Come / Grayson / Go

Simon Grayson came and went from Bradford City so quickly that one might excuse him making few friends.

The manager was hired after Stuart McCall was sacked – and no one liked that – with a brief of turning around a slump which saw McCall’s team go from inconsistent play-off contenders to very consistent team heading for a middle of the league finish which would be finalised in May 2018.

Grayson failed in this. He failed for many reasons.

The squad had been split following one of the more serious disciplinary issues that a dressing room can face in January which McCall was ill-placed – and perhaps ill-equiped – to to counter. McCall was everyone’s friend but you cannot be everyone’s friend when sides have been taken.

The manager who can claim to have been promoted four times from League One seemed have enough of a grasp of a game to see what was going wrong both with that squad and during games and some of the time he could do something about that but not often enough to make a difference.

The chairman Edin Rahic had the finger pointed at him as the reason for Grayson’s failure. He has not paid Charlie Wyke a bonus that Wyke was due in the haste when Wyke had wanted it, or so we were told, and because of that Wyke and his fellow squad mates had effectively stopped playing.

How that story reflects worse on Rahic than Wyke I do not know but Rahic has become persona non grata at Valley Parade. He is autocratic they say, and he interferes. The same was said about Geoffrey Richmond of course and one suspects that Rahic would enjoy the same regard were the club to have the same success. Everything in football is seen though a lens of results on the field.

So the squad that was in the play-offs for eighteen months under Stuart McCall went to scoring a third of a point a game and Simon Grayson was on hand to say why.

It was not good enough.

Budget

A bad workman, the adage says, blames his tools. Grayson blamed McCall’s tools but – sensibly given the fact that Our Stuart was able to do far better with them than Their Simon – not because they were poorly assembled but because they were not costly enough.

A club like Bradford City – Grayson said – needs to put is resources into the First Team. One assumes that Simon said that to Edin, and Edin said to Simon that he and Stefan Rupp have a plan to develop young players, and to turnaround Academy released players and the two parties did not meet, or perhaps meet again.

The offer to the manager of Bradford City seems to be that you will get a budget to spend on the first team squad of between £2m and £2.25m and access to – and the obligation to work with – a development set up which one might guess costs the better part of £500,000 to support. That is money paying for squads with coaches who are paid to bring those squads on, who develop those players.

You get Tyrell Robinson, Reece Staunton, Josef Hefele, and George Skyes-Kenworthy and you get at least a half a dozen other players to consider. If you are a football manager you might find that attractive – raw talent and all – or you might also think that you’d rather that money is spent a contract for a senior professional or two.

If it is the latter then you would probably not be the man for Bradford City. And not just today.

Unpleasing

If there is not something that strikes you as unpleasant about the above sentences there should be.

Simon Grayson could not get the same performances out of the team that Stuart McCall could and, because of that, he wanted the dozen or so coaches at the club to be put out of work and the kids that they are coaching to be told to find a new club.

That is what focusing all your budget on the first team is. It is closing down anything that is not the first team. It happened under Phil Parkinson when the Reserve Team closed down and the path from promising youngster to first team member for Oli McBurnie was a broken path.

If you can imagine a Bradford City in the 1980s that did not bother with Stuart McCall, John Hendrie, or Greg Abbott then you can do what I cannot. A football club without the optimism that comes with player development is not really a football club I recognise. It is an artificial thing, a constructed thing, and gives up something too precious to be lost.

Simon Grayson wants to go down that route, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp do not, and so it seems like a good thing that there has been a parting of the ways.

Nahki / Armstrong

And so the rumours continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

my years of football have convinced me of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The number of psychopaths watching Bradford City and the impact that has on football supporting

150 psychopaths

If I told you that somewhere in Bradford 150 psychopaths would be getting together you’d probably only want to know where that get together was so you could avoid going at all cost but I am going to tell you that and you are going to go to that get together.

Medulla Oblongata

The word “psychopath” has been mangled by popular culture.

When we use the word we mean a kind of a mad axe-murder set apart from society. Alfred Hitchcock, Thomas Harris, and Bret Easton Ellis have given us the timid psychopath, the charming psychopath and the slick psychopath underlining the fact that psychopaths can come in many forms but the word is always linked in our minds to murder.

This is a problem for people who study “psychopathy” because the personality disorder itself was not medically defined as being linked to violence. Some psychopathy researchers used the term “sociopath” to try get around the horrific connotations. In the precise world of medical research licence is given for the terms to be used interchangeably.

It is thought that psychopathy is caused by a misfiring in the brain so the unconditioned fear stimulus in the medulla oblongata does not work in some people as it does in what we call “normal” people.

Because of this they lack the ability to comprehend how other people have fear, and so in some cases they think that other people’s emotional states are a facade. They cannot feel what it is like to be someone else, because they cannot feel or at least a large amount of feeling is not open to them.

Most people do not understand the ramifications of that (including myself) until they are spelled out.

A psychopath has no empathy. They don’t feel bad about bad things they do.

How to find out if you are a psychopath?

According to author and Harvard lecturer Martha Stout you are not a psychopath if you have enough sense of your feelings to ask if you are one.

So worry not, dear reader.

Stout’s book The Sociopath Next Door postulates that one in a hundred of the general population is a sociopath and that the condition is much more common than we give it credit for.

Stout’s research presents us with the sociopath as a mimic and as a Little Hitler. They try to copy other people’s emotions to fit in with society not because of a need to join society but to try exploit society to control their part of it.

If by now you are thinking that you know a half a dozen psychopaths then you are not alone and owe it to yourself to read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. Ronson learns how to spot psychopaths from the man who wrote the checklist that defines what psychopathy is: Robert Hare. The list is the PCL-R and when answering the twenty questions on it one can spot a psychopath.

And when Bradford City play Shrewsbury in the first game of next season we can expect a crowd of around fifteen thousand people you will have plenty of practice because – as I promised and as Stout suggests – you will willingly get together with around 150 psychopaths.

Why Mark Lawn is not a psychopath

The ability to empathise is what stops people from doing all manner of things.

It is what stops you cutting queues in traffic understanding how angry people cutting queues in traffics makes you. Its what stops you from cutting the throat of someone who does cut a queue because not only can you imagine how horrible murder is, you always imagine how bad the family would feel, and how bad prison would feel for you, and you going to prison would effect for your family.

Of course if you do not feel empathy you might cut the queue. In fact having no empathy allows you to cut all sorts of things. Like jobs. Being good in business is about making hard decisions – or so the cliche goes – but decisions like who to put out of work are far easier if the person making the decision does not think about the emotional effects on the person out of work, on their family, on their community.

In fact a lot of the business cliches are about removing emotion from the world of work. “Leave it at home”, “Don’t bring it to the Office” and so on. You can hear phrases like this banded about every office and not by the percentage of people who are psychopaths but by many people. The workplace in this sense he been shaped to lack empathy by people who have no empathy.

Stout and her peers suggest that the business world has been remodelled around the most successful people in the business world and that the most successful people in the business world are psychopaths.

The higher up in business one gets – Stout et al say – the more instances of sociopathic behaviour one finds. At higher levels rather than one in a hundred people being a psychopath, one in twenty-five are.

This is not, oh cynical reader, building up to a claim that Mark Lawn is a psychopath.

In fact his obvious emotional outpourings on TV and in interview, his emotional attachment to the club which struggles for most of his life, and many, many other things would see him score low on the PCL-R.

I’m not entirely sure that the same could be said for everyone who has been in the Bradford City boardroom though and Stout’s findings would suggest that it is absolutely not the case and that at some point presently, or past, on of the people inserting a control on Bradford City is a psychopath.

The same is true about Prime Ministers and Presidents. The higher up you go the more the prevalence of psychopaths. Obviously some have held the top jobs. Christopher Hitchens stated that Henry Kissinger – who he charged with responsibility for the massively destructive Vietnam war – had “the mind and record of a psychopath.”

Robert Hare and others are of the belief – and I paraphrase – that psychopathy is what makes the world go round.

Deep breath, and back to football

Football is a microcosm of the world. If it happens in the world it happens in football and so if we are prepared to consider the suggestion that psychopathy is the driving force in the world it stands that we should consider if it is the driving force in football, and, in football support.

The game itself is governed by a set of practical laws and punishments. The reason to not handle a ball is not because it will make the other team feel bad, it is because the punishment will follow in short order. I’m sure that there is something to be said for the role of psychopathy in creating determination in players but it is beyond my (limited) understandings.

Off the field though what are we to make of football’s level of empathy? Very obviously not much. The FA accuse FIFA of acting badly while in turn being accused of only acting for The Premier League who propose ideas which seem massively out of step with the Football League and on and on downwards.

But Hare et al have an approach which says that structures like these are shaped by people – the people in them – and as such a question like “Are Manchester City a psychopath?” is wrongly phrased.

I think that a lot of – but not all – people at boardroom level are exonerated too. I am certain that there are people working at and owing football clubs who would score highly on the PCL-R but only because they are the product of a merger between the corporate world and the world of football support. So perhaps it is worth looking at the world of football support to see how it is shaped by psychopathy.

Where is the psychopathy in football?

The first thing to point out is that the PCL-R is a nuanced tool and that it is not applicable to entire subcultures in any other way than to look at specific people within that subculture. I’m not about to declare that football support is a psychopath.

What I wonder though is is football support (inside and outside of the structures of the game) shaped by psychopathy in the way that Stout et al suggests business is? If we look at the PCL-R do we recognise the traits we see in football supporters beyond the 150 psychopaths at a Bradford City game.

Some of the traits on the list we strike off immediately as not being knowable: Sexual promiscuity (point eleven) and the tendency to many short-term marital relationships (point thirteen) for example.

Others leap from the page at us. Who could not say of the modern football supporter that they do not display a need for stimulation. This is the third point on Hare’s PCL-R and one only need to think about the 24 Hour Sky Sports News or the relentless monitoring of players on Twitter to underline how football support seems to need that constant stimulation.

Points two and thirteen on the list are “grandiose estimation of self” and “lack of realistic long-term goals” which are a given in football. It is rare that there is not a football supporter who genuinely believes that his club is different and by different we mean better than others and often the thing that stops that being better is that the people running the club are seem to be holding it back and if only they would do differently then the long term future would be glorious.

Others one may make a case for. Over a third of football clubs have been in some form of administration over the last twenty years but rare is the supporter who takes responsibility for their role (often a minor one as a supporter) in cheering the signing of a Benito Carbone or a Seth Johnson which led to financial problems. This could be point sixteen: failure to accept responsibility for own actions if one wanted to make the case.

I could carry on mapping on the traits the PCL-R covers to the world of football but to do so would be to labour the point, and to take empathisis away from the disproprtionality that psychopaths represent.

Me. I like a laugh, me

Last season, after the Doncaster Rovers defeat, Oli McBurnie and Aaron McLean shared a joke on Twitter. If you missed this moment do not be surprised. Of the things that matter most it could hardly be more remote but it was the cause for some complaints. The two players, strikers for a team which was then struggling, should have been focusing more on scoring and less on joking was the inference as if the one took away from the other.

It is asinine even to mention it were it not for the reaction. Most ignored the joke and the follow up, other responded with utter indifference if they did note it, but a few felt it worthy of their input (point three, need for stimulation) and decided to challenge the players (point fourteen, impulsivity. Point ten, poor behavioral controls.) because they should not be larking around (point eight, lack of empathy) when something so important as a defeat had occurred (point two, grandiose estimation of self).

The thousands of people who did nothing, or did not care, or did care but did nothing are not noticed next to very few (two or three) who did showing the traits. So these traits, these traits that are part of psychopathy, frame our the world of football supporting.

As football supporters we are always being defined by the combination of psychopathic traits because they are present in a few of us but not in all of us. And of course it is dangerous to sit with a checklist like the PCL-R and looking at isolated actions declare that they are the actions of psychopaths. Ronson details how becoming a Psychopath spotter power crazes him and he is right. Once you start studying the PCL-R you start seeing psychopaths everywhere.

Aaron McLean and Oli McBurnie might seem like a storm in a teacup but nothing in the the psychopathic tendency talks about the size and impact of the actions. I’m not saying that anyone involved in that is (or is not) the sort of person who would score high on the PSL-R but many people might conclude that – for example – the people who tell Jessica Ennis they hope she is raped would score highly.

Abuse on Twitter stops players communicating through Twitter. Racist chanting by a hundred people can have a whole stadium closed down. One person can throw something in a town centre on a Saturday and we are all branded hooligans. When we are branded hooligans we are policed accordingly by a Police Force which – logically – is run by a number of people who are psychopaths.

This might sound needlessly pessimistic but I went to football in the 1980s and I stood behind fences, and I was pushed into pens, and I was marched through streets by armoured Police. The people who decided that that was the way to treat a teenage boy who had not committed, nor wanted to commit, an offence seem to convict themselves of lacking empathy and you only need to look at the massive high level cover up that followed the result of that style of Policing at Hillsborough to see lack of remorse or guilt, and the Failure to accept responsibility for own actions.

Let me be clear what I’m not saying here. I am not saying that Hillsborough was caused by mass-murdering psychopaths. I am saying that it was caused (and covered up) by institutions like South Yorkshire Police, The Sun Newspaper and the Thatcher Government which had been in turn shaped by people who would have scored high on the PCL-R.

This is hard for people to accept or understand – and of course it is a contention rather than a statement – but that is because if you are part of the 99% who have empathy you assume that everyone else has it and when you assume that you assume everyone else has the same operational controls as you.

Hare’s work suggests they do not.

So now then

What is to be done? Football is a part of a world and the world is shaped by the traits of psychopathy.

As the Internet opened up communication channels a number of maxims started to fall away from media industries. It was said in newspapers previously that one letter represented a hundred dissatisfied readers but now all hundred readers can tweet furiously and so it has become safer to suggest that one unhappy person represents one person.

Perhaps even that is inadequate. Perhaps knowing the destructive nature of psychopathy we should seek to make sure it is under represented? That we should try exclude the voice from discussion because the voice is in its nature destructive. All domains of expertise exclude destructive voices. Is the psychopaths insight into the community of football support any more valid than his input into any other part of society?

I have trouble with that path of reason and where it ends up but I have similar trouble with how any of the communities I am in is defined by its extreme and destructive elements just as we all have trouble with the idea of those 150 psychopaths at Bradford City vs Shrewsbury Town.

Another week passes and there is another story of how football supporters have behaved in a way that I do not feel reflects football supporters as I know them and this story repeated in an echo chamber by media which has a section which is determined to misrepresent what has happened leading to attacks by politicians who seem to lack empathy and are playing to a different constituency and all the time this is exploited for sales by businesses who only can look at their bottom line.

I end up remembering John Yossarian‘s comment in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 when asked what would happen if everyone felt like him and did not want to fly bombing runs just because the enemy he had never met wanted to kill him, and so did not want to fight in the war.

“Well I’d certainly be a damn fool to think any other way wouldn’t I?”


I heartily recommend reading Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test.

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

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Gary Liddle, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Tony McMahon, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Matty Dolan

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.

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

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

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

That is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

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

I do flipping love Oli McBurnie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m getting old.

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

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

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

The worst player on the pitch

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Kyle Bennett, Gary Jones, Matty Dolan, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Garry Thompson, Oli McBurnie, Mark Yeates

It is decision time for Phil Parkinson as he tries to decide how he will approach next season in League One for Bradford City and what Parkinson does in the next five games will set the tone for next season as surely as Garry Thompson’s blast against Burton Albion in the play-off first leg last season did for this.

Two of those five games are at Valley Parade and that will suit Parkinson fine. Once again Parkinson picked a team to nullify a side and in doing that it seemed he created more problems than he solved. Oldham’s midfield three of James Wesolowski, Korey Smith and Danny Philliskirk did not seem to possess enough to trouble the Bantams yet Gary Jones and Matty Dolan were detailed with stopping Wesolowski and Philliskirk while Jon Stead ended up spending the first half an hour making sure Smith did not create much.

In terms of tactical bargains it is another display of underweaned ambition but last week at Leyton Orient the plan worked well. For all its lack of ambition it may have proved fruitful today but Dolan stopped his job of tracking Wesolowski as Wesolowski went into the area to finish a Jonson Clarke-Harris knock down.

He was not the worst player on the pitch but Dolan added very little to the City cause being neither the defensive break up man which has been lacking in a team without last season’s Nathan Doyle nor especially adapt at going forward although his ball that played in Adam Reach to score City’s equaliser was impressive.

The Bantams had left the 4411 which seemed to directly counter Lee Johnson’s side’s 433 for a flat four at the back, two midfielders behind a row of three supporting the one up front. As fluid as this left the attacking side of City’s game it exposed the backline and City ended up with six players defending all having taken up a man watching Oldham attack with seven.

It was a nice bit of play followed by a powerful finish for Clarke-Harris but Parkinson knows that having four players up field watching an attack is just going to see your team getting beaten. At half time, walking in having nullified, then unbalanced his City team Parkinson probably though that the worst player on the field was probably in the dugout.

And so City reverted to a 442 which pressed onto an Oldham Athletic team but never looked like making a fist of things. There has been a worry that than Bantams lacked a level of commitment and that was manifest today in a performance by Kyle Bennett which fell below the acceptable standard for a player on loan leading me to conclude that the best course of action would be to tell Doncaster Rovers to expect Bennett back in South Yorkshire on Monday.

It was seen when Adam Reach came forward and looked for Bennett ahead of him only to see Bennett hell bent on hiding behind a defender. It was seen in Bennett shoveling the ball off rather than taking responsibility for performance and worst it was seen in the moment when he allowed Jonathan Grounds to take a ball he was favourite for in a City attack and then within five seconds the ball was in City’s goal and as Clarke-Harris took the applause the game was all but over.

I will never criticise a player for getting it wrong, for playing the wrong pass, for missing the goal but for constantly and consistently failing to apply the effort needed culminating in a situation where the Bantams were playing with a liability then I reserve the right to be honest and unmerciful. Playing Kyle Bennett is City wasting playing time as a resource.

I’d rather see Oli McBurnie or Jack Stockdill in the team. McBurnie put his head in where it hurt to get a chance for Mark Yeates to hit the post with and Gray Jones to finish in the last minute of injury time. I’d rather see Garry Thompson in the team. I recall reading that Thompson was the worst player on the pitch in games I thought he played well in and the attempt to replace Thompson has failed.

In fact much of Parkinson’s time now is taken up with looking at how judgement on the quality needed for League One has been wrong. From Jason Kennedy to Bennett there is much to suggest that Parkinson needs to find a better quality of recruit.

Right now he is bringing in players who are the worst player on the pitch.

Things that happened to me when I was on loan at Bradford City

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Matthew Bates | Kyle Bennett, Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Ricky Ravenhill, Oli McBurnie

Kyle Bennett’s Bradford City debut lasted 24 minutes and for a few of them he looked interesting coming in off the right flank, getting involved in play behind the two forwards, but it was a tackle he put in on Neil Kilkenny which saw Kilkenny kick back at him and Bennett slap Kilkenny that he will be remembered for.

The red cards – both players were sent off – were deserved but the result was a game left without a pattern.

Addition:
The footage of this incident suggests that the red cards were harsh and certainly Kilkenny has some questions to answer about his reactions but Bennett is clearly not going for the ball with his hands and is – in that way – the architect of his own sending off.

Promotion hopefuls and powerful defensive unit Preston North End started better but by first half ended had been pushed back to defending. Playing an hour with ten men Preston were happy to try sneak a win by feeding forward Joe Garner. City struggled to set a pattern of play when Preston sat back.

The Lillywhites were as well drilled a side as any who have come to Valley Parade this season. Both teams saw the benefits of a draw. A draw seemed inevitable even when victories for Phil Parkinson are scarce. The onus was on not losing.

Parkinson’s side’s posture was aided by the return of Andrew Davies who stepped back into the team and immediately impressed with a controlled performance in a calm defence.

Davies arrived on loan at Bradford City two and a half years ago with the club in the bottom two of League Two and ended up staying. He was the best defender in League Two and certainly is amongst the best in League One. That is what happened to Andrew Davies when he came to Bradford City on loan.

Davies was calm and so were Rory McArdle and Jon McLaughlin alongside him despite both making mistakes. McLaughlin pushed a ball wide he could have taken but did not sulk. McArdle put mistake upon mistake giving the ball away sloppily twice but his was not composure lost. Both can mark that as personal and collective progress.

City struggled to press the game. Without Bennett the width in midfield was lost. Also on his debut Adam Reach ended up drifting from position to position occasionally looking useful but often looking lost for a place to settle in. Within an hour of his first game at Valley Parade he found every eye in the stadium looking to him to provide inspiration which was lacking all evening.

City lacked confidence going forward and have for some time.

James Hanson toils but is now targeted by big defenders who make it their business to stop him doing his. Aaron McLean looks to have the strength to hold up the ball and bring other players in but again without Bennett or width he lacked targets to do that. Oli McBurnie did well when he came on but as with Wells before him in the last three months without Parkinson committing more men forward to attack players with pace end up running into defensive bodies.

The goalless draw was threatened on occasion when McLaughlin’s post was rattled and when McLean forced Declan Rudd into a push away and both teams were content to take a point. Rudd was an assured pair of gloves all evening.

One wonders though what – in private – those managers will think of Bennett and Kilkenny. Parkinson’s run without winning goes uncommented upon at Valley Parade and there is a justified belief he is in the process of getting things right but Bennett’s actions will not have hastened that process.

One wonders though how much today will shape the things that happen with the players on loan at Bradford City. Adam Reach won admiration for his attacking play and willingness to take players on.

Kyle Bennett, on the other hand, has a lot to do.

Can Parkinson afford to keep Kyel Reid during his rehabilitation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McLean’s debut continues City’s story of the season

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Matthew Bates, Carl McHugh | Garry Thompson, Jason Kennedy, Gary Jones, Kyel Reid | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Mark Yeates, Nathan Doyle, Andy Gray

With the kick of off his first Bradford City game a minute away Aaron McLean wandered backwards from middle of the field and started to bump fist and slap hands with his new team-mates. He drifted to left back and bumped Carl McHugh, he slapped Gary Jones, and walked forward with purpose to start his this new part of his career.

A player is rarely under more scrutiny than on his debut and McLean was the focus of attention for the three thousand plus Bradford City supporters. His first touch was the kick off, his first in play was a contested ball with Blades defender Harry McGuire which the defender won but McLean put his body into in a way which was not at all reminiscent of the previous occupant of the number twenty one shirt which the new recruit wore.

Phil Parkinson made no bones about wanting to bring McLean to Bradford City and immediately favoured him over seventeen year old Oli McBurnie. As McLean won his first win of the ball from the towering McGuire it was obvious that Parkinson saw this as a physical encounter. A battle, and one which City lost in the opening forty five minutes.

Jamie Murphy was the first recipient of two goals in the first half which will were to prompt action from the City manager at half time as Carl McHugh’s failings at left back were exposed by winger Ryan Flynn. McHugh was an island adrift in the City team not connected to Kyel Reid or Mark Yeates in front of him, adrift from Matthew Bates to his right Flynn first combined with Tony McMahon who whipped a ball low in to Murphy to finish from inside the six yard box and later forced a corner which McGuire headed a second from.

And City struggled. Struggled to find a plan when Kyel Reid went off on a stretcher after turning his back onto a Hospital ball and having a defender tackle through the back of his legs. Struggled to find a way around McGuire and at the heart of the Blades defends. Struggled to find a blend of the midfield in which Gary Jones and Jason Kennedy not only look similarly but seem far to keen to take up the same position.

Kennedy could be so much more than he is at City and hopefully will be. Games pass him by and he seems to do neither part of his role well. He is not the best player of City’s season so far by a long way but he is the story of the season: unable to get out of low gear but not for the want of trying.

The second half and McHugh was switched with Bates to the central defensive position he was more comfortable with but more over performances were stepped up and for a time City were able to take the game to the home side. Kennedy and Jones were at their most useful in that period after half time which brought two goals and it was Jones who got the first – a massive deflection taking the ball past George Long in the home goal.

Jones’ shot, not a well hit one nor would which was going in before the deflection, came after McLean had won the ball and played in the midfielder. Parkinson deployed McLean behind Hanson as he had McBurnie the week before but often with Nahki Wells in the side the faster forward would be on the backline and Hanson withdrawn.

As Jones slapped McLean as a friendly credit for the assist one might wonder if Parkinson is not unhappy with the outcome of January so far. Wells forced a way of playing – big man/little man – and he would have been foolish to ignore the potential of that but big man/big man with both working hard is more in keeping with the manager’s promotion side at Colchester United.

The second goal was an untidy finish by James Hanson and a note goes to the maligned Garry Thompson who made enough poor decisions to keep his detractors happy but did involve himself when it mattered.

From that point on United laid something of a weak siege to City’s goal. They had chances to retake the lead but City had returned to some stability and strength. 2-2 came and City were happier. Away draws are always good results.

And some might feel that Aaron McLean should have had a penalty late on when a bouncing ball bested McGuire and the City man almost got to the ball but McGuire stayed strong and McLean bounced off him. McGuire may be leaving Bramall Lane this winter with talk of £4m bids. He seems to lack a level of mobility for top flight football but he was very impressive.

As was McLean. He worked hard – his virtue we are told – and in offering strength and hold up play as well as some pace he gives Parkinson an option he seems comfortable with. His part in the comeback was no more nor less than his teammates and that will no doubt suit Parkinson who prizes effort over all else.

Which is the story of City’s season so far. There is hard work and there is reward, sometimes, and the way to increase those rewards is to work and work harder.

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