Hannah answers a big question

Is there going to be a Bradford City next season? Ross Hannah thinks so.

The questions over the future of The Bantams have lingered ever since talk of moving to Odsal and administration began to be talked about towards the middle of last season but as Peter Jackson announced that the Bantams had secured Matlock Town’s 51 goals in a season striker Hannah it seemed that those thoughts had finally been consigned to history.

For sure the Bantams have pressing problems, but planning is in place for last season and in our previous two administrations no player who had agreed to sign: Michael Boulding, Thomas Hitzelberger, Paul Evans et al; ever got paraded around in a City shirt.

Paraded around too in a shirt that Hannah will never wear – the amber pinstripes are a thing of the past – but there is clearly an urgency at Valley Parade to provide a little good news and the appearance of some business as usual. Hannah’s signing – a modest one despite the club’s website declaring him a “striking ace” – says to all who are listening that Bradford City will be around next season, in this division, and with the contracts that were signed this year.

Which seems to answer a big question. In administration Hannah becomes a creditor of the club and it would seem highly curious if one were to (ill advised, in my opinion) attempt a strategic administration to add to the list of (football) creditor without would need paying off. What likelihood then of the Bantams using administration as a route?

All of which suggests much, but proves nothing save the fact that City have signed a striker who has a goal record at the lower levels which looks impressive and seems ready to step up. One looks forward to seeing him play.

Aged 25 this weekend Ross Hannah joins from Matlock Town on a free transfer with a one year deal that gives the club an option to extend for another year.

The fifth midfield shows as City face Northampton

In a season which promised much and delivered little it has been difficult to bring to mind any reasons to be cheerful as City look to the future but – when those reasons are brought to mind – chief in them is the performance of David Syers.

Signed at the start of the season from Guiseley Syers arrived at Valley Parade looking very much like an unnecessary third wheel in the midfield. With Tom Ademeyi added to an assumed midfield three of Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and Tommy Doherty it seemed that Syers was going to find first team opportunities limited.

His debut goal – the equaliser in a game with Nottingham Forest – did not harm his case but twenty starts later Syers’ honest endeavours have seen him not only elevated from signed up curio to hope for the future but also activate a second year clause in is contract.

Without a manager in place for new season let alone a set of players it is hard to see Bradford City 2011/2012 but were Syers to be within that somewhere and somewhere in the midfield.

The one thing that has united all four seasons of City teams in League Two has been midfield failure with the sum of parts so often being less than it should be. Doherty and co this season should have been a superb set up but not only did they often have the ball over their head under Peter Taylor but when they did get a chance to play they failed to take enough of a grip of matches. Doherty is the poster boy for this season’s midfield failure. A favourite of Taylor, a player of massive ability, but it just did not happen for him.

Nor did it happen for the Michael Flynn midfield under Stuart McCall the previous year. Flynn’s hard work did not cut a swathe through the division although the player himself performed well. In its way that year of midfield was no worse the much lauded previous season with Paul McLaren, Dean Furman and Nicky Law. All talented, none of whom were able to grab games by the scruff of the neck.

Paul McLaren – the senior professional – taken the blame for that but once again is a very talented footballer as was the first League Two midfield boss Paul Evans the fading of whom remains a mystery to me as well as one of the most disappointing player seasons I’ve ever seen.

Four season, four midfields and none of them simply poor at football but all of them coming up short.

Not so – at the moment – Jon Worthington who bestrode the City midfield like no other player at this level since we sank down. Worthington’s first full ninety minutes came last week at Morecambe and has he battled for every ball so did the rest of the team. It was inspiring to watch.

One has to wonder what Worthington – benched under Taylor who signed him – did to not impress the previous gaffer but in his old Huddersfield boss Peter Jackson Worthington has someone who knows the value of a proper holding midfielder.

The Flynn/Worthington midfield is a solid foundation – the Syers/Worthington one could have promise too – and one which has the kind of battering energy which is often seen in the teams which exit this league in the right direction.

Gareth Evans missed a penalty last week after a tireless display of not little ability while Kevin Ellison – who won said spot kick – seems set to take Scott Dobie’s place in on the left wing. Omar Daley has become available to recall from loan by Jackson after his first month at Rotherham and has let it be known to those who know him that he will play for anyone who gives him a contract for next season.

Also letting things be known this week was Jake Speight who tweeted to former City skipper Zesh Rehman spelling out the change in attitude at the club and his support for his new manager saying

speighty28: @Zesh_Rehman yes bro am good thanks! Yeah finally back playing new gaffers class 2 be fair! Its a lot better here now! How is it over there?

Rehman is enjoying Thailand – so he says – and is pleased that Speight is feeling the same as shows in his (that word again) energetic performances of late which hint at – rather than promise – goals. Perhaps the game with Northampton will be the day that Speight gets the goals that his input suggests but football can be unfair. Speight will be up front with James Hanson.

Jon McLaughlin may keep his place at the back after his clean sheet although Lenny Pidgeley hopes to be fit again. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien also celebrated a clean sheet and will be retained for the Cobbler’s visit.

Northampton sit below City in League Two – although they too have a new manager in the highly impressive Gary Johnson – and a win for the Bantams would do much to secure Football League status sooner rather than later.

Which would strengthen Peter Jackson’s claim for the Bradford City job long term – and perhaps this time long term could be more than a season – so the likes of David Syers might be able to be considered to be part of the club for more than a season by season basis.

McLaren departs Valley Parade leaving Stuart with a familiar problem

Paul McLaren has today had his contract cancelled and departed Valley Parade, leaving manager Stuart McCall yet again facing that strawberry blonde-coloured hole to fill.

McLaren is the fourth different player to wear the number four shirt vacated by Stuart when he was released in 2002, but despite appearing the best prospect yet to take on the challenge of mastering the midfield dominator role City have struggled to replace, he will join Tom Kearney and Paul Evans in the nearly men section of the club’s history. Only Nathan Doyle has enjoyed success while wearing number four, but he was a right back.

Stuart has two central midfielders on trial ahead of the commencement of pre-season friendlies from Saturday in Grant Smith and Jordan Hadfield. Neither has been shy in expressing their disgust at previous managers overlooking their ability, both are hoping Stuart will be able to recognise it over the next couple of weeks.

Holes can be picked at their arguments for irregular football with their clubs last season – is Greg Abbott of all people a bad judge of a tiggerish central midfielder like Smith? Even allowing for some less than sophisticated tactics by manager Keith Alexander that make central midfield unnecessary, at the end of the day Hadfield couldn’t get in the Macclesfield Town team. Both have a lot to prove to give Stuart confidence they can succeed where others have failed in replacing Stuart the player.

As for McLaren, he started his City career looking like he was in second gear and rarely managed to climb any higher. He had moments where he looked to good for the division, but rarely battled hard enough to be able to show it.

The real disappointment of McLaren hanging up City’s number four shirt is that last season’s number 23 isn’t going to be taking it up.

McCall’s next City squad starts to take shape

Pakistan skipper Zesh Rehman has been offered a deal by the Bantams but longest serving player Mark Bower has been freed as Stuart McCall starts building his squad for 2009/2010.

McCall’s side’s failure to make the play offs has led to budget cuts – that is the short and not especially representative version of long story – and as a result four senior players have been freed with Bower joining out on loan Barry Conlon, oft injured Paul Heckingbottom, bit player Keith Gillespie and – surprisingly – Rhys Evans out of Valley Parade with the goalkeeper being rumoured to be interesting League One clubs including Leeds United.

The City boss has also prompted Paul McLaren, Graeme Lee and Michael Boulding to try find other clubs – something they can do owing to oddly one sided clauses in their contracts – but worries that should they not do the wage budget will be restricted. With times tough for many, if not most, clubs at the moment it is hard to see who will take the players on. Michael Boulding was not short of offers this time twelve months ago but traded from a position of being the leading scorer in League Two, likewise Paul McLaren negotiated with City as the most creative man in League One. Now these players go to a depressed market with a line on the CV that is read as a failure to make the top seven in League Two.

Do not be surprised if we have not seen the last of this trio.

Another trio who McCall would like us to see more of are Nicky Law Jnr, Dean Furman and Steve Jones whom the manager is trying to recapture on loan. Matthew Clarke, Lee Bullock, Luke O’Brien, Joe Colbeck, Leon Osborne Jon McLaughlin, Luke Sharry and Matthew Convey have been offered contracts while Kyle Nix is welcome back to preseason one assumes to await news of an exit for Lee, Boulding or McLaren. McCall will talk with Peter Thorne tomorrow.

All of which leave City with a weakened version of this season’s team should these machinations come off. McLaughlin seems to be fancied to be the new keeper having kept a clean sheet in the final game of last term. At 21 he is young but League Two is – increasingly for City – a learner’s league.

Paul Arnison has a two year deal and one assumes will stick at right back although his unwillingness to relocate from the North East is rumoured to have caused problems for McCall. Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke in the central defensive roles with Luke O’Brien at left back is an inch worse than Graeme Lee partnering either one – Lee came out of the season with more credit than most in this writer’s opinion – but Rehman is a cultured player and one who one could have confidence in. Clarke will continue to have his critics for both not being able to spray a Glenn Hoddle pass – which defender can? – and for his defensive lapses but since he replaced Bower in the side City have stopped being bullied by the usual big men forward lines we face.

Without wanting to delve into the stats of how many six foot two plus players have won headers in City game against Clarke vs Bower anecdotally one would suggest it is obvious that Clarke has plugged that gap. That he has other failings is a problem but in a League where physical prowess – bigness, if you will – is often the route to goal it is that no being bullied which is important rather than Bower’s more intelligent style of defending.

As with Andrew O’Brien before him Bower’s style suits the club less the further down the leagues we are. O’Brien’s man marking is superb on Thierry Henry but wasted in the Championship and Bower’s foot in play could – and would – do a lot at a Barnsley but does not at Valley Parade. One would have confidence that Bower could nick the ball from big men frequently but McCall obviously worries that the long serving defender would spend the rest of his time on his backside having been flattened and getting little sympathy from Referees.

Hearts are heavy though when a player with a service record like Bower’s leaves a club. He has given the lion’s share of his career to Bradford City having signed up on the 13th of May, 1999 four days after promotion and broken into the side a few years later with honest displays. He did his bit in administration and beyond and few City fans would not hope that he can establish himself somewhere else for the five or six years he could have in the game.

Uniting Dean Furman and Lee Bullock would seem to be the key to McCall’s midfield for next season with the City manager keen to see the Rangers midfielder back in the position he dominated last term – he played few games than Paul McLaren but made a more significant impact and was certainly more memorable – but Ibrox boss Walter Smith may have different ideas. Bullock is a useful player who has only shown his effectiveness in short spells while at Valley Parade. Next season McCall seems set to offer the former Hartlepool United midfielder the chance to make the position his own.

However McCall has struggled thus far in his management career to find a player to fill that number four shirt and role which he himself took at Valley Parade. Furman won the place from Paul McLaren whose season could be described as “middling”. McLaren did not take the mantel of senior professional with enough zeal and as a result on occasion looked a peripheral figure – especially when compared to Furman – just as Paul Evans the season before had failed to make the McCall slot his own.

Returning to Hoddle momentarily it is said that when England manager Glenn was frustrated with the players inability to match the magic feats of his own passing and one can only imagine the frustration that McCall – a player who lived by taking games by the scruff on the neck – has watching two players who have no shortage of talent in Evans and McLaren failing to control matches. Is Furman a better passer of a ball than McLaren or a better tackler than Evans? One could argue not but he has more cunning, more guile and it seems a stronger character that allows him to have more of a constant effect over a ninety minutes.

Defensive midfield – Furman’s nominal position and the one McCall had – is perhaps the most crucial role on the field and Furman represents a safe bet for City. We have seen that he will not shirk in the role unlike the previous two candidates who were on the face of it excellent choices for such a position and thus he is a tried and tested option for a job which I would argue the failure to fill correctly has cost us over the previous two season, and probably longer.

It should be noted that Luke Sharry has had a productive season and while not ready for the number four role should be expecting to feature in a dozen or more games next term.

The scenario on the flanks remains as it was this season: Joe Colbeck, perhaps Chris Brandon, Omar Daley when fit, Nicky Law should he return and Steve Jones if he is interested. Returning Colbeck from the jaws is poor form and the critics that wait for such to attack him is of paramount importance for McCall as establishing Omar Daley as a threat on the left was this term. McCall flits between preferring a pair of wide players such as Daley, Jones and Colbeck and wanting one wide and one more tucked in as Chris Brandon or Law offers and one can expect that method of trying to fill the middle of the midfield to continue.

Brandon has been unable to provide much of an indication as to his effectiveness this season and – based on last season – given a choice between him and Law one would take the younger man from Sheffield United. Should Brandon be edged out of Valley Parade – and indications are that the club would be able to keep him – then Kyle Nix would be an able replacement and I for one am surprised that the young Rotheraussie has not been offered a new deal offering the heart and ability the former of which was often lacking last season.

In August Stuart McCall would hope to line up with Joe Colbeck, Dean Furman, Lee Bullock and Chris Brandon across the middle and few would suggest that represents a major shift away from this term with improvement inferred from consistency with all four players having spent long periods injured. Allowing whoever is in the number four role to build up a relationship with the defenders to feed the ball in ending the long hoof of the end of last term and with the three midfielders around him who would take the ball is crucial and Furman can be trusted to do that. If he is not retained we re-enter the lucky dip of trying to bring in a cog to be the most important part of our machine. Like good goalscorers – they don’t get given away.

Peter Thorne will talk to Stuart McCall in a conversation about “legs” and if the striker still has them and McCall will hope to move Michael Boulding on to no great distress from I. For all his hard work Boulding failed to build a partnership either with the forward he was alongside or the players supplying him from midfield. Barry Conlon officially left the club and Willy Topp is long gone leaving the City boss looking for three or four strikers for next term.

In this respect McCall is in the hands of the trio of players who may leave. Should Lee, McLaren and Michael Boulding all exit then pressure on his budget would be loosened and the City manager could get to looking for a goal getter or two – one would suggest he tries to find a fast one, a skilful one, a big one and one who can finish again but that is how we entered this year – but should this not happen then the Bantams manager will be left looking at scraps to find a feast. The ramification of Barry Conlon and Matthew Clarke’s fall out with McCall obviously preclude Conlon’s return despite a half dozen goals for Grimsby Town and one wonders if allowing the fighting Irish to leave is not going to haunt the Gaffer as he starts looking for players with passion, strength and a good track record and finds that Barry’s name comes top of the searches.

In such a situation Rory Boulding becomes an option although reports on him are mixed on the little brother while Leon Osborne and Sean Taylforth are no one’s idea of the player to lead you out of League Two. All three could be world beaters but the fact that they are – should Thorne not be retained – all that is in the cupboard for next term shows the problem Stuart McCall will have in building a side for next term.

In the season John Hendrie talked about the need for another striker and McCall tried Chris O’Grady and Paul Mullin in that role but ultimately when cutting the cloth to keep the club in business the side suffers and the forward line would seem to be where City are to take the hit.

So McCall is charged with three summer tasks. He must get the players he has offered new deals to to sign – some are given reduced terms – and will use the carrot of a smaller squad and a guaranteed place in the starting eleven achieve that with the likes of Lee Bullock.

Secondly he must work on ensuring he has the right man for the number four role with Dean Furman being nominated as the prefer choice. Filling this position is or paramount importance.

Finally he must find a set of strikers who want to play for the club and who have the ability but for some reason – probably as with Thorne it would be age – are not at a higher level and do not expect massive wages. Rumour has it David Wetherall is being moved to youth team coach. Wetherall never really got on with Dean Windass…

Do you remember, remember the 6th of November?

Eight games without a win and only 12 points picked up from the first 14 games – the 2-1 victory which Bradford City managed over Chester City a year ago today was certainly much needed. A season of incredible high hopes had begun disastrously and recently appointed manager Stuart McCall was struggling to turn things around. On the night Omar Daley and Alex Rhodes scored two memorable goals to kick-start the campaign.

12 months later and, while all isn’t quite well at Valley Parade, the picture is certainly different. The Bantams are 3rd in the league, rather than three points above the foot of it as they were on November 5th last year. Peter Thorne isn’t anxiously hoping to get off the mark in Claret and Amber, he’s on course to equal last season’s tally of goals before Christmas. City aren’t playing catch up, they’re out at the front – 15 points better off this time.

Yet it’s by looking at the last 12 months as a whole which really demonstrates how much City have progressed. Including the Chester win, the Bantams have acquired 78 points from 45 games – good enough to seal a play off spot, judging by last year’s final League Two table, with a game to spare. It’s certainly an improvement from the measly 37 points achieved from the 45 league games which preceded it.

Such stats show just how much that Chester victory a year ago was a turning point – not just for that season, but in the seemingly unstoppable decline in the club’s fortunes. There have been ups and downs since, and there will continue to be, but this last year has seen a continuing upwards curve of improvement in the direction the club is heading.

Much of the credit belongs to Stuart, who would have learnt much that night against Chester and plenty more since. It’s difficult to know what was going through his mind during that miserable autumn run last season, but he appeared unsure how to turn it around. Significant changes – with Paul Evans and Matt Clarke brought in– were made that night and both played a significant role in the victory. The former may be long gone and there are currently big questions centred on the latter, but their presence that night added some much needed grit to a team which looked too lightweight for the rough and tumble of League Two.

Many of the subsequent signings have added to the team’s physical strength and, while any one who has witnessed City’s better moments this season will know this is a team which can play good football, that extra steel has made a difference. Sometimes we groan at the more direct style City have adopted, particularly in away games, but its often proved an effective strategy over the last year. Those who believe Stuart wants to play football this way are only half right – it’s more about doing what’s needed to succeed at this level.

Stuart didn’t stumble on the magic formula that night against Chester, and it’s clear a lot of hard work has been carried out since and is still required for success to be achieved. Only seven of the fourteen players involved that night – which includes the recently-returned Nicky Law – are still on City’s books. Some fans have recently suggested Stuart’s summer signings have all been disappointing, but this harsh generalisation ignores the signings he’s made over the last year and the improvement he’s got from those players who were here already.

But most of all what Stuart has learned over the last year is how to be a better leader from the touchline. During last year’s autumn slump post-match interviews revealed the City manager to be taking defeats very badly. Famously, after losing at Morecambe, he said he “felt sick to the stomach” and almost contemplated walking away from football for good. At the time it was comforting to know the manager felt as hurt by defeat as us supporters, but in hindsight it’s dubious what his players would have gained from it.

When trooping in after a defeat they needed to hear their leader tell them what was wrong and how they can put it right, blast individuals who had let down others and then go outside and confidently tell the rest of the world where the club will go from here, defending the players if appropriate. Listen to the audio of Stuart after the Darlington defeat last month and there’s a world of difference in tone. No blind defending of the team, but fair reflections and a positive look ahead. Seven points from nine since suggests the players responded well to it.

Some of the results and performances during this year’s early autumn slump have tested the faith of many of us in regards to Stuart’s managerial abilities, but the bigger picture shows progress is being made. A few of us could certainly do with viewing our pints as half full and enjoy the typical ups and downs which life as a City fan continually presents.

The last time City were challenging near the top of a league was October 2004 – but by November 2004 hopes had quickly faded. City may not be promoted in May, but all the indications are they will be challenging for it all season. So can’t we enjoy the ride a bit more and not focus so much on the negatives? An up and down promotion challenge has to be more enjoyable than an up and down relegation battle, after all.

The top of League Two remains very tight – and the six league games between now and Christmas are likely to prove significant as larger gaps will begin to emerge. If City are still a point behind the leaders, or even better off, when they visit Lincoln on Boxing Day, the prospects of a successful season will be extremely good.

A one year anniversary to note, though it’s where City are come Stuart’s second anniversary as manager which will ultimately matter.

What could possibly go wrong? Pre-season 2008/2009 [IV]

When Arsene’s Arsenal went for 49 games without defeat they seemed imperious but the end of that run – losing at Old Trafford – sent them into a spiral of negative results which cost the a chance of winning a second consecutive Premiership. The same team that could not lose then could not win – for a while at least – before even keel was regained.

The moral of that story was that in football failure is inevitable and the control that managers have is not in avoiding defeat – everyone gets beaten sometimes – but in how defeat and other failure is dealt with.

So last season when City started a losing run around October Stuart McCall struggled to turn that streak around. One failure rolled into another in a string of results that could have cost any manager his job. McCall lived and learned it.

City started last season on a bubble of optimism which once pricked burst. This year Stuart McCall is building on more firm foundations but for sure the mood of the club is that City’s side will be a step above everyone else. At some point though the Bantams will lose, will be out played, will get robbed, will fail.

It is at that point when things can go wrong and that point where Stuart McCall has to start testing his management skills. As a coach one can be confident that he has the right stuff – many players at Sheffield United and City have praised him – but any question marks that remain are around this untested attribute.

When failure comes will McCall be able to arrest that and turn it around as effectively as an Alex Ferguson or will defeats snowball as they did for Wenger that year and Stuart in his first season?

Such a loss of confidence can come in many ways – losing can seep into being a habit – but most often it is brought about by players finding excuses. Last season too many loan players like Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu and Nicky Law Jnr were at walking pace as the Bantams went down to defeats because as loan players one could not blame them for losses. It is noticeable that Stuart has no loans in his squad so far.

Injury gives players excuses too and as Rochdale websites call him the signing of the season Paul McLaren grows a totemistic importance for City with the belief of supporters resting on his shoulders. For sure keeping McLaren fit is a bit part of City’s season but not allowing too much store to be placed on the midfielder is also important when he is absent.

One remembers how on the final day of the 1987/1988 the Bantams without John Hendrie lacked the belief and how the team minus Dean Windass simply did not believe the goals would come. McCall has to balance McLaren’s usefulness with not over playing his importance should he be lost.

However McLaren’s form cannot be worse than the previous incumbent of that shirt – Paul Evans – who was a superb player who played so many wretched performances that he had a wretched season. Evans was talented – perhaps not as talented as McLaren – but totally failed to bring that talent to City last season leaving a huge hole in the side.

City this season are stronger and have more top quality players. Should one of Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding, Chris Brandon, Peter Thorne or any of the other players who one could put in the top bracket of players in this division not perform then others are there to back them up. Money in football gives the the chance to make more mistakes. To fail more often.

Failure is not on the agenda at Valley Parade this year and confidence is high with Mark Lawn bullish and bold. With boldness he needs strength. Failure at some point is assured and the reaction to that failure needs to be consistent and measured. Three defeats on the trot are not the time for the either chairman to start talking in worried voices.

Confidence is fragile and cold heads – cold heads in the heat of a promotion battle – are required to retain it. One need only as Carlisle United about that with their off field troubles derailing a promotion bid last season.

Failure is the only inevitable thing in football. Every run of wins will eventually end. Every team will lose games. Every player will have a bad game at some point. Dealing with that failure and moving back to success is the key to a winning team, a winning season and to promotion.

BfB’s Top Five Review of 2007/2008

www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk Player of the Season

  1. Peter Thorne
    The If Only… Had Peter Thorne been fit all season and the Bantams been scoring and winning then who knows what the result of Stuart McCall’s first season would have been? He is the predatory poacher we missed without Dean Windass and as soon as he returned to full fitness with his intelligent play and able striking abilities City started to win. More please.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Plucked from the season string at Sheffield United Nix has everything that a young player should have. He plays with equal measures of heart and skill and is a joy to watch with his vivacious and effective style. The finish on the end of Willy Topp’s turn aganist Shrewsbury lives long in the memory.
  3. Joe Colbeck
    To say opinion was divided on Colbeck last season is an understatement with blows almost being exchanged over the winger who after returning from a loan Darlington ripped up League Two. Getting that form out of Joe Colbeck again next season is key to City’s promotion push. Keeping him long term may prove difficult.
  4. Barry Conlon
    How many players turn around the Valley Parade crowd from the angry mob to the appreciative whole who may have debated his abilities but saluted his commitment and effort. If anyone has ever deserved a contract extension it is Barry Conlon.
  5. David Wetherall
    The sentimental vote? Perhaps but David Wetherall organised a back four as well as he ever has done. The legs might have struggled but the brain was in full effect and it is that brain that will be behind the Bantams next year.

BfB poled eight contributors to get these results. The follow top fives are written by (one of) Jason, Roland, Michael, Omar and Paul.

The five best results and performances of the season

  1. City 3 Rotherham 2
    Oh what a Tuesday night. We proved in this game that we can actually play well against a very decent side.
  2. Darlington 1 City 3
    Stunning away victory against a promotion chasing team
  3. City 3 Notts County 0
    One of the most comprehensive victories we have seen in some years.
  4. City 4 Shrewsbury 2
    Another excellent Tuesday night, with Mr Willy Topp annoucing his arrival in Bradford with his first start, and setting up Nixy for the first goal.
  5. Dagenham and Redbridge 1 City 4
    Superb away victory – what a reward for those of us who made the trip down to London down. Nicky Law Jnr made sure of the points with an excellent late brace

Five moments when we thought we might be going up…

  1. Beating high-flying Peterborough at Valley Parade in September to go seventh.
  2. Stoppage time at Bury in January, City are 2-1 up and they have a harmless looking throw in…
  3. Luckily beating Macclesfield when they dominated second half. “Sign of a good team playing rubbish and winning,” we thought. If only…
  4. Billy Topp beautifully setting up Kyle Nix to score, six minutes into his full debut.
  5. When Joe Colbeck broke through to net the third goal at Darlington.

…and five moments when we knew we weren’t.

  1. Watching Accrington play us off the park at Valley Parade in October.
  2. Being the better side at home to Brentford but watching the Bees have two shots and score two goals.
  3. Half time at home to Rochdale, somehow it was 1-1 but the opposition were on another level.
  4. Barry Conlon’s penalty miss against Dagenham.
  5. Must-win game at Rochdale in April, 1-0 down inside 24 seconds.

Top five that the gaffer got in – McCall’s best signings

  1. Barry Conlon
    The example for everyone. Put in effort, get rewarded.
  2. Kyle Nix
    Skillful, talented, young. Fingers crossed we keep hold of him.
  3. Peter Thorne
    Showed class.
  4. Ben Starosta
    Looks like the sort of full back who can defend well and then add to the attack.
  5. Scott Loach
    They say that he will be England keeper one day. A way to go but impressive so far.

No Thanks – Five disappointing signings McCall made

  1. Paul Evans
    What gives Evo?
  2. Alex Rhodes
    Caught in the act of making Omar Daley look like a winger who tracks back.
  3. Willy Topp
    So much fanfare, so much wait ’til next season.
  4. Darren Williams
    Good, but like having Darren Holloway back.
  5. Nathan Joynes
    Barnsley said he was great, he was not.

We will miss you – Five players who impressed but have gone

  1. David Wetherall
    A legend.
  2. Donovan Ricketts
    Capable of making blinding saves.
  3. Tom Penford
    A favourite of this parish
  4. Nicky Law Jnr
    Who looked like a very good player. Better than his Dad for sure.
  5. Eddie Johnson
    Because the lad deserves credit for effort.

That went well – Five great things about 2007/2008

  1. The atmosphere, and home performances, at Valley Parade improved thanks to proper priced tickets.
  2. Stuart McCall back is great. Having him answer critics in the second half of the season is better.
  3. Barry Conlon turned around the fans with some gutsy displays proving that it is possible to turn around the fans with gutsy displays…
  4. …and nowhere was this better seen than Joe Colbeck who tore down the right wing brilliantly for four months.
  5. We broke even for the first time since the Premiership. Now that is progress.

Next year – Five things to get excited about

  1. Stuart McCall is up to speed.
  2. 20,000 supporters in Valley Parade? Would be great if it came off.
  3. Willy Topp is resting in Chile as we speak and raring to go at League Two next season.
  4. Should Joe Colbeck continue his form from the end of this term then expect dewy eyed thirty somethings to compare him to John Hendrie with every other breath.
  5. Promotion. You know its gonna happen someday.

A Time for Reflection

This game was never going to get the pulse racing. Evidently, It was a fixture that failed to inspire a large number of City season ticket holders – with Liverpool playing Chelsea in the Champions League viewed from a warm living room sofa the choice made by many.

With both sides safe from the perils of the relegation zone, and no chance of getting into the playoffs, City and Barnet predictably played out a 1-1 stalemate.

Barnet in truth were the better side and carved out the better chances, three of which brought the best out of Scott Loach. They took the lead in the first half when a thunderous effort from Barnet midfielder Thomas smacked off the crossbar. The rebound fell to the lively Birchall who reacted first to the rebound before beating Loach at his near post. Later in the half, Barnet should have doubled their lead, but Loach stood up brilliantly to block a one on one effort.

Whilst City did command much of the possession, not much of it was put to good use. The game took on the role of being an exhibition type match as the players went through the motions. Nevertheless, it was still a relief when Eddie Johnson nodded down Joe Colbeck’s accurate corner to grab us a point in the second half.

The main purpose of this game was most certainly to be to run the rule over those players “fighting” for a new contract at Bradford. With midtable obscurity the destination for both sides, it did seem like a good night to reflect on the current squad. It was time to reflect. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, you can be sure we will see plenty of new faces arrive at the club before August. My views on our current crop of players might not be shared by all, but having seen a large percentage games home and away I felt the need to want to share these with fellow BfB readers:

1 Scott Loach (Goalkeeper)
His form for us has raised eyebrows in the Premiership. Whilst there is no doubt Loach is an accomplished keeper, he is still someway off being a Premiership regular, but is no doubt one with a bright future in the game

2008/2009 City prospects
We would love to see him back next season, but seeing him back here next season is highly unlikely to say the least. We will have to go shopping in the summer to purchase a reliable, experienced new No 1.

2 Darren Williams (Right Back)
Williams has not done a lot wrong this season. He has generally been quite solid defensively, and will feel slightly aggrieved to have lost his place in the starting line up to Ben Starosta. Stuart feel’s that Starosta offers more attacking options down the right than the more defensive minded Williams.

2008/2009 City prospects
Williams only has a one year deal, but I feel he is worth another one for his defensive capabilities. McCall may decide to sign another right back permanently to provide competition again in this position.

3 Paul Heckingbottom (Left Back)
Heckingbottom’s return to Valley Parade has gone well. He hasn’t had any competition for his place, but luckily he is enough of a professional to not get complacent and let his performances drop. He has been excellent defensively and is always fully committed to the cause. A model professional.

2008/2009 City prospects
More of the same. He is a good left back at this level.

4 Paul Evans (Central Midfield)
Evans’ return to the club has certainly not gone as planned. After an ok start, he has turned in some quite awful performances in recent months and is surely going to be given his P45 in the summer. His usually reliable passing game has gone to pot, seemingly he is now better at passing to the opposition than to his team mates.

2008/2009 City prospects
Free Transfer

5 David Wetherall (Central Defender)
It pains me to say that I am actually relieved that big Dave wont be part of our back four next year. There is no doubt his loyalty to this club is commendable, but too many painful memories of our badly organized defense since the turn of the century have overshadowed our towering defender’s ability. He has always been dominant aerially – but this season his decision making, for once, has been called into question, as well as his lace of pace becoming more of an issue as the seasons have gone on.

2008/2009 City prospects
Another fans favourite taking up a coaching position within the club.

6 Mark Bower (Central Defender)
Well its been over 10 years now and Mark is still with us. He is a much better player than he was when he was signed up back in 1998, and his consistent displays have earned him respect. He was dropped for Matt Clarke earlier in the season, but overall I think Bower has had an average campaign. He really needs to push on next season to ensure our defense doesn’t leak those extremely costly late goals.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back , but really needs to step up to the plate in Wetherall’s absence, lead and organize.

7 Omar Daley (Right Winger/Forward)
Very much a footballing enigma, Omar Daley still has a lot to prove. Signing him up long term earlier in the season is very much a protection on our asset who possesses the highly desirable attribute in the modern game – blistering pace. However, Omar very frequently flatters to deceive. Either by making the wrong decision in the final third, or lacking the ability to finish a flowing burst forward with a deadly finish. I remember when I first saw Omar Daley play – back in 2003 when we visited Reading and he lined up for the opposition. His skill was there for all to see, but his finishing and decision making was abysmal, and he was substituted by their manager at the time Alan Pardew. And now, in 2008, he almost seems like the same player. There is no doubting however, that on his day, he can win us matches in this division. Lets hope he can finally have the season of his career next time round.

2008/2009 City prospects
Daley will continue to delight us, and make us cry. Some finishing practice in the summer would be advised if he has ambitions of being our number one threat next season.

8 Eddie Johnson (Central Midfield/Forward)
Johnson may well have done enough in the last month to earn himself a new contract. I don’t think he is good enough as a midfielder to command a regular first team spot as he quite often drifts out of games without you even knowing he is on the pitch.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will probably get a new one year deal. Should be used as a utility squad player.

9 Barry Conlon (Striker)
Conlon has divided opinion amongst fans from Barnsley to Plymouth. He is like marmite – you either love him or hate him. Whilst I appreciate the effort he occasionally puts in to the cause, the guy cannot finish. We have a number 9 who cant finish. Some of his finishing is so woeful it would make Ade Akinibiyi wince. Yet I have the feeling that somehow Stuart rates this guy and will hand him a new deal. I , for one, am praying that wont happen.

2008/2009 City prospects
Offer of a contract is 50/50. I wouldn’t offer him anything more than a lift to the nearest airport.

10 Peter Thorne (Striker)
Thoroughly deserved his new deal. The class act of the side. He looks after himself, is intelligent and a keen eye for goal. His goal record speaks for itself. His all round play is also admirable and shows why has managed to play at a higher level for so long.

2008/2009 City prospects
If we can keep him fit, look for 20 league goals from Thorne next season.

11 Alex Rhodes (Winger)
Rhodes has showed glimpses of good form this season, but I fear his inconsistency will prove to be too costly.

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered

12 Matthew Clarke (Central Defender)
Excellent form at times this season. Makes the occasional rash decision, and thus needs to work on refining his approach slightly. Will really look for him to sharpen up his act next year and dominant League Two strikers next season.

2008/2009 City prospects
A regular at the back

15 Joe Colbeck (Winger/Midfielder)
It quite often crossed my mind in the first half of this season that Colbeck would never make it at City. Yet, he has surprised me. I used to hate him. Absolutely hate him. I thought he would go the way of Danny Forrest and Joe Brown. But his loan spell at Darlo did him the world of good. He is now performing more consistently (especially away from home!). He battles. He whips in a good cross. Add more consistency and more of a footballing brain to his play and he can really help us next year.

2008/2009 City prospects
Expect some good things from Colbeck next year – he needs to prove that he can perform in front of the Valley Parade crowd.

18 Tom Penford (Midfielder)
I feel he has done enough to earn a contract. If he can be a bit more attacking minded he will have the makings of a good player.

2008/2009 City prospects
Will get a contract. Needs to stamp his authority on the team next year and chip in with some more goals.

20 Scott Pheland (Midfielder)
Not good enough. Not strong enough for this league (or any other)

2008/2009 City prospects
Free transfer

22 Kyle Nix (Midfielder)
Decent player. Needs to figure out his best position, stick to it and make it his own or he will only be a bit part player. Always battles for the cause.

2008/2009 City prospects
Worth a one year deal. He will hope to nail down a regular spot in the team next year, but may have his work cut out if Stuart brings in alternatives.

23 Willy Topp (Striker)
We certainly haven’t seen the best of him yet. I fear he may not be the right kind of player for this division. Shows some nice touches and skill but not shown us an end product yet.

2008/2009 City prospects
Make or break season for our 35k investment. He has had time now to settle in.

25 Luke Medley (Striker)
His wonder strike against Wrexham gave us hope. But he has something very much “non-league” about his play. His failure to make it at Cambridge City speaks volumes. The occasionally glimpse of desire, ala Grimsby away, isn’t good enough of the course of a whole season

2008/2009 City prospects
No contract offered.

32 Lee Bullock (Midfielder)
Solid defensive midfielder. Decent player in this league.

2008/2009 City prospects
Should nail down a regular place in the centre of the park

36 David Brown (Striker)
Predators goal against Macclesfield. His ability on the training ground will determine whether Stuart wants to keep this youngster.

2008/2009 City prospects
50/50 on a new contract, but I would probably release him due to his lack of physical presence.

Who Will Have Roast Beef?

The phrase on everyone’s lips tells of Peter Thorne – who impressively headed home a Ben Starosta cross to claim his 12 goal of the season after 14 minutes of this game which had little distinction – and how had he been fit then the Bantams would with ease swap with Chesterfield and be pushing for the play off places.

To suggest that Chesterfield looked lifeless is to denigrate zombies. Without Jack Lester and Jamie Ward the visitors on the whole looked as threatening as the Bantams did during the seven game run without wins that has coloured the season at Valley Parade and represents this Thorne-less time.

Thorne’s goal came from an impressively direct run from Joe Colbeck who flushed in on the promise he showed and justifies now the backing he got from those who did not barrack. Colbeck got on the end of a nice bit of scrapping by Tom Penford in the midfield and ran down the throat of the Chesterfield back line drawing the left back before releasing the ball to Starosta who’s cross found Thorne who found the only goal of the game. Stuart McCall starts talking to Peter Thorne about a new contract this morning but looking at how the vistors failed to mount a serious response to the 34 year old striker’s goal in the first seventy minutes of the game the City gaffer would do well to look at making sure he has more strikers than he needs.

Willy Topp looks promising with his deft touch but he play is over engineered and he needs the pre-season to get to grips with the English game and his team mates. David Brown – who replaced Topp after an hour – is impossibly small and needs to learn what his skills are on a field. Twice he turned the Chesterfield back line and would have been away were it not for crude trips but both those times came when he had the ball fed into him to allow him to spin off defenders. We will not go anywhere good next season if we repeat the sight of Diddy David trying to out jump defenders.

Thorne, Topp and Brown though should all be in the squad for next season as McCall starts to look at contracts for next time. Kyle Nix impresses some but not all but as a convert I’m hoping that he can be tied down longer term and this writer’s appreciation of the skills of Tom Penford are well known but increasingly shared. Penford was edged out for the man of the match by Colbeck yesterday but the oft around Midfielder’s display deserved plaudits as he moved the ball well and anchored a midfield along with Nix. One worried that Chesterfield hardly pressed on the Bantams central area but in the spirit of only being able to beat the teams one is put up against Penford and Nix can be very pleased with their afternoon.

In many ways Penford plays the type of game that Paul Evans should be doing week in week out closing down men when needed and moving the ball on efficiently but as Penford plays solidly and without thrills Evans never settled into a groove of performance and just as missing Peter Thorne all season has hamstrung the Bantams so the inability to have Evans play as Evans can left a hole in the side. Penford filled that hole effectively yesterday and a midfield pairing of Tom and Lee Bullock is not unimpressive.

Unimpressive but having claimed a clean sheet were the old double act of David Wetherall and Mark Bower – they just about held out – and Scott Loach will be at St James’s next season making saves and having a questionable command of his box. It will be like Shay Given never went away.

Praise too as McCall starts to look at whom can be leveraged out of clubs for Ben Starosta who impressed in many ways yesterday and would be a cracking player for League Two next year should be he lifted from Bramall Lane. Paul Heckingbottom improved yesterday and looked good.

And looking good was the aim of the game with Chesterfield either not playing well or not allowed to play well the Bantams took plaudits and points and deservedly so despite a couple of raps on the door after seventy minutes which can be chalked off against Thorne’s controlled shot which should have had his second and David Brown’s spurning of a chance to give Colbeck a richly deserved goal.

For another year

Bradford City 1 Mansfield Town 2 – League Two

Mansfield Town’s players punched the air in delight after beating Bradford City 2-1 at Valley Parade. They out fought the Bantams – the second consecutive match at Valley Parade where the home side were found wanting for effort – and they deserved the win that moves them closer towards escape from the relegation zone of League Two.

I suspect that we will see the Stags at Valley Parade next season with the Bantams play off hopes rising and falling with the all too common away wins of this division. With ten games left the consensus has been reached that Stuart McCall’s side are gong nowhere. McCall seemed to have come to this conclusion some time ago and continues to experiment with players while the squad has a generally low level of engagement. Mansfield, like Stockport and Dagenham & Redbridge, wanted to win more because they needed to win more and so City rumble out the last third of the season in trying style.

For forty-five minutes the Bantams were lifeless – flaccid even – as a series of getting by performances saw little in the way of forward motion. Indeed from the first half only Joe Colbeck – reliable in his effort – and Barry Conlon could claim to be have been in first gear. Conlon went close to scoring with a dipping drive from outside the box and nodded his third goal from open play just before half time but by then City trailed to a goal by Nathan Arnold which took a large deflection from David Wetherall’s arms and represented the visitor’s old shot on target of the half assuming that the arms of Wetherall did not prevent it being blazed wide.

Such is the painfulness of defeat. Mansfield were worthy winners – they got a second though one time Nicky Law target Michael Boulding after half time following a Bantams rally – with Arnold impressive throughout but anything other than a first gear performance would have seen the Bantams win with some ease. The Stags managed two shots on target all game. They came for a point and ended up with three and are probably amazed at how they managed it considering that from the point of view of creative chance making rather than passion and effort they were bad.

Not that City were better but one got the feeling that City are multiples better than this performance it was Mansfield at full tilt. Indeed the whole of City’s season can be summed up in today’s performance by Paul Evans. Some people said nice things about BfB this week and included was a quote about Evans being the best player in League Two which I stick to and stand by. His can pass superbly, he has a great engine, he tackles, shoots, heads and he can bend a free kick to boot. He can do all these things but he does not.

Today he blasted the ball too far rather than playing simple passes, he had no coordination with Eddie Johnson his midfield partner and he did nothing other than his base role of protecting the back four. A very talented player doing very little with his talent with the challenge for Stuart McCall to make Evans play like Evans does when Evans plays well because application is all that is missing from this side and it is McCall’s job to add it.

McCall’s job was murmured on the way out of the ground and someone swore on their first born that the next manager would be better except of course they did not and all talk of McCall’s position should be given short shrift unless someone can come up with a statement as to why the club was improved by sacking any of the last four managers. For a change the handful murmuring against McCall were not the greatest abominations of football support today with the racist chanting from the Mansfield end taking that honour. One can only hope that Nathan Arnold heard it and gets on his way.

As for City changes are afoot and McCall is to make them. The likes of Alex Rhodes, Tom Penford, Eddie Johnson, Darren Williams and Evans all will be the subject of decisions on the futures soon and next season’s team will look different to this one. One hopes that with ten games to go next season things will not be – as they are now – over for another year

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

Splash

It rained at Chesterfield and then it rained some more and without a doubt the pitch was unplayable but this is League Two and no one really cares about anything except the blood and the thunder and City set out with Paul Evans in the midfield alongside Nicky Law so we were always going to get some of that but for all the fight in the middle pair the home side had the ball for most of the game or what we could see of the ball that was a brown lump of mud being thudded from one side of the pitch to another and it lacked class but I discovered that Lee Richardson the gaffer of the team that put us down last year was gutted to not win the game but admitted they didn’t deserve to and that is true cause the Bantams are starting to build stern stuff with Joe Colbeck back and running down the right and Omar Daley up front so everything as more secure but I’m never sure why Stuart McCall puts a fast lad up front and I can’t remember us ever out pacing a defence but there is no defence for Kevin Gray today because I still remember the fury and the violence of that tackle he did on Gordon Watson and for a bit my mind wanders back to that day and how exciting Chris Kamara’s Bradford City were before McCall arrived and turned passion into pride and steeled the team for promotion which looked unlikely today when Chesterfield got away at first and scored but the Bantams slogged through mud and Kyle Nix came good in the second half and that was that and both these teams are said to lack consistency but like the rattling prose of this page the only thing constant today was the driving, smacking, wetness of the rain.

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Shouted At Me

I had a dream last night that Paul Jewell was really upset about losing to Huddersfield and QPR back in the promotion year and so he decided to drop Stuart McCall and put Paul Bolland in the team. No it wasn’t a dream. It was away at Mansfield without Paul Evans and Peter Thorne.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that City should have undroppable players in the team and I’m not saying that everything is right when you put these guys in the team but as Macca comes out saying that the team lacks a cutting edge you can’t help but think that that was cause he spent most of the night sitting next to the cannier players we have not only cannier but one’s who give more of a toss.

Omar Daley started really well at Field Mill and could have scored with a shot that pinged the post but he didn’t and in typical Omar Daley fashion his head went down. I don’t believe that a player like Omar should be motivating himself and geeing himself up – that is not his job in the team – but he needs a Stuart McCall alongside him to put rockets up his arse when he does sag.

The same is true of Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu. As a loan player who coudl be out of work in six months at another club how do we expect him to play his guts out for City. The playing the guts out and making sure everyone else plays guts out has to be someone else’s job and the problem is that someone else is Paul Evans.

To be honest it is a few people who the club don’t have and we need some players with character and a bit of spirit. I have a mental picture of Dean Windass shouting at half the squad and getting them to put in the effort but he has gone now and I’m told even tonight when we are a division below where we were when some Muppets took against the striker that his leaving was for the best.

City are a closed mouth team save Evans who enters late and is no match changer anyway unlike Willy Topp who we are promised soon and while we did not deserve the win we certainly did nothing to deserve getting beaten. Donny Ricketts saved a penalty in the first half from one time target Michael Boulding that David Wetherall gave away by standing too near someone else and the zip zip with the bottom team said it all.

It seems to be believed that the club lacks a bit of dazzle and Stuart McCall talks about opening up defences but for me we lack the graft that will get us out of this league. We need eleven men who will give everything or more likely one man who will force the other eleven to give their all and the really strange thing is that that was Stuart’s job for City.

Had Paul Jewell decided that the problems with City were not that Issy Rankin could not finish a bowl of cornflakes and that Robbie Blake should be brought in off the right wing then where would City be now? If he had decided that the solution was dropping the senior players who tried hardest what would Stuart McCall have thought?

Looking for Effort from Stuart McCall

At 3-0 down and on the way out of the FA Cup nothing seems good.

Stuart McCall had seen his Bradford City team come second best in almost every department to a Tranmere Rovers side managed by Ronnie Moore – a man who further from McCall in the affections of City fans it is hard to imagine – and doing well in the division above.

That thought is mulled around the mind for a while. The visitors are a good distance apart in the league table than City for a reason and those reasons are easily apparent and not only in moments when the loathsome Chris Greenacre is isolated with David Wetherall and exposes the older man’s lack of pace cruelly.

For it is not just the physical aspects of the game in which Rovers obviously superior – and more handsomely rewarded – squad best City in.

Moore’s team is drilled on hard work, learned in the fussless big man/small man pairing up front and in Ian Goodison have a rock of a defender cleaning out all with efficiency.

Contrast this with fellow Jamaican Omar Daley who madly tries to run the ball away from goal at forty yards only to be – once again – easily robbed. Within seconds and without attention from City’s right winger who believes winning the ball is something that the other players do Tranmere had fired into a lead that while threatened by Wetherall hitting the bar and Peter Thorne having a shot cleaned off the line was never overhauled.

Hard to imagine what Moore would make of a player like Daley who seems wear lack of effort like a badge. Hard to imagine what Paul Jewell would make of him but fairly easy to picture the reaction of Jewell’s skipper at City. Why, one is forced to wonder, does McCall allow just a lack of effort to become endemic in his own team? The apathy of Daley is mirrored in GNN and results in heads sinking down and only a handful of players worthy of a place in a ten next to Stuart let alone picked by him.

Stuart has let the bar go so low for effort in his Bradford City team that anyone with the bit between their teeth or the whips of a forceful manager at their backs will who with ease.

Give me the effort of Joe Colbeck, Barry Conlon, and Craig Bentham et al any day for it is not the battles we lose that are a problem at Bradford City – Tranmere deserved the win on their own merits – it is the inability to suit up for the good fight.

Watching the effort put in by Paul Evans go unrewarded as games are lost to malaise as typified by Daley’s could not care less performance, by GNN’s comments about wanting to sign for the club because his own contract at Gillingham is finishing rather than for our club’s benefit, by the sudden increase in minor injuries and illness at the club.

I think of Stuart McCall the player and doubt he would stand alongside it, I look to Stuart McCall the manager and hope that he does not stand for it.

The Dogs of Winter

Managers should know their own position – at least that is the theory – and for sure Stuart McCall seems to have started to learn a lesson about his position holding the Bradford City midfield together.

As he wakes this morning McCall has his first win as Bradford City manager in eight games – a 2-1 victory over Chester City – and when pieces fall together one hopes the correlation between the return of Paul Evans and his pairing with the industrious Eddie Johnson and the spirited Nicky Law will not be lost. McCall put out a midfield with a remit to work hard and keep the ball and the desire to do both seldom flagged.

It is impossible to under estimate the impact that the return of Evans has had on the side. As an engine in the midfield he equals McCall in spirit if not ability and as an exemplar to the rest of the Bantams he should be lauded from the rooftops of Manningham. If every player in the side showed the effort that Evans puts in – playing every ball as if it were his last kick in the profession – then we would see more performances like Omar Daley’s best of the season last night.

With engines engaged the likes of Daley – shifted to a forward role for long periods last night to allow a tight midfield four of Johnson, Evans, Law and Nix to control the game – improved immeasurably. Daley’s opening goal – a screamer from distance – had been coming for some time and arrived with an implicit challenge for McCall to raise the levels of the winger’s performance that high on a weekly basis.

Confidence is the key – it normally is – and City seemed to bloom with the confidence of having the ball courtesy of the ball winning midfield. With some control of the game and the returning Peter Thorne intelligently holding the line confidence started to flow through the team. Passing movements – lost in recent months returned – and Paul Heckingbottom and Kyle Nix began to craft chances on the flank which built to a corner which resulted in a clumsy tackle by Mark Hughes on Eddie Johnson after the City man had stepped around him and a penalty that – curiously – Young Nicky Law decided to take and took weakly for keeper John Danby to save. I always admire a player who has the cahoonas to take a penalty but like David Batty circa 98 before him I’ll never understand why non-goal getting midfielders take the job on.

Law’s weak attempt was but a memory after Omar Daley gave City the lead that first half deserved – and let us not forget the context of the 19 of 21 points Chester City had picked up on the road – and even a curiously given second half penalty against Matthew Clarke for fouling Kevin Ellison on the edge of the box could not dent City’s gathering of a win.

The foul seemed a mirror of a free kick given against Chester for a foul on Thorne in the first half and one supposes the Ref Andy Hall saw a significant difference in the two but the sense that justice was done when Donovan Ricketts saved the spot kick was clear. Ricketts deserved it on his return.

A mention also for Matthew Clarke for whom Mark Bower was dropped and who provided the pace and power that allowed a more able display from David Wetherall with the older man’s pace problems less readily exposed and the younger man’s presence working well.

Nevertheless despite increasing second half pressure and a rather bizarre switch of Law and Johnson which seemed to nullify both Wetherall and Clarke will have more busy evenings.

Alex Rhodes made the result sure with a run that probably included a bit of the stands as well as the left wing so far out it seemed but that did not seem to matter when Rhodes finished off the move with a smart finish. Two minutes later Kevin Ellison made it interesting with a diving header that seemed a good way offside – League Two Referees have a way of levelling things out – but the final whistle came and McCall had that much awaited win.

From the win though come the lessons. The passion that Paul Evans brought to the team raised the games of many around him – as McCall did for City – and as with the ginger midfielder’s ball winning of old the more that the Bantams had the ball the more chances came. Perhaps the real lesson is that while Stuart could perform the role solo it takes two men to replace him.

To Live And Die With Stuart

After Saturday’s game, I distinctly remembered a comment from a friend that was made before a ball had been kicked this season, which I took as a joke at the time. “How long or how bad a run would it take for City fans to start calling for Stuart’s head?”.

Well now, after six defeats in eight, and lying forth bottom in League Two at the start of November, the fingers are already pointing – and yes, our Stuart is not even exempt from being blamed by some supporters.

It has widely been discussed that we have tried all kinds of managers with different attributes and reputations since it was apparent that we were about to fall out of the Premiership in early 2001. All have resoundingly failed and the task of getting City back on track was handed to one of our heroes this summer amidst widespread euphoria within the club.

In his playing career, everywhere that Stuart went, success came instantly, and many thought that this trend would continue managing his beloved hometown club. But the story so far this season has been difficult to say the least.

Perhaps Stuart set expectations too high when he was appointed. But I was absolutely delighted to hear the optimism of “If we don’t bounce back into League One straight away, I will view myself as a failure”. Getting spirits, expectations and morale up within a football is essential if you want to become a winning team – and more than 12,000 people put their hands in their pockets to see if Stuart could come up with a winning formula and create a team capable of challenging this season.

But the reality has been hard to bear so far. Our dreadful home form has continued in the same vain as in recent years, and when we do play well, we can’t finish teams off and/or put the ball in the back of the net. A glance at the League table makes worrying reading indeed and after Saturday’s performance most fans feel like we don’t have a chance of being at the business end of the league this season and that we should concentrate on avoiding relegation.

So, who is to blame for our start to the season? To be honest with you, I would hesitate to single out even one person. Everything at the club seems to be set for a successful season. The support at all matches is there without question. Yes, on Saturday, supporters were not behind the team as much as they should have been, but I view that very much as a one off.

Stuart was everyone’s first choice as manager, and supporters questioning his appointment or ability as a manager are nothing short of foolish. He wants to bring success to this club so badly and I am sure he will have turned down more money offered by other clubs during the summer to come “home”. His signings have been positive. Thorne was his big signing, and there is still hope he will come good. Conlon scored 12 goals in this league last season ( so his credentials appeared to check out, despite his poor performances that he has gone on to have), Heckingbottom and Evans were welcomed back, and Alex Rhodes and Kyle Nix look decent players.

We must not forget that this is Stuart’s first shot at management. He does need time to work out how to get promoted out of this league, as he has never been involved in lower league football before. He needs time to work out his best formation and style of play. He needs to work out every single strength and weakness of all his players. All these things cannot just magically happen when you come into a club that has been in free fall in the last seven years.

I believe that we need to stick with Stuart for literally as long as it takes for him to get it right. For all we know, we still might have a shot at the playoffs this season ( which is getting less and less likely the more games we see this year!). But even if it takes years to get this club up the leagues, Stuart is the man for this job. He wears his heart on his sleeve and will never quit until he gets success. That has what he has done throughout his career and it is what you are guaranteed with Stuart McCall.

There may come a time in the future where Stuart has taken us as far as he can, or as a result of his success, he gets poached by another club. But as we stand today, let’s unite behind our all time favourite player. He will turn our fortunes around sooner or later, and the more we support him, the more determined he will be to get us back on track. Negativity is bound to go hand in hand with bad results, but we have 32 games left to play this season and the teams in this league are nothing to worry about if we get our form sorted out.

Lets support Stuart and the team tomorrow night like I know we can. Lets get them believing in themselves again. If we turn against our messier, like some supporters have been doing, we will never get this club back to where we should/want to be. If we continue with negative attitudes, those demons will shoot us down until Bradford City FC is no more.

Sucker Puncheon

The home fans had given up on this one. City rattled the Barnet posts and 1-1 was going to be 2-1 to the visitors unless the Referee stopped the game and in injury time it looked like The Bantams would be going north with a point at the very least. Up stepped Jason Puncheon to put in the sort of free kick we thought only Paul Evans could take.

Paul Evans and Puncheon had met after ten minutes of the game and City’s tank like midfielder came off worst and then came off to be replaced by Scott Phelan who seems to be ready to play Evans’s part kicking everything in midfield but The Bantams missed the tank in the middle and came under pressure.

Pressure that all centred around Puncheon who was a thorn in the side of City all afternoon. We were promised a debut from Peter Thorne for the Bantams after his scoring in a reserve win during the week but the hit man did not show and City were slow to convert chances into goals. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu looks the part some of the time and runs the channels well and Barry Conlon holds the ball up well but neither look like being the goal threat that can turn possession into goals. Luke Medley came on and didn’t score! First time for everything I guess.

Eddie Johnson scored – twice. EJ banged one in either end slicing a Puncheon free kick into his own net in the first half and replying by banging a left footed shot from a good distance in the second. Someone pipes up that with two in two Johnson could shove our goal scoring problems and then everyone remembers that he is a forward after all and chins get stroked.

Is Omar Daley a forward? Who knows? He moves up front and hits the post twice and City look the team most likely but pace aside Daley looks like his leg would snap if he were to give the ball a good League Two leathering and that is what this team needs. Stuart McCall has got the lads into a shoot on sight policy that rains shots at goal but a smarter striker who can take up positions to get onto Barry Conlon’s hard work or the wing play of Kyle Nix and Daley or Joe Colbeck might solve a few problems.

Not that there are that many problems for City. The free kick at the end was a bit of a fluke (Do that again Punchy – go on! I dare you) and the own goal self-inflicted. But for all the time when the Bantams put in 90 minutes of match winning work and lose then confidence is going to suffer.

Welcome To The Wild, Wild West

After eight minutes Francis Green of Macclesfield – obviously not having been shoved a copy of the mythic script that goes with events such as Stuart McCall’s first game as Bradford City boss – screwed a long range low drive past Donovan Ricketts for the opening goal of the season at Valley Parade which would ultimately end in the Bantams 14th – but least disheartening – consecutive home game without a win.

That the Bantams rarely looked like conceding to a Macclesfield Town side that opened with first day endeavour and ended with the kind of two lines of four and willingness to shed blood for the cause – not their blood of course but blood nevertheless – said much about City’s task this season. A lesson in what is in front of the Bantams in more says that one.

City had the lion’s share of the ball, the game and the chance. Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – GNN if you will – equalised for McCall’s side after Barry Conlon had seen his penalty saved just before the half time whistle blew. GNN was booked for his shirt off celebrations following his rebound pounce which – while technically correct – baffled many including no doubt Carl Regan who had given away said penalty for a two footed tackle on GNN eight yards from goal when the Congolese player had nothing but the keeper to beat. Regan got the ball but the two footed lunge has long been outlawed in football in the same way that the head tackle – while a very effective way of making sure man and ball are separated in Rugby League – is strictly forbidden.

Eight yards out, GNN clean through. The rules of football make it very clear that just as GNN must be booked for removing shirt in celebration Regan must be sent off. Welcome – one and all – to League Two: The Wild West of football.

Remember the John Ford movies where Sheriff Gary Cooper or John Wayne on a better day would dish out justice not on the basis of law and what was written as write and wrong but more on the grounds of what would keep the peace of the town. Referee Graham Horwood wore no star badge but as with officials at this level behaved in the same way. Luke Dimech handled clearly in the penalty area before the goal but he probably didn’t mean it so play was waved on. Gareth Evans and Terry Dunfield spent much of the second half trying to break Donovan Ricketts in half but this is League Two yeah? The peace was kept with smatterings of yellow cards but consistency was never considered above the dramatic flourish for effect no matter how many times David “Premiership” Wetherall bounced a ball off a visitor who on refusing to retreat or standing over a free kick is mandated for a booking Horwood was having none of it because this is League Two and we have our own way of doing things down here.

Green’s goal aside City have a way of doing things which was mostly pleasing. McCall is building a team with a directness about it and that team plays off the excellence of is avatar Paul Evans who was everything that the number four shirt at Bradford City should be today: Passionate and able to raise his team mates around him, skilful and able to play a generous ball, strong on pitch and on the ball. Evans is this team’s Stuart McCall with bending free kicks two of which came out of the locker today and both could have resulted in goals and it is a pleasure to watch him play once more.

City’s thirteen today featured not one bad performance. Barry Conlon holds a ball up with power and while he looked less likely to trouble the net that Lee Mills a player in his style has been missing for sometime. Alex Rhodes on the left wing is still getting up to speed – or so we are told – but is a great find thus far with a less speedy more skilful display. He is more Beagrie than Muirhead and all the better for it. Omar Daley tried – nice work their Stuart – and Eddie Johnson received a half time rocket and got more involved after the break. The back four were not at fault all day and Donovan Ricketts had little to do which was a good job considering the ear snappingly horrible sound of him falling and needing his foot strapping up – an injury rather shamefully exploited by some nasty tackling by Macclesfield player. Invaliding goalkeepers out of the game should not be a part of football at any level but Ricketts continued with few tests on his agility.

All that was lacking was the second goal for the Bantams despite Conlon’s smart play feeding Daley who dragged his shot wide. More clear cut chances would have sealed a win no doubt but such things will come and on the day when the Bantams walked into what was in many ways the last chance saloon – this McCall/Cheap Season Tickets/Mark Lawn thing has to work or what it the future for the club – they emerged on the road to gold.

The path to that gold may depend rather too much on the random peace keeping of the Sheriffs.

Graduation Day

I think I remember how this works. Many things happen during a Summer and this Summer was more eventful than most but on a weekend in August everything that is shaken up returns into place and – on a sun soaked afternoon as the clock ticks over to three – football in all its would be egalitarian glory returns.

For minutes everyone is equal – nice to see the Premiership kick off on the same day once more – and until the first goal is scored in the country no one is ahead and no one is behind. Except for Leeds United. My Nan Margaret Gunn used to say that one should be nice to people on the way up because one would meet them on the way down. That is pretty much all one can say about Leeds.

Within minutes some unlucky group of supporters are going to watching their custodian pulling the ball out of the back of the net. Within forty five and when the expectant 12,000 at Valley Parade are looking for probably rare pies someone will be three down and they will be beginning a bad season. With hope that will not be Bradford City.

Football is watching Bradford City this season. The £138 season ticket and return of Stuart McCall has suggested a new paradigm in football. Give them something to watch and do not stop them from coming to watch it. In a very real way a small revolution is happening at Valley Parade tomorrow and who knows where it will end? Football pricing in line with a trip to the cinema. Mr Rhodes, you deserve the best of things.

One suspects though that Mr Rhodes and his new partner Mark Lawn would settle for a win – any win – but if the footballing Gods smile then a good win. Stuart McCall’s return is invigorating and both he and Wayne Jacobs have proved something at assistant level. It is graduation day.

McCall’s first team for his first game in the big chair at home to Macclesfield Town will feature the heart of the defence of last season. Donovan Ricketts behind David Wetherall and Mark Bower could be the best three in the league. Paul Heckingbottom makes his second debut at left back and Darren Williams plays on the right. A defence that picks itself week in week out is the basis of the best teams.

Paul Evans – still without contract – is expected to be signed up in time to take the number four shirt and the McCall position breaking up play and moving the ball on. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley scrap over the right wing – what the former lacks in class the latter lacks in effort – and Alex Rhodes is expected to make a debut on the left not long after signing from Brentford as McCall opts for a 442. A host of players would partner Evans in the middle but expect Eddie Johnson to get the nod.

Barry Colon takes one slot up front but Peter Thorne’s injury prevents McCall from giving a first outing to his pairing. Gillingham’s Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu – signed on loan yesterday – is expected to add pace and power to the forward line.

Three o’clock. Turn up, cheer, see a win. I’m not sure is how it has been working for a good few years now but this is graduation day and things can change.

Kid Evo, The Frenchman And Anyone Else Ready To Take Up The Cause

They say that he approached the ball with something like the eye of a Hawk and ran to it with an unusually bandy stride of a baby gazelle trotting to Mother and they say that he stumbled slightly after meeting the ball which rose and fell over wall and into the goal. LA Galaxy pay £450,000 a for this skill – Bradford City pay Paul Evans for it and McCall’s McCall scored his first free kick since his return on the day he writes his name on the second contract he has signed for Bradford City.

Evans – scoring the one in a closed doors 2-1 defeat with good run out against Blackpool – is back and he is not alone. Paul Heckingbottom’s impressiveness years ago came after a slow build up and the left back showed the same steady improvement. Darren Williams supports the right hand side of midfield in a way that McCall will recall Brian Mitchell doing. The new gaffer’s Bradford City forms into a wonderful amalgam of previous incarnations.

Lazy comparisons put Omar Daley and Jamie Lawrence together but industrious Alex Rhodes – former Brentford boy looking at earning a contract – is more like the number seven of ’99. Rhodes worked both wings – or so they say – and chased everything. Also chasing is Eddie Johnson who seems to have nailed down a place in McCall’s starting midfield alongside Evans. Johnson is a triumph of breeding and attitude over expectations and is welcome in my midfield any time.

Those who saw the game were impressed with City’s gusto and thought the late Blackpool winner was unjust. They said that Nathan Joynes alongside Barry Conlon in McCall’s 442 showed flashes but was worryingly Isaiah Rankin in front of goal. They noted that McCall’s 442 omitted a Peter Beagrie figure but they are few and far between.

Eyes were rubbed when Xavier Barrau – scorer of the last two goals at Valley Parade in May – returned for another go and McCall seemed ready to let the exuberant Frenchman train. Barrau has become a footnote in Bradford City history – a quiz question about who scored the goal before… – but McCall’s referential Bantams are a broad church to play for a massed congregation of up to 12,000.

Room for the Frnechman, the Welshman and anyone else ready to take up the cause.

The Anointed One

First things first. Bradford City took honours against Burnley in the one all draw at Valley Parade against a strong Burnley side in what was the best pre-season test at Valley Parade since Sam Allardyce stormed out of VP following Wayne Jacobs testimonial with a face on him that said “That mattered”.

Tonight Burnley tried, City tried and City edged it.

Burnley, however, had more class. The gap between the two divisions was there for all to see as Burnley pushed the ball around and controlled it with the kind of ease that City once did but what the Bantams lacked in class they made up in the kind of passionate play that manager Stuart McCall – in charge of his first City game at Valley Parade for seven and a half years – typified.

If not first to the ball then City snapped around the feet McCall is building a team in his own image and at the hub of that McCall seems to have found his number four in the shape of tank like midfielder Paul Evans.

At times Evans is McCall’s McCall to a tee. He harries at everything then tackles hard but fair – most of the time – and like McCall he can move the ball. More short ten yarders in future maybe but with City playing a 433 with Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck on a remit to get down the channels beyond the increasingly impressive Barry Conlon Evans played quarterback hitting balls that will rip apart League Two defences. Evans is not essential for City or for McCall – Craig Bentham can do his job – but with the Welshman having other offers but preferring City one gets the feeling that he could make much more of an impact on results in his second coming than he did in his first.

One hopes McCall gets his man.

Also worth getting would seem to be Australian born midfielder Kyle Nix who buzzed around the midfield of the field next to Evans and Eddie Johnson with a classy touch and an eagerness to impress his former Sheffield United reserve manager McCall. Nix almost won the game for City with a free kick late on that pyjamaed goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly saved impressively in an impressive midfield three which saw Eddie Johnson continue his transformation to a man of the middle with a long channel ball to Joe Colbeck which the winger took in stride and pulled back for Evans to slam in from the right hand side of the box. Two passes over sixty yards and more impressive play from Colbeck that will no doubt be ignored by his detractors.

Not to be ignored was the train sized gap which saw Burnley’s Michael Duff thread a ball behind Mark Bower and in front of Donovan Ricketts for Ade Akinbiyi to turn in for the opener. Defensive communication is the heart of all winning teams and should McCall’s men be celebrating on May this will have been either sorted out on the training ground or no one in League Two will be capable of playing that sort of pass.

The back two of David Wetherall and Mark Bower seemed at home with Paul Heckingbottom’s gradual return at left back and new signing Darren Williams slotting in to the right back role and showing ability to support the forward play coupled with strength at the back and seeming to be a very useful player.

From the bench Tom Harban impressed at right back and striker Luke Medley looked huge but lacked the experience to fill Conlon’s vital role in the set-up McCall is building but most vital in that seems to be a McCall of a player to fill the manager’s shoes. Contract for Paul Evans? Very much so.

The Result Is All That Matters

Harrogate Town 0 Bradford City 1 – Friendly Game 2007/2008

David Wetherall got back to playing matters as Bradford City bested Harrogate Town 1-0 at Wetherby Road in the opening friendly of the 2007/2008 and with the Bantams using twenty two players during the game one found it hard to read much into the result or the performance save the idea that everyone is a half a game fitter.

Wetherall headed in Paul Evans free kick – how good it is to have Evans back – in the first half and trial kid from Everton Scott Phelan looked good. Nothing else much to note and most – despite the assurance that the result does not matter – will look at the score line and think not of the heavy rain but of the limber new progress of the McCall regime.

Confidence comes from this.

Our Time Starts Now

Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs will stand next to a football field taking charge of their first Bradford City game tonight as the Bantams campaign for League Two and beyond begins at Harrogate Town on this sunny Monday night.

McCall has been squad crafting and like the managers before him at Valley Parade has scrambled for signings. Chris Brandon is a no-no as Huddersfield want money for him – the T&A read this as a confirmation that “Internet rumours” linking City to the Tong born midfielder were wide of the mark – as so it is for the new City manager picking up players where he can.

Two strikers have joined the Bantams – Barry Conlon and Peter Thorne – and Paul Heckingbottom joins Paul Evans as a returner from the teams of before. One time BfB player of the season Heckingbottom has signed on loan from Barnsley until 2008 and shows the priorities that the new City gaffer has filling shirts with trusted character rather than potential flair. Do not expect Robert Wolleaston to be given a call any time soon.

A host of other trialists will feature for forty five as City get going and Tom Penford and Craig Bentham are expected to be given a chance to play together in the middle as McCall looks for a partnership. Evans – keen to impress on his return – will make a case for his inclusion as well in Harrogate on Monday, Farsley on Wednesday and North Ferriby at the weekend.

Good character is what is required. McCall looks for it not for a successful League Two campaign but beyond. The club so often peopled by Bobby Pettas and not run by the man who epitomises the opposite is looking for now looking for the impossible dream – a team of Stuart McCalls.

Is this what the end feels like?

Perhaps this is where one hundred years of history has come to an end. 3-0 defeat on a cold and rain soaked night in Hull which could be the last football game Bradford City ever play. Word around the few from Bradford who came across is that the numbers for the CVA do not add up and this club is left looking for a miracle to stay in existence beyond Friday. Perhaps when you look across the hundred years of this club, or maybe just the past twenty years, the balance sheet would show we are owed a miracle.

It is being said that Gerling, the biggest creditor Bradford City have, will refuse the £700,000 payment for the debt of £7m and as a result put the club into liquidation. They will not get anymore money from liquidation in fact they will get substantially less, but they feel that if they do not there will face a rush of clubs trying to follow City down this tortuous, wretched route just to rip up a few balance statements. If they are bloody fools. Who would choose this route? Who would go through this by choice?

So the future for City if this is the case is that we have no future. Unless the numbers come up on the 1st of August then the 31st of July will be Bradford City’s final day as a football club of any real significance. I cannot get my head around that just yet. I am not sure I ever will be able to.

I can remember the mistakes we made. Signing Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu, Ashley Ward et al in the summer of 2002 but even the most pessimistic would never have seen here from there. Only the harshest of judges could say that a few badly done transfer deals should result in one hundred years of football history being wiped out.

The real problem is that I do not feel that we have done enough wrong for this punishment. What was our crime again? Did we over reached trying to live in the Premiership? I guess we did but surely that equation damns English football for all time. What is the point of this game we would call beautiful if it is as predetermined as a WWF match up?

Should the likes of Bradford City never try get better? What is the punishment for failure? Obliteration? Leicester City, Derby County, Ipswich Town. All tried to move up a rung in the Premiership and had some success but I fear for those clubs.

No, I lie. I fear for this game that I am beginning to call God Forsaken. This is not the sport that we grew up watching. Football was above all things fair. Effort was rewarded. Good pros and good players got just deserts and when things were well-managed success was achieved. If things went wrong then clubs won nothing and scraped by, but they got by in the vast majority of cases.

So who is next? If Bradford City can not be a viable proposition with a year ago 15,000 season ticket holders and a 25,000 capacity stadium then who will be next. My money is on Chelsea, Sunderland, Everton or even Leeds or one of the other clubs that tried to break into the top flight of the top flight and failed. Expect shockwaves when that happens. People will cry crocodile tears over Bradford City.

But not us. Our tears will be a genuine and as real as they are at any funeral. This is not the ending of a business, it is the death of our communal dream. If you do not understand that you do not understand football.

The numbers might come in on Thursday, I pray to God that they do. This article will then seem like the reactionary nonsense of someone too close to proceedings to get perspective but driving back from Hull with the water feeding off the tyres of cars in front and effortlessly being wiped away from the windscreen it seems like we are on the brink of the end of our World.

Bradford City were Richard Siddall, Gus Uhlenbeek, Lewis Emanuel, Paul Evans, Robert Morgan, Mark Bower, Michael Standing, Craig Fishlock, Paul Gedman, Andy Gray, Andrew Lee. Subs: Danny Forrest, Keith Brodie, Tom Penford.

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