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

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary MacKenzie, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott, Mark Yeates | James Hanson, Billy Clarke | Tony McMahon, Jon Stead, Matty Dolan

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.

The boat sets sail with City on the shore

The Football League – being the 72 clubs outside the Premier League and above the Blue Square Conference structure – have agreed to a new way of paying so called Parachute payments to clubs falling out of the top flight which – some critics say – create a Premier League Second Division in all but name.

The short story is that clubs like Hull City and Burnley who are relegated from the top flight will be paid and increased slice of Premier League pie with the aim of ensuring that they do not hit the financial problems that have best the likes of Charlton Athletic, Norwich City, Southampton and other side who have fallen from grace including – although it is some time ago now – Bradford City.

The aim is noble – perhaps – but the feared outcome is that the clubs relegated from the top flight will be so financially doped that they will ruin competition in the division below reducing the chase for the top flight to clubs who have been relegated and those who have owners with massive funds to invest. Blackpool – taking a 2-1 lead into the second leg of the playoff semi-finals – would represent a model of the type of team who are expected to be penalised by this and – one assumes – QPR the sort who would benefit.

The separation between the haves of the game and have-nots will increase to a point where investing at a Doncaster Rovers or a Scunthorpe United will see you hit a glass ceiling at a much lower level than that said to be half way up the Premier League reducing competition. One wonders – if this is true – how the voting went for the chairmen of those clubs who have taken teams like that pair up from the lower reaches into the second tier of the game. They are offered riches in exchange for rowing the boat of prosperity away from the drowning men that make up much of the rest of the league. It seems that given the choice between self-interest and solidarity they elected for the former and League One and League Two fell into line for fear of a permanent break away of those clubs into an actual – rather than a de facto – Premiership Two.

In practice though – and even with huge chunks of money flying around as they always seem to – the game of football makes more a meritocracy of the business of the game than the critics of today’s news would like to admit and perhaps we need only look over to those celebrating a promotion to the Championship at the third attempt at Elland Road to be reminded how the size of the club matters little when eleven players choke in the play-offs. Chairman and managers of clubs like Burnley will be able to fritter away resource no matter how large they are and at Turf Moor they have an expert at doing just that. Before joining the Clarets Brian Laws had been frittering away the resources of Sheffield Wednesday for years and the size of that club matters little in the harshness of Championship relegation.

Nevertheless today’s decision in which The Football League practically admitted its inability to do anything other than acquiesce to the demands of the top flight is a rotten one. Whatever the gulf between clubs and wherever it occurs rather than trying to – almost literally – throw money at teams who fall into that chasm but being relegated from the top flight would it not have been a better situation to encourage – no – enforce good governance on the teams who may get into trouble rather than bail them out afterwards.

Portsmouth are playing in the FA Cup final next week and in a very serious and very real way it could be the final game in the club’s history the reason for this being the ludicrous contracts and players signed to take the club to another day out at Wembley two years ago. Portsmouth have not had a bail out of Greek proportions but they will be paid after they are relegated for the Premier League (the money, perhaps, being diverted to pay contracts they have defaulted on) and one cannot help but wonder if the best interests of all would not have been served by ensuring that the club could not be dragged into the state it is currently in in what in retrospect seems to be the service of one man’s Ahab style quest for personal glory.

Glory, glory, Tottenham Hotspur – as the song goes – beware. The quest of Harry Redknapp that has bankrupted Portsmouth has catapulted Spurs into the Champions League – such a misnomer – but one has to wonder about the cost as Spurs spend money like the water in the infamous Elland Road fish tank which provides a cautionary tale for the future at White Hart Lane, and for clubs who would borrow against success without a thought of good governance.

Indeed the Football League – agreeing this deal – agrees to take such tainted vessels in. One wonders what purpose the world’s oldest football league now has and if all 72 members or perhaps just those who were powerless to stop today’s decision would not be better resigning to join the Football Association as a giant Premier League non-league rather than this current system in which the clubs at the top of the second tier make decisions with the threat of breaking away as a stick.

Rather than making sure that Hull City do not end up spending hundreds of thousands a week on strikers who could hardly be said to have put Ryan Kendall to shame the Premier League will throw money at them to plug the holes they have after relegation. The clubs that exit the Premier League, the bounce back and forth from Premier League to Championship, will do so in luxury liners. The financial boat has set sail today with Bradford City on the shore watching and perhaps noticing that the boats themselves are letting in water.

Breaking even and City in the Champions League

English clubs owe more money than the rest of Europe combined. The huge debts at players like Old Trafford and Anfield are so great that UEFA’s Michel Platini is so concerned that he is trying to ride to the rescue with a rule that would exclude any team from the Champions League or the Europa League that is not in the black.

It seems that 53% of European football debt comes from the top of the English game and while the people in the top flight point to that fact that no only is the majority of debt – but also the majority of income – based on the Premiership. The TV Deals, the popularity, the money coming in they say justifies the red figures on the back account.

Platini – an egalitarian – sees things differently and while the rules he seeks to bring in are undoubtedly going to harm the English clubs from 2013-2014 when the Frenchman wants to begin enforcing the rule onwards one might doubt that it will harm the English football fan.

The benefits of The Glazer deal at Manchester United, the Americans at Liverpool, the Icelanders at West Ham United or the men of unfixed nationality at Portsmouth for the football supporter is debatable. The most shocking thing about Leeds United’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford in January for the East of Pudsey people I spoke to was not the gulf in the teams that had grown in the years since the clubs parted company but the increase in the price. It was £42 for a Loiner to get into the game, twice as much as it was less than a half decade ago.

What is bad for English football making the club’s less attractive for the investors who have flocked to the Premiership in the last decade or so might be good for the English supporters who for all the joy of seeing the “best players in the world” have suffered a counter balancing effect of a third of teams going into administration. Make club’s less desirable for investors looking to use the assets they purchase to mortgage the business and one makes the football club (rather than the football business) safer, in theory at least.

Of course this begs the question as to who owns football clubs if it is not the current ranks of investors and interested parties not all of which can be said to be moustachio twirling madmen. One answer is found at Valley Parade.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are a pair of local businessmen and for all the increasingly – and for me troubling – autocratic nature of one of the joint chairmen in his approach to planning at the club the previous plan he has followed has worked.

Worked not on the field – at least not in the medium term it was judged – but certainly off it. Mark Lawn arrived with a plan – a plan that Julian Rhodes had hoped for for sometime – of the club working within its budget and living in its means and we are told that this plan has worked.

Bradford City are one of only two professional English football clubs who are in the black. Lawn and Rhodes’s plan worked, that is why it would be nice to know what the plan is now and why I’d hoped that Lawn would come out with his arm around Peter Taylor with a contract that lasted for years and announce that nothing at Valley Parade would change, aside from the manager. That he still believed in the long term planning and stability that had got us to the point where we lived within our means that that Peter Taylor would be given that stability and ability to avoid having to boom or bust to keep his job. Alas he did not.

Nevertheless if it is true to say that City are in the black – the news was written to a fan and is mentioned in the excellent and once again plugged City Gent #162 – then the joint chairmen deserve credit and we shall keep our fingers crossed that this last month where the plan that has been us in such rude financial health is questioned that it has not been dumped.

It is an achievement for the club and everyone at it that at the turn of the decade that saw City go into administration twice that Bradford City have learnt the lesson and put being in the black as an a significant aim.

Michel Platini will hope that we still do because if things were to continue as they do now then in 2013 when the Frenchman aims to enact his new rules Scunthorpe United and Bradford City will be England’s only two entries to the Champions League.

The fit and proper fit and proper test

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis believes that the antics at his former club Portsmouth prove that the fit and proper test in English football his broken and the speculation that Notts County might be but two weeks away from administration comes as no surprise following the slow unravelling of the season they have had off the field.

At the top of Pulis’s league Manchester United and Liverpool have huge debts secured against the clubs by owners who did not make the dial twitch on the FA’s fit and proper test. Up and down the game clubs are bought and sold and as yet the fit and proper persons test has – as yet – has flagged very few people.

Is it broken? Well, no but it is inadequate for the job which people would have it perform which is protecting the future of football clubs from unscrupulous owners who put those clubs at risk.

The fit and proper test has no powers of prediction and on the whole the people who have run clubs into trouble have done so with no indicators to suggest they will. Aside from a little mild xenophobia there was no reason to believe that any of the owners of Portsmouth FC would be any worse for the club than the years of local businessman ownership.

There was plenty of reason to believe that Manchester United’s Glazier Family were going to saddle the clubs with massive debts – they made no secret of that fact – but it was decided by football’s authorities that they should steer clear of making that call. Certainly nothing in Glazer’s past flagged the fit and proper test which is not designed to ask chairman what the intentions they have when buying the club are.

Not designed to but perhaps it should be.

“Franchise” is a dirty word in English football after the Wimbledon/MK Dons saga but some of the elements of a franchise system could be brought to the English game for the betterment of teams and supporters.

The American franchise system is a way of laying out to the owners of one of the shares of a professional sporting league what they can and cannot do and in the land of the free the owners are free to move clubs hundreds of miles and generally treat the supporters not very well. The fact that the word is used to describe the Wimbledon/MK Dons action is because such an uprooting is not uncommon in American sports.

This, however, is a failure of the implementation of the system, rather than the system itself. At its core the system is about how much control of a club, a club’s finances, assets and its future an owner can expect to have which at the moment in English football is near total.

Imagine a Bradford City Franchise which had a specific remit: that the club played at Valley Parade, that the club wore claret and amber striped shirts, that the club would never trade at a loss and so on; and that these were the conditions of the Football League share some being changeable by a majority vote of season ticket holders such as switching ground and some being conditions of the league such as the trading concerns.

The owners of that club would be told they were to behave within a certain way and were they not to then the club’s share could be – effectively – removed from that business which had run the club and passed on. The club would be more healthy because it would be forced to be more healthy and the supporters would be more integral because they would ultimately be written into the constitution of the club.

There are many drawbacks with this idea some significant, some subjective (is it a drawback the it would make clubs less attractive investment possibilities if that means the Glazers of this world ignore it?) and some which could be worked out in the implementation.

Football needs to look at reassigning the weight of responsibility away from the idea that owners will be fit and proper towards giving the owners a remit they must stay within.

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