Nil-nil, Everton, plus ten

28th of December, 1999 and Bradford City are nursing a 4-0 hangover from Old Trafford and take on Everton at Valley Parade. The game finishes 0-0 and is one of the many odd points that Paul Jewell’s side picked up on the road to a halcyon day in May that saw the Bantams retain top flight status and – it is said by many – bring about the ruination of the club.

A home game with Shrewsbury Town represents a ten years of football which few would have predicted and many who are in control of the game would do well to reflect upon. Football in 1999 was on the crest of a wave with a rich bounty to spend. Since then forty-seven of the clubs one hundred and three who have competed in the four football league in the last decade have had to seek the protection of administration while the top division spends over a billion pounds on wages.

The fall of Bradford City represents – in the opinion of this observer – a mix of poor timing and poor management. The Bantams crime in the Premiership is well know – Six Weeks of Madness – but the punishment of being cast down to the lower reaches is perhaps disproportionate. Leeds United – who also benefited from City’s best day in May 2000 were punished massively for trying to take a step up the footballing ladder.

One could argue all day about Richmond and Risdale and how they went about their respective jobs but when the dust settled many would agree that the fact that those two chairmen, a good number of the forty-five other head honchos and the odd other former Bantams chairman/landlord should have been more rigidly governed when they were in charge of the civic institutions. Yes, if businesses then not just businesses, we have learnt that from the last ten years.

In ten years time will we be reflecting on a revolution in football that has seen what could be considered the souls of clubs protected from those who would exploit them so that the events of the previous decade can not occur? Probably not. If we are still playing at Valley Parade on 28th December 2019 then a victory will have been won to reclaim our ground from the hands of Gordon Gibb who managed to slip it away from us.

In the snowy Bradford that still threatens this game Stuart McCall has recalled a time when City planned a training facility with the riches of the Premiership which never materialised. The story is common throughout the game when clubs spent money on players in an attempt to top the sun from setting rather than reaping the harvest when it shined.

City close off this decade at home to a Shrewsbury team who under the guidance of Paul Simpson – his Uncle John used to teach at St Bedes, you know – managed to spend “huge” resource and not be promoted in the same way that Stuart McCall and the Bantams are oft accused proving perhaps that it takes more than a big pile of money to make a winning team.

Both McCall and Simpson are rejecting calls for them to leave from some elements of the support which are argued with by other elements. The arguments are similar at both clubs despite the Bantams drastic decline. Shrewsbury Town have had six managers in the last ten years, City have had eight, and some fans at The New Gay Meadow think that that is more of a problem than the sale of Grant Holt which mirrored the departures of Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren at the end of last season.

The Bantams go into the game having not played in the league since 12 December 2009 against Rotherham United having gone out of the JPT at Carlisle United three days later. Simon Ramsden – sent off in that defeat – is still waiting to serve a suspension which he should do against the Shrews on the 28th.

Ramsden will be replaced by Jonathan Bateson in a back four that sees Steve Williams fit to return and gives Stuart McCall the chance to pick a pairing from Williams, Zesh Rehman and the resurgent Matthew Clarke. Luke O’Brien plays left back and Simon Eastwood continues in goal with a question over his future as he comes to the end of his loan spell at Valley Parade.

McCall attempts to reformat his side to a 442 as Omar Daley prepares for a return – he lacks match fitness despite playing in the last fifteen minutes of the last game but so do the rest of the squad sat idle – and the Jamaican winger might be featuring on the left hand side with Scott Neilson on the right and Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock in the middle. If Daley is not ready James O’Brien or Chris Brandon may get called into action or McCall may play Simon Whaley although it seems that the loan signing I was excited about seeing will make a brief stay at Valley Parade.

Gareth Evans and James Hanson are guaranteed places up front in either a 442 or a 433 as Michael Boulding continues to recover from hack in the back by Pablo Mills. Neither will hope to match one Gary Shaw’s striking efforts in this tie when the former Villa man scored a hat-trick in two and a half minutes.

That game was two decades ago, the Everton match was one. Today we start more unpredictability.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New season, new excitement – Pre-season 2008/2009 [III]

So the wait is nearly over and the 2008/2009 season is nearly ready to begin. Thousands of football supporters up and down the country are looking forward to the start of a new season. August 9th for a football supporter is like January 1st to a non-football supporter with many hopes waiting to be either realised or dashed. Forget the Premiership and the latest WAG getting photographed and appearing in a newspaper or magazine, the real football stories are going to come from Division 4 (not League 2) this season.

We, the Bradford City faithful, are expecting big things this season with many seeing a top 7 finish as a minimum. I for one would love to see us get promoted for one man and one man alone and that is David Wetherall. The loyalty that David showed to our club is a rare commodity experienced in football today. Stuart has made alot of signings this summer bringing in the likes of Rhys Evans, Michael Boulding, Chris Brandon and Graeme Lee. It will certainly be a different looking starting 11 this Saturday when compared with the team that started against Macclesfield on the opening day last season. Gone are the likes of Ricketts, Williams, Evans, Johnson and Ndumbu-Nsungu.

Once again we should average the highest home attendances in our division but big crowds doesn’t automatically equate to success on the pitch. For example, take Accrington Stanley who averaged less than 1,700 for their home games last season and came to Valley Parade in early October last season supported by 149 people in a crowd of 13,346 and thrashed us 3-0. We are one of the favourites to gain promotion this season but after nearly a decade without experiencing a promotion I’m taking nothing for granted. Call me a pessimist or a realist.

Make no mistake there are plenty of other teams in the same division as us this season who believe that they’ve a good chance of promotion. Aldershot and Exeter City, both promoted from non-league, will be looking to maintain their upwardly momentum. Wycombe with Peter Taylor, Lincoln City with our former captain Peter Jackson and Shrewsbury with Paul Simpson all have managers with a proven track record in the lower divisions. Rochdale and Darlington will both be looking to repeat their play off form from last season too.

One thing is for sure this coming season, there will be highs and there will be lows and it will be interesting to see if Michael Boulding can replicate his goal scoring record from last season with a team that got relegated too. Matt Hamshaw was probably the provider of many a cross for Boulding to latch on to last season so let’s hope that the likes of Colbeck, Nix and Daley can supply plenty of quality crosses this season (although let’s remember that Colbeck is suspended for the first 2 games). What about Evans, our new goalkeeper. He played 4 games on loan last season with us and although we didn’t win any of those games, he certainly played steadily against Darlington at home, Morecambe away and Grimsby away before being forced to retire at Blundell Park.

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