Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Interview / Empty

As Edin Rahic started interviewing new managers for the Bradford City job bemoaning his poor fortune at any attempts for a smooth transition of ownership were wrecked by Phil Parkinson’s departure it became clear to any seasoned Bradford City watcher that nobody has a clue who will be the next City manager.

The German owners have had applications for the job starting from Friday night when Parkinson exited – although one suspects that people have mentioned themselves before then – and are sitting down with a candidates to interview.

Applications for football management always seemed a strange idea to me. How does one write a CV to be a football manager? What does one play up in interviews and what does one seek to hide? When Jose was talking to United in May did the really ask him “what do you think you biggest weakness is?”

(Answer: John Stead)

Nevertheless in our brief sojourn around Bradford City just after Phil Parkinson got the job five years ago JayMc and I got the the chance to flick through a glossy brochure about Scottish manager John Hughes.

The brochure, which had superior production values, was all about Hughes and his attitude and approach to the game. It read like a Which? magazine article about football management where every chart, graph, or table ended up with Hughes’ attribute at or near the top. After flicking through it for five minutes I’d have given him any job he wanted.

On the counterside to that when Steve McClaren won the England job away from Martin O’Neill it was said that O’Neill sat and talked to the FA as one might expect but McClaren had a more impressive presentation including slides. The idea that England’s 2000s slump could have been avoided had the FA not found a Powerpoint transition impressive is a curious one.

Much of the time one can imagine what a club wants in the application process it is going though. When Peter Taylor left Peter Jackson filled a hole in a comforting manner for all supporters and the part of the boardroom who craved familiarity. Geoffrey Richmond dismissed Frank Stapleton because of his 20 hour a week work ethic. Every manager following that was a grafter.

But in the case of Edin Rahic who knows what he wants? Anyone who tells you they have a clear idea is either very good at making friends in Europe very quickly or lying their face off. I know which I’d suspect.

Rahic has talked about wanting a manager who can take players who come out of academies and using them for League One – a team of Steven Darbys if you will – and in keeping with the trends of German football wants a manager who employs gegenpressing. That aside Rahic has no modus operandi to educate a guess from.

The reason that the names which appear are appearing for the job is – one suspects – because they are the names which have been considered habitually for any League One job which arises. The kryptonite to those Bolton Wanderers “big club” claims is that it was one of the names off the: Nigel Atkins, Steve Cotterill, Phil Parkinson ; list they appointed that the likes of Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa et al have been ignoring for a few years.

So Stuart McCall is keen to get the job and Uwe Rösler has been more than mentioned in dispatches. Some people seem to want Neil Warnock or Steve Evans and there are a great many other names flying around and most of them have no mooring to Earth.

Why would Edin Rahic not look at convicted football fraudster Steve Evans and decide that he would not want anything to do with the man? Evans’ history with Bradford City is not the issue, it is his base unimpressiveness, unless he does a good Powerpoint that is.

Selection / Manager

First this then what? While the history of BfB remains unwritten if I were to follow our friends at A Post in doing so there would be a large chunk of that about the process of recruiting managers.

Because while Bradford City have not had to appoint a replacement manager for some five years in the five years before the practice was becoming so common as to have started to be tedious.

The transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson was something of a disorganised fumble with the candidates being interviewed not understanding the remit of the role they were applying for. Colin Cooper is believed to have told Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that were he to get the job he would sack Chief Scout Archie Christie and Rhodes reply – as reported by Christie – was that Christie’s input on the manager would weigh heavily on the process.

At the time Rhodes and Lawn had wanted John Still the then Dagenham and Redbridge manager (who is now manager of Dagenham and Redbridge again) to take the position but were turned towards Parkinson as a better option.

Jackson’s appointment was a Sunday afternoon nonsense where it seemed that the club had decided that as a former player Jackson could skip an interview process for who would replace Peter Taylor and go straight to the manager’s chair,

Jackson had been working in a care home when he got the call to become a football manager once more. In my view he was barely adequate in his performance and the problems of his appointment were those of his departure. No matter how Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp go about recruiting the new manager for Bradford City one doubts it can be worse than that period of the club’s history.

Peter Taylor had been an outstanding appointment to replace Stuart McCall bringing to the table a seniority which McCall lacked and a proven track record of success. Taylor’s time at the club is rightly not fondly remembered but it is his professionalism rather than the lack of material which stopped him from sticking a few boots in on the way out.

The Shane Duff fish story speaks volumes.

Taylor’s appointment is perhaps the model that Rahic and Rupp – and any other chairman looking – would best follow when looking for a new manager. Selecting a candidate who had achieved success is important but much more important are multiple successes across different situations.

This adaptability is probably what attracted Bolton to Parkinson. Parkinson has worked on a budget at City at first, and at Colchester United, and he has shown an ability to take on big occasions at Chelsea, Arsenal et al.

There is an element of confirmation bias in Parkinson’s appointment.

The news that Chief Scout Tim Breacker is leaving with Parkinson comes as music to the ears as the club badly need to readdress that area. Parkinson’s recruitment was becoming an problem at Bradford City. Of the players he was happy with Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and Kyel Reid were all picked up a long time ago and if there was a faultline between Rahic and Parkinson along the idea of recruitment then one would struggle to suggest that the manager should have been allowed to carry on doing things the same way.

Likewise following the defeat to Millwall I expressed a concern that Parkinson had created a kind of Oakland Athletics in League One (The Oakland A’s being the subject of the book Moneyball) which was able win in the grind of week to week football but were found wanting at the sharp end of the season.

That concern was just that – a minor concern, rather than a fully stated question – and of course is denied by memories of Aston Villa away and Stamford Bridge but while the strength of Parkinson was his team’s ability to grind out results and sneak 1-0 wins that was a weakness when overplayed.

One should never be critical the the days of milk and honey ended but Millwall game illustrates this concern. In one of the forty five minute periods – the first – the Londoners dominated City and in the others the Bantams were arguably the better team but did not repair the damage done.

Perhaps more significantly to the concern is that in those three forty-five minute periods that followed Parkinson’s side did not seem as if it could repair the damage of being 3-1 down. Keeping game’s tight and nicking goals works over a longer period, less so in a two legged tie.

But would overplays this at one’s peril. Parkinson was an exceptional Bradford City manager and as Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp look for his replacement they must hope to keep the best of Parkinson.

Parkinson’s teams were seldom out of games. Rarely were the side over a goal down and always did it look capable of getting something out of an encounter. One of the more compelling reasons to follow Parkinson’s City on the road was the fullness of the ninety minutes of football. Never being out of a game was a watchword of the previous manager, and hopefully will be one of the next.

This was in no small part down to the spirit Parkinson’s side had which was second to none seen at Valley Parade. One could write books about how the players aided each other through bad moments that stopped bad games and probably still not understand exactly how that team spirit worked. Suffice to say whatever it is needs to remain, as to Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle the chief proponents of it.

Finally Parkinson’s pragmatism needs to be a factor in the new manager especially when confronted with the stated iconoclasm of Rahic and Rupp who have a clear idea of how they want the Bantams to play (“High pressing, exciting”) but may have to accept as Parkinson had that tactics are created to suit players and situations. Parkinson’s final season at City was defensive by necessity. The new manager, whomsoever he may be, should hope to make sure that he understands this.

Welcome / Willkommen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking back control of the result as Bradford City draw 0-0 at Barnsley

When talking this week about the need for Bradford City’s players to put in a Bradford City performance manager Phil Parkinson engaged in a little modesty, and a little evasion.

I don’t think there was enough out there in terms of the Bradford spirit and determination we’ve known – and that didn’t sit easy with me – Phil Parkinson

Four years ago on Tuesday saw the Bradford City manager who proceeded Parkinson go into a broad room meeting trying to justify a lifeless performance against Dagenham & Redbridge and failing. He resigned and within a week Parkinson came to the club after the cameo of a Colin Cooper 4-2 against Barnet.

Many wanted Cooper to have the job and Parkinson, less obviously attacking in his approach than Cooper, was criticised as he went about a process that made City more predictable and by virtue of that less interesting.

Jackson’s last side was as lifeless as one could imagine but it was not criticised for that having come after Peter Taylor’s weak outfits and Stuart McCall’s sides who famously could take an offside decision going against them in a win and sulk it up into a six game losing run.

This has been the way Bradford City have been perhaps since Paul Jewell left the club in the Summer of 2000. For those ten years we were a club often at the whim of external forces be they financial or on the field. To a greater or lesser extent until Parkinson arrived City were a club who seemed unable to control its own fortunes.

Unless one wants to journey back decades then it would be more accurate to say that it is not a “Bradford City performance” that Bradford City failed to show in the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham it was a Phil Parkinson performance.

Modus operandi

Having watched Phil Parkinson’s teams over the last four years it strikes one that first and foremost the City boss demands the level of effort which was lacking from his players on Tuesday night. For much of Parkinson’s time at the club he has been able to select a team from a squad who all were able to reach that level required.

That that situation was coming to an end has been obvious for some time. If one believes that the Gillingham performance would not have happened had Jon Stead been in the forward line, or had Andy Halliday been in the team, then one convicts oneself of the most idealised thinking.

On Tuesday night – and over the week – it became obvious that he did not have eleven who put in what Parkinson requires and so new faces were called in: Reece Burke on loan from West Ham United, Lee Evans from Wolves.

In the past four years Parkinson’s loan signings – as opposed to his loan to purchase deals – have largely been to decorate the fringes of his team. Burke and Evans came straight into the side recalling Parkinson’s first month at the club when the likes of Matt Duke, Jamie Devitt, and Andrew Davies were signed and put into the side.

Loan signings disrupt the flow of a team, but when the team is not flowing what is to lose?

Replacements in South Yorkshire

In the event Lee Evans turned in a fine performance in central midfield as the Bantams had more control of the central area than they had in any game previously this season. It should not be said that Christopher Routis is the sum of the problems at Bradford City but with him injured, and Tony McMahon ill, the middle two of Evans and Gary Liddle looked to have the kind of solidity which has been lacking of late.

Evans will be at the club for five months at least. He is young and has some ability. His signing on loan suggest is is an after thought but one finds it hard to believe that Parkinson can have thought that he could go into the season with such poor resources in central midfield and perhaps Evans’ two weeks sitting out games at Wolves focused his mind on how to progress his career at another club.

Only here for a month Reece Burke – 19 years old and having only played five games previously – slotted into the defence alongside Rory McArdle and never looked out of place. Burke put in a calm, assured performance as one might expect from a player on his debut but he seems to be a short term solution to the problem of replacing Andrew Davies.

Alan Sheehan – who has performed the role better than anyone else this term – was on the bench and is thought to be about to leave the club. Millwall defender Mark Beevers has had talks over a move but those talks came to nothing. Nathan Clarke is on the bench until such a time as Parkinson redeems him.

Redemption/reconstruction

While there were chances for Bradford City to win at Oakwell against Barnsley Parkinson’s City were not seeking a redemption so much as reconstruction.

Burke slotted into a back four which was supported by a central midfield who did not stray too far up field and most of the afternoon the full backs were supported by the corresponding wingers Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall.

Parkinson has made it clear that we are at a stage in the season were we can judge all the players (except for Brad Jones, once again absent having missed training all summer) but judgements on those two wide players – and a third Josh Morris – are not kind.

Anderson has – thus far – failed to live up to the hefty reputation he arrived with. His performance against Gillingham was risible and while he was defensively better at Oakwell he showed only very occasional abilities to go beyond the forward line and link onto what could be won by James Hanson.

There is much to do for Anderson.

Josh Morris – who replaced Anderson after just over an hour – has shown more in terms of the ability but is frustratingly easy to knock off the ball for a player with pretensions to take a central midfield role as well as a wide one. For defenders playing against Morris is about playing on the line of fouling and hoping that the Referee has no sympathy for the player who concludes every challenge looking back at the official and appealing.

More curious is Mark Marshall who has very good delivery of a ball when he happens upon the right position to deliver it from but getting Marshall into those positions seems to be a random process. Defensively he issues vague and wrong instructions to the full back behind him but such things are worked on in training and that could improve with time.

Going forward Marshall needs to position himself to take on defenders and go forward rather than to dribble past central midfielders and move sideways. A man who can beat a player is useful when attacking but dribbling through central midfield is dangerous at worse, and fairly pointless at best.

One understands Marshall’s frustrations even without agreeing with his way of venting them.

City’s trip to Barnsley was about keeping a clean sheet and in keeping a clean sheer starting building belief in the squad that it is master of its own destiny. The balance was in favour of defending and none of the wide players was given much of a remit to attack. Parkinson wanted to see if Anderson, Marshall, and Morris were prepared to dig in, that the team were prepared to do as told, and to be responsive for achieving an outcome, and the answer was a qualified yes.

In this context Steve Davies and James Hanson toiled up front with the latter often isolated and the former missing a great chance when one on one with Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal.

One doubts Parkinson will lose much sleep over that. He goes into training for the first time this season – and I would say the first time since Reading – with a team that can be said to have had control over the outcome of the game rather than been buffeted on the winds of occasion.

That was the first thing Phil Parkinson achieved when he arrived at City four years ago. He hopes to have won it back on Saturday.

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

The Overton window in politics

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

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

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

James Hanson, predictable

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

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

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

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

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

The Overton window in football

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something changed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that is success.

Bradford City vs Gillingham being settled by threefold repetition

In the game of Chess there are five ways to draw. Most of them involve no move being playable within the rules but there is a method called “threefold repetition” in which a draw is called should the same position occur for a third time in a game.

The purpose of this rule is to avoid a situation in which the two players go into a stalemate situation. It is rare in the world of perfect objectivity which is Chess. Not so much a rule to say that a draw has happened, but one which pre-empts the draw.

Even before Gillingham substitute Antonio German scrambled a stoppage-time equaliser to give his side a 1-1 draw at Bradford City a threefold repetition could have been called on the game such seemed like the inevitability of the result.

Inevitable in that watching Peter Taylor’s teams for his brief time in charge of Bradford City – especially the way he set up his teams to play away from home – was seeing a manager comfortable with a point.

Inevitable in that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City teams hold close to the believe that games are on gradually rather than but great pushes and even when an own goal by Leon Legge following great work by Andy Halliday on the flank the Bantams did not commit to getting a second goal.

Inevitable that Gillingham keeper Stuart Nelson made two saves which turned goal-bound shots onto the post one in the first half from Billy Knott and a second from James Hanson in the second. With goal efforts at a premium Nelson’s reactions were as valuable for the visitors as Jordan Pickford’s were at Preston last weekend.

That City had the better of the chances seemed to suit their being the home side but as both teams were comfortable with a point a draw was the result.

Which returns to the the threefold repetition rule and its place at Bradford City. The rule is in place to stop games in which no progress is being made and on a cold November afternoon turned evening it seemed that no progress was manifested on the field.

All animals are equal, but some…

This week there had been talk from the Inner Party of the Bradford City Supporters Board that the club were aiming to be in the Championship by 2017. It was not clear why exiting administrator David Baldwin had made this claim to the selective group without adding any detail as to how they would be achieved – it would seem that the feedback from this curious organisation is a one way process – but make it (it seems) he did.

What is the plan for that? And why is there an assumption that everything tends to improvement. City seem to sit at a crossroads in the club recent history. There is the will to improve the clubs and many paths to take to do it. The management of the club is in a good position – Parkinson gets a lot out of his players – but there are questions about recruitment that were highlighted by Aaron McLean’s exit this week.

Likewise there are questions about the structure of the club the exit of David Baldwin – a man rated above his abilities in my opinion – and how to craft the business as it tries to grow. Further there are questions as to how those improvements would be translated into success. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s contention in Why England Lose is that the only real guide to one’s place in the pecking order in football is turnover and that increasing turnover moves a team up the divisions.

Aside from wanting it to be so, and hoping that the statistically improbable falls in a way that benefits, what right have Bradford City got to expect that next season will be better than this? If Andrew Davies were to leave when out of contract in the summer why would we expect someone better to replace him? Why is there an expectation that Gary Liddle – excellent today – should be better than Gary Jones?

These are points which need to be addressed before the club start talking about 2017 in the Championship.

So now then

Phil Parkinson’s side could have been accused of not being committed to trying to win the game but Parkinson was no more going to send his team to be gung-ho than Peter Taylor’s were of doing anything other than defend.

Two teams cancelling each other out and neither looking in a position to make progress. Phil Parkinson is a good manager doing a good job at Valley Parade but one wonder what he is up against week-in week-out and how the teams who do progress support managers?

This is an open question. I am not suggesting a plan to be followed but what I am wondering is who at Valley Parade had the domain knowledge that would be helpful to Parkinson? In a week where City have agreed to pay 75% of the wages of a player in a side chasing promotion I think we all have to admit that there is scope for improvement.

On the field some games are won, some are lost, and like today some are drawn and that is how it will stay unless for outrageous fortune one way or another. That or the intervention of the boardroom at the club who – at the moment – seem to have aims without plans.

Peter Taylor, a miserable night and a miserable football match, that all reminded me of what happens when the board have aims without plans.

Parkinson, Taylor and the case of the low standard

Gillingham boss Peter Taylor was kind enough to raise an arm to greet the Bradford City supporters who for a brief time watched him manage the side and for a time he must have wondered how the noise from the Bantams stands had changed.

Taylor once heard his own team booed off after winning a match, and his leader Tommy Doherty was booed on the field, to a point where the then City boss suggested that if the fans thought jeering was so beneficial he should work it into training.

When he watched Aaron McLean sprint into the box as a James Hanson header was fed out wide to Adam Reach and probably feared that the once feared hit man would dart past the defender and do what he had not done in eight weeks as a Bradford City player and score. He did.

McLean’s relief was obvious after his goal as was the affection for him from the Bradford City supporters. Such a drastic change since Doherty being booed, Taylor must of thought, and as City pressed on his Gillingham side in a tide which should have washed the Kent side away how right he was in his criticism of the booing supporters.

McLean has been nursed through every game by fans willing him to be all he could be. It warms the heart to watch.

But little else did as City squandered near total domination over Gillingham and ended up with a draw which it might be said both managers will be happy with but that Phil Parkinson should take no delight in at all.

Gillingham’s open midfield in the first half left an area between the back four and the midfield which City were able to exploit and did so. Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett started to show an understanding as if linked by sixty yards of elastic one showing one side when then other came in for the ball. Matthew Dolan moved forwards well and City had a chance to expand on the one goal lead but that chance – or those chances – were squander.

Amine Linganzi moved into the gap in the second half and Adebayo Akinfenwa came on and City would soon be looking at an equaliser by Cody McDonald and an afternoon where standards were lowered.

A word on Akinfenwa. He is often a joke of a player massive as he is but today Referee Michael Bull, and a good few of the City players, were taken in by that joke. Akinfenwa played by his own set of rules about the physical game and Bull allowed him to do so. It was like watching a kid at school who was rubbish so he was allowed to be offside to even things up.

But Akinfenwa is not rubbish, he is over weight, and he is allowed to throw that weight around with far less intervention from the Referee than other players on the field suffer. It is as tedious as it is disappointing and Andrew Davies must have wondered why Akinfenwa was allowed to spend fifteen minutes at the start of the second half jumping at him rather than with him (including in the build up to the goal) without a free kick being given.

But had Davies played with the spirit that saw him not even give Akinfenwa a kick at Wembley last May then City would have won and that leads us to the lowering of standards which was in evidence especially in the second half.

City have started to accept less than they should and this Parkinson should be worried about this.

First let me draw a distinction here between the idea that fans deserve more – a phrase I hate – or that players should always score with every shot or never make mistakes or other things which go under the idea of not accepting less and focus on this very specific issue of the lowering of standards.

Take Matthew Dolan on seventy minutes when the ball came to him thirty five yards out and when falling he lashed a ball which would not trouble the goalkeeper even slightly. Take Nathan Doyle putting in a half challenge in midfield and complaining that he has fouled. Take Kyle Bennett being challenged in his own half and unlike Adam Reach’s Elvis hips shimmy into the box in the first half falling and darting eyes to the Referee.

Parkinson needs to set a higher standard than this. He needs to underline to the players what playing well looks like and not accept that the players had a jolly good try at doing something else. Players need to play with their heads and with the trust in their teammates, and they need to play in a way that understands that they have teammates and that much of the time their jobs are to serve those teammates.

There was a moment in the game when Kyle Bennett, furthest forward, chased a ball and on catching it hooked it to the goalkeeper tamely. It was not understanding where your teammates are, it was not playing intelligently, and it was the sign of a standard slipped that Parkinson has to address.

Players are playing for contracts – they always are – and Parkinson will look at Adam Reach and feel that he has found a player who can raise the level of the team but many of the other players who may not be at Valley Parade next season are playing under a standard which they need to be to worth keeping at the club.

And again I underline the difference between holding a high standard and highlighting mistakes. It is not that players are pilloried for mistakes it is that some of the players will have left the field today feeling the did “alright” in a “decent result” and I believe that that is not the right attitude for a team looking to progress.

Today City needed to play to a higher standard and did not. Parkinson’s reaction to that – if he thinks that the way Matthew Dolan played today will replace Gary Jones (eventually) or the way Kyle Bennett played will be a substitute for how Kyel Reid played – will define next season.

The walking stage as City head to Macclesfield looking to build a running position

Functionalism seems the most fitting label when reflecting on the way Phil Parkinson has lined up Bradford City in the last three games, at least.

Functionalism is a theory that design (in this case tactics and team selection) should be determined by its practicality rather than by aesthetic considerations. Like buying a supermarket brand of baked beans because money is a little tight, aside from the slip up to Hereford, the Bantams have accomplished their objectives in a largely efficient manner. The style will have to come later.

A run of disappointing results had intensified the need to start winning at all costs, and so for now at least the attractive manner of passing football that had featured in the Bristol Rovers and Port Vale games has been shelved by Parkinson. That’s not to say City under Parkinson have become as dour as they were a year earlier under Peter Taylor, but there are certainly similarities in the more organised nature of the way City have played.

As the saying goes, you need to learn to walk before you can run. City couldn’t afford to carry on playing well but losing points, so for now we are watching a different approach that is proving more effective in grinding out results and slowly tightening up a defence which has been far too leaky.

Expect more of the same at in-form Macclesfield tonight. City have only managed to pick up three points on the road this season, and haven’t won in the league away from home since James Hanson’s first half header at Moss Rose six months ago did much to preserve the Bantam’s league status. Parkinson apparently adopted a more defensive approach in the last away match at Hereford but didn’t get the sufficient levels of performance from his players; but it seems plausible he will prioritise not getting beaten this evening over playing in the open way at Port Vale a month ago, which was highly unfortunate to go unrewarded.

Should the slow and steady improvement be continued, it will be interesting to observe when Parkinson begins to give his attacking players more of a free reign to show their flair. Perhaps he has looked back on his early games in charge and concluded he tried to implement that passing, expansive style of play too soon.

As much as we can say recent tactics are more in the thinking of Taylor’s ethos, the former City manager had his team playing in that manner from day one and made no attempt to disguise such intentions. Parkinson, you feel, is different. Complaints about the style of football he played in previous jobs are well-known, but you don’t get to be a scout at a club with the philosophy of Arsenal – like Parkinson was when out of work last season – by being anti-football.

The need to earn wins and push City away from the relegation worries is hugely important, but that doesn’t mean Parkinson has found a formula that he will stick to for the rest of the season.

So we watch recent performances with raised spirits by the results, a few tiny doubts about the approach taken but optimism that what the more stylish football glimpsed previously will be continued when the time is right and with better personnel (e.g. a more solid defensive platform from which to play attacking football). Right now, functionalism is the key. One hopes we’ll have fun this season too.

Macclesfield offer a much stronger test than City’s last three opponents. Without being disrespectful, there is a theory that clubs of the Silkmen’s type – that is to say clubs with low resources compared to others – tend to start seasons well, but fade away when injuries and suspensions become too testing for a small squad. Nevertheless with three wins from four and only one home loss to date, it is not the greatest of timing for City to face them.

A win for City tonight though and we’ll have our own three from four, and the mood around the club will improve dramatically. A defeat and – with tough games to come against Swindon and third-placed Cheltenham – doom and gloom will weigh heavily.

Matt Duke keeps goal despite a constant soundtrack of supporters demanding he is dropped for Jon McLaughlin (odd that, seen as at the end of last season McLaughlin was getting slated). For me, the relationship between supporter and goalkeeper is about trust and, at the moment, Duke struggles to hold ours. As such, every time a goal goes in we instantly question whether he should have saved it. When a goalkeeper has earned our trust, we don’t do that unless they make a notable mistake.

Duke was blamed by some supporters for Michael Jacobs’ thunderbolt strike for Northampton – which seems ridiculous. Equally I can’t understand why Hereford’s goals were labelled his fault the week earlier. He is getting slowly better, and we need to stick with him.

In the defence, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall sit either side of Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip. It was an encouraging home debut from the Dutch defender, who looked better when he didn’t have to think compared to a few occasions when he had time to assess his options. Perhaps he is the opposite of Steve Williams.  Two of the midfield four pick themselves, with Ritchie Jones and Kyel Reid both producing superb second half displays on Saturday.

Who will play alongside them is where the controversy will centre on, if the game is lost (because Parkinson has already seemingly past the honeymoon and has been attracting some strong criticism from some supporters,  so they will need some ammunition). While Adam Reed did okay on Saturday, Michael Flynn is playing far too well not to be recalled on his return from suspension. However, Reed may keep his place in the centre and Jones moved wide right.

If Parkinson does this all hell will break loose, because it means the promising Michael Bryan will have been dropped. Yet the functionalism theory dictates that playing with two out and out wingers away from home is a more risky strategy, and Parkinson does not seem shy of making such a tough call in picking Jones as a wide midfielder to give City a stronger central midfield. Personally I thought Bryan did well in flashes on Saturday, but some of the praise he received seemed a little over the top.

Up front Craig Fagan and James Hanson will continue, with Parkinson a big fan of the pair developing a partnership that showed initial promise on Saturday and at Burton a few weeks back.

There are plenty of other people waiting in the wings, but the likes of Jamie Devitt, Chris Mitchell and the injured Ross Hannah may have to wait patiently until the pressure on the team lessens to the point style can be prioritised again. Rarely has a Bradford City season being about the squad of players, rather than the first 11, in the way that this one is shaping up to be.

Robbie Threlfall the comeback kid

Two months on from his shock resignation as Bradford City manager, Peter Jackson has yet to utter one word in public regarding his reasons for departing, other than apparently telling a group of Huddersfield supporters that “two people at City are going to kill the club” for the way they are running it. When the day comes he sees it fit to explain himself, it’s hoped whoever is holding the microphone in front of him asks what his thought process was towards his left backs.

Back in those care-free days of pre-season, a flattering 4-1 win for Premier League Bolton over the Bantams was followed by Jackson revealing he’d told full backs Robbie Threlfall and Lewis Hunt, “they can go if they find a club”. For Hunt – only still at the club because a desperation for a right back forced City to offer him a new contract – being told he could leave was understandable and he’s only featured once this campaign. Yet as Threlfall made his 18th start of the season in the home win over Northampton – enjoying arguably his finest game to date in a City shirt – a question popped into my head concerning why three months ago he was told he had no future at all.

I’ll admit I’m a big Luke O’Brien fan. When it comes to selecting who plays left back between Threlfall and O’Brien, I would always – and still would do – favour Luke because of the greater attacking threat he provides. When Jackson rarely picked Threlfall in pre-season and then made his revelation post-Bolton, I was pleased that O’Brien has apparently won his battle to be first choice.

What happened next – and where Jackson’s honest opinion would be welcomed – was baffling. The final pre-season friendly against Carlisle saw Threlfall brought in from the cold and then starting the season’s opener against Aldershot with O’Brien not even on the bench. An unfortunate own goal wasn’t the greatest of starts, but Threlfall’s superb assist for Michael Flynn’s goal at Leeds will live as long in the memory as the Welshman’s terrific strike.

Yet still, we waited for O’Brien to reclaim his place in view of Jackson’s earlier declaration; and as City made a slow start and Threlfall looked fairly average in those early games, bewilderment grew. When O’Brien was brought on as sub in the Johnstones Paint Trophy win over Sheffield Wednesday – a week after Jackson’s exit – there was a chant of “hallelujah” in support of the Halifax-born player. But neither caretaker Colin Cooper nor new manager Phil Parkinson took Threlfall out of the team.

Which would have been harsh – because with each passing week, Threlfall has quietly gone about his business looking more effective than the last game. Having originally being signed by Peter Taylor in February 2010 and much made of his set pieces during his initial loan spell, he’s again making his mark in this area too. Most notably setting up City’s opening goal at Huddersfield in the superb JPT victory.

O’Brien played that night too, and to date all of his appearances have been as a winger rather than his natural full back role. With his greater dribbling ability and willingness to take people on, O’Brien could make a good career out of this position. Particularly because – unlike your bog-standard League Two winger – he has a much greater awareness of his defensive responsibilities and will regularly help out his full back. In the last two home games Parkinson has started with two out and out wingers and then brought on O’Brien when needing to protect a lead. On each occasion he made a decent impact.

So having apparently won the full back war only to lose the battle quite badly, O’Brien’s City future now appears to hinge on his willingness and adaptability to become a winger. Competition is strong in this area of the team too, but with Michael Bryan and Jack Compton only here on loan for now O’Brien’s aim must be to prove to Parkinson these temporary players are not needed long-term. New rivals, but the same kind of challenge he has been used to at left back.

Meanwhile Threlfall has surely become one of the first names on the team sheet. He was outstanding against Northampton, time and time again successfully tackling his winger and providing good cover for Luke Oliver and Marcel Siep, while showing great positioning. Meanwhile in the less-celebrated side of his game – going forwards – he put in a strong display, linking up well with Kyel Reid. He doesn’t take people on like O’Brien, but his greater passing ability means he is starting attacking moves and then joining in further down the line by charging down the flank. With Chris Mitchell struggling to get back into the starting eleven, Threlfall has taken on the greater responsibility regarding set pieces.

All credit to Threlfall for his attitude. There are more celebrated and eye catching members of the team, but his determination to re-discover his form – after a disappointing 2010/11 campaign – and battle for his future at the club is a shining example of what City are trying to achieve this season.

Improvement in individuals, improvement as a team. Threlfall was supposed to be consigned to the scrap heap, but too often City have given up on players and released them rather than develop them. Told to get lost by Jackson, he has come back stronger than ever. Threlfall’s first team spot is his to lose – and on current form I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

The time and the place for Michael Flynn

At a Q&A session in the week – and again in the Telegraph and Argus – Michael Flynn has talked about his belief that while the Bradford City’s plans on developing players are well meaning but the club should focus on the first team squad and should direct all the resources at getting promotion.

City’s skipper speaks out and people listen. It is good to hear the thoughts of any of the players even if they did prove to be slightly off the mark when talking about the cost of the development project (he apparently claimed Development Squad players earn £300 per week, a figure way off what Archie Christie, who is in charge of the club’s budgets, told BfB when explaining the £145 a day cost for the whole set up) – although some of the players might object to their leader talking in public about their pay packets – but is this really the time for Michael Flynn to be voicing his thoughts on the way the club manages its resources?

Signed by Stuart McCall, Flynn has played under four different managers at Valley Parade. Peter Jackson seemed set to dump the number four casting him to the depths of the squad but Flynn’s big performances saw him work his way back into the first team up to being captain. Every manager has grown to appreciate the Welsh midfielder as much as the supporters who he acknowledges diligently at the end of every game. Three times the job of manager of Bradford City has come up while he was at the club. He has – as far as we know – yet to apply.

That sounds factitious but is worth consideration. Flynn is telling the club how it should be spending its resources and his suggestion is that we should direct everything – George Green money and all – into getting out of League Two. If that sounds familiar it is because it is the modus operandi of Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s second season, and in Peter Taylor’s season at the club.

It is the ideas that brought Paul McLaren to the club for a season, and Tommy Doherty and we recall how those seasons turned out. Flynn’s comments echo John Hendrie back in 2009 when he talked about throwing more money at the first team. Lots spent, some promise but ultimately no return and much of what was in place before had to be taken apart after. One might argue that the club is still recovering from the decision to spend the money that came from Fabian Delph’s sale on the first team. One might also say that we are on a long road of recovery from Geoffrey Richmond’s six week plan that we should put everything into a first team that would stay in the Premier League. Certainly it is hard to argue that we are not recovering from allowing Peter Taylor to build a one season squad last term.

If it is Flynn’s opinion that it is the Second Season of McCall/Season of Taylor plan that Bradford City should be following – perhaps hoping for third time lucky – then there is a time and a place to make that statement. The time is when a new manager is being recruited, the place is in a job interview where he tells Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes why focusing everything on the first team will bring promotion this time when it did not in the previous two attempts. That time and place is not in the last three paragraphs of a T&A article.

None of which is to say that Flynn should not vocalise his thoughts or that the club should not allow its captain to talk about his thoughts, but Flynn needs to explain just why the throw everything at promotion approach will work in 2011/2012 or 2012/2013 when it did not in 2008/2009 or 2010/2011.

The club deserves credit for trying to break a cycle of failure which has seen us slide down the leagues each time thinking that if we could just get back up a division then we could start planning for the future. Even if the current development squad project was to fail then merits of trying a different approach rather than repeating the plans of past seasons – which many would say failed – are today are still valid (and perhaps even more so in future), and they are still laudable.

Even if the captain might not agree.

Luke Oliver stands to his full height

It is cliché to say that six foot seven Luke Oliver stands head and shoulders over his team mates but on Saturday as City claimed a hard fought one goal win over Torquay United the defender put in the kind of performance that many of his more celebrated peers who have played the position over the past few season would have called a good afternoon’s work.

Signed by Peter Taylor and often seen (in a negative way) as that manager’s favourite Oliver has hardly spent his time at Valley Parade as the most popular player on the field but his honest work ethic and robust displays seems to have started winning over supporters as well as management. Since his arrival at the club Phil Parkinson has picked Oliver for every match.

Which is a turn around from the first friendly of the season when the rag, tag and bob tail under Peter Jackson were posted to Silsden FC with Oliver, Michael Flynn and Robbie Threlfall seemingly being sent a message to them that their time at the club was coming to an end.

Talk about “writing players off” Oliver – it seemed – was with Flynn and Threlfall part of Jackson’s cull of players. Four months later Oliver, Flynn and Threlfall have all played their way back into the first team but one might argue that of the three Oliver’s turn around is the most remarkable.

Peter Jackson signed and named as captain Guy Branston pairing him with Steve Williams in pre-season and Lee Bullock in the opening match against Aldershot. Draw up a list of players in the manager’s thought and Oliver would have been fourth or fifth. That same list now would have him around the top.

All of which is massive credit to the man who took some fierce criticism when playing up front for Taylor’s side and a good deal when he was back in defence. Such criticism I always found curious and could never agree with. Oliver’s displays were practical if not revelatory and his attitude excellent. A year ago today Oliver was leading the line for City in a 2-0 win over Barnet with little impact but great effort.

I could not say what other publications were saying about the player but looking forward to this season at BfB we talk about a player who had not let anyone down and could do a job when needed.

For the forgotten man Luke Oliver it is hard to imagine how he can break into the side with Branston in his way but – eighteen red cards remember – a good season for Luke Oliver is to be the able replacement to be drafted in when needed. Whenever called on Oliver has played with enthusiasm and professionalism. Not the best player in the world a good season for Luke Oliver is to not let anyone down when he is called on and – despite the moaning of the malcontent – he never has so far.

Which perhaps is the key to Oliver’s revival in fortunes. By offering a calm reliability he has created a platform to move onto a higher level of performance. None of which is to suggest that the player has room for complacency just that he has reason to be proud of his achievement in winning over the new manager.

And winning over fans. Last season one might have found long odds on the Bradford End signing “One Luke Oliver” but so they did on Saturday in appreciation of another clearance.

Watching him commanding at the back against Torquay on Saturday one has to admire Oliver for how he has stepped out of the shadows cast by higher profile players and claimed a first team slot. In doing so he provides a message for all City players who are looking to edge into Phil Parkinson’s side about the application needed to claim, and retain, a place in the starting line-up.

So far Luke Oliver is the success story of the season but – typically – that story has been told in quiet tones. No bluster or bravado just honest, hard working displays which have been noted and rewarded.

City will not be launching an appeal about Andrew Davies’ red card against Torquay and with the loaned suspended the question now is who will be partnered with Luke Oliver, and not if Oliver is going to be called on, and that is a great credit to the player who after a season too big to not be a target has now stood to his full height.

Parkinson offers Lawn a chance to revisit his moment of decision

Phil Parkinson’s arrival at Bradford City might be the repetition of the familiar sight of the club unveiling a new manager but for Mark Lawn his appointment represents a chance to revisit the most decisive moment he had taken as The Bantams chairman, and to try put right what went wrong.

Parkinson replaces former City captain turned manager Peter Jackson coming to the club with a CV that suggests that one should not expect expansive, attacking football. When City team drew 1-1 with Parkinson’s Colchester United in 2006 City boss Colin Todd called the man who now takes his seat “the death of football.”

It is fair to say that Parkinson is a footballing pragmatist although how this pragmatism will impact his City team is debatable. Having spent the summer talking about replacing Pat Rice as Arsene Wenger’s number two at Arsenal perhaps the negative football that raised Todd’s anger so was the best he could get out of his Colchester side, and that at Arsenal he would had done things differently. At City it might be worth seeing what practicalities he puts in place.

Nevertheless it is the icon replaced by the pragmatist. It is hard to not cast the decision as Mark Lawn’s chance to revisit the change he made at the club in 2010 when Stuart McCall was replaced by Peter Taylor. Lawn proudly stood alongside Taylor and there was a suggestion that amateur hour was over and a “proper manager” had taken over. Twelve months later and Lawn was recruiting again. Parkinson was interviewed for that position but Peter Jackson favoured.

Even in retrospect it is hard to piece together what went wrong with Lawn’s appointment of Taylor. He was welcomed to the club on the strength of his reputation for winning promotion – his CV is more impressive than Parkinson’s – and he pointed the club in the direction of the improvements which are now trumpeted. The new and better facilities were a demand of Taylor’s which were promised, then said to be not required, and then given to Peter Jackson.

But things went wrong – very obviously – and Taylor left after twelve months. Mark Lawn was the last of the board to agree on appointing Taylor but agree he did and he spent the summer pumping up City as promotion favourites.

When talking about Taylor’s team as being on the way out of football saved by Peter Jackson Lawn might deal in exaggeration but he also exonerates himself of any responsibility in the failure of the club to challenge for promotion that year. Lawn made his move in replacing the manager, his move failed, and Parkinson offers a chance to revisit that.

One wonders though is Lawn has learnt from the mistakes made with Taylor as he takes the chance to relive them?

Back when there was talk about Colin Todd being sacked as he approached 100 games in charge of City his record split pretty evenly down in thirds between wins, defeats and losses but – at the time – it was a better record that Parkinson (his Colchester team were top of League One at the time) had after the same number of games. In other words two years plus change into Todd’s contract he was doing better than Parkinson, when Parkinson got to three years his team were well on the way to promotion.

Parkinson’s old boss Alan Pardew has been given a five year deal at Newcastle United – a club no stranger to replacing gaffers – as an indication of how much the chairman believes in the decision he had made. One year, two years, the indication is still that the club is going to see how things go.

The club have stated that there is an aim to reach the Championship in five years time. If Parkinson is the man to start that process off then are we to take it he is not the man to finish it? If he is worth giving being trusted with the first two years of that process why not all five? Obviously his contract would be extended were he to do well but once again we are in the process not of finding the man we want for our future but rather auditioning managers on a short term basis to see if they are worth keeping in the long term.

This season is for building, and in the last year of his contract Parkinson must follow that the next is for promotion and should he achieve that the he will have earned himself the chance to be the club’s long term manager.

So Mark Lawn gives a manager a remit to get promotion next season – which is what he did with Taylor – and hopes that things go better than they did last time.

One hopes that Lawn has learnt more from his mistakes than the ability to repeat them.

Phil Parkinson takes over at Bradford City

Bradford City have today confirmed that Phil Parkinson is to become the new manager, after agreeing a two year contract. The Bantams have already made a sizeable bid for striker Paul Benson, a fan of Parkinson, and are said to be chasing out of contract winger Kyel Reid.

Who is he?

43-year-old Parkinson has been out of work since been sacked as Charlton manager in January. Having taken over the South London club when it was clear they were already doomed to relegation from the Championship in 2009, Parkinson led the Addicks to a play off semi final – which they lost on penalties to Swindon – in his first full season in charge, before losing his job last season due to a poor run of form but with Charlton still fifth in League One and only three points off the top two.

Parkinson was previously given just 24 games as manager of Hull – making way for Phil Brown, which didn’t work out too badly for the Tigers. He built his reputation as a bright young manager by guiding Colchester to the Championship despite the Essex club having one of the lowest budgets and smallest gates in a League One that included Colin Todd’s Bradford City. He had been appointed United boss in 2003, steering them clear of relegation in that first season.

In 2007 Parkinson was set to take over as Huddersfield manager before making a last-minute u-turn and choosing to remain assistant to Alan Pardew at Charlton – prompting this memorable press conference.

As impressive as promotion for Colchester was, it needs noting that it took him three and a half seasons to achieve it – demonstrating once again the importance of giving a manager time. Rightly or wrongly he will probably not get such patience at City unless progress is swift in these next two seasons.

Since leaving Charlton, Parkinson has been assisting Arsenal with scouting work and is said to have turned down a position within their coaching staff.

What sort of football can we expect?

Parkinson rocks up to Valley Parade with accusations of playing dour football that echo Peter Taylor, the man he once succeeded at Hull. His successful promotion at Colchester saw his tough to beat side concede just 40 goals – less than a goal per game, making it the best defensive record in the division – and score only 58. At Charlton he endured criticism for negative football, though the play off finish season featured the Addicks scoring 71 and conceding 48.

That said what classes as dour football isn’t always truly the case. Todd’s City were routinely criticised as boring to watch, yet the former England centre half maintained a passing philosophy and usually played two out-and-out wingers, which made this common complaint somewhat dubious in truth. Relatively speaking, no recent City manager has managed to get his side as defensively strong as Todd did; but flair was not exactly short either in the likes of Nicky Summerbee, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Jermaine Johnson.

As Jackson began to lose his way in his final two games, the level of organisation Parkinson’s methods would appear to offer might prove beneficial to a team clearly bursting with enthusiasm but so far lacking League Two know-how.

What about the club’s long-term Development Squad initiative?

Parkinson has a decent reputation for giving opportunities to and improving young players – his Colchester team included Greg Halford, Chris Iwelumo, Neil Danns and Wayne Brown.

At Charlton Parkinson was said to have been given less money to spend than any previous manager since Lennie Lawrence in the 1980s. This meant he had to partly rely on young players and loans from clubs in lower leagues.

While forging a positive relationship with Archie Christie would seem to be key, there is every reason to be confident Parkinson has the experience to thrive in this environment. He seems unlikely to be diving into the loan market as often as Taylor did last season, which was to the detriment of the squad and to results.

What will change from Jackson?

Not much one would think. Unlike many of his predecessors in the Valley Parade dugout, Parkinson takes over with the squad in a relatively strong position and no great need to make wholesale changes other than the two signings already lined up. While he probably won’t be entirely happy with the squad he inherits and there will be winners and losers to this change of management, Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are likely to have told him all about the summer recruiting and the path started by Jackson should be continued.

What is expected of Parkinson?

These turbulent days have not exactly centered around expectations being or not being met, and so the remit that this is a building season with promotion welcomed but not expected will be the same. An improvement on last season is the minimum, and Parkinson has the time and the resources already available to attempt to make that happen.

The two-year deal is interesting given Taylor and Jackson were not awarded such long contracts, and City will probably need to finish in the top seven next season for it to be extended.

What about Lawn and the Board?

Even allowing for the fact the last managerial recruitment process of assessing candidates will have been fresh in the memory from last time, there is an impressiveness about the speed and manner the club has sought to replace Jackson. Compared to the uncertainty in way the manager situation was handled towards the end of last season, which must have played a part in the club’s poor form and near-miss with relegation, the transition has been relatively smooth.

The Board claim to have been stunned by the resignation of Jackson, but what could have proved a turbulent time has in fact gone relatively smoothly with a badly needed win followed by proactive action recruiting Parkinson. The long-term plan could easily have been ripped apart, but Lawn and the Board have maintained their conviction in the summer’s approach and moved sharply to ensure it should be continued.

What’s next?

Colin Cooper is expected to remain in charge of the team for Tuesday’s game with Sheffield Wednesday; so the new manager should lead his team for the first time at Morecambe on Saturday.

Candidate One: Phil Parkinson, a manager smaller than the club

Peter Taylor is a hard act to follow, or so it proved for Peter Jackson at Bradford City and Phil Parkinson the man who replaced him at Hull City and today emerged as the man seemingly most likely to take on the role of Bradford City manager next.

Parkinson has already interviewed for the role of City manager as a part of the last two rounds of interviews having been out of work since leaving Charlton Athletic in January this year. He is expected to talk to Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes next week, this has been enough to have Sky Bet suspend betting on the next arrival at Valley Parade.

Parkinson followed Taylor at Hull City unsuccessfully having taken the job following his work at Colchester United which saw him take the club to The Championship despite having the lowest attendance in League One that year.

At Charlton big things were expected but did not materialise with the London club bobbing along in League One under his stewardship losing in the play off semi-final to Swindon Town. Parkinson, who lives in the North and is from Chorley, had been offered the job at Huddersfield Town but knocked it back to stay at The Valley.

Replacing Peter Taylor, three stints in management, one promotion and knocking back a club in West Yorkshire. Seven years Jackson’s junior Parkinson has a similar CV to the outgoing manager.

Parkinson is the kind of manager that causes concern for chairmen. Having achieved at his first post he has not been able to replicate that success and one would worry that he had no plan to work from to remake what he had.

As a candidate there is no reason to believe he would be any better than Jackson, nor that he would be any worse but he would not have the baggage that Jackson carried. Parkinson’s blood might be blue and white, but it is the blue and white of Reading.

He is an outsider – like Taylor – not involved in the personalities of West Yorkshire football. Perhaps an outsider can sit in the now vacant manager’s office at Woodhouse Grove and take care of business there without the need to involve himself with toppling the fiefdoms at Valley Parade and attempting to stand tallest amongst people who own stepladders.

A manager smaller than the club perhaps, and perhaps that is no bad thing.

Another search for a manager begins

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will be used to looking for a new manager and – after three appointments two of which lasted less than a year and a bit – they show no signs of having a grasp of the right criteria to make those appointments.

When Stuart McCall “resigned” from the club the question we asked was what the plan was for the recruitment of his replacement was. A lot of these questions have been answered with the move to new facilities at Woodhouse Grove and the appointment of Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Director of Football Development.

There is a plan at the club which Christie was brought in to implement to develop players for the first team – and to provide more players for the manager with a more extensive scouting network – which aims to take some of the onus of recruitment from the manager and have a retention of knowledge beyond the man in the dug out. Unlike the situation where Peter Taylor left and his backroom staff were sent away with him Jackson having left yesterday the players have familiar faces around them.

It is this type of system which saw an end to Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle United and – in a way – Alan Curbishley at West Ham but is increasingly common in football. Indeed on Jackson’s last day at Valley Parade Michael Flynn told Radio Leeds that Colin Cooper took the players through their paces while the manager spent the morning on the phone to football managers trying to find a striker on loan. The team and manager lunched and went over the plan for the Barnet game, then resigned.

(It should be noted, and as an aside, that Keegan’s contracted stated that he would have the final say over players brought into the club and when the club’s Director of Football Recruitment Dennis Wise signed Xisco – the issue which Keegan resigned over – Newcastle United were in breach of that contract and while Keegan resigned he later successfully sued the club for constructive dismissal. One wonders what the detail of Jackson’s contract was.)

The manager’s remit is the first team and the requirement is not for an holistic club builder but rather for a game winner, and someone who with coaching and deployment can edge a performance an inch or two better. There is a list of managers who were considered to replace Stuart McCall (now Motherwell): Peter Taylor (now Bahrain), Steve Cotterill (now Portsmouth), Russell Slade (now Leyton Orient), Peter Jackson, Lawrie Sanchez (now Barnet), Jim Magilton (now caretaker assistant manager Shamrock Rovers), Dean Windass (working for BSKYB), John Coleman (still Accrington), Iain Dowie (no club), Martin Allen (now Notts County) and Wayne Jacobs. Six months ago John Hughes (no club) declared an interest in joining City and John Still (still Dagenham) interviewed for the position.

How many of these fulfil the remit which Jackson was being asked to work within? Certainly John Still – the victorious Dagenham manager of last week – would do having worked with Christie before but one has to wonder how much of an appreciation of what skills the next manager needs to have, and how those skills are distinct from those which were required when looking for McCall or Taylor.

Having appointed a big personality in Jackson – and perhaps had personality clashes – Lawn and Rhodes may be tempted to opt to bring in a younger manager who is more malleable, less set in his ways of how to run a club, and able to work within the current structure. They would do well to avoid “Yes” men.

The aim of the club is to have an appointment before next week’s trip to Morecambe which suggests that there is someone in mind – probably someone who has talked to the club six or eighteen months ago – but that Lawn and Rhodes do not have the clarity to bring someone in immediately. Were John Still to be the choice then one imagines a call would be made, a resignation drafted, and the new man revealed on Monday. The fact that there is a week until appointment suggests that there are discussions to be had and a choice to be made. There is a suggestion that three interviews will be held this week. One has to wonder what Lawn and Rhodes think they will hear in those interviews which they had not heard in the last two rounds, and how they will be able to sift the answers to get the right man. We are to assume that Jackson and Taylor were both the most impressive people in interview.

The early runners

The link to John Still – who talked about how he would have joined City were it not for the uncertainty over the future of Valley Parade – is a strong one with the Dagenham manager being in the final two of the club’s thoughts when Jackson was appointed. The club would – not doubt – have to pay Dagenham to free Still from his contract.

Impressive in the last round of interviews was former Hibs and Falkirk manager John Hughes who is out of work at the moment and could come in without any compensation payable. Hughes is a strong candidate for the job but one might expect him to be appointed this morning rather than next week if he is the chosen one.

Former players Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass have their name’s mentioned often in connection with the job. Beagrie has shown no interest in moving into management thus far but Windass has made his desire to take over the club known – Terry Dolan as his assistant – and could fit in as the type of rookie manager who may appeal to the board who have had problems dealing with experienced number ones.

Former Barnsley manager and City man of the 1980s John Hendrie is also an option although one might wonder how many conversations Hendrie has had with Stuart McCall about the board at Bradford City and how that would colour his view of the job were it offered.

City have always been fond a bit of fashionability and so perhaps Jim Magilton – who is working as caretaker assistant at Shamrock Rovers who qualified for the Europa League with this superb strike last night may be an outside bet having talked to the club previously.

Other names work mentioning include Colin Cooper the current caretaker manager and former player and Farsley manager Lee Sinnott. Paul Ince has been mentioned – his promotion with MK Dons would impress the board almost as much as his collection of shiny medals but his track record is patchy.

Finally John Coleman has interested City in the past.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

For those seeking a barometer on events at Bradford City’s the club’s trips to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground provide just that.

The first meeting between the teams in modern times saw Joe Colbeck – fresh from his return from loan at Darlington – the hero as City ran out 2-0 winners and Omar Daley tore the home side in two. The hard work of striker Barry Conlon brought praise that visit and there was a sense that four months into his time at the club it seemed that Stuart McCall was starting to get the basis of team together.

Three years ago City were outplayed for eighty minutes and then Stuart McCall brought on Barry Conlon and one might riot some how managed to be the catalyst for a stunning turn around that saw City leave Stanley boss John Coleman with a ruined wedding anniversary and City fans happy.

Happy for a time though because it was though that – eventually – City could do better than Conlon and his manager Stuart McCall and so the change was made to Peter Taylor who with huge fanfare took his City team for their first game.

You might remember the wet ground, the late arriving and early departing Mark Lawn with a vandalised car, and the performance that set the tone for Taylor time at Valley Parade. There was a sense of optimism in the air that day that – probably because the display was away from home and followed not long after by a great 3-1 win at Rochdale – which went undented. Recall, if you will, the people who said that Taylor was going to sort out the mess that Stuart McCall had caused. Try not to look at the top of the Scottish Premier Division.

The optimism of Taylor’s arrival was in marked contrast to last season’s trip to The Crown Ground where City were so badly second best that manager Peter Jackson could find not an iota of optimism. Having taken up a team of the Disunited from Taylor Jackson – following Accrington – could not see how the club would claim another point in the season. At that point Peter Jackson thought Bradford City would go out of the Football League.

So Bradford City go West for the fifth time with Jackson having nailed together a team he has more faith in and which built around the optimism which was in such short supply in April’s visit. A team for which improvement is the aim and the assumption that enough improvement will drive promotion. Seeking a first win of the season following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Oxford and on the last of three trips away from home that started at Leeds the tone for the return to Valley Parade for three back to back home games will be taken from this barometer test.

A device to measure pressure City’s barometer readings have been troubling for some years. This summer – for the first time since relegation from the Premier League – there seems to be a realism in the club’s aims and that has brought with it a sense of optimism that the club is going in the right direction.

There is a question as to how long optimism can be maintained without victories and – along with that – the merits of optimism. Paul Jewell’s side famously gathered two points of the first twenty-one and got promotion at Wolves with many expecting them to fall at the last hurdle. Any optimism garnered on the last four trips to Accrington have done nothing to stop the club going backwards, often by a route of its own choice.

As long as there is progress in the players then – perhaps – there should be an optimism to match.

Jackson goes into the game with Martin Hansen in goal – there is a rumour that the Liverpool loanee is undroppable in his time at City although there is always that rumour about loan players. Jon McLaughlin is working his way through his interrupted pre-season and once again is being viewed as an answer to all problems. Never wanting to disrespect a player who I believe is a good and serviceable goalkeeper worthy of his place in the squad and team but never has a player sat on the bench performing so well. On the bench he is the human traffic light always on red, the unbeatable keeper, the greatest custodian in the club has had.

Three of City’s back four have been unchanged all season – the other position has rotated to three different names. Liam Moore, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall are constant, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams and Lee Bullock have changed. Oliver is expected to retain his place having played his part in the build up to Ross Hannah’s equaliser on Saturday. There was speculation that Oliver pushed Duberry, or at least that is what Duberry said, or was told to say by someone at the club, and he is sticking to but he is not doing twenty months for that, no way…

The midfield presents Jackson with options having favoured a five at Leeds and Oxford with Chris Mitchell at the base of Michael Flynn and Richie Jones with Mark Stewart and Jack Compton on the flanks but the improvement seen with Michael Bryan and a 442 might prompt a change in shape that sees one of Flynn and Jones benched. Jones brings a hamstring niggle into the game and perhaps that will see him sitting the match out.

Stewart – a player still finding his feet but showing some nice feet when he does – would then press forward alongside James Hanson who once again showed the limits of his abilities as the only player detailed to attack on Saturday. Given the thankless task as the only pink shirt in the other half at the Kassam Stadium Hanson has an unfruitful afternoon and sure enough garnered criticism for his play in isolation. Conlon used to suffer criticism too, but his replacement was Stanley legend Paul Mullin and soon Barry was missed. An object lesson if ever there was one.

All of which is expected to leave Naille Rodney and Ross Hannah on the bench – impact substitutes in a Conloin stylee perhaps – but gives Peter Jackson the sort of selection problems which Taylor could have only dreamed of where his has a choice of players who all seem to be keen to show how they are improving.

To show a twitch on the barometer, and perhaps a reduction in pressure.

2011/2012 III/IV: The club

Success is a hard thing to judge in football.

Every different clubs’ supporters and chairman/board have different expectations for their club in the upcoming season.

Some clubs expect to find themselves in a relegation battle come the ‘business’ end of the season.

Many teams would be content with a mid-table finish in the division that they currently find themselves in. A mid-table finish for other teams would be a disappointing return for a seasons results.

The top teams are expected to challenge for honours on all fronts and in all competitions. Nothing less than that would be acceptable.

Since relegation to the old forth division back in 2007, Bradford City’s annual expectation is to be challenging for promotion into League One.

Four seasons later and that expectation has failed to be realised despite high budgets (relative to the division) having been spent and two well fancied managers losing their jobs.

This seasons’ pre season expectations is perhaps time to take a step back. Do we realistically expect to get promotion or close to it this upcoming season?

Last season, Peter Taylor’s side were widely fancied to be in the hunt for not only a promotion place, but challenging for automatic promotion. Local and national media once again talked up City’s chances. But once again, hope was crushed in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, with City not just failing to get near a playoff/promotion spot, but found themselves in a serious battle against relegation out of the entire football league.

Taylor’s 12 month spell as the Bantam’s manager left the experienced manager completely shell-shocked in what he described as “the most surprising and disappointing season I have had in 23 years in management”.

If a City legend and up and coming young manager as well as an experienced ‘promotion specialist’ manager have failed to get City out of League Two, what hope does Peter Jackson have for the upcoming season?

Many would write off our chances and probably accept a season of consolidation.

A season of success at City would probably be achieved in most supporters eyes by changing the brand of football so widely adopted under Taylor. The type of ‘grinding out results’ that was meant to make us win 1-0 every week and thus promotion out of League Two was never realised, and we played some diabolical football in the process.

The devastatingly negative tactics when we went 1-0 up at Oxford as well as the dour 1-0 home win against Stevenage under Taylor still live fresh in the memory.

If Peter Jackson can get this team attacking the opposition, playing open and attacking football, may supporters would be appeased even if the final result in May means we just missed out on a playoff spot. It would be something to build on and take to the next season with, crucially, the same squad of players. Chopping and changing teams and replacing Player X with Player Y has been widely discussed on this website – and we all must agree it generally never yields a good result.

Supporters can help in this process by keeping morale up, no matter how hard it gets. Being around the squad last season was very difficult indeed for everyone connected with the club. The previous regime seemed to have a negativity around it that was extremely hard to shake off.

Outlets like the excellent ‘Bantams Banter’ podcast provide supporters a place to turn when the going gets tough watching the team struggle. If we take our position a little bit more light heartedly i’m sure it will rub off on the players themselves and help the squad ‘turn the corner’ in any difficult times that we might/will face in the upcoming season. It shouldnt be a case of us versus them. We should be united in wanting success for Bradford City football club and i’m sure, with the young nucleus of a squad now assembled, we can change this negative ethos. Players getting boo’d – players turning on the fans – should all be part of our past.

No player signs for City wanting to play badly or upset supporters. The sooner we realise that as a collective group and get on their side, the more they will want to play their hearts out for the club, and not just put their head down at the first sign of trouble.

Barring a serious disaster Peter Jackson will be given at least one season at the helm. Many ( including myself) did not want him to get the job on a full time basis, but he has the job now and its time to give him and the players 100%. Lets not start calling for heads at Christmas. Lets not question every decision made when the going gets tough.

If mentalities throughout the club change, we can start to build something that might get us to where we want to be, because the path we have taken previously at the end of every season in League Two has led us nowhere, fast.

2011/2012 I/IV: The manager

In comparison to his two predecessors, there’s something unique and noteworthy when looking at the characteristics of Bradford City manager Peter Jackson – his ordinariness.

Stuart McCall took his place in the managerial dugout with his legendary status and heart-on-his-sleeve love for the Bantams, which meant no one who shared his passion for the same cause would have wanted him to fail. His replacement Peter Taylor came with an outstanding track record that inspired widespread confidence he could achieve great things. And so for the past four seasons, so much of the focus and responsibility for what’s happened on the pitch has been centred upon one person.

Whereas both McCall and Taylor’s managerial qualities were universally held in high esteem at one point, towards Jackson there is much lower adulation, far less attention and a reduced level of expectation. Having been presented as a potential managerial hybrid when he became City’s Interim manager last February, amongst fans on the eve of this season, there is either a general warmness or quiet disapproval regarding Jackson. Trusted to do the job yes, but no one seems to be expecting miracles.

This outlook might be personal to Jackson; but, after the last two appointments were ultimately judged not to have worked out, it is perhaps more a case of the club and supporters falling out of love with the idea that a manager is the answer to all the problems.

For now at least Jackson has regained the sort of popularity he enjoyed when captaining the club with great distinction and dignity during the 1980s, before a second spell in the early 90s proved hugely disappointing and a defection to matters blue and white. Ever since he’s been considered more an annoyance than legend, whether managing Huddersfield for two separate spells or popping up as an agent for disgruntled young City players. His returns to Valley Parade saw him endure some strong and at times vile abuse, and the idea of him ever being welcomed back as manager would have seemed laughable.

Time heals wounds, and as Jackson cropped up as Lincoln City manager in 2007 – quickly followed by being diagnosed with throat cancer – attitudes towards him began to change. As McCall struggled as manager the season after, Jackson’s name was put forward as an alternative solution. He was passed over in the interview stage in favour of Taylor after McCall quit in February 2010, and a year working in a very different environment with his wife was ended by some proactive phone calls to Julian Rhodes when Taylor went the way of McCall, five months ago. The rehabilitation of Jackson’s standing amongst City fans has been swift since.

Even when he was claiming to bleed blue and white, Jackson was never far off our radar – so the strengths and weaknesses of his managerial ability have already been heavily debated before. Past successes are easy to point to – twice he left Huddersfield better off than when he took over them. Failures are also difficult to ignore. It’s not hard to see why Rhodes and Mark Lawn chose Taylor’s CV over Jackson’s 18 months ago, and the fact his three previous managerial appointments all ended with the sack suggests there’s a high possibility it won’t end brilliantly this time either.

Yet there is much to commend Jackson for since his first game in charge at Gillingham in early March. If he didn’t exactly set the world alight in terms of results, he at least applied some brakes to the post-Christmas slide in form that had pushed City from play off outsiders to relegation candidates. The season ended badly, but could have been far worse. Performances weren’t much better overall, but the style of play was at least more attractive. Jackson oversaw survival with a week to spare, all the while left uncertain over his own future and with growing off the field problems overshadowing his minor achievements.

Jackson’s desire to get the job full time was laudable. As the Valley Parade rent situation looked desperate, BfB understands he was told that this season’s playing budget could have been as low as £400k; on top of the potential 10 point deduction to start the campaign from. Such a bleak prospect would have put many people off – remember Bryan Robson in 2004 walking away because he felt the job, post administration two, would be too tough? Yet Jackson remained unfazed, determined to take his chance.

If his Interim manager record of four wins, three draws and seven defeats is hardly the stuff of great promise, the impact his personality has had on the club certainly was impressive. Who’d have thought, as he posed a lot and talked about himself in third person while managing our local rivals, that this annoying git would actually prove himself to be an immensely likeable bloke?

His loud, passionate and enthusiastic persona may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and maybe it didn’t have the greatest affect on the players he inherited from Taylor. But now having built his own squad and appointed his own coaching staff, there’s a feeling that Jackson’s motivational style can make players perform above themselves and improve as professionals.

And it doesn’t just begin and end with the players. Jackson clearly enjoys mixing with supporters and talking to the local media. Those who attended the club’s recent open day will have witnessed the manager serving burgers with Lawn and chatting away happily to anyone and everyone present. Just like McCall, it’s clear that Jackson doesn’t regard this as any old club and is proud to be here. That may not translate into success, as McCall showed, but it can only help.

Like Taylor, Jackson has only being handed a one-year deal and what the Board and supporters’ expectations are from him this season are unclear. Everyone knew that for Taylor it was promotion or bust; but given how far away the club was from achieving it last season, to demand the same from Jackson would seem unrealistic. That’s not to say this season can’t end in glory, but that smaller steps need to be focused on first before the bigger leaps.

The fact Taylor’s one-year deal was so centred on delivering instant success did not produce a stable atmosphere, and when things went wrong it quickly felt like he was a sitting duck rather than someone who would be given time. Perhaps that’s why the loan market was so overly used by Taylor – he simply didn’t have the space to develop existing players by giving them chance to come good. Perhaps that’s also why the likes of Jon Worthington and Mark Cullen were signed but given little opportunity when they didn’t make an immediate impact. Will Jackson face a similar type of instant pressure of having to narrow his focus on simply getting a result on a Saturday to keep his job, or will there be leeway for him and his players to make mistakes?

For me, success and the offer a new contract for Jackson come May is for us to be able to look back and reflect on improvement: a more appealing style of football, more committed performances from the players and a healthier league position. If a forwards momentum can be started, it would be wrong to risk its continuation by sacking Jackson if its speed is not as fast as we’d ideally hope.

We’ve spent four seasons impatiently trying to scramble out of this division and truthfully haven’t even come close. Now has to be the time to truly take it steady rather than keep hoping to find shortcuts; and for Jackson the challenge this season should be to prove he is the man with a map to success.

Above all else, it may be that this season – relative to the last few – talk in and around matches is less about the manager. The fact that hiring and firing managers has proven a failed policy in delivering improvement will probably never be embraced by some, but this year more than ever there is a collective responsibility for everyone involved with the club to perform.

Maybe Jackson is an ordinary manager, who we could do better than but could also do worse. But after the last few years have seen so much hope and expectation pinned on his predecessors, it might be nice having someone in charge who we already recognise as having faults – in order to move past this culture of blaming every failing upon the occupant of this role.

Luke O’Brien proves himself a worthy successor

While trooping out of Valley Parade following the Bolton friendly defeat yesterday, the loud moanings of one fan could be heard over the sea of relative contentment most people felt towards a very good Bradford City performance. The subject of this person’s ire was Luke O’Brien, and the fact he’d been caught in possession leading to Bolton’s undeserved fourth. And despite a decent performance otherwise, this fan could not stop slating him.

It’s not an unusual occurrence over the 18 months. Despite having his best season in his fledgling career last term, complaints and criticism over the left back’s ability were aired frequently. At some games people seemed determined to pounce on his every perceived mistake while constantly questioning his positioning. When he did things right, many attempted to still find fault. When he actually did make a genuine mistake, the level of abuse was astonishingly high. In some people’s eyes O’Brien is a poor player the club needs to be rid of, despite having made 136 appearances in claret and amber.

But as rumours began to surface last night – confirmed by the T&A this morning – that O’Brien’s position rival Robbie Threlfall has been told he can leave, it appears the former Bantam trainee has won the battle that really counts – convincing the manager he should be first choice left back. Many argue Threlfall is a better player, looking at purely technical ability he probably is; yet the former Liverpool youngster has failed to nudge O’Brien onto the sidelines, and has now been told where the door is.

All of which says a great deal about the mental toughness and desire of Luke. When Threlfall was signed on loan from the Reds one game into Peter Taylor’s ill-fated reign as manager in February 2010, it looked curtains for the previous player of the season who had struggled for form during Stuart McCall’s final weeks in charge. Threlfall netted a superb free kick on his debut at Rochdale, and became a steadfast fixture in the team before his move was made permanent during the summer. O’Brien was initially moved to left wing where he was steady if not spectacular, but by the end of the season he’d lost his place in the team.

Despite Threlfall beginning last year first choice left back, with O’Brien on the bench, he struggled to find his own form and eventually lost his place to Luke. A change of manager to Peter Jackson though, and come the end of the season Threlfall was back in favour and O’Brien on the sidelines. Perhaps now we can suggest this was Jackson using the last few games to put Threfall in the shop window, but from the outside it didn’t looked good for O’Brien – widely considered runner up in the player of the year award to David Syers.

Instead Threlfall is looking for a future elsewhere and O’Brien can look back with pride on the fact a player was signed to replace him and he stood up to the challenge with great character and dignity. And as the complaints from some fans will no doubt continue this season regarding his ability, there are further reasons to bestow a comparison on him with one of the club’s greatest modern day players.

Wayne Jacobs: a great club servant, hugely respected by most fans – constantly vilified by others during his 11 years playing at the club. Jacobs was considered the team’s weak link in Division Two (now League One), but despite many fans attempting to drive him out he kept pace with the club’s meteoric rise to the Premier League. When he made a mistake the reaction from many was over the top and deplorable, but he seemed unfazed and continued coming back.

Then there was all those replacements signed to take his place, who he managed to shake off: Lee Todd, Andy Myers, Ian Nolan and others. Only when he got older did Paul Heckingbottom finally wrestle the shirt from him. To have so many fans barrack you and to have managers try to replace you: that Jacobs stayed so long at City – making the best use of the ability he had – is a commendable lesson for anyone.

Including O’Brien, who from some he attracts similar types of criticism as Jacobs and who has now fully fought off his first major rival. It is sad that it has to be this way but – just like with Jacobs – it should not be overlooked how many supporters do rate him and are willing to fight his corner. Luke does have weaknesses to his game and can occasionally be caught out, like others he will make mistakes over the coming season. But his work rate and positive attitude makes up for other failings, and the defensive ability he does have means he can go further in his career than a League Two full back – with or without City.

Growing up watching City on the Kop, no doubt hearing the abuse directed at Jacobs over the years, Luke couldn’t have had a better role model. Those lessons probably helped him when his future looked uncertain at City more than once; now he has the chance to continue to build on a promising career with even more reason to feel confident.

Following the prevailing narrative

Pre-season allows a different view on football.

Nestled at the side of the pitch the players – who will be seen from the height of stands and the back of terraces – are up close and personal in front of a few hundred supporters. Players who look almost like a fleshly blur when at the far end of Valley Parade are right in front of you. Live and loud.

Very loud in some cases. Guy Branston’s “discussion” with the Referee at Nethermoor was the sort of language which very much would be both foul and abusive but not only did the officials do nothing about it they did not even break stride or blink, nor did the players. Par for the course perhaps, and not something one appreciates when watching from the stands.

Football is a sweary game up close and the players have nicknames, and they all end with “y” or “o”.

One thing one might notice about the players this season – not those on the field so much as those watching their team mates – is the fact that they are not wearing suits.

This time last year there was much talk about suits. The problem with Bradford City circa Stuart McCall was that the players were a shabby mess of leisure wear and lounging around and the solution in the new, sensible, and obviously better regime of Peter Taylor was to get the players dressing professionally. To this end Roger Owen provide the money to kit out the Bantams in a nice yard of cloth.

That was the narrative of last summer. The rise of professionalism under Peter Taylor and the need for things like overnight stays which would not see the season out and culminating with the clumsily named Make-Tommy-Doherty-Ride-A-Bus-All-Night-Gate.

Those things are not important now, or so the prevailing narrative of Bradford City tells us, because the key the success is the Twitter team and the Development squad.

The Twitter team aptly describing the trend started by Ross Hannah to use the social networking site to talk about the Bantam in a really, really, really positive way.

Hannah, Branston, Nialle Rodney. They beat the drum proudly for Bradford City and this is a good thing. You can buy the PR and good mood which has derived from reading the daily musings of the assembling City squad but it is safe to say that the people who brought you Santa Dave would not have invested in it.

The Twitter team strikes one as indicative of a good squad dynamic. Of young lads getting on well together and enjoying being footballers. It is many things good, and nothing at all to do with the need for suits which was so important a year ago.

Likewise The Development Squad and the rise of “Woodhouse Grove” as the training facility – a far cry but not a long way from “Apperley Bridge” which this time past year we were being told was suitable – are the essentials in the current story of the reconstruction of Bradford City.

Not that one wants to complain about these things. Almost everything that has happened at City this Summer has been a progressive step which will have improved the club at the end of the season regardless of promotion but the worry is that this time next year if promotion has not been reached will the Development squad be hanging up at the forgotten back of someone’s cupboard next to Roger Owen’s suit?

Will City players be banned from Twitter as their peers at Leeds United and would that move be trumpeted as increased professionalism needed to sort out something shabby. There is a cycle of what we are told is salvation one season being shoved out the door the next.

These things would seem dependant on the prevailing narrative of the club, and that is not a good thing.

The prevailing narrative is a powerful thing and one which governs how we view the club in terms of its progress and how the club view us.

City spun from being on our uppers to putting upwards of six figure bids in for players while Peter Jackson has moved from being the man who does not always say what he means when he swears that he bleeds blue and white to being the arbiter of truth when he says that Omar Daley has not been offered a deal by the Bradford City team he now manages. If it is the case that there is no deal then someone might want to tell Omar Daley that. Regardless this shows how Jackson has changed in perception at the demand of the narrative the club creates.

Like Taylor and his professionalism, and like McCall the Messiah, Peter Jackson as City manager is subject to his own narrative arc. He is cast as Saul, converted by the blinding light to the one true path and ready to make good for the faith not in spite of his wrongdoing but because of it.

So the Development Squad goes to Bradford Park Avenue while the seniors will entertain Premier League Bolton Wanderers in the first game at Valley Parade of the season.

Jackson is seeking a gatekeeper and will use both games to try out someone to perhaps replace the ill Jon McLauglin for the first game of the season. Mark Howards’ attempt to impress on Tuesday night was not impressive and so Iain Turner – a wanted man – will be given the chance to keep goal if he wants it against Bradford Park Avenue, or Bolton Wanderers, or both. McLaughlin’s illness keeps him out of both games. Goalkeeping coach Tim Dittmer has been given a squad number.

Simon Ramsden is expected to make a long awaited return against Park Avenue for a team which is thought to be mostly the development squad and Ramsden will feature at and he is expected to partner Luke Oliver in the middle of a back four with Lewis Hunt next to him on one side and Robbie Threlfall on the other. At times last season that back four could have started games for City. Andrew Burns and Adam Robinson could feature in either game but it seems that Peter Jackson is moving towards Chris Mitchell, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien as his first choice backline. Expect those to get a run out against the Trotters.

Jackson’s attempts to pair new signing Richie Jones and player of the season for the season where there was no player of the season David Syers met with mixed returns on Tuesday night and the Bantams looked a sterner outfit with Michael Flynn alongside Jones. Flynn seems to be being edged away from the Bantams first eleven but has responded in what seems to be typical fashion for the Welshman with some gutsy performances suggesting he will not go quietly into the night.

Should he play on the Friday night the future for Flynn may have been decided, if not then he has a chance of staking a claim. The development squad against Avenue is expected to feature Patrick Lacey, Alex Flett, Luke Dean and perhaps Lee Bullock while Bolton will face a midfield of Jones in the middle, the impressive Jamie Green on the left, Dominic Rowe on the right and one of the Flynn/Syers/Bullock mix in the middle.

Leon Osbourne is looking too developed for the development squad but not enough for the starting eleven. Scott Brown could play in either squad. Scott Brown is the future.

Up front Jackson is expected to give Nialle Rodney and Nakhi Wells a chance for go at Park Avenue as he tries to get a deal for Wells with Mark Stewart and James Hanson looking favoured for the Bolton game. Ross Hannah is in the middle, a decent place for a forward. Darren Stephenson, already, is starting to look like like he will struggle to get a chance.

Hannah, of course, is not for playing now. He is to be thrown on with twenty minutes left of the Leeds game in the first week of the season and to snatch a goal. That is his narrative, and deviation from it will cause some upset.

For once, the fitness question has a different answer

Readers of long-time Bradford City fan John Watmough’s outstanding Counsel and Criticism column for the City Gent will be only too aware of the number of occasions a new Bantams manager has complained about the fitness of the players. And, as the players returned for pre-season today, at improved training facilities, latest manager Peter Jackson has taken his turn in bemoaning  the condition of the squad he inherited.

So often has the Telegraph & Argus relayed such sentiments from City gaffers that one can’t resist feeling as weary and cynical as John when reading them. If every new manager really had gone onto improve the players’ fitness when they arrived, City should be putting people forward for the Olympics. It comes across as a cheap shot, a chance to talk down the past and propose that behind-the-scenes training exercises they have instigated – which we’d otherwise never notice the fruits of – will make a positive difference.

Though Jackson has at least has gone further than some of his predecessors in his plan to address the supposed problem – with the appointment of Nick Allamby as fitness coach. Allamby, former head of fitness at Middlesbrough where he worked with City assistant manager Colin Cooper, will help the players through pre-season and then two days a week once the campaign gets underway. His arrival is the latest dot in a more joined-up thinking strategy that seems to involve finding experts and letting them run their own areas of the club, rather than the manager controlling and taking responsibility for all.

After all, what does a football manager know about fitness? As a player they would have been required to follow exercises set out by their club’s coaching staff and their own focus would have been on building and maintaining their own. When undertaking the necessary coaching badges that all managers have to complete these days, learning about fitness and how to build it in players would have undoubtedly figured on the courses. But that hardly makes them an expert in an area that almost every City manager seems to take pleasure in deriding their predecessor for.

At lower league level and City in particular, fitness experts are rare if ever used. When taking over as caretaker manager in 2007 David Wetherall did employ the outside help of Sports Scientist Ed Baranowski to improve the players’ fitness levels, but the results of Wetherall’s attempts to implement a high tempo playing style were poor. With managers before and after, the fitness side of matters has apparently been down to the manager and coaching staff to implement. There’s probably little wrong with this if all of City’s rivals are doing the same; but in a league where the tiniest of percentages can make a huge difference, Jackson and Cooper’s move to bring in Allamby could make a tangible difference.

Allamby’s arrival follows Archie Christie’s appointment as Chief Scout, with his very own budget to work with and objectives to achieve. And suddenly Bradford City’s future does not quite seem solely the responsibility of the manager, but a number of different experts working towards a universal goal. A well qualified person to pick the first team on a Saturday, a specialist scout to unearth hidden gem players that can form part of that selection, and a skilled fitness coach to ensure each and every player is at their physical peak. Other key figures at the club such as Peter Horne will also have a big role.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that it is difficult to place the credit for this developing off-the-field strategy on one person. Cooper has brought in Allamby with Jackson’s approval, while it appears Christie’s arrival is more the work of the joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. There is apparently some like-minded thinking in Lawn, Rhodes and Jackson’s vision for next season, and hopefully with it will be a better chance of achieving those goals.

A year ago it seemed Peter Taylor was the only person with a plan, with Lawn and Rhodes bending over backwards to help put it into action. Taylor’s superb track record meant this was understandable, but the fact he didn’t see out his one-year contract left the club struggling for direction when he departed. Perhaps the pair have learned from this experience and are consciously doing things different now instead of devoting almost every penny to signing players – the new training facilities, after all, were their initiative.

This time around, it can be argued the buck for failure won’t rest solely with the manager. Those who have access to the bigger picture will be able to look at every area and assess where it might be falling down. That way the long-term planning doesn’t need to end when the manager departs.

Wishful thinking maybe, but if and when Jackson is relieved of his duties in the dugout it would be nice not to have to read other staff being placed on gardening leave and for everything to be torn up yet again.

Losing the losing culture

The Bradford City joint-chairman Mark Lawn is rarely shy in expressing his opinion, but in the two weeks following the club’s announcement it was staying at Valley Parade next season the 50-year-old has become especially vocal in his views. Some of the opinions expressed disagreeable perhaps, but much of it has been worthy of note.

Lawn’s latest comment, that he believes there is a “losing culture” surrounding the club, certainly offers an interesting talking point. Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Lawn revealed his determination to instil a winning mentality that has even included him talking to youth team coaches Peter Horne and David Wetherall to ensure it’s adopted at all levels.

All laudable in principle, but what exactly is a “losing culture” in the first place? And how do you ingrain a winning ethos into the fabric of the club? A losing culture would allude to issues over mentality and the habitual or characteristic mental attitude in responding to situations. Psychological issues, in other words. Culture, however, suggests it is more to do with the working environment rather than problems with individuals (and years of changing personnel, with no tangible difference, backs this up). So how can that be reversed?

Lawn also commented about his losing culture view: “I said that to one manager here and he hit the roof.” This reaction – either from Stuart McCall or Peter Taylor – would appear understandable given it is was their job to build the right atmosphere for players to give their best, so it would seem like a personal criticism over their ability and attempts to do so. Peter Jackson has previously made similar statements about a losing culture existing at Valley Parade, but this is easier for him to say when he was trying to secure the manager position and present himself as the solution.

Now he has to cross the line to being on the side of the players, and in time may find others declaring he is part of the problem.

And by then the viewpoint will probably be very different for Jackson. From inside the confines of the dressing room he leads, next season he will have a much greater appreciation over the level of pressure he and his players will be under to deliver results from those outside of it. Supporters who will cheer when things are going well, but who are very quick to hammer players when they are struggling rather than offer encouragement. The losing culture on the field is heavily contributed to by those in the stands.

Then there’s the boardroom. McCall will be able to tell Jackson only too well about the weight of demands City’s Board are capable of placing upon the team and manager. Roger Owen’s attacks on McCall in December 2009 were said to have led to the City legend angrily confronting Owen; while Lawn’s own relationship with McCall, a long-time friend, had become so strained they were no longer talking. Over the last few weeks Lawn has publicly criticised Taylor’s style of management too. McCall and Taylor were once looked upon so favourably, but when the chips were down both can argue they were not supported as adequately as they believe they should.

At Bradford City we supporters and Board members have become used to seeing the team fail to match our expectations and so possess a mentality of quickly turning on them when they do. People justify booing and screaming abuse on the basis that – if they didn’t – the players would think they can get away with under-performing and so, because of the boos, they will try harder in future. Those who try to go against this grain by offering encouragement can find they are criticised too. Last season, for example, I was shot down at one game for trying to be supportive of Luke O’Brien.

We fail to achieve our goals year on year, and the frustration builds. Come the next season optimism is allowed to flourish and the atmosphere improves for a time; but as soon as things start to go wrong criticism is quickly aired with the weight and baggage of the past decade of failure. Too many people are quiet and shy in praise when the team actually is succeeding, but are ready to jump down their throats when they start to fail.

That’s a lot of responsibility for the players to have to bear, and it could be argued that Taylor especially could have done things differently to ease that pressure. In the home dressing room last season, he put up special signs for every year the club had achieved “nothing” in a season, going back to 2000-1, as a way of motivating them. The thinking, presumably, was to get the players to contemplate how much success would be cheered if they could deliver it to the club, but you could argue this history became a burden. Certainly the players didn’t respond in the way Taylor would have intended.

So much of the expectation on the club is out of the control of the players and management, and so it has become a problem they alone cannot fix. Already Lawn has talked optimistically about City’s playing budget next season, and come August many of us will be joining him in building up the club’s chances of promotion. It’s good to be confident of course, but expecting too much seems to set us up for disappointment and leads to negativity and anger towards the players.

Success in football so often goes to those who react best in defeat; but when the boos and grumbles are so loud, the pressure for the next game grows so large and reminders of recent failed history are so regular it hinders the team’s ability to produce that perfect reaction. If only we could stay on their side in the bad times as well as good, they would surely be more likely to look forwards with determination rather than dread.

This losing culture runs through the whole club and, as interesting as it is to talk about tackling it, perhaps the only way we’ll ever build a winning mentality is when we truly recognise that we all have a major role to play in making it happen.

Lawn and Rhodes earn the right to repeat in optimism

It was a busy time for Bradford City as the domino topple began.

First City were assured of staying at Valley Parade, then the talk was of having one of the bigger wage budgets. The wonderfully enthusiastic Ross Hannah – a man who could teach the club a thing or two about PR even if he does not get goals – started talking about the new training facilities before Peter Jackson was finally nailed down with a one year contract.

Breathless, and then some, for City fans who seem to have had a summer of worry lifted. In its place came flooding a sense of optimism.

How appropriate that optimism is is questionable.

Peter Jackson arrived at City taking over from Peter Taylor who saw his side picking up 1.16 points per game. Jackson took over and achieved 1.08. This is mitigated by the idea that Jackson was using Taylor’s team just as Taylor was using Stuart McCall’s. The horror of repetition comes when one notes that both Peters had one year deals.

Jackson does not have time to shape and build a squad. Like the man before him he has to – because of his one year deal – make a winning team from day one.

As another Peter (Cook) said we have learnt from our mistakes and can repeat them exactly.

Mark Lawn told us that Peter Taylor’s one year deal was all the club could afford but – unless Jackson has managed to increase his week to week wages pro rata by over 500% – this is not the case with the new boss.

It is no negative reaction to Jackson to say that he will be as subject to winds and ghosts and outrageous fortune as his predecessor. I would love to be celebrating promotion in May next year but I’d prefer that at that time I was following a club that was following a plan for progress than one which was changing everything once again to rush a promotion campaign and the chances of that are once again left in the lap of what happens on the field.

Jackson needs to get lucky. Lucky with injuries, lucky with his team blending together, lucky with the players he can sign, lucky with the run of the ball in August to start building belief. Personally when it comes to luck in sport I’m with golfer Gary Player – the harder you work, the more lucky you get – and in Jackson I see a man who will work harder than most.

Still Jackson and the season offer little reason to assume that this year will be better than last. The budget is big, so it was last year, the manager has had experience, so was it last year. I have hope that Jackson’s 442 is a much better week to week formation for a League Two campaign and the new facilities are a reason to be cheerful.

However with the fear of financial oblivion gone and the worries over Odsal removed Bradford City have been able to perform the slight of hand of putting together – more or less – the same proposition as last season and having everyone excited about it. It is selling your 10p each lighter as ten for a pound, and yes it is the sort of trick that man used to pull.

It remains to be seen though if this time the promotion push – rather than the club building – will bear fruit because every year in which the push to get out of League Two goes ahead of improving the club the gap between City and the League One and higher clubs we aspire to join increases.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes deserve the optimism though having backed up their ownership of the club financially once more and shown some innovative smarts while doing so. There are few reasons to believe that next season can be any worse than last and a couple of reasons to believe that it will be better, foremost amongst those being the brush with oblivion in the summer may have focused the mind of all at the club be their directors or supporters away from the ideas of inter-fighting and towards what we want for the future of the club.

Why I’m fed up of this player-bashing culture

Like an experienced performer trying to win over a sceptical audience, Peter Jackson seems to appreciate the value of pulling out a crowd pleaser every now and then. And his announcement earlier this week that Bradford City players will next season have to wash their own kit predictably prompted roars of approval from far and wide.

There’s nothing, it seems at the moment, that can prompt wider agreement and glee among Bradford City supporters than the barracking of our useless, under-achieving players.

Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Jackson played to the gallery with this delightful soundbite: “They have to take more responsibility in themselves and in the club.” Who wouldn’t cheer in agreement at such sentiments? And who, with passionate managers back in vogue following the much-derided impassive style of Peter Taylor, wouldn’t want to hand Jackson the City job for next season?

The T&A has continued that theme this week, somewhat oddly gloating about the fact none of the players (or ‘flops’ as they dubbed them in their headline) available for transfer have yet been the subject of interest from other clubs. Try reading some of the reader comments that appear below the story, if you can stomach it, and feel the vitriol aimed at the players. “I hope most of them end up working in a call centre”, “Would you want any of this shower of sh1te?” and the hilarious “Ive heard the dry cleaners at wibsey are considering signing half of them.” Ouch.

The message is reverberating very loudly: last season’s failings were largely down to the players, collectively they are a disgrace and have brought shame upon the club. “Love the club, hate the team” was sung at Southend just over a month ago, and this sentiment has been continued at subsequent matches, on message boards and via the local media ever since.

But when do we get past this? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the anger and disappointment with the efforts of the players last season. As a group of professionals, they should have delivered a much stronger performance than 18th in League Two. Of the players still contracted to the club – forced to endure this non-stop barracking and taunts from Jackson that “I bet some of them don’t even know how to use a washing machine” – there are a few I’d prefer we got rid of.

Yet unless everyone is miraculously sold, it looks highly likely that the players we continue to bash will be expected to be the cornerstone of next season’s efforts on the pitch. So when do we stop these attacks and start to support them again? And in the long-run, what damage might this climate of hating the team cause?

The washing your own kit idea by Jackson is ultimately pretty silly and as big a gimmick as last season’s talk of Taylor demanding the players wore suits before the match. As Mark Lawn told this site in January, Blackpool players currently wash their own kit. But the implication that Blackpool’s over-performance of the past two seasons is down to their players knowing how to use a washing machine, rather than their abilities and collective team spirit, not to mention the inspirational management of Ian Holloway, makes little sense. Tomorrow Blackpool’s players take their self-washed kits to Old Trafford for the biggest game of their lives, and perhaps their focus will have been better served solely on achieving an improbable victory rather than the additional worry of getting rid of stubborn grass stains.

Back at City though, one is left to query whether the washing own kit punishment is fitting to everyone who will be asked to perform it. Does David Syers deserve to have to wash his own kit? What about Luke O’Brien or other youngsters on the verge of the first team? How about potential summer targets, will they be keen to choose City over other suitors if they hear of a culture where under-performance is rewarded by petty punishments? What has Ross Hannah done to deserve being penalised for other people’s failings?

Personally I don’t think having to wash your own kit will make much difference to the players’ efforts in the same way looking smart before the match had no bearing on the league table last season, but the thinking and reasoning behind it does concern me. Football supporters up and down the country seem keen to treat players like school children, getting upset if they go drinking five days before a match or demanding they are punished with extra training or a placing on the transfer list for poor performance. I don’t know about you, but being treated in this way wouldn’t motivate me to do better.

Instead of building and maintaining a culture of fear of retribution, shouldn’t we try looking at how we can encourage players to perform better in a more positive manner? What is stopping players with proven track records from displaying their ability when they cross the white line at Valley Parade? How can we build their confidence and belief? Instead of wailing about how disgraceful they are when they make mistakes, how can we work as one to achieve our aspirations?

Everyone knows there is a booing culture at Valley Parade. And that fear of failure, that mindset of punishing mistakes – by booing them on Saturday or demanding they wash their own kit during the week – seems to lead to the same result. Players hide away from taking responsibility, hide away from attempting the more difficult things, hide away from the risk of falling into the firing line.

The infamous backpass by Tommy Doherty against Port Vale in September sums up much of the past decade. His team mates were looking to him to take on too much responsibility – he shouldn’t have been passed the ball in such a dangerous area in the first place – and when he made that mistake we booed him. Forget how the Doc felt that day, what were his team mates supposed to think?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Look at Accrington Stanley. Anyone who was there for our 3-0 defeat last month can’t fail to have been impressed by their attractive style of football, and also how the supporters backed them positively throughout. On a number of occasions their passing moves broke down through individual mistakes, or the build up approach seemed very slow. None of the Accrington fans booed mistakes, or screamed “forward” impatiently like we do at Valley Parade. The league table shows what a difference it can make, so why can’t we be more like that?

Above all else, I hope this player bashing culture ends sooner than later. I don’t support Bradford City so I can flaunt my outrage over how players can have the contempt to fail to achieve my expectations. I go to cheer on a group of players who may not be the best in the world but who are our own, playing and trying to succeed for my club. Sure we have duffers and languorous players every now and then, but in general I don’t enjoy hating people and I don’t view the fact I pay good money to cheer on my team as a right to bawl at them if they let me down.

So let’s get behind Jon McLaughlin, Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Michael Flynn, Luke Oliver, Jake Speight, Steve Williams, Leon Osborne, Lewis Hunt, James Hanson, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threfall, Syers and Hannah. If they all remain the nucleus of our squad next season, it’s time to stop punishing them for past failures and work with them to put right past wrongs. We all have a role to play in making that happen, instead of keeping up this sulking viewpoint that we have been wronged.

And if these players ever read this, I just about know how to operate a washing machine. So give us a shout if you need a hand.

The managerial question that will probably come back to bite

Manchester United’s record-breaking title triumph on Saturday was another excuse for the media to shower manager Sir Alex Ferguson with gushing praise – and with good reason. The latest league championship means Fergie has now won 47 trophies over his managerial career – making him easily the most successful British manager in history – and no matter how many times the story of the job he has done at Old Trafford is retold, it never fails to be inspirational.

A one-off, never likely to be equalled may be – but there is so much about the legacy Ferguson has built that should act as lessons for football clubs up and down the country, at all levels.

Almost as famous as the success he has achieved are the struggles Fergie endured during his early days at United. In the modern era no football club would tolerate their manager failing to live up to its expectations in the way the Manchester United Board did during the late 80s. To say they were handsomely rewarded for maintaining patience in Ferguson is an understatement, yet still no football club owner or set of supporters have afforded their present manager a similar length of time to build a club before demanding their dismissal.

Indeed the previous argument used by people backing an under pressure to “remember it took Sir Alex time at Man United” has been mocked to the point of parody. It has become an ‘excuse’ that lacks credibility, or as the excellent RochdaleAFC.com put it in July 2009, when talking about our then-manager Stuart McCall:

Can anyone still try using Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford as an excuse for not getting rid of a manager with a straight face?

Straight face or not, Ferguson keeps lifting trophies while the majority of the rest of English football gets through manager after manager, sometimes stumbling on the right one but in the majority of cases looking back on their current appointment as a mistake. Unless success is fairly immediate, the opportunity for the manager to build up the club on and off the field in a similar to manner to Ferguson is lost. For the under-pressure manager the priority is obvious. Why devote time and resource to matters such as improving the youth set up, if you’re a couple of games away from the sack?

While Ferguson has built his Old Trafford empire, 16 different managers have occupied the dug out at Valley Parade. Clearly more failures than successes during that time, and it is revealing how the club’s most successful period – 1995-2000 – occurred from a hire-from-within approach that ensured greater continuity and evolution. All kinds of strategies have been tried since, but the decline down the leagues illustrates how unsuccessful they have proved.

Equally telling is the immediate backwards direction the Bantams embarked upon after removing managers awarded an above average tenure – Colin Todd and McCall. Both driven out because they were struggling to take the club forwards, but their departures had an entirely opposite effect. Todd and McCall were as close as City have come to following the lessons of Ferguson, but in the end fear became too strong and action was taken.

This summer City are once again looking to recruit a new manager, and though off-the-field events completely overshadow this task right now the apparent neglect over making a decision is troubling. Over 40 people applied for the vacancy in February, but Head of Operations Dave Baldwin has admitted the majority have not being contacted yet. A six-person shortlist was then apparently drawn up, with only John Hughes interviewed. Later we were informed the next manager was between current interim boss Peter Jackson and Dagenham & Redbridge gaffer John Still. Though in recent days Still has committed his future to the relegated League One club. Sammy McIlroy could be a late contender after leaving Morecambe.

Has the club kept in touch with Hughes? How many of those 40+ applicants have since got other jobs or being left feeling let down by the lack of response from City and so no longer be interested – either this time or the next occasion City are advertising a managerial vacancy?

Jackson remains the likely choice as manager. He’s been asked to sort the retained list, and even made a first signing for next season in Ross Hannah. Joint Chairman Mark Lawn’s comment that Jackson is signing players any manager would be interested in is ludicrous, however. Whoever is given the job eventually, City are very fortunate that Jackson is willing to continue managing the club with such uncertainty at the moment.

Nevertheless the whole manager recruitment approach is troubling. Of course there are more important matters at the moment, but given the club has in recent days attempted to blame this poor season on Peter Taylor one might think efforts to truly get the appointment right on this occasion would be more determined and proactive. Baldwin has confirmed City will still exist next season no matter what happens, and the club surely has to start planning for it regardless of where they are playing.

At the very least, it seems unlikely the next manager of Bradford City will be given much time. Longer term building seems to be yesterday’s idea and, no matter what the playing budget might be next season, the manager who oversees it will be expected to over-perform. Whether City are at Valley Parade or elsewhere next season, the backwards steps taken over the past two years means another campaign of failure and under-achievement won’t be tolerated by many. Despite the size of the rebuilding job, progress will probably have to be swift.

You just get the feeling this next appointment will be heavily criticised, retrospectively.

Jackson has probably already had his honeymoon period, while a new manager would be quickly criticised not because of the job they have done but because of the lack of thought that went into appointing him by the club. When in the past Lawn and Julian Rhodes have been able to devote their full attention to finding the right manager they have – rightly or wrongly – been judged to have failed. This time hiring a manager is halfway down a sizeable to do list, and it will arguably be more luck than judgement if their eventual choice proves to be a success. Then again, there’s a question mark over whether it will ultimately be Lawn and Rhodes who make the decision.

Despite the fact Sir Alex Ferguson turns 70 at the end of this year, it appears a safe bet that he will still be in the Old Trafford dugout the next time City are beginning the search for a new manager.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part three, how it could have been

A club appoints an experienced promotion specialist who is not known for his attractive football, who comes from the wrong half of the country and the club expect them to lead them in to promotion.

And he does.

On the surface there does not seem to be much similarity between Lasmir Mittel and his friends at QPR who number some of the richest men in the World and the man who used to own a van hire company at Valley Parade but when Rangers appoint Neil Warnock to their job half way through last season they hoped he would do for them what we hoped Peter Taylor would do for us.

QPR are owned by rich people for sure, but they are funded within the same scale as the rest of The Championship. They gave Warnock a bit of extra to bring in the players he wanted, but those players were largely the rank and file of Championship clubs. Similarly Peter Taylor got given the cash to bring in his men. The results though were different. As City struggled all season QPR went top early and stayed there.

BfB talked to QPR fan (and old Uni mate) Dom Smith about the way that two seasons that started the same ended so differently. Smith talks about QPR as a team of entertainers but is quick to point out “Warnock’s appointment was less to do with the style of football it was more about getting someone with experience who would be able to take control of the the squad.”

Warnock made a massive success at QPR while previous managers – who have had the same finances – have failed? Strength of personality seemed to be the key to this – Dom said – saying “When Warnock was appointed it was on the proviso that he got to pick the team and was allowed to pick the players he signed as well. Warnock took control of the squad and was given more control. That wasn’t totally him those as the Mittel Family (and they are the real money in the club) took more of a stake in the club at the same time and took over as chairman as well. Then we just got lucky.”

That luck seems to have been somewhat self made. Players like Helgerson and Shaun Derry went from average to excellent under Warnock’s instruction while Adel Taarabt – the maverick – had the team built around him. “A dangerous thing to do, but this year it has worked.”

One struggles to think of any of the players who were at the club when Taylor arrived who improved during his tenure. The players seemed squashed at the end of his time, the enjoyment seemingly sapped from football. Robbie Threlfall arrived for Taylor’s second game looking great, at the end he looked poor.

Read a few message boards and Taylor is described as “the worst manager in City’s history” which is a little harsh – the kids don’t remember John Napier – but but when trying to come up with a defence of the former City boss one sticks on the point that he failed to improve the members of the squad he inherited. Taylor would probably say that he needed the facilities he was promised in order to do that – a point addressed by the club after he has left – and he might be right in that.

Problems with the style of play – Warnock is a famed long ball man – were unfounded. Dom enthused “We are playing some great football. Kyle Walker, the kid on loan from Tottenham, now at Aston Villa and with the England team is a great wing back and ball winner. Alejandro Faulin is the best passer of the ball in the league.”

One struggles to recall any performance under Taylor’s charge that one would enthuse over. The odd good display by Omar Daley, Lee Hendrie or David Syers were exceptional because they were exceptions. Taylor had taken Stuart McCall’s team and rather than playing to a strength he found, tried to bring in a strength in Tommy Doherty.

Doherty was – to borrow Dom’s phrase – “the best passer of the ball in the league (two)” but when Doherty did not settle into the team (for whatever reason) then Taylor seemed to have no other option. One wonders what would have happened had Taarabt done a Doherty or if Doherty has been a Taarabt.

In so many ways Doherty was the personification of Taylor’s on the field. He put stock in the idea of the ball passing midfielder able to make the killer pass that unlocks defences which – coupled with a tight back four – would have seen City win matches. When Taylor exited City had a mean defence but little going forward. If Doherty was not pinging a single killer pass to unlock a back four to give the Bantams a 1-0 then no one was, and a team that cannot score does not win.

While QPR are well off – and City are not – the difference between Ranger’s season this year and last was not to do with throwing cash on the field as the City board seem determined to do. Smith says “The biggest difference we have had is Warnock’s connection, when we lost both right backs in the same game, he rang Redknapp up and got Kyle Walker in 24 hours, When he wanted Taarabt he went to Morocco to convince him to sign.”

Taylor’s connections brought Lewis Hunt, Luke Oliver and Doherty and while the last name on the list was the marquee player but the other two were squad men. Jon Worthington was signed and not used. Shane Duff never impressed. Lee Hendrie arrived paying tribute to Taylor but did not stay for the former England u21 manager. The loanees who signed – Oliver Gill and Reece Brown spring to mind – hardly excelled. For a man with so many years in the game Taylor was not able to bring in much ready usable talent. While Taylor was joking on Football Focus about David Beckham joining if he wanted to the strings he pulled brought us the likes of Ryan Kendall.

One would not seek to damn Taylor though on the strength of this comparison – this is not saying that he was a bad manager – just to illustrate the different path that could have been taken. Perhaps Taylor got unlucky when Hendrie upsticks, he certainly did with Doherty, and that his best endeavours did not come off this time but might have next, with the same randomness which saw Rangers adopt a similar policy with Warnock and have that reap rewards.

Dom wants to see QPR aim for 17th next season in the Premier League – 17th was very pleasant as I recall – and in Warnock will hope that his luck is different to his last stay in the Premiership.

The comparison is a rough one though, no two clubs are the same, but in Warnock there is a might have been for the Bantams.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part two, off the pitch

If there was one chant that must have been music to the ears of Bradford City chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes it will have been the chimes at Southend that rang “Love the club, hate the team.

The team which failed on the field were cast as no hopers who could not care less and the manager who brought them to the club maligned. Regardless of your feelings about both players and manager(s) those in the boardroom must have thought it was just a matter of time until the Valley Parade ire would be turned in their direction.

And, dear reader, you will have your own thoughts on how justified that ire would be.

The season started off with Bradford City’s directors proudly backing Peter Taylor as the new manager although later Mark Lawn would tell us that he had reservations about the appointment having watched Taylor’s style of play. Nevertheless City – according to the directors one of whom had reportedly fallen out with former boss Stuart McCall – had the right manager in place and promotion was on the way.

Mike Harrison of The City Gent disagreed and felt the wrath of Valley Parade being unceremoniously called into the club to explain his prediction of eighth. Come the end of the season the “ludicrously optimistic” jokes wrote themselves but one could share a worry for the Bantams directors had they not handled the situation so poorly. Feedback loops at football clubs and Bradford City have been in a negative loop all season. Taylor’s arrival was an attempt to change that with the hope that positive thinking off the field would be manifest on it. That change of culture – from negative to positive – is important but the way to achieve it is more a matter of winning hearts and minds than applying the strong arm.

The club’s confidence stemmed from Peter Taylor’s appointment and from the traits which Taylor brought which were lacking in the previous manager. One could argue past the return of bovinity about the merits and methods of both but Taylor had been involved in success and knew what that success looked like. When he told the club that the team needed overnight stays, new suits and Tommy Doherty then the directors put hands into pockets and found the money for them, or so it was said.

Doing, and having to do

Savings were made at Valley Parade: A burst pipe fixed here, a new lighting system there; but most impressively Mark Lawn announced that – with some sadness – City were relocating to training facilities in Leeds with Apperley Bridge no longer considered suitable. The day before pre-season and suddenly Apperley Bridge was fine, the training facilities Taylor demanded to join the club were not forthcoming and the mood for the season was set. After the cameo of Lee Hendrie he and his uncle John were at a supporters evening chaired by Lawn who made it clear that despite the urgent need of the summer to replace the facilities they must now be considered good enough. He told BfB that they had to be, because there was no money to change them.

Taylor, in the meantime, had started using the relaid Valley Parade pitch to train on and credit to all that it withstood a bad winter better than many other surfaces. The trapping of success include a good surface and on that City have progressed this year. The supporters – underwhelmed probably – respected it enough to stay off it after the final game of the season.

The winter of bad weather also saw a season ticket promotion which prompted calls of amateurism from the club on the one hand and on the other asked questions about the strategic direction of the club. There is a worry that the club create direction and policy on the hoof and looking at a “cheap and cheerful” promotion which prompted a response of being “cheap and nasty” those thoughts seemed to be confirmed. It was not just the cackhandedness of the advertisement but its inability to communicate the message that City’s season tickets were superb value, a message which was lost in the infamous Santa Dave advert.

All of which led to a comment in The City Gent and threats passing from club to fanzine. Legal action was mentioned and once again the club was at loggerheads with supporters. One has to wonder if – on reflection over the season – these fall outs between the directors and the supporters which increasingly crop up should be approached differently. Mark Lawn’s car is vandalised and he talks about winding the club up. Mike Harrison talks out of turn and there are threats. The City Gent’s John Armitage criticises and there is talk of legal action.

Perhaps it is time to look at a new approach?

2004, and all that

Administration looms large over the summer and it will be said that this is not the time to talk about anything except securing the future of the club but those who battled to put the club in the hands of Julian Rhodes in 2004 for Mark Lawn to join him in 2007 will recall only too well the talk of how supporter would be at the heart of the new Bradford City. The club saved by the fans would not forget the fans. If 2010/2011 tells us anything it is that the supporters of Bradford City are to toe the line.

I speak as someone who has sat with Mark Lawn this season. He is not an unreasonable man and in talking to him one cannot help but be sympathetic to a man who clearly loves the club, clearly is trying his best, and clearly is crying out for assistance. Jason and I heard him talk about how the supporters interact with the club. How the OMB is used in anonymity and how a “Friends of Bradford City” scheme could be used to raise much needed funds and while these things are true the tone of the conversation stands as a stark contrast to 2004’s rhetoric. The club that was saved by the fans putting in a six figure sum is now telling them what to think, or so it might seem.

Lawn cuts an isolated figure at times. He admits to his blustering style but one wonders if it belays a worry that his aims for the club will never be realised. He is at great pains to paint out that his door is always open but one wonders if an open door is enough. Bradford City as a club pledged itself in 2004 to be more about the supporters. Perhaps Lawn and his fellow directors need to engage with supporters in a more active way. Show me a hundred Bradford City fan and I’ll show you a hundred skilled people across many fields. The only time these people ever get asked for help is when there is snow to be cleared from the field on a winter afternoon.

Indications from the club are that there are developments on this and it will be interesting how much the club are prepared to let go in the interests of supporter involvement. The benefits of supporter involvement are all in engagement. At the moment Bradford City is a product consumed by supporters – and in that context the customer complaints procedure is pretty bad – and how long any club should carry on in that way is debatable. In 2004 this was going to be our Bradford City. That spirit needs revisiting especially as we once again skirt the waters of administration if only because the loss of it has contributed to rendering the club in the position it now finds itself in.

Should this not all wait until after Administration?

There seems little doubt that Bradford City are in for a torrid summer and one might think that talk about learning the lessons form 2010/2011 off the field can wait until we know for sure that there will be a 2011/2012. Were you to think that, dear reader, you may be correct.

However our experience after 2004 tells us that things said in the heat of a troubled summer fade in the winters of a season and many of the problems the club finds itself in can be put down to the distance that emerged between supporters and City in the last ten years.

The atmosphere at Valley Parade is atrocious but with supporters set firmly is customers rather than invested parties there is little invitation to do much more than pay up and turn up, little reason for many to treat professional football as a thing they are invested in.

In addition the boardroom is out of touch with supporters. For sure there is a note of websites such as this one, of the Official Message Board, of The T&A comments section, of The City Gent but these are the publication of enthusiasts not the word of the man on the Clayton Omnibus. Small samples taken as representative have informed decisions made with the club.

Geoffrey Richmond would not take a meeting with any supporter’s organisation which numbered fewer than 4,000 members but – in a very real way – handfuls of people on the Internet are setting an agenda which the club respond to and those people are not necessarily representative of the general view of supporters and it is that general view of the people who tossed tenners into buckets in 2004 which the club losing sight of.

Moreover though as the club struggles to survive once more the need for vigilance in the boardroom could not be more clear. Supporters are a constant for the club which is under threat from a boom or bust policy which targets promotion. The spirit of 2004 suggested that involvement from supporters would create guardians for the club within the boardroom to prevent us from reaching this situation again.

Yet here we are.

The lesson of 2010/2011 off the field is a correlation between the deterioration of the relationship between Bradford City’s boardroom and Bradford City’s supporters

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part one, on the pitch – when the wheels came off

There is always one game in every season, one moment in that game, that one moment in that one game in the season when everything can change, when things can either come together or fall apart for the rest of the season.”

The Damned Utd, David Peace

Saturday 8 January 2011, and Bradford City are leading second bottom Barnet 1-0 at Valley Parade. The home side have been dominant since the half time break, twice hitting the woodwork, but a second goal hasn’t materialised. Yet they are well on track for an eighth win in 13 league games; and as it stands only goal difference will keep them out of the play offs. After a bad start to the season, it all seems to be coming together for City under Taylor – who during the week had turned down the Newcastle United assistant manager’s job – and hopes of promotion are high.

But during the second half, standards begin to slip. The players stop working hard for each other, stop getting the little things right, stop pressing the visitors. It’s as if the game had become too easy for them, that they believe that can coast it. It was to prove costly.

That one moment in that one game in the season when everything can change occurs when on-loan defender Rob Kiernan needlessly heads a Barnet cross into his own net. It is a truly shocking moment, and as the home side go onto collapse in the game – eventually losing 3-1 – it leads to a shocking second half to the season. This moment triggers the start of a run that sees the Bantams win just six of their remaining 24 games. Soon we wouldn’t be looking upwards, but nervously over our shoulders.

It would be a ridiculous assumption to make that, without Kiernan’s game-changing own goal that afternoon, the Bantams would have fulfilled those pre-season expectations of at least a top seven finish, but it certainly killed growing momentum and spurred the subsequent nosedive in form. A moment of madness, that instigated a maddening end to the season. That it could have ended much worse than it did is a consolation of sorts, but can’t disguise the scale of under-achievement.

Four months on from that dismal January afternoon, it’s hard to believe we were once able to harbour hopes of promotion. Yet although the season begin woefully, a more acceptable autumn had seemingly set City up for an exhilarating second half to the campaign. Along the way, there’d been some brilliant moments – the apparent season-turning win in the London sunshine at Barnet, the thrilling come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Cheltenham, the crazy second half 5-0 crushing of Oxford, and the jubilant 1-0 success on a rain-soaked Tuesday night at Bury. “We are going up” we sung with growing conviction. “Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army” we chanted with feeling.

Comparisons were made with the last successful Bantams promotion bid in 1999, where the players and management recovered from a nightmare start to climb into the top two and hold their nerve. Certainly the early season results bore strong similarity, as City began with four defeats from their five opening league matches. Occasional signs of improvement – a fortuitous last minute win over Gillingham and credible 0-0 draw at Rotherham – were quickly forgotten as poor results continued. In truth, only the commendable League Cup showings against Championship clubs Notts Forest and Preston provided us any hope that the players could turn it round.

Morecambe at home in early October was arguably the worst performance of the entire campaign, the 1-0 loss failing to do justice to how badly City performed. Having defended so well at Rotherham days earlier, the decision by Taylor to drop strong performers Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien for two young kids signed on loan from Manchester United seemed to deflate players and fans. Meanwhile lanky defender Luke Oliver was still playing up front, which made for largely ugly viewing. Taylor was subject to a torrent of abuse at full time. National media speculation grew that he was one game from the sack.

Then came that huge win at Barnet, and much improved form. Taylor, it seemed, had evolved team selection to finding the right players, and the best football of the season came during October. Omar Daley was deployed in a free role, partnering either James Hanson or Jason Price up front. Lee Hendrie was displaying his Premier League pedigree wide left, while David Syers was proving a revelation in the centre of midfield alongside an in-form Tommy Doherty. At the back, Steve Williams was outstanding while summer signing Shane Duff was, for a spell, able to shake off injuries and impress.

Form slowed a little, but victories – such as over Hereford in December – still occurred regularly enough to keep City in the position of play off dark horses. There were a number of injured players due to return in the New Year, and Taylor confidently talked up the prospects of truly kicking on.

Of course that never happened, and seven weeks after turning down Newcastle Taylor departed the club having seen his popularity sink drastically. We knew before he arrived in February a year earlier that City would be more dour under his management, but not this dire. Lack of entertainment might have been tolerated if the Bantams were winning each week – though that early season win over Stevenage put doubts to that – but losing and playing negative defensive football was a miserable combination. So Taylor left – the b*****ds having ground him down.

His final match in charge – a 3-2 victory over nine-man Stockport, where Gareth Evans netted in stoppage time to send us into raptures – had seemingly eased the threat of relegation. But despite interim manager Peter Jackson winning two of his first three matches in charge, fears kept returning that our league status could be surrendered. Jackson at least had City playing more attractive, attacking football – but results failed to improve. Heavy defeats in April to Torquay, Southend and Accrington left the Bantams too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Jackson – not able to make any signings – was having to make do without key defenders, as the injury problems continued and the club’s financial issues began to come to light.

In the end enough was done to preserve league football, but it remains an enduring mystery how City under-performed to such an extent this season. Taylor blamed it all upon the injury list, and this probably explained how a promotion push never ultimately materialised. But it does not fully justify finishing seventh bottom of the entire Football League, as the lowest scorers in the three divisions.

Taylor had a strong budget, certainly strong enough to do better. The rotten luck with injuries suggests he was right to bring in quantity over quality during the summer, but City were too badly lacking in certain positions. Daley and Leon Osborne were the only natural wingers at the club after Taylor sold Scott Neilson a fortnight into the season. On the eve of the campaign Taylor admitted he feared he was lacking a quality goalscorer and he was to be proven right. There was so much inconsistency to team selection. A curiously high number of players made captain.

Too many chiefs. Not nearly enough leaders.

And not for the first season, we were left to question the number of loan players brought in and lack of longer-term thinking. While club captain Rehman should have handled the situation of being continually left out for inexperienced loanees better, he deserved fairer treatment from Taylor. When Tom Adeyemi scored a consolation at Port Vale in February, there was something unsettling about how pleased he looked about it. Although Richard Eckersley caught the eye at times, on other occasions he seemed more interested in looking good than taking the right option when in possession. For whatever reason, it just didn’t look as though everyone was pulling in the same direction; desperate to achieve the same things.

Ultimately, only Syers and O’Brien can look back on the season with their head held high. Others contributed positively at times, but more should be expected and demanded. Yet still – no matter how awful the league table looks and how much misery we’ve had to endure over the past 10 months – were it not for the one moment in that one game, this season might have turned out oh so differently.

It looks like we might have made it to the end

The end is nigh. No one is sure what it is the end of.

It is the end of the football season for teams in League Two who do not trouble the play-offs and a season which promised much to some, less to others but delivered next to nothing at all and that end is greeted with a sense of near delight.

It is hard to imagine how much worse 2010/2011 could have been for Bradford City. BfB have a rule of thumb to not use the word disaster to talk about anything other than a disaster but it had cropped up on messages here and elsewhere to talk about a year which started badly and got worse.

From the second half at Shrewsbury Town to today there has been little to enjoy and much to worry about. Peter Taylor – and make no mistake about this – is a manager capable of getting a team promoted from League Two and neither he nor his replacement Peter Jackson could muster a City team which could get much more than about 1.15 points per game.

From a footballing point of view the only thing one can say about this season and the rapidity of its climax is that while one might badly want this to end there is no indication that next season has any potential to be any better.

No better and perhaps worse because this could be the end of football at Valley Parade. It is much talked about how Mark Lawn wants a cut in the rent on the stadium and offices and seems prepared to take the club away from Valley Parade if he does not get it. There are so many questions about this – What would be the impact of defaulting on the rent? What about the Nike deal? Where would the club be run from? – an no answers.

Perhaps someone will come onto the field before the game to announce that City will always have a home at Valley Parade – we have heard that before – but in all likelihood City fans will leave VP at five o’clock on Saturday not knowing if they will ever set foot in the stadium ever again.

What an abject indictment of the state of Bradford City in 2011 that is.

If there is an end to football at Valley Parade there is an end to professional football in Bradford after over one hundred years. The latest rumours say that City will look to move into Halifax’s The Shay should a deal not be reached over the rent but this is all just gossip and is in any case based on the idea that were the club to try go into administration it would emerge out the other side.

There is another end. The end of Bradford City. If City default on the payments on the ground and rent having not made a deal with the landlords and a winding up order is issued by either then the club would seek administration as protection from that and that protection is not always granted. There is no formality in this and there are scenarios – unlikely ones – where the club try to escape the ground and offices deals and end up facing a mountain of inescapable problems. Certainly there are people at Valley Parade who do not see where funding for next season is coming from.

Another indictment. One will hope that at five o’clock we will not have watched our final Bradford City game but one will fear a summer without a certainty that that is not the case.

So here it is. The final game of something.

Perhaps of Peter Jackson’s time as City manager or perhaps not. The position of interim manager until an appointment seemed to seep into being a week to week gaffer. Having achieved little better than the results which saw his predecessor removed Jackson might get the nod to continue as the Bantams boss – and he might do a very good job – but the fact that he is a possible manager shows a club with no clear path forward, and no idea how to improve.

The players – subject of much criticism – who will play in this final game may be bolstered by some youngsters promoted though the ranks. Now that relegation worries have been put to bed the likes of Adam Robinson and Alex Fleet may be promoted to the first eleven.

Lenny Pidgeley out of contract in the summer but is expected to play. Lewis Hunt is signed up for next season and will as will Luke Oliver. Steve Williams and Robbie Threlfall are also both contracted for next season. Lee Bullock, who may feature rather than Williams, could be in the end of his City career. Luke O’Brien is signed up for another year.

Michael Flynn and David Syers are signed up for another season but Gareth Evans and Jon Worthington are out of contract and could be playing their final games for the club although both could be expected to sign if offered next deals. Omar Daley – recalled from Rotherham – also has no deal on the table from City and is reportedly the best paid player at a club cutting cost. This could be the end of Omar the Bantam.

James Hanson and Jake Speight are both contracted for next season and both are expected to play. Names we will not be hearing again include Tommy Doherty, Kevin Ellison and Tom Ademeyi.

These people may be remembered as the last players ever to play for Bradford City, or the last players to play at Valley Parade or – if we are lucky – just the players who played in the last game of a rotten season.

The Doc departs leaving Bradford City reflecting on lessons it never learns

Benito Carbone, David Hopkin, Paul McLaren and now Tommy Doherty. Players who have offered so much when originally signed by Bradford City; players who – for whatever reason – failed to live up to the expectations of others; players who left the club financially much worse off and looking somewhat foolish.

Tommy Doherty has today officially departed the Bantams, less than 12 months into a two-year deal. He is destined to go down in the club’s history as one of its poor signings. In many people’s eyes he failed to show the right attitude or application. For others though, the fault lies more with the club.

The Doc was City’s best paid player this season. A stella signing by manager Peter Taylor which probably prompted that ‘pre-season favourites’ tag the club has so badly failed to live up to. Many of us remembered his stunning performance at Valley Parade for Taylor’s Wycombe in February 2009. As he rocked up at Valley Parade, we licked our lips in anticipation of watching his superb passing ability over the coming months. The Bearded Wonder; the talisman; our own Paul Scholes.

But while the club spared no expense laying on a new playing surface that he could sweep the ball across, other pre-season plans – namely a new training ground demanded by Taylor – did not come to fruition. Let us not argue once more the effect this might have had on the season, but let us agree that – overall – it has been proven the foundations for this season were built upon sand. In money terms, Doherty was a significant investment for this club. But the infrastructure was lacking, hampering Taylor’s ability to get the desired return from his investment.

Doherty attempted to build up an understanding with new team mates on the same inadequate training pitch that Carbone and others struggled on. And rather than reach the heights enjoyed at other clubs, Doherty like others couldn’t live up to high expectations and in time became painted as a villain.

Worst of all, the club’s over-stretching in persuading such players to sign – instead of spending money in other key areas – keeps coming back to haunt it. Doherty may not have commanded the same level wage as Carbone; but, as they now struggle to pay their players on time and have offloaded the Irish midfielder a year early, it looks like a similar type of mistake.

Not that the club should be solely blamed for how disappointing Doherty’s City career proved. An injury picked up in pre-season refused to go away, and in each of his 21 Bantams appearances he was far from fully fit. Nevertheless his ability was there for all to see. At times he sprayed the ball around majestically, spotting runners and options that no one else in the ground – especially in the stands watching – had seen. As someone who enjoys watching teams pass the ball around with patience and skill (Spain in last year’s World Cup didn’t bore me, even if they did many others), for me it was a thrill to watch Doherty on the ball.

The problems, however, stemmed from the lack of players on his wavelength. With confidence especially low early in the season, it would be common to see Doherty pick up the ball deep and find no one was either embarking on a run or offering themselves as an option he could pick out. As we fans demanded he produce a defence-splitting pass, there would be growing frustration if his attempt to do so lead to possession being surrendered or the ball being worked backwards.

It all came to a head when Port Vale came to Valley Parade, early September. Having earlier produced some breathtaking passes as City tried to overturn a 1-0 deficit, momentum shifted back to Vale and Doherty lost the ball on a few occasions. Then a pass was played to him in a dangerous part of the pitch, and his chipped backpass to Jon McLaughlin allowed Justin Richards to race in and score a comically easy goal. The next time Doherty touched the ball, hundreds booed.

That afternoon probably sealed the type of relationship Doherty was to have with City fans. He was clearly angry to be treated in this way, and when he and club’s form picked up a few weeks later and Doherty was subbed late on to standing ovations in two consecutive games – Oxford and Bury – it was telling that he did not bother to clap supporters back or thank us for our support. On his return to Wycombe in November, he was sent off for an angry reaction to a challenge and again was clapped off by City fans. No response, no acknowledgment, no love for us it seemed.

A month later Doherty finally undertook an operation that he’d apparently needed pre-season, and that was to be the last we’d see of him playing for City. In its own way this hurried the departure of his manager, as the team’s style without their playmaker deteriorated drastically and it became increasingly dismal viewing. Taylor’s exit always threw up a big question mark over Doherty’s future – he’d walked out of Wycombe when Gary Waddock replaced Taylor at Adams Park – and with rumours swirling in recent weeks it seemed this early departure was inevitable.

Could he have given more to the club? Probably. Could City have done more to maximise his talents? Most definitely. But as we face up to a summer of worry and despair over the club’s financial future, Doherty’s place alongside Carbone, McLaren and co. as a foolish use of money is almost certainly assured.

The lingering Kevin Ellison

Kevin Ellison has returned to Rotherham United after injury curtailed his spell at Bradford City leaving Bantams fans with few lingering memories of the winger.

Ellison scored for City before starting to struggle with injury but perhaps a bigger impact on his career at the club was the change of manager from Peter Taylor to Peter Jackson.

Jackson’s style of play requested the return of Omar Daley and Ellison was quickly moved out of the first team picture being incapable of pushing his way back into the manager’s thoughts.

More curious though seems to be how the burly winger figured in the thoughts of Taylor and with an attitude that could be described as “no nonsense” by some and “distasteful” by others Ellison quickly seemed to start to represent all that had gone wrong under the previous manager.

Win at all costs, but without winning, and with a nasty taste in the mouth. League Two football gives an opportunity to get close to players at pitch side and watching Ellison plant two feet into a defender who had just knocked him over at Morecambe was unwelcome and unpleasant. Much of the winger’s interplay with his opponents seemed to be similar. Everyone has their own way of drawing the line between a wind up merchant and an nasty player and for some – including me – Ellison seemed to cross that line.

As Ellison exits he will be followed by other players who were brought in as a part of Taylor’s plans. Regardless of what might happen in the summer Tommy Doherty seems set to have played his last game for City. Many of those players will represent missed opportunities where City failed to get the best out of someone.

Ellison joins the list of players who will be looking for a new club. As a footballer he is no worse than the player who will replace him, but I hope that that replacement plays the game in a different way, and in a way I can be proud to watch.

City pay the wages late while battling for a rent reduction – two issues that should not be linked

As the negotiations over a Valley Parade rent reduction go quiet for the time being, this morning the Telegraph & Argus has reported on another financial problem that will strike fear into the heart of every Bradford City supporter. Mark Lawn has revealed the players received their wages late this month, because according to the Joint-Chairman: “money’s tight and we’ve told them that”.

Simon Parker of the T&A presumably asked Lawn further questions on this matter, but no further information has appeared (either online or in today’s printed edition of the T&A); so, as supporters, we are left with a number of questions. How late were the wages paid? Why were the wages delayed? How bad is the financial situation at the club? And how on earth has this being allowed to happen?

First though a note of sympathy for the players. In recent weeks they’ve been heavily criticised and at times deservedly so; yet if they’ve been asked to put their bodies on the line to fight for a club unable to pay them – at least on time – one can understand how uncertainty and fear might have effected their performances. Let us not inflict upon our players the stereotypical ‘overpaid prima donna’ tag – many will be on wages comparable to you and I. Were we to receive our own wages late, we would struggle with the bills and feel let down by our employees. Bradford City League Two footballers have the right to feel the same way.

In the end though they have been paid, and so attention is firmly back onto the financial strength of the football club and its ability to meet its future obligations. BfB has already reported on how the club’s Abbreviated Accounts paint a gloomy picture, and so we should not be dubious over Lawn’s claims the club cannot survive another two years under the current status quo. But still, that does not explain how City can be struggling to pay their players now.

Surely the club budgeted sensibly and accurately last summer, when handed then-manager Peter Taylor a sizeable playing budget to build a team with? Therefore how can they be so short of money before the end of the season? True, attendances have been below expectations this season, and the club has so far not put season tickets back on sale for next year. In addition, Taylor will probably have received some form of contract settlement when he departed in February – Lawn has previously admitted the club was paying Taylor well – while interim manager Peter Jackson presumably isn’t doing the job for free. Colin Cooper has also been hired to assist Jackson, while previous coaches Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis were placed on paid gardening leave.

We can argue about the rights and wrongs of the management and coaching staff situation, but of the above financial issues only low attendances have been beyond the Board’s control. Is around 1,000 less fans turning up every fortnight the difference between players receiving their wages? Let’s imagine this season had gone to plan and City were in Wycombe’s position now – would the club have been able to pay wages on time?

And beyond questioning the logic of awarding Taylor a playing budget the club now appears unable to have afforded, let’s not forget Taylor was allowed to go over this budget too. Lewis Hunt’s arrival pre-season put City over budget, though Scott Neilson did depart to Crawley for a transfer fee shortly after. Taylor was then allowed to bring in Lee Hendrie on wages that, come January, the Board had to tell the manager they could no longer afford. And what about those young defenders signed on loan while first team players such as Zesh Rehman, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall sat on the bench?

The Board has no right to interfere with on the field issues; but if Taylor was asking for yet more money to bring in players on loan, they were surely entitled to challenge him back over why well-paid first teamers were being overlooked, especially if money was tight.

Lawn has probably disclosed this revelation about players being paid late to tie it with the pressure he is putting on the Valley Parade landlords to agree a rent reduction, but it’s highly questionable whether the two are linked. The club may not be able to afford to play on at Valley Parade under the current terms for much longer, but spending relatively huge sums of money last summer and now struggling to pay the bills is an entirely different situation – one which the Board must shoulder responsibility for.

City knew the terms of the rent before the season started; and, as much as we can all agree how unfair it is we are forced to pay such large sums of money to people whose ethical validity for owning Valley Parade is highly questionable, it doesn’t excuse apparently poor budget planning elsewhere. The implication of linking the two – whether Lawn meant to or not – is regrettable and one has to wonder what the two landlords make of the club’s requests for rent reductions while it has seemingly spent money it cannot afford on other things. It’s a bit like pleading with the gasman that you can’t afford to pay your quarterly bill, because you’ve spent it on a brand new state-of-the-art TV.

It is not Gordon Gibb’s fault the players got paid their wages late this month. Lawn will know that too and perhaps only intended to disclose this information to soften us supporters up to a move away from Valley Parade. Yet by taking this route he has left the Board open to criticism and doubts over its ability to be sensible and prudent.

Clearly these are very worrying times for this football club, and what it will look like and where it will be playing when next season kicks off on August 6 is a question no one can answer. But while we can’t change the past, it’s time for everyone to radically think about the type of football club we want and the type of football club we can afford.

The club hired Taylor on a one-year contract because that’s all they could budget for, yet allowed him to sign players on two-year deals and on sizeable wages. The expectation is that we have to be promoted each season, so too much resources are placed towards this while neglecting other important factors or adequately considering the consequences of failing to achieve it. The club’s strategy is entirely the prerogative of the manager, who is always under pressure and fear of the sack after a couple of games are lost.

And now it leaves us fearing for the club’s very survival, again. In his first ever interview when investing into the club, back in 2007, Lawn quickly pointed out he wasn’t another Geoffrey Richmond; yet recent statements and actions leave us Bradford City supporters fearing how true that proclamation will actually turn out to be.

The game after the one that mattered

The team huddle immediately prior to Monday’s vital game with Aldershot included not just the starting eleven, but the substitutes, manager and coaching staff. And its symbolism appeared to be taken on board by the majority of supporters in the stadium.

Sure, there are so many issues surrounding Bradford City Football Club right now, not least the feeling of being let down by this group of players. But for 90 minutes, it seemed everyone’s differences were put aside and we truly became one team working towards the same cause. The players were positively backed, the chanting probably its loudest all season. The usual groans and moans were largely reined in. The resultant 2-1 success felt like a collective effort, in which everyone deserved to share a slice of the credit.

And now we’re back to where we were, with at least one problem – the threat of relegation – seemingly addressed.

Tomorrow’s trip to Hereford is no longer the significant game it might have been; and, as is so often the case at this stage of a Bantams’ season, attention is more on those unresolved off the field questions. Nevertheless what happens between 3-5pm Saturday could have a major effect on one of those uncertainties – which can now firmly come back into focus.

Just who is going to manage City next season? Peter Jackson remains in the interim role, and arguably still holds pole position despite poor results in recent weeks reducing his popularity. The way he turned around the players from their pathetic no-show at Accrington to full-on commitment against Aldershot 48 hours later was hugely impressive.

Nevertheless results overall have not improved since it was determined Peter Taylor had to depart, and so Jackson now has several blemishes to his application to be permanent manager. The position was supposed to have been filled before Easter – along with announcing season ticket prices for next season – but the severity of the relegation problem saw those plans postponed. Next week should be the ideal time for the Board to finally make a decision.

John Hughes waits on in the wings, while Dagenham’s John Still – a star of a fantastic BBC Radio 5Live behind the scenes documentary that you should listen to if you have the time – continues to be heavily linked. Other names could still be in the frame; Jackson has let it be known, for example, that a couple of recently retired Premier League footballers have thrown their hat in the ring. They have offered to do it for free – such is the comfort of life from a career at the top – in order to get experience.

For now Jackson leads City to Edgar Street, with the hosts still harbouring relegation concerns. Having begun the season disastrously under Simon Davey, Hereford had improved significantly under the management of physio Jamie Pitman and climbed the table. However a run of one win in seven – oddly enough 3-0 against leaders Chesterfield – leaves them looking over their shoulders. While second-bottom Barnet find form, Hereford, Lincoln and Northampton have almost completely lost theirs. Who joins Stockport in non-league could be determined by who fails to climb out of their nosedive.

It is vital game tomorrow for Hereford, which makes for a very interesting assessment of Jackson’s City.  Although still needing a point to be mathematically safe, the Bantams basically have nothing to play for. As heartening as the effort levels were on Monday, all season the players have struggled to deliver the necessary level of desire supporters expect from them. If they want Jackson to be their manager – and if they want to be a Bradford City player for that matter – the greater need for Hereford to win should not be an excuse for rolling over.

Lenny Pidgley continues to keep goal, despite struggling to convince fans he should be picked ahead of the previously in-form Jon McLaughlin. The back four on Monday was – for a rare occasion – terrific and likely to stay the same. Lee Bullock’s performance at centre back was one of the finest individual displays of the season, especially considering it’s not his position. Luke Oliver is also ending the campaign well; while on Monday Robbie Threlfall at last put in a display to the standard of when he was on impressing on loan last season.

That said the demotion of Luke O’Brien is troubling and one has to wonder what he has done to merit a continuing omission from the starting line up. Many fans and the media have declared David Syers is the player of the season, despite no democratic vote taking place. He probably does deserve it overall, but for consistency and improvement O’Brien would have made a worthy rival for the award. Lewis Hunt plays right back.

In midfield Omar Daley’s wonder goal on Monday was a magic moment for those of us who continue to talk up the Jamaican, while others routinely dispute his worth to the team. Of his three games since returning, Monday was, arguably, his quietest so far. It is interesting that a team who has spent the season playing without wingers has struggled to provide Daley with adequate service since he was recalled to play his more natural wide position. Nevertheless his value has been clearly demonstrated.

Jon Worthington will patrol the centre alongside Syers, with Gareth Evans wide right. Evans is the current target of the Valley Parade boo boys, and it is sad to see a player struggling for confidence receive such little support. No one has acknowledged that it was his corner which set up Monday’s winner.

Up front James Hanson had an outstanding first half at least on Monday and will partner Jake Speight, who also impressed and was notably missed when he was subbed early due to injury. Chib Chilaka – Speight’s replacement – struggles to make an impact, though his particularly jubilant celebrations at full time on Monday did not go unnoticed.

A mass team huddle probably won’t be required pre-match; but if the players switch off again, for Jackson it might time to switch off the lights on the manager’s office for good.

Omar Daley returns to Bradford City

Thank goodness; Omar Daley is back at Bradford City.

Supporter opinion on the Jamaican winger has always being mixed – and as he departed on loan to Rotherham United two months ago there were plenty of people pleased. But whatever your view on his ability, Valley Parade has certainly being a duller place without him.

His early recall from a loan spell gives interim manager Peter Jackson – for whom Tuesday’s vital home game with Burton Albion could be his last – a major lift giving the flagging numbers of senior players he has available. On Friday at Southend, Jackson was forced to play a front two that has scored no goals this season for the Bantams; plus a central midfielder on the right wing and an out-of-form forward on the left flank. Daley could play in any of those positions and, with City’s ongoing struggle to score goals, will be looked upon to make a positive difference.

Expect Daley to play wide left on Tuesday. Jackson has tried to implement an attacking 4-4-2 formation, which has been undermined by a lack of wide players in particular in the squad inherited from Peter Taylor. Daley can provide some of that attacking width; and, although his goal assists have been low for City this season and his crossing has never been the greatest, he is capable of increasing the amount of chances the players are creating.

More importantly – with morale so low in the wake of the last two defeats – a return of such a quality player can boost a team rapidly losing confidence. How good would it be to see City line up on Tuesday with Daley on one flank and Leon Osborne or youngster Dominic Rowe on the other? Jon Worthington can hold the midfield with Tom Adeyemi free to get forwards, while David Syers can fill in at right back. A much more balanced side.

Where this development leaves the other player in the February loan swap deal – Kevin Ellison – is unclear. An inspiring debut against Wycombe aside, Ellison has struggled to make an impact since arriving from Rotherham; although has been missed in recent weeks following an injury. While Daley’s greater qualities are pace, trickery and unpredictability, Ellison carries a sizeable positive influence on team mates and an admirable level of work rate.

A month ago Joint Chairman Mark Lawn revealed Daley could not return to City unless Rotherham wanted to recall Ellison, as the club couldn’t afford two wages. At the time of writing Ellison is still a City player, and one would assume this position has been changed in view of City’s increasingly desperate league position. Give the current financial worries that on the field leave Jackson without a senior right back, it is still a curious move.

Daley, who is out of contact in the summer and struggled to secure a first team spot at the Millers, will look to impress Jackson or the manager in waiting over the final five games. Having looked like he’d played his last game for City – a dreadful performance at home to Lincoln that saw him booed off by fans when he was subbed – it looks like Daley’s Bantams career could be extended a while longer yet.

And those of us supporters who do rate him couldn’t be happier.

The usual answers to the usual questions

If there’s one recurring theme over the past decade of utter Bradford City failure, it is the futility of sacking managers. So often, it seems, a change of who occupies the dugout has been presented as the only solution to chronic under-achievement, but never has this course of action worked out in the way it was hoped. And as Peter Jackson struggles to revive the Bantams after taking over from Peter Taylor six games ago, it seems that once again the supposed remedy hasn’t cured the problem.

Jackson’s record now reads won 2, drawn 1 and lost 3. The 38% win ratio is exactly the same as Taylor delivered over 32 games. The league position remains unaltered, and is unlikely to improve enough over the final eight games to avoid a worst league finish since 1966. The cold hard facts are that removing Taylor as manager has not improved City’s fortunes in the short-term.

Of course that doesn’t mean Taylor was doing a decent job after all. He was the one who badly utilised an increased summer budget and who must assume a huge amount of responsibility for such a dreadful campaign. But the players clearly must shoulder much of the blame too, and Jackson’s failure to revive them – other than an initial short-term boost – shows that the idea under-performers could quickly become over-achievers simply by switching around who selects the formation is flawed.

Or put it another way – changing managers mid-season generally doesn’t work.

Any time this viewpoint is expressed, a counter-argument inevitably arises that points to examples of other clubs who have been transformed by giving their unpopular manager the boot. The latest one to use could be Martin Allen, who since taking over at seemingly relegation-doomed Barnet has achieved a very good come-from-2-0-behind draw against the leaders and incredibly vital win at Burton.

Indeed listening to Allen’s Burton post match assessment offered some fascinating insights. Allen has decreed that the players should simply enjoy the rest of the season, forget worrying about what they eat and the tactics of the opposition as they will simply play five-a-side in training every day. Such a dramatic change in approach has clearly worked so far, but whether Barnet stay up or go down one doubts the players will begin next season eating pies and neglecting the tactics.

It is a short-term trick because Barnet need a short-term miracle. Inspirational management perhaps, but hardly a model for other clubs to copy unless in a similarly hopeless position.

Allen’s Barnet revival is still the exception rather than the norm, and for a section of City support and members of the Boardroom to believe the Bantam’s fortunes can be altered by sacking whoever the latest unpopular manager happens to be, mid-season, after so many repeated failures remains a bone of contention. I write this as someone who had lost support for Taylor – though was not in a rush for him to leave mid-season like others. I believe Taylor would probably have turned things around had he remained, albeit no where near enough to mount a late play off charge and to be deserving of a new contract.

So what to make of Jackson? It seems unfair to dismiss his chances on the basis he has done no better than Taylor with the same set of players, because of the repeated failure of changing managers mid-season. Put Jackson in charge last summer with Taylor’s budget and a fairer comparison could be made. That is implausible of course, and Jackson looks set to be overlooked in favour of someone else who in time we hope will be a success, but over this recent six-game period is unlikely to have done any better.

City have put off putting season tickets on sale until the managerial appointment is belatedly made, and it appears the Board is looking to generate the type of feel-good atmosphere a new manager usually triggers in order to convince those yet to renew to sign up for next season. Unless Jackson can win two of the next three games between now and the big decision – starting tonight at Macclesfield – it seems highly likely someone else will get the job, as Jackson cannot provide that feel-good boost.

Is season ticket sales a fair consideration when choosing the next manager? Probably not, and it is worth recalling the negative reaction to Paul Jewell being appointed permanent manager after an underwhelming end to the season in a caretaker capacity, back in 1998. Then-Chairman Geoffrey Richmond was able to observe up close the qualities in Jewell that would become so prevalent to the rest of us that following season, after he was able to build the team he wanted rather than being stuck with a squad inherited from his predecessor mid-season.

Yet the short-term impact was a reduction in season ticket sales. Richmond remarked a year later on the decision to appoint Jewell, “We lost a couple of thousand season ticket holders…my mailbag was horrendous that summer.”

With such limited investment for next season, it’s a fact of life that the modern day Bradford City has to consider season ticket sales when deciding who to appoint. A poor return from the next three games, and it would take a very brave Board to appoint Jackson as manager next season. The loss of season ticket holders could prove even worse than in 1998.

So Jackson needs a result tonight and, after Barnet’s win over Burton, so do City. Avoiding relegation seemed all but assured after the Morecambe win, but one or two more wins are needed from the last eight matches to ensure there is no shocking ending to this disastrous season. City have two games in hand, starting tonight, but Burton’s failure to make the most of their games in hand following a winter of numerous postponements is a stark lesson of the dangers on relying upon them. When City’s home game against Burton was called off in January, Burton were considered play off candidates. Instead they face a nervous end to the campaign which City themselves hope to avoid.

Expect some changes tonight, with Luke Oliver set to return at the back and Lewis Hunt pushed to right back. Hunt has impressed greatly in the centre, but a back two of he and out-of-form Steve Williams is hardly the strongest and the commanding presence of Oliver should help a defence which has looked marginally better with him in it all season. Luke O’Brien continues at left back with Jon McLaughlin in goal.

In midfield it seemed Jackson had found a greater balance a few weeks ago as the previously overlooked Jon Worthington impressed, and the fact the last two games have ended in defeat with Worthington not involved is hardly a coincidence. Expect him back tonight alongside Tom Adeyemi or David Syers, with Michael Flynn probably dropped to the bench. Gareth Evans finds favour as a wideman but struggles for his best form, while Leon Osborne or repeated underachiever Scott Dobie will be wide left.

Up front James Hanson has had a disappointing second season and a growing minority of critics have, as usual, displayed goldfish memories in forgetting how good he can be. Who he will partner tonight is unclear, with Dobie, Jake Speight and Chib Chilaka vying for an opportunity.

The sight of Oliver up front in the closing stages on Saturday underlines how their are no new answers to the club’s predicament. Jackson must make the most of what he has, in order to earn the opportunity to show what he could really do.

Rewarding the wrong things

Bradford City are going to be looking at appointing a new manager soon and and in doing so will be asking a question as to if it is worth rewarding Peter Jackson for his work as “interim manager” with a full time contract. It seems difficult to believe the will be the case.

Two games – indeed two defeats – ago Mark Lawn talked about Jackson’s performance not being enough when the manager had a record of seven points out of twelve which edged the former skipper at just under two points a match. Having been told that those performances were not good enough one wonders if Jackson will be considered for a job the description of which seems to be “promotion form, all the time.”

Perhaps it was the idea that performance as well as results influence thinking in the mind of Mark Lawn – one half of the joint chairman and the half who was last to agree on appointing Peter Taylor owing to his style of football – that prompted Jackson to keep David Syers out at right back and put Tom Adeyemi in central midfield alongside Michael Flynn rather than Jonathan Worthington.

In theory Flynn and Ademeyi are an expansive middle two with one promoting and the other driving forward but in practice this team – as with all teams – perform better with a ball winner and Jackson’s results show that. When his team dig in, results follow, but without Worthington (or a similar player) much of the good play that City were capable of a month ago is theory, nothing more.

Ademeyi deserves a place in the team, Syers deserves a spot in central midfield, or so the thinking goes. The practice, as is often the case in football, differs.

Exhibit A: Jake Speight. Given three out of ten by one Sunday newspaper last week and generally considered to be not very good Speight was dropped today for Scott Dobie. While Speight has been doing whatever it is he does up front – you may not, or may, care for it – Dobie has been nominally out of position and seemingly either incapable of playing that role of having a lip out sulk and putting in very little.

His reward for such slight returns was to be given a role alongside James Hanson in the forward line and seldom did he seem to offer anything to suggest his was a better option. Jackson’s rewarding of Dobie’s anonymous performances make it hard to demand effort from the rest of the squad. “Play hard, because if you don’t you will be given a place in the forward line.”

Darren Stephenson or Chib Chilaka – who came off the bench for Dobie in the second half following five goals in his last two games – seemed to merit the position more and certainly seemed to put in more effort.

Not that City’s side lacked effort on the while today – nor that Jackson could not have looked back on the game without thinking that his team was hard done by – but some of what the manager was doing to impress at Morecambe with the characterful 1-0 win seemed to slip away, sacrificed on the alter of the more attractive.

The home side tipped a performance towards them from kick off edging, but not firmly beating, the Bantams and it seemed only a time before Jon McLauglin would be beaten. A shot pinged off his bar but it took a penalty by John Mousinho after Steve Williams’ jump in the first half was oddly penalised to give Stevenage the advantage. Mousinho is to Stevenage what Tom Doherty was to Wycombe Wanderers three seasons back. A player to envy.

But what good is envy? The Stevenage players continued to edge each tackle and carry on firmly in the play off zone after the win which was to follow in the second half but it is not because they are to a man better than the Bantams eleven. The idea that City’s players are inherently worse which seems to mark any half time in which the Bantams trail is not backed up by a look at the opposition teams which best us. We have League Two players, but so does every other club in League Two, and the challenge for every manager at this level is to get those players outperforming the division.

City’s second half display showed some character and Chilaka’s entrance helped matters but it seemed the Bantams were struggling on scraps. David Syers and Luke O’Brien pressed up the flanks and some supply from Adeyemi and Gareth Evans proved some delivery but it seemed that City were going to battle in vein.

Jackson will have looked at having to deploy Lewis Hunt in the middle with Syers at right back and ending up with Luke Oliver – a former Stevenage forward – back in the forward line. He will look at Tommy Doherty’s return in the reserves and Michael Flynn’s struggle to get in the game today and he will see options returning to his squad and he will probably wonder if he will get to be the one who decides how the midfielder returns to the squad, how Oliver is put back in the side, how to solve the goal scoring issues.

Syers scored, a tidy finish after Chilaka pushed the ball back to him in a crowded box, and it seemed that City might get a reward but the wrong things are seldom rewarded in the end, and Darius Charles won the game.

The question we all struggle to answer

In the immediate aftermath of Bradford City’s underwhelming draw with Northampton Town last Saturday, Pulse Sport’s Tim Thornton asking of interim manager Peter Jackson if he could explain why his team had performed so poorly prompted the response: “erm, no, not really”. After a season of under-achievement Jackson’s predecessor, Peter Taylor, might have broke into a wry smile had he been listening; but given Jackson is effectively undertaking a practical interview for the permanent job, his answer was far from reassuring.

Whether Mark Lawn was listening is a moot point, but this week the joint-Chairman has publicly uttered lukewarm comments about the job Jackson has done so far which suggests his full time appointment is not the formality it was beginning to appear two weeks ago. Not only did Lawn criticise the team’s display against Northampton, but the performance in beating Morecambe at the Globe Arena the week before.

Lawn told the Telegraph & Argus, “The results…have been steady so far without setting the world alight…We were flat on Saturday and need more out of them than that.” Above all else, that last comment can be assumed to be directed solely at Jackson. The message that the bar needs lifting much higher.

It’s a strange assessment period for Jackson. While five other managerial hopefuls brush up their interview skills or wait for a call, Jackson’s chances of getting the job are poised so finely on the results each week. The wins over Rotherham and Morecambe prompted loud calls for him to win the recruitment battle, but after Northampton the support towards him has become more muted.

As it stands, tomorrow could be his last game in charge – though it seems highly likely he will be given another month in charge at least. While the fate of other candidates may lie in the ability to answer the right questions, Jackson must place his in the players he inherited.

What more can he do? Well blooding youngsters is one election strategy that could win him extra votes. After plenty of youth players impressed while playing for the reserves in midweek, it seems probable that Jackson will award at least one senior debut from the bench on Saturday; with a couple at least poised to make the matchday 18. Leading the case is midweek scorer Darren Stephenson, who has been publicly praised by Jackson, while the much-hyped Dominic Rowe is also in contention.

With the Northampton draw firmly quashing talk of a late of play off charge, City’s final 10 games have largely become meaningless. It’s therefore an ideal opportunity to introduce youngsters into the first team and few people would view Jackson in anything but a positive light for doing so, unless results were adversely affected. If Stephenson, Rowe or Adam Robinson were to have an impact, Jackson – who had a fine record of introducing youngsters at Huddersfield – would find his stock would considerably climb. It is a gamble of sorts, but one suspects it is one Jackson needs to take if he wishes to remain the front-runner.

Expect the starting eleven at least to be full of senior players tomorrow. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal despite Lenny Pidgley’s return to fitness, but the back four will see changes with Luke Oliver suffering a rare injury. Last week his early departure prompted a reshuffle that saw David Syers play right back and struggle to adapt. Lee Bullock’s impressive performance as centre back for the reserves offers Jackson the opportunity to partner the midfielder with Steve Williams and keep Lewis Hunt at right back, with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In midfield an injury to Kevin Ellison and the suspension of Jon Worthington throws open opportunities for others. Syers will want to play in the centre alongside an off-colour Michael Flynn, while Tom Adeyemi, Leon Osborne and Scott Dobie will be in contention for Ellison’s wide midfield position. Gareth Evans, who continues to polarise opinion, is perhaps the only certain midfield starter. Had Worthington been available, one wonders whether Jackson would have been forced to leave out Flynn as he struggles to find form following a long lay-off.

Up front will be James Hanson and Jake Speight. On paper it is a little and large partnership that offers great potential, but the lack of understanding between the pair last week was troubling and must improve. Despite scoring City’s last two goals, question marks remain over their ability to find the net regularly and Dobie and Stephenson will be pushing to provide competition.

Shrewsbury – thrashed 5-0 in their last away match, rock up to Valley Parade firmly in the thick of the promotion battle. On the opening day Graham Turner’s out-thinking of Taylor set the tone for a dreadful Bantams campaign which has led us to yet another meaningless run-in and managerial head-hunting. The thinking that these times are opportune moments to plan early for next season and ensure the team hits the ground running was quickly undermined on that warm August afternoon at the New Meadow, though no one there to endure it could have imagined this season would have gone this bad.

An outstanding manager with a superb track record, a strong playing budget that saw some quality arrivals during the summer, a weaker-looking division that the bookies predicted the Bantams would be masters of. Jackson struggling to explain last week’s under-performance is something we should all be able to relate to – all season long it seems we’ve been equally lost for words.

The re-shifting of the goal posts

“It’s great to see someone with passion on the touchline”, “You can see how much the club means to him”, “Thank goodness we’re playing attacking 4-4-2 again”. A paraphrasing of the recent sentiments Bradford City supporters have bestowed upon interim manager Peter Jackson, but there’s something very familiar about it all.

For this nature of praise was considered to be negative just 13 months ago. As Stuart McCall was driven out the club following intense Boardroom and supporter pressure, his commitment and passion for the Bantams were argued as not being valid reasons to back him as manager. His attacking brand of football was considered naive. We needed someone with a proven track record, who knew how to get out of this division and who wouldn’t let emotion cloud his judgement. We didn’t need a club legend and we shouldn’t be allowing sentiment to determine who is in charge.

How times change. Or to put it another way, we’ve now seemingly gone back to the future.

Jackson is now talked up as the ideal candidate to revive City, and though he has greater experience than McCall it is still much of the qualities he shares with the now-Motherwell manager which are currying favour. Compare Jackson with another rumoured candidate for the job, Phil Parkinson. Like Jackson he has enjoyed some success as manager – Colchester’s promotion from League One in 2005/06 was an unexpectedly glorious achievement, he also took Charlton to the play offs last season. Like Jackson, he has endured failures as manager. Yet no one is flying the flag for Parkinson to take over, a man who has no previous connections with the club.

The passion for City that Jackson has is a hugely desirable quality, just like McCall’s love for City was considered to be when he first took charge.

Events over the last year have undoubtedly started to reverse the belief that McCall’s loyalty was more a hindrance than a benefit. With greater resources than McCall, Peter Taylor has taken City in a backwards direction. The style of football under Taylor, held up as what was needed a year ago when McCall’s attacking philosophy led to a poor run of form, was widely-derided. Meanwhile the “clueless” McCall has found employment in the top flight of Scottish football, and is so far doing a decent job.

A year or so ago we at BfB were heavily slated by many people for backing McCall. We’re big boys and we can take it, and we’re also above making attempts to state “we told you so” now. Nevertheless this reverting in attitude needs to be acknowledged and minds need to be made up – otherwise a year down the line the passion of Jackson could be considered a bad thing all over again.

Mark Lawn told us that McCall was an ill man when he left the club, and so the parting of ways in February last year was probably the right thing to happen and we shouldn’t be harking back to argue it was a mistake. However, the fact Stuart was so unwell can be partly attributed to the pressure he was placed under by disgruntled supporters and his employees. Instead of receiving support during a difficult time, he had to endure one of City’s directors publically slagging off his efforts and many fans calling for him to be sacked.

Poor results tend to cause that with any manager, but in McCall’s final few weeks so many matches went against City due to inept refereeing; a year on Jackson’s City have won two games with the help of some questionable officiating. A fine line between heroic and hopelessness.

McCall was unlucky at City. Sure he made many mistakes and he was guilty of raising expectations to a level he couldn’t meet; but so much about supporting Bradford City felt good knowing a club legend was at the helm who cared as much as we did, and the amount of goodwill afforded to him to succeed was such a positive force. The way he was driven away left many of us supporters with some emotional scars that have been difficult to heal. Whether you agreed or disagreed he had to go, the way he left was not our finest hour.

The anger wasn’t just directed at McCall, but at many of us supporters who had backed him and tried to have their say. “You know who I blame for the mess the club is in?,” a person who sat near me repeatedly said during McCall’s final weeks. “All those idiot supporters who held up those SOS signs that convinced him into staying (in April 2009).” Well I was one of those idiots, and I don’t think my opinion should have been any less valid than anyone else’s. Oddly this person has been very quiet all season.

Many others uttered similar sentiments in attacking fellow fans. Yet in April 2009 a democratic majority had appealed for McCall to stay on as manager and the fact others were so quick to undermine that verdict and ridicule their fellow supporters  broke down a community which has remained fractious since. As fans we were rarely united under Taylor, but oddly almost everyone agreed he was the right man for the job. The new arguments raged about how some of us – BfB included – were allegedly not backing Taylor positively enough. And then how quick some people were to turn on him.

We’ll never all agree on everything of course, but it is only now after Taylor has departed and McCall’s standing among fans is being restored (history is starting to show that while he may not have done a brilliant job, he didn’t do a bad one either) that the feel-good factor is truly returning.

The point of raking up old ground is not to start another debate about McCall’s departure, nor is there even the slightest intention to argue I and others were perhaps proved right all along. But if those negatives which were directed at McCall are now considered the right qualities in recruiting Bradford City’s next manager, let’s at least have the decency to stick by them if the going gets tough under Jackson.

McCall’s passion for the club was in time viewed as a negative, so – and assuming he gets the job, which appears inevitable – will the same fate befall Jackson in a year’s time? We cannot keep changing the goal posts on what are the right and wrong qualities for the City manager, otherwise we are destined to believe we’ve always made the wrong choice and go for the opposite the next time.

If we are to agree again now that a passion for Bradford City – while not a pre-requisite for any future vacancy – is a desirable and positive trait to look for in a managerial candidate, we shouldn’t go back on this and throw it in Jackson’s face if appointing him on that basis doesn’t go to plan. Whatever the future under Jackson would hold, he will be entitled to expect support from those who are so vociferously calling for him to get the job now.

Above all let’s just start treating our managers better, especially those who genuinely do care as much as we do.

A movement in the second string section

Peter Jackson makes some good points when he talks about bringing Bradford City reserves back to Valley Parade from their half season long sojourn at Eccleshill’s Plumpton Park but the change in venue asks questions about the way City are run and affords uncomfortable answers.

The Interim Manager’s logic is sound. To beat “the Valley Parade fear factor” players need to play more often at Valley Parade but coming just seven months after the much heralded measures to keep the pitch smooth it seems that the Bantams have once again abandoned a policy in the mid-term of its development.

This is a common theme for City and one which has long since started to question the appropriateness of what emerges from the club.

It is important to have a better pitch, but now it is not. It is important to have new training facilities, but then that “could be used as an excuse”, it is important that the player wear suits.

The list continues further back than most of us care to remember. It was important at one point to have a Defensive, Offensive and Midfieldive Coaches under Nicky Law. One struggles to recall why.

So let us not say that all these changes are wrong, some put right things which were previously done badly, some put things in the way the new manager wants it, but all have a consumption of resources and suggest a club without a plan of how to get to success.

The first point is a problem in a practical sense. There is only so much money comes into the club year on year and we can all think of a better use for that that making changes to things considered essential by the previous manager.

If Peter Jackson decides the players can turn up to games in pajamas – fitting for the long coach trips he considers essential – then director Roger Owen is left with a squad of suits he paid for at the behest of Peter Taylor and a feeling that he need not have bothered. Even in that sense it is wasted resource.

Moreover though these changes paint a picture of City as being the sort of club who rather than having a plan and a way of doing things which will bring success so craved are able to be influenced into pretty much any decision on the basis of the last football expert (manager, if you will) who walks into the room.

Without a consistent approach – with policy changed on an ad hoc basis – the club end up tail chasing trying to fulfil the requests of one manager, then flipping those requests for another.

While debate still goes on about Peter Taylor as a manager there is no doubt in my mind that he is a man who knows what success at a football club looks like. He has seen it and been part of it often enough to know – even if he could not put it in place at City – and in terms of laying out a roadmap to improvement there is no one at the club even near his level of qualification.

City need domain knowledge of footballing success. They need someone in the boardroom with enough nouse to be able to tell a manager if moving the reserves here or there is a good idea and to balance the cost of that with the effectiveness. They need someone who can help the board manage the manager.

Stuart McCall had no problem with Apperley Bridge, Peter Taylor took one look at the place and demanded a change. Peter Jackson is used to far better but wraps it up in bring “a proper club”. With these opinions voiced in the last sixteen months by three managers is it worth the club looking into moving? Who can make that decision for the board considering the differences in opinions of different managers?

Is it worth moving the reserves? Taylor says yes, Jackson says no and the City board – as they should – back the man who is in charge of the club but to do that with confidence they need to acquire more knowledge of what makes a successful club to inform that judgement.

Without that they are left taking the judgement of this year’s manager and paying for making changes for the judgements if the last.

Bradford City are to beat Rotherham United tonight

On attending a game, and when asked the question “Who will win today?” veteran commentator Barry Davies used to retort that if he had known that piece of information he would have no need to be at the match.

Indeed it was a point of some conviction for the Valley voiced microphone man that the joy of football – the thing that made it worth watching – was the competition within a single game. If Davies could have predicted the result of matches with accuracy he would have lost interest and I echo his thoughts.

In May 1981 it will be thirty years since I went to my first Bradford City game – a 1-0 reversal to Hereford United – and in the years between then and now the only thing I’ve been convinced by when it comes to predictions is that they play out over the long term and not that short.

I can predict, dear reader, that over the course of two or three seasons any given team will win over half the home games it plays, and that when that team goes away it will win less often, but these predictions (which, in truth, are more statements of eventualities) are possible because of the length of time of the sample. Given two or three years anomalies are ironed out and the data can be made lore and conclusions drawn.

A glance over the win ratios of the various names suggested as the next Bradford City manager reveal that the difference between the good and the rest is often within a deviation of around 10%. A good win percentage is 45%, a poor one 35% but most managers are in the middle. Roy McFarland – whom wikipedia tells us is the most successful City manager – has too small a sample for this statistic to be meaningful and an indicator of ability as noted by Paul Jewell’s lowly figure as a result of the season in the Premiership which saw view victories but a great result.

The object point being that it is only over time that conclusions based on statistical data – results in other words – can be drawn.

Which brings us to Peter Jackson – one game into what is rumoured to be three in which the former skipper can prove himself the man for the full time manager’s job – and his claim for the role which man press his claim for.

Jackson’s first time out as City manager saw an improvement of sorts. Losing while playing well (or at least excitingly) is better than losing while playing negative football or at least it is said to be although those who took Stuart McCall to task on the idea that emotion (rather than pure results) might be important are no doubt sharpening whatever implements one sharpens when one wants to cut a manager away from a club.

Having had one of his three games Jackson is looking back on Saturday as a good start and something to build on. Certainly he will have learnt much about his charges at Valley Parade from the ninety minutes although if he had said on day one that they team was not winning because a player very like (or very actually) Jon Worthington was not anchoring the midfield then for all the jibes that might of produced he would probably have been right.

Shod of a holding midfielder for most of the season Worthington’s exit to injury on Saturday weakened City’s centre and the Bantams boss will hope that he can call upon the player’s services in Tuesday night’s visit of Rotherham United. Worthington and Flynn – as a midfield – seems to have a good balance and the fact that Jackson picked that on his first day in the job saw me warm to him immeasurably. Indeed it is fair to say that from the days of often odd choices of players under Peter Taylor Peter Jackson’s first team – a 442 with a big man and a crunching midfielder – was very much template I would use.

(I make no apologies, by the way, for waiting for Jackson to do something other than walk through the front door to begin to comment on him in a positive way. At the start of the season The City Gent’s Mike Harrison was hauled down to Valley Parade for daring to suggest that Peter Taylor’s team might finish 8th. Demanding a huge positive reaction to the appointment of a paid caretaker manager sits alongside those early season antics in demanding fealty.)

The template perhaps but just as Taylor had struggled to assemble a squad to play his way so Jackson is left with the team bent out of shape. If when Kevin Ellison was swapped for Omar Daley between these two clubs a few weeks ago it suited Taylor it does not suit Jackson, and rumours have already started that City are looking at ways to undo the deal.

Not that either player will take a part in this match leaving Jackson looking at who he can deploy on the left hand side of midfield. James Hanson will start up front and Jake Speight may get the nod alongside him although Scott Dobie is pressing for a place if only because of Speight’s showing on Saturday. The loser of that could end up on the left wing. Failing that Leon Osborne, Tom Ademyei and David Syers might all want to play on the flank.

Gareth Evans will be on the right – I long to see Evans though the middle once more – with Worthington and Flynn in the middle. The back four of Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien seems to pick itself although O’Brien may be called to go forward. Lenny Pidgeley will – no doubt – remain in goal although Jackson might fancy giving Jon McLaughlin a game.

All of which details a team which will beat Rotherham United, of that there can be little doubt. It may seem a curious and bold claim but were I to engage in the relatively pointless process of prediction it is one I would make but make without confidence. Predicting the outcome of single matches is guess work, predicting the patterns over long periods is more possible.

Understanding that begs the question as to how – for the second time in a year – Bradford City are left looking at such short term indicators as if they dictate a long term significance.

There will be a moment in the game tonight where a bobble of a ball robs a chance which robs a victory, or brings a defeat perhaps, and that will dictate (so rumour has it) if Peter Jackson or John Hughes becomes out manager.

If one can make a long term judgement on the basis of such a twist then – unlike Barry Davies and myself – perhaps one can find out if Bradford City to beat Rotherham United tonight.

The bus ride to Kent as Bradford City face Gillingham

If there is a place to want to be this weekend it is apparently on the Bradford City team bus that will be taking the players to and from the Priestfield Stadium for the Bantams’ important League Two clash with Gillingham.

Interim manager Peter Jackson has been quick to point out that there are a lot of southern players in the bulging squad he has inherited. He’s not saying there’s a North-South divide, just that no longer will players, who have friends and family close by the Southern excursions that form part of the League Two fixture programme, be allowed to get off the bus early. A statement that has attracted strong approval from some impressed supporters.

With such a strong keenness to get the full time job, it is perhaps understandable that Jackson is keen to differentiate himself from the previous regime and drop not-so subtle hints that he believes the more relaxed stance the last guy took was wrong. However a few media soundbites to curry favour with supporters willing to embrace new reasons for why Peter Taylor was a poor manager deserve to be taken with large a pinch of salt.

For much of this week, every word uttered by Jackson has seemingly been met with strong approval by some supporters – and there is already some clamour to sign him up before he has even taken charge of a game. But the simple, overlooked reality is that every new manager over the years is the recipient of warm approval for what they initially say, and the idea that Jackson forcing the players to eat breakfast together is a meaningful reason towards why he’d be the right man for the job is somewhat over-simplistic.

Just one year ago, Peter Taylor was receiving exactly the same treatment from some supporters. Every public utterance was not only considered over-whelming evidence of his brilliance – it was another opportunity to slate the last guy. So if Jackson feels the need to talk down Taylor’s approach – and he is entitled to do that if he believes it will earn him the job – he should do so knowing full well that, should he succeed in getting a contract, in one or two years time his successor will making similar statements about why his different methods will be more effective  – which will be leapt upon by some as evidence Jackson was a terrible manager.

It’s happened before, countless times.

City Director Roger Owen was last year quick to ensure we all knew that Taylor – unlike his scruffy, ill-disciplined predecessor Stuart McCall – was making the players wear suits on matchdays. ‘Brilliant’ was the general reaction, but it hardly boosted results. David Wetherall was quick to deride the players’ lack of fitness after taking over from Colin Todd in 2007, but his efforts to introduce a high-intense approach coincided with some of the worst performances of the season. Bryan Robson and Todd claimed they would play attractive passing football “unlike the previous manager who preferred direct football”, even though Nicky Law hadn’t actually played in this way.

And this need for a new manager to provide tedious reasons for they are different to the last man – in order to earn praise and encourage favourable comparisons to the outgoing guy – isn’t exclusive to City. Witness the always positive welcome new England managers receive. Sven Goran Eriksson supposedly failed at the 2006 World Cup because he let the WAGS stay in the same hotel; under Steve McLaren the squad didn’t eat their meals together. So Fabio Capello was praised for banning the WAGS and for not allowing players to leave the dinner table until the last man had finished, but England’s fortunes failed to improve.

All of this is not supposed to be intended as an attack on Jackson. BfB has been criticised in recent days for not being positive enough on his interim arrival; but, for me at least, it’s more a weariness about this reoccurring situation than anything personal.

The club continues to under-perform, and somehow all the blame for it ends its way solely on the manager’s shoulders, and he is got rid of. Then a huge wave of positivity greets the next man and he is initially praised for nothing more than a couple of nice comments in the press, before in time it all becomes his fault all over again.

Maybe Jackson is the right man; but after so many failed managerial appointments over the last decade, it seems foolish to dive into falling head over heels for him so willingly and so quickly.

Is he right to keep Southern-based players on the team bus all the way back to Bradford? Who knows, but the insinuation that Taylor failed because he made certain allowances for people who have family and friends hundreds of miles away from Bradford is misguided and somewhat trivial. Paul Jewell was known to make similar allowances to his players during the last promotion season, and team spirit wasn’t a problem then. At worst, Taylor stands accused of treating adults like adults.

Let us, for example, imagine the negotiations for signing Tommy Doherty last summer – someone who has previously played all his career in the South. Doherty might not have been keen to move so far North, away from loved ones, so Taylor may have offered a concession that he can go home at weekends after the match, including not travelling back to Bradford after a game in the South. As a result City can sign a talented player who would have proved more effective had an injury not hampered his efforts.

More realistically what Jackson offers the club is someone who will do things different to Taylor. There will be some methods he’d employ that would work better than Taylor’s equivalent approach, but other ideas which won’t. However we come to view Taylor’s time in charge, the facts are his strategy has delivered outstanding success at certain clubs but didn’t work at Valley Parade. That doesn’t mean those methods are wrong, more that we need a manager who’ll be able to flourish in the Bantams’ environment.

Jackson gets his first true outward opportunity to stake a claim for the job with the long trip to Priestfield tomorrow. The Gills have always been strong at home – even last season when they were relegated from League One – and though City have been able to enjoy success in Kent, most notably in the last meeting two years ago, it is the kind of place they often return from pointless. An interesting first test for Jacko.

It seems a waste of time to predict his team, other than to expect a 4-4-2 formation that will include some of the players who clearly impressed him during the reserves 6-2 hiding of Port Vale on Tuesday. So expect Scott Dobie, Gareth Evans and Jake Speight to be knocking on the door to partner James Hanson. In addition Jon Worthington, who played under Jackson at Town, will be hopeful of a recall.

Whoever makes the cut, it’s to be hoped the coach journey doesn’t prove to be the day’s only highlight.

Peter Jackson: managerial hybrid or the great divider?

I’ve always looked at the Burnley situation when Owen Coyle left and the fans were calling him every name under the sun. Then they couldn’t wait to get rid of Brian Laws. If you’re a fan, you can’t have it both ways. Be careful what you wish for.” Peter Taylor, February 4 2011

After Stuart McCall – hired due to his passion and commitment – and Peter Taylor – recruited because of his experience and successful track record – both ultimately failed managing Bradford City, does interim arrival Peter Jackson represent a managerial hybrid?

On the face of it and, after a typically showman’s introduction to the media, it would appear Jackson has the potential to offer the best of both worlds. He has been quick to point out that he always puts 110% commitment to the club he is at, and that managing Bradford City is to him extra special. In terms of his outwards personality, he is probably as close to McCall as the club can find to a manager who’ll project how much he cares – and, like Taylor, he’s also successfully guided a club out of this league.

Anyone who once claimed to bleed Blue and White can never be considered as passionate for the Bantams as McCall – who once said that a game of tiddlywinks between City and Town would still really matter. Similarly, Jackson’s managerial pedigree can’t compete with Taylor’s. Nevertheless City’s Board, who have targeted the qualities of passion and previous success during its last two recruitment drives, might see Jackson as the closest to delivering both.

Jackson offers strong commitment to City’s cause, and he has a history of some success. So if McCall’s passion is still considered a good thing and if a track record like Taylor’s is still a desirable quality, there is a strong argument to make for Jackson to be entrusted with the job beyond the next few weeks

However, scratching beyond the surface of Jackson’s managerial record does throw up some doubts, which suggest he may not be the long-term answer for City. His first managerial role at Huddersfield in 1997 undoubtedly started well. Back in the old Division One, the Terriers were cut adrift at the bottom of the league and looked doomed to relegation to the third tier. Jackson made an instant impact after taking over in November; reviving the club and guiding it to a very respectable mid-table placing.

When the momentum was continued in the next season (1998/99), Town topped the league for six weeks before eventually being overtaken by Sunderland and City. As form tailed off badly towards the end of that season, which was far from in keeping with the ambition of new owners, Jackson was sacked. It was no coincidence that he was ordered to pack his desk on the same day the people of Bradford lined the streets to celebrate the Bantams’ promotion to the Premier League.

Yet the Terriers hardly prospered without him and he returned to manage the club four years later when it was at its lowest ebb – two relegations in three seasons, and a period in administration. Jackson famously inherited just eight players, yet guided the club to promotion out of the bottom tier – via a play off final penalty shootout win at Wembley – in his first season back. The following year, in League One, Town narrowly missed the play offs after a superb late run. The year after they made the play offs but were defeated by Barnsley. A year later the club drifted to midtable and he was again sacked.

Which led him to League Two Lincoln and a situation similar to his first spell at Town. The Imps had endured a terrible start and were facing the drop, but Jackson was again able to turn it round and pull Lincoln up to midtable. As he recovered from battling throat cancer, he couldn’t improve on another midtable position the year after. Early on last season he was sacked as the Imps plummeted down the league.

The point of looking back at all of this is to illustrate the recurring pattern of his management. When he takes over a team it usually triggers a sizeable short-term boost and relative instant success, but as times goes by he has proven unable to continue that upwards momentum or take a club onto the next level. He can motivate players for sure; he can improve the quality of the squad by making effective signings. But eventually, it seems, he either takes a wrong turning or goes off the map – and he struggles to recover. He twice left Town better off than when he took over, but couldn’t take them as far as they wanted to go. Though it must be noted that no one who has followed him in the Galpharm dugout has so far being able to do any better.

It can be argued, with some justification, that he was often a victim of the rising expectations his efforts had triggered, but he has rarely made any attempt to downplay them. When Town topped Division One during the early few weeks of the 1998/99 season, he argued loudly and passionately that his team could last the distance – they dropped off. Exactly a decade later he boldly predicted his Lincoln side would earn automatic promotion – they didn’t even come close to the play offs.

All of which offers a huge question mark over what City are looking for in their next manager. If it’s all about achieving that short-term boost of winning some football matches and getting a promotion, Jackson represents a strong candidate. But if we’re looking for the next manager to be here for years and to build up a team – which has in recent times suffered from lack of stability and short-term signings – and climb back up the leagues, one struggles to find enough reasons to believe Jackson is the right man.

And another long-term consideration when assessing him has to be the huge divide of opinion that even his temporary appointment has generated. It is both surprising and interesting that Jackson’s arrival has been very strongly backed by a sizeable number of supporters. Of course he is considered a club legend to supporters of a certain age, but the bad blood his affiliation with Town caused – which, lest we forget, saw him endure some terrible receptions over the years when returning to Valley Parade as opposition manager – has been quickly forgiven and forgotten by many.

Other fans are equally dismayed at his arrival – indeed some supporters are even vowing not to attend games while he remains in charge. It will be very difficult for him to ever successfully unite the fans.

This may not matter in the short-term – especially if Jackson’s arrival prompts the type of immediate boost in form that his introductions at Huddersfield (twice) and Lincoln delivered – but old wounds will prove difficult to heal even over time. Whatever is said now of McCall and Taylor, they were hugely popular choices for the vacancy they filled and, in McCall’s case at least, that helped him retain support during difficult times. In contrast it wouldn’t take too many home defeats for discontent towards Jackson to become notable. Even a promotion from League Two would provide little sentiment if City struggle under Jackson in League One.

For now at least Jackson is in the driving seat for the job. Lose the next two games, and he can blame it on the situation he inherited and propose alternative solutions. Win the next two games, and the clamour for him to get the job full time would be difficult for the Board to ignore. Imagine City get four points from the games with Gillingham and Rotherham, many people are calling for him to get the job but someone else is appointed? At some point down the line, the new manager would have a dodgy period and Jackson will be brought back up into conversation as a fantastic opportunity wasted. The Board would be heavily criticised for sending Jackson away.

Ultimately, it should all come back to properly evaluating what’s required for this role and what the expectations should be. Is it all about getting a promotion and then addressing other issues from a position of greater strength, or should the club be striving to follow longer-term thinking and focus on building on and off the pitch? Is all that’s required from the new manager a promotion next season, or are we looking for someone who’ll be here for years to come – channeling as much thought into matters such as youth development as he does targeting three points the following Saturday?

If the former is the objective, Jackson’s name deserves to figure high up the list of potential successors to Taylor. But if it’s the latter, the best answers probably lie elsewhere.

Why we should all feel very sad and also a little ashamed as Wayne Jacobs tends to the garden

Those near enough to see him up close on Saturday said Wayne Jacobs was in tears as he headed down the touchline at the final whistle of Bradford City’s thrilling win over Stockport. He must have known that this was to be the final time he would embark on that familiar walk to the dressing room at quarter to five. A two-year hiatus apart, Jacobs had been making it either as a player or assistant manager since 1994. But, with Peter Jackson watching on from the Main Stand, as of Monday he will be kicking his heels at home.

Whoever ultimately takes over as City manager from Peter Taylor, it seems highly unlikely there will be a role for Jacobs in the next set up. Indeed the fact he has been overlooked for the caretaker position in favour of Jackson – no doubt a costlier arrangement – says much about the opinion the club’s Board hold of him. But if this is the end, it is an ill-fitting way to treat such a loyal club servant.

Wayne Jacobs should be considered a Bradford City legend. Well, he is in the eyes of most supporters who fondly recall the tremendous workrate and commitment to the cause the left back provided during 318 appearances in Claret and Amber. Signed on a free transfer from Rotherham, Jacobs quickly took our club to his heart and was a key component of the Bantams’ rise from Division Two to the Premier League. Many supposedly-better players were left behind by the club during that unforgettable ascent to the top, but Jacobs kept up despite numerous managers signing left back replacements who looked set to take his first team place.

But all the way through his career there was a soundtrack of grumblings. Sometimes they were faint, sometimes they were very loud – but they rarely went away. This soundtrack was provided by a minority of supporters who, obsessed with always finding a weak link in the team, vocally told the rest of us that he wasn’t good enough and we had to get rid. They reacted with glee as the likes of Lee Todd, Andy Myers and Ian Nolan rocked up, and couldn’t understand it when Jacobs fought hard and managed to retain his place. Despite such commendable determination to fight on, Jacobs was always categorised as soft and an easy touch.

And so when Stuart McCall brought him back to the club as his assistant in 2007, many of us knew what would happen next. Sure enough, complaints about Jacobs the hopeless assistant manager began to be aired and grew in volume as City struggled to gain promotion. Rather than attack McCall, many fans shamefully attempted to pin the blame on Jacobs. No one had any idea how good or bad a job he was doing because none of us see him in action in his role, but faceless morons on the T&A website and elsewhere did their best to chiefly pin the blame on his shoulders. It was telling that you could never find anyone who’d admit in person to disliking the assistant manager.

Too much of this unjustified criticism seemed to be little more than playground bullying. Let’s pick on the ginger one, who is religious and was allegedly a hopeless left back. He’ll be going too easy on the players in the dressing room, he’ll be trying to be their mates. He doesn’t have a clue how to coach people, and all the defensive failings on a Saturday must be his fault. Whisper it quietly that the club’s major success of the last few years – Luke O’Brien – plays Jacobs’ position. His superb development probably had nothing to do with his tutelage.

The criticism died down when Taylor took over, kept Jacobs on as assistant and publicly sang his praises. But as soon as results slipped this season, the blame was once again finding its way to Jacobs. Now some say he has to go because he has been part of two failed management structures; now some are delighted that he is departing the club. I guess the fact Jacobs cried at the end shows he really is a “softie”.

Fortunately the vast majority of supporters, albeit the quieter lot, have not treated Jacobs so disgustingly. We loved Jacobs for being part of the club’s rise to the Premier League, we loved the fact that he was marking David Beckham at Valley Parade. Sure he wasn’t the world’s greatest full back and he made mistakes, but his incredible commitment to the club and towards making up for his own slight weaknesses was an inspiration as we climbed into the Premier League.

So we feel sad that Jacobs is set to no longer be around, and sad that someone who cares so much about the Bantams probably isn’t going to be able to channel that commitment towards reviving it. We’ll never forget Jacobs; but when we do recall him with fondness a part of us will also feel guilty – guilty about the way such a City Gent was badly treated by a section of our fellow supporters for reasons we still cannot understand.

Farewell Jacobs, we really will miss you.

The misery, the ecstacy and the unforgettable goodbye

How the hell has it come to this? It is half time at Valley Parade and, with matchday companions visiting the toilet or friends elsewhere in the Midland Road stand, I’m stood alone with my thoughts. And they are becoming ever-darker.

Bradford City are 2-1 down to a Stockport County side that began the day six points below them in the relegation places, and we’re staring directly at the trap-door to non-league. “It’s not good news elsewhere” mutters the always-irritating PA announcer as he reveals League Two’s bottom club, Barnet, are 2-0 ahead in their game. The situation is looking increasingly bad, and City’s recent history of fighting relegation battles offers little comfort towards the likelihood of getting out of this mess.

I just don’t understand how this could be happening. I mean the relegations from the Premier League, Championship and League One made sense – we couldn’t compete on and off the pitch – but this time we really should be too good to even be contemplating going down.

And what happens if we are relegated? Mark Lawn told us a month ago that he doesn’t know how City could afford Valley Parade if they dropped into non-league. I don’t want to support some AFC Bradford City playing on a park pitch in the Evo-Stick First Division North next season, I like the way things are. And why do bad things always happen to us? I mean what exactly did we do to deserve this last decade? My gloomy self-pity continues as the players trot out for the second 45 minutes.

One hour later I’m celebrating more wilder than I can remember in years. Gareth Evans has just drilled an unstoppable shot through a crowd of bodies and into the far corner to improbably win the game four minutes into stoppage time. The level of joy inside is being fuelled by the built-up anguish inflicted upon us over the previous hour and a half. We’ve just gone through 90 minutes of utter torture, all of which can now be forgotten as I jump up and down like a five-year-old, only pausing to hug those around me. The players have chosen to run directly to the front of my block in the Midland Road stand to celebrate their euphoric moment. Eventually the cheering subsides, but I’m feeling so good and shaking all over too much to be able to sit down. In no time at all we’re punching the air as the final whistle is blown.

This is why we love Bradford City. This is what makes all the other crap worthwhile.

That Peter Taylor’s final game in charge could have such a climatic ending is hardly in keeping with the monotonous closing weeks of his reign, but it was nice for the outgoing City manager to part ways with the club in such harmonious circumstances. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his early departure, he at least leaves the club in a much more comfortable league position than it appeared at 3.45pm. There is much work to do still, but seven and nine point cushions over Barnet and Stockport respectively offer Taylor’s successor a sturdier platform to preserve the Bantams’ league status from.

For a time it looked like a comfortable final afternoon for Taylor. Finally ditching the ineffective 4-3-3 formation, City started the game strongly with James Hanson and Michael Flynn leading the line of a 4-4-2 set-up and Steve Williams taking advantage of non-existent marking to head the home side into a 14th minute lead from a free kick.

Hanson had already had a goal ruled out for offside and, though Stockport threatened with the impressive Paul Turnbull shooting just wide and having a goal disallowed themselves, a second City goal would have probably caused them to collapse. But on a dreadful playing surface, the ball-playing nature of Williams was to prove costly after the young defender dallied too long and was pick-pocketed by Turnbull, who charged forwards and finished low past Lenny Pidgley to equalise.

City at least continued to attack and two frantic goalmouth scrambles should have been rewarded by a re-taking of the lead. The first scramble saw a Flynn effort saved, the surprise-returner David Syers hit the bar and Williams fire a third attempt that was blocked on the line. The second occasion included Kevin Ellison’s effort being kept out illegally by Hatters defender Adam Griffin’s arm. A red card and a penalty, which an out-of-sorts Hanson wasted when his casual effort was pushed away by former City keeper Matt Glennon.

And when Stockport took a 2-1 lead six minutes later after Ryan Dobie was played through one-on-one and rounded Pidgely to slot home – despite strong suspicions of offside – that feeling of comfort 20 minutes earlier was replaced with despair that grew bleaker during the interval. In many respects City had been unfortunate, they’d had the majority of chances and forced numerous corners; but the combination of conceding two soft goals and missing a spot kick left you feeling that – once again – they had been architects of their own downfall. Williams had looked shaky, Tom Adeyemi ineffective as a wide player and Lee Bullock off the pace in the centre.

Taylor reacted by making two substitutions, with Adeyemi and Bullock giving way to Evans and Jake Speight in a move which saw Flynn pushed back to midfield alongside Syers. Yet as they struggled to get the ball into Stockport’s penalty area – never mind create a chance – during the first third of the second half, it looked a long way back. The bumper home crowd were on the players’ backs and it took all their bravery to keep going and force the tempo. To their credit they began to perform, and were rewarded by some of the most ferociously-positive support heard at Valley Parade in sometime.

The tide began to turn against Stockport – who’d begun time-wasting from the 46th minute – after Dobie’s flying elbow into Luke Oliver’s face gave an erratic referee no option but to issue a second red card. But as City continued to struggle to break down nine-men it still looked like a morale-crushing defeat was on the cards. This was going to be a dismal send off for Taylor.

One last throw of the dice – Robbie Threlfall for the bloodied Oliver – and never before have City gone so gung ho under Taylor. It appeared the Bantams were playing 3-3-4 – hey, it might even have been 3-2-5. Evans and the outstanding Luke O’Brien were playing as wideman and enjoyed loads of space against an over-loaded Stockport side; Lewis Hunt was also getting forward well. Numerous corners, endless balls pumped into the box, plenty of throw ins too. Speight hit the post, the crowd roared the players on even louder. The clock must have been ticking down ever-slower to the blue shirts.

Finally, salvation. A corner isn’t defended well and Syers does an outstanding job of keeping it in play by heading it across. Williams is at the backpost, his effort at goal hits a Stockport body but crosses the line. Unbridled joy, followed by a huge collective sigh of relief.

The urgency wasn’t as great in the final 15 minutes, but still City continued to press forwards and come agonisingly close through Speight (twice), O’Brien, Ellison and Syers. Five minutes of injury time almost up and, after Ellison appears to be hauled down in the box only for the referee to wave play on, the disappointment of only getting a draw is palpable. But then so is the relief at the fact you are no longer facing up to the despair of loss that was so painfully real 15 minutes ago. This is better than nothing.

And then there’s one last attack. And after superb work again by O’Brien the ball eventually runs free to Evans. And he shoots. And he scores. And for the next few minutes you scream at the top of the voice. And the level of exhilaration causes tingles all over your body. And for the rest of your weekend that feeling will stay inside, causing you to involuntarily smile at regular intervals.

And you can console yourself with the fact that, whatever we did do to deserve this last decade of hardship for Bradford City, it justifies going absolutely mental when celebrating scraping a win against a nine-men team bottom of the entire Football League.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

Taylor gets a final chance to write his history

Peter Taylor exits Bradford City after Saturday’s game with Stockport County which is described by joint chairman Julian Rhodes as “possibly one of the biggest in the club’s history” but the judgement on his time at the club will not follow until the end of the season.

Taylor’s time at City has been marked with upset over negative play and managerial mistakes as well as the manager criticising supporters who he revealed today were the cause of his decision to leave but his position in City’s history will be written in May when he is either written off as an experiment gone wrong or written in stone as the man who had Bradford City relegated out of the Football League after 106.

An assessment which would be harsh for sure – you do not go from the Premiership to the Football Conference in just over a decade because of the guy who got the job twelve months ago – but one which will no doubt be made. Taylor’s only input into this writing of history is the tone he sets in his final game.

The final game with Stockport who – in something of a minor irony – have helped to seal the manager’s early exit. Mark Lawn and Rhodes talked about their requirements for the medium and long term when thinking about the next appointment but it cannot have escaped their notice that by changing manager Lincoln City and Saturday’s opponents have turned seemingly moribund seasons around with revivals.

There is something to be said for that approach too. It is football in the ludicrously short term – the financial position being what it is and relegation hovering City may only have a short term left – but increasingly it seemed as if the players had lost belief in Taylor and that they might benefit from another voice in the dressing room.

Be it David Syers and Tom Ademeyi being given the midfield roles against five Lincoln players, Scott Dobie being given the job of chasing high balls or Luke O’Brien and Lewis Hunt playing full back without anyone supporting them when they are doubled up on the players are coming under criticism for decisions made by Taylor, and on occasion that criticism comes from Taylor.

That they stop thinking that following the manager will lead to success is a problem addressed by Taylor’s exit, although after that one suspects the problems will begin and that chief amongst those problems will be finding a new manager who has the same effect on City which Steve Tilson has had on Lincoln to some degree or another.

If the benefit of Taylor’s exit is a change of voice in the dressing room then there seems little benefit in appointing Wayne Jacobs until the end of the season but the assistant manager has twice taken control of the club as caretaker in the past. The two week gap that follows the Stockport game suggests City will have time to bring in short-term appointment and that a caretaker taker will probably not be needed.

Names suggest themselves: Phil Parkinson and Brian Laws mentioned in one breath, Dean Windass and Terry Dolan in another. Martin Allen has previously impresses Mark Lawn and could get a chance to do again but those problems are for Monday. Saturday is more pressing.

The effect of Taylor’s departure on that game is hard to measure. The City players responded to Stuart McCall’s departure with a loathsome display at Accrington Stanley in Peter Taylor first game. In his last one might expect the squad to be equally nervous although perhaps they will feel they have something to prove to the outgoing manager. If they spot a trenchcoat in the main stand they may feel they have something to prove to the incoming manager too.

Taylor is likely to stand by the players who have figured in the majority of his squad although there is a sneaking feeling that he may employ a 235 1911 style in a final flash of “attacking football.”

Assuming he does not Lenny Pidgeley will keep goal behind Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver who more than most will be effected by Taylor’s departure one suspects and Luke O’Brien. A middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi seems set to continue – one has to wonder why Jon Worthington was brought in – while the forward three could feature a return for James Hanson alongside one of Scott Dobie or Gareth Evans, and Kevin Ellison.

These players are tasked with winning the game – an everyone in for a pound offer which sadly was not extended to the visitors should see a few more bums on seats – and starting writing what could prove to the the last chapter in the 58 year old manager’s career.

A win and graceful retirement to Newcastle United’s backroom awaits, a defeat and he starts to become the man who killed a club.

Peter Taylor – outstanding appointment, outstanding failure

There’s a fairly average Ben Stiller film I watched a few years ago – The Heartbreak Kid – where our hero meets and falls head over heels in love with a beautiful woman, leading them to get married in a matter of weeks. She seems perfect, but just as soon as they set off on their honeymoon she suddenly becomes irritating, and then more and more annoying, before finally a full-on nightmare. Stiller’s character realises he’s made a terrible mistake, because his new bride has turned out not to be the person he thought she was.

In many ways that film sums up how I feel about outgoing Bradford City manager Peter Taylor and the disaster his appointment can ultimately be judged as. When he took over from Stuart McCall a year ago he seemed the perfect person to lift the club out of a nine-year slumber of under-achievement. Among supporters there’d been a fierce and painful falling out over the driving away of McCall, and Taylor was the outstanding appointment who could unite us all.

And as the three-month trial went by, we quickly warmed to his methods and driven style in managing the club. There was that red hot night of passion at Rochdale – one of the best City experiences of recent years – and other joyous wins over Rotherham, Aldershot, Morecambe and Northampton. Many fans, particularly those who advocated a change of manager when McCall’s City had struggled, were falling over themselves to praise Taylor’s every little action. The calls for a permanent contract were loud and widespread. He told us he had got the ‘Bradford Bug’. By the end of the season Bradford City and Peter Taylor were getting hitched.

Which is when the minor irritations seemed to begin, moving onto increasing annoyance and then this nightmare that is unlikely to end the minute he walks out of our lives at 5pm Saturday. Pre-season was a bit odd, with all those strange friendlies down south and Jake Speight. The season began badly, with Taylor out-thought by Shrewsbury’s Graham Turner on day one setting the scene for the campaign ahead. You could look back at August and our tag of ‘promotion favourites’ and laugh about it now, if it wasn’t so serious.

Before the season began Taylor attempted to rein in expectations, arguing loudly that he did not have the large playing budget many were claiming. Privately Julian Rhodes was telling people that “players like Tommy Doherty don’t come cheap”, and though it was clear his resources to plot a promotion bid were not as strong as they had been two years earlier under McCall, they still stacked up very favourably compared to most of City’s League Two opponents. And they would also have been more than the budget Taylor used to deliver Wycombe’s promotion that same season.

As the Bantams were bested by Shrewsbury, the mutterings of complaint about Taylor became audible. When only two of the next eight league games delivered victory, the volume got steadily louder. A 1-0 loss to Morecambe in early October left City second bottom of the division and national media speculation suggested Taylor was one game away from the sack. The response was an important 2-0 success at Barnet, which triggered a run of four wins from five that placed City on the edge of the play offs. Form would be inconsistent in the run up to and over Christmas, but when a 1-0 win over Bury was followed by Taylor turning down the assistant manager’s job at Newcastle, his popularity was arguably at its highest level all season.

Then it all went very wrong.

Barnet at home, disastrous. Oxford away, feeble. Aldershot away, uninspiring. Crewe away, beaten by 10 men. Chesterfield away, credible win chucked away deep in stoppage time. Lincoln home, bloody hell. Wycombe home, salvation? Port Vale away and Chesterfield home, final nails in the coffin. From promotion dreams to relegation fears in just seven weeks – this wasn’t underachieving, it was outstanding failure.

There was some irony in the fact that, in Taylor’s final game in charge before his departure was agreed, league leaders Chesterfield triumphed 1-0 through a graceless and ugly performance. Everyone knew about Taylor’s reputation for dour football before he joined, but we were seemingly ready to accept less excitement if it would guarantee success. That theory was put to the test in the first home game of the season, when an uninspiring 1-0 win over Stevenage was greeted by boos. If Taylor’s ways proved a difficult watch in victory, the numerous defeats made for incredibly painful viewing.

When we thought of the pragmatic approach Taylor would bring to City, we could picture us winning in that same ordinary manner that Chesterfield achieved on Tuesday. Yet his style has often proved far worse than any of us would have expected.

At times he has tried to get City playing attractive football – the four wins from five in October saw an exciting 4-4-2 formation score lots of goals with Omar Daley in a free role. Yet when the next few games narrowly went against City, Taylor retreated to his more typical conservative nature and it was again dispiriting to watch. A year ago City were failing but entertaining, now they were failing and utterly miserable to watch.

The Chesterfield game itself summed up everything that was so wrong. Taylor’s tactics weren’t working week in week out, but despite showing the capability to make positive changes during matches he remained unable to find the balance in midfield and to shake off his conservative tendencies. Taylor admitted after the 1-0 defeat that he hadn’t wanted his players to play in the manner they did during the first half, but he must take responsibility for the ridiculous approach of City keeping seven men in their own half and continually aiming long balls for three isolated strikers, stood in a line.

Why has it gone so wrong? Difficult to judge and there are lots of reasons – many beyond his control. But to me the inconsistency in his team selection, formations and tactics is the major contribution to this season’s dismal showing. Back in the summer Taylor talked of his want to have two players for every position, and this approach has led to 35 different players being used and eight different captains. Some players weren’t given the opportunities they deserved, others continued to get away with poor performances. Some players were slated in the media on numerous occasions, others were only ever praised.

I believe that Taylor stands guilty of over-managing the team. Rather than picking his best side and letting them show their abilities, he has continually changed strategy and tactics in the belief that his tinkering is more likely to influence the result than good players playing well. Instead of selecting a team where players can play to their strengths, he has built systems and then shoved willing workers into unfamiliar roles. Instead of believing in his own players’ capabilities, he has sought to over-influence how they perform when they cross the white line.

This is not a great Bradford City team, but it is one with the capability to perform much better if the manager would simply let them go out and get on with it.

So just like Ben Stiller, the only decision left was when to issue divorce proceedings. This time there is no great split among supporters over the manager leaving; some will have stayed supportive Taylor, but those who did were either unwilling to publicly speak up for him or sick of bothering to try as this club gets through manager-after-manager. Whatever, it’s hard to recall a City manager so unpopular. He’ll receive some applause for his efforts from our decent supporters on Saturday, but no one will be calling for an encore.

And who’d have thought that when we were falling head over heels for him 12 months ago?

Peter Taylor to leave Bradford City after Saturday

Peter Taylor will step down as Bradford City manager after Saturday’s game with Stockport County. This mutual consent decsion has been taken after Taylor met with City’s Board.

At present it’s not clear who will take temporary charge, but expect Wayne Jacobs to step into the role just over a year ago since he last did. City have a blank week after Stockport, with tricky games at promotion chasers Gillingham and at home to Rotherham coming up.

More reaction to follow on BfB this evening.

The managerial failure cycle – bad choices or bad strategy?

The recent demoralising defeats to Port Vale and Chesterfield have once again heaped the pressure on Bradford City manager Peter Taylor. This weekend the Bantams face a crucial home game with Stockport that could determine his immediate future, but already it seems implausible to believe Taylor will be employed at Valley Parade beyond the expiration of his contract in May.

It will soon be time to search again for the man to revive this ailing football club but the fact we keep going around this cycle of getting rid of a manager and replacing him with new one – with little success in reversing a slide down the leagues – can already leave us pessimistic that the next manager isn’t going to be any better.

To blame the club’s decline on poor managers would be over-simplistic and, no matter who takes residence in the dug out after Taylor, there will still be all manner of financial issues that hold us back. Yet so much is reliant upon the manager that it is such a key position to get right, and as thoughts soon turn to filling a vacancy it is a process that needs to be reviewed in order to increase the chances of it succeeding. We can’t just keep hiring and firing and hope the law of probabilities means we’ll stumble on the right manager eventually, can we?

Over the last few days Michael has written two excellent articles – here and here – on what the club and supporters might be looking for in the next manager. Too often, it seems, football clubs in general appear to have no thoughts on the right person to take their club forwards beyond sacking the present incumbent and waiting for CVs to file through in the post. It seems a backwards methodology in these days of recruitment specialists and head hunters and, as City apparently keep getting the choice of manager wrong, it’s worth posing the question of whether this is because as employees we keep making bad choices, or because the qualities we are looking for have either not been considered enough or were misguided.

Let’s try and find out…

Chris Hutchings
“Oh Wetherall’s free! Fantastic header!”

Sunday 14 May 2000, and Martin Tyler’s description of David Wetherall’s winner for Bradford City against Liverpool – which confirmed the club’s Premier League survival – is relayed around the world. A pitch invasion follows the final whistle and the celebrations in and around Bradford go on long into the night.

But something’s not right. Rather than looking joyous or even relieved, manager Paul Jewell is sporting a scowling face that radiates the pressure he has been under from media, supporters and his boss. A few weeks later he quits, fed up of the way he has been treated. And the last successful Bradford City manager we’ve had goes onto enjoy a fine career elsewhere.

It is at this point the look behind the strategy should begin; because although the steep decline that followed was more to do with finances than bad management, nothing on the pitch has proved a success since.

I never agreed with the decision to appoint Chris Hutchings as Jewell’s successor, but it’s difficult to dispute the logic that led to Chairman Geoffrey Richmond promoting Jagger’s assistant. Since Lennie Lawrence departed in 1995, Richmond had enjoyed great success promoting from within after both Chris Kamara and Jewell delivered a promotion and survival in the division above the following season. An Anfield-esqe bootroom culture that promoted continuity was a worthy blueprint.

I never agreed, because the circumstances were different. Kamara and Jewell took over a club with the resources and capacity to be better than they were, but City had now climbed to a level they had not previously reached for almost 80 years – and we needed some experience to help us negotiate uncharted territory. Instead Hutchings was entrusted with the biggest transfer budget this club is ever likely to have, and given a remit to improve the style of football and guide City to a mid-table spot.

History shows this was far too ambitious – not to mention damagingly expensive – and, as clubs like Stoke and Wigan continue to battle to preserve their top flight status year-on-year, the idea that City could prosper by turning to flair and playing 4-4-2 at Old Trafford now seems breathtakingly naive. A more experienced manager would surely have known that the strategy was all wrong.

Jim Jefferies
“It is my opinion that he was an undiluted disaster for Bradford City from beginning to end”

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it was no surprise that Hutchings quickly came under pressure as results were poor, and Richmond – to his later regret – failed to back his man and sacked him. What we needed was an experienced man who’ll who whip these under-achievers into shape. A no-nonsense manager.

Such requirements led to Jim Jefferies, a tough-talking Scot who’d enjoyed great success in Scotland, taking charge. Yet within weeks he was telling Richmond that the club was effectively relegated and needed to get rid of the fancy Dans. It was only December.

In the excellent ‘The Pain and the Glory’ book Richmond was scathing of the job Jefferies did, but in some respects ‘the Judge’ did a good job in at least helping the club prepare for tough financial times ahead by getting rid of high-earners and sellable assets before the end of the season. He was given little money to spend on replacements with City now in Division One, and it proved a thankless task trying to take the club forwards when so much quality was being taken out.

Jefferies left the club after 13 months, and with such fiscal times on the horizon, the search for a new manager centered on candidates with experience of finding lower league bargains and happy to manage on a small budget. Peter Jackson turned the position down, so in came the Lawman.

Nicky Law/Bryan Robson
“I’m just hoping we can bring back the 16,000 who were here for the first game.”

As City went through the turmoil of administration and emerged skint and picking up out-of-contract players from Brentford, it was difficult to imagine a better person to have in charge than Nicky Law. He managed the club well through a very difficult 2002/03 season – targeting battlers over flair – but was a victim of rising expectations soon after. The remaining high earners departed in the summer of 2003, and the wage constraints meant that Law struggled to find replacements good enough to keep City in the division.

So Law was sacked after 12 winless games, and with Gordon Gibb now in charge it is interesting to speculate how his approach to recruiting the next manager differed. Gibb had enjoyed success building a theme park with sufficient attractions to keep people visiting, and it was clear that much of the thought behind appointing former England captain Bryan Robson was to increase falling attendances.

It didn’t work, and a deflated Gibb would depart just 8 weeks later with Administration 2 just around the corner. Meanwhile Robson was benefiting from a larger budget than Law and was able to bring in experienced loan players, with a greater focus on skill over graft. Results were improving, and though it would probably have proved too little too late City might have managed to avoid relegation had the administrators not taken over and being forced to sell key players.

Robson was left trying to keep City up with players he’d declared only two months earlier to not be good enough for the club and who were welcome to leave. With the prospect of limited funds in League One, he felt it was a job he could not continue.

Colin Todd
“I honestly think Colin should be right up there for any manager of the season…I see him as the man to take us back up the football pyramid.”

With the club in such dire straits that summer, appointing a new manager was hardly the most important priority. Colin Todd, assistant to Robson having come close to landing the job the November before, was handed the reins. However sour it ended, it proved a good choice as Todd steadied the ship while the club limped on following the narrow survival of administration. An 11th place in the first season was beyond Julian Rhodes’ expectations:

I thought we would be facing a relegation battle. Bearing in mind this season was going to be about coming out of administration, I thought we might well be facing life in League 2 when the rebuilding could really begin.

Todd’s time in charge was categorised by low budgets and limited stability. He put together a decent team that threatened to finish in the play off picture, and though the following season saw little progress (another 11th place) the Bantams still only lost 13 games. Todd, however, was under pressure from a section of supporters.

Some argued the former England international lacked passion for the job, and that defeats didn’t hurt him enough. Some argued we could do better than treading water in mid-table. But when he was eventually sacked midway through his third season, City drowned.

Rhodes, who had previously backed his man strongly even during difficult times, admitted that the pressure of supporters and stalling attendances was a telling factor in booting out Todd, especially now he had just launched an innovative season ticket deal that required thousands of people’s commitment.

When it gets to the stage where they [supporters] stop coming then something has to be done. At the end of the day it’s their club.

He was right, only now it was our League Two club.

Stuart McCall
“I will see myself as a failure if I don’t get the club back up at the first attempt, and I’ve got the strongest desire anyone could possibly have to achieve that.”

So out with Todd’s lack of passion and after David Wetherall’s unsuccessful caretaker stint, the hunt for the next manager did not require an advert in the classifieds. We needed someone who cares, someone who will get the players going and someone who will not tolerate underachievers. We need arguably the greatest achiever of City’s modern history.

In came Stuart McCall, along with the investment of Mark Lawn that allowed the club to hand the manager a relatively strong playing budget for the first time since Chris Hutchings. McCall was the overwhelming choice as next manager from fans because of the passion he’d put in to the job, no one can argue they were disappointed on that front at least.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Stuart cared he was in his first manager role and working in a division he didn’t know, and the inexperience was to show as success continued to allude the club. McCall put his neck on the chopping board straightaway by declaring he’d be a failure if he didn’t guide City to promotion at the first attempt – but he did fail attempt one, and then attempt two, and he was on course to fail attempt three before he eventually quit.

Of course the experiences along the way helped him to become a better manager, and by the end he had enough knowledge of the lower leagues to be able to use a reduced budget to bring in non-league players that could make the step up. Nevertheless, just like with Todd, the lack of speed to the progress left McCall under heavy pressure.

The passion and how much he cared went against him in the end. We didn’t want someone who would be more upset than us if they lost, we needed a wise head who had a track record for success. Passion was good, but the very reasons McCall was brought in were no longer what the club was looking for. This time a job advertisement would be needed.

Peter Taylor
“4-3-3 can be 4-3-3 and not just 4-5-1”

Which brings us back to Taylor, who was appointed on the basis of his outstanding track record in delivering success and high level of experience. However, criticisms over the football Taylor favours have followed him throughout his long managerial career, and he is now heavily slated for style of play City have produced for much of the season. We know Taylor will be gone soon and, when the discussions over the qualities to look for in his replacement begin, it’s likely that style of football will feature strongly on the next list of interview questions.

So there we have it

“There’s only two types of manager. Those who’ve been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.” (Howard Wilkinson)

Hutchings to Taylor via Jefferies, Law, Todd and McCall. All were branded failures and, with such a cycle of hiring and firing helping the Bantams fall from the Premier League to League Two, one is again left to wonder what could possibly lead us to believe the next guy will prove any more successful?

But is it a matter of changing managers proving futile, or is our ongoing failure to find the right man more to do with the goalposts continually shifting?

Was Nicky Law sacked because the lower league manager route was wrong, or was hiring someone with great experience of handling small budgets actually a sound strategy that should have been continued? Instead of getting some guy who used to play for Man United to pack the stadium out, after Law should we have recruited then-Doncaster manager Dave Penny, for example?

Did Stuart McCall fail because he cared too much, or was the passion we hired him for the right quality required and Dean Windass should have been given the job instead of Taylor? We ask for one quality in a manager, don’t like some of the other characteristics that manager brings and then dismiss that original quality during the next search.

We want a manager who is not the last one, and so we go and get one – and in doing so we always find that the next guy is lacking some things but not the same things. So while we might have thought we’d found the solution, we end up finding a new thing to be the problem.

Circumstances – not least City’s changing financial capabilities – have changed often during the last decade. But as we soon start to prepare to recruit another manager it’s to be hoped the criteria will be more thought out than finding someone “not like the last manager.” Because over much of the past decade, that has often appeared to be the case.

What to want from the time remaining as City lose to Chesterfield

Two thought tracks banded around in my mind as I was walking away from Valley Parade. One was a feeling of optimism, that if we show a similar second half spirit in the full 90 minutes against supposedly lesser opposition, Stockport, on Saturday then surely we’ll come away with a positive result. The other, more concerning thought, was whether Peter Taylor would be willing to set the team up the way he did in the second half (442), from the beginning, in the hope that playing positive football may in turn breathe some confidence and belief into players clearly lacking in these areas.

After having watched the Port Vale game on Friday night on the box it was obvious that City’s ambition and effectiveness was lacking with the 451/433 system that employed a front line of Dobie, Evans and Ellison. On that occasion, when 2-0 down, City switched to a 442 that included a lively Jake Speight and immediately seemed more likely to create goal scoring opportunities.

You would think then that after having a positive effect that this would be something that Taylor would employ from the start against table-toppers Chesterfield, in a bid to go toe-to-toe with League Two’s pace setters? Not the case. Back to 451. Speight back on the bench. The only change being the added steel of Lee Bullock for Leon Osbourne, which allowed Michael Flynn to push up in a midfield three.

In the first half City seemed to struggle with themselves, again looking confused as to what they were asked to do by their manager. At times they would hoof the ball aimlessly at an inter-changable front three in the hope that the one furthest up the field could hold up the ball and release either of the other front men. This proved ineffective and posed little threat to the Spireites, who were more than happy to play on the counter attack and force City to make the play.

On fifteen minutes, after another City punt forward had been collected by the opposition, it gave the away side the opportunity to break away down the left flank. A precise cross-field ball by Chesterfield midfielder Kieran Djilali, left Luke O’Brien indecisive as to whether to slide in or close down the on rushing winger Deane Smalley. O’Brien did neither leaving Smalley clear to smash the ball into the roof of Pidgley’s net.

Indecision seemed to be the theme of the half as City had the majority of possession but were often in two minds as to whether they should pass their way forward (a ploy mainly backed by the home support), or opt to by-pass the midfield in the hope that the forwards would hold up the ball for knock downs for the midfield. In the end neither tactic proved useful, leaving the half to meander to a close that was met with a chorus of boos from some City ‘fans’.

After a half time break of penny dropping, Speight was introduced and the formation switched to 442, one that oddly employed Speight up front with Flynn and Ellison and Evans on the flanks.

Speight looked a handful from the word go and caused the Chesterfield defenders problems that they had not had to face in the first 45 minutes. A number of Bantams’ chances were pushed upon the away team’s goal: Evans worked the keeper from the edge of the box; Speight turned on a few shots that went narrowly over the bar and when City introduced the Hanson in the 63rd minute, the partnership he made of providing knock downs for Speight to latch onto seemed to have City pushing for what would be a deserved equaliser.

Whilst City were looking brighter it was hard not to think that Chesterfield were playing comfortably in 3rd gear and if it were required then they could have raised their level a notch to cope with what City could throw at them. This being best exemplified by some neat play in the midfield followed by an accurate, powerful cross that dissected Pidgley and his defenders and only needed a tap in to put the game beyond doubt. A similar move resulted for City later on only to see the left foot cross of Flynn slice out into the Kop end.

City persisted to the final whistle and were vocally backed by all sides of the ground in search of an elusive equaliser. The best chance again fell to Speight, who wriggled his way past two defenders, feeding off a Hanson knock down, only to shoot on the turn and slice his effort over the top of the bar. It looked as if a little more match sharpness may have seen one or two or Speight’s efforts work the keeper more often.

His partnership with Hanson looked good, and for me personally, has been one I have been vying for all season as big man – little man combinations have proven successful in the past – cf. (Mills and Blake: 1998-2000).

For this reason I hope that Taylor takes note of the positives and attacking ambition shown in the second half and on Saturday, in a seemingly must-win game, I hope he opts not to cut off his own nose, but show the guts to play some positive football. It’s what the fans want, it seems to be what the players want and now we’ll see what Taylor wants from the remaining few months in charge of Bradford City.

Taylor looks for a repeat of his best week

In the immediate wake of such a demoralising weekend defeat – leaving Bradford City anxiously looking over their shoulders at the form of clubs in relegation trouble – it seemed impossible to believe the players could get anything from a Tuesday night tussle with the League Two leaders. But then City stunned everyone to beat table-toppers Rochdale 3-1 on their own patch.

It was a truly special evening – one year ago this week – with the team benefiting from a spine-tingling level of backing from their own fans which helped them to hit the heights after experiencing the lows at Accrington. Robbie Threlfall’s free kick to make it 2-1 prompted wild celebrations that were only bettered after Gareth Evans smacked an unstoppable volley into the roof of the net with three minutes to go. It was totally unexpected, which made the evening all the more special. A few days later bottom-of-the-table Darlington were defeated 1-0 and the clamour to extent new manager Peter Taylor’s contract grew momentum.

How Taylor will be hoping history repeats itself a year on.

The pressure on the City manager was pushed back up a notch after Friday night’s loss to Port Vale, and with tonight’s game against leaders Chesterfield quickly followed by a visit from second-bottom Stockport this could be a defining week for Taylor. Should City fail to accumulate more than a point from these two games, it might prove enough for time to be called on his rein.

Undoubtedly the Board are in a difficult position at the moment. There was some speculation – not for the first time – that the Wycombe game 10 days ago would have been his last had the team not delivered a much-needed win. It seems highly unlikely Taylor will be offered a new contract in May, but in the short-term the Board needs him to get some results so they aren’t forced to take action sooner – causing financial ramifications for next season’s budgets. Taylor shows no inclination to resign any time soon, so it would cost the club to sack him and find a replacement.

The Board clearly want Taylor to remain in charge for now, but ongoing poor results put them in a difficult position in that they have to balance the budgets against the possibility of the five-time promotion winner looking increasingly less capable of keeping the Bantams in the Football League. Stockport don’t play again until Saturday, so if City lose tonight and then to the Hatters the gap to the relegation zone will be just three points. Panic would ensue.

So Taylor and his employees need this to be a good week, and though the prospects of this evening defeating a side which has lost only twice on the road all season look slim, events a year ago this week underline how quickly it can change. Taylor at least has to believe City can win, and then his next job is to convince the players.

Of course it was only three weeks ago that the Bantams almost did defeat Chesterfield, when they were just 30 seconds of injury time away from a notable victory inside the Spireites’ new stadium. Despite the joy of equalising so late, that draw seemed to trigger a mini-wobble in Chesterfield’s outstanding season as they drew three and lost one of their next four; but a comfortable win at in-form Lincoln on Saturday has re-asserted their dominance and they lead the rest of the division by eight points. They have only lost one of their last 13 games.

The continuing rate of change and injuries seen at Valley Parade all season means that only six of the starting line-up at the B2Net stadium for that 2-2 draw are likely to be in the 11 that kick off the game tonight. Jon McLaughlin has again been consigned to number two behind the more experienced – and certainly more vocal – Lenny Pidgley, A year ago McLaughlin was also watching on from the bench with the more senior but not exactly notable Matt Glennon between the sticks. McLaughlin can look back with pride at the last 12 months, but his progress has not been as spectacular as it appeared it would be when Taylor turned to him over Glennon at the end of last season.

At the back it is disappointing that Simon Ramsden has managed to get injured so quickly again, and one worries if he was rushed back too early to play the full 90 minutes against Wycombe. Beyond that though, and given how many injuries he picked up last season too, one worries that Ramsden’s contract will not be renewed this summer because the manager – whoever that is – needs greater reliability at right back than the 29-year-old’s body will enable him. Lewis Hunt will continue to deputise on the right with Luke O’Brien at left back.

In the centre Steve Williams and Luke Oliver both made mistakes on Friday that may leave Taylor contemplating restoring Shane Duff to the starting line up. Oliver has featured in all but two of City’s league games to date but remains unconvincing at times. Williams’ return to match fitness – results were improving until he was injured at Colchester last November – could make a difference to a defence which has under-performed all season.

Whether Taylor opts for 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 in the wake of the Port Vale failings is yet to be seen, but whichever he decides it’s to be hoped he selects the right players to suit his system rather than the questionable midfield choices of recent weeks. Michael Flynn’s presence is massive, but despite decent performances in his last two outings there is more to come from him. Jon Worthington was quietly impressing up to the Wycombe game and, if his removal from the first XI continues, it will say much about Taylor’s high player turnover approach. Tom Adeyemi will feature somewhere from the start, Leon Osborne possibly not.

Up front Scott Dobie has shown some good things in his two games to date, but at other times has looked off the pace and in need of improved fitness. Kevin Ellison couldn’t make the same level of impact at Vale Park compared to his memorable debut, but will be a key player tonight. Jake Speight made a big impression on Friday and many will expect him to start, but Taylor may opt to keep the hard-working Evans in the starting eleven ahead of him.

How to approach this week? In a sense tonight is a game to get out of the way. A defeat is widely expected and, looking at the league table, it will be difficult to be too critical of Taylor if it goes the way of the form guide. Yet a second defeat on the bounce would really crank up the pressure on him and the team ahead of Saturday’s game, which is unlikely to prove ideal preparation.

So Taylor looks for some sort of positive result tonight in order to build some forwards momentum or – at least – slow the backwards impetus that is threatening to suck City into non-league. It can be argued that this period a year ago was the best of Taylor’s rein at City. He badly needs a repeat, because otherwise this week could prove to be his last in charge.

Welcome to the tactical sophistication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Them buggars best be careful…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is important as we look for another solution.

Life through a different lens

I always find these rare times Bradford City appear live on TV to be nerve-wracking occasions.

As great as it is for the great football god Sky to acknowledge our existence, the numerous dull City games they have managed to capture live over the years leave me fearing another occasion where a national TV audience is left underwhelmed. And when you know that audience will include friends, family and work colleagues who are only tuning in because they know you, there’s seemingly a lot more at stake than three points.

But more personal to all of that is the different perspective of watching the Bantams that sitting on a couch and watching them on TV provides. So much that is fantastic about supporting City is the live sights, sounds and even smells of cheering them on at games, and when so much of that is stripped away and your team appears two dimensional on a TV set, like any regular football match, too much is missing to truly enjoy it. Tonight could have been a brilliant game (it wasn’t), but watching it this way leaves you realising its impossible for Sky to accurately showcase to the people who matter in your life why City is so important to you and, ultimately, what all the fuss is about.

Tonight I’m watching the game on Sky at a friend’s house – he loves City as much as me and always goes to games – and with his brother, who only watches football from the comfort of his sofa and is annoyed at this lower league intrusion to his routine. “I can’t believe they’re screening this game” are his first words to me, and straight away I feel I’m having to apologise for my team interrupting his halcyon world of Premier League and La Liga football.

The live broadcast starts with Sky’s typically over-dramatic format showing us quick fire images of the “exciting League Two promotional battle” that Port Vale are part of. City are introduced as underachievers fighting relegation. The music is creepy and suddenly I’m really fearful for our Football League status, until Peter Beagrie pops up as studio pundit to reassure the nation that Bradford have simply had a lot of injuries and can still target promotion this season.

It seems to be a theme of the evening. “Bradford have used 35 players this season”, we are repeatedly told and each time it is quickly followed by “which just how difficult it has been for Peter Taylor.” True to a certain extent, but no one opts to mention – or perhaps would be aware – that this high turnover includes Taylor choosing to bring in young loanees ahead of supposed first teamers such as Zesh Rehman, Robbie Threlfall and Jake Speight, among others. Everyone employed by Sky tonight seems to share the view that City’s poor season is simply down to injuries, and that everything will be okay for us once the treatment room is cleared.

So nothing to do with Taylor’s tactics then, which tonight once more sees him start with the 4-3-3 formation that has proved so ineffective in recent weeks – and does so again. City’s three forwards are hopelessly isolated as everyone else stays deep behind the ball. Port Vale – whose manager, Jim Gannon, has spent a lot of time recently defending the 4-5-1 formation he favours, which proved effective at Stockport three years ago – easily win the midfield battle and you sit there in disbelief that Taylor can keep getting it so wrong.

A midfield three of Michael Flynn, Tom Adeyemi and Leon Osborne against a five is absolutely ridiculous, and for such an experienced manager to continue deploying his team in such an ineffective manner is bewildering. It is no coincidence that City’s best two performances of recent weeks – Chesterfield away and the second half against Wycombe last week – came when City lined up 4-5-1 and could get hold of the ball. In the first half tonight, Vale followed Crewe, Lincoln and Wycombe (first half) in dominating possession and carrying all the attacking threat.

Tom Pope headed a good chance over, Gary Roberts curled a shot wide and Lenny Pidgley made two decent saves. City’s only sight of goal came after Scott Dobie’s comically mistimed overhead kick attempt saw the ball run free and Kevin Ellison fire a rasping shot narrowly wide. It took 20 minutes to receive the first text message from a friend declaring this was the worst football they’d ever seen in their life.

Port Vale continued to press in the second half and took the lead four minutes in after Pope shrugged off a contact lense falling out and got free of his marker to send a looping header over Pidgley and Flynn. Pidgley, who seconds earlier had made a terrific save from a low shot, got into a heated argument with his stand-in captain Flynn. Surely now Taylor had to change things.

Only he didn’t, and rather than show intent to start chasing the game City continued to play as though they were holding out for a 0-0 draw. Vale pressed forwards with greater intent and Pope netted a second with a close range finish, despite replays showing he was narrowly offside. Pidgley was convinced the goal should have been ruled out and raced over to the linesman to complain. Not a single team-mate bothered to join him in arguing City’s case, instead walking off head down. Such lack of spirit and fight is deeply troubling.

City finally achieved a shot on target after 65 minutes when Gareth Evans’ free kick was blocked. Four minutes later Taylor finally let the shackles off his team by replacing Speight with the ineffective Leon Osborne, and suddenly it all changed. Now playing 4-4-2, City were finally keeping hold of the ball in Vale’s half and Speight displayed his early season form to cause the under-worked Vale defence problems. After Dobie headed the ball down, Speight brilliantly laid the ball into Adeyemi’s path to fire home and reduce the deficit with seven minutes to play.

The pressure grew on Vale in the closing stages, though at the times the delivery into the box was poor from City. Still, deep in injury time Lewis Hunt had a great chance to equalise after Flynn picked him out in the area, but after taking a touch he probably didn’t have time to make John McCombe was able to block his shot. Pidgley raced up for the resultant corner and a couple of goalmouth scrambles went unrewarded.

With the final whistle came an added sense of frustration – why couldn’t City have played like they had for the final 20 minutes during the first 70, when the game was ultimately lost? Why did Taylor have to approach this fixture so negatively, yet again? This was the 10th away defeat and, while it can be argued such a poor record and league position justifies a defensive strategy, how different might this season have proved if he’d been prepared to play positive attacking football more often?

The text messages of abuse from friends kept pouring in. In the past when we’ve disappointed on Sky I’d always been able to argue that what they’d just witnessed wasn’t an accurate reflection of supporting Bradford City. Tonight I have no defence – this really is how depressing life has become under Peter Taylor.

Playing favourites

Jon McLauglin was left cooling his heels again on Saturday after Peter Taylor dropped the keeper to return Lenny Pidgeley to the side for the weekend win over Wycombe. Talking to the T&A the City manager offered his sympathy saying

Jon has done nothing wrong but you have to make a decision that you think is right. I thought it was a good game to bring Lenny back.

Pidgeley’s return from four games out with a virus saw him excel while Lewis Hunt – survivor of a penalty appeal which I would have been surprised if it was given at the other end for City – seemed to be shoved back into the side as soon as he could be. Luke Oliver is nailed into the team thanked for playing up front while Omar Daley was played all around the field but did not get a note of thanks from manager Peter Taylor when he exited the club.

Taylor stands accused of playing favourites.

Compared in style to sometime City boss John Docherty who peopled his team with former Millwall youth players Taylor’s lads from Wycombe: Oliver, Hunt, injured Tommy Doherty and now, ahem, departed Gavin Grant; are perceived to have a leg up over other players in the side.

When Doherty cost City a goal at the start of the season Taylor was quick to jump to the midfielder’s defence. When McLaughlin erred the finger was quickly pointed. As a way of managing one’s players some would approve of singling out players for criticism and some would not – Stuart McCall would never allow his team to be criticised accepting any blame on himself, Taylor points fingers at the squad and refuses to accept a scrap of responsibility – but it is not the criticism but who Taylor aims it at which provokes a response.

If McLaughlin can be hung out to dry why can’t Doherty? If Oliver has to be thanked for playing (poorly) out of position why isn’t Daley who played on both wings, up front and at the front of central midfield during his last season at City?

Perhaps the question is framed wrong.

Having brought four players from his previous club Wycombe – as well as the odd face from Hull City who one assumes the manager has a contact at the KC Stadium who prompts him as to who might be worth signing – Taylor obviously has his favourite players. Luke Oliver has played for the City manager at three clubs. There must be something that Taylor likes in him.

With Oliver, and Hunt for that matter, one doubts the players were signed for their raw ability so much as their attitudes. Taylor knows them, knows how they react, and want that attitude in his squad at Valley Parade.

Luke Oliver has by no means the most impressive defender I’ve ever seen but his attitude is extremely admirable. He is one of the most discreet players I’ve ever watched able to box up mistakes and errors he makes – and he makes them – and put them deeply in the back of his mind. No sulking, no dragging a bad performance from one game to the next, just getting on with getting on.

It is not hard to see why Taylor defends that attitude. McCall’s team had a nasty habit of taking one defeat into the next game, and to the next. If Taylor wants to avoid that – and he should – then the attitude that Oliver has is important. Ditto Hunt, ditto Doherty.

Why shield those players while hanging out others to dry? One would have to know the players man for man to be able to make that call but one might speculate that players who have that attitude Taylor wants – be they his recruits from former clubs or those players he found at City who signed up for the Taylor plan – get the protection while the others are chided unless they come into the fold. Michael Flynn was fulsome in his praise of Taylor, and is never criticised.

The results of Taylor’s methods are questionable – we are not on for promotion and it looks as if the manager will be on his way next season – but the manager has to be allowed to manage and part of Taylor’s management techniques is to set up examples of good attitudes and good behaviours protecting those players while leaving others on the outside, tempting them to come in.

Management by playing favourites, if you will.

Introducing the frontman

For what seemed the only time all afternoon, Kevin Ellison was quiet. Having just netted what ultimately proved to be a valuable winner for Bradford City, the debut loan signing amicably accepted a booking from the referee as punishment for over-celebrating with fans. But no sooner had the yellow card being flashed Ellison was back in rebel mode – turning around and raising a clenched fist salute to supporters in the Midland Road stand.

There have been many memorable debuts over the years, but it’s hard to recall a new signing producing such an influential impact on day one as the performance Ellison delivered this afternoon. Throughout the 90 minutes he displayed a level of passion and commitment we sadly don’t see too often from players loaned from other clubs. He chased every cause, harried every opposition player who came in his way and supplied moments of quality that helped the Bantams achieve a surprise but hugely vital victory.

At full time he again roared to the crowd and the early signs are that manager Peter Taylor has not just signed a greater-conformist to the type of football he wants to play, but a man with the swagger and confidence to become a talisman for the team. He has the raw edge of a brutish frontman from rock band (or better still, given his appearance, a punk outfit). You wouldn’t invite him to tea with your mum, you might not even want to go for a pint with him, but when he’s pumping up the crowd by acclaiming them – like he did at full time – you don’t half love him.

We have welcomed a new hero.

How Taylor needed this. There’s no doubt that his decision to swap Omar Daley with Ellison is a huge gamble and, as City struggled to keep in check a strong 2nd-placed Wycombe outfit during the first half, the absent Jamaican remained a talking point. Despite its failure in the defeats to Crewe and Lincoln, Taylor had persisted with a 4-3-3 formation that saw the middle three once again out-gunned. Wycombe, carrying the composure to pass the ball around patiently in City’s final third, always had a spare man and threatened to boss it.

City needed to keep hold of the ball and get it to a very isolated front three; so a player with the dribbling abilities and pace of Daley seemed to be the missing link. An early injury to James Hanson had also hampered home efforts to attack and, as quickly as the ball was launched in the direction of Ellison, fellow debut-signing Scott Dobie and Hanson’s replacement, Gareth Evans, it was coming back towards City’s defence as no one could hold it up.

After Dobie headed over from a corner in the opening five minutes, the best chances of the half fell to Wycombe. Luke O’Brien cleared an effort off the line, the lively Gareth Ainsworth headed over, Chris Westwood planted a free header wide, a decent penalty appeal was turned down and Lenny Pidgley – oddly recalled in favour of Jon McLaughlin – tipped Ainsworth’s shot wide of the post. The contrast between City’s hit-and-hope and Wycombe’s attractive approach play had neither his old fans regretting his sacking nor his current supporters believing he can turn it round.

But half-time adjustments belatedly showed us that Taylor does have the experience to make effective changes. The pedestrian Jon Worthington was replaced by Tom Adeyemi, while Ellison and Evans were pushed further deeper so that City were playing a 4-5-1 formation which matched Wycombe’s shape.

And not only did Ellison and Evans become much more involved by receiving a greater share of possession, they were able to run at defenders and place them on the backfoot. Meanwhile, with Michael Flynn sitting in front of the back four, the impressive Adeyemi and Syers had the license to get forward more often. From looking unlikely to create a chance in the box – never mind score – during the first half, City were suddenly asking all sorts of questions.

Adeyemi drove a couple of shots wide but then, three minutes after Syers joined Hanson in hobbling off injured, Ellison found the net after O’Brien’s superb cross to the far post allowed him to slide the ball home. Cue his wild celebrations that were replicated in all home sections. It felt like a while since Valley Parade had rocked quite like this.

Ellison almost burst through for a second goal, but was blocked off by a defender in a borderline legal challenge. No matter, his work rate and quality on the ball had suitably impressed all and his awarding of the sponsor’s man of the match was greeted by popular approval. We shall have to wait for a relatively quiet Dobie to match him for influence.

Wycombe pushed on in the final stages and substitute Matt McClure headed over their best opportunity. Just like when City had been leading at leaders Chesterfield in the closing stages a fortnight ago, amber shirts sat back far too deep and invited heavy pressure. The backline, which saw the excellent Lewis Hunt surprisingly brought in as centre half with a rusty Simon Ramsden at right back, looked edgy for much of the game but were much-improved during the closing stages. Steve Williams, who came on for the injured Syers in a move that saw Ramsden pushed to holding midfielder and Hunt over to right back, was a solid presence if occasionally too casual on the ball.

Results elsewhere mean the gap to the relegation zone remains six points – further underlying the importance of the three points – but the confidence that can be taken from a first win in seven games should spark the momentum needed to steer clear of trouble during the next few weeks. Though Hanson and Syers will both miss the rest of this month, the increased quality in the ranks brought by new arrivals and long-term injured returnees should prove enough to guide City to mid-table.

What a shame they can’t perform this way week in week out and be up for the game no matter the opposition: against the top seven to date, City have collected 14 out of a possible 27 points; against the bottom seven to date, it’s just 8 points from a possible 24.

Unless a miraculous upsurge in form occurs, this win will have come too late for Taylor’s hopes of extending his City future beyond May. But the pressure on the Board to dismiss him before then – which, in doing so, would likely force the club to dip into next season’s budget – has now been reduced following this victory, which ultimately should be considered a good thing.

Too good to go down, but not good enough to retrieve the situation and go up – Taylor’s time at City is heading for a mundane conclusion. Not that it’s likely to prove a quiet end to the season, at least not with frontman Ellison around.

Fleeting success

Sadly it seems that success in football – as in life – is always fleeting.

An ethereal thing almost as soon as it is grasped then success is gone, dissipated in the desire for a better success. We look back a decade to Bradford City celebrating staying in the Premiership only to set sights on European football and a “kicking on to mid-table finish” the next season. That year Manchester United won the treble and since have never been happy with domestic success alone since.

It is in our reach that we define our tragedy and doom ourselves to discomfort, or so it is said. Wycombe Wanderers under Peter Taylor were promoted from League Two two years ago and seem on course to celebrate similar success this year having seen this sojourn back to the fourth tier as an unwelcome diversion from progress. There was a time they were happy to be in the League.

What we have we do not value, and we want more or so it seems, and to this maelstrom we welcome Dominic Rowe and Alex Flett.

The (new) boys are back in town

Two of David Wetherall’s junior side Fleet and Rowe have been given squad numbers and the chance to claim a place in the match day squad. At the moment City’s new numbers 31 and 32 are welcomed to the first team squad with open arms and optimistic smiles. “These two,” the mind trots to thinking “could be big players for us.”

The mind is right to do so. That skinny sixteen year old who filled in for Ces Podd in 1982 was in Flett and Rowe’s position and and he turned out well. Watching the progress of players like Don Goodman, Andrew O’Brien and Dean Richards was a source of pride and joy for City fans in years gone by. Soon though this joy of the first team squad will fade.

Because then they will be required to be substitutes, and then “impact substitutes” who change games and then when they start they will quickly be required to make manifest difference on the field. Each time what was considered an achievement would be relegated to being a kind of failure. The rapidity of which this happens is always astounding.

However it is a natural thing – and often a good thing – to press all the players for more. There is a disappointment that comes when a player seemingly plateaus. When he gets onto the bench and is in and out of the team, or when he gets into the team but does not excel in it.

The diary of a journeyman footballer

This situation has repeated itself in City’s recent history. Names like Danny Forrest, Craig Bentham, Tom Penford come haunting from our recent past and no sooner do they than someone advances the ill-advised words “not good enough” evidencing that with the fact that one struggles to find a young player released by City who has come back to League football. Jake Wright and Emile Sinclair spring to mind, few others.

In his diary of a journeyman footballer Left Foot Forward Gary Nelson talks about the effect of releasing young players and how it breaks not only their prospects but their career paths. Nelson ponders on how such players could be expected to turn around their careers after such a sudden and grinding halt advising then team mate Kim Grant to stay at Charlton because the facilities are better and moving down never promises anyone a first team place.

Looking at the current Bradford City team which is besieged with often vitriolic criticism it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have gone had Tom Penford and Craig Bentham been in the the midfield. Football would be a lot better if everyone stopped looking as players as discreet replaceable commodities and started looking at them as raw materials to be crafted with.

Not that Bradford City behave in a way which differs from the majority of football clubs but the majority of football clubs – and Bradford City – are not successful after the traditional close season squad purge and replace. Perhaps this squad purging is generally counter productive for football as well as for the players involved.

Had City decided that we fans would be denied the delights of watching Steve Claridge, Moses Ashikodi, Ryan Kendall, Willy (Not Billy) Topp, Mark Cullen et al and decided that they would retain Danny Forrest since 2005 when he was released would the action of working with and giving the assurance of continued football to the same player then, again, one wonders how would have turned out any different. Ashikodi did not stop relegation, Topp did not fire us to promotion.

The received wisdom in football is that players – and young players – excel or move out and that process is successful in ensuring the best prosper but perhaps the input and development of a football club could see that the players who are under this cream of the crop grow into good squad members and, in time, more?

One wonders if Rowe or Flett will make the bench on Saturday – Peter Taylor is talking about welcoming old heads into the side so probably not – but if they what impact they will be expected to make. Certainly it could be said that this is not the time for throwing in new faces to a struggling team.

The line up

Taylor’s side have not recorded a win since Monday the 3rd January 2011 surrendering play off hopes to relegation worries in the process. The solution to this is – it is hoped – arriving in the form of experienced professionals replacing younger players. Richard Eckersley and Mark Cullen have returned to Burnley and Hull City respectively as the Bantams welcome back to starting line up contention Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Michael Flynn.

That trio’s return – and the possible recovery of Steve Williams and the delayed debut of Scott Dobie – could give the City side a radically different look to the previous game.

Jon McLauglin seems to be recemented into City’s goal with Lenny Pidgeley missing presumed “a bit injured, maybe.”

The back four would seem to be set for an overhaul with Lewis Hunt at right back and Simon Ramsden taking Shane Duff’s place as defender and captain alongside either Luke Oliver or a fit Steve Williams. Luke O’Brien is expected to stay at left back.

The midfield three of Jon Worthington behind David Syers and Tom Ademeyi is hard to break up – Syers plays well and Ademeyi retains his place regardless of performance – but Michael Flynn might be expected to return their of in the attacking three.

Flynn’s ability to add to the forward line could see him in place of the departed Omar Daley alongside James Hanson and Gareth Evans but such a move would not open a slot for Dobie or fellow new arrival Kevin Ellison. Taylor has rarely used Flynn as a midfielder.

A word on Daley

A word on Daley who – it would seem – has played his last game for the Bantams. The players inconstancy has been mentioned after his departure and in a way that is somewhat unfair on the winger assuming firstly that constancy is a base requirement rather than a rare thing in professional football and secondly making a criticism of the times he was unplayable on the field. “Constancy” and the pursuit of it is perhaps is the most ludicrous of all football terms. I kid you not, dear reader, when I tell you that I could be Bradford City’s most constant player were I to be given a shirt. I would be constantly very, very poor.

There is something unpalatable about the criticism of players – and Omar especially – for inconstancy. The demand seems to hem players in. Is it better that a player try nothing which may result in something good for fear of looking bad? One of the most encouraging things about watching David Syers this year has been his willingness to be brave in his play, is he mistaken to do that for fear that when something does not come off he will be labelled inconstant?

Which is not to say that players should approach the game in a random manner – there is a constancy of play which is not to be confused with constancy of performance – but rather that the heart of improvement is the ability to try and risk failure.

Give me, for one game, Leon Osbourne leaving players for dead and rifling the ball into the goal and I shall be happy to worry about his ability to repeat that later. I would have players who have a constancy in doing the brave thing, rather than ones who succeed every time at doing the easy thing.

These notions are thoughts of the future and the immediate problem of Daley’s exit is more mundane. Chief in his duties was pressure applied to defending players who attempt to recycle the ball. An opposition corner cleared long by City and Daley chased defenders into an early ball. Without Daley able to apply that pressure – often a facet of his ability to get to the vicinity of a clearance in quick time – then I fear that recycled possession will but the Bantams under increased pressure.

In short that without Omar to chase the ball down, and the threat of his pace, City will end up without a release ball and under pressure more. One of Ellison and Dobie may be able to provide an alternative outlet ball for defenders lashing it away because a failure to do so will result in City defending upon defending, and that has been a problem all season.

Riches

And so – for once – City have some riches (if riches is the right word) of resource to be embarrassed by and Peter Taylor gets a chance to field Flynn in one of a few positions while all Flynn needs to do is return the team to the type of form it was in before his absence and avoiding relegation should be a success.

But a fleeting success at that.

Omar Daley out, Kevin Ellison in – Taylor’s football intentions become ever-clearer

Surprise news emerged yesterday evening that Omar Daley is heading on loan to Rotherham United with Kevin Ellison swapping places and joining the Bantams.

Daley, who is out of contract at the end of the season, was just over a week ago substituted in the final stages of the Lincoln City defeat to some people booing. The Jamaican international had endured a difficult evening where he appeared reluctant to follow his manager’s instructions, and perhaps his ineffective performance has lead Taylor to accepting an offer from a Rotherham United outfit desperate for new players to maintain a faltering promotion bid.

Yet still this is a hugely controversial decision by Taylor – and one that I personally struggle to agree with him on. After a slow start to the season, Daley showed some superb form in late autumn/winter that helped to lift the Bantams up the table following an appalling start. Indeed the free role Daley was entrusted with seemed to be proof Taylor does not always favour negative football. Who can forget the way Daley tore Oxford apart and scored two stunning goals at the end of October? Nor should we discount the fact that City’s last win, over a month ago now, was delivered by an outstanding Daley volley.

Is the relegation battle we are now embroiled in all about backs to the walls and grinding out results, or should there be room for the sort of creative spark Daley delivers? I’m sure that City’s new relegation ‘rivals’ would certainly kill to be able to call upon a player capable of proving a devastating match winner, rather than packing him off.

Daley though is inconsistent and does not always deliver but the moments of brilliance that are in his locker often trigger a level of joy that makes watching football so worthwhile. Daley might have days where you’d love to strangle him – and he might have them a bit too often – but the moments of jubilation he has provided us since joining the club four years ago will stay with us for many years.

If this is Taylor’s intentions – getting rid of the flair – let us look forward to his departure this summer and let us find a manager who will be willing to get the most out of the gifts he has got; rather than force them to play in a way that is not natural to them and leaves them subject to booing from their own fans.

All of which hugely overshadows the arrival of Kevin Ellison, who has been linked with a move to Valley Parade in the past. Ellison has featured against City many times – not just for Rotherham, but previous clubs Stockport, Tranmere and Chester City – and worked under Taylor at Hull in 2005-06. Able to play out wide or as a striker, he is probably seen as Taylor as more willing to play the wide striker position of the recently-preferred 4-3-3.

Ellison offers great consistency if nothing else. And with Taylor having maximised his playing budget, it has to be acknowledged that he must wheel and deal in order to improve the squad. If, in his opinion, Ellison offers more than Daley he is within his rights to effectively end the Jamaican’s time at City. However Ellison is more workmanlike, and Daley’s exit suggests much about the type of football we are likely to endure over the coming weeks

Ellison has been a regular for Rotherham this season, so his release would suggest manager Ronnie Moore sees him worth letting go in order to secure the services of Daley.

Taylor, on the other hand, looks to use Ellison to guide the Bantams away from same relegation which the player suffered in the Summer of 2009 with Chester City and in doing so takes the same gamble which Colin Todd did in allowing Dean Windass to leave the club on loan four years ago.

The result of that action was relegation, Taylor will hope that history does not repeat itself.

In praise of Luke O’Brien

In the middle of a truly wretched second half performance against Lincoln City last week, came an extraordinarily brilliant Bradford City moment. It involved a young full back charging forwards with the ball and then, superbly, nut-megging two defenders to get past them before racing into the penalty area. He then hit a terrific curling shot that narrowly flew wide of the far post, with the keeper beaten. It wasn’t quite a spectacular goal, but it still took your breath away.

It hasn’t been a season of great individual performances, but Luke O’Brien is enjoying an outstanding campaign that has seen the home-grown left back emerge as the only rival to David Syers for player of the season. And if this award went to the player who’d produced the most consistently-strong performances over the course of the campaign, Luke would probably be set to pick it up for the second time in three seasons.

And who would have thought that a year ago? When Peter Taylor arrived at Valley Parade, O’Brien’s days began to look numbered. Part of a dreadful team display at Accrington in Taylor’s first game in charge, the new manager rushed out and signed Liverpool left back Robbie Threlfall on loan. O’Brien wasn’t dropped out of the team, but moved to a left winger role that lead to up-and-down form for the rest of the campaign. When Luke lost his starting place for the season after the Easter Monday defeat to Macclesfield, and with Threlfall looking un-shiftable at left back, his future looked very uncertain.

Yet even though he began this season in and out of the team, O’Brien rediscovered his best form and regained his left back position from an off-colour Threlfall. Since being unfairly left out of the Morecambe defeat in October – to make way for a loan signing Taylor was forced to play at the first opportunity – O’Brien has started every game for City. Team performances have proved wildly erratic since, but one constant has been the excellence of the former City youth player.

His game has come on significantly, and there’s no doubt Taylor – not to mention assistant manager Wayne Jacobs, who played that position so well for 11 years – have helped him to develop. Luke is not the tallest player, but has gained the confidence to not be bullied by opposition players who have in the past targeted him. He is an excellent tackler who has learned when to stay on his feet and when to make a challenge. He is always willing to get forwards and shows great levels of fitness getting up and down the pitch.

Playing left wing last season was far from O’Brien’s comfort zone, but the improved dribbling ability and confidence going forward he has since demonstrated is evidence to the positive difference it made.

But above all the credit should go to O’Brien himself. Ever since breaking into the first time under Stuart McCall in October 2008, Luke has shown outstanding levels of work-rate and commitment to the cause. He never goes missing in games by shying away from the ball; and he displays a creditable focus on doing the right things for the team and his manager, even if that sometimes goes against the crowd’s wishes. Witnessing the way that the 22-year-old has developed his game and established himself as a key first team player – the Lincoln game was his 100th league start for City – has been one of the few bright spots of City’s time in League Two.

Is he appreciated by fans as much as he should be? Sadly not, and even at the last two games I’ve heard the odd supporter in ear shot complain about his supposed failings. Yet full backs are never the star of the show and are often only truly noted when they are bad; and the fact O’Brien puts in so many excellent performances that can largely go unrecognised is a sign of how consistent he is. If he had a shocker, everyone would suddenly notice.

The constant criticisms aimed at Leon Osborne this season have underlined how, ultimately, being a young player emerging through the ranks doesn’t afford you much leeway with your home crowd. Yet as we grimly wish away a disastrously-bad season and look forward to some less than committed players leaving in future, there is great comfort to be had from having someone like O’Brien on our side. He grew up sat among us, watching City in the Premier League from a seat in the Kop. He is now living our dreams and performing in a way we all would if we could live it too: giving everything we have, to make up for slight deficiencies in ability – because we’d care so much.

He is not here simply to pick up a wage, he gets it.

And in terms of the impact he’s made on the field – and relatively speaking – he is the best young player City have produced since the last O’Brien (Andy). Just like the now-Leeds United centre back, Luke can go much further in the game than Division Four.

Let’s just hope he stays around long enough to take us up there with him.

Blue Square Shoes

One for the money

Well it is all about money isn’t it? Football clubs have to be run as businesses. Budgets have to be balanced and spending to excess is unsustainable.

Yet at a time when Premier League players are swapped around like Panini stickers (Remember Got, Got, Got, need bad!) and the agents’ fees are enough to ensure the futures of several lower league clubs, it is hard to keep a grasp on financial reality. But money, not silly money just money, seems to be threatening the very existence of our football club once again, but this time in a different way.

No matter what sort of spin is put on it, I really feel that for the want of a relatively small amount of money (in Premier League terms at least) things would be very different right now at Bradford City.

For whatever reason he gives, and that we are asked to accept, Peter Taylor wants to stay at Bradford City. So whilst the club hovers above the extinction that non-league football will bring, we are asked to pin our hopes on a manager who seems unable to convince anyone that he knows what to do and the board – and possibly contributors to this site – are left with the need to make a virtue out of a necessity to maintain financial prudence.

Most of us have any doubt that if Peter Taylor resigned under similar financial circumstances to our previous manager, or, even better, had accepted the offer from Newcastle United at Christmas, then his resignation would have been readily accepted by the board.

If it is a case of professional pride with Peter Taylor then he could go a long way to convince us of his sincerity by foregoing his weekly salary until the club’s League status – forget promotion – is safe. This seems unlikely to say the least so we are left to come to our own conclusions about his reasons for staying here and amateur pride will not replace the professional sort.

So, among the reasons he remains is one for the money.

Two for the show

Much has been said about the dwindling desire of many fans to keep going to watch City this season. Dedicated travellers now pick their matches, some have decided to restrict their support to home fixtures and there is a significant number who have decided that a “no show” is preferable to the anticipated disappointment of home matches.

And the reason for their change of heart is the Taylor style of football.

When even a win can leave you feeling disappointed there is something seriously wrong about what is happening at Valley Parade. It would serve no purpose to re-hash the criticisms of the way the players seem to be at odds with themselves as well as their manager but despite fans’ frustrations, there is still an overriding support for the players – short and long termers – to make something of what they are being asked to do.

That goals are greeted with almost euphoric delight is to be expected but those of us who stayed to applaud the players after the final whistle against Lincoln could see the wretchedness on their faces – they do care and so do we.

Right now we seem willing to accept dull football if it will bring survival. But once safe, and I remain positive despite the tone of this piece, let us hope we never stoop to such spirit-sapping football ever again. On and off the pitch, the show must go on.

Three to get ready

If, as it seems we are, to place our trust in Peter Taylor and his style of play to save our League status, we have to be proactive about the future.

Peter Taylor had an unprecedented induction period as City manager. There was no pressure at the end of last season, a chance to get to know the players, evaluate needs and establish a spirit so that we “hit the ground running” at the start of this season. And yet we just hit the ground! And have struggled ever since.

Now a “meaningless” end to this season is the best we can hope for and League survival has to be Taylor’s final objective before his inevitable departure. But whilst the manager gets on with his job the club’s focus must be on what follows him. Jason has talked of the desirability of a smooth transition however unlikely it seems it will be at the moment given the personal and financial situations at the club. Yet the club does have a valuable opportunity to prepare for next season and it must be taken.

Whatever the business ethics involved, there has to be a way, however untenable to Peter Taylor, in which Bradford City can work around the manager as well as with him.

Now go cat! Go!

Given the number of managerial “lives” Peter Taylor has used up at Bradford City then maybe this should read “Go Pete go”.

Whilst I concur with a lot of what Jason has to say in his piece I don’t agree with his conclusion that there is nothing to be gained by changing the manager now.

Nothing in Peter Taylor’s time as manager has had the mark of continuity so would a change of manager disrupt the already disrupted nature of what we have now?

The reliance of the present manager on his “system”(?) suggests that Peter Taylor is, to borrow a business phrase from Lord Sugar, a “one trick pony” and that trick is clearly not working at City. Changing the manager has obvious and historic risks as Jason has pointed out. But compare these with the inherent risks of not changing a failing organisation and you have a blinkered outlook that relies on hope rather than intervention.

In our current situation is doing something not preferable to doing nothing – or are we constrained by the money after all?

Whatever the outcomes regarding the manager, the message to the board and through them to the players is “Do anything, but stay off of those Blue Square shoes.”

Taylor stays as manager for now: probably the sensible decision, now for sensible planning

We may all carry very strong views on the subject but, ultimately, very few of us would have wanted to swap places with Bradford City Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn on Wednesday.

The day after the Bantams had disastrously suffered a fifth defeat in six games, Peter Taylor was called in for a meeting with the pair. And a decision over whether to sack the City manager or allow him more time to turnaround a sinking season must have been a difficult one to make. It carried a huge weight of responsibility, and only time will reveal whether retaining him for now proves the right or wrong call.

There is growing pressure for Rhodes and Lawn to take action. Taylor could not have picked a worse time to make catastrophically-bad management calls, and the situation is becoming desperate. Just like the Burton Albion postponement two weeks ago, the cancelling of Saturday’s game at Macclesfield seems especially ill-timed for Taylor. By the time City welcome 2nd-placed Wycombe to Valley Parade next Saturday, midweek results could have dragged them ever-closer to a desperate relegation battle.

And that’s why, despite the huge levels of unrest over Taylor from what can surely be considered the majority of City supporters, sacking him now is not the straightforward answer many assume it would be.

Lessons from the past

Certainly it would be interesting to gauge Rhodes’ take on the situation, and I’m sure the name of Colin Todd must be playing on his mind. Almost exactly four years ago Rhodes took the decision to sack the then-City manager with the Bantams slipping down League One but still in mid-table, and come May the club was relegated. The rights and wrongs of Rhodes’ actions then are still argued to this day, but it’s difficult to dispute that dismissing the experienced manager just after a turbulent period of transfers and replacing him with the club captain made City much weaker for the battle ahead.

Perhaps more telling is to look back a year before that, when Todd was under-pressure from a large proportion of supporters during the 2005-06. Just like in 2006-07 and just like now, the expected promotion push had faltered and City were becoming embroiled in a relegation zone. When Oldham thrashed the Bantams 4-1 in March, it looked curtains for Todd. Yet Rhodes stuck by him and Todd was able to turn it around during the final few weeks and ensure a mid-table position.

It is a repeat of that type of situation that Rhodes and Lawn will be hoping Taylor can deliver. Because as bad as the last few weeks have been for City, it should be remembered that, up to the collapse at Barnet, the players had proved they were capable of winning matches (just badly lacking consistency). The squad Taylor has built are not proving good enough for promotion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough to keep the club in League Two.

Equally Taylor has shown over the past 12 months that he is capable of turning around poor runs of form. It will take a long time for those of us who attended both games to forget the Accrington and Rochdale away games when Taylor first took charge last season. At Accrington it looked desperate, and no -one would have predicted City would follow up their worst performance of the season with their best to defeat the then-league leaders. Even earlier this season it looked bleak for Taylor and City after a dismal 1-0 loss to Morecambe – City won four of their next five matches.

Can City recover from Tuesday’s debacle? Taylor’s history suggests so.

The negligible impact of changing managers

It’s exactly a year to the day since Stuart McCall’s final match in charge of City. The 1-0 defeat to Bury left the Bantams languishing in 15th place and eight points from the play offs – they finished the season 14th and 10 points short of the top seven.

It can be argued Taylor halted the slide that had occurred during McCall’s final two months of the season, but that there was no improvement in results underlined yet again the ineffectiveness of changing managers mid-season. Sure at other clubs a new manager can have a dramatic upturn, but it never happens here. Sacking Todd didn’t improve the club, dismissing Chris Hutchings and Nicky Law didn’t prevent relegation in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Even when the club’s last successful manager, Paul Jewell, was first appointed as caretaker he failed to improve results instantly.

You have to go back to Chris Kamara to find the last time changing managers mid-season improved the club – and that was 15 years ago.

Lawn and Rhodes may not have been around to make all of these managerial changes, but they were involved in the club as supporters at least and they should know that the history of City changing managers mid-season has undeniably proven a flawed strategy. At best it makes no difference, at worst – like when David Wetherall replaced Todd four years ago – it can prove a fatal mistake. Neither may like Taylor very much right now, but the risks of removing him are so great that sticking by him at this moment is surely the sensible option.

Taylor needs to save the club in the short-term, then the Chairmen need to start focusing on the long-term

City’s situation doesn’t look great, but it could certainly be a lot worse. If a victory can be ground out and followed by another two or three quickly afterwards, relegation will no longer be the potential issue it is becoming and a mid-table finish will be assured. Right now City are battling to ensure they can enjoy a meaningless end to the season.

Whatever happens, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be our manager beyond May and, if the Bantams ship can be steered back onto a safe course, the thoughts of Rhodes and Lawn have to quickly turn towards finding his replacement.

And that above all is the futility of sacking Taylor now. It will cost City a certain amount of money to issue him an early P45 and to hire his successor before the end of the season. And, with the playing budget likely to be reduced next season, is it the best use of limited finances to make that change now because we’re sick of the dreadful style of football Taylor persists with?

Instead City can take their time, assuming results are quickly turned around. Rather than rushing in to finding the next manager, they can conduct a lengthy search and even enlist help from people outside the club in choosing the right person. They can think long and hard about the type of manager they believe can take City forwards, and start the recruitment process sooner rather than later.

Why wait?

Because why wait? Taylor wants to see out the remainder of his contract, City are highly unlikely to renew it. As long as results improve and City are comfortably in mid-table, what’s stopping Rhodes and Lawn from confirming to him there will be no new contract and that they are beginning the search for his replacement? Taylor can be free to see out the final few games, and his successor can be lined up to take over before the season ends.

That way the next City manager can assess the playing squad and make decisions on whether to offer out-of-contract players new deals and which areas of the squad needs strengthening in the summer; rather than arriving sometime in June with a number of players having left and limited opportunities to assess the players he has until next season gets underway. Taylor can even offer advice and information before he departs.

Maybe this isn’t a practical idea – though this sort of transition would take place in pretty much every other walk of working life, so why are football clubs different? Who knows, by taking this approach Taylor can even be assured of leaving the club with his dignity still in tact, rather than a scenario of his final few days being played out with City underachieving in mid-table and Taylor continually being quoted in the Telegraph & Argus that he is “hopeful of a new deal”.

In the end, most of us will get what we want

Let’s be frank – this is one of the bleakest periods supporting Bradford City we’ve ever experienced. The last 10 years have been woeful at times, but this current mixture of poor results and appalling style of football is crushing to watch. I’ve never known a season where City have won matches and I’ve still felt miserable, such has been the way some victories have been achieved. Taylor was an outstanding appointment a year ago, but for whatever reason it’s not worked out.

However, it’s clear Taylor will be leaving the club within the next few months. And so as much as some of us want him to depart instantly, in the end the potential negative consequences – plus financial implications – of speeding that process mean that sticking by him, for now, is the sensible option.

That said, if the league position gets worse the pressure for Lawn and Rhodes to act will become intense and they will have to re-assess Taylor’s immediate future .

This club has never fallen into non-league before, having been elected into the Football League in 1903 before a ball was even kicked. 100 years on from our greatest triumph of winning the FA Cup, it falls on Taylor to ensure we don’t experience our lowest-ever on-the-pitch moment.

We need him to turn it around urgently. We don’t have to like the guy, but right now we should be supporting Taylor in keeping our beloved football club alive.

Thinking about when Bradford City need to replace Peter Taylor

There is an increasing desperation about Bradford City’s scramble for points to turn a season that was tipped for first place into one that avoids last or second last and one is reminded about the Liverpool legend Bill Shankley’s approach to his side’s seasons.

His lessons seem amazingly apt for City – a team which bookmakers and the board believed were going to be promoted as Champions. “First,” the Scot would say, “get the points to stay up and then take it from there.”

Hindsight is easy, but the club talks about promotion to the Championship until it is forced to face the reality of attaining a number of points to stay in the Football League. This happens season on season and perhaps it is time to learn from that when thinking about where things have gone wrong.

Tuesday night could not have been clearer as to where the team faulted following an ill advised shift to 424 that exposed David Syers and Tom Ademeyi in the midfield. After game Peter Taylor did not name the man he felt was responsible for the second Lincoln goal but spoke specifically about someone having not done the job of covering Syers – Ademeyi, one assumes – and from this cascade worries about the manager’s credibility in the dressing room.

Supporters are important to a club – and so is supporter confidence – but more important is the confidence of the players that following their manager will lead to success. When this is lost – when the players no longer believe that doing what the manager says will win games – then seldom does a team perform well. This – more than anything else – what the throw away phrase “lose the dressing room” means.

Going back years to Terry Yorath’s departure as City manager captain Mark “Two Fingers To The Elland Road Kop” Aizlewood was quick to defend the manager insisting it was the players who were to blame for the results and making a note that Yorath was doing the right things, but that they were not coming off for the team.

He still believed, Yorath still “had the dressing room” so to speak.

Jake Speight – when at Port Vale on loan – was quick to say how much he favoured Mickey Adams’s techniques over Peter Taylors citing the fitness levels brought by both managers. Speight is an edge case – disgruntled for some reason which I would not care to speculate on – but he clearly does not believe that what Peter Taylor is doing will bring success to the club.

Players will do a lot for a manager they believe in. If Taylor has taken Tom Ademeyi to one side and told him that he should have been standing five years behind Syers against Lincoln in case his only midfield partner lost the ball then Ademeyi could be excused for wondering that if he were there who would be covering the rest of the midfield?

That thought in his head – as it is in mine – it is hard to imagine how belief in the manager’s instructions can be sustained.

Which is not the same as militancy in the players nor should it be mistaken for that. Omar Daley was booed off after seventy minutes of Tuesday night’s game ostensibly for the crime of following his manager’s instructions.

Daley was hemmed in, seemingly told that he needed to reduce the gap between himself and the full back (which has been a massive problem and a massive gap) and critically to not go past his full back to be hit with the kind of ball into the channel behind the full back which he so enjoys running in, and he performed that task to the best of his abilities.

He seldom looked happy with the task he was given – it is not his natural game to have the ball fed into his feet, get clobbered by the defender, and then lay it off – and his body language is more expressive than most but he was obviously doing what was asked of him.

Booing him for that – to me – is akin to booing Luke Oliver for playing up field. To boo a player for doing what he is told is a call for militancy in the dressing room and for a player to turn to the manager when given the instructions to play in a way he does not like and tell the manager to shove it.

However any one of the ten other players on the field watching Daley trundle off to boos for doing what he was told to do will have looked at Peter Taylor in the dug out and again had cause to question their belief in the manager and his methods.

The methods are not working, they will not be changed, and the players are suffering. How long until they stop believing they ever will? Have we passed that point already?

Increasingly it seems that Taylor’s flaw is in his intractability in his approach to the squad. Taylor has a way he wants the team to play but he does not have the players to achieve it not because they are especially poor (or because they are especially good) but because they are not suited to the manager’s methods.

Taylor’s system at the start of Tuesday night required the two wide strikers to get the ball back to goal, lay it off and follow play on and in Gareth Evans he has a player who can do that as can the injured Leon Osborne but Daley is less able to.

Any manager has a choice of approaches in this situation. He either resigns himself to not playing with these two players because he only has Evans who can fill the role and uses a different tactic or he plays the way he wants to play, and tells the players to adapt.

The key concept being if the manager looks at the squad and picks that approach, the tactics, the formation to suit the players he has or tries to make the squad suit the approach. Taylor fails squarely into that second camp so rather than stopping playing long balls when James Hanson is injured Luke Oliver goes into the forward line.

The players then are given a bargain. Play the way I tell you to, because that way lays success, and should success not follow and the players end up abused, booed and called “not good enough” they are given the challenge of a continued belief in the manager’s methods which are failing and leaving them as fall guys.

The return of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn to starting line up contention provides something interesting to discuss but hardly provides Taylor with more options as to how to play, because he does not change how he plays on the basis of who is available. These players will come in and slot into the holes already mapped out or they will not come in.

So Jon McLaughlin continues in goal with – perhaps – Hunt at right back over Richard Eckersley. It is significant that Taylor picked up many players he has worked with previous because he knows that they have a belief in his methods (which have succeed in the past) and thus a belief in him.

Simon Ramsden may return in the place of captain Shane Duff rather than Luke Oliver who has an uncanny character to pick himself up after mistakes instantly and not let them effect his game – the irony being that if he made fewer mistakes that characteristic would make him a very good footballer – and Luke O’Brien will continue at left back.

The midfield three will see Jon Worthington anchoring behind a two – probably Ademeyi and Syers – with Michael Flynn replacing Daley in the forward and being more suited to the tasks afforded to that role. New recruit Scott Dobie is also set to come into the side but having not seen the former West Brom player since he was a much younger player it is difficult to suggest what sort of game he plays. Will the 32 year old be a balance for Gareth Evans – who returns to his former club sporting a tan which is impressive for Bradford in February – or will he be an alternative James Hanson continues that thankless task role. Time, and Taylor, will tell.

And City need three points, or one point, or just some points at some point in the future.

Sitting below City and having been beaten at home by Bury 4-2 in the week Macclesfield are the sort of team which Peter Taylor believed that his approach and formation would be steamrollering on the way to promotion.

The question now is if the players still believe it too, believe that doing what Peter Taylor tells them will bring enough points to stay in League Two at least.

Because if they do not then the club need to replace Taylor as quickly as possible.

The most obvious defeat in the book

Walking away from Valley Parade after some defeats you hear the same murmurs on everyone’s lips. People trudging away after games like the 3-2 reversal to Crewe last season all mumbled phrases like “How did we lose that?”

Walking away from this 2-1 defeat to Lincoln City that continues Bradford City’s flirtation with the possibility of non-league football next season the reason for the defeat was obvious and the responsibility lay clearly with manager Peter Taylor.

No head scratching from Taylor one hopes and no moving around of the blame from player to player – although some of them could have put in better displays – but forty minutes into the game the City boss must have joined the majority of the supporters in thinking that the Bantams had the game all but won.

Lincoln City arrived on the back of three straight wins and seemed to believe their own press standing off and waiting for things to happen as City made play. The Bantams started brightly with a move down the left finding David Syers in the box and Syers’ playing over to James Hanson who scored his second in two games.

From then the City looked massively in the ascendancy with chances coming freely. Omar Daley air shotted in the box, Tom Ademeyi lashed over the bar but it seemed more of a “when” than an “if” another goal would come.

Some players were out of sorts – Daley and Gareth Evans seemed under instruction to stay closer filling the gap between full back and flank, whatever you think of Daley few would put him on a pitch and tell him to not try run against his man – but City were winning and winning well.

And then it fell apart. A quickly taken free kick went out to Gavin Hoyte and was swung over to Delroy Facey who hung for an age on the far post to head in with Jon McLauglin screaming at his defenders for not clearing while his defenders stared back to blame the keeper for being rooted to his line. The defenders were right, McLauglin was at fault for the goal but not the loss.

Although something happened to City after the goal that was ugly to see. The character which is brittle at the best of times shattered and as Lincoln emerged from half time full of belief City seemed to have been sapped of it.

Ali Fuseini came on for Lincoln and they stepped up taking control of the midfield and looking increasingly threatening. City’s middle three were scrapping with the visitor’s four and needed bolstering.

Which is when the game was lost and it was lost by Peter Taylor. The City manager – seeing his side struggling to regain midfield control – removed Jon Worthington who was putting in a good display as a foot in midfielder and added, well, no one.

As with the defeat at Crewe last week Michael Flynn came on and joined James Hanson in the forward line leaving Taylor’s side with something like a 424 which was utterly ineffectual. The four of Lincoln City were walking past the two of Syers and Adeyemi with such ease.

On this point I struggle. How could Peter Taylor – in football all his adult life – have thought that the way to win a game was to surrender control of the midfield? Adeyemi was more miss than hit while Syers put in his 100% but Taylor’s tactics – his tactical switch – required these two players to put in an insane level of work with two players against four while City’s four forwards looked down the pitch at them.

How did Peter Taylor expect this to work? That City would do better with less of the ball? Isn’t the idea that having more attackers on the pitch will give more goals but those ideas one of those things that people stop believing along with The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? Yet there we were, with four players watching two trying to hold the midfield together.

Lincoln scored of course – and by mugging Syers who had no back up – with Fuseini bursting through and producing a save from McLaughlin which Gavin McCallum powered the rebound in from. From then on – and even after Mark Cullen was thrown on and Gareth Evans pushed back into midfield – City never looked like they believed they could get back into the game.

So it proved, and while some might want to talk about the players “not being good enough” I can only say that I do not believe that Messi and Maradona would have been able to win tonight when put as two men against four. Games are won an lost in the midfield, and it was Taylor who lost it there tonight.

How does one categorise this? Before “the players weren’t good enough” we used to hear the phrase “tactical naive” banded around but never given a meaning. There was talk about “Plan B” and not the merits of change for the sake of change, of change without enough thought of the effect of that change.

Taylor was an outstanding appointment to the job of Bradford City manager – Mark Lawn found someone who had success and repeated success – but he has made mistakes concluded with by a substitution which hobbled his team, that exposed two young players in Ademeyi and Syers, and that threw points away.

At the end there were chants calling for Peter Taylor to be “out” – they were not widespread but by no means single voices – but rather sacking the manager I’d rather the experienced manager stopped making massive, misjudgements and started doing his job properly.

Despair to be consoled by

In the midst of another season of crushed expectations for Bradford City, an unlikely glimmer of hope emerged at the most unexpected of moments – only to be cruelly taken back through a 93rd-minute Chesterfield equaliser.

On the back of four consecutive defeats that have pushed the focus from promotion to relegation, no-one expected anything positive from a trip to the in-form league leaders. Yet when James Hanson rose to head the Bantams into a 2-1 lead eight minutes after half time, aspirations of a glorious end to the campaign could be dreamed of once more. City were holding on – not without a few scares, but still holding on – and a look ahead to a week featuring meetings with strugglers Lincoln and Macclesfield offered renewed optimism regarding the ‘P’ word.

But just as it seemed the season had turned, up popped Chesterfield substitute Jordon Brewery to smash home a loose ball past Jon McLaughlin. And once again we were confronted by harsh reality.

And it hurt. A lot. As home fans began celebrating, for a couple of seconds a part of you refuses to believe it has happened. That life can be so cruel. That City are once again being kicked in the teeth. Of course we never dared believe the three points were in the bag as we lead deep in stoppage time, but we could taste them. And they tasted rather good.

Instead we had to cope with the feeling of defeat that – pre-match – the majority of us had expected to bear and so had prepared our defences for. It was a damage-limitation type of afternoon. One where you expect the worse and anything better is a bonus. If someone had offered us a 2-2 draw beforehand I dare say every one of us would have bitten their hand off. Even though we got just that, we departed the thoroughly-impressive B2Net Stadium in utter despair.

But also consoled. City have not only been moving backwards in recent weeks, but stumbling towards a dangerous trapdoor that could easily leave us kicking off next August with a visit from Kettering Town (or worse still, not kicking off at all because relegation to non-league had killed the club). We needed to arrest the slide before it became serious, and at the very least the rot has now been stopped.

City took on the best in League Two and almost bested them, and while letting two points slip through the fingers at the death further reduces those promotion hopes we held just three weeks ago – the gap to the play offs is now 9 points, in case you’re still interested – the level of performance and commitment displayed strongly indicates City won’t be falling into a relegation fight.

Kicking off with an unchanged line up for the first time all season, manager Peter Taylor had gone some way to addressing the balance issues of Tuesday night by withdrawing Leon Osborne and Gareth Evans into widemen of a five-man midfield, with Hanson a lone striker. This allowed Tom Adeyemi and David Syers to push forwards from more central positions and, with Jon Worthington assuming a deep midfield role that attempted to dictate the tempo, there was no repeat of the midfield being out-gunned.

Nevertheless Chesterfield started well and bossed the opening stages, taking the lead on 11 minutes when Danny Whitaker swept home Jack Lester’s pass – though the true cause of the goal came seconds earlier. Chesterfield had a goal kick, and while normally this is signal for all the outfield players to bunch together on one side of the pitch, Drew Talbot moved to a position on the opposite side to everyone else – leaving him free and in acres of space. Keeper Tommy Lee aimed his kick at Talbot’s balding head; and though Luke O’Brien had reacted and tried to close him down, he was out-jumped and taken out of the game. Chesterfield roared forwards and, with so many City players caught out by this innovative tactic, Whitaker made it 1-0.

Still we expected this. What was less anticipated was a strong response from City which saw Hanson’s long-range shot superbly tipped over by Lee and, after the resultant corner was half-cleared, Syers left unmarked to head home an equaliser from a superb Osborne cross. City would go onto evenly contest the rest of the half and Evans forced another great save from Lee. At the other end Lester was played through on goal, only to be denied by a magnificent last-ditch tackle from Luke Oliver.

Not that Taylor’s 4-5-1 formation was proving a complete success, as the physical Talbot continued to give O’Brien a difficult afternoon with both his ability in the air and with the ball at feet. Part of the problem was inadequate defensive support from Osborne, which allowed others to provide options for Talbot; so Taylor made an early substitution by swapping the young winger – who it was suggested had picked up a knock anyway – with Omar Daley. As much as Daley has a poor reputation defensively, he made a positive difference.

Early in the second half Hanson headed City into the 2-1 lead and sparked scenes of jubilation that arguably made for the highlight of the season. Evans had made the goal with an excellent cross, after retrieving a loose ball that followed Adeyemi breaking into the penalty area.

And suddenly City had Chesterfield where they wanted them, and suddenly the impossible looked on.

The Bantams set themselves up to counter attack, with Daley embarking on some promising runs that were only let down by a poor final ball. Hanson could and perhaps should have made it 3-1 after heading over O’Brien’s cross, but the chances were all at the other end. McLaughlin made a couple of brilliant saves; Craig Davies shot narrowly wide and then headed over a simple chance. City’s backline were much improved, with Oliver enjoying an outstanding performance. Alongside him Duff was displaying the form of earlier in the season, if a little too casual on the ball at times.

And it looked like it would be enough, before that cruel moment at the end.  As the ball flew in there was stunned silence, apart from one guy in front of me who instantly rose to his feet and screamed at Taylor to “f**k off”. On reflection, it was the City boss who was the true loser on the day.

For City had showed that they should be too good to get sucked into a relegation fight, and that a midtable position is the most likely outcome of a disappointing season. But midtable is not going to be enough for Taylor to earn another contract at City, and it is surely now a matter of months before he departs the club.

Taylor badly needed these three points, and he badly needed them to spark an upsurge in form. He too might have taken a point before kick off, but he would certainly not have liked it to be realised in such demoralising circumstances.

Both he and an outstandingly-noisy away following had been offered a glimmer of hope that this story might have had a happy ending after all. Instead all we are left with is the consolation of at least feeling consoled.

Waiting to get lucky, but not the Andy Gray way

If you are planning something for the end of May, dear reader, the time is nigh where that booking can be confirmed.

Not that the optimistic Bradford City fan has given up on the season – not at all – but rather the focus of that optimism has slipped down somewhat from Champions, to automatic promotion, to play offs and now to the hope that the season will not contain a relegation battle.

Such slight returns are the stuff of football supporters. Seasons that start with a club tipped to go down end in the Premier League, seasons that start being about the promotion end with videos released called “The Great Escape.”

Managing the hard way, but not the Andy Gray way

Peter Taylor was appointed because Stuart McCall was not doing well enough and sits in exactly the same position with exactly the level of criticism. It is hard not to look back at this point to twelve months ago when the “not a proper manager” left the club in favour of the “experienced professional” and wonder how the dust settled so quickly that last season’s debates could be so quickly revisited without hint or irony or apology.

How many people were dubbed naive optimists for saying that replacing McCall would not improve the club? How many people promised an improvement under Taylor and are now saying the same about his replacement?

One would have thought that replacing McCall with Taylor to the net effect on movement towards promotion of not very much at all might have convinced one and all that the manager was not the problem but – having talked to Mark Lawn this week – then it seems fair to say that changing the man picking the team is not expected to change performance massively so much as it is an area which can be controlled when most cannot.

One wonders – assuming that Peter Taylor will be leaving City – what the next manager needs do to be more successful? There are hopes of changes in facilities and so on but those hopes are slim – City are not planning a ground switch as Chesterfield did at the start of this successful season for them – and so what is to be done to turn the club around?

The L word, no, not the one Andy Gray would use

Luck, it seems, is what City need.

Luck in a set of players. That when Player A meets Player B they gel, that they like each other on the pitch and off it. They the players become a team and that the team makes the players better.

Luck augmented by a manager for sure but the rapid changing of managers can not be expected to yield results even if we do know the reason for it now.

With luck the team wins early games, confidence grows and the unit is forged. A team like Chesterfield – buoyed by their new surroundings – go from also-rans to promotion probables on the strength of this.

Does luck exist in football? One recalls Golfer Gary Player’s comments on luck: “The more I practised, the luckier I got.”

Who will play, probably not Andy Gray although I doubt he is busy…

So this group of players – ineffectual for four defeats on the bounce games – go to the team chasing the League Two title and are called upon to create luck for themselves.

Jon McLaughlin shows a safe pair of hands, but he could shout more. Richard Eckersley looks good coming forward but he needs to tell the man in front of him that a full back can not defend on his own. Luke O’Brien on the other side is in a similar position. He motors back and forth well but he needs to tell the player who has watched a second man join in a flank attack that he (winger or wide forward) simply has to get back and defend.

The central defenders Luke Oliver and Shane Duff need to be more mouth on too but Oliver has to realise that as the big man at the back it is his job to organise the defensive line into a line and Duff needs to help him by paying more attention. Both do their jobs well individually – Oliver deserved credit for getting head up and sticking with it – but defending is not an individual thing.

If these lessons are not learnt then something of a cavalry arrives with Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Steve Williams all hoping to return to fitness soon. Ramsden and Hunt are hoping to make the bench.

New recruit Jon Worthington sits on top of a back four well and if he were to look at City and decide that a team which has had a half dozen captains actually needs a leader then he would not be far wrong. David Syers has been brilliant this season, he rarely goes missing, but he needs to realise that he adds more to the attack by arriving late than pressing early. Tom Ademeyi shows a powerful energy at times, but a more solid, constant flow in his game would make him a 90 minute, rather than a fits and starts, performer.

Those three might find the returning Michael Flynn takes back a position in midfield but Flynn is more likely to replace Gareth Evans in the attacking three with Omar Daley on the other side. Evans has shown admirable hard work and effort and that should secure him a place in the side, but seldom does, while Daley is Daley and at times unplayable. He needs to defend when told and he does.

James Hanson leads the line. He does that well and without thanks. He needs to get some thanks.

And he needs to get lucky, but not in the Andy Gray way.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part Two

Following on from Part One, our interview with Mark Lawn continues as we move onto the relationship with Bradford Council and the training facilities…

And we continue

BfB: How about the council, is there any interest on their part to help out?

I’ve worked very hard to build relationships with this council, and we now have an okay relationship with the council. They don’t do a lot for Bradford City Football Club, we don’t ask a lot out of Bradford City Council.

BfB: Following on from Valley Parade other people see the training ground as a significant problem – back in 2000 we had Benito Carbone, Dan Petrescu and a flooded Apperley Bridge – and Peter Taylor was keen to address this problem.  Again how important do the board of feel the state of the training facilities is? What is being done to address this situation (if considered important)? Can the club’s aims be achieved using Apperley Bridge?

We’re looking at ventures, perhaps with a private company that may want to address Apperley Bridge to improve the facilities down there. But it’s in the very early stages so I can’t discuss who it is and what it is. It’s council-owned land, so we’ve got to talk to the council about it as well, but we are looking to get those facilities down there.

BfB: Are the players still having to get changed at Valley Parade and go down there?

Yeah they are, but under Peter as well they’re using the pitch here (Valley Parade) a lot. The pitch is in better condition now, so it will take it and then we can fix it and get it right (for matchdays). So they tend to use this pitch when it’s bad down there.

BfB: How important do the Board think the training facilities are?

It’s a little bit like a chicken and egg really. I mean you can turn around and say that’s been our training facilities since the 1960s and they got us into the Premier League. I mean the facilities have got to be improved, but they can be used as an excuse I think as well.

If I’d have been here in the Premier League I’d have made sure that we have something like Blackburn Rovers now have without a doubt. I’d have put money back into the club and into facilities like that. But Blackburn Rovers are struggling aren’t they? And then look at Middlesbrough, they are renowned for having the best academy for kids – and they’re dropping down the leagues. And I think that’s the state of the game today, because we have so many foreigners coming in. And Geoffrey had this thing, and maybe he was proven to be right. He turned round to me and said “It’s no use giving me a kid who is going to be good in six years – I need someone to score on Saturday.” And I think that goes right throughout the leagues.

You look at these academies, and the problem is they’re (young players) not coming through are they? I think that is to do with the pressure put on managers to get a result as well. They’re not under pressure to bring a kid through.

I think that Leon Osborne, personally, would be better if he could get a run of six or seven games – but who is going to give him six or seven games if he doesn’t perform after two? Because the manager has got the fans on his back.

BfB: Talking of young players, what did you think of the reception Joe Colbeck received from some fans when he came back recently?

I think they forgot that Joe gave his all when he was here, he might not be the best player in the world but what Joe did give you was 100%. And I’ve always thought that Bradford fans always respected players who gave 100%. I always tell new players who come here that “You can be rubbish, but if you always give 100% these fans won’t slag you off.” So it is a bit disappointing that Joe has come back and got that. We seem to have problems with wingers getting stick don’t we? You go back to Summerbee and things like that.

BfB: If Peter comes up to you and says he wants to bring in a loan player for Saturday, in the back of your mind do you think “Why don’t you just play Leon?” (for example)?

Yeah I’d like that because it saves us all money (laughs), it means the budgets are easier! But if he turns round and wants one that’s his decision. We’re in talks with a loan player now.

(Note: Lawn then discusses negotiations with a loan player but doesn’t reveal who. We later discover, at the game that evening, that it is Jon Worthington).

In terms of negotiations for players, we usually take it in turns and Julian is working on this one. I normally get the awkward ones (laughs). I was the one who had to tell Martin Allen he’d didn’t get the job (laughs).

BfB: And on Martin Allen, how close did he come to getting it?

He was very impressive. His commitment (pauses) and if we’d have wanted a cheaper option – he didn’t want paying!  He’d got a pay off from Cheltenham until October, so he just said I’m already getting paid. So if we’d have wanted a cheaper option we could have taken Martin on.

BfB: Going back to the training facilities, do the club think they’re good enough for our aims of getting back to the Championship?

Well they will have to be, because we ain’t got the money to improve them unless we go into a joint venture with a private company. That’s what we’re trying to do. We might not be able to put up capital, but what we can do is rent the facilities off the company at a guaranteed rent for 10 years – so they’re getting a return on their investment. So that’s what we’re talking about doing and hopefully we can get that cracking.

We’re trying to make the facilities better for everybody, but let’s just turn round and state a few facts. Did you know Blackpool still take their training kit home and wash it? Did you know Rotherham take their training kit home and wash it and they don’t get fed? We’ve got a chef who cooks for them here (Valley Parade). And not only that, some of them have got dietary needs and some want a bit of fish and the chef looks after them. He spoils them!

So, I do expect a bit more out there than what we’re getting – considering what we’re putting in.

BfB: Much has been said about the affordable season tickets which are being offered once again for a fourth year.  Do the board feel that this has been a success? Is that success qualified in any way? Would anything result in the club moving back to the previous pricing policy?

It’s a difficult situation of where you balance it. We could do with more money, and surely the fans have got to realise that we’re doing it for them. What gets me is that (pauses) I mean I don’t read the websites, but people tell me what they’ve read – people saying “we should be charging more money.” So I think “well why doesn’t that person donate another £100?” No one is stopping anyone who is paying £150 from turning round and saying, “It’s too cheap; here you are, here is an extra £100.”  We don’t get any of that. So all those people who are saying we should be charging more, well pay more. We’re not stopping you from paying more.

We looked at this year in particular because of the recession and we thought, it’s going to be a tough year and a troubling year for people – everything’s going up, and people are going to be down. And you know what if you can still get to see a football match, you’ve got your ticket paid? I think that (the season ticket initiative) it’s a great idea.

I don’t think that Bradford City get enough credit from the Football League and the FA. We’re doing it, and no one is praising us. Four years we’ve done this, and not a single bit of praise from anybody. People turned around at first and said “you’ll never be able to keep it going.” Well we have kept it going.

The demographics in Bradford – it’s not the best paid here. So we’ve got to keep it reasonably priced.

BfB: So is the pricing a permanent thing?

As much as anything can be permanent. We’ve got to get prices up, but the Board still want to make football accessible. I think we’re still the only club who do under 11s free – everywhere else it’s under 7. And we don’t get any credit for that. We don’t win Family Club of the Year, Huddersfield do. And when they quote why they won that they say “under 7s go free” – and our under 11s are free. Maybe we don’t shout about it enough.

BfB: From an ethical point of view I believe the pricing policy to be utterly commendable – times are tough and City are helping people out for one, for two why should it cost two and a half times more to go watch football than it does to see a film? – but considering that ethical basis would the club consider extending the offer to include people who pay on the door and to include away supporters? If not, why not?

The away fans is something we’ve not thought of to be fair. They are getting in same price as our fans because of Football League rules. So if we did that we’d have to do walk ups (City fans who pay on the day) at that price as well.

Now to be fair we’ve said if you want to put your money there ahead it’s cheap, if you want to pay game-by-game and choose when you come or not, it’s a little bit more expensive. Because those people are subsidising the people who do buy cheap season tickets.

BfB: Do you get many fans who turn up on a game-by-game basis?

We get about 1,000. 1,000 when we’re not so good (laughs) and you can get 2,000 when we’re doing alright. I think we’ve got a fan-base, realistically in this league, of about 13,000-14,500. I think that would go up by 3 or 4,000 if we went up a league. And for some games, certainly, we’d be filling it if we were in the Championship. We play Leeds United – well they’d want 5,000 for a start.

BfB: Before you joined City, Julian agreed deals with Surridge and EMC to run the club shop and catering facilities respectively, are these deals proving financially-rewarding?

Absolutely brilliant – he stitched them up like a kipper! We’ve never taken as much money as we get from EMC, even when we were in the Premier League. We are having to renegotiate the deal with EMC this season, so they will continue but perhaps not as a good a rate going forward. What people need to realise is that the staffing levels, just to build and maintain facilities like that, is frightening. You can’t just get temporary staff in, you need a fair bit behind you.

BfB: Do you find there is a massive difference between what people perceive the problem is and what the problem actually is?

Well I was the same! Before I came on board, I didn’t realise what was involved with running a football club. It is very difficult, and there’s lots and lots of problems that you’ve got to sort. I used to think “why don’t they do this?” and then you come in and you understand why.

BfB: Any examples of that?

(Thinks for a few seconds). One of them was food for the footballers. I thought “bugger it; I’m a chef I will do that.” But you can’t because you’re too busy doing everything else! So you think there are roles that aren’t necessary, but they are when you get involved. It’s not as simple as you like to think.

BfB: Words like “failure” are banded about for most clubs in football – for Chelsea second in the Premier League is failure, for Aston Villa that would be success – and the term loses its meaning if it is not rigidly defined on a club-by-club basis. So what do the board consider to be a failure for Bradford City at present and what constitutes a success? Is there any middle ground between the two?

Well you have to have bite-sized chunks don’t you? And my first bite-sized chunk is that we’ve got to start finishing in the play offs. That’s got to be the minimum bite-sized chunk. Every season we don’t get into the play offs is, in my view, failure.

BfB: And then, does it get to the point where we finish in the play offs and that becomes acceptable or do we then say that’s not?

Not more than twice! I wouldn’t be happy losing in the play offs more than twice. If I was the Bury chairman, I wouldn’t be happy about losing in the play offs two or three times. I’d be starting to ask questions.

BfB: Which brings us onto the long-term. 18 months ago I was present at the VP Fans Forum where Mark you stated the club’s objective is to be in the Championship in five years. With only three-and-a-half years to go that vision may not occur in this time frame, but do you believe the club can still rise up the divisions in the next few years?

Well 18 months ago I put £1 million in and that was part of the thing that got blown (laughs). So, like with any aspect of business sometimes you’ve got to change your thinking. Look, our business plan is still to get there but our business plan has been curtailed by (pauses); I don’t want to speak ill of people, but we put a lot of money into this club and it didn’t work.

BfB: It’s almost like a snowball effect in that if we got one promotion we’d build momentum…

Yes I think so. If we got one promotion we’d get more fans. I think the base is there to bring more fans in. I think we’ve got a hardcore of around 7,500 fans – real hardcore. I think 7,500 would watch us if we were playing on Peel Park. And then I think we’ve got another 2-2,500 who are dependent on things like where we are in leagues. And I think we’ve probably got another 5,000-10,000 more fans where it depends where are in leagues, how we’re doing and whether they can pick and choose games they want to come to. I might be wrong but that’s where we are abouts.

BfB: Do things like the size of the fan-base come into it when we’re talking to people like Nike and EMC?

Without a doubt. When they see things like our season ticket sales for this year and next, it’s that sort of thing they want to get on board with. They realise that, if we can get up these leagues, they got a base there. You know Bradford City Football Club – and I’m not being derogatory to other football clubs here – Bradford City are a proper football club, that’s been starved of success. You’ve only got to turn around any look at what happened when we went to Wembley. If we could give the Bradford public success, I think they will come out and watch us. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

BfB: Is more outside investment needed to climb the leagues?

It’s a difficult situation that, because you look at other football clubs. Look at MK Dons, they got out of this league by having the biggest budget. I think there budget that year was £2.5 million.

BfB: That’s a lot for this level…

Well we had £1.9 million once, and we didn’t get out of this league. So is it the budget? Then you turn round and see Dagenham get promoted with a £750,000 budget. So is it the budget? I think it’s down to managers, I think you look at managers and it’s getting that right manager.

As for us, I don’t know if we’ve been kicked by Gypsies or something (laughs), whether we are cursed, but you look at what we’ve done. We’ve put in lots of money, we’ve brought in an established manager in Peter Taylor who has been a success at every single level that he’s been at – and certainly this level – and up to now it’s not worked.

I’m still not giving up on this season, there’s still a lot of games to be played. But what we do need to do realistically is go on a run of winning five games. We need 69-72 points by the end of the season, that’s what you need to get in that last play off position.

BfB: So you don’t see that more money is the only thing that will get us success?

Well more money often buys more success whereas more money for us didn’t buy success. It did buy MK Dons, it did buy Peterborough…

BfB: What about the lad Tom Cleverley? If he moves on from Man United do we get a similar kind of pay out to Fabian Delph?

Not quite as good. The one that’s good is if we get the lad from Liverpool (Andre Wisdom) – that’s better than the Delph. Knowing our luck he will probably play for Liverpool for the rest of his bloody life (laughs). Have a great career, and never move on!

BfB: Would we put that money straight into the playing budget?

Yes of course. This club needs to be in the Championship. In the Championship we survive and we survive well. That’s where we need to be. The overheads suddenly don’t become as bad because we need this type of stadium to survive. Everything works in the Championship, once we get into the Championship. So everything needs to be directed on getting players to get us into the Championship. Then when we get there, we can turn around and start looking at buying new facilities, etc.  First of all it’s how can we get out of these leagues?

BfB: What is your view on the way the non-league players have developed at the club? For example some people are calling David Syers player of the season…

Well let’s not call him player of the season because they always go then don’t they? (laughs). I think Syers has a long way to go but he’s got a lot of potential. He’s shown he’s got it if he can keep improving. I think that (James) Hanson needs to keep improving as well, but I think he can go on. I do think Hanson should be playing in the Championship. If he can keep learning from old pros and stuff. That is how to be a centre forward, I’m not talking about his lifestyle, but how to make the right runs, etc. If he can learn that I think he can play in the Championship. I think Steve Williams has also got the potential. There’s not been as much fuss about him like Hanson, but if he can learn as he makes the full transition he can go far.

One thing I would say is that the transition can be a problem, and this is where the PFA should be getting involved and helping. They have to quickly learn to become athletes, because they haven’t been brought up as pros. And perhaps this is a transition that maybe we could help better with – because it’s a big leap for them. It’s not just the training, but a matter of I’ve got to watch what I eat now, I’ve got to watch what I drink now, I’ve got to go to bed early. It’s that sort of thing that, at non-league level, they don’t really need to do. So perhaps we could do a little bit more for them.

BfB: No one doubts how hard you and Julian work and how much you have put into the club; it must be so frustrating for you to see the club continue to fail on the pitch despite your best efforts…

I have a lot of sleepless nights. When I bought into the club Julian shook my hand and said “Welcome to Bradford City, now you become an alcoholic insomniac!” I said to him “I think you’re joking” and then talked about my Driver Hire company which had a turnover of £75 million and 120 franchises – “You don’t think I can run a football club?!”

When we lost to Morecambe in the first season I rang Julian up the next day and said “I’m in the alcoholic-insomniacs club!” And I think it’s been like that ever since (laughs)!

BfB: But you do seem to enjoy it?

I have a passion for the club because I love the club. I’m probably the only Chairman in the Football League that has a tattoo of their football club on their arm. I had an argument with Peter Risdale at one of the Chairmen meetings, because I said “I can’t understand why, if you’re a Leeds fan, you’re at any other football club.” I would never be at any football club but Bradford City. It’s hard work, and I certainly ain’t here for the glory or money. I’m here because I’m a fan, so I didn’t understand him. He took exception to that!

BfB: It’s been really great to talk to you like this and I’m sure our readers will be delighted to have this opportunity to hear your views. As a final question, what are your favourite memories of supporting Bradford City over the years?

(Long pause) Oh the ones I can tell you (laughs). Darlington away (1969), I was nine-years-old. My sister took me on the coach. It was my first success. Then we had the bleak years didn’t we? I think everyone forgets that.

I’ve supported them since 1964, I think. My first game, Southend United I think it was. We won 3-0 and I thought that’s what always happens!

Also, Cambridge away (1984/85). Leaving my coat on the barbed wire so everyone could use it to get over onto the pitch! I ended up kissing John Hendrie, I don’t think he appreciated that! (laughs) I’ve known John and the players from then a while before and those lads aren’t as aloof as they are now. If you could get that spirit now – they used to be singing songs on the bus going home. And they mixed with the fans as they weren’t aloof. Maybe they’re under more pressure these days, I don’t know. Certainly there is more expectation on Bradford City players now than there was then.

But the best day of my life was Wolves (1999). I’ve got four girls and a boy and we took everyone down except for the wife. After the game they all just dived on me and I ended up in tears. The whole family was crying with joy. That’s something my wife is really upset about because she missed that, and it’s something that you can never take away from me. Pure joy between myself and children at that stage.

Wembley was good too, but I spent most of it throwing up in the toilet with nerves. Even though we battered them didn’t we? (Laughs) I didn’t really enjoy that one!

Post-amble

What is the perception of Mark Lawn? That he is a blunt man but a passionate one, perhaps? Perhaps that he is a Bradford City supporter first and a chairman second. Going into – and coming out of – an hour and a half conversation with the man these perceptions seemed confirmed.

He speaks as he sees it for sure and that may or may not be a good thing but few could doubt that his dedication for the club, and for bringing success to it. Talking to the man he seems as desperate and one might not agree with or appreciate way he is taking the club to try achieve that but not his commitment to, and his honesty about, wanting those achievements.

Moreover though talking to Lawn – the first contact that BfB has had with the club – there was a feeling of a man (or a group of men) isolated from a support with both sides entrenched into positions of opposition. There are plenty of brickbats thrown over the walls of Bradford City at Lawn and his fellow directors – we have thrown a few ourselves, and no doubt will again – but for all the things lobbed over the wall it seems that, if you try it, the door is open.

Anyone trying to enter with an idea, an inspiration, even a constructive criticism might be surprised at the welcome they get.

Talking to Mark Lawn: Part One

Mark Lawn sits opposite us and jokes “I’ll tell you what bits you can put in, I’ve worked with media before.

How did we get here?

There are reams of conversation around the people who write for BfB about Mark Lawn, and about Bradford City, but never any contact with the club. It is a kind of house rule going back to the days when Geoffrey Richmond ran the club with something akin to an iron fist and famously dismissed a long set of questions from the Internet Bantams with a series of one word replies.

So many questions too, none of which will be answered but all speculated on ad nauseum. The season stumbles from promotion hunt to relegation battle and the questions continue begging for answers which speculation and rumour will not provide.

Jason McKeown takes the plunge, contacts the club, asks for an hour of the joint chairmen’s time and we sit and wait. The wait goes on and we expect nothing but are wrong and, as the club suffer defeats on the field, an invitation is extended to us to go to Valley Parade Tuesday lunchtime.

Julian Rhodes would be attending but another meeting rules him out – that turns out to be the negotiations for the signing of Jon Worthington, or so we guess – but Mark Lawn is going to answer what we ask.

Overlooking the pitch

So there we are, in a suite overlooking the pitch, with the club chairman that we have criticised any number of times offering a welcome smile as we set about trying to set a few things straight.

Lawn is a funnier man that you expect him to be. He is welcoming although seems a little guarded at first before relaxes and answers all our questions in an honest and occasionally light hearted, occasionally sombre manner. One feels the weight of expectation hanging over the man as he talks, the knowledge that the expectations he has for the club are mirrored and magnified by supporters.

And so to the main event

BfB: What are your views on the season to date?

Not good enough, I would have expected us to be in the play-offs at least although we are not a million miles away but I have to say we have to do a lot better in the second half of the season.

BfB: It’s good to hear what your opinions are, because it seems to us that – over the last 12 months – you and Julian have kept a very low profile and haven’t communicated to supporters or the press as often as you have in the past. Is this a deliberate ploy?

No, no. That is basically because when I have done it, and when I came in I did get involved, and people treated me like garbage, you wonder why you should do it? I was talking to people and they were taking it out of context it. I spoke to Julian and he said “That’s what you get, you try be helpful, you put out and tell people what is happening and you get slagged off.” Eventually it just wears you down. It’s just worn me down.

BfB: Do you see a way that that position would change?

Don’t get me wrong I don’t want people to love me at all, but for people to mis-quote me and to do things like – I’ll give you an example – for people like (City Gent’s) Mike Harrison to slag me off by email saying I’m putting money into a restaurant in Baildon that I own, which I don’t own, I just bought as an investment property to pay rent. (Mike’s email) has been taken as gospel and then the rumour gets taken into all sort of stupid craziness. It frustrates you when people do that.

BfB: Geoffrey Richmond was “mouth on” all the time. Would you be more vocal if success came?

No, I would be if people stopped quoting me out of context when you tell them things that they don’t want to hear such as transfers in January (and the fact that there is no money for them). There are only two people who put the money in and we have done that for the last three years.

I’ve funded Stuart to the tune of £1m. That year (2008/2009) Stuart had the highest budget in the league and I took a gamble – with my money admittedly – I took a gamble and it did not work. So I think that the fact is now that I don’t have any more money to put in and we have to look at other ways to do that.

BfB: It has been rumoured relations with supporters groups – specifically the Bradford City Supporters Trust – are strained right now.

There is no strain with the supporters groups. I think they should be treated equally. The problem with the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust is that they think they should have a priority arrangement. I think you should treat all supporters clubs on a even keel, and they don’t like that.

BfB: What’s your view on the role this organisation – and supporters in general – have to play in the direction of Bradford City FC?

I only look at myself as a custodian of the football club. I’ve been a fan, Julian is a fan, we both look at it like that, just like supporters ourselves. I think supporters groups have as important a role as we do.

I’ve been trying to get Friends of Bradford City for ages, Gladys – everyone knows Gladys if you’ve been around the club for the last thirty years – earned £5,000 a year for the club selling raffle tickets. If you could get ten of them, that is the average wage for a player and we could put that on the pitch.

If I’ve got supporters who want to do that then they can assign it to something like “We want it for this player” – obviously they can’t say who, the manager has the choice on that and even I don’t get the choice on that, I just get a choice on the wages and that is not much of a choice, it is “That’s what you have to pay him if you want him.” I’m willing to do that and I’m quite willing to do that.

We have coming through the gates 9,000/10,000 – that is what “clicks” through – someone could be selling things out there. That would be raising funds for the club and it does make a difference. And you look at Lincoln City and Lincoln City Supporters’ Trust, they raised money to get a stand built.

Our supporters trust seems to be more interested in “Why haven’t we got a black on our kit?” which I don’t understand. To clarify everything there never was and never has been anything on the football kit for the fire. The fact that there was black on was that there was black on it and it was a fishwife’s tale and blah, blah why we did it.

When I came we put the ribbon on and the ribbon is always going to be on the kit, because I believe we should never forget, I was here for the fire and it affected my life. I don’t think we should ever forget it so that is why I wanted to make sure we and the ribbon which is on but the commemorative ribbon has always been claret, never black, because of the club’s colours but sometimes if you have a claret kit you have to (change it).

It depends on the manufacturer. The manufacturer is going to be Nike, I can tell you that because it is launching on Thursday, but with it being Nike we can only do “stock kits”. The fact that we can go on to Nike is because Arsenal have gone onto Nike and now they have the claret, so they can do us claret and amber.

BfB: What happens with the shop?

Nike take over. Well not Nike, Sports For All who are a subsidiary of Nike.

BfB: How do you keep in touch with the mood of supporters. Do you go on the official club message board?

No, I used to but stopped when I read about my family being slagging off. I’m a great believer that if some lawyers want to make some money they really want to chase message boards, and not just football, message boards in general because the libel on there is unbelievable. They would make a fortune.

BfB: There was a time when you stopped, was there an incident that made you do that?

Yes, when they started slagging off my kids, I won’t take that. The incident that upset me more than anything else was the Accrington Stanley one when they attacked my car and then someone started going on “What’s he moaning about, we played crap.” What does it mean? So you can attack a car and you have the right to damage someone’s property? To me they are just vermin, absolute vermin and I don’t care who they are if they want to come get their season ticket money back they can. If anyone thinks that is right, to attack property, well they are not Bradford City fans as far as I can see.

BfB: We have a problem being put in a position where if we disagree with something, and the next person agrees but adds “so I smashed up his car…” then we are put in a difficult position.

The problem you have, running a website, and I’ve had this out with Mike Harrison – and I don’t know if you know but City Gent castigated David Baldwin – who worked for nothing for six months and does not work for a lot now because I don’t pay that well, I concentrate on getting as much money onto the pitch as I can, and they turn around and slag him off. Now editorially he should not have printed that because it’s not right and I told him that David could sue him because it is you, as editor, who would be sued. If it is Punch then it’s not the person who wrote the letter who is sued, its Punch for printing the letter.

(Editor’s Note: this was certainly true in the case of BfB vs Rochdale where the crux of Rochdale FC’s complains were drawn from the comments including our publishing of comments written by Rochdale supporters which we had published)

You need to be careful with your editorial rights as to what you are doing because one of these days someone is going to come and sue. If The City Gent had done that about me I would have taken exception to it. I think it’s a disgrace, people should think about what they are saying.

I’ve not got a problem with anybody taking a contrary point of view. Football is a matter of debate. I think David Syers is great, you might think he is a lump of cheese, that is what happens. You might say “I don’t think they should have set on Peter Taylor”, I might say “I think he is the best thing that has ever happened.” It is contra-point of view is football and that is great but getting down to personally slagging people off and saying they don’t do the work then that is when they have to be held responsible.

BfB: How does the club run on a day to day basis?

The day to day running of the football club is done by myself, Julian (Rhodes) and David (Baldwin) really. Roger (Owen) comes in a couple of days a week to help out and the rest of the board is there to be used as a springboard for ideas and things. None of them live a million miles away and they all come to the games and we talk. We have a board meeting once a month where we go through things as well which is on Thursday.

BfB: It was stated at the beginning of the season that Peter Taylor was operating with an increased playing budget compared to the season before, yet to date City have not been able to improve on last year’s efforts and mount a stronger promotion challenge. What do you put this down to?

Well that’s a good one. Well, it’s the players isn’t it? Does anyone think that the players we did bring in, we should not have brought in? Jake Speight for example. We paid £25,000 for Jake, you look at what he did at Mansfield, you look at his background and you think “What a great player to bring in” and he has not done it for us.

Doherty has done it at every single club he has been at, he’s come in, and he has not done it for us at Bradford City has he? He’s not performed to his best. I’m sure the players would all turnaround and say that. Some of the players we have brought in have not performed to their best and don’t think that they are not capable of it.

You don’t make a bad player overnight, you don’t go to being that. So I think we just have to try to get the best out of them. We look on paper a very good squad but sometimes when we play we don’t look as if we have congealed at all.

BfB: Recent poor results have of course placed Peter Taylor under a lot of pressure from disgruntled supporters. A couple of weeks ago, you were quoted in the Telegraph & Argus stating you believed he was doing a good job and hinted a new contract could be in the pipeline. We appreciate you will be reluctant to talk about Taylor’s future publically, but where does the Board see the managerial situation for the rest of this season and the next?

It depends on where we are at the end of the season.

Peter Taylor knows exactly where we have to be. I’m not going to put that out in public because it would not be fair to Peter Taylor and would not be a professional thing to say but Peter knows exactly what he has to do to get another contract here.

BfB: Is that an automatic thing written into the contract or (is it discretionary)

It’s a year’s contract and before we offer any extension to that things have to be achieved, certain goals have to be achieved. There is nothing written into his contract.

BfB: Before he arrived did you have any thoughts about the style of football he plays?

Yes I did, and out of the whole board I was the last one to make my mind up. I watched the games and – after the Aldershot game which was 1-0, 2-0, and we had beaten them with Stuart (McCall) 5-0, and it was a different type of football but I believed it was a type of football which would get us out of this league.

So far it isn’t working but everyone knew when Peter Taylor was coming that we were not going to get smooth flowing attacking football, that’s not his style. He tends to like his two lines of four and then hit them on the break and it has worked very well for him everywhere he has been. He needs to sort it out here.

BfB: Back in October, before we went to Barnet there was significant national media speculation Taylor had to win or he would be sacked. Was there any truth in these reports, or was it more to do with the press needing a story during a blank weekend for the top flight?

I think you have to look at the whole season on its merits. I can tell you exactly what happened before the Barnet game the Thursday before the game Peter came up to me and said that there were rumours in the press that Barnet was his last game and I turned round to Peter and said “Peter, you will be in charge for Cheltenham. That is definite, you will be in charge.”

So he knew, never mind Barnet you go concentrate on Barnet and Cheltenham so he knew what he was doing.

BfB: Would you ever use an ultimatum as a way to manage in the short term?

We are all looking at a certain standard of where we have to be. Where we are at present is not good enough, Peter knows that, I don’t need to tell him he is an intelligent man.

BfB: How much conversation do you have with Peter on a daily basis? Because he is 58-years-old and perhaps doesn’t need the same hands on the last manager might have?

I think a lot of people have misread how I’ve ran my businesses and it’s come across that I interfere a lot. I expect people to manage and then if it’s going I wrong I’ll sit down with them and discuss it. I don’t interfere with my management structure and I never did with (Lawn’s previous company) Driver Hire.

I put people into manage and, if they weren’t doing their job, then I sit down with them and say “Look, it’s not working. How can we help you and how can we go about getting this right?” I think it’s always better to work with people and try and get them on board, and that’s what we did with Stuart.

We sat down and said “How can we help you Stuart?” We did that with Peter when he was struggling through a period and that’s where the loan signings came in. We let our managers manage. Maybe we shouldn’t after the last four years (laughs).

BfB: That’s certainly very different from Geoffrey (Richmond)…

I don’t think that’s the way to run a football club.

BfB: On Thursday January 8th, 2009 you said in an interview with Radio Leeds: “Bradford City have had enough turmoil and non-stability at this club” yet thirteen months later the club has offered a three month, and a year-long contract which would seem to offer anything but stability.

The club has not changed its position on stability. When Stuart left he was an ill man. But still in my mind he is a legend. It wasn’t nice seeing what Stuart had to go through. And I think if anything Stuart was too near to the job and it hurt him too much, if that’s possible.

The reason that we’ve asked Peter Taylor to do a year is because we can only afford him for a year unless we have success.

BfB: So the club still follows a policy of stability for the long-term?

I’d love to get a Keith Hill. Everyone out there is looking for a (Rochdale manager) Keith Hill. And also, in not so much the same vein, (Bury manager) Alan Knill. People who consistently get into play offs on similar budgets or even smaller budgets. Look at (Dagenham & Redbridge Manager) John Still, when you look at when Dagenham & Redbridge got promoted his budget was only £750,000.

BfB: And how did our budget compare?

Ours was a lot more, certainly over double that.

BfB: How do you feel when you read someone like Paul McLaren saying “I’m a better player than I showed at Bradford”, but not offering to pay any of his wages back? Does that frustrate you?

You’ve got to appreciate that he’s probably said that for the fans. A lot of players, certainly ones who have been around a bit, know how to work the fans. And his comments were perhaps aimed at saying “It’s wonderful at Oxford” and that “it wasn’t wonderful at Bradford” and perhaps that’s a little bit of PR.

BfB: Simon Parker recently hinted that if the club fail to earn promotion this season the wage budget will be trimmed during the summer. Is this likely to be the case and, if so, are we set to see a repeat of two years ago where high earners are shipped out and the manager struggles to afford new players?

The plan for the summer is to stay within budget and do whatever we need to do to stay in budget. I don’t want this football club to go through administration again and that would be the last possible thing. I’m not going to say that will happen again but you never know, and I’ve got to say that, looking at this stadium, how would we afford it if we dropped into non-league?

But what I can say to Bradford City fans is that I will make sure this club always stays alive, and that is one thing that I will always do. But to do that it means I can’t be throwing money around and we’ve got to live within our means.

BfB: Estimated at costing over a million pounds a season before a ball is kicked Valley Parade is seen by some as crippling the club financially and being the most significant block in the way of the club going forward. How important do the board of feel the effect of the cost of Valley Parade is? What is being done to address this situation? (If considered important) To the board believe that City can achieve any of its aims with the current financial drag of renting the ground?

The running costs are about £1.3 million now. But in terms of the future it’s really gone fairly quiet now, because we don’t know what’s happening with Odsal. No one knows what’s happening with Odsal. And even if we did go to Odsal, it’s got to be better fiscally for Bradford City.

And although it’s a big stadium, fiscally sharing the revenue of things like the sponsors names might not be better, so we’ve got to make sure that if we go to Odsal at any stage it would be only because it would be fiscally better.

BfB: What about (Valley Parade Landlord) Gordon Gibb?

He’s overvalued the ground. And right now he’s getting about a 15% return on his investment every year. You tell me where you can get that, with a 25-year guarantee?

BfB: Do you think Gordon Gibb gets away with it in terms of the public attention? I mean Julian Rhodes gets flak for it. You take flak for not being able to do anything about it and Gibb sits there as if he hasn’t bought into a club and taken its biggest asset…

I would say that we have offered Gordon Gibb a fair return to buy it back. If he was a Bradford City fan, he would have let it go at what we’re offering, because he was going to make a good profit on the figures that we offered him. I can’t quote the figures but he wanted nearly double what we offered.

BfB: BfB reader Luke Bottomley recently told the site that he wrote to Gordon Gibb about the VP situation a year ago and was told an independent valuation of the stadium had been carried out (post-recession) and the ground is available at that price and that the City Board had been offered the asset on that basis when they had recently enquired…

Course we would, but practically speaking he wants (figure withheld) for it, not a penny less. How are we going to raise that?

BfB: If we were to move to Odsal, there’s the 25-year VP lease to think about.

We could not afford to break the lease without going into administration, unless we could purchase our way out of the lease. We don’t know what he wants for it (the lease). We’ve not spoken about it. Until we go to Odsal or are going to go to Odsal there’s no point in talking to him about it.

Certainly we would have to dispense with the lease and dispending with the lease means administration, which I wouldn’t like to do. But (pauses) I’m not counting it out, but turning around and buying him out of the lease is an option.

If we went into administration and moved out of here, the rates here are £130,000 a year. So he loses his rent and he’d have to pay the rates. And technically he doesn’t own anything inside the stadium because we own the fixtures.

BfB: Speaking of this and remembering Geoffrey Richmond leasing all the facilities inside Valley Parade. When he was unveiling Carbone at a press conference at the same time, did you trust him?

No! (laughs) Whenever I shook his hand, I always checked how many fingers I had left (laughs). I didn’t buy his 25-year season ticket, but I’ve been a fan for 40 years. I didn’t trust him with that amount of money. No I didn’t trust him. If I ever would have had to come across him in business back then, even a small amount of business, I wouldn’t have trusted him.

BfB: So what’s your opinion on him doing things like leasing back the fixtures and fittings like he did?

I suppose it depends what you do with the money. I wouldn’t say I’d never do it, but if I’d be doing it I’d have invested the money back into the team. But I wasn’t involved at that stage, so I don’t know where the money from the carpets etc went.

BfB: They were strange times to have supported the club through.

I would have thought so too! Because literally, when the club first went into administration they owned nothing. If he (Richmond) could have leased the paint on the wall I think he would have done! There was nothing they owned.

BfB: Strikes us as a very different set up now compared to then, that the club operates at a different level.

Well I’m a Bradford City fan. Geoffrey Richmond was a businessman who had come in to run it as business. I try to run the club as a business so I can make profit which I can put onto the pitch.

BfB: We are now, as we understand it, currently in the black – apart from loans to you?

We have an overdraft, a small overdraft facility.

BfB: Is it still the case that we are in the black?

Yes, but it depends on budgets this year and how it pans out. We struggling to put bums on seats which, you know, the results we’re getting ain’t good. So we need to be putting bums on seats. Now I’m sure you’ll now get comments on your website now saying “Sack Taylor” as though that’s the answer.

But I tell you, I would love for some of the people who say this to come in and run the club for a week to see what it’s like. Because they’d lose more hair than I do! And pay for the privilege of coming in. All that me and Julian get for running this football club is our mobile phones, and we pay the bills on them. We even pay our own petrol money to away games. I don’t get any wages, none of the directors get wages. There’s only David (Baldwin) who gets an income out of it, and it’s not a lot compared to what people in other companies in his place get. And that’s just because he’s got to put bread on table. So you’re quite lucky that you’ve got fans running this club.

BfB: Is there a lack of appreciation of the fact that the board are supporters?

My health has deteriorated since I bought this club. If I wanted to live longer, then I wouldn’t be involved. It is not easy running a football club but I’m not looking for sympathy from anybody, I chose it and I’m here but I look at what I’ve done at this club as failure, so far, and I’ve never failed at any club I’ve been in so I’m going to work harder to make sure this club gets some success, because the only way I know about business is that you work harder. I’ve never known any business when, if it is going wrong, you work less.

End of part one…

Next time, dear reader, Lawn talks about training facilities, season ticket prices, about how Julian Rhodes did running the club and about how much enjoyment he gets out of Bradford City.

The unsolvable conundrum

From the moment the first ball was kicked at Shrewsbury back in August, finding the balance is proving an unsolvable conundrum for Bradford City manager Peter Taylor – and it’s badly unhinging the Bantams’ promotion efforts.

Is it best to take a more attacking approach to matches, committing men forward and asking questions of opposition defences – or should City be more conservative-natured and concentrate on becoming difficult to beat? City are so far proving pretty poor in both areas. Goalscoring has been a problem all season, which suggests they need to be more attack-minded, but defensive instability – just three clean sheets on the road all year – is easily exposed when gaps appear at the back.

Having gained little success from a defensive focus at Oxford and Aldershot, Taylor tonight shifted emphasis back onto attacking by lining up Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne in a three-man forward line with James Hanson. And in the first 10 minutes, where City were on top and attacking the opposition penalty area with a frequency not seen in the previous two games combined, all signs pointed to it proving a success. Crewe looked hemmed in, and Evans and Osborne kept switching flanks and finding joy by running at the opposition full backs.

But it was a false sense of security and, once Crewe settled down and got into their stride, the lack of balance in City’s approach was all too easily exposed. Again.

Crewe took the lead from their first meaningful attack on 15 minutes after Bradford-born Clayton Donaldson got free of his marker and tapped home Shaun Miller’s low cross; but it was the home side’s build up play and comfortableness on and off the ball that was already making a significant impact – and would prove the difference on the night. As promising as City looked going forward initially, the lack of balance it caused elsewhere proved their undoing.

When City had the ball Crewe appeared happy to drop back and wait before exerting pressure on the man in possession. Once City’s over-eagerness to forge a chance saw the move break down – usually through playing the ball to someone not in space – Crewe would pounce and suddenly come alive. The front two of Donaldson and Miller were outstanding in reading each others’ runs and, as red shirts piled forwards, City were easily outnumbered. Evans and Osborne failed or were never asked to track back, and so Crewe always had an extra man in space they could work the ball too. They were exceptional at passing the ball around at varying tempos, and City were chasing shadows.

Jon Worthington, signed on loan earlier the day with Lee Bullock ruled out for the season, looked to pull the strings in the middle and produced some excellent passes at times. But the middle three of he, David Syers and Tom Adeyemi were badly out-gunned. Meanwhile full backs Richard Eckersley and Luke O’Brien were doubled up on and struggled to get forwards when City did have the ball. Numerous chances were created and largely spurned by Crewe – though Jon McLaughlin did make one excellent one-on-one save – and a rout looked possible.

Somewhat surprisingly, City did equalise six minutes before half time after Adeyemi rolled a free kick for O’Brien to cross and Syers to knock across the face of goal, leaving Shane Duff to head home his first goal for City. And though it was undeserved, the fact the Bantams were level offered an opportunity to get something from a difficult night – well, for 30 seconds at least.

Crewe kicked off, City roared forwards but then lost the ball. A long clearance down the pitch should have been cut out by Luke Oliver, but instead he seemed to switch off and suddenly the superb Bryon Moore was clear on goal and finished well past McLaughlin.

Crewe were simply too good for City – the best League Two team this writer has seen so far this season – but the obvious frustration in the visitors almost acted as a leveller before half time. Evans was very late in a challenge, prompting a booking from the referee Kevin Wright and obvious anger from Crewe. Seconds later a strong tackle from Worthington resulted in a flare-up that caused Wright to send off Donaldson for apparently head-butting Syers. No longer could Crewe enjoy the advantage of seemingly having a spare man always available  – City had 45 minutes to make their extra man count.

Although it was almost 10 v 10. As the game recommenced following Donaldson’s exit, O’Brien went in strongly in the tackle prompting further outrage from Crewe. Wright, perhaps lost in the moment, mixed up the blonde-haired full back with Evans and issued a second yellow. Uproar followed and, after realising his error, Wright took back the red for Evans and booked O’Brien. On a day where a media pack was expected at Gresty Road in view of female referee Sian Massey having been scheduled to run the line, it was a major embarrassment for the official. “We want our woman back!” was the chant in the away stand.

City looked more purposeful in the second half. Omar Daley and Jake Speight were introduced from the bench, and with a numerical advantage to attempt to maximize Taylor opted for a bold 4-2-4 formation that saw City enjoy more possession and territorial advantage but, crucially, struggle to create meaningful chances. Indeed home keeper Steve Phillips only had to make one notable save, when the utterly-dreadful Speight suddenly had a clear sight of goal but shot tamely. Syers also had a great opportunity one-on-one, but panicked and sliced wide.

Flynn made his grand return from the bench as City pushed more and more players up the pitch, but the threat of the counter attack remained and Moore almost wrapped up the game after forcing a good save from McLaughlin. A half chance for Flynn saw him volley wide, but this was no night for City fairytales. Twice deep in stoppage time Adeyemi, who had a good game otherwise, blew opportunities to set up chances. City huffed and puffed and can’t be criticised for lack of effort. The boos from some away fans at full time were harsh.

But all is clearly far from well and Crewe’s performance was a stark measurement of just how far from promotion challengers City are. The Bantams tried to do the right things in the second half and worked the ball back and forth, but when not in possession too many players lack the intelligence and awareness to make runs and find space to help team mates. The contrast was so notable when Crewe had the ball, as the movement of home players pulled City apart.

Four straight defeats and the gap to the play offs is now larger than it has been all season. With a trip to leaders Chesterfield on Saturday it looks set to get worse before it gets better. Taylor is back to the drawing board of finding a way for City to be more effective offensively and boost the goals for column – without leaving the huge gaps in midfield that Crewe were able to exploit so effectively. But despite raised hopes along the way it is a problem he appears no nearer to solving than he was when Shrewsbury ripped City apart on day one.

Taylor’s future as Bradford City manager beyond May is in major doubt. At best, he is currently wavering on an ever-thinning tightrope – and, as we’ve seen all season, balance does not seem to be his strong point.

Schrödinger’s 442

The Burton Albion game which did not happen has provided Bradford City supporters with at least as much discussion as they could have hoped for had the match gone ahead.

At five o’clock with the game finished one might have imagined talking about how good it was to get a win, how unsatisfactory a draw was, what to do next in defeat and all those things would have been on the basis of the ninety minutes which proceeded it. The lack of a game and – apart from much talk of why the game did not occur – meant that Peter Taylor’s team could not attempt to break the three game losing streak. With tonight’s trip to Crewe not offering anything like an easy three points and Saturday giving City a trip to league leaders Chesterfield the lack of match today could conceivably see City get zero of fifteen points.

Personal low expectations aside for a moment even a promotion challenger would only expect a return of seven but nothing from nine, and going forward to two tough away trips, reads worse than the season suggests. City have been getting 1.2 points a game – maths would have pointed to City getting something from the Burton match.

Peter Taylor’s future thus becomes a Schrödinger cat of a problem. The manager is – at the moment and for the next few weeks – going to be judged on a recent form that is based largely on away trips and the performance against Burton is not so much a win or a defeat but both these things, or none of them, depending on your thoughts on Objective collapse theories.

It is hard to say if Quantum mechanics will play on the mind of Mark Lawn as he ponders the future of his manager and the club. Certainly if six points could be mustered from these two tough away games then one could expect a play off place to be – once again – talked about and two defeats will have people looking nervously at the bottom of the league table.

Taylor takes something of a level headed view of proceedings as one might expect. When approached by Newcastle United he made it clear that he considered it it a matter of professional pride that he try see through the job he started at Valley Parade showing his commitment to the club and the limits on that. In the opposite dug out to Taylor will be Dario Grady who’s connection with Crewe goes back a quarter of a century, Taylor will probably celebrate a single year at VP.

Jon McLaughlin is expected to keep his place in the side despite Lenny Pidgeley returning to fitness with the back four of Richard Ekersley, Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Robbie Threlfall set in stone by Steve Williams injury and Rob Kiernan returning to Watford.

The midfield offers more flexibility perhaps with Tommy Doherty ready to play on Saturday despite injury and Michael Flynn reportedly set to come back. Lee Bullock is out and a three of David Syers, one of Flynn or Doherty and Tom Adeyemi seems possible, especially with Luke O’Brien and Gareth Evans on the flanks – Omar Daley stepping down to the bench. James Hanson as the lone forward man.

Or it could all be totally different. That is the thing about Taylor. Considered a better manager than he predecessor by some even now, but considered an enemy of football by others he is both alive and dead. Schrödinger’s football manager.

Peter Taylor Nil

M.O.D. Aldershot and this is my closest game so I’ve brought some of the lads and in the first minute I wish I had not. I’m not a football expert but I know that teams have got to play better than this if they are going to win matches and watching the last two games for the Bantams (The other one being the 2-1 defeat at Oxford) I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It is like a City team that don’t want to do anything.

They don’t want to pass the ball, they don’t want to take shots at goal. They don’t want to tackle, they don’t want to get in the way of the ball. They don’t seem to fancy the job of being professional footballers that much. You could pick out the odd good move and nice ball or something but what is the point of that? Tom Ademeyi missed a good chance early on and you knew that there was nothing coming after that. Dave Syers looks good, James Hanson looks good, some player look good but that is not really the point. Jon McLaughlin was back in for Lenny Pidgeley but when was the last time a team turned its fortunes around by changing goaly?

Maybe it is what we do down here but for me football matches are all about the unit, the team, and good and bad doesn’t even really come into it when talking about the players because when the unit fails the individuals fail. End of story.

Likewise a unit makes a solider (or a footballer) better. Leon Osbourne came on after twenty minutes for Lee Bullock and looks like a matchstick man wandering around a field but it is the unit’s fault that they do not cope with the change, and it is the unit’s fault that they do not support the weaker players and pull their level of performance up.

Stuart McCall used to do that as a player. McCall would not let one of his team mates have a bad game, and if he was, Macca would be geeing him up and pulling him through. A real leader which is what that City team lacks, but not that only thing.

With a new manager in Dean Holdsworth Aldershot had a little bit of a buzz about them but they did not lay siege to City’s goal or send waves of attacks at us they just seemed to win the game by default. They turned up, and won, and we did not turn up. Victory was not even difficult for them. Ben Harding looked impressive for them but no more impressive than the odd City player did. The point I’m trying to make is that they were allowed to coast to victory.

Trying to remember the better moments and there is hardly anything to talk of. Robbie Threlfall has a free kick, maybe, but mostly it was City defending and the only goal of the game by Anthony Charles never looked like being clawed back. The players did not want it enough, because they didn’t want to work together. I don’t know what goes on in the dressing room at City but I can’t imagine it is a very happy place because the players have no collective work ethic at all. Osbourne or Daley lose the ball and the rest of the players seem to look at them rather than trying to win it back.

It is eleven footballers and not one unit, and that is the fault of the man in charge, and requires a change in that man in charge regardless of where they train or whatever. A leader’s job, and Peter Taylor is the leader of the unit, is to create a dynamic in which the whole is more than the sum of the parts and in the year he has been in charge I have never seen City play like that.

A view is taken on if the situation will improve without a change, I don’t think it will, and so a change needs to be made either now or in the Summer when Peter Taylor’s contract is up. Mark Lawn will do whatever makes him most popular and so I’d be expecting a change sooner rather than later.

So another very depressing evening watching City. Everyone has their own thing they want from the team. Some people want great players and some want blood and guts. Me, I want to see a team that play as a team and in the last year Taylor’s not been able to do that and as the players wandered off heads down not one of them within five foot of a team mate it showed. There was some footballers on the pitch, but no team.

It was not so much Aldershot 1 City 0 as Aldershot 1 Jon McLaughlin 0 Richard Eckersley 0 Shane Duff 0 Luke Oliver 0 Robbie Threlfall 0 Omar Daley0 Tom Adeyemi 0 Lee Bullock 0 David Syers 0 Luke O’Brien 0 James Hanson 0 Leon Osbourne 0 Gareth Evans 0 Mark Cullen 0.

And Peter Taylor 0.

Not a must win for Peter Taylor, but a must win

Another week another must win game comes around for Peter Taylor as calls for the manager to be shoved out of the Valley Parade door reach a crescendo. The most moderate City supporters can see no future under his management fearing his success sapping the enjoyment out of Valley Parade as much as his failure seeing the club go nowhere.

Taylor’s remit on arrival at City in March was very much about results and not performance with the previous manager’s teams being good to watch but ultimately not getting the results craved. Enjoyment is an emotion and not twelve months ago the talk was that it was not possible to keep a manager on emotion.

So results were all that mattered, and always were, and without any indication that there is any reason to hope that the manager who follows the current boss would be more successful. Mark Lawn has let it be known that he thinks (or thought, two weeks ago) that Peter Taylor is doing a good job at City. Peter Taylor is Lawn’s choice after not only a selection process but also an unprecedented three month probationary period in which the performances were no different than they have been this season.

Mark Lawn knows the inside of the club better than most of us and he says that Peter Taylor is doing a good job on the basis that – one assumes – he knows the conditions he is working under.

Ultimately Taylor is a hired hand at City and truth be told probably cares little for the club over and above his professional approach being tied into the success. There is no reason why he should. The last manager adored Bradford City and that point was oft used as a stick to beat him with.

So while the rearranged trip to Aldershot is a “must win” for Peter Taylor one has to wonder how much he will be upset by the outcome. City will struggle to get promotion this season from the position we find ourselves in (although hope springs eternal) and Taylor will no doubt not have his contract renewed but as he exits one doubts he will look over his shoulder with much regret – he asked for things to get the club promoted, was promised them, and they were not delivered – although his exit would probably see more problems for Mark Lawn.

Financially backing Peter Taylor has cost Lawn in the pocket for sure but the recruitment of the manager and trumpeting of the team as favourites for the division – to the stage where weight was thrown around at people who dared suggest City might be 8th this term – questions his judgement and fitness to find another manager.

“Let me slaughter your idol, and as a reward I shall bring you your heart’s desire.”

There is an almost Faustian deal that has been broken between Mark Lawn and Bradford City supporters. This writer made no secret of his desire to see Stuart McCall remain at the club and few would argue that this season would have been any worse but it seems that the promise of improvement – promotion no less – was the inducement which was offered to Bantams fans in exchange for McCall’s exit.

Not overtly, not bindingly, but that was the mood in the air and in the courts of the minds of Bradford City supporters Lawn is charged with breaking that promise. He got what he wanted, the new manager and the chance to preen in the local paper talking about professionalism and promotion and what did the fans who backed him in this “improvement” end up with?

A six-two-two formation and Mark Cullen

Picking Peter Taylor’s team is more tarot reading and not once has BfB been able to get it correct this year. The manager picks the team he feels will do best – I have no axe to grind with him on his team changes and recall previous managers being criticised for not changing their starting eleven – and in the last two games it seems to have failed to do so.

Changed are expected with Tommy Doherty waiting for a recall in the midfield over Lee Bullock and the attacking trio of James Hanson, Jake Speight and Gareth Evans all hoping for a place in the side.

I would expect Peter Taylor to keep the back four of Richard Eckersley, Shane Duff, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall with Luke O’Brien ahead on the left hand side of a five with Gareth Evans on the other flank and Tom Adeyemi, Doherty and Lee Bullock with James Hanson up front, or perhaps Speight. Honestly, it is just guess work.

But not a “must win” for Taylor. What is the worst that happens if he loses? Even if he were fired tomorrow he would walk away with a year’s money and look back and say with a great deal of honesty that he told the board what he needed to make City successful and those things were promised but not delivered.

Increasingly though these games are “must wins” for Mark Lawn. A report in the T&A in Saturday pre-emptively highlighted the idea that there is no one else to invest in City and questions about the joint chairman and how his actions in the last year have improved the club – indeed some would ask if they had not sent the club backwards – are increasing.

Some winning would be a good defence against that.

I found Robbie Threlfall’s leg in my garden…

…seriously I did.

It was laying there, dismembered, on the grass near the two stone frogs named George and Geraldine after two especially repulsive girls I knew at University. It had one of his boots at the end of it too and his City sock.

This is not the first time this has happened. One time I wandered in the garden and found a bit of Bruno Rodriguez next to the thin, white reeds I try call Daffodils. It was in that location where I found the thigh of Bobby Petta, one of Owen Morrison’s arms, and that reliable right foot of Paul McLaren.

I doubt I’m alone in this problem, the finding of parts of Bradford City footballers in my suburban environment, because it seems clear that limbs must be falling off the members of our squad at an alarming rate.

Threlfall’s leg falling off is probably the reason why now he is a part of a Bradford City team which is “not good enough.”

When Threlfall arrived from Liverpool he was something of a revelation. He played the ball with a sweet left foot delivering a quality cross and scoring free kicks. There was a comment on this very website from someone who said that it would be great to sign Robbie Threlfall but he probably would not come because he was simply too good, and someone else would get him.

At the start of the season Julian Rhodes noted that the board had had to put more money into the club because “players like Tommy Doherty don’t come cheap” – Doherty’s beard might be in my shrubbery along with other vital parts of him – but nevertheless those players did come to Valley Parade and were considered good enough then.

And let us not mince words here. When they were putting five past Oxford they were good enough but on the back of a 2-1 defeat to the same team they are condemned so either bits of them have fallen off – laying in my garden – or the players have not changed at all.

Changed physically that is. Robbie Threlfall’s leg has not fallen off and I did not find it in my garden but there is a difference between the player who surged into the 3-1 win over Rochdale and the one who seemed ineffectual on Saturday.

The same can be said all over the field where poor performances were observed. In almost every case the player who is being dubbed as “not good enough” has moments one can pick out where he excelled. Springing quickly to mind come Gareth Evans and Northampton last season, or Omar Daley and Rotherham, Luke Oliver against Bury.

The players can play well, they have not changed physically, so the same high levels of performance can be reached again.

Who is to blame for this situation? The players, or so we after often told these days, although it must be said that under Stuart McCall it was (according to many people) the manager’s failing that performances slipped. While City sat 17th in the division this season BfB got an mail from someone asserting that we recognise that Peter Taylor is a “better manager” than his predecessor and perhaps in that way he is. If the art of good management is making sure someone else takes the blame?

The players have not changed physically but the same cannot be said for their mental states in which poor performances, brittle confidence and a lack of belief seem prominent.

My belief is that football is mostly a mental game. Once players are fit and trained – and these things are by no means assured at Bradford City with the club incapable of practising set plays of late because of the flooded training ground – then the difference between a Premier League player and someone in the middle of the lower leagues is pretty much in the mind. Is Gary Taylor-Fletcher the guy who scored the winner over Liverpool in the week for Blackpool or a struggling Lincoln City forward? I would suggest that he is both, depending on what he believes.

Who is enfranchised by the club to be in charge of the mentality of the players, to build the belief in them? The manager.

Famously when City beat Everton 3-2 in the FA Cup Chris Kamara told his players that Chris Waddle would be the best player on the pitch on both sides. It was a mental trick to tell the ten other players in claret and amber that they could get stuck into the eleven in blue and it worked. If Andy O’Brien could tackle Waddle in training, he could have Kanchelskis in the game.

Not that the manager is allowed to carry out this task of belief building in isolation. Internally he asks for what he needs to help build that belief – proper facilities, overnight stays, suits – and gets some but not others and one can only imagine the results of that on the squad.

(From personal experience as a contract worker if I arrive to an office and find a shiny iMac with CS5 waiting for me I know the company means business, if I find a sagging 486 with Photoshop 8 on it I’m hit by the idea that they might not be on top of their game.)

Externally the forces that press on a team are less the lower down the leagues are less – a Premier League manager at someone other than “the big four” has to cope with his players watching Sky Sports News and being told that they are rubbish compared to someone Manchester City have just signed – but still there are forces that seek to distract the player’s mind and pollute the core message the manager tries to drum into them.

“You are as good as you play, and you control how well you play.”

Play well, you are good enough. Put less than 100% in, lack discipline in your approach to the game and to the game itself, do not believe in yourself and your team mates then you are not.

You are as good as you play and so you control if you are “good enough.” The reason I like Peter Taylor as a manager is because he seems to understand the requirement for building this belief even if he has not achieved it as yet.

I did not find Robbie Threlfall’s leg in my garden because it is where it always has been, attached to the same body that impressed all against Rochdale. That his performance levels have changed a mental shift which can be shifted back.

I simply do not believe in the idea that players stop being “good enough” or that the vast majority of players who have pulled on a City shirt could not have been “good enough” had they had had the belief instilled in them.

The current players are good enough and it is up to the club – Peter Taylor for sure but not just Peter Taylor – to get the best out of them.

The sad truth

It goes against how I believe any football manager should be treated – I know they should get, and deserve, far more time than this – and his predecessors have received greater support and commitment from me in similar circumstances.

But I’m afraid I can’t do it this time…

I don’t want Peter Taylor to be our manager anymore.

Two straight defeats have undone the excellent work of beginning the year with back-to-back wins. City have twice climbed to the cusp of the play offs this season, on both occasions after they had beaten Bury 1-0. However a lack of consistency and the hindrance of starting the campaign so badly leaves the team seemingly unable to take that next step and elevate themselves from play off hopefuls to play off contenders. It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year.

And I can live with that, really I can. Years of disappointment mean you have to learn to accept failure or find something else other than Bradford City to care about. So I don’t believe Taylor should leave Valley Parade because he is failing to deliver success in his first full season – in time I think he would get this club promoted, just look at his track record – it’s something deeper than that.

I’m sick and fed up of the horrible style of football we’re enduring under Taylor.

I didn’t go to Oxford, so I’m not in a position to criticise the 13th league defeat of the season. But listening to Derm Tanner and Mike Harrison commentating on the game for Radio Leeds, a feeling of embarrassment and despair grew inside me that I can no longer dismiss. It was obvious that, once again, City possessed no greater ambition than to defend deep and nick a goal. Indeed Taylor’s post-match interview admission that he’d played Omar Daley and Mark Cullen up front so the team could counter-attack – rather than speaking of a more positive game plan – was depressingly familiar. We’ve played this way so often this campaign.

And his approach is unlikely to change. In October and November we saw City playing some excellent football, but when a few close games subsequently went against us the attacking style that had turned around the campaign was reined back again. Entertainment and excitement has been largely lacking all season.

That matters a great deal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am desperate for my football club to achieve promotion and to escape this division. I want us to climb back up the leagues and, ultimately, re-establish ourselves as a Championship club. I especially want to see City earn a promotion via Wembley and all the excitement that brings. I want to see larger Valley Parade crowds roaring on the team, and for that feeling that we belong in the division we are part of to return – rather than this current unsatisfying state of considering ourselves superior to our league opponents.

But more than anything, I want to enjoy watching City. Supporting Bradford City has never been about glory, and as overdue as some success now is such great moments can’t last forever and the regular week-to-week experience has to be enjoyed not endured.

That’s why I ultimately don’t want Taylor to manage my club – because the style we play and the enjoyment factor is, to me, perhaps more important than the league table.  I’m probably in a minority for thinking this way – football is all about results and, if City were winning most weeks from this style of football, few of us would be complaining. But as I listened to City apparently stick 11 men behind the ball at Oxford and be 11 minutes away from winning, I knew that even if we’d have held out I would not have felt happy about the three points.

I guess I just don’t want it this way.

Taylor can take City to League One in time, heck he can take us to the Championship eventually. But if the journey there is going to feel this underwhelming and tedious, I’d rather we stopped and dug out the map to find a different route. I want to love watching City again, like I have felt for many years even during difficult times. That desire to go to games as often as possible remains for me – starting with Burton home on Saturday, I’ll be attending all five of City’s matches that will take place in that next fortnight – but these days watching the Bantams is more of a routine than an escape. It’s supposed to be the opposite way round.

All of which leaves me feeling and looking a little foolish. For much of the last 11 months I have argued Taylor should have been awarded longer contracts than the club were willing to provide. Yet if they’d have acted on my views, dismissing Taylor now would prove a costlier exercise. All I can say is that the principle of giving managers time to deliver success is, to me, absolutely the right one to uphold. Over the last year the club has focused too much on the short-term and, 13 months on from throwing away the longer-term building work of Stuart McCall, it hasn’t got us any further. It’s time to stop making each season promotion or bust; we have to give the manager – Taylor or whoever – time to get it right.

So if you want Taylor to be sacked because of the current league table, I can’t agree with you. Sure the poor results point to a poor manager, but after a decade of utter failure it should be obvious there are no quick fixes and overnight success was always unlikely to occur. Equally I don’t believe sacking Taylor will improve results and enhance our promotion prospects, it will most likely mean taking a step back initially. It’s just I’d rather take that step back and then move forwards if it means we don’t have to endure football as dismal to watch as it has been for most of this season.

Despite my views, I won’t be leading the cries of ‘Taylor out’. In fact if that chant is aired on Saturday it’s unlikely I’d join in. Match day should be a time for positive support, no matter how difficult that often can be to muster. My personal views are less important than the efforts of the team to win, and I wouldn’t want to undermine that effort for my own selfish reasons.

But unless Taylor returns to the more positive attacking football that we’ve seen in the past – for which he’d quickly receive back my full support , even if results aren’t transformed – I fancy I’ll raise a smile if or when he leaves the club. After so much tedium this season, it will make a rare change.

Withdrawing the question as City lose meekly to Oxford

Since the earliest days of Peter Taylor’s managerial career at Bradford City, I have been asking questions about the respective priorities of winning and entertaining. The game at the Kassam stadium provided the definitive answer to those questions and I shall ask no more.

Those among the travelling band – and there were a good number who made the long journey – will also know the answer. For those who weren’t first hand witnesses, please bear with me while I give some brief details of how the latest defeat panned out.

Before kick off there was the familiar sight of a changed City team. Hanson and Evans could only make the bench; Cullen made his first start; and Luke O’Brien moved forward to make room for Robbie Threlfall at left back. It looked like a fairly orthodox 4-4-2, with Cullen and Daley as the front two. So City wouldn’t be hitting any high balls up front, would they?

The Kassam could have been built anywhere – and it was. It is probably the only ground in the league which you approach from a science park. We kept being told that it would be 11 or 12 degrees during the game and maybe it was. But the wind blowing straight into the faces of the visiting supporters still felt remarkably cold and was to feel ever chillier as the game wore on.

After a couple of early Oxford shots, one going over the bar and the other being deflected gently into Lenny Pidgeley’s arms, City produced a surge up the left and, from Luke O’Brien’s cross, won their first corner after eight minutes. The home defence failed to deal with Robbie Threlfall’s set piece and, almost inevitably this season, David Syers was the man to put City a goal up.

I move forward at this point to some seventy minutes later, when the home team scrambled an equaliser, to be followed another six minutes later by an equally close range winner. The nearest Bradford City came to their own equaliser was when James Hanson, an 88th minute substitute, stretched, slipped and failed to make contact with a short back pass to the home goalkeeper. 2-1 it was, then, and it was impossible, even for those with the most blinkered claret and amber outlook, to deny that Oxford deserved their win.

I left out some seventy minutes, didn’t I? Well, here goes with my description of that period between City taking the lead and Oxford equalising, although it will follow a theme or two, rather than a minute by minute account.

Not for the first time this season a City goal almost immediately brought about an obvious tactic of settling for that one goal and defying the opposition to score. This strikes me as an increasingly bizarre strategy, not least because of the number of occasions when, in his after match interviews, Peter Taylor has complained about giving away soft goals. With such a risk being so evident, defending a 1-0 lead for 82 minutes seemed a foolhardy approach – and so it proved.

But this is not just any old defending. The cliché of the two banks of four was there in abundance, with the two front men a little unsure whether to stay somewhere near the front (i.e. roughly in the same county as the other nine) or to come within sight of the midfield and thus stay in City’s half of the pitch. This dilemma was caused because the bank of four that wasn’t the defence was almost indistinguishable for the other bank of four, so close together were the eight. For most of that seventy minute interlude eight white shirted players (and one in green) rarely ventured more than 30 yards from the goal they were defending. There was no such concept as ‘the goal they were attacking’.

Body after body was hurled in the way of Oxford shots. Pidgeley flew across his goal to make one blinding save and the home team’s finishing was sufficiently wayward to keep the score at 1-0 for what seemed like an age. There was no attempt to stop Oxford from playing the ball among themselves until they approached to within thirty yards of goal. Even then they had plenty of opportunities to pass through and round the massed ranks of the visiting defence. For long spells City seemed unable to keep the ball long enough to look up for a man in a white shirt. I was looking for a tell-tale sign of the invisible force field that prevented the ball reaching the half way line.

The familiar sight of eleven men back defending corners and free kicks brought the predictable result that the lines were never properly cleared. An interesting comparison here with the systems used by other managers in recent games against Bradford City. A week earlier Barnet, at 2-1 up and with quite some time still left to play, defended a City corner by leaving one man upfield and another out of their own penalty area. As the corner was cleared the two Barnet players lead the charge upfield that made it 3-1. Oxford, also 2-1 up but in the third of four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game, also kept one man up while defending a City free kick. The clearance reached this one man, who held up the ball while support arrived and the pressure on the defence was eased.

The reaction of the away support told its own tale. Even during the heady moments of the 1-0 lead, the visiting fans were at best edgy, at worst critical of every breakdown of an embryonic passing movement. By the latter stages the mood became darker and darker, with hardly a positive word to be uttered by those who endured this match to its final whistle. And ‘endured’ strikes me as a mild term.

I must return to my original question about winning and entertaining. I do so with a heavy heart, both as a season ticket holder with next year already paid for and as a supporter of Bradford City Football Club, rather than as a supporter of any individual who might, for a shorter or longer time, have been connected with that club through the years of my support. In those years I have seen some poor sides. The Fourth Division strugglers of the 1960’s come to mind, as do later teams in the period before the glory days of Wembley and beyond. But none of those teams ever left me feeling as I did on my way out of the Kassam.

This Bradford City side spent seventy minutes offering nothing for its supporters to enjoy. It made no attempt to entertain. It concentrated on one thing only, namely winning by the only goal of the game. How and why the referee allowed Pidgeley to get away with such blatant and cynical time-wasting will forever remain a mystery. Less mysterious is what lay behind the strategy to defend the lead at all costs. Goal scoring and entertaining has become an optional extra at Bradford City. Winning is all that matters. Two years ago Wycombe Wanderers, managed by the same Peter Taylor, won automatic promotion from this league. In their 46 games they scored just 54 goals, but they lost only eight games. After 24 games Bradford City have scored just 22 goals, but have lost 12 times.

The plan, lest anyone else hasn’t noticed, is not working.

It has now become obvious even to this eternal City supporter that there is only the one aim. That aim is to win as many games as possible by whatever dreary means are required. That end, winning enough games to be promoted, will apparently justify those means. At least, that seems to be the thinking of those in charge at Valley Parade. But, unlike entertainment value, which up to a point is a matter of opinion and open to debate, winning is very black and white. Bradford City currently have nine white marks and twelve black marks. And, so far as concerns entertainment, they have precious little above no marks at all.

Even if we have to be so cynical as to think only about ticket sales for next season, does anyone in charge really think this will encourage those who are less mad than the 6,000 who have already paid their money? Is there really no thought to entertaining the fans? No, I promised I wouldn’t ask that question again, so I withdraw it. I know the answer only too well and I am much the sadder for that knowledge.

The goalscoring problem as City travel to Oxford

Tom Adeyemi’s season-opener at Shrewsbury; David Syers’ tap in at Stockport; Leon Osborne and Adeyemi’s crucial strikes at Barnet; Omar Daley’s clinical penalty at Bury; James Hanson’s tap-in and Gareth Evans’ belter at Lincoln.

And that’s it for Bradford City’s league goals on the road so far this season.

After 11 away matches the Bantams have netted a meagre seven times. That’s the worst record in the entire division, and says a great deal about why City are struggling to position themselves as promotion candidates. To put the goal-shy exploits into perspective, the last time the first 11 away matches of a City season saw less goals was the year we quickly drowned in the Premiership (2000-01).

With four of City’s next five taking place away from Valley Parade, a continuation of the improvement in the last away match is needed to ensure play off hopes remain alive following this crucial part of the season. Three of those four away trips – starting at Oxford tomorrow – are against teams currently above City in the league. Now is not the time to be affording more opposition goalkeepers clean sheets.

The fact Syers and Daley are joint top league scorers with four apiece underlines the lack of goals in City’s forward line. Last season’s top scorer Hanson (13) has struggled to recapture his form of a year ago, with just two of his five goals to date coming in the league. Evans (11 last season) has endured a difficult campaign due to injury and also has two in the league.

Jake Speight (one Carling cup goal), Louis Moult (one league strike) and Chib Chilaka (yet to score) had limited opportunities in the first half of the season. Daley has often played up front to largely positive effect, but will never be a great goalscorer. Luke Oliver’s brief spell as target man in early autumn featured no goals, Jason Price’s late autumn loan spell saw him net only once.

At the start of the season, manager Peter Taylor declared that he was lacking a striker with that extra know-how, and he must surely be wishing for a clinical forward who can sniff out half-chances and net regularly. Such players are always difficult to find, and City have been fortunate in recent years to have first Dean Windass and then Peter Thorne scoring goals for fun. It could be a while before we see a striker as prolific, leaving City’s Goals For column lagging behind others.

It would be wrong to solely blame the lack of goals on the strikers, as the service to the front players has been limited all season. We can quickly point to the lack of wingers in Taylor’s squad, which has resulted in a lower number of crosses from the touchline. City appear to favour working the ball into the box or direct passes for the forwards to attempt to make the most of. The crosses are largely supplied by full backs.

Years of inconsistent wingers hardly provide a convincing argument that Taylor is wrong in his alternative approach; but the fact City have failed to score in 10 of the 23 league games to date, and have only scored more than one goal in a game on four occasions, simply has to be improved on during the second half of the season.

It’s largely a question of balance. We know that under Taylor City will play more conservatively, but the priority seemingly given towards making City difficult to break down rather than taking the attacking initiative is placing a huge amount of emphasis on the first goal in every match. On more than one occasion when the opposition have scored it, City have collapsed as they get caught between suddenly requiring urgency to chase the game and maintaining cover at the back.

Witness the dismal displays at Burton and Cheltenham, or even the way City reacted to conceding to Barnet on Saturday. Perhaps the unfamiliarity of suddenly having to display attacking urgency is causing too many players to forget the defensive basics. When it’s a time for cool heads, City are consistently losing theirs.

Only three times this season have City overcome conceding first to get something from a game – the Carling Cup win over Notts Forest, the thrilling victory over Cheltenham and the disappointing 1-1 draw with Accrington. We go behind, and it seems to be curtains.

So not exactly a winning combination – struggling to score goals and reacting poorly to conceding first. Overcome these two problems, and City might still be capable of ending the season in the play offs. But it’s a question of talent,  it’s a question of spirit and it’s a question of confidence – all difficult for the manager to magically instil in his players.

Nevertheless City travel to an in-form Oxford with the play off spots still in sight and a week of feeling frustrated about slipping up to Barnet to get out of the system. Lenny Pidgley will keep goal having in recent days received criticism from a section of supporters over his recent form. In front of him will probably be Richard Eckersley, Shane Duff, Oliver and Luke O’Brien. Duff went off injured last week and struggled during the first half. As we saw in his first few appearances for City, it seems he is a player who takes time to recapture his rhythm after a lengthy lay off.

The biggest questions over Taylor’s selection lie in midfield. Tommy Doherty has been left out the last three games, the first two of which saw victories. Lee Bullock has performed well in his place, but City lack guile without the Doc’s impressive passing ability – not to mention the high reliance other team-mates place on him. Syers dropped below his usual high standards last week and, with two games in quick succession, may be rested for at least one. Daley will probably continue on the left wing, despite making a greater impression up front this season.

Then we come to Adeyemi, who had his loan extended until the end of the season this week. It’s perhaps unfair to bring up the giddy predictions of pre-season during cold nights of January, but all season long the confident proclamation of a supporter sat behind me at Rochdale in July – that Adeyemi could be the Patrick Viera of League Two – has stayed in my thoughts. Adeyemi has had limited opportunities in his preferred central midfield role – he was outstanding performing it alongside Doherty during the win at Barnet last October – but overall his displays have been frustratingly erratic.

Adeyemi is performing a wide midfield role, but not one where Taylor demands he races down the wing and fires in crosses. He is asked to help the central midfielders, especially when City don’t have the ball, so they are not outgunned in the middle of the park. He is asked to show discipline in maintaining his position, winning back possession and quickly releasing the ball.

He is doing the same role Paul Jewell asked of Windass during the first few games of the 1999/2000 Premier League adventure, and like Dean at the time he is heavily criticised for it by supporters who fail to understand what he is being instructed to do.

But that said, his performances haven’t been great and the decision to re-sign him poses a question – “is he really the best we can do?”. Yet perhaps the bigger point is that, very soon, Michael Flynn should be back and Adeyemi dropped to the bench in a reshuffle. Why bring in a better player – especially if it’s on higher wages – if the inspirational Flynn will be back in two weeks and in need of that starting place?

Up front expect Hanson and Evans to start with Mark Cullen on the bench. Perhaps he will provide the goals that are badly missing – his youth record is good – or perhaps Speight can make an impact as he returns to first-team consideration following his unsuccessful loan at Port Vale.

Will a real goalscorer please stand up. Hurry.

Expecting the right time from a stopped clock

“A stopped clock is wrong twice a day”

Or so I said to my brother in regards to one of the blowhards who sits nearby at Valley Parade as he bellowed at Omar Daley after an hour that the winger should “Get working again.”

Six minutes later the 1-0 lead the Bantams had over Barnet was gone and with it went all of the optimism that came in the week when Peter Taylor turned down Newcastle United.

Daley had needed to get working again – he did and came close to an equaliser at 2-1 putting in a good shift all afternoon – but fifteen minutes into the second half the scale of work which he and Gareth Evans on the flanks had to do had not become apparent because for all the six minutes of madness on the pitch it was the fifteen minutes at half time which I believe lost the Bantams the game.

Specifically it was the replacement for the injured Tom Adeyemi with new face Mark Cullen and the repositioning of Gareth Evans onto the flank. It was a mistake. That is if one can call a change that fails “a mistake” on the basis that it has failed. Had it succeeded it would have been a “tactical stroke of genius”. It is reverse equifinity in action.

Aside from breaking up the attacking partnership which was working well when Peter Taylor made the change to put Evans – ostensibly a striker – into a midfield to replace the more central player Ademeyi he changed the dynamic of City’s engine room. Ademeyi’s instinct to bolster the middle was replaced by Evans’ to attack and as a result the midfield dominance was gone.

The win over Bury had shown what could be done with Lee Bullock holding and Ademeyi and David Syers buzzing around and while the different shape against Barnet – back to the 442 – changed the layout of that it had not altered the effect of those three. City were in control of the first half to the extent that the visitors did not enjoy a shot on target in forty five minutes.

Recall the successful Manchester United midfield of Ryan Giggs wide, Roy Keane battling with Paul Scholes alongside him and David Beckham on the right. Beckham and Giggs were never mirror imagines and the Englishman always played a tighter role, pulled into the middle, added to the centre. A second Giggs on the right – Andrei Kanchelskis perhaps – changed the balance drastically.

In the second half – Adeyemi gone – and the middle two needed the support of one of the two wider players – Daley and Evans – to continue that dominance but both those players were pressing their efforts into attacking. Daley (and Evans) had to work harder because he had to come back into the midfield more as well as continue his forward play.

The tip from a three to the two in the middle and the resulting pushing of four into the attacking unit saw too many players put into the position of waiting for play to happen, rather than making it happen. The players could have worked harder but which City fan would have ever suggested the solution to the problem was to give the already working Omar Daley more work to do?

Robbie Threlfall on to the left with Luke O’Brien moving forward or Tommy Doherty on with David Syers shifting to the right would have continued the more solid midfield and were options available to Taylor. Rather do that though Peter Taylor – the manager who is famed for defending 1-0 leads – seemed to make a change that wanted more goals.

The difference between Taylor’s success and failure was the width of the two posts that City hit – had those chances gone in then no doubt the stuffing would have gone out of Barnet and City’s dominance would not have been questioned – but it did not.

It is an irony that – to me – City’s undoing in the game seemed to be in manager Peter Taylor acting against his instinct to defend the one goal lead. He thought Barnet was there for the taking, City almost took them, but not quite.

Players cannot always shoot straighter, tackle better and pass more accurately but they can always work hard and it is not wrong for supporters and managers to want that on Saturday or any game but as much as anything the Barnet defeat came from the manager and that manager charging some players on the pitch with the responsibility for too many roles. Ending up with a pair of old fashioned wingers on when we needed (at least one) wide midfielder.

The stopped clock is right twice a day. Peter Taylor – like all football managers – is expected to be right all the time. On Saturday – in the final reckoning and from the point of view of the scoreline – he got it wrong.

Forgetting the basics

For a time at least this afternoon, everything was looking rather rosy. Bradford City were heading for a third straight victory, and we could allow ourselves to fantasize about the highs which laid in store for the months ahead. Six minutes of utter madness later, and that uncomfortably-familiar feeling that we’ve sunk to a new low prevailed.

Somewhat-fortuitously a Luke Oliver goal up, the Bantams came flying out of the blocks after the interval and hemmed Barnet back in their own half. Twice the goalframe was rattled, numerous goalmouth scrambles came close to seeing the ball cross the line. A second goal, and it seemed the floodgates would have opened. Barnet looked awful and full of panic every time the ball came into their box. We allowed ourselves to chuckle at their desperate attempts to clear their lines. Victory seemed certain.

But that confidence in the stands was disastrously shared by the home players on the pitch. Soon control began to give way to casualness; concentration dropped for carelessness; composure switched with complacency. Gradually the passing became less purposeful, off the ball running neglected, tracking back surely someone else’s job.

They seemed to begin to believe it was too easy. A fatal mistake.

The creeping in of bad habits and a slipshod attitude was perhaps best exemplified – though by no means does he deserve to be singled out – by Omar Daley nonchalantly back-healing the ball when a throw in was delivered to him. Instead of trapping the ball, or at least checking for the positions of team mates before passing, his fancy flick rolled straight through to a defender. Still no big deal, we’re going to win easily. Don’t worry about any one pressing that defender to win the ball back. This lot are crap.

It was this type of switching off that led to Barnet grabbing a shock equaliser. The Bees had a throw in level with the penalty area which wasn’t defended tightly enough, and a dangerous ball into the area was inexplicably headed into his own net by second half substitute Rob Kiernan. It completely changed the complexion of the game, allowing bottom-placed Barnet to grab the ascendancy and City struggling to regain the focus and work ethic that had led to them bossing the half up to that point.

Five minutes later, Oliver lost his man from a corner and Anwar Uddin headed Barnet into a lead. City tried to stir themselves, piling forward and finding Barnet again looking shaky at the back. Daley cut inside and fizzed a powerful drive which Liam O’Brien tipped over.

But from the resultant corner, Kiernan made a mess of knocking the ball to Richard Eckersley after Barnet had cleared the ball, and suddenly three white shirts had just one defender to work the ball past on the counter attack. Izale McLeod squared the ball to Rob Holmes, who could not miss. So instead of City winning 3,4, 5 or even 6-0, a humiliating home defeat was all but sealed and delivered.

The damage could have been worse – City left the field with the play off deficit only increased by one further point, having dropped only one league position. But even if the Bantams quickly recover from slipping over this banana skin, it will take a while to forgive and to restore faith that promotion can be achieved this season.

For as bad as the six-minute spell that saw the three points chucked away was, it was the reaction from the players during the final 20 minutes that told us much about their stomach for future battles. They seemed to give up and go into their shells – little desire to wrestle back control of the match, inadequate levels of belief in themselves and others that they could come at least snatch a draw. Once David Syers wasted a one-on-one opportunity with 10 minutes left on the clock, fans flocked for the exits and it was difficult to blame them.

Too many players had given up, and by giving up they revealed a lack of commitment to playing for Bradford City and worrying evidence that, when the chips are down, they cannot be counted on. So yeah, they might go and beat Oxford and Aldershot over the next few days to haul themselves back into play off contention. They might continue to win more than they lose between now and May. But sooner of later they’ll be in a tight spot like this again, and if this is the best fight they can muster lets prepare ourselves for disappointment now.

Not every player threw in the towel. Gareth Evans ran all day, and it’s a shame there are so many supporters who refuse to appreciate his qualities. James Hanson battled hard and showed glimpses of his form of last season – though he and Evans were too far apart from each other. Daley was a largely a positive presence and worked hard. Syers, Luke O’Brien and Eckersley weren’t lacking in effort either.

But for them to have to carry other passengers meant a grandstand finish was never on. Indeed Barnet looked likelier to score again and McLeod had a goal ruled out for offside.

Had someone told us we’d lose before kick off, most City fans would not have been surprised. Over the years we’ve struggled badly against the lesser lights of the division we are in, especially at home. In the early stages City typically failed to set the tempo and the direct style of searching for Hanson’s head or relying on Evans’ legs was less pleasing on the eye than the quick-fire passing of a Barnet side who, as with their previous Valley Parade visits in recent years, looked better going forward than at the back.

The early chances were all Barnet’s – the outstanding Holmes dribbled from his own half and shot just over, drawing applause from home fans. McLeod blasted over from a good position. Earlier he’d forced a save from Lenny Pidgley after a mix-up between City’s keeper and Shane Duff which saw the pair vociferously argue over who was to blame for minutes after.

It seemed to be another afternoon where the crowd would soon be on the players’ backs, but after slack marking from City went unpunished and the groans began to get louder it was instead cue for positive chanting from fans that lifted the players and saw them end the half exerting heavy pressure. Just before the half time whistle, Syers brilliantly beat Liam O’Brien to a loose ball and crossed for Oliver to head home.

Cue the second half City onslaught and cue the warm feeling that this season was going to turn out gloriously after all. But then, cue the madness.

At full time there were predictable boos from a now-sparsely populated Valley Parade. Peter Taylor appeared to become embroiled in a heated argument with a supporter at the front of the main stand. My friend, who has better hearing than I, said other fans were chanting “Taylor out”.

But it’s difficult to understand how this defeat can be blamed on Taylor. He made two substitutions early in the second half when City were on top – but the players taken off, Tom Adeyemi and Duff, both had injuries and were arguably City’s worst two first half players anyway. Mark Cullen came on for his debut and showed promise in his positioning – hopefully he can be that goalscorer we badly lack. The less said about the other sub, Kiernan, the better.

Yet still, the blame for this disastrous defeat should begin and end with the players. They allowed a dominant winning position to be surrendered through forgetting the basics. They lacked the stomach to chase the game after they’d allowed Barnet to go  3-1 ahead. They let down their manager, us supporters and everyone connected with the club.

They are not a bad people. The sad realisation, as Barnet coasted through six minutes of injury time without the slightest of scares, is that they are just not good enough to match our ambitions of getting into League One. Collectively they are good players on their day, and they will lead us to brilliant victories over the coming weeks and months. But they don’t have the consistency to perform week in week out, and they don’t have enough resilience to grind out results when they are off their game.

Blame that on Taylor for building this squad if you will. But with revelations today from the T&A’s Simon Parker that the wage bill will be cut if City don’t get promoted this season, worry more about the future.

League Two – it looks like we’re going to be staying here for some time.

The preview not written

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cullen signs, Eckersley and Kiernan extend loans, Speight returns and Price departs

The January revolving door seems to be in full swing at Valley Parade, with one new face joining the dressing room, two more sticking around for a bit longer, a familiar face coming back and a guy with distinctive hair packing his bags.

Hull City striker Mark Cullen is the fresh arrival, the 18-year-old striker signing a one-month loan deal which one assumes will begin from the bench on Saturday at least. Cullen has started six games and made 14 sub appearances for the Tigers, most notably netting a goal against Wigan at the end of Hull’s time in the Premier League, last May. This season he has netted once in the Carling Cup, but the arrival of prolific lower league strikers Aaron McLean and Matty Fryatt to the KC will limit his first team chances.

Cullen probably takes the squad role of Ryan Kendal last season and Louis Moult in the first half of this season, in being a young striker of potential City will hopefully benefit from. Cullen netted 33 goals in 30 games at youth and reserve level last season. Though Moult’s less than impressive time at Valley Parade – a high goalscorer for Stoke’s youth team – emphasised once again how there is a world of difference between junior and first team football.

Meanwhile Richard Eckersley has joined Rob Kiernan in remaining at the club – with City’s defensive options looking more thin-bare following another injury to Steve Williams, the delayed return to fitness of Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt, and the departure of Zesh Rehman. Eckersley has impressed since making his debut against Macclesfield in November and gets forward well, despite sometimes lacking composure in the final third. Kiernan’s time at City has been mixed – he had an excellent debut at Wycombe, but struggled in subsequent home games against Macclesfield and Accrington. His best performance to date came when deputising for Williams on Monday, and he will offer strong competition to Shane Duff and Luke Oliver.

Departing rather quietly is Jason Price. The distinctive Welshman enjoyed a reasonable time at City, after signing last October, but his poor goal return left him struggling to prove he offered a long-term solution. Price was signed just as James Hanson was returning to fitness, and he helped unload some of the burden from last season’s top scorer through Peter Taylor rotating the pair. Price looked an effective player on his day, but his similarity to Hanson meant a strike partnership failed to work.

If Cullen is taking Moult’s place in the squad, Jake Speight’s return from Port Vale will possibly see him assume Price’s position in terms of the wage bill if nothing else. To say Speight’s time at City has been interesting would be understating the series of bizarre events that have unfolded since his summer arrival. It is, however, easy to forget that he looked a very good player during the early season games, especially the two Carling Cup ties.

Like Price, Speight was struggling in front of goal and Taylor’s decision to send him to Vale suggested a quick judgment had been made over his capability of firing City to promotion. Speight rarely started at Vale and netted only once, a tap in, against Stockport. Having spent a not insignificant amount of money luring him from Mansfield, Speight’s failure to impress back in league football is potentially causing Taylor a headache.

It will be interesting to see if Speight is given another opportunity at Valley Parade, or whether he will be quickly going back through that revolving door to another club on loan, with a view to a permanent transfer. In the meantime, and after his misguided comments on the local radio in Stoke, one hopes that Speight will at least be fit enough to make a positive contribution if called upon.

Where this latest range of loan moves – commencing, continuing and concluding – leaves Taylor’s plans for the rest of the season is uncertain. Once Ramsden and Hunt are fit, it’s unlikely Eckersley will stick around. Kiernan’s loan has only been extended two weeks, suggesting he will depart once City’s permanent central defenders are back to full fitness. The future of the other player on loan, Tom Adeyemi, has yet to be resolved.

If the treatment room can be cleared out and those cover loan players sent back, Taylor may be left with some budget to bring in one more quality player to replace Lee Hendrie. A player who could make the difference between City’s being play off challengers and play off finishers.

Best keep that door open for a little while yet.

Taylor’s show of loyalty focuses minds on the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylor staying with City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taylor to leave City for Newcastle United?

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

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

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

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

Why he will go

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

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

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

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

Why he will stay

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

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

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

What now for Junior Lewis

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

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

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

Hard work, and well deserved, as City beat Bury

If football matches are won in second of brilliance then those seconds are earned in committed and combative performances as City showed today.

It was Omar Daley’s brilliantly acrobatic volleyed finish from eight yards out – converting a deep and purposeful Tom Adeyemi cross – which ended as the difference between the teams and few would say the goal or the performance did not merit a win but that win was well earned in the moments around the Jamaican’s impressive goal.

It was in Gareth Evans running down a long strike to win the ball forcing it to Adeyemi to cross and in the rest of Adeyemi’s performance which was his best in a City shirt so far and provided an energy around the midfield which – combined with David Syers – took control of a midfield battle that gave the win. Bury’s Damien Mozika and former City man Steven Schumacher provided a strong and balanced middle two but City’s two were marshalled by holding man Lee Bullock and in taking out the middle two the visitors were rendered engine-less, less capable of driving the game into the Bantams.

The win was in David Syers’ truly awful miss with an hour on the clock and an open goal that was only better – or should that be worsted – by a Stephen Torpey one yard over the bar from one yard. As rank horrible as Syers miss was his reaction to that miss – a shaking off and gearing up to win the game – was the stuff of real success and real quality.

All over the pitch there were similar performances of players showing character and one was reminded by an offend said adage that one can forgive a player a mistake, but not not caring about a mistake. Jason Price recycled the ball well all afternoon – or until his replacement by the endlessly useful James Hanson – but when his lack of pace saw a chance fizzle out when freed in the middle of the pitch Price’s reaction was to keep on keeping on.

Muse, for a moment, about the difference between teams which look good and teams that do well – between Manchester United and Manchester City – and consider that the difference is in this attitude which for today was in place in Peter Taylor’s Bradford City team.

Luke O’Brien cropped up at right back to rob the ball from Bury’s Ryan Lowe after City had been left screaming for penalty following a battered down cross ninety yards further up the field. Curse the unfair decision – indeed Lowe was penalised for a handball which was hardly deliberate – but City and O’Brien kept going and this match report is not about how City were robbed by a dodgy referee as a result of that.

However – and if you are a Referee protectionist then look away now – City struggled through a first half that was defined by some truly atrocious decisions by Referee Colin Webster.

Webster booked Mozika for challenging with his elbow – always a curious thing to write up considering leading into challenges with an elbow is recommended as a sending off offence but leeway is given – and then less than a minute later watched the same player dragging back Syers by the shorts in the penalty area. Webster watched the offence and for reasons best known to himself and contrary to the Laws of the game decided to do nothing about it.

Other decisions – if an elbow is an elbow, if Efe Sodje’s foul on Gareth Evans was a “last man” and should have resulted in a red car – are judgement calls and one has sympathy with them but to watch a foul by a player you have just formally warned with a yellow card and to ignore that is just not officiating the game correctly.

I do not enjoy pointing out the failings of Referees – I would rather they read the rules of the game and applied them as written – but Webster needs to read those rules and understand them more fully before he officiates another game because today he showed that he does not know them well enough to referee a football match.

The players deserved better – both teams – because credit Bury with a stoic and committed display which could have merited a point or more had they had a little more luck but when they enjoyed their best chance they found Lenny Pidgeley – who signed a new contract to stay at City until the end of the season – as a solid block in the centre of the goal.

City though will look back to Gareth Evans’ lob which bespectacled keeper Cameron Belford saved superbly or Tom Ademeyi’s blistering, fading drive which Belford took from the air and consider that this was no win of outrageous fortune.

Hard work, and well deserved.

Making the most of mistakes

Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, success in football is comes from errors, cock-ups and mistakes.

The best laid plans go wrong and what one is left with, just sort of works. There was no plan in place that after replacing Lennie Lawrence Chris Kamara would spend three months doing nothing and then suddenly go Hell for Leather for promotion, there was no plan that Paul Jewell would end up replacing him and turn out to be brilliant.

Happy accidents then, capitalised on. Normally though it is mistakes by other people which offer the best chance for progress and just as seats were taken at Lincoln City for the first game of 2011 James Hanson was take one of those opportunities. A bad back pass, Hanson on the ball, slips past the keeper and suddenly nothing seemed as bad as it had before.

It was Moses Swaibu who made the mistake. Not his first. It is said he stole a chicken from Asda over the Christmas holiday. “Voting for Christmas” maybe.

Peter Taylor’s team were without Lee Hendrie who had left the club without much fanfare along with Louis Moult who seemed to spend his time at City waiting for someone to make enough mistakes to give him a chance but failing to capitalise on those chances when they arrived. A reduced squad will perhaps give the impression that Peter Taylor has settled on his best team but the surprise return of Robbie Threlfall suggests that the manager still grabs numbers out of a bag to find his team.

Sometimes though his team seems to work. Lee Bullock returned for Tommy Doherty today and gave more of a bite in the midfield and when Gareth Evans was penalised for a handball and Ashley Grimes scored it certainly wasn’t part of the run of play, and it might not have been a penalty either. Evans himself was booked for a dive in the second half but only after he had scored the game’s winning goal barrelling forward and slamming in a great strike to the top corner just before half time.

The win was deserved although had Lincoln had a better striker than Delroy Facey then City might have surrendered the lead. The home side got desperate and Mustapha Carayol was lucky to stay on for a nasty foul on Luke O’Brien.

Brightening City’s afternoon though was the return of Steve Williams who looked insanely good and Shane Duff who played well. Williams came to City when the budget was cut following the failure to win promotion. The chance to bring in Hanson and Williams, match winners today, was capitalising on the mistake. If Peter Taylor can carry on capitalising then the season might not be over yet.

The season ticket struggle

the coming season will be my 30th as a season ticket holder and I can honestly say that never have I been so reluctant to renew. In recent seasons It has been in hope more than expectation but this time even the hope is fading into a sea of despondency.

I’ve finally been to renew. when I got home I asked myself “Why so low this time?”

I wrote a list when I got home of all the “Problems” at my club. it was quite a long list so I crossed out all the minor grumbles and grouses.

I wasn’t entirely in agreement with McCall’s departure but was open to being convinced by his replacement when I heard it was Peter Taylor who is a man with an unblemished record in the lower divisions. Surely such a man could succeed at City?

This man, with his vast experience and respect in the game. Surely, after half a season he should know by now what his best eleven is! Instead the team is chopped and changed every game: win, lose or draw;

The joint chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. I have sadly concluded that they are unable to bring success to the club. Like surgeons at a hospital who, when faced with a seriously injured patient, don’t know how to heal the man so they have him put on life support where he stays for years while all they can do is hope that something will turn up.

We will always be grateful to Julian that we still have a club, but surely the time is long since past when we should have begun making progress. Unfortunately, in the Rhodes family it’s the father who is the captain of industry. nice guy though he is, it’s not the son! Similarly Mark Lawn, a man who had one good idea that made him a millionaire. After that, the cupboard is bare!

To use modern parlance, neither man seems able to think outside the box. there are no big ideas forthcoming. All we can expect is more of the same!

Now to the club itself. In the past it has been said to me on more than one occasion (admittedly by non City fans) that by comparison with clubs from similar sized cities (Leicester, Hull, Nottingham, Wolverhampton etc.) City’s worst is worse than their worst and lasts much longer. This is hard to refute. in the 80’s Hull, Wolves and Bristol City all plunged to the bottom division while in dire financial straits and with the all too realistic threat of extinction. All 3 stayed only 2 seasons in the basement before starting the long road back. City have done 4 with the 5th already looking a certainty.

So there you have it.

Like a drowning man clinging to a bit of wreckage, the only thing I cling to is the memory of the last time things seemed dire under the Dave Simpson board. Skint with debts piling up. Geoffrey Richmond, the good one before he succumbed to megalomania and his self confessed period of madness, was just around the corner, about to come in and galvanise the club, setting us on the upward path.

Stuart McCall becomes Motherwell boss as managerial unrest again grows at Valley Parade

There can’t be many, if any, Bradford City supporters who aren’t cheered by the news Stuart McCall is to become the new manager of Motherwell. The Scottish Premier League outfit are set to officially confirm McCall as the new gaffer on Thursday, ending a 10-month gap from managing for McCall after he departed the Valley Parade hotseat last February. In the interim, he’s been scouting for Norwich City and helping coach one of the Bantams’ youth teams; but his appointment at Fir Park is another chance to prove himself a number one.

A return to a country and league where he enjoyed so much success as a Rangers player represents a terrific opportunity for McCall. The only other British club other than City to wear Claret and Amber, Well are lodged in midtable of Scotland’s top flight and have the small matter of a Co-operative Insurance Cup semi final clash with his old club at the end of January. Unlike managing Bradford City, there should be less pressure to deliver instant success. Motherwell are not stuck in a lower division they believe they are too big for, and the realistic best that McCall can be expected to achieve, in time, is a third place finish behind Rangers and Celtic, some cup silverware and/or European qualification.

Like any manager, he will have expectations to cope with. But with Fir Park average attendances half of that at Valley Parade, the pressure may not be as intense.

McCall’s biggest strength when managing City arguably turned out to be his biggest weakness. He cared passionately about the club, defeat hurt him as much as any of the rest of us. When things were going wrong, he didn’t come across as the inspirational leader we remember so fondly on the pitch. It would cause a snowball affect, with a couple of bad defeats turning into numerous bad defeats and, while no one can question how committed his players were to him right to the end, one was left wondering whether he was the positive leader in the dressing room they needed him to be in difficult times.

But at Motherwell, the lack of previous history with the club should allow McCall to be more dispassionate. Of course it will hurt him when Motherwell lose, but he will be less inclined to take it personally or readily believe those who jump to criticise him. That means his judgment is less likely to be clouded, faith in his own ability much stronger, skin much thicker.

That McCall has secured another job is an impressive achievement in itself. Lower league football managers rarely get second opportunities and the fact that, on paper at least, McCall’s record in charge of City doesn’t look great suggested he was destined for the comfort of TV studios for the rest of his working life. That lower league managers are generally thrown out on the scrapheap in this manner seems wrong, as managing clubs with fewer resources appears much more challenging.

One of the quotes of 2010 was then-Blackburn manager Sam Alladyce’s assertion that he could manage Real Madrid. But beyond the ridicule this sparked, he had a valid point. It is easier to manage a club with vast resources to buy the best players like Madrid than it is to be in charge of a small fish like Blackburn. The likes of Jose Mourinho deserve their place in Madrid’s dugout, they are the best, but why do managers who fail at bigger clubs and earn the sack then get another job ahead of those who have failed at smaller outfits?

McCall’s three spells at City – particularly his two as a player – mean he will always be held in the highest regard by 99.9% of Bantams supporters. Indeed, after the pressure he came under during his final few weeks and continued civil war among fans over the rights and wrongs of driving a legend out of the club for much of 2010, a warmer front from all sides seems to be developing. There was even a poll on the Official Message Board over whether he should be brought back as City boss now (a small majority saying yes). That wouldn’t have happened even before McCall’s new job was sealed, given he and Mark Lawn fell out weeks before he departed.

The warmer front is there because of the managerial unrest brewing at City. The morale-smashing 4-0 defeat to Cheltenham has seen Peter Taylor’s popularity reach new lows. At the turn of the year, City are six points off the play offs – exactly where they were a year ago under an increasingly under pressure McCall. When you remember Taylor benefited from an increased budget during the summer, it underlines how little progress has been made and, once again, the futility of changing managers.

Let us not enter into another debate about the rights and wrongs of forcing McCall out a year ago – BfB usually gets a stack of hate mail for even daring to mention it – but let’s agree it hasn’t worked in the way it was expected. So the question is, will it the next time?

Taylor was handed a one-year contract, which in my opinion has negatively influenced the way he has attempted to manage the club. As things stand, it’s implausible to believe he will be handed another contract in May – if he makes it that long. But whatever the next few weeks and months might hold, it’s to be hoped the joint Chairmen are carefully evaluating the situation now.

It may not be a time for drawing up a managerial shortlist for replacing Taylor, but if things stay as they are and he is destined to leave, what happens next? Can the club afford to keep making each season promotion or bust, when such a short-term approach is routinely being proven to fail? Do we keep handing out one year manager contracts until someone finally gets it right? We can’t stay in this division for long, it’s said. But then we were saying that four years ago and here we still are.

We need a long-term strategy, and personally I believe us supporters should have more insight and a say into what that strategy should be.

We can continue to dispute whether it was right McCall was pushed out of the door, but we can probably all agree that not having a plan beyond his removal is looking a major mistake. The vacancy advert went out and Taylor was eventually judged the best candidate a year ago, and for a time the club bowed to his every whim. If Lawn and Julian Rhodes still believe Taylor is the best man, the opportunity is there to back him in the transfer market this January – providing the club can afford to. Without a significant boost to the quality of the squad, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be able to fire City into League One next season.

Meanwhile McCall has a fresh opportunity, and what probably helped to persuade his new employers to give him the job was the record of the guy who replaced him at Valley Parade.

Goosebury season

“He came at noon, asking for water.

There is a tipping point in most everything which convinces all that hope and expectation are to be dashed and it seems that that Peter Taylor’s Bradford City career reached that point in a 4-0 defeat at Cheltenham.

It would be wrong to say that the defeat saw the Bantams bested with ease but to suggest that the resistance to the home side was especially dogged or passionate would not paint a true picture either. For a half hour City exchanged blows as one would expect a team on the road to do – a three man forward line hinted at but dragged out of position and Jason Price oddly named captain in what would seem to be one of his final games of a loan spell – but as soon as Marlon Pack scored the home side’s second so rapidly after Jeff Goulding’s first the game was over, and it seemed the tipping point reached.

It has been noted before that Peter Taylor’s the Bantams have a habit of being second by a centimetre that in the end might as well be a mile and at times that was true today although as the second half wore on it seemed that that centimetre had increased to more and so the chasm between what is and what is expected became obvious.

There is a level of commitment required by any team to win any football match and for sure Peter Taylor knows that – the fact that his post-match comments deftly describe the issues which resolved the game so firmly in Cheltenham’s favours serves to frustrate – but his inability to get this group of players to produce that level is the defining principal of the season.

There are times that City have looked impressive this season, indeed when David Syers put the ball in (ruled out for offside) and when Luke O’Brien showed a quickness of foot and guile down the left it was shown today, but looking impressive in spells is common to all clubs, and to all managers at this club, and has never been the stuff of promotion.

Wes Thomas’s fine finish towards the end – the result of a midfield which simply watched the ball rather than fight for it – seemed to push minds further over the brink. City, it seems, are going nowhere and not especially fast.

Which is not prediction (nor indeed a prediction I would make, because I do not deal in them) but rather the opinion crystallised in defeat. It seems that there is too much not right in the Bantams at the moment to imagine enough going right to suggest promotion. Many, perhaps most, over the past month have been optimistic that Taylor’s team would come good when the likes of Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn return and the loan players are swapped around but those ideas seemed to melt like the snow today.

So there is blame – there is always blame – and it is shared liberally around. Peter Taylor stands looking clueless it is said (although I suspect he knows more than most what is going wrong, and probably how to fix it, but struggles to get that fix in place) and it is hard to imagine Mark Lawn giving him a new contract at the end of the season. The merits of changing manager – or should that be the lack of merits – have been discussed at length but probably the most troubling thing is that six months ago Lawn jumped through hoops backwards for this manager and in six months time one worries what the next incumbent will be being given.

Certainly the players take criticism and rightly so – today few of them will have been proud and when one struggles to put in League Two performances one is not far from no longer being a professional footballer – but Bradford City’s solution is not to replace one group of League Two players with another and never has been.

The deterioration of the club over this season is illustrated in Robbie Threlfall. Signed and lauded as superb after some opening displays Threlfall has not lost a leg nor has he suddenly become less able to kick a football in the past nine months. Replacing Threlfall would be punitive on the basis of performances but there is no reason to believe the next man would be better. At some point the hand becomes the wrist and a player like Threlfall is no longer the talent he was, and is replaced, to little or no effect.

At Bradford City ultimately the manager is given the responsibility for the failings. One can create a list as long as your arm of things which Peter Taylor is doing wrong at City and in all likelihood the opposite of them would have been used as a criticism of his predecessor Stuart McCall. Taylor’s team are too regimented, it was said today, and as a result have no camaraderie but McCall’s were too casual and lax not wearing suits. Defeat does not seem to hurt Taylor, but it seemed to hurt McCall too much and cloud his judgement.

So the criticism that Taylor changes his team and his captain seemingly at random with Lee Hendrie having been dropped from both roles despite seemingly performing well in them is valid but no one would thank him for having a settled team if it lost. I am struck by the feeling though that they would lose less often if that were the case.

Indeed my personal gripes with Taylor are common to many a manager. Too many loan players who never give enough to the cause coupled with a tendency to drift away from the tried and tested especially in the four-four-two.

The achieving results in football matches are all that matters and today it seems that there was a swing in belief that Peter Taylor does not know how to achieve in football matches.

And Peter Taylor knows more about in achieving results in football matches than anyone else in a decision making role at the club does. One has to wonder when Taylor looks at this season and decides that while he has done what he can – indeed that he has done what he does to achieve promotion at other clubs – things have not gone as he would have liked. Building winning teams is not making sorbet, sometimes you follow the same recipe and the outcome is different.

But when does Taylor stop believing that City will go up? Does he believe we will?

I mention this for a good reason.”

A disengaging time

Is it simply because of the stop-start schedule of games over the past month, or is it something deeper?

Should Bradford City’s boxing day clash with Chesterfield beat the weather, it will only be the second time in 33 days the players will be in action. The season has been frozen by the late 2010 big freeze, not much is happening and it all feels a bit tedious.

But even when City were able to get on some green grass and beat Hereford a week last Saturday, enjoyment was in short supply. Far from it satisfying an itch, it seemed an occasion to get over and done with. In general the mood among supporters – as measured in many different ways, not least the number of message board postings, next year’s season tickets sold so far (according to the guy serving me when I renewed mine yesterday), and even hits to this site – appears flat. The news coming out of the club in recent weeks generally dull.

It’s all very quiet, it’s all a bit disengaging.

Supporting the Bantams usually comes with a feeling of frustration rather than constant happiness, and there’s no doubt things could certainly be a lot worse than they are right now. Yet still this is the most ordinary season I can remember in a long while. The football has been enthralling on occasions, but mundane more often. We’re not on the edge of our seats as often as we’d like, nor are we on our feet cheering uplifting goals as regularly as we’d expect.

It’s difficult to look forward to the second half of the season and feel the buzz of anticipation that a narrow gap to the play off positions should offer. It’s not that City aren’t capable of going onto finish in the top seven come May and thus fulfill our hopes, but more the probable manner in which any success will be achieved.

This is an efficient Bradford City side which is conservative and guarded. Wins are laboured. Flair is constrained by structure. Defence is the best form of attack.

We knew it was going to be like this, really. The February exit of Stuart McCall left a managerial opening that placed winning football matches as the top quality when choosing from a lengthy shortlist of applicants. Peter Taylor was the outstanding candidate, but behind his unquestionable achievements were loud warnings that style would give way to organisation. Years of failure left us wanting this winning-above-all approach; hard luck stories of good performances going unrewarded were tedious. Winning is all that matters; so Peter, do whatever it takes to get us out of this league.

We knew what we were getting with Taylor, and those expectations have been realised. McCall’s teams had heart and commitment, but naivety and disorganisation undermined their high levels of effort. City appear much more prepared under Taylor; they go onto the pitch with a more impassioned outlook which is about following a carefully laid out strategy.

If City were laying in the top three places, or even in the top seven, Taylor’s ways would be more enthusiastically backed. But even if the promotion places are still well within touching distance, the 14th-place position City currently occupy and fact the highest league placing of the season, so far, is only 10th leaves Taylor’s ways open to question and doubt. The sacrificing of as high of a level of entertainment could be more accepted if the league table made better reading. It seems were not quite getting the best of either world.

Which leaves afternoons like the recent one against Hereford endorsed but not enjoyed. City’s first half display had merited more than the one goal, but the second half defensive retreat in holding the narrow lead against a team at the bottom of the league was uninspiring and difficult to watch. It would be wrong to say that it was the performance Taylor had wanted to see from his players too – he admitted it was a poor second half display after the game – but such afternoons are becoming a regular occurrence.

And that’s where it’s becoming a bit disengaging to many supporters. If more regular defensive-minded wins like we saw against Hereford and at Bury will take City into League One next season we’ll all be delighted, but that doesn’t mean we’ll fully-enjoy the journey. And if we can’t enjoy winning games of football, what is the point of it all?

When Taylor’s City have been good they’ve been great to watch. The Cheltenham home win was the season’s high-water mark in quality of performance, the Oxford thrashing that followed two weeks later was more memorable and left us all feeling rather giddy with excitement. But with more games like Hereford and even the frustrating defeats to Wycombe and Macclesfield, it suggests the Cheltenham and Oxford wins were Taylor’s City on very top form rather than playing a level they can achieve on a regular basis.

Winning is important, but another key aspect of football supporting is the bond you have with your team. This season there are certainly plenty of players I admire – Tommy Doherty is a joy to watch, while Lee Hendrie and Omar Daley have put in some superb displays. I also have strong affection for the former non-league players – James Hanson, David Syers, Steve Williams and Jon McLaughlin – plus our homegrown talent Luke O’Brien. But in general, the relationship between supporter and other players is more distant and cool.

I write this having only missed two league games this season (plus I didn’t see two of City’s four cup games) and I am used to feeling ‘close’ to the players, through travelling up and down the country to cheer them on. But that affection between players and supporters which was so evident in recent seasons seems less to me this season. It doesn’t help that there are so many loan players who form part of the starting eleven each week, but sometimes in away games you’d like to see the players look a bit happier to see us before kick off and be a bit more prepared to applaud us at full time; rather than a half-heartededly clap from the half way line, like we received at Wycombe in our last away game. Michael Flynn is missed in so many ways.

The four wins out of five undoubtedly recaptured that missing enthusiasm and showed what this team is capable of, and it’s not just for the health of City’s league position that we all hope such heights can be realised on a more regular basis. For now, it’s hoped that the eventual resuming of City’s season will thaw out current levels of cynicism and restore that joy of following  the Bantams, which is felt even in difficult times.

Because personally I want to care more about City’s season than I do right now. I want the highs to feel better, even if it means the lows have to be greater too. I want to load up the Telegraph & Argus website on a Monday morning and feel connected by what’s going on at the club, rather than experiencing bordom at reading another interview from an underachieving loan player unsure about his long-term future.

I want this mission of getting promoted out of League Two to be enjoyable and engaging, rather than feeling like a task that has to be completed before the fun can resume again.

The case for the defence

Peter Taylor takes his Bradford City time into the definitive Christmas period with a string of defensive injuries and a decision to make over Zesh Rehman.

An injury to Rob Kiernan stretched Taylor’s defensive resources seeing the Bantams manager push striker Jason Price into the back four while Rehman – disciplined by the club – sat in the stands.

Simon Ramsden is expected to miss the entire Christmas programme but Steve Williams, Lewis Hunt and Shane Duff could all feature at some point but the City boss has thin ranks for five games in two weeks. Three full backs are fit in Richard Eckersley, Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall and three central defenders in Kiernan, Luke Oliver and – should be be brought back into the fold, the transfer listed Rehman.

Rehman’s possible exit aside Taylor’s squad is enter a period of flux. Keeper Lenny Pidgeley, David Syers, sometimes skipper Lee Hendrie and a host of loan players may all leave the club leaving the 2011 Bradford City that Taylor attempts to push to promotion much different to the late 2010 version.

Hendrie, Syers, who it is believed has attracted interest from up the leagues after his first four months in professional football, and Tom Ademeyi could all leave following the Christmas period and – to strengthen City’s appeal to those players – five good results would no doubt strengthen the Bantam’s case to those they wish to keep. All three players are expected to make a midfield with Tommy Doherty.

There is no indication that James Hanson will leave City although it was thought that Coventry City were watching the striker before they signed Marlon King. Hanson strikes one as the kind of player who will have convinced the entire City crowd on his exit. Like Ron Futcher, Dean Windass and a host of other players before him once Hanson is gone and City return to seeing the ball cleared with some ease when put towards the strikers then Hanson’s critics will see their error.

And formally apologise to the rest of us, just like the people who jeered Dean Windass provoking his exit, and our relegation.

Hanson will line up with Omar Daley in the forward line at Crewe.

Crewe – who are making much of Clayton Donaldson in their forward line – sit two points off the play offs in 9th having come off a 3-3 draw with Stockport last time out.

Dario Grady says that Crewe are looking for new defenders. Aren’t we all?

Those small victories

Over the years supporting Bradford City, I’ve always taken greater pleasure in those occasions where we get one over someone or something. A cocky set of opposition supporters; a petty referee; a manager who made derogatory pre-match remarks; Rodney Marsh.

But rarely has putting someone in their place felt so unenjoyable as City supporters ‘victory’ over Joe Colbeck today.

That was the sideshow which overshadowed a reasonable contest that saw the Bantams gain a precious victory over bottom-club Hereford to move back into the play off hunt. David Syers’ eighth-minute belting shot ultimately proved decisive. It was a nice moment for the early player of the season frontrunner given the frustration of missing numerous chances in his last outing against Macclesfield, three weeks ago.

And though it was hardly a sparkling team performance and offered little evidence that City are good enough to be successful this season, it was the sort of result that promotion-winning sides routinely grind out. That was the most important aspect.

But the joy of victory was tempered by the unpleasant atmosphere in which it was played in, and the specific targeting of one man. Colbeck’s first return to Bradford since departing 16 months ago was always going to prompt a mixed reception, but the lengths taken by those keen to register their dislike of a player who rose through the ranks – playing over 100 times in Claret and Amber – was nothing short of disgusting.

“Colbeck is a wanker!” chanted the Bradford End for most of the first half, and before long fans in all four stands were joining in the jeering. Jeering a 24-year-old lad who joined the club when he was 16, with his family and friends watching in the crowd.

It seemed as though the game itself was the sideshow, as such strong focus was placed on barracking the former City youngster. Every time he picked up possession he was booed; when he failed to stop straightaway following an offside flag there was outrage at his cockiness; when an inaccurate pass towards Joe caused him to stretch and fall over he was laughed at. Even after City scored the first subsequent chant was “Colbeck, Colbeck what’s the score?”

And after pausing from calling him a wanker, the Bradford End chanted “Greedy Bastard” and then “Judas”; and then a “City reject.” So hang on a minute, he’s a Judas for betraying us and we rejected him anyway – Judas the reject, an interesting concept.

Let me pause by saying that I appreciate not everyone likes Colbeck and those who have feelings of disapproval towards him will have valid reasons. In the group of people I go to watch City with, opinions on him were mixed and it was mentioned that his attitude during his final few weeks at the club was poor. Me, I’ve got a lot of time for a young lad I watched try to make it at City and who provided me with some happy memories, so I personally wanted to applaud him. But if others want to boo him, that’s fair enough.

Yet the chanting, the abuse and the negativity that perpetrated from the Bradford End and spread around the four sides was too much. If you were one of the people who thinks you have the right to call Joe Colbeck a wanker, please can you explain what he has done to justify this personal abuse. Yes, we know he had a contract dispute and that made him “greedy” in some people’s eyes. Though Colbeck’s reminder of what happened – which was confirmed by Stuart McCall at the time – is hardly up there with the great contract disputes we’ve seen over the years at City.

So what else? Oh yeah, he was crap. Apparently. Funny as I remember the fantastic performances he put in for City during the 2007/08 season, especially in away games, that was appreciated by enough City fans for him to be voted player of the season. The following year he started slow and then got injured for four months. As he returned to fitness, the holes in City’s promotion bid were getting larger and Colbeck was a scapegoat as the season collapsed.

Then came the contract dispute in the summer of 2009, and I remember going to the York pre-season friendly and hearing a group of fans boo his every touch and chant about how he is a “druggy” (no evidence was offered to back this up). Then at Bradford Park Avenue, where Oldham manager Dave Penny attended as he considered signing him and some fans were urging him to do so, telling Penny we didn’t want Joe. Then he left. Driven out the club. And don’t come back.

I can only assume those who wanted him gone were leading the abuse today, but the wanker chants were aired so loud it was like they were speaking for the rest of us too. And the messages they sent both on and off the field were disturbing. Looking through my old programmes from Joe’s time at City, it’s interesting how many of the ‘Today’s Mascot’s’ rated him as their favourite player. I also remember lots of kids with Colbeck on their shirts. And why not? Here was a young lad who’d made it to the first team, an inspiration to young supporters and juniors at the club.

What’s the message these kids are supposed to take from the actions of the boo-boys today? Don’t bother following that dream of one day playing for the club you love, because these lot will rip you apart. Just look at Leon Osborne.

The one saving grace of the whole affair was Hereford manager Jamie Pitman’s decision to sub Colbeck after an hour, so at least the rest of us who’d had our views drowned out could award Colbeck the warm applause we wanted to give him. And then when he’d been subbed perhaps we could concentrate on the game, trying to ignore the fact that a poor bit of play from the other Hereford winger soon after sparked a chant of “Are you Colbeck in disguise?”

By that stage City were beginning to be pegged back by a spirited Hereford side who looked short on quality but good enough to climb out of the bottom two before May. Syers’ early strike smashed any hopes the visitors had of sitting back and frustrating City. Instead it triggered a first half of numerous chances which should have seen City go in more than 1-0 up at the break.

The outstanding Luke O’Brien’s long-range pile driver was pushed away by the erratic Bulls keeper Adam Bartlett; Tom Adeyemi’s through ball to Omar Daley was just behind the Jamaican’s feet, spoiling a one-on-one chance; Adeyemi himself should have scored when played through with just the keeper to beat.

The one-touch attacking football from City was impressive, if conservative in its frequency. Tommy Doherty and Syers were running the show and masterful to watch. Lee Hendrie, this week’s captain, also played well.

Hereford had sporadic bursts of pressure and exposed some uncertain decision-making from Lenny Pidgley in claiming crosses. One flapped corner saw a powerful Hereford effort strike a City body and bounce over the bar, although later a brilliant cross by Colbeck saw the lively Guillem Bauza’s header superbly tipped over.

After James Hanson and Syers both had opportunities early in the second half, Hereford began to threaten more and Nicky Featherstone saw a shot come back off the post, while the veteran Kenny Lunt and striker Mathieu Manset looked busy and purposeful. For City, Daley’s long range effort deflected and looped onto the post; but as the minutes past the involvement of either keeper became less frequent.

For despite Hereford exerting strong pressure in the final 20 minutes, in truth they didn’t look like scoring and struggled to create clear-cut chances. City’s back four defended well with Rob Kiernan showing the form he’d displayed on his debut at Wycombe and Luke Oliver’s head a magnetic presence to high, dangerous balls. Kiernan had to go off injured and Peter Taylor, who rather foolishly had not even afforded Zesh Rehman a place on the bench, was forced to play Jason Price as emergency centre half.

The final whistle eventually came but the joy was limited and glum faces surrounded me on the journey out through the Midland Road concourse. That, as much as the Joe-bashing, was the downer of the day. In the final 20 minutes City were on the backfoot, but holding on – and the lack of support from fans was baffling. Moans and groans filled the air and every mistake and poor touch was met with anger and swearing.

Today simply wasn’t a nice day to be at Valley Parade, it wasn’t a nice day to be a Bradford City supporter. Because the want of some to be negative overshadowed others efforts to support the team. Yeah it wasn’t a great performance and we expect better, but surely it is occasions like this – rather than 5-0 up over Oxford – where we supporters should be giving our all.

Instead many of us focus on ridiculing a former player who most of us in the crowd are older than, on waiting for Adeyemi’s next mistake, on slating Hanson for daring to believe “he’s already made it”, on moaning about Taylor’s insistence on bringing all 11 players back to defend corners, and then on criticising his choice and timing of subs.

Valley Parade was today a cauldron of negativity, yet again. There’s so much crap going on in the world, there’s plenty of stress and difficulties in our own lives. Supporting your football team is supposed to be a release – a pleasure, not a chore. Days like this should at least leave a smile on the face.

Surely we can all be better than this?

The diary of not watching football

Roger Owen took a break from writing what will no doubt be lengthy programme notes on the Referee who last took charge of a City home game – more on that later – to tell City fans and those who would come up from Hereford for the game at the weekend that the club are doing everything they can to get the game on.

Indeed Owen’s notes to the website are full of the sort of information which pre-empts the demands of football fans after a game is called off. When looking at the clear piece of driveway in BD14 which my car is parked on I could suggest that it should be easy to host a football match and it would, but the approaching roads.

So Owen strikes a note of justified caution, but hopes to get a game on. Back in December 2003 when City’s game with Crystal Palace at Valley Parade was called off the club nearly went out of business not for the want of a long term strategy or plan but for the need of short term cash flow. Julian Rhodes and Gordon Gibb had to find around half a million pounds to pay the wages and it is said by those who say such a thing that the demands one placed on the other was the fracture of that relationship.

Fractured relationships seem to be the order of the day at Valley Parade. Zesh Rehman and Peter Taylor have seen their relationship fractured and it would be remiss of me at this point to not recall a comment made at the start of the season about the pair.

The judgement of Taylor’s job at Bradford City would be in what he could get out Zesh Rehman – so I said – because in the player City have a footballer with enough talent to convince many to sign him (an a talent which has been demonstrated at City any number of times) but and approach and attitude which wavers.

“An inconstant performer” would seem to sum it up and should Taylor get a player like Zesh Rehman playing more good games than bad then – using Rehman as a sample of the squad – City would no doubt be doing very well.

We are not and Taylor seems set to wash his hands of the player seemingly ready to say that he is not able to get the performances out of him which other managers have. That is a disappointment for all, and a worrying thing from a manager.

Taylor’s relationship with Jake Speight – currently on loan at Port Vale – showed signs of cracks when the player went to prison and when he criticised Taylor’s methods for not including enough fitness training.

Speight was not – unlike Rehman – transfer listed for his outburst which seemed more critical than Rehman’s which was questioning. However letting it be known that player who is on loan is not wanted is no way to run a business and perhaps if the veneer of a business front was wiped away the striker would be just as on his way out as the defender.

These thoughts play in the mind in the weeks after abandoned games. City’s trip to Aldershot was shelved and the club had a blank week owing to an early FA Cup exit leaving Accrington Stanley at home as the last time the Bantams took to the field.

BfB has it from “a good source” (which is not Wikileaks, or Wookieeleaks, and is worth trusting) that following that game Referee Tony Bates rang John Coleman that Accrington Stanley manager and apologised for costing his club the game. On an evening of elbows, pitch invasions and an official who could not bring himself to give the decisions laid out in the laws of the game Mr Bates feels that he should talk for sure but not to apologise to us paying supporters who watched him make a mockery or a match but to the manager who (one assumes) was behind that pantomime football.

Which sums the arrogance of Referees up to a tee. Supporters are but cattle, and are treated with a lack of respect which means that we are not even afforded the decency of an apology after the official feels he has put in a poor performance although apologies are offered even if those apologies would provoke incredulity.

Nevertheless Roger Owen is not known to keep his attitudes about officials and Bradford City to himself – we all recall his reaction to the 3-0 defeat at Carlisle United – and so one can assume that he has spent the last three weeks preparing his thoughts. Certainly it would be interesting to know what City think of the fact that had Mr Bates had not felt he erred that night that the Bantams would have lost the game.

Losing games slipped back into City’s habits, especially at home. Peter Taylor’s side have lost four at home which is twice the number Stuart McCall’s side which finished 9th two season ago ended the season on and a look at last year’s table suggests that over a half dozen home defeats is probative to promotion, to say nothing of season ticket sales.

Taylor’s cause is not helped by a significant injury list which the manager hopes will ease when Shane Duff and Lewis Hunt return to fitness for the Christmas period.

Hunty should be joining in at the end of the week. To me, he’s going to be a couple of weeks after that, which is good news.

“Hunty.” One recalls Roger Owen paying for suits and making a big play of increased professionalism at Valley Parade and I’m not sure how that fits in with one playing being transfer listed for saying he thinks he should be in the side over a player that the manager refers to by nickname. “Hunty”, still, could have been worse.

Should the game go ahead then City are expected to field Lenny Pidgeley in goal. Richard Eckersley at right back, Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver at centreback, Luke O’Brien at left back. Tommy Doherty and David Syers in the midfield with Lee Hendrie on the left and perhaps Leon Osbourne on the right although Omar Daley is at times deployed there. Daley or Jason Price in the forward line with James Hanson.

Why all football managers will be hoping Newcastle United are relegated

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

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

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

Goodbye Champions League hopes. Hello Championship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Time

In front of me right now, just waiting to be filled in, is my application form for next season’s ticket. It is a form that, despite the poor taste of its promotional pictures, represents positive forward thinking from the club and excellent value for money for the supporters. And yet I am wondering whether I should bother this time.

Now I am well aware that there are those who would never consider giving up City. Those who sing of their lifelong commitment to the club are to be commended but I for one have never joined in that particular song. Maybe it is superstition, tempting fate or just the reality that advancing years brings that is reflected in my reluctance to participate in claiming such allegiance. Whatever the reasons, whether through choice, fate or necessity I am prepared to accept that there will come a time when I will no longer go to Valley Parade.

I know there are those whose commitment to City goes back a lot further than mine but I count my support in decades rather than seasons so there is no short-termism in the decision to question my renewal. So why think what for many would be the unthinkable?

Well to put it bluntly, I am finding it less and less enjoyable turning up and not recognising so many of “our” team. I am finding it more and more difficult to rationalise the thinking behind the team selection and then the unforced changes within games.

I am at a loss to explain what appears to be favouritism shown to some players and the dismissal of others regardless of their on-field performances. And any justification or explanations that do come from those in charge seem to have a hollow and inconsistent tone.

Now this is nothing unusual in football – we all know you can’t please all the people all the time – but the uncertainty of my renewal is not based on results but on my perceived attitudes of those making crucial decisions. And the trouble is that once you get to feeling this way there seems to be so many more decisions that add to the sense of irritation.

As supporters we all like to feel that we have some kind of ownership through our involvement with the club. Our contributions – both vocal and financial – to what happens at the club are, in principle at least, united in a common cause. But this is becoming more of a delusion that we literally and all too readily buy into and right now I am not sure I want it to continue. So what would it take to get me to sign up for another year?

Well, to put it bluntly once again, it would take something that would make me feel that my support mattered. Rightly or wrongly, I need to identify with the players that make up “my” team as well as the team itself. I find it difficult to do this with the manager’s involvement of so many loan players, especially when it is in preference to fit, contracted players.

If roles were reversed and the players had to sing to us about their commitment to the club then reality says that we wouldn’t expect “City ‘till I die” because players – no matter how popular – move (or are moved) on. Their on field commitment whilst playing for the club that signed them is enough for most of us. But too many of the “City” players of Peter Taylor’s managerial tenure would struggle to sing more than “City ‘till next month” Loan players have their uses but the quality and quantity used by P.T. has not been good for the club. (Is there anyone out there who can tell me exactly how many have been and gone and how long they were with us?) If this is what is felt is needed to bring about “success” I do not share that view.

Commitment whether from supporters, players or managers is a reciprocal thing and the lack of this from those making these decisions is what prompts me to consider my commitment. Questioning these decisions, whether by commentators, writers, supporters and now players is given short shrift. It has the ring of dictatorship rather than discipline, of confrontation rather than cooperation.

I hope I am not alone when I look for a team I can identify with. Right now I feel that as a supporter I am being taken more and more for granted. The management and the supporters need to reconnect and do so round a shared view of progress that makes sense to players and fans alike. Maybe then those that sing of a lifelong commitment will be rewarded and those of us who have kept up our support despite so much disappointment will feel we are getting our team back and will commit once again.

This could be the last time, Maybe the last time, I don’t know.

Everyone loses as Zesh Rehman is transfer listed by Peter Taylor

I’ve always been the type of supporter who takes the manager’s side in public fall outs with players.

Paul Jewell v Lee Mills, Jim Jefferies v Stuart McCall, Colin Todd v Lee Crooks, Stuart McCall v Chris Brandon. Sure, I often understood the player’s grievance, but the way the would have behaved or lack of acknowledgement of the bigger picture left me ultimately agreeing with the manager’s point of view.

But when it comes to Zesh Rehman’s falling out with Peter Taylor, I have to stick my flag firmly in the middle.

This evening on BBC Radio Leeds, Taylor confirmed that Rehman has been transfer listed and stripped of the captaincy due to comments he made in an interview for the same station on Monday. Rehman had spoken out about how unhappy he is to have been dropped on more than one occasion to make way for inexperienced loan players, despite playing very well for the team and helping City achieve some good results. Rehman’s comments can be read here, but in summary he stated:

I’m not going to lie, it’s left a bad taste in my mouth having to watch the last few games from the bench. I’ve led the team to good results and performances and then I’ve had four young loan defenders, with 10 league games between them, come in and play ahead of me. Now, no disrespect to them, but at times like this I think you need experience. I’m club captain, have played over 200 games in my career so far and I think my experience could help the team right now.

“It’s not just me that’s baffled as to why I’m not playing, but my team-mates as well and I’ve been stopped by a number of fans too. But, at the end of the day, the manager has to pick the team that he thinks can win and you have to respect that and get on with it.”

Rehman’s comments are far from out of the blue, a month ago he expressed similar comments to the Telegraph & Argus, after Reece Brown and Oliver Gill’s time on loan had come to an end and the Pakistan international recalled. Last week, a triumphant piece of reporting of Rehman’s Downing Street meeting with David Cameron on City’s official website initially included reference to the Prime Minister expressing his confusion of why he kept getting dropped – only for the offending paragraph to be removed from the page hours later.

Rehman was probably warned about his public comments, and one can understand why Taylor would be angry at having his authority questioned in this manner again. With his unusual background in football, Zesh is regularly sought out for interviews in the national media and has more opportunities than others to express his views. His latest public utterances appear very ill-judged.

On Radio Leeds tonight, Taylor, who had had been listening to Radio Leeds at home when Rehman spoke, explained:

There’s been a couple of situations recently he should have been disciplined for but didn’t. I think I’ve been very open…to say he’s very unlucky to be left out. Every time I’ve made a decision it’s been an honest one. I felt listening to him on your programme Monday night, that was very unnecessary…I think as a club captain he’s let himself down. The timing is poor, and I think he knows what he is doing.

But if it’s difficult to sympathise with Rehman’s actions, it is very easy to understand them. Of course Rehman’s City career has not been the success we hoped when he signed in January 2009. Last season the list of poor performances from City’s number 5 was disappointingly high. He was at times fortunate to retain a place in the starting eleven. But his end of season form was good under Taylor, and the manager could have easily got rid of him during the summer. We can all argue whether he deserved another chance this season, but in been given one he is surely then entitled to a fair crack of the whip.

Rehman would make few supporters’ best City XI when everyone is fit, but with so many defenders on the sidelines he has come in and performed commendably – including playing out of his best position, at right back. And the number of clean sheets and good results his precence in the team helped to earn was evidence of the positive difference he was making.

Then along would come another young loan player, and Rehman was back on the bench.

In such circumstances, who wouldn’t feel frustrated and angry at being forced to make way for young players who were hardly any better or capable? If, in our own jobs and careers, we were giving everything we had to the cause and knew we were making a difference, only for the person above us to decide to bring in someone else to do our job for a few weeks and force us into doing something less, we’d have every right to feel aggrieved. The right way of expressing that anger is a matter of debate, but Rehman’s choices doesn’t make his anger any less valid.

Rehman talks about younger, inexperienced players coming in – and we’ve all seen the struggles Reece Brown, Oliver Gill, Rob Kieran and, to a lesser extent, Rob Eckersley have endured when arriving at Valley Parade. But in some ways this isn’t really the point. Taylor could have brought in Glen Johnson on loan to play right back instead of Rehman, but if the general principle is the loan player is here for just four or five games and then departs back to their club what is the benefit in the medium to longer-term?

City badly need to have a settled team and a settled squad, who are realistically all equal and where the victors of the first team jerseys on a Saturday achieve their places on merit. For sure City have had injuries lately and, after Steve Williams was injured at Colchester last month, Taylor had no choice but to bring in a loan defender with Williams joining Shane Duff, Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt on the sidelines. But he did not need to bring in two defenders and drop an in-form Rehman. He could have signed just Kiernan and kept Zesh as right back, he could have signed just Eckersley and moved Rehman to his natural centre back position.

The point is that City’s reserve players should have the clear motivation of a first team opportunity to push for if there are injuries or loss of form; but if Taylor rules those reserve players are not good enough then why have a squad at all? And why the philosophy of having two players for every position if the back up guy can’t be trusted? If Taylor wanted to be so reliant on the loan market, he could have signed fewer players during the summer and targeted higher quality over quantity.

Rehman talked about other players not understanding why he was dropped – a favourite line used by players who speak out against their manager and one which frankly does him no favours. But it is worth pondering what message Rehman’s continuing dropping from the team for young loanees sends to the rest of the squad fighting for opportunities. What if Luke O’Brien was to get injured in training tomorrow, would Taylor bring in Robbie Threlfall or sign a loanee who is better at attacking than the more conservative-natured former Liverpool youngster?

But let us not pin the blame for this situation on Taylor, for it is a deeper issue running through the club which has led to this public bust up. 2010 has been the year of short-termism for City. The dumping of McCall, the trialling of Taylor and, most damaging of all, then only offering him a one-year contract. This season is all about promotion, and as things stand Taylor will be joining Rehman in leaving Valley Parade just a few months later. We had the outstanding candidate, he told the club what was needed to deliver success. That advice was rewarded with just a short-term contract and then failed promises – and it will be Taylor who carries the can for it.

And so Taylor has to focus all efforts on getting the club promoted this season in order to keep his job. So he has no time for short-term poor results and for developing players like Rehman, when his job will likely depend on very thin margins. He has to get a result on a Saturday, and another the Saturday after. If the best chance of doing that is bringing in a kid from Watford for a few games then who can blame him. Worry about a few weeks time, when that kid departs, later.

If Taylor had been handed a two-year deal and the buffer that this season was not promotion or bust, he could have channelled his efforts wider in developing a squad that would grow and improve over time and City would be all the stronger for that, rather than get rid of players who can’t quite do what he wants and needs in an instant. We are, in many ways, wasting Taylor’s talents by the pressure all of us force him to work under.

It is a great shame that Rehman is going to be departing this club. He is a clearly a fantastic person, who has done a great deal for Bradford City, even if you argue most of it has been off the field. He may not have boosted Asian attendances to Valley Parade in the way some hoped, but the manner of his work in the community and in acting as an ambassador for the club have been outstanding and could have significantly born fruit over time.

But sadly we are a club which has turned to quick wins over long-term thinking. And right now it seems nobody wins.

Cameron joins questions as to why Rehman does not get in the City team

Peter Taylor is talking once again about the need for more loan signings at Valley Parade as he looks at the shape of his squad.

We’ve been forced to get young lads on loan because of the injuries we’ve had in some areas.

Of so the City manager said. Going into the specifics of the squad City’s injuries seem to emanate out from the right back berth taking in Simon Ramsden and Lewis Hunt as well as Shane Duff and Steve Williams at centreback. The lads drafted in are Rob Kiernan, Richard Eckersley now and previous Oliver Gill and Reece Brown.

Zesh Rehman – who can play both the right back and central defensive positions – seems to have become persona non grata and when Taylor talks about the City squad Rehman – it appears – is not to be considered.

David Cameron this week joins the English bid to host the World Cup in 2018 – one of the things he will tell FIFA is that unlike the Russians racism is not a problem in English football – as the Prime Minister joins in with the national game.

Cameron and Rehman met last week with the PM praising the City captain’s foundation which aims to promote the cause of British Asians in football. Cameron has some nice things to say to the City skipper and – albeit only briefly reported on the City website before being removed – the Prime Minister offered this opinion as related by Rehman.

He seemed a little mystified as to why I had been in and out of the side this season despite leading the team to good results and performances.

Reaching the position of Prime Minister is a lot about being able to say the right thing to the right person at the right time – one of Cameron’s predecessors Tony Blair famously had a different favourite food depending on where he was when asked: Fish and Chip in South Shields, something French when down that London – and this need not always be considered what is correct but one has to wonder why Rehman cools his heels while Rob Kiernan and Richard Eckersley are in the side.

The arguments of playing other people’s players over our own in this case and – especially playing Tom Adeyemi over young, owned players like David Syers – has been talked about at length and is a separate question as to why Rehman is isolated from the squad.

(As much as it pains me to say it) Cameron is right that Rehman’s performances in the City side have seen good result and good performances – much of the optimism coming into this season was on the back of the last six games of last season which that Rehman put in a half dozen great displays – but nevertheless something in the mix of Rehman and Bradford City seems to misfire when it comes to a place in the starting eleven. The club seem to acknowledge this if only in their desire not to talk about it shown with the rapid use of the memory hole.

One could speculate about what goes on in the dressing room but it would be just that – speculation – but whatever the reason a cash strapped club seems to find money to bring in a player who can play while a contracted one is on the sidelines.

The club captain who cannot get in the team for a couple of borrowed players, the guy who does great work off the field but can’t get onto it. A player who plays well when he plays, but does not often play.

It is a mystery – and one that I have no answers for – but a mystery which even the Prime Minister cannot fathom.

Not so Speight

As Bradford City were struggling and failing to snatch a late winner over Accrington on Tuesday evening, 44 miles away down the M62, Jake Speight was netting his first goal for his temporary employers, Port Vale.

The strike itself was nothing to write home about. With Stockport’s former City keeper Matt Glennon seemingly resigned to conceding five goals for the third time already this season and rushing out of his area with three Vale players charging towards him, Speight was presented with an open goal that you and I could have tapped home. But still a first Football League goal since 2007 was a personal achievement and, with City’s efforts to break down Accrington going unrewarded, it also threw up some question marks over why he was playing over at Edgley Park for a team that was about to go top of the league.

Speight’s loan spell has since been extended until January, with Peter Taylor dropping less than subtle hints that his Valley Parade career may already be over. Talking about the fact Speight was not allowed to be cup-tied, the City manager stated, “That doesn’t help his value in that respect.”

With City suddenly struggling for goals – just one goal in their last three games – and with Louis Moult absent from even bench duty at Wycombe and home to Accrington, one might have assumed the expiration of Speight’s one month loan at Vale would see the striker return to the parent club he only signed for during the summer.

No one needs a reminder of the fuss that occurred back then, but Speight had impressed in early season games and appeared firmly in Taylor’s plans. Since 24 minutes from the bench at Barnet, Speight hasn’t figured and the success of James Hanson/Jason Price partnering Omar Daley lifted the Bantams from a dismal start. But still, Speight’s demotion from first team starter to the bench to shut out on loan has taken place in a considerably short space of time.

It would pointless to speculate on what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but Taylor has seemingly made an early judgment for whatever reason and it appears Speight will be departing permanently come January. Meanwhile City have just four strikers on a permanent contract – Hanson, Daley, Gareth Evans and Chibuzor Chilaka – and is relying on the same loan market that led to Speight taking temporary residence at Vale Park to widen his options.

This might seem an odd set of circumstances, but in many ways Taylor deserves credit for the way it appears he is handling the situation. City paid £25k for Speight’s services during the summer. Not a colossal amount of money in modern football terms, but to Bradford City this is still a significant fee. Since 2001 City have only paid transfer fees for three other players – Willy Topp, Evans and Hanson – and are not in a position to write off such an investment and call on further transfer reserves to replace Speight.

Taylor, responsible for signing him, appears to have made an early decision. Rather than allow Speight to rot in the reserves or make do with 10 minutes from the bench here and there, he has allowed a player not in his plans to appear in the shop window through featuring more regularly for one of the best League Two sides. A few more goals and Vale may want to talk about a permanent transfer, or other clubs may even enter a bidding war. Perhaps after all that has gone on, Taylor will be able to recuperate the full transfer fee he paid for a player who proved a headache from day one.

Yet the danger for Taylor is closer to home. If City continue to struggle for goals and Speight starts appearing on the Vale score sheet more frequently, questions will be loudly asked of the manager’s judgment. One only needs to recall the failed gamble of his predecessor Stuart McCall, in shipping an increasingly poor-performing Barry Conlon on loan to Grimsby in March 2009 and bringing in Accrington’s Paul Mullin as a direct replacement. Conlon was reborn for a brief time at Blundell Park, scoring crucial goals that kept the Mariners in the division. Mullin failed to find the net at all, and City slipped out of the play offs.

But that is a short-term concern, and if Taylor has determined Speight is not the player to ignite City’s promotion chances it is best he is performing well for Vale, so City can potentially receive their money back. The number of injuries to the defence has probably already pushed the playing budget to the limit.

If, as the evidence of the last two games suggests, there isn’t enough quality in Taylor’s squad to mount a play off push, the potential injection of capital from selling a player ruled not good enough or perhaps too disruptive to the squad’s morale (there is no evidence to suggest this is the case) could be gratefully received in January.

A footballing evolution

The theory of evolution over creationism may be passionately disputed by some, but in football it seems there’s only one type of advancement which ultimately shapes the natural order of league tables.

Managers create their squad for the coming season during the summer, but it is rarely a seven day miracle. Instead there seems to be a constant narrative they all go through in shaping and evolving their team selection, in an effort to ensure their club achieves its realistic goals. What looked the strongest possible team in August very often doesn’t prove to be the case as the games come thick and fast. Survival of the fittest is often about which manager gets his team selection right the quickest.

One can see the process of evolving the squad after the campaign has got underway in Bradford City’s two most successful recent seasons. The forever-talked about promotion of 1998/99 was delivered by a strong squad, but a disastrous start which saw City regularly beaten if not bettered had manager Paul Jewell changing around the team until it eventually clicked and started producing consistently strong results.

As he surveyed the scene at Molineux having clinched promotion at Wolves, Jewell might have reflected on how the previous August he wouldn’t have expected to have relied so heavily on Robbie Blake, Wayne Jacobs and John Dreyer in order to achieve his goals. Similarly a year after, when Premier League survival was achieved, Jewell’s squad had evolved to the point that previous heroes Blake, Lee Mills and Gareth Whalley were somewhat discarded along the way.

For most teams it doesn’t usually end up so gloriously. Over the course of shaping the squad, managers may discover – self-inflicted or otherwise – that they don’t have the players to fulfil expectations.

Sometimes a team starts perfectly only to fall away, with the manager struggling to work out where it’s going wrong and desperately trying to fix it. Often the solutions are realised too late or are the best of a bad situation. Colin Todd, for example, belatedly managed to shape his 2005-06 City team into a winning one and the club enjoyed a strong end to the season – but it had come too late to change the fact pre-season expectations of a play off spot had not been delivered.

In the modern day and particularly at the top end of football, squads rather than just 11 players are crucial in clubs achieving their aims. Part in response to increased intensity of matches, part due to a higher number of injuries than in the past, teams that succeed can’t afford for the absence of players to undermine their prospects. Of course every team has players they struggle badly without – witness Chelsea’s heavy defeat to Sunderland on Sunday with John Terry and Alex were injured – but never has the team been less about the individuals.

Peter Taylor’s has this season moved Bradford City to as close of a squad game as we’ve ever seen at Valley Parade. So often we’ve welcomed a new batch of players in the summer who’ve shown initial promise; but as the strikers went on goal droughts, the wingers revealed their inconsistency and defenders began to tot up mistakes, the season’s objectives were all too soon not going to be met.

This summer’s recruits by Taylor haven’t