is invested in the club long term as he predecessor was.

These factors makes him vulnerable to being taken from the club if not by Bahrain or Notts County then certainly by someone with more to offer. Imagine if The Tigers are in need of a manager in five months time and wonder how hard would be for Taylor to turn that job down if offered. Imagine too how hard it would be if Hull put an eighteen month contract on the table. It is hard to see anyone offering him a deal for less than the one year that Lawn had Taylor sign at City.

As advances about Taylor are talked how much of a long term commitment have the Bantams given their manager? Discussions about Taylor’s one year contract on this site talk about how if he does not perform then the manager will be out calling this a shrewd deal for Lawn but should Taylor get an offer he can’t turn down – or should he take one of the ones rumoured – then were does that leave City?

Rotherham United – in League Two again next season after being defeated by Dag & Red in yesterday’s play off final – were hammered on for promotion before their manager Mark Robins left for pastures higher and was replaced by Ronnie Moore and a slow decline.

Naturally some offers that come to a manager would be too good to turn down but should we not have given Peter Taylor some assurance that we are prepared to give him some security that might at least rival any other offer? If we are not going to offer managers long term security then do we have an idea of what to do on the day they exit that continues any good work they were doing?

One can only hope that Taylor – the attractive manager for any job – is not going to dump us like Charlie does Rob but it seems certain that Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are – because of the decision to give out three month, then twelve month deals at Valley Parade – going to spend much of the time while City are with Taylor worrying that they are waiting for someone to steal him away.

Friendplayer: Noun coined at 11:18 today by Me.
1 . A footballer who is recruited by a manager on the basis of a presumed good previous relationship working at another club.

League Two 2009/10 review – Rochdale, Notts County and Bournemouth’s scrap for promotion and the moral high ground

Even during Keith Hill’s finest hour, the Rochdale manager couldn’t resist taking a swipe.

As Dale celebrated sealing their first promotion since 1969 by defeating Northampton in mid-April, Hill looked ahead to his side’s up-coming Tuesday night visit to title rivals Notts County – which represented their last realistic chance to overturn the Magpies leadership – and declared, “If we can’t catch them, I’m sure the tax man will.”

The Meadow Lane club’s own promotion celebrations had been somewhat tempered by their Board having to fight back against critics’ claiming County had cheated their way to promotion, and Hill received an angry reception from Magpies fans during his team’s subsequent 1-0 loss. But as County attempted to defer the blame for signing players on wages they couldn’t afford onto the previous Munto Finance regime, Hill had a point.

Rochdale’s promotion was more than just the triumph of a small club finally experiencing their day in the sun; Chairman Chris Dunphy and Hill believe it was an achievement for doing things properly. League Two has long being a home to basket case clubs on the brink of financial ruin, often playing up to the nation’s media to attract sympathy about the unbalanced nature of English football. But for clubs who are more prudent in managing budgets and paying the bills, such tales of woe are becoming increasingly wearisome.

For Rochdale there is some gleeful irony in swapping divisions with neighbours Stockport this summer. In Hill’s first full season in charge at Spotland the two clubs reached the League Two play off final, with Stockport triumphing at Wembley. Less than 12 months later, Stockport entered administration after over-stretching themselves financially in recent years. Given that over-stretching had led to promotion at Dale’s expense, the perceived injustice was easy to understand.

Not that Dunphy and Hill are alone in feeling angry. Earlier in the season Macclesfield chairman Mike Rance, who’s club get by on the smallest gates in the division, talked about the unlevel playing field which sees others overspend to the detriment of the Cheshire club’s chances. “Last year, in August, Darlington came here and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, turns out they couldn’t either.” he told the BBC’s Football League Show. “And this year Notts County came here first game of the season with Sven and beat us heavily with a team we couldn’t afford, clearly they couldn’t either.

“Until the game sorts that out then it’s not going to have any integrity. I think it’s very important we play on a level playing field and some sides just don’t, and we find that disappointing.”

Though no League Two club has gone into administration this season, the emergence of other clubs from difficult times to enjoy some success has left others feeling bitter. While the media has heaped praise on the rebirth of Bournemouth, Rotherham and Accrington, Dunphy and Hill kept up their indignation which had previously led to them calling for clubs who go into administration to booted out the Football League.

Rotherham may have lost their stadium and failed to pay all their creditors during three consecutive seasons of points deductions, but this campaign put financial problems behind them and spent relatively big. This included signing Dale’s star striker Adam le Fondre for an undisclosed fee. Hill’s thoughts on this matter were kept private, but ahead of a trip to Bournemouth last October he hit out at the South-coast club over how unfair he felt it would be if they were promoted. The attack failed to spur on Bournemouth, who lost the game 4-0, though ultimately they did finish above Rochdale.

Meanwhile Accrington faced a winding up order last autumn and had to rely on their local community to donate money into collection buckets. Two months after that crisis was averted, relegation-bound Grimsby reportedly had a six-figure transfer bid for Stanley’s top scorer Michael Symes turned down. It’s hoped the nine-year-old girl who emptied her savings into a bucket to help Accrington last autumn understands the reasoning of “faint play off hopes”.

But while Notts County have pulled back from the brink of administration earlier this year, the wolves may still be at the door. Rumours of having to soon go into administration keep cropping up, and at best County will surely need to ship out their high earners who will still command a wage bill too large for League One. Tough times may lie ahead; Sven’s ‘project’ was yesterday’s dream.

And though Rochdale – who themselves may not be whiter than white – ultimately triumphed alongside in-debt County and Bournemouth, in time others who did not gain promotion this season may eventually look back on Nott’s triumph and begin to feel aggrieved, should the Magpies go on to enter administration.

Dale have shown that more conservative principles of balancing the books and slowly building can eventually succeed; but for more to be encouraged to follow their lead, there must be greater deterrents from taking shortcuts and gambling on success.

The budget

Grey haired man outlines the options of the future in a time of growing austerity not knowing if he is going to have a job in a couple of months Peter Taylor did not come out of his contract negotiations holding a red box aloft but his discussions with Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are all about cuts and spending.

The two sides have the same aim – promotion – and Taylor’s discussions on the role centre around his judgement on if that aim can be achieved with the resources the club can make available to him.

The wages given to Chris Brandon, Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne – Brandon never have taken a pay cut from the £1,500 a week he signed for City on – are freed up giving Taylor wiggle room but he would struggle to do as Tuesday night’s opponant’s Notts County did and assemble an expensive squad that trundles on to promotion.

The fact that Taylor’s City players went toe-to-toe with the likes of Kasper Schmeichel and Luke Rodgers and got a creditable draw shows the belief that the new manager is building in his team. Belief is everything in football at this level and while Rodger’s looked like – perhaps – the best player to appear at VP this season has as much to do with his confidence as it does his abilities on the ball.

Taylor’s job is to try build similar confidence into the likes of Gareth Evans and – when he returns – Scott Neilson it is a tough job. County seemed to improve the performances of their squad using the tried and tested Clough/Francis (see below) method of telling the players who did not cost a lot that they are as good as those who did by virtue of being in the same team as players who are used to operating at a higher level.

Taylor – looking at the scouting network, the current squad, the money available in the summer – has to decide if he can do something similar without the ability to bring in the headline grabbing players. If anyone can, he can, but it is an ask.

John Still – manager of Dagenham and Redbridge – is not so much used to making silk purses from sows ears but the sows ears he stitched are very effective with the Daggers hanging just outside the play-offs having just beaten Macclesfield 3-1. Still’s teams are known for the willingness to play the ball long and Saturday should illustrate the difference between Taylor’s directness and the long ball game.

Matt Glennon plays for a contract and did well on Tuesday. Simon Ramsden hopes to be at right back although Jonathan Bateson looks to fill in with Zesh Rehman not impressing during the week. Luke Oliver and Steve Williams have both impressed and should retain their places with Robbie Threlfall at left back behind Luke O’Brien on the left side of midfield.

O’Brien’s future at City is on an edge at the moment. Does he revert to left back next season or keep in his midfield role? Certainly his time out of the backline seems to have allowed him to rebuild his confidence and built a stronger flank – the oddity of League Two is that good left footed attacking players tend to get snapped up to move to a higher division sharply so one ends up with right hand side’s being attacking and lefts being defensive.

Lee Bullock is still suspended leaving Adam Bolder and Michael Flynn in the middle. Omar Daley found it hard to put a foot right on Tuesday night but his effort and heart was in the right place and to build his confidence he needs to be played through bad games.

Mark McCammon has gone home so James Hanson will start and Ryan Kendall may get a start over Gareth Evans if only to allow the manager to have a look at him as he assesses if he, Bolder, Glennon and others are part of his budget for next season.

The price of success

As the interesting encounter that ended goalless the Notts County fans sung that they were going up and while they are almost certainly correct the health that their club find themselves in at the end that process is debatable.

The debate centres not around the usefulness of the County side – without the risible Lee Hughes in the side the Magpies are an easier team to judge objectively and they have few flaws – but rather the effects of assembling that side.

£20,000 a week gets – in Kasper Schmeichel – a keeper who was capable of pulling of two super saves with the Mancdanian pushing away a Michael Flynn power at goal in the first half and diving headlong to push away Gareth Evans’s inventive attempt from range and angle but Matt Glennon also enjoyed a clean sheet, also made a decent save or two but set back his club a twentieth of the price.

Indeed as City look at next season and how to start looking at a team that can compete under Peter Taylor who most would agree can be trusted to do that then it is worth noting that the cost of Notts County’s keeper for a season is more than the Bantams pay for Valley Parade while Meadow Lane costs the same for a season as the custodian does a week.

County’s side brims with confidence after a mid-season wobble and this is typified in Luke Rodgers – playing today after an eleventh hour reprieve of his red card on Saturday – who played as well as anyone who has visited Valley Parade this season and it is credit to Luke Oliver and Steve Williams who were partnered in the defence for a first time that the lively striker was kept down to a single headed chance which flashed wide.

Chances were thin on the ground, mud was thick and it got the better of Omar Daley who struggled manfully trying the things he tries but having little effect. County’s passing game through midfield never seemed to get going and again that was credit to some excellent work by the Bantams with Adam Bolder and Flynn creating a midfield pairing that showed no ill effect for the loss of suspended Lee Bullock. Perhaps there is a message for Taylor and the Bantams next season that in having these three quality midfielder – and as Bolder settles it becomes clear he offers a similar (and high) quality as Bullock and Flynn – allows the team to play the same dug in performance even when one of the core players is out.

Can City afford to pay three players for two positions? Perhaps not. Certainly County have done that this season and try trundle on to promotion and the uncertain future because of such extravagance.

Taylor’s resource management – should he accept the club’s offer of a contract – needs to be more parsimonious. The eye he has cast over the City squad and assembled loanees seems to have suggested that what was at City on his arrival needs augmentation and not overhaul. Loanees Mark McCammon and Gavin Grant would seem to have failed to impress while Oliver, Bolder and Robbie Threlfall have shown well. Ryan Kendal made but a cameo but certainly the likes of James Hanson, Luke O’Brien, Gareth Evans have all risen to the challenge that Taylor’s new faces suggested.

How to turn results like this – and it was a good result and could have been better with the Bantams always looking within a chance of taking a win – into a promotion campaign is a matter of much discussion, not least of which will be between Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn as the three month manager winds down one season are – perhaps – prepares for another.

Finding something to play for

Bradford City lose a game under Peter Taylor – and the general outlook is that the season just needs to be seen out, with the focus quickly moved onto getting it right  for the next one. But then Bradford City win a game under Peter Taylor, and the urge to check the League Two table and remaining fixtures becomes strong enough to leave you wondering whether the club could still make the play offs. Then Bradford City lose a game, then win again, then lose again. A constant swapping of hope and realism that you know will probably result in disappointment but you can’t help but wistfully daydream might still end in glorious celebrations.

The Bantams go into this evening’s home game with Notts County back in downbeat mood; and though Saturday’s defeat at Hereford isn’t the final nail in the promotion bid coffin, there aren’t too many left until its firmly closed. Tonight is City’s game in hand and a victory would push them up to 15th and close the gap to the play offs to nine, with nine games to play – back to looking up those remaining fixtures?

Realistically the ghost has been given up by all but some supporters, but the reluctance to fully let go stems from the alternative monotonous reality of a meaningless end to the season.

We have all summer to feel bored and do other things with our weekends, wishing we could go to Valley Parade. And while City going into the final few weeks with nothing to play is a familiar reality, there’s a growing feeling at this time of year that we have make the most of what’s left of the season. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and early May. We only get to go to Valley Parade six more times between now and the middle of July.

Which means until it’s no longer mathematically – or at least tediously – possible, our time is wasted contemplating the form guide of League Two’s play off contenders and filling in the excellent BBC predictor as optimistically as possible. If City can win tonight and on Saturday and if Bury can continue to implode and if Northampton collapse and if everyone stops winning and if, if, if.

Stupid. Pointless. But what else is there?

For Taylor at least, making sure the last few games are meaningful is his most realistic goal. Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn has begun initial talks over a longer contract, and the results and performances over the eight games Taylor has been in charge of have provided plenty of reasons to support extending the relationship. After tonight he will be half way through his initial 18-game deal, but with the new contract far from sealed, he can’t allow his players to drop standards in the run-up to the summer break.

Saturday’s defeat has dampened the mood and even lead to a small number of City fans questioning whether another deal should be offered to the interim manager. Every City fan who’s had a go at the BBC predictor over the last few weeks would have calculated a Bantams win from the trip to Hereford. And though the recent defeats at Aldershot and Port Vale could be excused given their higher league positions, losing to a side on a terrible run of form and near the relegation zone is rightly criticised. Just think of Stuart McCall still in charge and imagine the reaction.

A win might have set up a  realistic late promotion push, but instead the changing of a winning side – perhaps motivated by Taylor’s desire to evaluate his players and with a busy week of games in mind – backfired dismally. The likelihood that Hereford’s sinking position meant their players wanted it more must not become regular, with seven of City’s last 10 games against opposition going for promotion or battling to avoid relegation. Taylor has to instill greater desire and work rate; he only has six more games at Valley Parade on his initial deal, he may yet only have six more games at Valley Parade as City manager.

Huge game for visitors Notts County

Notts County certainty rock up to Valley Parade with the kind of butterflies-in-the-stomach and sweating-over-the-league-table outlook absent from City’s run-in. So much has been written about County’s eventful season – on this site and elsewhere – but whatever the rights and mostly wrongs of their approach, the world’s oldest professional football league club have been left with a very capable squad which may end the season lifting the League Two title.

The size of the task for City tonight is huge. County are unbeaten in the league since Tuesday 9 February – eight games ago. Since the JPT penalty shootout defeat at Valley Parade in early October, they have lost only four of the 29 matches they’ve played. If they win their two games in hand they will be within three points of Rochdale, with the Spotland club yet to travel to Meadow Lane. They’ve dominated the headlines, for largely the wrong reasons, all season – but there’s an increasingly strong chance they will attract some positive exposure too, for a short while at least.

For while the outcome of entrusting mysterious owners and their lofty ambitions of Premier League football has so far been self-inflicted damage – the new owners have inherited an initial £6m worth of debts from the publicity-shy Munto Finance and narrowly avoided going into administration last month – if and when those debts do catch up with the club, there will be others angrily demanding justice. Under Munto County signed up a playing squad they couldn’t afford, under new owners County are using a playing squad they can’t afford.

If Notts gain automatic promotion and then fall into administration, how will the club who finishes fourth feel? County are effectively cheating their way to a place in League One and no one in an authoritative position seems to care.

Yet with all this turmoil and high turnover of managers, that County have kept it together on the field is somewhat remarkable. Tonight they are robbed of the services of their top and third highest scorers – lookalikes Lee Hughes and Luke Rodgers – due to suspension. This leaves County relying on strikers Karl Hawley (four goals), Delroy Facey (one goal) and Ade Akinbiyi (no goals) to lead the line, though a potent midfield which includes goalscoring midfielders  Ben Davies (ten goals) and Craig Westcarr (nine goals) carry a clear threat.

Since Steve Cotterill took over as manager, County have five clean sheets from six games and former Bantam captain Graeme Lee has become a key figure of a defence backed up by the reputed £15k-per-week keeper Kasper Schmeichel – rumoured to be entitled to a £200k bonus if Notts are promoted. Kasper is said to have impressed onlookers this season, though his bizarre appeals for a foul when missing a cross that allowed the tiny Chris Brandon to head home an equaliser, smashing up of a corner flag and then punching of a hole in the dressing room wall, during the City-County JPT tie, means few connected with City hold him in such high regard. Expect boos for him tonight.

Bully’s suspension and mis-firing loanees offer Taylor food for thought

Hoping to score past Schmeichel will probably be a strike partnership of James Hanson and Mark McCammon/Ryan Kendall, with midfielder Lee Bullock’s two-game suspension forcing Taylor to contemplate moving Michael Flynn back to the middle of the park alongside Adam Bolder. Another option is the under-used Steve O’Leary or even returning skipper Simon Ramsden in the holding role and Jonathan Bateson continuing at right back.

Robbie Threfall plays at left back after his loan deal was extended, while a weak performance from Luke Oliver at Hereford leaves Taylor with a familiar problem of who to play in the centre of defence. Matt Clarke is quietly winning appreciation from fans. Zesh Rehman is nearing full fitness and might be given another go alongside him, or Steve Williams – star of a two-page article in this month’s Four Four Two magazine – may be recalled.

Out wide Omar Daley was likely left out of the starting line up at Hereford in order to be fresh to start this game in front of the usual mixture of Daley fans and haters arguing it over in the stands. For some reason Daley’s match-winning contribution against Aldershot has attracted a hostile reaction from those who point to his lack of consistency; but, if Taylor can coach higher standards into the Jamaican, City have a superb player who can make a difference. It was sad to see Luke O’Brien dropped at the weekend and he will battle with Gavin Grant and City’s own Dirk Kuyt, Gareth Evans, for the other wide berth. Matt Glennon keeps goal.

Taylor is making City more organised and disciplined, but his reign has so far produced unpredictable results. Tonight should be a great atmosphere as County bring a good following up the M1 in confident and vociferous mood. Tonight City play a team desperate for the three points and uber-confident of getting them. Tonight City’s players have limited motivations and ambitions, and probably could shrug off a defeat as expected.

But tonight should be about those players showing character and demonstrating a willingness to take up the fight of next season leading City towards the type of promotion push County are mounting. Tonight should be about giving everything, because it’s not acceptable to believe there is nothing to play for. And tonight should be about City fans responding to the away atmosphere by outsinging them and supporting their players in winning every tackle and completing every pass.

After all, we’ll be wishing we could do so come the summer.

A sad day for football, a good day for football fans?

Chester City were wound up in the high court bringing to an end a four year shame of an existence the 126 year club have gone through while Farsley Celtic were incapable of being accepted into administration and were liquidated.

For the better part of the last decade Chester City were struggling with financial problems partly caused by an underweaning lack of ambition but mostly by the actions of the owners of the club – The Vaughan family – who would make Richmond, Richardson and Risdale look like paragons of virtue and models of sturdy custodianship. I am no expert on the Vaughan family and so shall make no further comment on them other than to echo the comments discussed by Chester fans elsewhere. It was an horrifically drawn out demise, but it is not the end.

The 126 years of Chester City may have been pillaged by the Vaughan ownership but it is far from the end for the football club.

Chester City Fans United are already planning a new club – the popular AFC route as it is dubbed – and more power to their elbow. The rise of the AFC movement which started with the unloved and notoriously weakest fans in football who followed Wimbledon becoming the robust supporters of AFC Wimbledon dragging their clubs up from literally nothing.

The end of our neighbour Farsley Celtic is massively upsetting and to paraphrase “There, but for the Grace of God goes (John) Bradford (City)“. Trumpeted as the success story of local football three years ago the club that Stuart McCall signed for City from are no more.

Farsley are the first football club to have been refused administration because the possibility of a workable CVA paying more than liquidation would was too remote. Notts County – some speculate – would face the same situation.

Farsley Celtic‘s problems seem to have come from over-reaching to try grow a club to be bigger than would be sustained by the size of the current number of supporters but are not helped by the fact that the people who should have been looking out for a club founded in 1908 were – it is suggested – looking with envious eyes at the patch of prime Leeds land that Throstle’s Nest sits on.

Telford United and Halifax Town followed the AFC route and revivals for Bradford (Park Avenue) and Accrington Stanley while different in nature have drawn a new pattern of football. A map which separates the football club from the football business that operates it. The Farsley Celtic supporters who today look for something new to do with Saturday afternoon would do well to look at the AFC route which promises much reward.

The disgruntled Manchester United supporters who formed the ludicrously named FC United of Manchester – Newton Heath would have been so much better – have done similar and illustrate the practical successes of the supporter-centric approach. That FC United songs are now sung by clubs up and down the leagues says much about the impact that club is having and the growing protests of gold and green at Old Trafford shows a rising upset with the owners of the parent club.

The business of a football club can be owned by anyone who passes the much discussed fit and proper test – or in the case of Chester City and the Vaughan family people who do not – but the football club is not included in that business entity. The football club – being the historic traditions, the support, the icons, the status – is made up of the things around a club which cannot be bought and sold.

As Chester City Fans United look to follow a path trodden by AFC Wimbledon of taking over the history of the club despite being a different business it is worth reflecting that our football club has been run by the businesses of Bradford City AFC 1983 and Bradford City Football Club 2004 in the last decade. The switch of what is considered to be “Bradford City” from one business to another is done with the permission of the football club and in the case of Wimbledon/Milton Keynes that permission was not given.

So in almost welcomed demise and the instant rise of Chester City the owners of the businesses that run football clubs are given another example of this new pattern for ownership which gives them the power to run the clubs at the behest the supporters and with a remit to serve those supporters.

One can only imagine how horrific it has been to be a Chester City supporter over the last few years but the anticipated rise – and the lessons that illustrates to those people who own football businesses would seek to run clubs for their own benefit, and behave in ways that best suit them and not the supporters – are an example for all.

Football businesses can be owned by anyone, football clubs are always owned by the supporters and business owners would do well to remember this.

The whispers around Notts County and the volume they might reach

The bump to Earth of the opening day of the season 5-0 defeat to Notts County may have shaped the Bantams season but in eighteen days time the result may be wiped off the records.

The saga at Meadow Lane has rumbled all season with some great results on the field not being matched off it. The Munto Group turn out to be smoke and mirrors, Sol Campbell making a cameo, Peter Trembling buying the club for £1 and promising funding which never appeared.

Trips to the County Court to avoid winding up orders are far more common than one might have thought for a club that cherry picked the quality of the division at the start of the season and at the moment the club are subject to a HMRC 28 day settlement requirement. Ten days in and the proposed investments are still ethereal appearing in the mist but vaporising when attempted to be grasped.

Trembling – who now has eighteen days to find enough money to pay the debt to the Tax man as well as pay the £300,000 monthly wage bill – seems no different to most lower league chairmen running from pillar to post to try make ends meet – however – unlike his peers in Leagues One & Two the amounts talked of at County are needlessly large and inflated by greed.

Greed in the form of the way that players were recruited to “the project” – as Sven Goran Erikkson calls it – with Campbell’s recruitment seen as a poster boy for the needless expense. County’s progress to fifth in League Two from that 5-0 is eclipsed by Rochdale’s reported thrifty accent to the top of the division and a reminder to clubs like City who wanted last season to spend big for promotion that gestated teams more than expensive shopping is the better way to progress.

If County cannot find money for the Tax Man in just over two weeks they will apply for administration. A judge will sit and decide if creditors are better served by keeping the club going as an existing concern or if that protection would be a waste of resources. Typically the latter would happen if the cost of running the business – at least £300,000 a month for player wages in The Magpies case – are higher than the revenues which could be raised for creditors. Should it come to that day then Trembling will be hoping that player wages of £1.2m before a player can be sold in the transfer window can be realistically offset by a sale of the assets.

The near 150 year history of a club could come to an end if that judgement goes the wrong way, City’s defeat removed from the records, and football will once again face calls for credible regulation of the game, the owners and the finances.

And those calls will be whispers compared to the screams of this week, and no one will hear them.

The perspective of Bradford City’s winter of misery as Notts County come to Valley Parade

The snowy weather continues to make life stop-start. It has caused disruption to Bradford City’s season, it has caused misery around the country.

Hours of media attention has contributed to making snow the number one topic of conversation. A Channel 4 News reporter spent a great deal of time interviewing a weather expert in the middle of a wintry Manchester last week. When asked how recent conditions contrasted to the famous big freezes of decades ago, the expert began replying that it’s nothing in comparison to how bad it was then. The interviewer hurriedly cut him off by asking a different question, thereby unintentionally revealing personal aspirations that what he was reporting on was something more historically significant than merely a spot of bad weather.

The here and now is dreadful, who needs the perspective that others had it worse than us in the past? Certainly not the Channel 4 viewers, watching at home on widescreen TVs and keeping warm through central heating.

Perspective is not always welcomed and, as City’s season looks set to unpause again with the visit of Notts County, the opportunity arises to move away from the depressing mood which has engulfed the club since Rochdale waltzed around Valley Parade at the beginning of December. There has only been five games since, despite the seven weeks which have passed. With even the only win of that period widely derided rather than celebrated, a miserable outlook concerning the state of the Bantams has been as difficult to shift as any deep snow.

Has it ever been worse for City then it is now? Perspective might be found from recalling the scary moments when the club almost imploded through administration, from the misery of relegations even from a higher league, or from the fact that City’s history is not without its basement league periods. But the present occupation of League Two midtable below the likes of Morecambe, Accrington and Aldershot is an unhappy one. Many are sharing the outlook of that Channel 4 news reporter – we’ve never had it so bad.

Which, looking from an even wider perspective, offers an interesting clattering of outlooks with Notts County. With this being City’s fourth occasion locking horns with the Magpies this season, the wide range of emotions which has fuelled their season has largely glimpsed through Bantams’ eyes.

The halcyon-dreams of domination prompted by the 5-0 opening day massacre at Meadow Lane. The losing faith in Ian McParland which saw the under-pressure manager dance down the Valley Parade touchline when it looked as though his team had won the JPT tie late on in October, only for a late City equaliser to contribute to his sacking five days later. There was the short-lived reign of McParland’s replacement, Hans Backe, who enjoyed his first win in charge by defeating City in the FA Cup during November.

Backe has gone, incredibly the mysterious richer backers Munto Group have already gone. Suddenly a club with seemingly realistic dreams of climbing all the way to the top is saddled with a level of expenditure and wage bill an average Championship club would struggle to cope with. Reports suggest that, if Executive Chairman Peter Trembling can’t find replacement backers with rich pockets, the club will fold in two months. From the bright days of August, the dark throes of winter see County crawl into Valley Parade with its very future in doubt.

Of course the here and now for County is a respectable fifth-place position and seven point-lead over the Bantams. But as many green-filled eyes from BD8 looked on at Meadow Lane this summer and wondered out loud why it wasn’t us been taken over by rich backers, the uncertainty at County offers plenty of reasons to breath sighs of relief that mysterious folk with questionable motives targeted someone else.

Just like driving cautiously in the snow and passing a BMW driver who’s veered off the road, on Saturday should we look over at the away fans and feel smug or sorry about their misfortune?

So City’s season starts up again with the gap to a play off spot a-still-bridgeable six points away. For how poor recent form has been, the distance has only grown by two points since City drew 2-2 at Northampton at the beginning of October. The most pressing concern is to reverse the shocking home form which threatens to undermine efforts on the road to reduce that gap.

The statistic of a paltry three wins from 11 Valley Parade has been oft-quoted over the past fortnight. Perhaps the clearest indication of the damage can be found in the fact that, since the last home win against Hereford in October, six of City’s nine league games have been at Valley Parade. Seven points have been taken from those three away games, with just three acquired on home soil. The pressure for a maximum home haul is mounting.

Matt Glennon has been signed up to provide greater reassurance to an oft-nervous backline. Ultimately replacing his former team-mate Simon Eastwood, City’s as yet squad number-less first choice stopper arrives with plenty of experience but question marks over rustiness following a lack of senior football. I saw him earlier this season play for Huddersfield reserves at Valley Parade, and what stood out was the volume and regularity of his booming voice ordering around his young back four. While Eastwood improved over time, his rawness still caused him to concede soft goals. The number one quality sought in Glennon is reliability.

The other big player news of the week concerned Michael Flynn’s public rejecting of transfer speculation of a switch to League One. Flynn’s commitment to the cause, even when not playing at his best, is one to build a team around, especially as the 29-year-old has many years of good service in him. He’s also rejected more vicious suggestions of unhappiness at not being captain. The perpetrators of this rumour seem to have a dubious agenda against the awarding of the armband to Zesh Rehman, for what they consider questionable grounds. Let’s just say they probably read the Daily Mail.

Zesh will continue to lead out the team and partners the returning Matt Clarke at the back with Steve Williams taking a turn for suspension. The ever-reliable Simon Ramsden will take up right back with Luke O’Brien on the left side. It remains a personal frustration towards some supporters this season that many are out to deride O’Brien and continually label him not good enough. Last season, Luke seemingly couldn’t put a foot wrong in many fans’ eyes despite obvious rough edges, now he’s playing better and taking on more responsibility and people are seemingly out to slate him.

A few fans have called for his dropping to be replaced by the “hungry young Louis Horne”. At what point did Luke lose his hunger? Perhaps OB can take consolation from the fact the last OB was widely derided by some during the early part of his career – and he’s not done bad since.

In midfield alongside Flynn will be regular partner Lee Bullock and then the still unanswered dilemma of whether to play 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. In the last home game Chris Brandon spearheaded a diamond formation and was subsequently keen to point out a lack of chances so far this season. This formation seems to suit him best, but arguably doesn’t suit City.

James O’Brien – goalscorer last time out – is also in contention alongside Scott Neilson and Omar Daley. Recently watching last season’s goals of the season DVD – with the delights of the always-brilliant Keith Coates commentating – I was pleasantly surprised to recall just how well Daley played up until his injury against Darlington. He scored a number of fantastic goals, created plenty of others too. At full pace and with only the resistance of an opposition full back, he made things happen and his improving fitness offers expectation he can make things happen for City this season.

Up front, Michael Boulding should be fit and may take the place of Gareth Evans, who’s confidence has been dented in recent weeks, partnering top-scorer and rumoured-Huddersfield target James Hanson. City’s chance-to-conversion-ratio is poor and the return of Peter Thorne is anxiously awaited.

Notts County’s last VP visit saw a slightly weakened team and tomorrow we should have the dubious pleasure of watching then-rested Lee Hughes partner Ade Akinbiyi or Luke Rodgers in attack. Graeme Lee will hope for a happier return than his sending off for persistent kicking of Boulding in October. Kasper Schmeichel should be kept away from the corner flags.

Dave Kevan is the caretaker in the dugout. Sven may watch on from the directors box – though it’s rumoured patience has reached its limited and this might be his final game.

Sven probably really has never had it so bad.

 

Used goods, damaged goods

While League Two trundles along this season with Rochdale at the top, Grimsby at the bottom and a bunch of clubs nestling in the middle most of the attention from a media point of view has been given to the curious wanderings of Notts County who were put up for sale by The Munto Group this morning.

County’s summer sale to people of the Middle East – or was that Pakistan – to build a team to start challenging for promotion immediately and the Premiership in half a decade has been well documented with the saga of Sven, Sol, Schmeichel and Lee Hughes being something of a running soap opera. This latest twist contains the idea that Sven and Peter Trembling – the mouth piece of the Munto Group so far who told us of the irritation the owners had at having to reveal their identities to anyone – staging a management buy out.

All of which seems unlikely – as City fans we can attest to the commonly held thought in football club sales that the ratio of realistic buyers x to people who use the sale as a chance to get on TV, big themselves up or otherwise fail to materialise into genuine bids y tends to be x:y – and with the amounts of money being paid out to a squad of talented players one has to wonder if it is feasible that anyone will be able to take the club on.

There is not much money in League Two football – even at £20 an away fan – and if the club is for sale and “investment” needed to cover weekly wages is not being put in (and some would say that that investment is smoke and mirrors in the first place) then the wages of a Hughes, a Ravenhill or a Lee will soon drain any profit the club makes.

One might suggest that if The Munto Group have no will to fund the team they seek to sell for another six months then should a buyer not emerge within the three weeks before the transfer window then we may see a significant group of player exits from Meadow Lane. If there is no buyer by the start of February then Munto face the bill for paying the likes of Lee Hughes for another six months.

All of which assumes that there is the money to make those payments there in the first place which David Conn of The Guardian suggests that there might not be and that club might be owned in a pyramid of debts that ultimately lead to an empty bank account.

If that turns out to be the case then it is hard to see a future for the Oldest League Football Club at all. If no buyer who can meet the bills can be found then those bills even be so huge – this is a club which agreed to pay Sol Campbell £50,000 for five years – that even administration is not an option. If a judge does not feel that the creditors will get more from a CVA than they would through selling the assets then he is entitled to deny an appeal for the protection from creditors that administration offers.

At this assumes a worse case scenario but as the media attention at Meadow Lane attests to the dreams of the summer have started to become nightmares. The proud club owned by their supporters in the summer are the butt of jokes over the Campbell affair and are failing to see the (ludicrously high levels of) promised performances on the field.

County are today being sold as used goods – The Munto Group like Mark Lawn last season have found that it takes more than money to walk this division – and in a sense damaged goods. There is little reason for anyone who has the money to buy into a club that agree to pay the likes of Hughes a weekly wage would favour purchasing County from The Munto Group. Buy Rochdale and improve Spotland, buy Bournemouth and clear the debts.

The next few weeks will determine a future for County that is highly unlikely to be those dreams the supporters who owned the club bought into last Summer.

League Two carried on regardless but if the worst fears of the situation are realised and County cannot be sold or even cannot complete season then there are serious questions to be answered by the Football League about how they have allowed this situation to develop.

The 5-0 of the first day seemed to represent a new dawn for County but if a buyer can’t be found then that game may not even remain in the football history books leaving County fans with a long time in front of them to ponder the thought that one should be careful what one wishes for, in case one gets it.

Things start to fall apart at County

The 5-0 defeat to Notts County at the start of the season seemed like the first steps in a new Empire of football at Meadow Lane with the home team – Sven, Sol et al – inexorably rising through the leagues starting with a coasting of League Two. The Munto Group, funded in a Byzantine labyrinth of financial twists involving a “Middle East” organisation called QADBAK, were going to make a mark in sports starting with the oldest league club in football.

The Bantams were blown away by a set of very good footballers playing very well that day but that August afternoon seems increasingly long ago for the Magpies.

This week the Guardian released information to the effect that an investigation by Formula One into the QADBAK attempt to purchase the BMW Sauber team the findings of which seemed to be that QADBAK, Munto Group, County’s holding company Blenheim 1862 and First London all seemed to lead a trail back to a man called Russell King of whom the words “convicted fraudster” are often associated.

David Conn – the hero of football finance investigation – has spent months on unravelling this situation (and a similar oddity at Elland Road) and even his dedicated research has not been able to get to the bottom of the situation although his prompting has seen the Football League begin questioning County again.

County’s attitude to any questions on the people who own the club is aloof to say the least with head honcho at Meadow Lane Peter Trembling stating that “the people who need to know, know” when asked about the owners of the club who he characterised as “Middle East investors” that turn out to be based in Pakistan – not the Middle East – if indeed the location of incorporation of one of the many companies in the pyramid can be said to be a base. Trembling put down any queries or ill feeling County provoked as being a kind of sour grapes, as being jealousy.

One wonders what Trembling would say about Formula One’s rejection of the QADBAK money in their notoriously cash strapped sport. Hardly the stuff of envy the main reason that F1 sent QADBAK packing was because – well – they could not find any money at the end of the trail they followed and had more of a care over the sanctity of their sport than The Football League had.

The Football League took in whatever investment came into Meadow Lane with glee and welcomed Sven-Goran Eriksson to the lower leagues of the game with a level of investigation which they have twice felt the need to reopen. Sol Campbell walked away from County complaining that not much was happening to suggest that there was a revolution in progress and talk emerges that Eriksson might end up at Cadiz sharing his time between the two clubs should he be paid a few million pounds he was promised.

The worry – the worry when words like “fraudster”, “pyramid” and “no money at the end of the trail” start to be banded about is that at some point of putting sums between accounts then there will be a case where the cupboard is bare and the League Two all-star – assembled from the high earners of clubs like City and from the division above – would in short order find that the patience, the sympathy, the regard for football’s oldest club had gone. The adage of being nice on the way up because one would meet those people on the way back would come into force with the caveat that the rise had been – potentially – rather shallow.

Perhaps though the Formula One investigation has found one thing and another is the case. Perhaps County with the six figure debt winding up orders, the questions from Sven, the walking out of Sol and so on and so forth are simply a business who do business that way. Messy, but above board.

All of which concerns City little. County come again for a fourth game at Valley Parade after new year and will have the usual squad of quality players because unless the unravelling some see happening at Meadow Lane is more rapid than anyone could predict. Nevertheless though there will be an effect on the Bantams, and on everyone in football.

If – as doom sayers looking at the County situation would predict – everything at Meadow Lane build since the summer turns into a weight to drag the oldest club out of existence then the credibility of the game both in League Two and beyond suffers.

The attempts of clubs to raise money are hampered by another football failure and the integrity of the competition is damaged by the collection of Ben Davies, Graeme Lee et al assembled on what would be in this scenario false pretences unbalancing the league.

Moreover though such a situation demands questions of the footballing authorities and the Football League itself which at the moment seems to be less well governed than an organisation headed by Max Mosley and allows clubs to be bought and paid for with wind and ghosts.

Perhaps then calls for proper regulation of clubs, of owners and of the money in the game at this level might reach levels where they can not be ignored.

How to get a head

Football matches are won and lost in the players heads. Not James Hanson’s external cranium and the way he batters it against pretty much every ball that comes his way but the insides of the noddle. The brain.

Notts County have won more than the odd game before kick off. They roll up to some backwater and have names that the other side have heard of in the team, “Oh look it is Lee Hughes”, and the hapless sort go onto the team to play County already beaten.

So it doesn’t matter if County have the best players in the league which they probably do because they could turn up with five guys with one leg wearing slippers and they would still win the match.

That is what happened to City on the first day of the season and what didn’t happen in this FA Cup first round exit. We had enough belief to have a battle and that battle was lost to a couple of goals in the minutes around half time but the fact that City ended the game with a shout of a match levelling penalty probably says a lot about how Bradford City have levelled a game with County in the Johnny Paint’s Cup and how we look at them not as the invincible just as a good team.

They are a good team but so are we. We are a more direct team than we have been for sometime and that causes problems for other sides. I think that when Omar Daley is back into the team instead of Scott Neilson who is a great player with a great future (but Omar is a match winner) then we will float up the league and settle somewhere around the third of fourth place.

We hear a lot about the effort that City put in. Graeme Lee wasn’t playing but he could learn a lot from Steve Williams and Zesh Rehman in terms of being at least as bothered about your teammate’s performance as your own. He could however teach that pair a thing or two about defending. City defend as a team but don’t defend brilliantly and are often found chasing a shadow rather than a man with the ball.

Lets not get too upset about this. Rather that than no chasing at all which is where we get back to County and the brain game they play. At the moment they seem scary and they have good players but Lee’s time at City would say that that is not enough and if they can keep the side playing to win and not slip into the mire that the Bantams ended last season in then they will have done well.

Not that I’d miss coming here or the supporters of County who sang without irony “2-0 in your cup final” in a cup competition, when the biggest crowd they will play against this season will probably be at out ground. I don’t know who the most intelligent fans in football are but it sure as Hell is not these people who get all angry because someone wants to know where the money for these players comes from.

In reverse order City should have had a penalty at the end when Michael Boulding was brought down but as Stuart McCall said the referee was behind play by fifty yards and could not give it because of that. Answers on a post card as to why that is not the same as Sir Fergs saying a Ref is unfit.

Simon Eastwood made some great saves but so did Russell Hoult and they had a half dozen players out showing the mental belief which they show in spades is deep running in the squad.

Boulding equalised at close range and City had a 45:55 share of the game. The two goals around half time knocked the Bantams out of the FA Cup at first time of asking but heads back be held high because we lost the game on the pitch, not in the dressing room, and even with the millions and billions of pounds we still have Wembley ’96.

That day City were romping through the division, Kammy’s side seeming fated to get promotion. They had belief. They won that game at Wembley walking out of the tunnel to see 40,000 of us an 10,000 of them. Won it before kick off really.

All in the head you see.

Everything changes

Ninety nine times have Bradford City entered the FA Cup since the 1910/1911 season – give of take the odd World War – and ninety nine (well, ninety really) times we have failed to win the competition once more. Next season it will be a century since the Bantams – Jimmy Spiers et al – picked up the old trophy and considering the club’s centenary was something of an horrific damp squib with staying in business put above celebration perhaps the club could look at throwing a proper party in May 2011 to mark that anniversary.

Bringing the FA Cup to Valley Parade as anything other than a visitors seems a remote prospect to say the least though. City are in the bottom tier and the height of our ambitions at present ranges from getting though the season without a visit from the administrator to starting a return up the leagues which some would say will cap out in the Championship.

The ambitions of League Two clubs are simply not that high.

Aside from Notts County the huge spending of which City caught the eye of the storm in a 5-0 defeat at Meadow Lane. That day marked something of a low which the Bantams went on to recover from slowly until a point where we sit in the middle of the league waiting for consistent victories or the return of Omar Daley – or perhaps both.

Since that opening day City have recovered while County have done well although probably not as well as expected. The likes of AFC Bournemouth and Rochdale battle out at the top of the division and County’s idea of rolling over the division with Premiership stars came unstuck when Sol Campbell wandered away from a defeat at Morecambe never to return.

The were asked to name the people behind them beyond “Middle East Investors” and they did citing themselves as packed by various people who would not be named in public – although the FA knows and approves of the people named as The Munto Group – although it did emerge that they were from Japan and Pakistan neither of whom are in the Middle East.

Campbell left and rumours had it that director of football Sven Goran Erikkson would follow until the Swede saw manager Ian McParland replaced by Sven’s former assistant Hans Backe. The club seemed to be waiting for McParland to do something the merited the sack and – the 2-2 penalties defeat to City aside – the manager was doing well enough to keep the position. Without a reason to sack him County seemed to just decide to get rid of him anyway.

The Bantams are talking much about a desire for revenge following that 5-0 defeat but one expects that that revenge for an obnoxious club who lionise a man in Lee Hughes who definitely does not deserve lionising and in Luke Rodgers have a player who is as skilled at cheating as he is at football will come further down the line when the Munto Group’s flexible definitions of truth come back to haunt the supporters.

Stuart McCall is expected to keep faith with Simon Eastwood – providing Huddersfield Town do not mind his being cup tied – in goal despite mounting and justified criticism. Jon McLaughlin would take the clubs is Town seen Eastwood keeping goal after Alex Smithies leaves in the transfer window.

Jon Bateson – who was sent off in City’s last trip to Nottingham continues to fill in for Simon Ramsden at right back in a settled defence of Simon Williams, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien.

Chris Brandon is out with a hamstring strain allowing Lee Bullock to return to the side in a midfield three of Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien the latter of which is becoming an unsung hero of the Bantams side. Scott Neilson drifts between midfield and attack on the right.

James Hanson – who Stuart McCall justified pumping the ball to at Macclesfield with the immortal line “Well, he was winning everything” – continues up front alongside the hard working Gareth Evans.

The blank space

Last week we saw freedom of speech taken to an extreme and it is it is an odd week where people are asking each other “did you see Question Time last night?”

Nevertheless the rights and wrongs of politics aside we can – on the whole – agree that free speech is to be welcomed and that attempts to stop someone saying something because you do not like what they are saying is not.

So there is something worrying in the news that David Conn and the newspaper he writes for The Guardian are no longer welcome at Elland Road because of Conn’s revealing articles about the ownership of the club who went down 2-1 to Millwall.

Conn’s writing had untangled a web of financial strands around the Leeds United chairman Ken Bates and the administration they went through which he emerged as owner of a debt free club following. The complexities are near mind boggling and commenting on them directly would be a presumption that I understood the detail but one thing becomes very clear when looking at stories of Cayman Islands-registered Forward Sports Fund and Guernsey accountants that the world of Leeds United administration is very different to that of Bradford City’s.

Likewise Bradford City’s two administrations were different from each other and both were different to Leicester City’s infamous debt shuffle which is a million miles away from what happened to AFC Bournemouth which was nothing like the Rotherham United into and out while still spending money which could never be afforded at Darlington.

Every administration is different, has different causes, ends in different results. When Bradford City struggled to stay afloat it was said at a supporters fund raiser that it might take the Bantams twenty years to recover from the woes but recover we would. I am of the belief that that statement was in essence true and that last season’s finishing a place higher than the previous season was a significant – if slight – sign of that recovery.

Other administrations see clubs like Rotherham United pleading poverty one year and then the next making offers to players like Nicky Law Jnr and Adam le Fondre whose former chairman Chris Dunphy has a thing or two to say about good governance in the game but oddly allowed a club that did seek protection from creditors to take le Fondre for an “undisclosed fee“. The people who had debts written off in South Yorkshire would probably be keen to know how much cash The Millers were able to find this year that was not there last.

The ownership of Leeds United is unclear but Conn’s articles would seem to suggest that the ownership is structured in a way that preferred Bates in the process and thus is not only illegal but would also be against the promises made by Bates and Leeds to the Football League. The punishments for the legal side of things – should Conn be accurate – one can only guess at and the football sanctions are rumoured to be as stiff as given out to any club in my memory with the Elland Road side facing a two division relegation should it be found that Conn’s conclusions are accurate.

The reaction of Bates to these allegations is troubling for Leeds United supporters as he attempts – one assumes – to give a lesson to those journalists who would dig too deep into his dealings that they will no longer be allowed to carry coverage on his team. Leeds are big business and newspapers – especially regional newspapers who struggle to keep going – can hardly afford to upset the local football side and Bates is infamous for enforcing a hegemony in the local media.

Of course Bates has a right to allow whomever he wants into Elland Road – as Conn attests he owns the League One club – but one doubts that will assuage any worries Leeds United supporters might have at the thought of getting promoted this year only to step backwards and be forced to find a new owner during a financial crisis. They would do well to follow the example of the Liverpool supporters who demand answers from their owners rather than doing as the Notts County fans do as some happily ignore things off the field and the muddiness of that club’s ownership.

Every administration is different, this is a point that is maybe lost on some, but in footballs age of rapid change of ownership the constant which is bought and sold is the good will of supporters. In our administration that was manifested by the half a million pounds raised because there was no other money to keep the club going but in but other clubs cases less scrupulous people – yes less scrupulous even than Gordon Gibb – have become involved and as a result supporters have suffered.

So The Guardian resisted the proposed riposte of leaving a large blank square in the sports pages to highlight the “ban” they are facing but when chairmen start stopping a newspaper from investigative reporting – and when such a ban is allowed to pass without comment from the rest of the media on the whole – then alarm bells need to ring for supporters.

Supporters should want the questions that need to be asked to be asked by the likes of David Conn and that every newspaper does not boycott Elland Road in protest is shame on them. The right for supporters to have their serious questions answered when asked by the highest quality of journalists is something that needs to be protected and when it is attacked by one is should be defended by all.

The Crewe joke and how not to be the butt of it as the Alex come to Valley Parade

There was a joke in football in the eighties that went along the lines of asking who the strongest team in British football was to which the answer was, hilariously enough, “Crewe, because they hold the rest of them up.”

That such a jest is outmoded is largely down to the opposition manager Dario Gradi who took charge of that laughing stock club and in a near two decades made alterations which changed the public perceptions of the Gresty Road club.

Crewe, the Football League’s shining example of a well run club to writer David Conn in his 2003 book The Beautiful Game, became synonymous with the development of young players with a series of high profile internationals either coming through the ranks or were picked up following release and turned around.

Gareth Whalley, Stuart McCall’s midfield partner in 1999, came from Crewe.

This track record is largely credited to Gradi and his youth development skills but credit is shared by a whole club prepared to rise or fall on the strength of the talent unearthed. A poor crop of youngsters could see a bad season or relegation but that was never considered a failure of the system which brought rewards on and off the field and certainly not a reason to change that system.

Gradi moved upstairs after his sixtieth birthday but has been called back to the job as caretaker following the dismissal of one of his successors. Crewe, it would seem, have staggered from the light of what they did well for twenty years and perhaps that is why they find themselves back near the position of mirth.

City’s attempt at continuity in management seem to be more faltering with manager McCall given a break from the attempts to oust him as his team continue a run of ten games without defeat that was made more impressive by the changes made in the midweek penalties victory over an unamused Notts County who once again employed the technique hence forth known as “If not a win then spin.”

Ian McPartland tells the vast majority of County fans who were not at the game that they were robbed and that Graeme Lee should not have been sent off and it is not true but creating the suggestion takes some pressure off him.

To be clear City got everything they deserved on Tuesday night.

That this was the case came from a squad capable of fluidly filling in roles in a formation and take responsibility for the performance. Leon Osbourne has yet to win me over but he let no one down on Tuesday for the majority of the game and can take pride in his display.

The winger will no doubt be dropped with James Hanson ready to come back from illness but Michael Boulding is becoming increasingly hard to displace in the side and when Gareth Evans returns from suspension – and the Ref who sent off Evans would have had cause to red Graeme Lee three times despite the Magpies manager’s protestations – Stuart McCall might have to pick between Boulding and Scott Neilson on the right hand side providing an interesting pointer to the longed for day that sees Omar Daley back in claret and (reduced amounts of) amber.

Michael Flynn put in an outstanding performance on Tuesday as he continues to be the ball winning and passing midfielder of our dreams while James O’Brien is starting to look equally impressive. Lee Bullock will return pushing Chris Brandon back to the bench.

Jonathan Bateson is unlucky to have to step down following two good displays and a switch for Simon Ramsden to the middle is not out of the question but Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are likely to return at the expense of Bateson and Matt Clarke.

Luke O’Brien has been a joy to watch of late and one recalls the Crewe idea that a team might rise and fall on the strength of it’s young players.

If Huddersfield Town rise on the back of goalkeeper Simon Eastwood then it is because of Tuesday night’s two penalty saves which galvanize a player who was mobbed coming off the field.

Mobbed with the rest of the players. Slowly building, improving, not losing. Dario would be proud.

Continuity the key as City beat Notts County in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy

The summer that seems so long ago on rain soaked Tuesday night which are made for warming the soul through football was marked by a discussion on Bradford City manager Stuart McCall and the ethos of “Continuity” which his remaining manager represented.

The reasons for that continuity – and for McCall carrying on for a third season and on – was grandly illustrated as The Bantams gained a modicum of payback for the opening day defeat by big spending Notts County.

County fielded a team with a few changes from what would be considered their full strength side as did the Bantams and it was in those changes that the strength of what McCall has built at City was in evidence.

Matthew Clarke stepped in, Leon Osbourne stepped in, Michael Boulding remained in and scored and Simon Ramsden stepped into another position moving from holding midfield to central defence and despite all these stepping City retained a shape, a pattern and a way of playing. That is the continuity City have been crying out for for years.

Not that this progression to the third game of the Northern section of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was any way easier than the scoreline – 2-2 and a victory on penalties – suggests with County’s less than full strength side showing more than enough to suggest the could have won the game clattering the crossbar in the final minute of the game with a pile driver that could have given them a 3-2 success.

That County were not victorious can be attributed to a never say die spirit in City – Chris Brandon stooped in at the start of second half injury time to head an equaliser which the pattern of the previous half hour had scant deserved – but the visitors will be upset that a corner was allowed to travel so far in their box with Kasper Schmeichel getting booked for complaining to anyone who would listen about the last minute aberration that saw the game go straight to penalties.

Five minutes before Delroy Facey had barrelled in front of Clarke to give the Magpies a lead which looked to be conclusive finishing off good work by bar pinger Ricky Ravenhill. County had controlled the game for the twenty minutes following the not at all undeserved sending off of former City skipper Graeme Lee.

Lee’s red card came after perhaps two of the most illustrative tackles Valley Parade had ever seen. Whatever Michael Boulding had done to Lee last season Lee decided to extract his revenge with two blond side hacks at the City forward the first – which came midway through the opening half – could have been excused as clumsy on the slippy pitch but the second just saw Lee hoof Boulding high in the air.

God knows what Lee’s antics tonight say about the dressing room at the end of last season – or about Lee’s professionalism – for there was no turn back, no apology, no remorse from Lee and Sven Goran Eriksson sitting a few rows behind BfB’s Jason Mckeown wore a face of thunder as a result.

Not that Sven had cause to be upset. The shift to ten men and keep ball for County and the Bantams misfiring attempts to make the extra man pay by both Brandon and Osbourne trying to be the one over tore a hole in those pattens that City had built this run of nine games without defeat on and rather than eleven vs ten the game switched to ten vs nine and two wandering about.

The swing to County was as marked as City resurgence that saw Boulding slip onto a finely weighted ball from Michael Flynn over the County central defenders on the twenty minute mark to slip though the visiting keeper’s legs and could have been marked with more as Osbourne – perhaps enjoying his best game for City – and Scott Neilson went close for City while Luke O’Brien continues to look the part on the left hand side. That the Bantams were behind was down to a mistake by Simon Ramsden allowing a ball to run to Simon Eastwood and failing to take into account the decelerating effect of the puddles of rain on the ball.

Eastwood could only grasp at the ball which Craig Westcarr put past him.

Two hours later and Eastwood dove headlong to his right getting two fists onto a Delroy Facey penalty giving City parity in the shoot out that had seen Michael Boulding have his shot saved by Schmeichel and County take a 2-0 lead before sub Peter Thorne slipped a low shot just under the keeper.

Simon Ramsden strode confidently to level the scores at 2-2 with three each taken. Neil Bishop blasted wide, James O’Brien netted, Eastwood went low from keeper Schmeichel’s final kick and a minute later he was mobbed by team mates, then by supporters.

Bradford City fans celebrate Simon Eastwood's penalty save

Happiness will be revenge as Notts County face City again

The long hard slog against relegation” predicted after the 5-0 defeat at Notts County at the start of the season does not seem to be happening as City continue merrily along a middling path in League Two eight games without defeat performing but three points worse than the big spending visitors.

Not that would have been surprising after twenty five minutes of the first day of the season when the Bantams and County traded blows – an hour later the idea that ten games on and the difference between the sides would have been that opening day win would have been more surprising but League Two football is full of contradictions such as the fact that a former barber from Bamber Bridge makes a better signing than Sol Campbell.

City’s unbeaten run goes back eight games and includes the opening match in this the oft renamed Associate Members Trophy against Rochdale and will continue regardless of the result at Valley Parade where a defeat would simply see that game at Spotland expunged from what would be a seven game winning league stint. That is the context the game is set in.

So as Ian McPartland reads in the national papers that David Platt is about to take his job – Platt is a friend of Sven but a former Forest boss and one wonders how well that would go down with the locals who seem to matter not one bit in the saga of football’s tedious rich – while Stuart McCall reads little about his position making a welcome change from the last eight months.

Not that one should suggest that McCall has proved his critics wrong – one doubts that will ever happen with every football manager from Sir Alex down having a steady stream of criticism as background noise – but that he has crafted a team which he seems to enjoy managing as much as the supporters seem to enjoy watching them.

The City manager has undergone something of a change over the last three months having ended last season a near broken man scampering around the touchline kicking every ball to his more passive approach now where he seems to trust his young, eager charges to kick some of the balls themselves. Win or lose, perhaps he thinks, at least I can enjoy watching them without the feeling that some of them want to be somewhere else.

As was said last week by Scott Neilson it takes only one bad apple to spoil the mood of the dressing room barrel and we look West and think how it is not going great at Tranmere Rovers at the moment.

City go into the game carry suspensions and nursing illness and injury that robs the team of strikers and midfielders who pretend to be strikers. Lee Bullock will rest a bad toe following his hard working turn as target man replacing the suspended Gareth Evans and the poorly James Hanson who could return but with the rest of Bradford sniffing and sneezing for a week each one suspects he might be on his sick bed a while longer.

Michael Boulding – who scored on Saturday – is perhaps at his most useful in a game against a team like County who are expected to attack and will not sit deep allowing the striker’s pace to count. Boulding reunites with Peter Thorne – back from injury – for the first time since the opening day.

The midfield will see Scott Neilson out wide with Michael Flynn, James O’Brien and Simon Ramsden continuing although the competition being what it is – and his last appearance at Valley Parade being promising – Luke Sharry might get a call to play. Likewise at the back Lewis Horne is knocking on the door of place in the side and keeping Luke O’Brien’s form up. Only two of the back four of the opening day of the season remain in place with Steve Williams having replaced Matthew Clarke alongside Zesh Rehman and Jonathan Bateson being in the right back slot. Simon Eastwood continues in goal although of course changes could be made.

For County one wonders which team they will field. They have a plethora of players of high ability and low morals. One can read this article and compare and contrast with the revolting Lee Hughes but also spare a different type of disdain for Luke Rodgers who seems to want to carve out a niche as League Two’s Didier Drogba combining ability with an utter disregard for the rules and a willingness to dive at any opportunity. One wonders why if County are as good as they can be – and make no mistake they can play with Ricky Ravenhill and Ben Davies a fine midfield – then why do they have to cheat so much? Even the opening day of the season saw Rodgers throw himself to the ground to “win” a penalty.

The Bantams go into the game looking for a kind of revenge for the opening day defeat but in the eight games in which County fans have seen Sol Campbell’s arrival and departure and results which do not match up to the thirteen men of AFC Bournemouth despite the one week of Sol costing more than the entire Cherries team. As City fans saw last year such a team can do as expected, they can be efficient, they can bring satisfaction but enjoyment is harder to muster.

Since that week in Nottingham the Bantams have been – well – fun to watch with men honest and true putting in hard work. I for one will take happiness over revenge any day.

The wonderful world of zero welcomes City and Morecambe

Zero.

Not the greatest number in football but one which welcomed with the ferocity of Chris Brandon’s powerful lash into the back of the net for the third goal in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Chesterfield.

Welcomed because after seven games – six in the league – in which City have not lost he goal difference which took such a battering on the opening day of the season at Notts County has been repaired.

Zero. Even. Balanced and while leaders Bournemouth and the aforementioned County are both in double figures the nice round nought confirms the recovery the Bantams have made both in terms of results and in confidence. The Bantams go to Morecambe in the same confident mood which marked the trip to Meadow Lane in August.

City have faired poorly in the two league trips to Christie Park losing both games 2-1 despite taking the lead in both games. The Shrimpers were in the non-league when the Bantams were in the Premiership, it is not hard to see why they dig deep.

At the moment though there is hope that City will be able to dig deeper which says much about the character the Bantams have shown in the last dozen games. Chesterfield summed up the Bantams so far – not massively better but consistently so and ready to battle for victory.

Michael Flynn typifies that battle answering the call from early in the season that while Stuart McCall can pick a nominal captain the onus is on the players to show leadership – claim the armband as it were – and the midfielder who scored impressively on Saturday has risen to that challenge. Forget who has the armband, leadership is leadership and Flynn is part of a group of players ready to stand up and be counted.

Flynn’s midfield partnership with Lee Bullock – who he paid tribute to in the press following Saturday’s win – and James O’Brien has been the driving force behind this impressive run. It is a midfield of out muscling and then using the ball and it works well. Scott Neilson – further out right and joining Gareth Evans and James Hanson in the forward line – provides a speedy and useful outlet while the two forwards provide constant motion.

Jonathan Bateson stepped in for Simon Ramsden on Saturday and did little wrong while Luke O’Brien battled to a great display. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams combine strength with pick pocket defending and while the triangle with Simon Eastwood is far from impregnable it has the same confidence that runs through the side and is markedly different from last season’s heads down pair of Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke who after conceding a single goal seemed to suck the ball into repeated danger.

Morecambe sit 18th – credit for a small club punching above its weight and not running into trouble with the tax man – and got a creditable draw with Dagenham and Redbridge at the weekend. The Shrimpers are also on a seven game unbeaten run with the only win in that set of draws being the 2-1 win over Notts County which got into the papers.

That is the only win they have had in League Two this season. Better than zero.

Chesterfield visit Bradford City in curious expectations

Oldham Athletic at the end of last season made a decision. It was a decision that some would have had City make and they made it in a similar situation. Morale was bad in the squad and the promotion bid faltered so they sacked the manager and the rest is history.

Well, not that historic really. Joe Royle took Oldham to nowhere – he was replaced by Dave Penny who seems to be doing the same at the end of the season – which is, in the scheme of things, where City finished. John Sheridan – fired from Oldham – ended up at Chesterfield and brings his team to Valley Parade performing – well – about as well as Stuart McCall’s Bradford City.

All of which is to reopen such a debate but just to underline that things do not turn out the way many might hope for or expect.

Few better examples than this could be seen than the career of Graeme Lee since City’s last game with Chesterfield on the final day of last season which was the Bantam’s skipper’s last game for the club. Lee went to Notts County, got injured, got replaced by Sol Campbell who cameoed and left after a single game and now looks to come back into the side. Should either team win on Saturday and the beleaguered County lose at home to Port Vale then they would climb above the Sven Men.

So things do not work out how one might expect and the six game without a defeat run the Bantams are on was not expected after the early season encounter with with County.

The run is typified by the effort put in by strike partnership James Hanson and Gareth Evans who continue to work tirelessly keeping Michael Boulding on the bench and scoring with an impressive frequency. The energy but in up front is mirrored by the hard work of the main midfield two of Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock who are expected to be partnered with James O’Brien although McCall has used Chris Brandon in home games.

Scott Neilson is expected to continue on the right with Jon Bateson behind him replacing the injured Simon Ramsden while Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams continue in the middle. Luke O’Brien is left back and Simon Eastwood plays in goal.

Torquay comes to Valley Parade for the minor debut of Scott Neilson

Scott Neilson will hardly get a mention in the news of League Two signings this week.

The right winger has joined The Bantams from Cambridge City and is expected to start on the bench and make his debut against Torquay United as Stuart McCall’s team looks to build on the first win of the season last week at Cheltenham but one doubts that the coverage of our division will concern itself with that.

Rather eyes will be set for Barnet and Sol Campbell’s debut for Notts County as football looks to see what a player who gets £40,000 a week in League Two looks like.

The contrast could not be more sharp. City spent a week haggling with the Lillywhites over the price of Neilson coming up with a fee thought to be around £7,500, a friendly and some more cash should City make the play offs. Campbell agreed a deal worth over £10m and one is left to wonder why such a deal was necessary. The Magpies already seemed to be able to win handsomely most weeks and concede only penalties. Campbell will perhaps plug that tiny hole and is expected to come into the side to replace injured former City skipper Graeme Lee.

So two debuts in the same division but as far apart as – well – as City are from Torquay geographically perhaps as the Devon side visit a Valley Parade which is flush with comparative optimism following the characterful 5-4 win last week.

Having had more than his fair share of criticism this season Stuart McCall took credit for the victory with all five of the goals the Bantams scored (Simon Ramsden having a deflected shot) chalked up by a player he has brought in this summer as he looked to rebuild the side without the sort of big money, low character players which one assumes County will have to avoid.

James Hanson claimed a first goal for City leading the line in a 451 formation with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding pushed down to the bench. Hanson’s play this season has been honest and impressive and he is expected to reprise his role up front although McCall must decide if he is to keep the same side and deploy Gareth Evans and Joe Colbeck as wide men or play a more traditional 442 pushing Evans alongside Hanson. Evans celebrated his first goal for the Bantams while Colbeck was recognised for his performance with a place in the League Two team of the week.

It is rare for McCall to opt for anything that could resemble defensiveness at Valley Parade and so one might suspect he will push both wide men into a three man forward line perhaps leaving Colbeck out for Boulding or Thorne.

The midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and James O’Brien are a curious set with O’Brien especially prompting much attacking play last week but fairly obviously failing to control and close down the game when City took the lead. Midfields need time and games to blend together and this is best done by picking a set and sticking with it which proves difficult at the moment and that area is very much a work in progress.

The back line of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien with Simon Eastwood behind is causing sleepless nights. Eastwood struggles to get any control over his back four not talking enough and – when he does – talking to the wrong people while Zesh Rehman has yet to grasp the organisational part of his role as senior central defender.

Williams is learning the game and coming along as is Luke O’Brien. Both are bright but eclipsed by Simon Ramsden who is that rarest of things – a popular Bradford City right back. Of the defenders few would suggest Matthew Clarke should be put in as a solution to any problems but Eastwood will know that he needs to get better quickly and build a rapport with his back line.

Torquay come to City with two wins and two defeats since returning to the League in August losing last week to Barnet. No one was really interested in Torquay vs Barnet game last week but a debut should change that this.

Probably won’t be Scott Neilson’s.

Bradford City prepare to face Lincoln City in a modern football match

Back in the day when newspapers were typeset by hand, Jimmy Hill’s chin presented Match of the Day and Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine had yet to be applied to the job of applying three points for one win and sorting such a collection of results into an ordered lists League tables after two games simply did not exist.

Not that it was impossible for the scholars of 1974 to work out that a 3-0 defeat on the opening day of the season put Cloughie’s Leeds bottom of the First Division or that a win, a couple of draw and a few defeat in said man’s first six games only gave his side four points but with the effort that had to go into totting up columns, creating news print and video overlays for Television to roughly project onto brightly coloured pictures there seemed very little point in bothering.

The table at that stage did not mean anything after all, and if it did you could be sure that Shankley’s Liverpool would be top of it. Tables tended to turn up in newspapers and magazines in September after about ten games and then they were accompanied by football managers of the day warning that said table could not be read until everyone has played everyone else at least once – except for Jimmy Sirrel who insisted it did not lie.

The modern football table – the sort that sits all summer with naught in every column – is more of a database waiting to happen and has given rise to an obsession with starting counting league position by the minute of each game. In fact ten years ago City were forth in the Premiership for the 22 hours until Manchester United won moving us and everyone else down a place.

Match of the Day made a return this weekend and had the top four places of the top division coloured golden to indicate Champions League slots – somewhere Platini fumes – with the aforementioned United excluded, lagging down in eighth position with zero points in zero games.

Back in my day in March a half blind man would draw a dotted line somewhere approximating the promotions places – and he were always wrong – if you were lucky.

All of which is preamble to saying that aside from the fact that Notts County are top and everyone else isn’t the League Two table means – frankly – “nowt” which is just as well because if it were to mean something City would be third bottom.

The opening point of the season came with the weekend 0-0 draw with Port Vale which presented a Bantams side that – rather surprisingly considering the previous week – had very little wrong with it.

The back four did not put a foot wrong with Steve Williams starting to impress in that way that suggests he is taking to professional football better than Matthew Clarke – who he replaces in the side again tonight – would take to cutting hair in Bamber Bridge. He is partnered by Zesh Rehman and is in front of Simon Eastwood who are both a clean sheet further away from Notts County.

City’s full backs against Vale probably had more pitch to play in than they will in most games this season with the Valiants anything but. Simon Ramsden – it would be amiss of me not to point out after a number of discussions with “our Rovert” on the subject – could have done with more support in front of him when he came forward with the ball while Luke O’Brien could do with putting a bit more air into his crosses with the hope of beating the first man. If not air then variety as the promising young left back’s play became a little easy to read on Saturday.

Promising young left backs though are not in short supply at Valley Parade with Louis Horne ready to replace O’Brien who was sliced in half by Anthony Griffith at the weekend and may not play. Horne – for the uninitiated – is the son of Peter Horne the man in charge of youth development at VP but those who have seen him put in a few games ensue suggestions of nepotism with phrases like “he looks a bit good.”

Horne is a bit good although which bit is not yet clear. He can use the ball, tackle, and has a good head on him and while that is deployed at left back often he does take the left wing and – in the humble opinion of this writer – might want to try his hand in the centre of midfield.

Not that City need any more number fours with Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary finding a way of keeping the back door closed and O’Leary especially useful in taking the ball from the central defenders and moving it on with minimum fuss. The pair look set to anchor behind the roving Chris Brandon – who will face up against his former Town boss Lincoln manager Peter Jackson – who comes inside and left flank man James Hanson who loses nothing in the air and comes in from the flanks to add to the attack.

All of which leaves City a little thin out wide but we should not mind the width if we can feel the quality and the quality of City’s approach play impressed on Saturday.

Approach play good and the strikers were not able to profit with Boulding seeing the best of the chances saved. Peter Thorne struggles with four games in eleven days and so may sit out to allow Gareth Evans to lead the line. Michael Boulding is expected to partner.

Will things go as expected? City play Port Vale looking to put the week behind them

When it comes to first weeks of the season they have never come any worse than this one for City.

Ten years ago we were sitting fourth in the embryonic Premiership table after a win against Middlesbrough. A decade on and we are at the foot of an equally new League Two table smarting from a 5-0 defeat and out of the League Cup. That was the week that wasn’t.

Wasn’t very enjoyable that is – unless you like the City of Nottingham – but probably not unexpected. When Championship side (and lest we forget, twice European Cup winners) Nottingham Forest came out of the hat for the first round of the League Cup – away to boot – not a single City fan would have said that the Bantams were anything other than rank outsiders.

Likewise when Notts County started spending money in the summer culminating in recruiting Sven Goran Errikson the majority of Bantams fans would have thought it a surprise if the Bantams had come back from the Lower League all-stars who are assembling at Meadow Lane with a point.

That both things came to pass is the way they did – scoreless and remorseless – has distorted those original assumptions that when City kicked off against Port Vale in the first home game at Valley Parade they would probably have no points and be looking at a few midweeks off after a cruel draw.

Stuart McCall has had little but food for thought in the last five days having played perhaps five different formations during the two matches and used sixteen players one of whom – Jonathan Bateson started his City career in the worst possible way with a red card for slicing Nathan Tyson in half for what seemed like little or no reason. Bateson could not have impressed less.

Steve Williams could have impressed more – it was not a week of full throttle – but he has most probably done enough to secure a debut alongside Zesh Rehman and in favour of Matthew Clarke who seems to be fall guy for the five goals that Notts County put past City despite – whisper it – having a better game than Rehman that afternoon.

Simon Ramsden has started his City career well and slots back to right back after a sojourn at centre back and Luke O’Brien is left back.

The midfield should revert to the four in the middle with Joe Colbeck, Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon although James O’Brien played on Wednesday night with Brandon cooling his heels. As a boyhood City fan robbed of his first year as a Bantam Brandon should be bursting to impress and one hopes he puts in a performance that suggests the desire than comes from playing for your own club. So far such as been lacking from the left midfielder but tomorrow can be his Alpha, should O’Brien not get the nod over him.

In the forward line Gareth Evans impressed on Wednesday but is expected to step down to allow Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding back into the line.

Having draw with Rochdale on the opening day Port Vale got arguably a more testing League Cup trip than City – to Sheffield United – and won it although that was more down to comedic goalkeepering which one hopes Simon Eastwood – the City stopper who makes his home debut – will not follow.

The season is young – baby young – and already City are thrashing around but in football everything becomes right with a win and at Valley Parade – under McCall at least following years of home defeats – wins have become expected and City are doing as expected thus far.

Did we not already have this debate?

There is an article on BfB about Stuart McCall saying that he should not be City manager after the 5-0 defeat to Notts County at the weekend and similar discussions are being had on other fora. I respect David’s opinion on BfB and I understand his worries but I do not agree.

It is three months since Valley Parade demanded that Stuart McCall stay as manager. What has changed in those three months? Not much, but for some reason the people on the thin end of the argument think it is time to reopen it.

The argument has been had and a decision was reached. Those people who wanted Stuart McCall to leave City made a case, had a say, and should remain in the back seat understanding that Valley Parade has had its say and backed McCall in big numbers. We remember the SOS signs and the banners? One banner at the end of last season summed it up: Save Our Stuart, Stuart Must Stay.

One defeat does not change that.

One defeat to a team that has just spent oil millions on bringing in the best quality of management in Sven Goran Errikson and a collection of players who are too good for the division certainly does not change anything. It is not that case that we look at Notts County being really rich and should decide we have to do something, anything!

City the same problem a few years ago Colin Todd’s side lost to Southend United in the first game of the season and everyone screamed cause that we had lost to a newly promoted side but eight months later they were promoted and we had ripped ourselves up over being beaten by a team that went to The Championship. You do not change a determined attitude on the basis of a single result.

That decision was a value judgement made by the widest collective of City fans one can remember – minute’s silences and protests about administration aside when else can one remember Valley Parade reaching a consensus as it did at the end of last season when it backed Stuart McCall?

There are a couple of things to notice.

Firstly that for all the changes at Notts County this summer one thing that is not changing is the manager – Ian “Charlie” McPartland – who has been at the club for a decade and is trusted to carry on his work that includes finishing 19th last season because he knows the club. For all the money of the Munto Group and the Sexy Swede’s spending the thing that the boardroom at County know you can’t buy is the passion for the club to want to do well or the continuity of an establishment at a club. Can we not take that as a lesson from yesterday?

Second we need to know that sticking with your manager is not something you give up after a bad result in any game. Sticking with your manager is a belief that things get better with time, when patterns are built up, when knowledge is pooled and shared and that belief that that banner at Valley Parade summed up perfectly: Eight managers in six years we need stability (I paraphrase) and it is a belief that people at Valley Parade sung for, stood up for, and want.

That is a belief. If you change your belief after a bad result it’s not a belief at all, It’s a hobby.

I do not have a problem with people not rating Stuart or not thinking he is a good manager but we have already had this debate at City at the end of last year and we came to a decision to keep faith in our manager not just for the summer but for the long term. Some people made it really clear they did not want Stuart at the club but more people did want him.

Three months on the (and I used a broad brush here) anti-McCall people are back and they are intent on trying to unsettle the manager that everyone else wanted. These people lost the argument in the last breath and in the next want to carry it on.

Managing a club in the long term is done over years, not single games, and I would suggest that McCall’s position should not be questioned for years. Realistically though those people who argued that McCall should not be City manager and lost the argument can take a back seat for at least twelve months if not more rather than trying to pedal short term solutions to longer term issues.

The people who lost the argument need to show some respect for everyone else, sit down and shut up to allow McCall to get on with what people wanted – managing the club on something other than a game to game basis – rather than trying to push the agenda back around to something that has already been decided.


Writer’s Note: Comments are not on on this article. This is a debate that has already been done and I do not believe it should be reopened now.

A little less punctuation, a little more action please

The headline on the official website – McCall: “Not good enough” – certainly summed up a dismal display at Meadow Lane. But why was it so bad? Perhaps removing the punctuation from the headline would give an indication. I have yet to see anything in Stuart that suggests he is indeed good enough.

I am not anti-Stuart. In fact, I like and deeply respect everything that he stands for. As a man and a player, there are few, if any, in the game whom I respect more than Stuart. I would always want City to be successful, but to achieve success with Stuart at the helm would be all the sweeter as I know it would mean as much to him as it does to us. That’s what makes writing this article all the more difficult because I genuinely do not believe we will achieve success, however modest, with Stuart as manager. The mauling at the hands of Notts County was embarrassing in the extreme, not least because the 5-0 scoreline flattered us.

Yes, it could have been different had the referee – or his assistant who had an unobstructed view – given us a penalty for the blatant two-handed shove by Hoult on Thorne, but in truth I expected nothing less than a defeat prior to yesterday’s game. I thought perhaps that I was being a little negative, but consoled myself by thinking that at least I could not be disappointed. I wasn’t.

Yes, Stuart is a young(ish) manager. But young managers need to learn from their mistakes if they are to become successful. Stuart displays a worrying inability to learn from his mistakes, and even when he identifies mistakes, fails to put them into practice. Last season he talked at length about a need for leaders. Yesterday we did not have even one leader on the pitch, perhaps until the arrival of Steve Williams who despite not being faultless, at least looked capable of organising and motivating team-mates. As for the decision to make Thorne captain, that’s really the subject of another article. Suffice to say, other factors must have played a part because it’s certainly not down to Thorne’s leadership ability.

During the summer Stuart talked about the need to adopt a more realistic attitude away from home. Surely if there was one game where a more defensive, hard-to-beat approach was warranted, it was at the home of the title favourites. At the very minimum we needed to produce a performance full of grit, passion and desire – the lack of those attributes on display from those in claret would be laughable were it not so serious. Stuart the player would not have accepted such a performance from his team-mates, so I find it so difficult to accept, that as manager, he appears unable to instil this in his players.

Perhaps part of the reason that the players lack grit, passion and desire is that Bradford City is too nice a place to be a player. I have no evidence of this, it’s just a feeling I get. I get the feeling that if you’re an old pro, Valley Parade is your destination of choice – you won’t get worked too hard, you’re likely to play every week (if you want to) and you get to trot around in front of 12,000 supporters every other week. So that’s the old pros accounted for, what about the youngsters? Well, if you’ve come up through the youth system, you go to the bottom of the pile. If you’ve been brought in from elsewhere you’ll get a game in front of a BCFC youngster, but not if an old pro plays in your position. Just go through the first eleven and substitutes from yesterday and look at how true this is. I can’t imagine it’s great for morale. And if you’re a left-sided midfielder or left winger, don’t even think about getting your agent to phone Stuart, the position doesn’t exist at Bradford City. Bizarrely, in the position most people would advocate playing an experienced player, goalkeeper, Stuart signs a youngster on loan to push our own youngster down the pecking order.

I find it very hard writing this article and criticising Stuart the manager, because like many supporters, I have found it very difficult to separate Stuart the man from Stuart the manager. I could not and would not criticise Stuart the man and could never fault Stuart the man’s or Stuart the manager’s commitment to the cause. One incident in yesterday’s game, however, brought it home to me that he just hasn’t got it in him to be a manager. In the first half we received a throw in on the left, level with the edge of the Notts County box. After some confusion Michael Flynn trotted over to take it, and it became apparent that no-one knew (Stuart included, I suspect) that he has a long throw. I suspect it’s an indication that Stuart doesn’t really know what he’s signing. I may be doing Stuart a huge injustice. If one of the reasons he has signed Flynn is because he has a long throw, then I applaud him, but I suspect he didn’t know. If he did know, he certainly hadn’t communicated it to the players.

Yes, this was only the first game of the season and yes, we won’t play against teams like Notts County every week, but this was the chance for The New Stuart to make his mark. It saddens me more than I can say that I truly believe that Stuart is not the man for the job. I agree that stability at football clubs is key, but having the wrong man at the helm for an extended period of time is not stability; it is folly.


Editors note Comments are off on this article in favour of a retort, which will follow later.

Former England manager gives City a lesson

The opening day of every season is about learning lessons after three months of playing football in a hypothetical context give way to ninety minutes of reality and sometimes that reality is cold and sobering.

Bradford City’s lessons today were sobering. The afternoon started with a minute’s applause for the late Sir Bobby Robson. Robson had a lesson which he passed on to another manager who like Magpies boss Ian McPartland had seemingly endless riches to spend – a young Jose Mourinho – who relates the story as “One of the most important things I learnt from Bobby Robson is that when you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

The World’s media came to watch Sven Goran Erikkson and the millions which are being pumped into Meadow Lane and went away purring about the home side caring hardly at all for the visitors who were but ballast in the story.

When Brendan Moloney pushed forward from full back leaving Lee Bullock to simply not track him back and allow him to score. Bullock’s head was down with the Bantams 4-0 down but he should have done more, put in more effort.

That he did not came after a grinding ninety minutes. City began brighter than their visitors with Stuart McCall having opted to send his side out to try upset the home team with a high line and a pressing forward line. The theory that McCall employed was – one assumes – that being at home and under scrutiny County would play similarly but alas they did not preferring to approach the game almost as an away match and sat back to play on the counter-attack.

So City pressed and as the season with fifteen minutes old Joe Colbeck had been unlucky to see his header saved after some great approach play and Peter Thorne look menacing on the far post with the ball under City’s control and City looking easy on the ball. County’s responses seemed to be entirely physical with Moloney especially guilty of some fearsome challenges with studs showing. City faced a midfield battle and bit by bit were edged out.

Edged out perhaps because while Bullock and new signing Michael Flynn looked tidy in possession and decent in the scrap they often found the ball pumped over their heads and when it was pumped in between Matthew Clarke and Luke O’Brien City were incapable of dealing with the ball across and expensive import from Shrewsbury Ben Davies finished on the far post.

It was not especially deserved and City should have kicked themselves with Clarke and O’Brien – not for the only time today – incapable of stopping the ball getting across the face of the box. New keeper Simon Eastwood hardly showered himself in glory with his control of the backline – very little – but collectively this was the beginning of errors that continued all afternoon.

That said City should have been level – or had the chance to be level – when Peter Thorne was shoved with two hands from behind by keeper Russell Hoult at a corner minutes later but the referee was curiously unmoved. The game was littered with pushes and free kicks many of which were given for much more malignant offences and not giving a penalty there was pre-season refereeing.

One had thought that the studs showing challenges were the results of being rusty – rather than a desire to be rustic – but they continued throughout the game with Graeme Lee engaging on any number of lunges h simply did not do for the Bantams last year. Anyone who wondered what Lee used to do at City and thought he would not be missed will not have hung their head when another long punt bounced in front of and over Zesh Rehman – who had a poor afternoon – and fell into the path of Lee Hughes who rounded the keeper and scored.

On to Lee Hughes now who rejoiced in his goal celebrating in front of the City fans who were taunting him with chides about his conviction for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving four years ago. Hughes faced the boos and on scoring pranced in front of City fans with delight.

There is a misunderstanding around Hughes when he is booed and responds to that jeering with his self-congratulatory dancing which would eventually get him booked in this game. Hughes is not booed as a former player like Graeme Lee or because he has long hair and is dubbed “Gypo” or because he has dived in a previous game. Many, if not most, people find Lee Hughes and his actions when arrested as being despicable and have the opinion that his playing cheapens the game of football. I think a man has a right to earn a living and Hughes does so but what is he trying to say when he goes to away fans and taunts them?

He has not proved fans wrong as a former player putting one over his old team mates would or silenced the people giggling at his hair yet he acts like Dean Windass returning for Sheffield United did. Frank Leboeuf said “He might be a good but footballer but he is a shit man” and no matter how many goals Hughes scores in this or any other season he has not proved anybody wrong. His prancing leaves a bad taste in the mouth as do the County fans who praise him. One can only hope that Sven and the Munto Group asks why their centre-forward is being called a murder and is as repulsed by the behaviour as I am.

Hughes got his second goal through another failure by Luke O’Brien to cut out a cross from the right. His third from a shameful dive from Luke Rodgers prompting the question of if County are going to be so good do they have to cheat? Seemingly so but the fourth goal killed City’s hopes off.

Steve Williams, James Hanson and Gareth Evans all made debuts off the bench and performed well with Williams looking mobile at the back coming on for Clarke who had had a better game than Rehman but had been replaced anyway. Evans and Hanson took the flanks coming on for Colbeck who had looked good in the first half and for Chris Brandon. Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding combined well with Brandon to see Boulding flash a shot wide.

The fifth goal came as the game dragged to an end leaving City looking back at ninety minutes of a defensive performance littered with individual mistakes – although Simon Ramsden looked good and pocketed Jamie Clapham – and a choice of approach from McCall that got it wrong and flew in the face of the manager’s talk of the Bantams learning to go away from home and play ugly, shutting up shop and being hard to beat.

County seem to be going onto bigger and better and perhaps their is no better illustration of the future for the Magpies than Hughes. Sneering success, at at any price, no matter what.

For City’s part though the short hop over the Trent to Nottingham Forest for the League Cup – bizarrely we parked next to the Brian Clough stand this Saturday afternoon – and then to Port Vale in League Two on Saturday looking to start the 45 game season anew.

The media beyond League Two are calling Hughes sparkling and toasting Sven’s perfect start but rather than the Swede one recalls the other former England manager and the lesson he would give for both teams today “When you win, you shouldn’t assume you are the team, and when you lose, you shouldn’t think you are rubbish.”

It’s Here

The League Two season is back with a bang on Saturday as Bradford travel to Meadow Lane in a reverse of the opening fixture of last campaign. And for Bradford faithful still reeling from last season’s disappointment, this is all that matters. Forget the long running saga at Newcastle United with an untold number of messiahs. Forget Leeds United’s third season in the third flight of English football. And please, forget last season.

Stuart McCall decided to stay with the club this summer despite suggesting otherwise last term. Managing at a young age is always a learning curve and there isn’t a manager out there that hasn’t made mistakes at some time in their career. But in my opinion, this club and it’s fans would rather have somebody with a loved for the club at the helm taking it one step at a time, than a manager with no passion who will come and go within two seasons at the most. The fans have cried out and it appears that stability is the way forward.

McCall has been busy this summer with his dealings in the transfer market, with no less than twelve players departing, not including Dean Furman, Steve Jones and Nicky Law, and nine coming in. Only goalkeeper Simon Eastwood has so far come in on loan as McCall plays the waiting game with the clubs in higher divisions to see who is available following pre-season. Eastwood’s arrival at the club shocked many, with an experienced keeper expected to come in alongside Jonathan McLaughlin. Only time will tell if this turns out to be a bad decision, but it is telling that Eastwood’s contract is only until January rather than a full season, with McCall preparing himself should the opportunity to bring in somebody different arise. Quite who will be playing between the sticks for City also remains a mystery with Eastwood not doing himself any favours with a nervous display in the final pre-season game against Carlisle.

Zesh Rehman has made his move to Bradford permanent and has been rewarded with the club captaincy. Much has been made of Rehman’s work in the community following his loan move last season and it appears that the club see Rehman as the ideal role model for youngsters in the local area. At a time when club finances are tight and extra revenue is a priority, it will be a challenge for Rehman, along with Omar Khan, to influence the Asian population to make Valley Parade their second home.

Jonathan Bateson, Simon Ramsden and Steve Williams join Rehman as new signings in Stuart McCall’s new look back line. Ramsden in particular looks like he could be the solid right back that has been missing at Bradford for a while now, though Paul Arnison will feel disheartened that his efforts last season resulted in his exit from the club. When Arnison played last season, City tended to fair better defensively. The facts don’t lie. However, it was apparent that McCall was unsure about him with Tom Moncur and Zesh Rehman preferred at times in what was evidently not their strongest position. Ramsden looks composed, strong in the tackle and fairly good in the air. Add to this that he can also play in the centre and has featured regularly for Rochdale in three successful seasons by their standards and you can understand why McCall has brought him to the club.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson, dubbed The Co-op Kid (I prefer The Idle Working Man – Ed), have bolstered McCall’s striking options. Both are young and play with a real desire which is a joy to see. McCall has high hopes for both and this is supported by the clubs willingness to pay a fee to Macclesfield for Evans services. Hanson looks like he can offer height in the attack, in the absence of Barry Conlon, and comes to the club with a decent scoring record in the last two seasons. Experienced duo Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne are still with the club and both agreed to cut their wage bills accordingly, with Thorne rewarded for his loyalty by becoming team captain. Up front, City look a lot stronger this season and it may be a weight off Peter Thorne’s shoulders. Michael Boulding openly admitted his disappointment at his goal tally last season and will be expected to do better this time around.

Following a fluster of activity in the days before the season opener, Stuart McCall has brought in three central midfielders, an area which he was keen to improve on. The signs are that Michael Flynn, City’s second signing from Huddersfield this summer, will slot in alongside Lee Bullock to form what looks like a solid pairing. Flynn ranks alongside Simon Ramsden as McCall’s best signing in my opinion and his ability to score and create goals from midfield will fill the void left by Nicky Law. Michael O’Leary and energetic James O’Brien have also signed, albeit on short term contracts. Luke Sharry missed the chance this pre-season to stake his claim for a place in the team and may now find himself the odd man out with many feeling Chris Brandon is also above him in the pecking order.

Omar Daley’s absence may be missed, with City only having the aforementioned Chris Brandon, Joe Colbeck and Leon Osbourne to turn to on the wings. Arguably Rory Boulding, Gareth Evans, Michael O’Leary and Luke Sharry can all play in this position too, but City do look thin in this department. Rumours of a loan move for a winger from an unnamed SPL club allay fears somewhat though undoubtedly Daley’s comeback will be in the back of everyone’s mind. Osbourne has looked impressive this pre-season and looks ready to make the step up to first team duties. Chris Brandon will be looking to make up for a torrid season last time round and will be a very important player for City should he stay free from injury.

When you thought things couldn’t get anymore unpredictable, Sven-Goran Eriksson appeared at Notts County and shook the football world to the core (or League Two at least). His arrival at Meadow Lane marks one of the most bizarre appointments in history and mounts the expectation on County to achieve things in the short term. Ian MacParland’s job will be under scrutiny with the media circus that unmistakably follows such a high profile appointment. In the last few days, Stuart McCall has claimed he is not envious of the position County find themselves in, words which as a fan I cannot help but agree with. Clubs in the situation Notts County now find themselves have the potential for success, but also dramatic failure. Should County fail to gain promotion this season, they will probably find themselves starting from scratch with a new manager and possibly a whole new team next term. It is once again easy to see why fans at this club, who have suffered the repercussions of bad decision making by the money men in the past, strive for stability and a realistic approach.

Last season’s skipper Graeme Lee will probably be coming toe to toe with former team mates and, unfortunately, may receive a hostile reception. The culture of booing ex-players and managers is one that I’ve never understood, though there are factors in some cases. It is understandable that a Crystal Palace fan would be annoyed at the sight of Iain Dowie, not for the obvious reason, but for the way in which he departed the club to become manager of Crystal Palace. Lee, however, put in some solid displays last season, though he did have a dip of form which coincided with the teams inability to win games and keep clean sheets. Nevertheless, any players that represents our club should have our support and his departure was not turbulent and instead was a financial decision. It must be hoped that his exit from the club will suit both parties, with Lee himself wishing the team luck in the coming season. I will leave the defence of Lee Hughes to somebody braver than myself.

How the tables have turned from this time last season when County came to Valley Parade and suffered at the hands of a superb solo performance from Peter Thorne. The City captain has a tendency to score against County, something Graeme Lee may be given the duty of preventing happening on Saturday. I would be happy with an opening day draw in all honesty, but the optimism of the travelling Bradford fans says otherwise. City are out to ruin the party celebrations for Sven’s men are will make themselves heard – win, lose or draw.

The new season is here.

The route to success for Notts County or Bradford City

When last we kicked a ball in anger there was anger after the Bantams promotion push had fizzled out and beating Chesterfield was an inglorious end to a year of promise.

Three months later and while it seems that much has changed the Bantams start the season with six players who would have featured in the team which kicked off last year with Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding leading the attack a good example of how Stuart McCall has been able to cut costs while retaining the integrity of the squad.

The five forwards this year swap James Hanson and Gareth Evans for Barry Conlon and Willy Topp which is easily argued to be no worse and perhaps better with Barry’s rambunctions being matched by Hanson’s vigour, at least in theory.

If such claims of parity could be made for the strikers then they would not be applied to the two keepers who combined are not as old as Neville Southall was when he kept goal for City and the worries over that inexperience are rumbling.

Simon Eastwood seems favourite to start as he battles Jon McLaughin for the gloves and I am forced to say that I have never seen competition for the number one shirt bring about anything but uncertainty in the past.

One can only hope that one of the two claims the spot which Rhys Evans grew to suit. Evans exit remains a mystery with the obvious hole left behind by his exit but last season’s failure has been attributed to poor morale and one can assume that some of those who exit do so because of what might be known as “off the field reasons”.

Paul Arnison’s exit was down to such and Simon Ramsden is considered a more than adequate replacement playing right back more like a central defender than a winger. Again McCall has cut while not losing quality, although the people at Rochdale take issue with the statements that Ramsden has joined the Bantams on comparable terms to those he was on at Spotland.

Zesh Rehman has joined the club full time and replaces Graeme Lee – who may very well take the field for Notts County after his summer move – and it is hard to see that exchange as worse for City. Rehman has played at a higher level than Lee and on the evidence of last season is no worse a player and much more of a talker. Good player Graeme Lee but not the lynchpin we hoped for. Rehman could be.

Matthew Clarke is still Matthew Clarke although this year faces competition for his place from Steve Williams who impressed more than any in pre-season. Expect Williams to grow in ability over the opening months at City has he gets used to the ways of professional football. He promises a mix of Clarke’s physical play and the mobility of a Dean Richards or Andrew O’Brien.

At left back Luke O’Brien has a one deal and little immediate competition for the role however cover is provided by Louis Horne who is making similar progress to last season’s player of the season.

The midfield has been talked about at length over the summer. Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock are the two senior men with James O’Brien, Stephen O’Leary and Luke Sharry offering a much shallower depth of quality that last season’s midfield which of course assumes that one believes that last season’s midfield had quality.

Objectively the choice of Nicky Law, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Bullock is incredibility strong however wise man say that team with a strong midfield get promoted and obviously we did not. Stuart McCall has to make changes to move the team on from that and so he has.

On the flanks Omar Daley will be missed – he is “out until Christmas” but rumoured to be on course to join the squad before that – but Chris Brandon comes into the season fit and looking useful. Joe Colbeck is on week to week contracts but as long as he plays well this week, and then next week, few will have a problem with him. Cover on the flanks is thin on the ground although Rory Boulding and Leon Osborne are available.

City’s summer of cost cutting has been far from mirror at Notts County. Sven – of course – has arrived but it is said has spent much of the week talking to lawyers about a story that concerns a blonde which reminded me of another story about when Eriksson left England but I’m far too in fear of legal action to even mention that…

So we shall move past him onto a squad that has been bolstered by the signing of Lee midfielder Ben Davies from Shrewsbury and – more notably – forward pair Lee Hughes and Karl Hawley following a significant investment from a consortium of mystery which could not be held in more suspicion in the football world outside of Meadow Lane if they were gruff looking sortd who owned disused Theme Parks in episodes of Scooby Doo.

It is said that at some point they will be signing Dietmar Hamann and Sol Campbell. Let us hope that is after the weekend.

What will be at Notts County will be and there is very little that football fans can do to stand against the cavalier attitudes taken to ownership in the modern game.

City tried spending to get out of the division and failed. Notts County’s owners are unlikely to balance risk and prudence as Mark Lawn says City have which may see The Magpies to achieve what City could not last season.

The long term effects on County will be seen in time – the other Magpies though that they were going places when they got big investment – but City start out the season with a mix of players: some young lads, some old heads, some local lads made good; and if that is not the recipe for success then success is not worth having.

Now though football starts again. Great.

Five Questions About Bradford City in 2009/2010

Five questions about Bradford City in 2009/2010 were asked to a whole bunch of people connected to City from City officials to long time fans, from mascots to midfielders and naturally to BfB writers. Some people replied, others didn’t but these are the questions and then the answers…

  1. What are your hopes?
  2. …and your fears?
  3. What or who will be the most important thing for City this season?
  4. …and what or who will surprise us?
  5. And finally, how do you see next season ending?

Dan Horsfall
New BfB writer

What are your hopes? We are here as a club this time next year, with you asking this very same question. It’s a few years since we dodged that bullet, but I still feel pretty lucky whenever I realise that we, Bradford City, still exist. A shot at the play-offs would be nice as well.

…and your fears? Our big (league 2) club mentality cannot be shaken; ‘small’ clubs still see VP as a place where the bus should be parked (on the edge of the box), our fans still expect promotion and get on the players’ and manager’s backs. Macca leaves after Christmas, season over, tickets for the subsequent year never really take off.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Zesh Rehman. Is he the ingredient that will alchemically transform our fortunes? Probably not, but he will be hugely important at the heart of our defence.

…and what or who will surprise us? How hard the division will be. It has been a poor division in the past, but this season you can think of maybe 10 teams who will fancy their chances of promotion. Not just the obvious, but the Rochdales, Daggers, Crewes – there will not be many easy away games. I also think Boulding could put in a decent shift, which would make all the difference.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Sneak the last play-off place and enter the showdown as a team with confidence.

Jason Mckeown
City Gent and BfB Columnist

What are your hopes? As disappointing as last season turned out, it shouldn’t be forgotten it was the closest City have come to gaining promotion for a decade. But for that end of season collapse, a play off spot at least would have been achieved. Hopefully City can build on the positives from last season and finish in the top seven if not top three.

…and your fears? That a slow start to the season results in too many supporters turning on the team and manager Stuart McCall, feeding the sort of negative atmosphere that has undermined efforts on the field in recent years. Last season supporters were too quick to turn on the team. It was easy to sing and do Mexican waves when City were 5-0 up against Aldershot last March, but where was the backing for the players when Port Vale went 1-0 up two weeks later? Let’s get behind the team in victory and defeat, remembering it’s a long season.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The ability to bounce back when things go against the team is vital. During the first half of last season we saw some brilliant fightbacks, for example at Accrington and Luton and at home to Chesterfield. During the second half of the campaign the spirit was lacking and there were too many collapses. When City fall behind, the players need to retain the courage and belief to come back.

…and what or who will surprise us? When reading about a new signing, the words “former Man United trainee” strikes heavy in my heart. I think of Eddie Johnson, Ben Muirhead and Ashley Westwood – all players who looked decent at times but ultimately came up short, appearing to lack something. Gareth Evans arrives this summer with that ex-Man U tag, but I remember been impressed by him when City beat Macclesfield at Valley Parade last season and think he could prove a shrewd signing. Could Evans become the first number 9 widely-liked since Lee Mills? Now that would be a surprise.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? Even though other teams in this division have bigger resources, there’s nothing to fear. A play off spot or even better should be achievable.

Lenny Berry
The City Gent, Mascot Legend

What are your hopes? My hopes are to at least get a play off position this season bit disapointed last year to say the least.

…and your fears? My fears are that we start of not so good and the rot sets in. Its all about getting stuck in.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The most important thing I would think is keeping there head above water financially and 2nd promotion. Come on you Arabs we have a great mascot! lol

…and what or who will surprise us? Lot to choose from on that account with so many new players about looking at some of the young lads to give it a go and show the 2nd division its not all about money.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I think we may end like I said in Q1 think maybe end up in the play offs at least. Looking forward to doing my stuff.

Tony Pasquariello
City Fan

What are your hopes? Today, 3rd August 2009, I have been to pick my season ticket up, and there was an air of optimism around the ground(everyone from the people in the ticket office to the people in the club shop were buzzing about the forthcoming season) Last season was a season of what-if’s. “What if we had done better against this team?, what if we had beaten/drawn against this team?”. In reality, last season we were 2 points, yes 2 points off the play-offs. But that is LAST season, and we need to build on that position.

…and your fears? My fear is that the team seem to be lacking a leader. An actual battler in the centre of midfield. No offence to the midfielders that go out there week in, week out, but someone in the centre to take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it around. The captains armband has been given to Peter Thorne in recent matches, but realistically, he isn’t going to play every game.

Also, with new signings, a team takes time to gel, to work out how each other plays etc, and if it is not done quickly, this can sometimes prove costly. Pre-Season has gone well, only 1 defeat, but there still doesnt look to be any sort of leadership in the middle of the park.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? The single most important thing for City this season will be the fans getting behind the team 100%. Win or Lose. On the few occasions I managed to get to VP last season, I actually heard people Booing their own team!!

…and what or who will surprise us? I think that some of the younger players will be featuring in the squad more this season, and I think they will be the ones to look out for. Players such as Luke O’Brien, Rory Boulding, Jon McLaughlin and James Hanson. Players that have been on the fringe of the first team but have not seen regular first team action, I believe that it will be their year to shine.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can see this season being the year for us. We need to capitalise on the success we had last year. We are 3rd Favourites for promotion! Come on lads you can do it!!!

Dave Pendleton
From Bantams Past

What are your hopes? We’ll surprise ourselves and do very well.

…and your fears? That the moaners will turn on the young team – in particularly the keepers.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Stay positive.

…and what or who will surprise us? If the fans remain positive…

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I can’t shake off the feeling that we’re in for more of the same. However, trying to keep in the positive mood, a late surge grabs us the final promotion place and Valley Parade goes insane!

Luke Lockwood
Young writer

What are your hopes? I hope is that we are competetive in the league and on the last day of the season are still competing for a promotion/play off spot to keep the excitement running until the end. And I also hope we manage to finally end the curse of the cups and manage a little run with a tasty third round away draw against one of the big boys.

…and your fears? My fears are that once again we miss out on even a play off spot, the fans turn their backs on our beloved Stuart and Luke O’brien scurries off on a free transfer with us receiving no more than a small ‘compensation’ fee. Furthermore Omar Daley returns at christmas but has lost his electric pace, without which he would be a very mediocre player, and Peter Thornes ageing limbs stop him from playing regularly or finding the net.

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? Whoever takes the starting berth next to Lee Bullock in midfield. I’m not sure what we need is another Stuart but someone who can weigh in with a few goals. More of a Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, with Bully doing the ugly stuff. (Since writing Flynn has signed which seems to answer Luke’s worries)

…and what or who will surprise us? Mr.Eastwood in goal. I am unfortunate enough to live with a Town fan, who also works at club and from what I have heard Eastwood is regarded highly by our ‘friends’ down the road but they consider Smithies to be the best young keeper in the country and have just given him a 5,000 pound a week contract to fight of interest from Everton. Also Joe Colbeck, once before when everyone doubted him he went on to become player of the season. I expect him to do the same once more unfortunately due to his contract not being renewed it may result in us losing him.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? The league to me is so open this year and impossible to call. I think we will finish in the top 7 though, but miss out on the automatics. A big day out at Wembley to finish with and a sense of deja vu against Notts County!

Tom Warden
Singer/songwriter and freelance writer

What are your hopes? As they have been for the last 3 pre seasons, my hopes are to get out of the basement division, that we can avoid the traditional slump that seems to spoil every season and that we bantams might have something to celebrate after much frustration and disappointment.

…and your fears? I am afraid that we have not, as of yet (Again, Flynn’s signing came after this was written), filled that hole in the centre of midfield. It is an area where last year we were too often bullied out of games and should this happen again confidence may drop and the team may struggle. The defence and forward line look strong but it is someone to get stuck in and do the dirty work that we may be lacking, if only we could clone Stuart in his heyday…

What or who will be the most important thing for City this season? First of all, the fans. At too many times over the last few years abuse has been thrown at the players far too readily. We are supposed to be the 12th man, spurring our men on, not hurting their confidence because they put in one bad cross. By no means should we be blinkered but we should not be alienating players who can make a difference by getting on their backs. Shout until you’re hoarse and do your best to inspire, then if it goes wrong you can’t say you didn’t do your part. Secondly, whoever plays in goal. At the time of writing, we are going into the season without a recognised goalkeeper, Eastwood or McLaughlin may well step up but if they dont have what it takes, we are in trouble from the very beginning.

…and what or who will surprise us? I’m going to stick my neck out and say we’ll be surprised by the non-league boys. Hanson and Williams will be relishing the chance to play league football, especially at a club with ambitions of promotion and should be hungry to impress. Hanson’s record especially is impressive and with the improvement in quality at non-league level, making the step up is no longer the daunting prospect it once was. These guys should show the passion that has been missing in recent years.

And finally, how do you see next season ending? I see absolutely no reason why we cannot be looking at a top three finish. Injuries permitting we have a strong XI which is capable of beating any opposition in what I think will be a very open league.

League Two preview – what’s the right way to get promoted?

There was something symbolic about the transfers of Ben Davies from Shrewsbury Town to Notts County and Nicky Law from Bradford City – indirectly – to Rotherham United.

The Magpies and The Millers have taken on the mantle of possessing the division’s biggest playing budgets from The Shrews and The Bantams, coming with it the expectations of League Two domination. The balance sheets point to both County and United celebrating promotion come May, though the fact City and Town were unable to press home such advantages, while apparent lesser teams succeeded instead, should as a cautionary tale.

Typically for a division which saw four of its 24 participants the subject of points deductions last season, matters in League Two are far from clear. Just like the Premier League’s so-called big four, who have each managed to rack up huge debts despite the advantage of Champions League revenue year-on-year, the good news stories that emanated from teams who finished at the top of League Two last season were in limited supply.

Exeter and Gillingham’s elevation aside – the former stunned everyone including probably themselves by taking the third automatic promotion spot – and behind each manager’s words of praise for “a great set of lads” was a bank balance in the red. Andy Scott rightly received plenty of plaudits for leading Brentford to the title, but the growing debts acquired along the way suggest it came at a price that must surely slow progress eventually.

Then there was runners up Wycombe, a club previously well-regarded as one of the pioneering supporter-owned clubs, who changed their rules a few years ago to allow businessman Steve Hayes to loan significant money in return for running the club as managing director. Wycombe have subsequently run up a £7 million debt, owed to Hayes, by seemingly spending beyond their means. Hayes graciously agreed to write off £3 million of it in return for 100% ownership of the club, ground and training facilities. He is also the owner of London Wasps and has announced plans to build a new 20,000 capacity stadium for both clubs, moving them out of the 11,000-capacity Adams Park which neither can fill. Somehow it seems unlikely Hayes will ultimately end up out of pocket from writing off that debt.

At least Brentford and Wycombe succeeded through less-than-prudent financial planning, the same can’t be said of Darlington. While most football fans will have sympathy for a club saddled with a white elephant of a stadium which is compromising their existence, the mood locally is less charitable. As with many clubs who go into administration, like City, the local community is suffering from the Quakers’ latest spell in financial limbo. The St Johns Ambulance charity is reportededly again left out of pocket – by £2,500– while one local hotel owner claimed she could go out of business as a result of the club failing to pay money owed for accommodating loan striker Liam Hatch.

All of which leaves the question of what price promotion into League One at the end of this season is worth? While we can all cast envious glances at Meadow Lane and the Arab-based consortium now in charge, few Notts County fans will surely believe the new owners’ motivation is anything less than a healthy return for the investment within five-ten years. The media glare will fall on City’s visit to County this Saturday with Sven Goran Eriksson appointed as Director of Football, but he and County’s success will be judged by how long he holds that role. Will the new owners take the approach Man City have so far in backing the manager, or will it be more like at QPR? It’s not difficult to envisage Eriksson in the away dug out when County come to Valley Parade in January, a scenario which would suggest things weren’t going to plan. As Stuart McCall can testify, it takes time to learn what it takes to succeed in League Two.

County have made some decent summer signings, but finished 19th last season – 10 points above relegation, 22 points from the play offs and 38 points off the title. A huge improvement is needed to live up the pre-season hype and this season looks set to be more of a transitional one.

A far better shout for promotion is Rotherham. But for their 17 point deduction, the Millers would have finished fifth. Mark Robins is proving himself to be a determined and talented manager and has a great chance to bring the title to South Yorkshire. As valued as that would be for the supporters, there is still much long term work needed for a club which has been on the financial brink too often in recent years. The Don Valley stadium’s un-football friendly set up is a good home advantage to have, but a horrible place to watch football. As important as money on the playing squad is, the new owners may need to find money to build a new stadium back in Rotherham as part of the council’s plans to build a community stadium.

Two clubs expected to be in the hunt again with no such off the field concerns are Rochdale and Bury. Both were beaten in the play off semi finals, but have good managers who can ensure they bounce back from such disappointments. Bury continue to hold onto the talented Andy Bishop while Dale striker Adam Le Fondre is blossoming into the sort of striker Keith Hill’s talented side of two seasons ago lacked. Other contenders will probably include Chesterfield, now managed by John Sheridan, and Bournemouth who picked up so well at the end of last season to avoid the drop.

Newly promoted Torquay will hope to replicate their Devonshire rivals Exeter in sailing through the division, while of those who were relegated from League One last season, Cheltenham may be in the best position to bounce back. Northampton are struggling financially, while Crewe no longer appear to be the stable club others aspired to be of a few years ago. City and Shrewsbury may have had to cut budgets, but should both still be strong enough to feature in the promotion-hunting pack.

Last season’s relegation battle was something of a non-event, with points deductions allowing many to sail through a nothing season in the comfort of mid-table. It might have been a great opportunity for some of the division’s traditional strugglers to build and move away from the dangers of non-league, and some may soon be kicking themselves should they be sucked back into such trouble this season. Accrington, Macclesfield, Aldershot and Barnet all appear likely contenders to be scrapping it out at the bottom, though newly promoted Burton’s momentum from previous manager Nigel Clough may continue to slow as it did towards the end of last season, ensuring their league status is short lived.

Hoping to be free of such matters and in the safety of mid table, with more than an eye on the play offs, are Lincoln, Hereford, Colin Todd’s Darlington, Grimsby, Port Vale and Morecambe. Dagenham were close to a play off spot last season, but have lost some of their star players and may struggle to hit such heights again.

Selling players – one of the traditional ways lower league clubs thrive. With two of last season’s four promoted teams succeeding by spending beyond their means, the question of who has the largest playing budget isn’t perhaps the most applicable when predicting the division’s promotion winners. Hereford were promoted two seasons ago largely due to bringing in loan players that they could never otherwise afford, but last season spent nothing and were relegated while Stockport, who spent beyond their means and ended up in administration, stayed up.

The ones celebrating promotion next May might prove to be the ones prepared to take the biggest gambles, though the same might apply to anyone who ends the campaign with points deductions or an uncertain future.

Through the looking glass

Through the looking glass

It’s almost upon us, as always in a summer bereft of international action, the gap between end and start of season stretches out like a shimmering hot desert, the oasis of that first game still a mirage on the horizon. The Ashes wets the whistle but nothing quenches that thirst like the first roar of the home crowd, the first sight of a new team lining up, full of optimism, the first goal of the season from a man in a claret and amber (or now mainly claret) shirt.

This summer has been all about money, Manchester City offering the England Captain £250,000 to join the Eastlands revolution, Real Madrid buying up just about every sought after footballer on the planet and bizarrely, Sven-Goran Eriksson being installed as director of football (though some think he might be manager in all but name) at the newly oil-rich Notts County.

Of course for those of us not owned by rich consortia from the middle east, the opposite has been true, purse strings have been tightened, wages have been slashed and optimism is a word whispered quietly, especially around the streets of Bradford. You see, we bantams have had our fingers burned. Cast your mind back to last season, full of bluster and bravado after the signings of players with proven calibre in a level above, we played Notts County in a mirror image of this seasons first game and, it must be said, came away fairly happy with a 2-1 win. However, the tale was a cautionary one, we flew too high too fast and came down with a bump, now it is Notts County with the millstone of money around their necks and I for one, think this will aid us.

This league asks for passion and desire, with an ability to deal with the physical side of things, something maybe players such as Paul McLaren didn’t have the stomach for, in this respect I believe the signings we have made, whether they be forced upon us by circumstance or not, will be ideal for the league. Steve Williams and James Hanson have served their apprenticeships in non-league, they know the game is kick and be kicked. Non-league is no longer a footballing wasteground, the level of football has long been improving and there is no doubt that players coming from that background can step up, you only have to look at Stockport and Peterborough in recent years for examples of how buying players with a point to prove from lower levels can work.

Gareth Evans and Simon Ramsden know this league well, Evans should hopefully develop and blossom alongside the experienced finishers we have in Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne and Simon Ramsden seems to be the kind of solid, no nonsense full back Stuart has been looking to fill that gap for some time.

So come the first day of the long awaited season, when Sven looks out onto the Meadow Lane pitch and wonders what the hell he’s got himself in for, City fans, with our hearts full of pre-season optimism, should relish being the poor relation as it might just have forced our hand into getting what we wanted all along, a ticket out of this league.

The 47th game

In seven days time City will have faced Notts County in what is game one of the new season but in a rain soaked Valley Parade the Bantams seemed to have started the season early in a 3-3 draw with Carlisle United.

To suggest that the friendly between Stuart McCall’s City and a Carlisle side managed by his former midfield partner Greg Abbott was “competitive” would understate the content that saw the visitors copy their manager’s combative style and at one point boiled over into typical Abbo violence.

Richard Keogh swung for Joe Colbeck and in a proper game would have been sent off no questions asked leaving his team to play with ten men for seventy odd minutes. Keogh missed Colbeck’s square jaw just as Brandon missed with a kick at Michael Evans in the dying minutes which would also have resulted in red and followed on from the sort of tackle by Evans that littered the game. Too physical, too much, and never allowed in the season for real.

So in that way the work out for City was perfect – bad refereeing of the league season being substituted by soft pre-season officialdom and City responded to that work out well.

Another number four got a run out for the Bantams with former Luton and Hereford midfielder Stephen O’Leary wasting no time in pressing his case for a contract by finishing tidily a headed cut back by Michael Boulding who got on the end of a superb Joe Colbeck cross deep on the right.

Carlisle reacted poorly with Keogh swinging at Colbeck who spent the first half tormenting former Leeds man Ian Harte and looked distinctly second best. City’s second goal came from another Colbeck cross – a corner – which headbanded Matthew Clarke jumped for and may have connected with but landed at the feet of Peter Thorne who finished easily from close range. It was – at that stage – comprehensive.

Nevertheless twenty minutes later City were losing. Firstly Graham Kavanagh was allowed to turn on the edge of the box dropped away from the central defenders and not being picked up by the midfield – one of Stephen O’Leary and Lee Bullock should have been there – and was allowed time and space to fire in impressively from thirty yards.

Secondly the rain became torrential taking away Zesh Rehman’s legs as Joe Anyinsah played the ball to Matty Robson and was shown enough of the goal by Clarke to be tempted to shoot and duly did giving a second goal in two minutes. It was unimpressive defending and seemed to snap City right back into last season’s lower moments.

The spine of the team was found wanting, and the heart. Things went against the Bantams and the Bantams responded by sulking. It was Morecambe at Easter or Barnet away all over again and City visibly wilted.

The third goal came eight minutes later when a corner headed in by Joe Anyinsah with Simon Eastwood left flapping at the ball.

Eastwood has yet to impress and will need to communicate more with his backline to become a better keeper while his judgement at coming out to try collect this corner was curious to say the least. At the moment all he offers over Jon McLaughlin is that he is someone else.

So the black shirted Bantams trudged in at half time having been the best for thirty minutes but mostly through errors ended up losing. So far, so last season.

Nevertheless something that Stuart McCall said at half time reminded the team that they had been comfortable in the game for a long time because what one would hope is normal service was resumed with Bullock and O’Leary combining well with the attacking pair of Thorne and Boulding and Colbeck and Brandon coming inside and working the ball forward well with sudden, tight controlled football. Eastwood’s first half display may have been duplicated in the second had Carlisle mustered a shot worthy of the name in the second half but aside from a shot that flashed across the goal they threatened rarely.

City on the other hand revealed an alternative to the 442 which McCall favours with a 4231 that saw two holding midfielders in Bullock and O’Leary, Gareth Evans lead the line ahead of Colbeck, Brandon and James Hanson who lot a header today – a thing that is notable only for its infrequency such is the impressive abilities of the Idle Working Man.

Before the change in formation Michael Boulding had flashed a Peter Thorne chest down wide and Colbeck did similar following an impressive nutmegging of the referee but it was a breakaway from Evans which won a corner that when slung in the former Macclesfield man tucked away from close range despite a heavy first touch in a crowded penalty area.

Three all it finished and while Keogh would never have finished a league game and some of the tackling used the weakness of pre-season refereeing to avoid bookings and neutering giving both teams a good work out but causing worry for City.

Abbott’s side too easily bullied City – especially in that fifteen minute spell before half time – and the Bantams were not able to counter that physical play or that sudden burst of (for want of a better phrase) “wanting it” which undermined a performance that was worthy of a win.

O’Leary looked no better or no worse than other number fours we have tried but one of he or James O’Brien would seem to be about to be offered a contract this week and making a debut next but the Bantams need someone to sit in the midfield and someone to prompt and inspire in the way that McCall did when he rejoined City in ’98 galvanising a team that had lead the league in ’97 but faded into a genuine promotion side.

One would hope that City could find this type of leader from within the club – Peter Thorne seems to be captain apparent – and Zesh Rehman and Lee Bullock also hinting that they could emerge as characters but leadership is lacking and when City trudged back to the centre circle after the second and third goals there was no geeing up, no encouraging, no leadership pulling up everyone else’s game as McCall The Player did.

Brandon’s ill tempter kick certainly was not it and he needs to wear his status as City’s senior player with more conscientiousness and sobriety.

Ultimately though football is a game of balance in flux. In a match which was competitive this game was the 1st of 47th in a season that starts next week and may be no different to last with the collapse before half time so reminiscent of last year but perhaps it will be the 47th of 2008/2009 and in a week when the season kicks off City will be a team a year older, more experienced and able to drag a draw out of a game in which a lead was surrendered in contrast to last season.

One can but hope. Either way the phoney war is over and the season – nine months of elation and agony, anguish and exhilaration – starts now.

Maybe Notts County are – gulp – doing it right

One can’t imagine that a few years ago Mark Lawn imagined he would be looking forward to the start of the football season as a chance to sit a few seats away from Sven Goran Eriksson who returned to English football with Notts County as director of football but the Swede and the Shipley based business man will be but yards apart for the opening day of the season.

Much mockery of Svennis’s return to English football at a low level with one blog summing up the move saying “If the money is there, then Sven will be there.”

You struggle to recall how Sven went from the man who beat Germany 5-1 to being today but it had far too much to do with his proclivities in the bedroom and not enough to do with his inability to tackle the Steven Gerrard/Frank Lampard midfield which was great at getting to places but lost grasp when they were there. Sven came more close, more often than any other England manager to success.

So why is he watching Steve Williams – the Barber from Bamber Bridge – make his professional bow in August and not off preparing for a World Cup or at least a Premiership or Championship campaign? Public relations partly – Sven is damaged goods – but then came a thought.

Notts County are owned by men richer than nations and the assumption is that they have arrived at Meadow Lane to buy success in short order. They have signed City man Graeme Lee and former Bantam Delroy Facey to achieve this.

Sven, Graeme Lee, Delroy Facey. It would seem that they are not putting the resources into the playing squad. If signing Graeme Lee was instant promotion then City would not be facing Notts County in League Two.

It occurs – and perhaps this will be proved to be wrong – that the money of which there is lots is going to Sven and Tord Grip and going behind the scene rather than on big contracts for players the way Fulham or Wigan rose through the leagues.

Qatari tycoon Abdullah bin Saeed Al Thani fronts an investment group which owns County and as with most investment groups he no doubts looks for longer term and sustained profits. This is not Blackburn and Abdullah bin Saeed Al Thani is not Jack Walker. It is not about pride it is about building a football club to be successful in the longer term.

How long? Sven talks of the Premiership and has signed a five year contract but if at the end of that five years the ramshackled County of last season are gone and a foundation for sustained success is in place then he will have done his job. Academy football, training grounds, recruitment policies. These are the things that one would want to put in place for longer term success and these are the remit of a director of football and County have gone for a man vastly over qualified for the job at League Two level.

Perhaps the remit is to build Notts County as a Premiership club from the outside in rather than the model of getting it Premiership on the pitch and hoping the rest well follow. After all that is the way Bradford City rose and fell.

At five on the first day of the season City fans will cheer to the rafters should we win and we would be joined by the sniggering behind hands of many ready to have a pop at Sven but short term results are not (it would seem, I could be proved wrong with a glut of spending tomorrow) the aim but rather the construction of a solid, robust entity which can maintain any success it has.

Notts County – for all the money bags talk – might be doing things right.

CityCheerGate

Only nine days ago I was writing about my concerns after the game at Notts County. For those with very short memories, City lost 3-1 and a significant proportion of the 1200 ‘supporters’ began the booing and chanting of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ before half-time, when the home team had scored three goals from their only four shots (the fourth sailed miles over the bar).

Fast forward to the next away game and even more City fans turn up at Spotland. City lost 3-0; Rochdale had rather more than three shots on goal; and there was not a negative chant or a faint boo to be heard. Indeed, the fans who stayed to the final whistle – and those who left early to try to avoid the terrible traffic could almost be forgiven – carried on cheering and supporting the team and the manager in every possible way.

If a week is a long time in politics, how long is nine days in football? Don’t say ‘nine days’, please.

What has happened in that short space of time to produce a wholly different response? It couldn’t just be two home wins, could it? Not even when one of them was a 5-0 win. City’s lasst 5-0 win came under Colin Todd in the first round of the League Cup ironically at Rochdale.

My explanation for the change is three-fold. The first part is that the fans have taken to heart the words of the manager that we’re all in this together. If City are going to get promoted, the cause will not be helped by booing and the rest. I’d like to think that the fans took my words to heart from nine days ago, but I know better than that!

The second part of my explanation is that the 3,000 plus (or minus, if you’re giving the Rochdale version of the attendance) were united with the team in adversity. Most of us had suffered the ludicrous delays getting to the game that simply prove the accuracy, as well as the irony, of the chants of ‘what’s it like to see a crowd?’ I travelled from the ‘wrong’ end of the M62, but met the Bradfordians at the same motorway junction. Did you see that police traffic car undertaking us on the hard shoulder of the A627M? What contribution did he make to getting the traffic moving? I gather we may not have started the game too well – I rely on others for an account of the first few minutes – but for what I saw of the first half City were on top.

And then the team’s own adversity took over well and truly. From my seat over the assistant referee’s shoulder, neither of the penalties was a penalty. Being hit by the ball with your arms down is not within my definition of ‘deliberate’ and just because the forward falls over doesn’t necessarily mean it was a foul, ref. The assistant, who looked to have a much better view than the ref, flagged for neither. And Lee was obvious still so aggrieved after the final whistle about the elbow in his face that he showed the ref exactly how it had happened. So that’s the fans and the team – oh, and the management, since Jakes was sent to the stand – all suffering one injustice after another.

But the third part of my explanation for the absence of negativity is a reflection of something I’ve been saying all season. The boos at Notts County and the reaction at Bury followed what looked like a lack of response or effort from the players in those games. Too many times I have looked in vain for a spirited reply, of the type we always seemed to have in those glorious days when the coaching team were players. It was the spirit that kept us up one famous year. But I didn’t have to look too hard last night.

I wasn’t trying to find Radio Leeds as we battled back through the Greater Manchester traffic after the game, but I gather one articulate caller made out a case for a lack of effort. It’s a good job football (and BfB in particular) is all about opinions. It struck me that, even after the realisation that we’re all in this together and even allowing for the unity from adversity, a lack of spirit would still have been greeted unceremoniously last night. That so many disappointed fans still cheered the team off says it all for me.

So, whatever the reason or reasons may be, effort will rarely be booed, even in defeat. Every club wants to tell you how it has the best fans. At Notts County I would not have been convinced that City could make such a claim. After Rochdale, all that I’m looking for is the same support and the same effort (and a different ref). The next two away games won’t be easy, but they will be as important as Rochdale – especially if automatic promotion is to remain the prospect it should still be. I look forward to writing about two more games where the supporters have done their bit and maybe where the team’s efforts have produced a more fitting reward.

McCall looks to show the guts as City face Macclesfield at Valley Parade

Today we discuss: How much are the clubs managed like the manager?

It is often felt that a manager maketh a team in his image from the attacking entertainment of Newcastle United and Kevin Keegan to the sturdy charges of Steve Bruce at Wigan Athletic the manager’s template becomes the team’s tactics. Certainly a glance down the table suggests that that theory is enjoying prominence save the odd exception – Arsene Wengers’s players are much better than he ever was – with the likes of David Moyes creating a stocky team and Martin O’Neill a determined and able one.

This has not always been the case. Bryan Robson’s meat and potatoes Middlesbrough – and his potatoes and nothing much else City sides – were a million miles away from the most exciting midfielder in the country he was when he skippered England while the playing on his own winger that was Paul Jewell begat a side built around playing for each other.

Stuart McCall’s Bradford City team have turned in – it is widely felt – two gutless performances totally at opposite to the way the midfield terrier himself used to race around the pitch trying to kick every ball. McCall showed more passion in the last minute of a 4-0 defeat at Coventry than some of his charges did at 0-0.

It must be galling for McCall to watch players who put in less effort although few would doubt the City manager had an engine near unparalleled in the game and how McCall reacts to the realisation that his finest quality is also one of the rarest defines his relationship with the players. Unerring passer Glenn Hoddle’s famed disgust at the lack of technical skills in the England dressing room that included David Beckham led to his exclusion of the pre-iconic winger from his 1998 World Cup side but – as one of those players put it – “We can’t all be Glenn Hoddle.” It seemed the England manager had not realised that.

So Stuart McCall looks for a response for his players who were criticised last week for not taking enough responsibility for the performance and have failed to redress that balance. McCall points out – to deaf ears perhaps – that as disappointing for all that the team’s 3-1 defeat at Notts County was it was not the overwhelming that the scoreline and resultant negativity suggests. “They have only had four shots and three of them have gone in” said the City boss.

The negativity is something that has grown since this fixture – Bradford City v Macclesfield Town – opened last season and is a fact of life for a football manager. There is an old adage repeated in Syd Fields book on screenwriting where nine of ten people stopped when walking down an L.A. street and asked “How is your script coming on?” replied “Brilliant, but how did you know I was writing one?”

Blindly as football fans of any colour or stripe if they are happy with their club’s manager then perhaps it would be all but one in ten who grumbled back to you. Most football supporters talk much about the need for stability at their club but alas it always seems that there is an element who believes that that stability starts with the next manager.

A wider point on management is that it works best when allowed to enact longer term planning, a specific one is that our management has started to manifest the first improvement in demonstrative results in ten years and an even more specific point is that ludicrousness of the thought to replacing our gaffer with someone who is fairing more poorly at a club in our division.

City start two home game – two more – that promise to be season defining but ultimately success and failure in both will not guarantee nor deny promotion with Macclesfield being followed by Aldershot Town on Saturday and do so with a squad that has questions over fitness as much as attitude.

It escapes no one that since he lunged for a ball against Darlington Rhys Evans has conceded seven goals where previously he was keeping clean sheets but the goalkeeper seems to be City’s only option between the sticks and is not held liable for the goals on the whole either. The defence that was solid is not anything but and there are calls for Paul Arnison to be restored and Matthew Clarke dropped for Zesh Rehman to be put into the heart of the defence. The experiences at Luton Town suggest that three – not two – big lads to head the ball away is no bad thing and while he has performed well for most of this season the fact that this debate on who should form the back four never includes Luke O’Brien is curious. The lad has done exceptionally well since he broke into the first team but accepting the three big fellas rule then it is he or Arnison and not both.

The midfield is a problem area. It is a scant month since Nicky Law Jnr had to be acquired at all costs and now it seems he is part of a team who are not fit to wear the shirt – or so supporters sang on Saturday – and the continued use of loan players in the middle and fear that some – well, only me perhaps – had that it would make a soft centred team are realised. Not that Dean Furman, Law and Steve Jones are to shoulder all the blame for the last two results. Perhaps those three players – with the detachment that being a transient singing gives you – look at the past 180s minutes and say “Teams lose away from home, that is football, you make up for it with a couple of wins at home.”

The loss of Omar Daley and perhaps use of Chris Brandon shapes the midfield as would – if they were true – the rumours of an absence for Paul McLaren. In the never that humble opinion of this writer McLaren and Furman would be City’s best engine room with Joe Colbeck on the right and Steve Jones the left which is tantamount to admitting that until Brandon is fit we are playing with ten men – or one man hobbled – but virtue of having to play Jones on what is very obviously an uncomfortable position.

Peter Thorne – having scored his first goal in four months – is expected to be joined by Barry Conlon up front with Michael Boulding doing little to engender good will in the first half on Saturday. There is something of a debate on the need for another striker at the club which perhaps encapsulates the entire problem with City not just this last two weeks but perhaps going back years.

Players- and for that matter managers – are never given the expectation that they can and should improve but rather are aimed at to be shunted away and replaced. I don’t think that City need a new striker, I think last season’s top scorer and a guy who once cost £3m should take responsibility for playing well.

That is what Stuart McCall would have done. That is how this club should be managed like the manager.

The Passionate Customer

For me going to away games is a very different experience from the regular trips to Valley Parade – and not just because some of the away trips are shorter. Saturday’s (longer) journey to Meadow Lane gave me cause to think about one of the main differences – the fans. I choose that word ‘fans’ carefully, for reasons I shall come to in a moment.

Back at our home ground I have had the same seat in the Midland Road ever since the stand was rebuilt. Around me are many of the same faces that have always been there, albeit the younger ones are grown up now. (The forty somethings who have become fifty somethings don’t look a day older, of course.) Through all those Midland Road years no one around me has ever shouted abuse at opposition fans or started a chant that has more to do with the team we hate. I still wonder how either of those helps my team.

I wouldn’t want you to think that we sit in silence. That would be very far from the truth. We have plenty to say and, even if the comments of one regular – ‘McCall, do something!’ – are less than obviously constructive, we have plenty to say about the team’s performance, be it good or bad. I am especially fond of letting the officials know what I think of them, although I doubt that they hear me.

Away from home, those around me are a different crowd and can be vocal in an altogether dissimilar style. There were over 1,200 City fans at Meadow Lane, about 10% of those who go to home games. A fairly representative sample, you might think. For the 90% who are relying on Jason Mckeown’s match report for their knowledge of how the fans reacted to the performance, I want to add a few thoughts of my own, particularly about supporters, as contrasted with fans.

The cries of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ were loudest in that short interval between the third goal and the players leaving the field at half-time. There were other chants, some of which are not for a site like this, but the more interesting ones showed a different slant on the fans’ views of the team performance. It was ‘We want our money back’ and ‘What a waste of money’ that got me thinking.

What those latter chants showed was that the fans go to watch their team with certain expectations. On Saturday the expectations were clearly not met when the second and third goals went in before half time. Had it been Chelsea scoring those goals, that response might not have happened. But this was a mid-table fourth division side and City were supposed to be better than them, especially after the promises of improvement after Barnet.

What the fans were complaining about was not just that the team was playing badly (which was plainly true), but that they had come to expect better. They had spent their hard earned twenty pounds each (plus travel costs and the rest) not just to see a game of football and to support the team, but to see them perform well and preferably to win. The whole notion of supporting the team through thick and thin had gone out of the window. It had been replaced by the customer’s privilege to complain about the quality of the product he had paid for.

If I go to my local supermarket and buy a full priced tin of beans, only to get home and discover that there is more juice than bean, then I am well within my rights to take it back and complain. I do that because I feel I have paid for better; I have been cheated; I want some recompense from the store; and perhaps I hope for improvement in the future. But nobody would dream of calling me a supporter of the store. I am a customer.

Professional football, as must be obvious to the thoughtful observer, is a curious mixture of sport and business. The business end has taken an increasingly leading role for some years now. The Prawn Sandwich Brigade are the extreme example of this change toward the customer. But the vocal away fans at Meadow Lane are different from the Prawn Sandwich Brigade only in the way they express their desire to obtain value for money. One lot keep quiet, because they don’t care about what is happening out there on the field; the other lot do care, but in the same sense as a customer cares.

Experience suggests that constructive criticism, especially from our managers, is the best way forward. Very few professionals in any walk of life improve by being abused by their customers. Many more will react by saying ‘I don’t have to take this, even though your custom is going toward paying my wages.’ Just try shouting abuse down the phone at a call centre employee and see where it gets you. Cut off, is where it gets you and you still haven’t got your complaint resolved. And shouting abuse face to face at the customer service desk when you return your beans will get you arrested.

Now I would be the first to agree that supporting (and this time I chose that word carefully) your team is a passionate business, not to be compared with buying baked beans. But I thought we’d all agreed after BarryBooGate that support means just that. You cheer and clap the good moments, few as they might have been on Saturday, and encourage improvement in the not so good moments.

There is a story often repeated where I live about the Liverpool team that won the European Cup in 2005. They went off at half time 3-0 down and all they could hear was their own supporters still singing at the tops of their voices all the way through the interval. We all know what happened in the second half and the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerard will tell you that they couldn’t let down their own supporters.

There was a little less hostility from the away crowd in the second half on Saturday. Some of it turned to sarcasm – the olés when the opposition kept passing the ball among themselves – and some of it became quite amusing – the chants of ‘Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal’ followed by a mock celebration. Just how these changes of mood come about would no doubt be a fascinating study for some psychologist. But what would they know?

What I’m trying to find out is whether football fans, and City fans in particular, have stopped being supporters and have become customers.

Supporters can still express any view after the match, especially in this Internet age. Sometimes for the players during the match silence says it all and I have to say that’s my attitude. If I’ve nothing to cheer or encourage, I stay quiet. Lots of people back in the Midland Road adopt a similar approach. We support whenever we can; we criticise among ourselves, not directly at the players while they’re still out there and there’s still hope. Even as a passionate customer, always seeking improvement in the quality of the product, how can I expect to achieve what I’m looking for by joining in mass negativity?

I may feel it appropriate to be negative and even abusive, if I want to be a passionate customer and put the ‘customer’ part above anything else. But is that still part of being a supporter? Haven’t I stopped supporting in any meaningful sense of that word?

Significant? We’ll soon know

The impact of this dismal defeat on Bradford City’s season will ultimately be discovered during the next few weeks, although the immediate signs are far from good. The distance from the automatic promotion spots has increased furthermore and it would be optimistic to believe City can even make the play offs given the evidence presented at Meadow Lane. Hot on the heels of the Barnet debacle, a season of promise is suddenly falling apart.

This was supposed to be different. What happened at Barnet a one-off with manager Stuart McCall admirably stating he wouldn’t allow it to derail what the club is trying to do. By 3pm in Nottingham that had translated into giving all but Joe Colbeck – still struggling for fitness – the opportunity to redeem themselves. With strength in depth there should be no assumption on anyone’s part that their place in the team is secure. Sadly it appears too many aren’t paying attention to what’s over their shoulder and did nothing to repay their manager’s faith. Tuesday’s starting line up against Macclesfield will be very interesting.

City’s performance didn’t start off badly and for the opening 10 minutes there were plenty of indications the team was going to respond well to last week’s hammering. Matt Clarke headed a decent chance over and there was a crispness to the passing and movement with the recalled Lee Bullock adding some bite to midfield and Nicky Law, switched to the left-side, a threat.

Then on 11 minutes a City free kick was swung into the box, the ball was cleared to the edge of the area where Graeme Lee battled for it but lost out to a home player who then put Jamie Forrester through on the counter attack. Only Luke O’Brien seemed to be back for City and his tentative attempt to close down the former Leeds striker allowed the ball to be rolled into Jonathan Forte’s path to fire home. A worrying way to be caught out considering City were the away side.

The test was getting bigger for the Bantams, though the goal against the run of play was initially met with a resumption of attacking intent. Yet slowly the passes began to break down, the off the ball running featured less, County’s double-marking of the widemen tactic began to have a greater effect. Dean Furman flashed an effort narrowly wide and Peter Thorne might have done better after he cleverly worked some space but fired weakly past the post with Steve Jones in a better position. Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to conjure up something.

Something came at the other end instead with the impressive Forte striking again after some good close control – though the ball should have been cleared before it reached him and even then he was afforded too much time and space. A third followed just before half time through former City loanee Delroy Facey. He is best remembered for poor shooting skills and generally not caring when temporarily employed by City, a description which could be aptly applied to Jones here.

Although he certainly wasn’t the only one to display a disturbing lack of fight. Quite what has happened to the impressive defensive efforts which had seen just five goals conceded in 11 games is a deeper mystery than a niggling injury to Evans, who again did nothing wrong. Clarke and Lee were both shaky, particularly the latter who seemed to play in a trance as he often cheaply coughed-up possession and struggled to clear his line. Not a captain’s performance. O’Brien had a difficult first half and, though Zesh Rehman started his loan spell looking a class above most of his team-mates, he is worryingly sinking to their level.

In midfield Bullock and Furman are good players but did not make a cohesive partnership. A moment in the second half where they both went for the same ball summed up their disjointed influence. Thorne and Michael Boulding have forged a good partnership previously, but neither did much in possession other than lose it. Not surprisingly there was an angry reaction from the 1,200+ travelling fans with the dreaded “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” aired as the players trudged off at half time to face an equally upset Stuart.

The second half was slightly better with some players – O’Brien, Law, Furman and Thorne – restoring a degree of pride. Joe Colbeck was brought on for Boulding with Jones switched up front and there never appeared too much danger of County extending their lead. Perhaps most concerning for Stuart though was the lack of urgency and belief towards engineering an unlikely comeback. It was as though the game had been written-off and the second half was about preservation of a first team shirt for Tuesday. There were occasional good moments and Bullock and Furman did go close, but it was still largely poor.

Thorne did at least find the net with five minutes to go after good work from City’s best second half player, Colbeck. As consolations go it was pretty good too as it allowed last season’s top scorer to finally end a near four-month drought. A seventh goal in four games against the Magpies could prove significant if it leads to a return to the scoring form that his team so badly needs.

Not that Thorne, along with his team mates, could escape the angry abuse of many City fans at the final whistle with the atmosphere long-turned ugly. Passion is one thing but telling players to f*** off is a little strong no matter how deserving they were of receiving it. There was clearly a look of shock on many players’ faces as they attempted to applaud supporters. Reacting in the right manner now is going to be critical.

All season long there has been this feeling that City are going to gain promotion no matter how many soft goals they conceded and how many average performances they put in along the way. There was plenty of time to find top form and plenty of ability in the squad. Well there is no longer much time left and we cannot hope players will find their best form soon. It must happen now – and carry on.

City have not looked as less likely to gain promotion as they do right now and it has to be hoped this will be the moment the penny drops. No longer can the players think it will happen, they must make it happen. Six points from the next two home games will only be a start and they must then kick on in crucial away fixtures at Rochdale and Exeter. And then keep going.

Should that be achieved this defeat might be looked back on as significant because players would have learned some harsh lessons, got back into the promotion hunt and proved they were fit to wear the shirt. For now at least, few fans will be holding their breath.

How fragile is this life as City prepare to face Notts County

If perspective were needed on last week’s 4-1 defeat by Barnet then City did not have long to wait for it with Darlington’s unexpected fall into administration on Wednesday.

As the Bantams navel gazed the Quakers stared into the abyss counting the cost of ambitious plans and living beyond their means.

The defining sight of more football financial madness – for me at least – was Liam Hatch the on loan striker who the club could ill afford coming off the bench to try score against an injured Rhys Evans.

Evans was not to blame for the goals at Barnet but in the context of another administration it is not hard to see why City decided not to have another senior professional keeper on the bench. If that decision costs City on the field then perhaps it – and thinking like it – saves the club off it and thus it should be applauded.

Notts County turn up in financial talk often. The club that once lent Juventus a kit saw investment plans fail this week and have a murky future but as Bantam fans take a seat at Meadow Lane it is worth remembering that the yearly rent as set by the council there would pay for City at Valley Parade for just four days.

Notts struggle this season but are probably not to be troubled by relegation and the resurge of AFC Bournemouth which makes the foot of the table interesting. Last week though proves that if you think the three points are there for the taking they are almost certainly lost.

Lost too for City is Omar Daley who will probably not play again until Christmas and is a huge miss especially away from home where his pace sprung many a counter attack.. Steve Jones fills his place in the squad and sympathy for the over aggressive Darlington declines.

Jones and Joe Colbeck will take the flanks although there is some suggestion Nicky Law may go on to the wing to allow Paul McLaren to return alongside Dean Furman with the South African being considered to have come out of last week’s game with head high.

The back four seems to pick itself but Paul Arnison will hope that a shakeup would see him back at right back. The full back will probably sit out again to allow Zesh Rehman’s power to be deployed opposite Luke O’Brien and alongside Bradford City’s tribute to the Huddersfield boss Graeme and Matthew. Rhys Evans is believed to be fit enough to keep goal and kick goal kicks but the City press officer – Mr. S. McCall – is perhaps understandably keeping quiet about that.

Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne – the scurge of County with a hat-trick at Valley Parade, one at Meadow Lane and two in the first game of the season – will be paired up front. Daley’s injury and reports from the reserves on Rory Boulding suggest that Barry Conlon’s usage as third striker aside City have little pressure on the front two with Steve Jones being perhaps the only option outside the three regulars.

Such is life though living life within one’s means. City – in this week – should be celebrated for this.

Responsibility for the poor performance ends with the players

Seven days less two hours stand between the end of the Barnet game and the start of the Notts County match on Saturday that gives the Bantams the first chance to put right what so obviously went wrong on at Underhill and that week will feel like an eternity.

As far as defeats go the 4-1 reversal to a team who were struggling to stay above clubs that started with a handicap reads as damningly as it could for City’s promotion hopes although such reversals are not without precedent in good times for the Bantams. The 4-0 defeat at Coventry City’s Highfield Road in 1999/2000 hardly seemed to precede the last day escape in beating Liverpool nor did the comprehensive 3-0 defeat at home to QPR in 1998 seem to suggest that the Bantams would be playing Premiership football next season.

Nevertheless both came to pass and both with in large part down to Paul Jewell’s ability to create momentum in his teams while being able to approach games as individual and discreet events with no connection needed and no propensity to drag a bad result from one to the other. That, more than anything, is Jewell’s greatest asset as a manager and one which Stuart McCall will hope to emulate as the Bantams – well placed and we twelve games to go in League Two this year – must bury this result as deep as can be.

However in burying Barnet the players cannot be allowed to let it slip from memory. It is an object less in the hardest truth in football to maintain in these days where the media revels in telling us that wins should be assumed for some clubs.

Liverpool’s goal on Sunday – according to the BBC – “saved their blushes” against Manchester City as if the Reds need only to turn up to Anfield and the game would be won giving no credit to the opposition. Very few – perhaps only one – games played in a decades of football seasons can be considered forgone conclusions and Bradford City’s trip to Barnet was not one of them.

Players need to focus on the idea that every game must be won before it can be won. The two points dropped by Manchester United since Christmas are not Liverpool throwing a title away but rather a relentless surge from the Red Devils. Bradford City’s three wins on the spin were not the result of being paired with three clubs that were de facto worse than us – Grimsby Town, Gillingham and Wycombe are bottom, middle and top – but the result of a team reacting to the defeat at Bury and looking to do things properly, to win every game by winning the battles within the game.

Every game has to be won.

Which is in the reckoning what City failed to do and the accusation at the players doors is that they thought they could win just by turning up and any player who is not itching to put that right, who’s week in training is not all about putting that right, who is not laying in bed on a evening how they can put it right need to turn up on Saturday to try put it right.

The week should be a long time. It is a long time with a defeat like this hanging in the mind but not the air. McCall must minimise and move on. Take the lesson from the game that every minute of a game, every game of a season, needs to be battled in and that the players cannot turn up and win or worse, stand waiting for someone else in claret and amber to take the responsibility for the performance.

Once the squad is assembled and has been drilled and proved that it can play – and City are only two games gone from beating the team that dominated League Two – then the manager and coaching staff play a significant role in preparing the team mentally but ultimately no manager tells a player to put in an insipid performance, to hide from the ball, to be reactive rather than proactive in making things happen on the field.

It is easy to forget that – indeed there is much debate on it – after a week of perpetrations the manager has little control over the players once they are on the field. Kevin Keegan believed in that, it tormented Brian Clough, and on Match of the Day after a Coventry City home defeat Gordon Strachan famously intoned

We spend all week telling the players what to do and they nod their heads and tell me they have heard me but on the weekend they go and do that!

The retention and extension of Stuart McCall at Bradford City was much talked about at the end of last week and surely McCall spent days preparing his side for Barnet in the way that had seen other victories this season. Someone at City is accused of boosting the home side with the news that Rhys Evans was not fully fit but could play anyway recalling Sir Bobby Robson’s famous tunnel comment at the Cameroon to the England squad –

This lot can’t play.

Having been selected and proven in previous games as a team of quality who can perform as a team the players need to take responsibility for their own performances and the vast majority of them on Saturday would not be able to say that they did as much to win the Barnet game as they did that against Wycombe Wanderers on the Saturday before and that – not Stuart McCall or Rhys Evans or the much discussed Press Officer at Valley Parade – is why we lost.

The players have seven days to think about that.

One down…

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City. It shifts with unease for all.

City’s 2-1 win over Notts County could be the template for the season. The Bantams were worthy winners but by a yard and not a mile and at times nerves were evident in the stands and the players fell out of a rhythm they had used to control much of the game.

When in control too City looked ebullient and passed the ball around from player to player with a calm ease personified by new number four Paul McLaren who had the touch to take a second more on the ball than many other on the field and looked unhurried as he and Lee Bullock won the midfield battle for their first afternoon as a league partnership.

Last season we talked much about Stuart McCall’s attempts to find someone to play in the position and the style he still casts a long shadow over and in McLaren he has someone who can set the pace for the team and create the passing flow that the manager did ten and twenty years ago.

Yet McLaren and Bullock’s control in the game faded and City were left with a scoreline and an afternoon that was closer than the build up to the game would have suggested. On the walk to Valley Parade the atmosphere suggested that City would only need to turn up to win. This is never the case.

Every win has to be earned and this one was. The Bantams put pressure on once the game had settled into a patten and when Lee Bullock was freed past the defence by some excellent work on the right and unceremoniously bundled to the floor it was clear that City possessed the abilities that pre-season suggested and that the quality of Refereeing was not going to have increased in line with City.

As the FA start their “Respect (The Ref)” campaign they send to Valley Parade Mr Darren Drysdale of the five game ban for Dean Windass two seasons ago when the City striker shouted at him in the car park highlighting the problems of the campaign that tries to have respect given in reply to unreachableness, highhandedness and arrogance that marked today’s display and Drysdale’s interaction with Bradford City.

City’s pressure told when Paul Arnison – who enjoyed a great debut coming forward to support Omar Daley superbly – whipped a cross in for Peter Thorne to head in while running onto from inside the box leaving keeper Kevin Pilkinton flat footed and continuing his policy of filling his boots against the club he got a hat-trick against last time they were at Valley Parade.

However for all City’s slick passing County were not snuffed out with Delroy Facey – a late signing who had interested City – troublesome and Jamie Forester looking able. Quick reactions from Rhys Evans saw him sprinting off his line and clearing a ball out at the corner of the box. Evans spends most of his time as a goalkeeper shouting at his defenders and in that way he will do for me.

Also doing for me is Omar Daley who put in one of his best performances in a City shirt. He tried – and for all but a four minute sulking spell when someone had tugged his shorts succeeded in – integrating himself in the side McCall had built tracking back to match the pace of lively winger Myles Weston and unplayable when going forward.

In the first half his mazy dribbles had end points with short passes or – ten minutes from the whistle – cutting onto his left on the edge of the box and lashed a low drive which Pilkington pushed wide. Barry Conlon put the scramble from the resultant corner into the side netting and City could have had two before the break.

After the break Conlon was in his own box playing away the danger of a visiting corner to Omar Daley some thirty five yards from his own goal. Daley went forward with his ranging stride used directly to take him past player and player. A defender lashed out a tackle that Daley skipped and Peter Thorne begged for a pass when the two City players faced only one defender whom Daley took the ball around leaving him one on one and a second later flat on his back when his shot had been saved by Pilkington’s foot from point blank range.

At that point I noticed I had not taken a breath since Conlon played the ball. Exhale and watch Daley rise to his feet and I do too. To applaud. Breathless football. Brilliant football.

The corner that comes from Daley’s short is cleared by Adam Nowland high, high and bizarrely backwards to Peter Thorne in the six yard box who executes an overhead kick into the far corner of Pilkington’s goal leaving red faces for the Magpies and defender Michael Johnson screaming for the offside that would have been the case had the return not been a piece of Steve Hodge style silliness.

All of which seemed to wake up the visitors – losing is one thing but beating yourself another – and gave them the zest to attack City’s flanks having had no joy going through McLaren and Bullock and while Kyle Nix had a quieter second half than his tricksy first he and Paul Heckingbottom stood strong. The right flank was unlocked though when Arnison left too much of a gap between him and Daley and Weston beat him delivering a pass to Richard Butcher in the box who finished well.

From then an even contest. City brought on the pace of TJ Moncur for Arnison to plug the right hand side and with ten minutes to go took Conlon off – Barry’s name was sung and he was applauded by all – and brought Michael Boulding on for his debut. Boulding got free. He took the ball into the box and lashed it across goal in a way that suggested talent and hinted at tunnel vision.

The contest though was won by the solid abilities of Matthew Clarke and the ultra-impressive Graeme Lee. Clarke’s play was reminiscent of Stuart McCall’s team mate Darren Moore who City had tried to sign in the summer instead opting for the new skipper Lee who commanded the box, cleared everything out, tackled superbly and kept the back four in line. Of all the new signings it is Lee who most impressive and he who could be the foundation of a promotion bid.

It sits with a deceptive confidence this crown of would be kings on the head for Bradford City but there – for the first time is some time – is where it sits.

Bradford City vs Notts County – League Two 2008/2009 preview

The season starts – and how we love the start of the season when all are equal – with a highly fancied Bradford City taking on one of the division’s also rans or so the pundrity would tell us.

The Bantams bested County at Valley Parade 3-0 thanks to a Peter Thorne hat-trick last season and Thorne hopes to start this year in the same way. He is expected to partner Barry Conlon in the forward line as Michael Boulding returns to training from injury but is off starting the game. He will be on the bench.

Also missing from City is Chris Brandon – how close his home town club debut must be – with either Kyle Nix or Omar Daley looking at filling in on the left. Daley may be called to replace suspended Joe Colbeck on the right wing but Willy Topp has shown well on the right flank in pre-season balancing out the speedy Daley in the same way Brandon is expected to do Colbeck.

Paul McLaren will probably be partnered by Lee Bullock in the midfield. Such expectations on one player one struggles to recall.

Graeme Lee is skipper and slots in alongside either Matthew Clarke or Mark Bower with the former expected to get the nod although Stuart McCall may favour Bower against the County frontman Jamie Forrester.

Pauls Arnison and Heckingbottom are full backs in front of Rhys Evans as City look to start the season in keeping with the high expectations for the year ahead.

The rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

More revs on the road

Not for the first time since its redevelopment, it would appear the better moments of a City season are taking place away from Valley Parade.

While the two recent last gasp defeats to Bury and Rochdale empathically demonstrated that the traditional home woes are far from resolved, away from home it’s been a different story during the last five months. Although suffering a poor start to the season on the road, since the cruel last gasp defeat at Morecambe during the middle of October only one home team’s supporters, Peterborough, have been able to celebrate maximum points when Bradford City are in town.

There are no obvious reasons why City are finding the consistency on their travels that is lacking at home. The team for Saturday, while altered with TJ Moncur making his debut in place of the injured Matt Clarke and Joe Colbeck in for Kyle Nix, wasn’t any different to what Stuart McCall would have picked for a home match. City play in a similar manner of knocking the ball on the ground and, frustratingly, long that little bit too often. Performances aren’t particularly better and first half’s have been largely non-events, with chances and flowing football at a premium.

City created the three best chances during the first period at Meadow Lane with Willy Topp (twice) and Eddie Johnson going close, but County forced a lot of pressure through aerial bombardment and good wing play which tested the defence. City’s passing was often ineffective and, while Topp had a disappointing game suggesting he may not yet be suited to away games, you can only despair for him as long balls are sent in his direction which just isn’t his game to make something of.

During home games we often only back the team when they’re performing well, away from home the backing was there despite the average performance.

As the whistle was blown on an incident-less half one of the reasons for why City may be performing better away from home became clear. Any one of the other 940 visiting supporters will no doubt agree; this sort of first half showing would have been met with a chorus of boos had it occurred at Valley Parade. There probably isn’t a club in the country who wouldn’t say their supporters get behind the team better in away games, but the more positive mentality of fans at Meadow Lane compared to those around me last Saturday was a refreshing change.

Two minutes into the game a chorus of ‘Stuart, Stuart’ was sung. It isn’t that we don’t sing Stuart’s name during home games, but it’s usually only after City have taken the lead in a match and this is the difference. During home games we often only back the team when they’re performing well, away from home the backing was there despite the average performance.

That support made a notable difference in the second half at Meadow Lane. County came out with their tails up and Scott Loach made a superb save to keep the scores level. The pressure was building but, rather than complain, the level of chanting in our end increased. You could see the impact it had on the players, who began to plan better and attack with purpose. It therefore was a surprise when Ryan Jarvis suddenly put County in front following a mistake by the other impressive Moncur.

Did the booing start? The positive support continued while, on the touchline, Stuart made an inspired tactical switch by bringing on Alex Rhodes for Topp and moving Omar Daley up front with Peter Thorne. Rhodes suffered a bad injury before Christmas and has since found his path to the first team blocked by in-form players, so the winger was keen to make up for lost time and began to stretch County and charge at the fullback. The tide was turning.

Within four minutes of going behind City were level, once again through Throne. Ironically it was Moncur, with a long pass, who set up the chance. Thorne beautifully controlled the ball before unleashing a fierce drive into the bottom corner of the goal. That’s eight goals in ten games for Thorne. Like his predecessor of the number 10 shirt, Thorne’s goals have been occurring more at home than away; but give him a decent chance and the odds are the in-form striker will take it. At this level Thorne, now free from those niggling injuries, is a class act. His deal expires in the summer and hopefully talks will soon be held regarding a new one, before somebody else snaps him up.

Soon after Thorne’s effort, City were celebrating again as Colbeck latched onto a loose ball rolling across the penalty area and expertly fired it home, though this was only half the story of his contribution. A few seconds earlier a City corner had sailed over everyone and was heading to the far corner where the County full back had time to clear, but Colbeck’s quick thinking in closing him down forced a weak clearance to fall straight to Daley. The Jamaican sprayed a great ball over to Rhodes, who charged to the byline before been tackled, forcing the ball into Colbeck’s path.

This was Colbeck’s fourth career goal for City and it’s notable they have all come away from Valley Parade. During home games Colbeck is often a victim of crowd abuse which notably gets to him, but some of his away performances have been brilliant and he was probably City’s man of the match at Meadow Lane.

With City now in front, it was the home player’s whose heads were dropping. There were no chants from the County fans willing their team onto a fight back, showing our problems at Valley Parade are far from unique, and a third quickly followed after Daley played Rhodes through to notch his first City goal with a low finish.

There could have been more; Daley’s superb curling shot from distance was tipped wide by Russell Hoult and Colbeck superbly won possession and laid on a chance for Thorne, only for Hoult to just reach the ball first. Loach was also forced into another spectacular late double save and it was nice, after the previous two games, for there to be no late drama going against City. By the end City were well in control and special mentions must be made for Eddie Johnson and Lee Bullock, who both did really well in winning the midfield battle and setting up chances, and David Wetherall who was back on form.

Just like Nicky Law and Colin Todd before him, it appears as though Stuart is getting an improvement from City on their travels before getting the home form right. With two games at Valley Parade this coming week, the hope is this win will be the perfect platform which City can build on. Neither Rotherham or Dagenham are going to be pushovers, but the aim has to be for City to be sitting in the top half of the table by 5pm Saturday.

There are no guarantees the backing from fans will be positive if things start off badly, so the players need to demonstrate they have the mental ability to handle the pressure of playing for the best supported club in the division and carry on where they left off at Meadow Lane.

City seem able to through the gears and rev it up on the road, let’s hope the engine’s still purring when it’s back at home.

Pistol Pete Shoots Down County

City continued their great start to 2008 with this convincing victory against lowly Notts County.

This was a home team display that has been unseen by the Valley Parade crowd in many, many years, but this performance aspires confidence that City are on the right track.

Matt Clarke was once again in dominant form, putting opposing striker Hector Sam in his pocket from first minute to last. This type of performance has been typical of the lanky defender in recent months – indeed he is fast becoming City’s best, and most consistent player – nothing less than he deserves after waiting patiently for an extended run in the side.

Bradford started the game in a confident mood, winning numerous corners and threatening the County goal. There were one or two edgy moments in the first half defensively, but it quickly became apparent that County did not offer much going forward.

When City got their noses in front midway through the first half, the result was never really in much doubt. David Wetherall and Lee Bullock both did brilliantly to keep the ball alive from a set play, and Peter Thorne was on hand to tap in from 8 yards in predatory fashion. City have had a tendancy to not make territorial advantage convert to goals at home this season, ala Darlington and Wycombe, and there was a really sense of relief that Thorne had broken the deadline before half time with his close range finish.

The first ten minutes of the second half were slightly edgy, as County offered a few more ideas in attack, and City stood off. But that pressure was certainly not typical of the rest of the match, as County seemed to massively lack confidence that they could score, and they most certainly lacked ability throughout the side.

When Thorne crashed home a sweet second from an Evans corner on the volley, the game was over.

And the script was written for Thorne to round off his excellent display by finishing off his hattrick with aplomb. He was played in on the break by Colbeck on the right, and Thorne confidently buried the ball in the bottom corner of the keepers near post. It was a fitting end to the game for Thorne – who is most certainly showing signs of the form he promised, and his ability being a cut and class above this level. We have seen him excellently hold the ball up, and play some nice passes in bringing others into play with his back to goal, and now he is delivering the goals to go with his excellent all round play.

And Thorne’s excellent display was mirrored by the rest of the team. Omar Daley showed some exciting bursts forward and crucially battled away defensively in a way that was reminiscent of Jamie Lawrence in his Valley Parade heyday. Darren Williams is looking assured at right back, and veteran’s Wetherall and Heckingbottom seem to be delivering performances of late that represent a solid defensive unit.

Barry Conlon’s performances create much debate within the City support and it is clear to see why. He is absolutely woeful in front of goal – to non league standards, and that form continued in this game. But, he does bring something to the team, and seems to compliment Thorne quite well, as he can control the ball when it is played up to him. His willingness to battle has endeared him to some of the City support, but surely a striker that finishes as poorly as Conlon cannot be part of a successful team? That aspect is for Mr McCall to debate. I ,for one, would have been interested to see Willy Topp partnered with Thorne up front for the last 20 minutes against County, with the game all but won.

And so, to the rest of the season. Team displays like this create confidence. And now that we seem to have settled into this division, the length of a run we can go on between now and the end of the season will determine whether we can challenge or not. Our early season woes may have cost us, but collecting a number of wins on the bounce will certainly give us a chance – and more importantly, hope , that the season may not be over for us just yet.

The future is Ginger, Claret and Amber

Lied to us, smokescreen, disgraceful – some of the more polite terms used by a minority of City fans in the build up to Saturday’s game with Notts County. The reasons for their anger include an apparent lack of transfer activity in the January window and a belief that City have given up on the season already.

There’s a long way to go, both for the current transfer window and the season, but already some of our more excitable supporters are calling for heads to roll. Apparently Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn are lying to us supporters and Stuart isn’t much better. There are demands from some supporters for a fans forum so these people can express their anger face to face.

All of this was before City demolished a poor Notts County team to record their biggest home win since April 2005. There’s a feeling of frustration from a section of support about the way this season is turning out, but you wish that those who complain so quickly and readily would think a bit more before directing their abuse at individuals who deserve better. After all, are things really that bad at Valley Parade at the moment?

For the first time in years we are debt free and this means there is some money to spend on new players, although who we need to bring in is a matter of debate. Expectations have been raised following comments made by Mark Lawn on 23 October about bringing in players who have been at City before and proved popular with fans. Crucially he said that he wanted to bring these players in, rather than saying deals were already lined up. Yet over the last few months these comments have been exaggerated so that they now look like broken promises.

Whether any former City players do arrive before the window shuts remains to be seen, but it hasn’t stopped some fans already slagging off our joint-chairman. Who these former players are and whether Stuart wants them is another question. Some fans are calling for Nathan Doyle to return, for example, but with Darren Williams enjoying a good season and a limited budget available, is a right back a priority?

It may only be one game, but looking at the team that comprehensively demolished Notts County on Saturday left me wondering just how desperate we are for new signings. All over the pitch City were too good against an admittedly weak side, perhaps the worst team to play at Valley Parade so far this season. Right from kick off we took the game to the visitors and carved out some decent opportunities. Omar Daley might have had a hat trick inside the opening half hour with only the heroics of County goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington keeping the score level.

The breakthrough arrived 10 minutes before half time from a scrambled corner. Matt Clarke headed Paul Evans’ delivery goalwards only for it to be cleared off the line. Lee Bullock, making his home debut, headed the ball back into the danger area and Peter Thorne tapped home. Barry Conlon, impressing alongside Thorne up front, might have got a second when put through on goal just before the break, but a combination of a weak effort and good goalkeeping denied the Irish striker. A standing ovation was the least the players deserved at the break.

A second goal was always going to be enough to kill off the game and duly arrived early in the second half. Again Paul Evans was behind the goal with a clever corner move. His low cross was met by Thorne just inside the area and his low shot flew into the bottom far corner. Joe Colbeck, Evans and Conlon had other opportunities before Thorne hit a sweet third from the edge of the box after been cleverly set up by Colbeck.

That was how the win came about, but the efforts of all the players involved deserve huge credit. Defensively we were strong and are reaping the benefits from a settled defensive line. In Clarke and Wetherall have two strong competitors in the centre. Clarke was probably my man of the match and, apart from one mistake just after half time, he won everything against a tricky opponent in Hector Sam. His performance brought back memories of Darren Moore for me and Stuart would be well advised to offer him a new contract before it runs out in the summer.

Up front Conlon and Thorne are showing signs of forging a fruitful partnership. Conlon is capable of being terrific and woeful, usually within the space of a few seconds! Yet his hold up play and battling qualities are making a real difference and winning over supporters. Barry needs to continue showing this consistency over a number of games. He’s never going to score a hatful and his finishing can be woeful. I do fear he will one day miss a really easy chance in a crucial game for us, but for now Conlon is a worthy name on the teamsheet.

Now fully fit and enjoying a run of games, Thorne is looking an excellent player at this level. A hat trick certainly won’t harm his confidence and he is on track to be the first City player, other than Dean Windass, to reach double figures in a season since Andy Gray and Claus Jorgenson in 2002/03. With Willy Topp an unused substitute and Stuart believing Daley’s best position to be striker, another forward is unlikely to be on Stuart’s January shopping list.

Midfield was perhaps not at its best, though recent signing Bullock is a decent addition if not quite hitting the heights of his performance at Accrington. Evans received plenty of criticism and his passing was at times awry. Yet he had a hand in all three goals and his quality, when he gets it right, is invaluable. Eddie Johnson will soon be available again leaving Stuart with plenty of choice in the middle. The two wingers, Colbeck and Daley, were quiet on occasions, but both contributed to the easy win.

And that’s the encouraging thing at this moment. For all the talk of needing new faces, the efforts of the current players is very high. There’s no slackers and under achievers, currently in the team anyway. Listening to the comments of Thorne on the radio after the game, and January signings Bullock and Paul Heckingbottom, reveal there is a strong desire for our squad of players to perform and be successful for this club. There may be failings at times, but effort is not among them. Daley spent the first half of the season thinking he was above tracking back and defending, but now works as hard as anyone.

Had the season begun on November 6 City would currently be 11th in the division, four points off the play offs with two games in hand. It shows that the efforts of the players since that important win over Chester have been much improved and what possibilities there could be for City had they not underperformed so badly in September/October.

Things may now be slowly coming together for City and, while a couple of new signings would be nice before the window shuts, there is no need to consider the current situation a disgrace and demand changes at the top. With 12,500 season ticket holders, the end to bad debts and return of Stuart, something very special began during the summer. Belatedly, it now looks as though it’s beginning to extend onto the pitch.

League Two (since 6.11.07)
(P GD PTS)
1 MK Dons 12 13 28
2 Rotherham 11 12 25
3 Morecambe 11 7 24
4 Stockport 12 9 23
5 Hereford 10 5 21
6 Wycombe 12 3 21
7 Grimsby Town 12 2 22
8 Rochdale 10 6 20
9 Darlington 9 17 19
10 Chesterfield 11 4 19
11 Bradford City 10 7 18
12 Shrewsbury 12 6 18
13 Peterborough 11 3 18
14 Brentford 12 -6 16
15 Accrington 12 -8 14
16 Lincoln City 12 -5 13
17 Macclesfield 12 -7 12
18 Barnet 12 -9 9
19 Chester City 11 -8 8
20 Dagenham & Red 11 -9 8
21 Mansfield Town 10 -8 7
22 Notts County 11 -8 6
23 Wrexham 12 -13 6
24 Bury 10 -9 4

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