The ghosts of the Wimbledon past

Relegation is bad enough, but allowing those ageing, clog wearing, whippet racing, Rugby League watching simpletons Bradford to stay up is truly disgusting.” The now-defunct Wimbledon website BigTissue.com, May 14 2000

These words, relayed via David Pendleton in the City Gent back in August 2000 as part of a look back at the emotions Bradford City and Wimbledon supporters went through in the 1999-2000 battle to stay in the Premier League, have always stuck in my mind as an insight into the hatred Dons fans felt towards us when we stayed up at their expense.

Meanwhile as Valley Parade literally rocked up and down during the closing minutes of the Bantams’ 1-0 victory over Liverpool that confirmed our survival, the Sky TV cameras cut to a banner in the Kop that displayed the message “Bye Bye Wombles”.

For a short time at least, Bradford City and Wimbledon were bitter rivals.

Such is the competitive nature of football that, from time-to-time, an opposition club previously off the radar suddenly becomes an enemy in a promotion or relegation battle; with their results mattering greatly. That Wimbledon team had two weeks earlier self-destructed in front of our eyes, going down to a 3-0 defeat with John Hartson stupidly sent off. Away fans had reason to be aggrieved by questionable refereeing that day, and that ill feeling showcased by BigTissue.com was carried on for a few years later when City were relegated to a Division One that Wimbledon were unable to earn promotion from.

Indeed fast forward to February 2003, where BfB writer Roland Harris managed to upset numerous supporters for airing views on the protest movement in operation against moving the club to Milton Keynes. With Dons fans boycotting matches and ultimately forming AFC Wimbledon, opposition supporters were urged not to travel to Selhurst Park when their team were away to Wimbledon. Roland argued why he would be going to watch the Bantams draw 2-2, because he went to away games to watch City not the opposition.

A strong backlash towards this site from both Wimbledon and City fans followed, a moment editor Michael Wood still refers to as “one of our biggest fall outs.”

By the time City were next due to play Wimbledon away, they had moved to Milton Keynes and a season later they became the MK Dons. Meanwhile the real Wimbledon were embarking on a fast-paced journey back into the Football League. The ‘rivalry’ consigned to the past as fans around the world including City deeply admired what Wimbledon fans were doing; but when a year ago I wrote an article for TwoHundredPercent about City’s 10-year decline, a couple of Wimbledon fans posted reader comments expressing no sympathy for our suffering. Understandable, because what they had gone through was far worse; but also a sign that past clashes were not forgotten.

The point of recalling these incidents is not to stoke up ill-feeling between two sets of supporters properly meeting this Saturday for the first time at Valley Parade since a 3-3 draw in October 2001. But the fact there is a ‘history’ between the two clubs is worth recalling in order to provide Wimbledon supporters with the respect they deserve.

Respect for what they have achieved since reforming at the bottom is widespread and well documented of course. There is huge inspiration to be taken from the way they sought to preserve the heart and soul of their football club, when disgraceful actions were undertaken by people who were supposed to share their best interests. The meteoric rise is arguably the football success story of the past decade, and like everyone else one hopes the day is coming when they overtake the Buckinghamshire club who stole their identity.

Yet there’s only so much patting on the back before we cross over into patronising. And though we can buy their fans a drink before kick off, and smile warmly for them as their players walk out into a stadium which had so much significance in their demise 11 years ago, the fact is they are now a rival in our division and deserve to be treated as such.

For if there is a lesson to be learned from reading opposition fans write your achievements off as “whippet racing, Rugby League watching simpletons” it is the dangers of underestimating the club you are facing.

When Wimbledon came to Valley Parade towards the end of that Premier League relegation battle, Hartson was infamously said to have sought advice from Dons hero Vinnie Jones that intimidating City’s “hard man” (Stuart McCall) in the tunnel before kick off would cause the Bantams to crumble. He tried, he failed.

As events turned against them on the field the players reacted dismally, displaying a childish “it’s not fair” attitude reflected in the BigTissue.com. It was clear that the pain of relegation weighted heavily, but the fact little old City had stayed up at their expense was considered something of an injustice.

The modern day Wimbledon don’t deserve to be treated as beneath us, as much as they shouldn’t be treated as beneath Macclesfield, Plymouth or any other League Two side. Their merited position was always among the 92, and now they truly are here on merit. A club to be inspired by, but now also one to fear.

The heroics of Wimbledon fans will never be forgotten but are now a thing of the past, for they are back where they belong. “Who are ya? Who are ya?”

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.

Jim Jefferies and a cyclic revisionism

For eight years former Bradford City Premiership boss Jim Jefferies has been in charge at Kilmarnock before his – and of course his number two Billy Brown’s – exit early today in a storm of reports about directors talking to captains about tactics following a summer of arguing with the board about offering a job to the one time City midfelder Gary Locke a job.

Jefferies – who was overlooked for the Scotland job despite strong favour in some sections of the country – had a decent record at Rugby Park taking them to numerous top six finishes but never getting close to the top two. Not dissimilar to his record with Hearts before he arrived at Valley Parade to replace Chris Hutchings in 2000.

Hutchings had struggled to win points with most talented team assembled in Bradford City’s history in the top flight that season and Jefferies – on arrival – was trumpeted as one of the top ten coaches in the UK. On his second day he had rubbed chairman Geoffrey Richmond up the wrong way with the head honcho deciding after 48 hour that he was not able to work with the new man and a look back at the Bantams shows that the club had been in a slide caused by Richmond’s six weeks of madness.

Isn’t it time we looked back at what we perceive as a failure for Jim Jefferies and re-evaluate his time at Bradford City? Like Hell it is.

Jefferies arrived at Valley Parade proudly waving a white flag above his head saying that relegation – with over half the season left – was a near certainty and Richmond’s instinct to sack the Scot on his second day in the job was spot on (What would have been the worst that happened had he done so? Jefferies and Brown could have been added to the list of creditors?)

Not content with waving that white flag Jefferies proceeded to cherry pick a few players from the first team – the likes of Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore – and give them a few months in the reserves no doubt to encourage them out of the door for the wage bill but effectively making his relegation prediction more likely.

Jefferies attitude to the Bradford City dressing room seemed to read good spirit and strength as disruption and a divide of his power and set about slicing it in half. Out went club legend Peter Beagrie – woefully minimised with his swansong being a later dance around defender at home to Coventry City showing what the Bantams were missing – and in came the likes of Eoin Jess and the aforementioned Locke. Kevin Kyle – the captain who had seen the fall out at Killie – was linked to City during this time and after a year in the job the manager brought in the ineffectual Juan José Carricondo. Jim Jefferies called the players by their nicknames – Juanjo, Lockey, erm, Jessie – but only those players he has brought into Valley Parade.

Thus Jefferies is summed up. A manager who made the critical error of judgement that a player who could turn a few tricks for Hearts in the SPL could replace one for one a player who could do the same in the Premiership. In the annals of Bradford City not enough is spoken of the waste of time, effort and money which was paying Juanjo after having Benito Carbone in the second eleven.

Chris Hutchings suffered injures to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien and lost Lee Mills to alcohol problems but while Hutchings struggled to keep his players in the squad Jefferies frittered them away on what in retrospect seemed to be one man’s experiment to discover what anyone could have told him before he started: that an average player in Scottish top flight football is a long way inferior to his counterpart in the English top flight.

The most irritating thing about Jefferies – who once again leaves a club complaining about interference from above as if his time at Valley Parade should not have warned chairmen about giving him a free hand – is that Wigan Athletic kindly provided a second take on the Paul Jewell leaves and is replaced by a short time by Hutchings story and their ended happily under Steve Bruce who came not with the Jefferies surrender but with spirit and fight that kept them in the top flight.

I would not have considered Bruce one of the top ten managers in the country before then, his achievements at Wigan probably changed my mind on that.

One is tempted to ask how different would Bradford – City and the City – be had that appointment been made differently. Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle were reported to be talked to and Prof Rhodes confirmed that Berti Vogts has applied for the job but instead – and with a flourish from the media who sang his praises dubbing him one of the best managers in the country – we got Jim Jefferies, and shafted.

However if the appointment was a mistake then that mistake was compounded and doubled by Jefferies attitude at the club. What was good at the club – and administration came as a result of overspending but relegation did not – was broken. We went into the season watching Peter Beagrie watching Eoin Jess but having haemorrhaged the biggest gold rush in the club’s history in the process and while others can take some blame for that the wages and free transfers given to players ousted from the club simply cause the manager didn’t like their faces was a not insignificant factor.

The football Jefferies side’s played was not entertaining and often characterless – massively so in comparison to the teams Paul Jewell had played six months before – and the celebrated coach flitted from a 433 to a 442 bringing back players he had cast away only moths before as if to confirm that his experiments had failed. It was football management as a tepid passionless process in which our club was the subject of experimental and non-committal whims. He left and not long after there were pieces that we are still picking up now. It would be wrong and foolish to blame him for all of these but he certainly did nothing to help and plenty to hinder.

Put simply Jim Jefferies could not have cared less Bradford City or Bradford City supporters and his level of attention to the club following his departure – none – speaks volumes.

Revisionism comes often in football and is cyclic. What was the solution to yesterdays woes is often brought back as tomorrow’s solution to today’s problems and tonight Jim Jefferies and Burnley were mentioned in the same breath.

One hopes that Burnley can learn the lessons from our mistakes, one hopes that we can learn too.

Nil-nil, Everton, plus ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything changes after City gorge in nine goals

The nine goals that City and Cheltenham enjoyed on Saturday changed the context of the debate on the Bantams as rapidly as they hit the back of the net at Wealden Road.

Within eight minutes when Gareth Evans powerfully ran from the left to slot in suddenly suggestions of how best to use Michael Boulding and what to do with Peter Thorne were cast far from the mind and as equalisers followed goal the discussion switched to the defence and how to stop it leaking goals. With Bradford City – it seems – there is one glass worth of water and two glasses. One is always going to be half full.

Nevertheless without want to pre-empt or even join either of these discussions one recalls City’s two recent odd wins in nine goal thrillers and how they effected things at Valley Parade hoping to get a pointer as to what the upshot of this match maybe.

Colin Todd’s men who went to Tranmere Rovers on the back of three straight wins won 5-4 thanks to a late David Wetherall goal. That 5-4 win at Prenton Park became the stuff of short term legend with the gate – then a more mutable figure – rising as a result as the Bantams made some news for a display full of character and in that say Stuart McCall’s side may be similar to that of Todd. The Bantams are opt characterised as being a spineless team who are too ready to use adversity as a chance to put heads down.

However three times City were dragged back to level terms and three times the players established a lead once more. Also tellingly every lead was given by a player Stuart McCall had brought into the club following the collapses of the end of last season. James O’Brien, James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Steve Williams all were brought in in the summer by the manager and all gave City the lead at some point.

The 5-4 at Prenton Park saw troubled top spot in the league for a while until encountering Luton Town and Joe Ross who combined to inflict a 4-0 defeat which Todd’s side – in retrospect – never recovered from and perhaps it was precinct that the defence at Tranmere was breached by the Hatters and their many account paid players and of which the utterly impartial Ross said “You need to sort your defending out.”

How true – and utterly inappropriate – the Referee was and so McCall will think the same. One never likes to trust the Press Association stats that are produced (and reproduced on the BBC Website) but over the course of the last two games with Lincoln and Cheltenham the opposition has mustered as many shots on target as they have scored goals with the homes side at the weekend (recordedly) having four at Simon Eastwood’s goal and me struggling to recall Lincoln having to make the City keeper do more work than pick the ball out of his net twice.

All of which will worry McCall but he may cast his mind back to the other 5-4 when the Bantams were beaten by West Ham United in the Premiership in one of the games dubbed as the best the top flight has ever seen.

McCall famously chewed out Dean Saunders for not squaring a chance for City to get a fifth in that game but will reflect that the Bantams backline and goalkeeper that day were hardly a settled unit with Aidan Davison the third of City’s three keepers that year not really getting to grips with sitting behind David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien.

Defensive units are hard things to gel for sure and anyone who is ready to put all the blame for concessions two the goalkeeper – and Simon Eastwood has been criticised from the second he took to the field for City for not being a bigger name keeper – is naive but it will have escaped the notice of none that the triangle of Zesh Rehman, Eastwood and Williams has not been enjoying the greatest of births.

The West Ham game though – while taken in some quarters as a nail in the coffin for the Premiership City – was used by Paul Jewell to bring heart to his players suggesting that the game was proof that while they lost the game they were involved in the scrap and that he would ask of them only that – that the brought the effort needed to compete.

A lesson which McCall will draw for his players in the coming week. When heads are up the far forward becomes so much clearer.

Bradford City prepare to face Lincoln City in a modern football match

Back in the day when newspapers were typeset by hand, Jimmy Hill’s chin presented Match of the Day and Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine had yet to be applied to the job of applying three points for one win and sorting such a collection of results into an ordered lists League tables after two games simply did not exist.

Not that it was impossible for the scholars of 1974 to work out that a 3-0 defeat on the opening day of the season put Cloughie’s Leeds bottom of the First Division or that a win, a couple of draw and a few defeat in said man’s first six games only gave his side four points but with the effort that had to go into totting up columns, creating news print and video overlays for Television to roughly project onto brightly coloured pictures there seemed very little point in bothering.

The table at that stage did not mean anything after all, and if it did you could be sure that Shankley’s Liverpool would be top of it. Tables tended to turn up in newspapers and magazines in September after about ten games and then they were accompanied by football managers of the day warning that said table could not be read until everyone has played everyone else at least once – except for Jimmy Sirrel who insisted it did not lie.

The modern football table – the sort that sits all summer with naught in every column – is more of a database waiting to happen and has given rise to an obsession with starting counting league position by the minute of each game. In fact ten years ago City were forth in the Premiership for the 22 hours until Manchester United won moving us and everyone else down a place.

Match of the Day made a return this weekend and had the top four places of the top division coloured golden to indicate Champions League slots – somewhere Platini fumes – with the aforementioned United excluded, lagging down in eighth position with zero points in zero games.

Back in my day in March a half blind man would draw a dotted line somewhere approximating the promotions places – and he were always wrong – if you were lucky.

All of which is preamble to saying that aside from the fact that Notts County are top and everyone else isn’t the League Two table means – frankly – “nowt” which is just as well because if it were to mean something City would be third bottom.

The opening point of the season came with the weekend 0-0 draw with Port Vale which presented a Bantams side that – rather surprisingly considering the previous week – had very little wrong with it.

The back four did not put a foot wrong with Steve Williams starting to impress in that way that suggests he is taking to professional football better than Matthew Clarke – who he replaces in the side again tonight – would take to cutting hair in Bamber Bridge. He is partnered by Zesh Rehman and is in front of Simon Eastwood who are both a clean sheet further away from Notts County.

City’s full backs against Vale probably had more pitch to play in than they will in most games this season with the Valiants anything but. Simon Ramsden – it would be amiss of me not to point out after a number of discussions with “our Rovert” on the subject – could have done with more support in front of him when he came forward with the ball while Luke O’Brien could do with putting a bit more air into his crosses with the hope of beating the first man. If not air then variety as the promising young left back’s play became a little easy to read on Saturday.

Promising young left backs though are not in short supply at Valley Parade with Louis Horne ready to replace O’Brien who was sliced in half by Anthony Griffith at the weekend and may not play. Horne – for the uninitiated – is the son of Peter Horne the man in charge of youth development at VP but those who have seen him put in a few games ensue suggestions of nepotism with phrases like “he looks a bit good.”

Horne is a bit good although which bit is not yet clear. He can use the ball, tackle, and has a good head on him and while that is deployed at left back often he does take the left wing and – in the humble opinion of this writer – might want to try his hand in the centre of midfield.

Not that City need any more number fours with Michael Flynn and Stephen O’Leary finding a way of keeping the back door closed and O’Leary especially useful in taking the ball from the central defenders and moving it on with minimum fuss. The pair look set to anchor behind the roving Chris Brandon – who will face up against his former Town boss Lincoln manager Peter Jackson – who comes inside and left flank man James Hanson who loses nothing in the air and comes in from the flanks to add to the attack.

All of which leaves City a little thin out wide but we should not mind the width if we can feel the quality and the quality of City’s approach play impressed on Saturday.

Approach play good and the strikers were not able to profit with Boulding seeing the best of the chances saved. Peter Thorne struggles with four games in eleven days and so may sit out to allow Gareth Evans to lead the line. Michael Boulding is expected to partner.

The inverse proportion

The measure of the significance, or lack thereof, of a pre-season friendly would seem to be only measurable retroactively and by inverse proportion to how many people express the sentiment that the match was unimportant.

It began quickly in the hours past following City’s win over Burnley on Saturday with the odd Facebook update timed around five and declaring a distance from other City fans who may have been excited.

The wave continued through message boards and the like crossing the Pennines as it went with web sites not unlike this one quick to point out that it was only a cobweb blower and could be ignored.

Our own Jason Mckeown stuck a sensible note suggesting that looking from a Bradford City point of view the game might mean things are not as bad as the worst predictions would have it but as that BfB article went live The Sun were dancing a jig on the Claret’s Premier League grave.

Owen Coyle joined the chorus and one Turf Moor website summed up the day as “Burnley Lose To Bradford So What?

What indeed. The results of pre-season games are on the whole an irrelevance but performances are not and one suspects that the dismissal of the result is much easier to do than dismissing the significance of seeing two central defenders who could be facing Torres getting out paced and looking flat footed compared to the Boulding brothers.

Likewise from a Bradford City point of view positives drawn from the game are muted by the haphazard nature of the two teams thrown onto the field. Finding a winning team from kids and those on trial is more alchemy than chemistry.

Nevertheless as last season’s reversal by the Clarets was heralded as a reality check for the enthusiastic Bantams this one should probably be seen in the same way detailing the reality that nothing is ever as bad or as good as some would have you believe.

Burnley move on and one suspects that as with Bradford City in the Premier League their battles will be done on bank holidays at Sunderland and when picking oneself up following 5-4 defeats to West Ham. Be ready for those fights and this game will be irrelevant, lose them and it will have been a warning.

Likewise should better things be seen for the Bantams this season than last then the turn around started that early July afternoon. If not then it will have been meaningless.

However on a Monday morning there is a story to tell and a pride to be had of sorts. The meaning is in the lift and perhaps not just for supporters but within Valley Parade.

After months of slipping form and disappointment, or cash cutting and players leaving, there is some good news.

Result, performance, the effect when viewed in retrospect and any upsets that may come included at this point in time this is, in whatever way, meaningful.

The dream you’d no longer want to live

There was a sense of vulgarity to the whole thing.

Man City supporters, trying their best to ignore reports of a poor human rights record and corruption charges this past year, had run out of patience when their ‘ruthless’ owner Thaksin Shinawatra was suddenly unable to buy new players. On transfer deadline day he was ousted, collecting twice the money he’d paid 12 months earlier – by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).

Man City fans were celebrating suddenly becoming the richest club in the world.

In the few remaining hours before the window closed, the new owners managed to cause enough of a stir to suggest the Premier League’s natural order might be threatened over the next few years. “We can win the Champions League in 10 years” has been the cry, amongst boasts of signing the world’s best players in January. Despite having just broken the British transfer record – £32 million – to lure a confused Robinho to Eastlands, the club will apparently have no problems – financially or ethically – spending £120 million on one player to help make those dreams come true.

Not so long ago, as Kevin Keegan will now have time to tell you, football clubs succeeded through clever management, shrewd buys, developing youngsters and adopting better tactics than others. In the modern day, the way to succeed in “the most exciting league in the world” is to have more money than your rivals. For how well the likes of Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp and David Moyes have managed their respective clubs, the glass ceiling just above their heads means they’ll achieve little more. After a superb season last year things are unravelling at Goodison, due to money of course. Everton can’t match others’ spending power and their Chairman, Bill Kenwright, offers the solution that the club needs a billionaire owner themselves.

Do billionaires grow on trees? One can only respect people who have built up vast fortunes during their lives, but also question why they would want to invest in a football club. Do they just have so much money that they want to get rid of some by donating it to clubs, or is it more likely that what got them to the level of billionaire in the first place will play a part as they eye up TV money, loyal fans and corporate facilities? Sure, come in and spend £80 million to get your new ‘toy’ into the Champions League cash cow, but ultimately most will collect a profitable return.

Man City might be the exception, just like Chelsea with Roman Abramovich, but the price of success will be felt somewhere. Without a hint of sorrow, Man City Assistant Manager Mark Bowen has warned his club’s youth players that they’ll largely be ignored in favour of paying over the odds for the world’s best players. As Man City start rising, so to will their worldwide fanbase. They already joke about overtaking their neighbours but, after years of self-smugness at been the club true Mancunians support while Man United’s followers hail from Essex, their die-hards might have to get used to the people sat next to them at games having funny accents. If Man City were a band, they’d be accused of selling out.

Last week someone asked me if I was jealous no billionaires were eyeing up Bradford City and I surprised them with my negative reply.

Suddenly having the relative fortune to buy the best players and rise up the leagues might seem exciting, but the price is one we’d more than likely have to pay. Would a billionaire appreciate the virtues of offering supporters cheap season tickets? Would they think there was a point to the youth team? Would we bother harbouring links in the community? Already Mark Lawn has uttered the ‘brand’ word when talking about City, but it’s a long way removed from the rampant commercialism of his Premier League counterparts.

Of course the Bantams were guilty of throwing money in pursuit of the elitists’ dreams eight years ago and the consequences are still with us. The aim, during those six weeks of madness, was to speed up the club’s growth beyond its natural resources but, unless you have an Ambromich or ADUG to soak up the losses, it’s a huge gamble.

We learned some harsh lessons when reality set in but for all the misery it has caused, not just to us supporters but the people who lost money due to our actions, one also wonders how happy we’d really be had it succeeded and we were now a regular Premiership club, when even the wildest of ambitions would stretch to no more than touching that glass ceiling.

Back in the big four, Arsene Wenger has made laudable noises about ensuring Arsenal becomes self-sustaining in a few years, rather than relying on the pocket of a rich owner. He’s pinned his faith in a youth system which, while not above criticism, has reaped great rewards. Their impatient fans might not agree but, if the team takes a few years to succeed, it will still be all the more worthy for doing it the right way. Some ran off into the sun at the whiff of more money, but Arsenal are building a team of players fully committed to their club’s cause.

Stuart McCall did not use money to persuade those who joined this summer; he used his own ambitions for glory and the club’s biggest asset, its fanbase. Last week Stuart revealed that promotion this season would surpass anything he has achieved in his football career.

“I have been lucky enough to realise a few dreams in football but promotion this time around would mean everything. How much? Put it this way, I can’t see Alex Ferguson getting more pleasure than I would from taking my team into League One. That might sound daft but it illustrates just how deeply I care about Bradford. This club is in my heart and soul. Every win we get gives me so much satisfaction, it’s unreal.”

Should Stuart succeed, we’ll be looking back and noting promotion was not achieved because of throwing pots of money at it; but by using the club’s resources to build a hungry team desperate to succeed, having gone through years of hardship as punishment for going down the route of spending beyond our means. In it’s own way that will make the achievement seem greater and be celebrated wilder – the feeling we’ve earned it after years of punishment.

Two years ago this site looked at how the club could arrest itself from the decline and, while there has been more misery since it, some of those ideals have been followed. Success can be an overnight thing when money’s thrown at it, and of course it shouldn’t be forgotten that the investment of Mark Lawn has speeded up our recovery, but it can be hollower and raise headaches further down the line.

It might be a long time before we play Man City on merit again, but if they are now living the dream it’s not one all of us are interested in pursuing anymore. Reality could prove far more enjoyable.

The man with the knife

South Leeds is the part of the City that fashion has forgotten but it is in this refuge of the non-business man that having walked from work I looked for a haircut and settled onto a barber who had the most important thing one can find in this search – an empty chair.

I got snug and looked around catching a glimpse of the odd United poster – to be expected – before doffing my glasses and waiting for the cut. The rule with barbers is small talk and so we killed time before inevitably getting onto football and the Champions League final on Wednesday.

“Coke vs Pepsi” I offered attempting to close down the conversation. I sensed he wanted more so I continued “But I guess Man United, what with being Northern…”

“I hate Man Yoo,” he replied, “Because I am Leeds.”

He was and in the middle of Leeds he has a right to be. He snipped well and quickly so I tried to press him for more saying “I thought Leeds hated Chelsea too.”

He said that he would rather both teams lost the game – if only that were possible – and that if the fans were all sent to Siberian prisons then he would not be upset. It amused me and I laughed only for his hands to roughly grab me ensuring even sideburns.

“I don’t care.” he declared “I’m going to Wembley and we are going up.” and for a moment a rush of conversation ran though my head. We should be kin – this barber and me – for we have no interest in this Moscow Show and we long for the success of our own clubs.

We are the best of rivals but not enemies. We can agree on this point and build common ground from there. The interests of clubs outside the less than a dozen that make up the haves in football are best served by recognising that Leeds United, Bradford City, Ipswich, Yeovil Town, Exeter and on and on have more in common than we do separating us.

Here in this barbers shop in South Leeds we could join on this point.

“Perhaps a bomb will go off and both Man Yoo and Chelsea will be killed?” he smiled and started to finish my hair with a razor.

His cutthroat razor flicking down the back of my neck.

We are the two of us alone in his shop and bomb idea hanging in a pregnant pause between us. A long, sharp blade flicking my neck as he asks me “Who do you support?”

Well what would you say?

There. Now For Back Again

There was a nervousness – a sense of being on edge – in the last five minutes of this one goal victory over a Morecambe side who’s defeat at Christie Park represented a nadir of City’s season which was entire out of keeping with the comprehensive nature of the win and left a sense of what could have been for the Bantams after another promotion contender was moved aside with relative ease.

Those who witnessed the gutless display away in the North West came back with a worry about City’s ability to turn around the slide and the season but as a confident Bantams recorded the sort of 1-0 win which left a questions as to how the home side did not score more the answer seemed to lay in the vigour, zest and belief which characterised the display.

Nowhere is that belief better shown than in Joe Colbeck. Joe Colbeck – a player who this time last year was said to “divide fans” between those who thought he would never amount to a professional footballer and those who thought he deserved a chance. Very few would have said that this time next season he would strut across the field prompting moves, making play, setting up goal as a part of the best passing move of this and many seasons for the Bantams.

Nevertheless Colbeck’s intelligent running and low cross from the inside left gave Eddie Johnson the chance to score a scruffy but well deserved goal. After the game Stuart McCall would comment that Johnson had been forced to play out of position as a midfielder signalling that Eddie was to be consider a spare Peter Thorne for next term. Johnson took the injured Thorne’s place in the forward line with Barry Conlon playing just behind him and the pair toiled all afternoon calming the single strike but being unlucky not to get more. Conlon headed against the bar in the first half only to see Omar Daley flick the rebound over – Thorne’s miss against Rotherham has a rival now – and at that time as the Bantams waited for the inevitable goal in what was a one sided there were nerves which Johnson would ease.

Indeed it says much about the team’s display that on the whole Scott Loach was a spectator during his first game against a former club and when called into action he barely had to stretch himself. One doubts he will be at Valley Parade next season and with Donovan Ricketts not getting past Heathrow – or perhaps being lost in a bag in Terminal Five – City and McCall are looking for a new shot stopper at a time when the team is benefiting most from the build up of relationships and partnerships.

The longer Tom Penford gets in the side the more useful he looks and he and Kyle Nix did enough to stop any threat coming through the middle for the Shrimps. Injury to Garry Thompson – a thorn in City’s side back in October and subject of a Bantams bid – robbed the visitors of their main thrust of creativity and aside from a smattering of attacks forwards the end that seemed more nervous in the crowd than they did on the field they offered very little. Indeed had it not been for the customary cacophony of Mavis Riley’s as the final whistle drew near with only a single goal advantage then this game would have been stress free.

This too can be credited to the display of an inspired Mark Bower – skipper for the day on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his debut – who’s performance alongside David Wetherall sapped hope from the visitors.

So it seems the more that Stuart McCall and his team stay together and play together the better they are getting and the season is ending a month too soon for a play off push. Much is hoped for next season by all and perhaps rightly so. I hear that this has been a transitional season for the Bantams – Julian Rhodes reported the superb news that City had broken even for the first time since Bower was a teenager – and one that sets up the promotion push for next year but for me there has been a real achievement in 2007/2008.

For the first time since that day in May 1999 a negativity seems to have started to shift from the club. The Premiership years were characterised not – as the history books are written – but pure glory then pure failure but by the constant sense of impending doom and the years after were a decline but if that decline reached a pit then it was in the last minute goal at Christie Park that mean that the Bantams lost to a team who were in the Unibond when we were in the Premiership leaving us looking at Farsley Celtic as a rival the season after rather than Leeds United and the reality check, the wake up calls, the smell of the coffee afterwards has been realised and is manifested here and now by McCall’s team as the signalled not a revenge but a renewal in this win.

The Bantams have been at bottom, now for the way up. And they say Stuart McCall has not done anything in his first season as a manager…

Customer Disservice

I guess that it can be difficult to adjust to life in the fourth division when your team has had a brief spell, two seasons around the turn of the millennium, in the Premiership. The eight consecutive seasons spent in the top two divisions saw so many changes to Bradford City’s stadium in particular and professional football in general that for those who had become supporters only after the promotion of 1996 the surroundings of League Two must be quite a shock.

Some of us, of course, had spent most of our lives watching third and fourth division football at Valley Parade and at away grounds of similar standard. The 1985 fire may well have brought about the biggest structural changes to the old ground, but there have been plenty more since. When we had played for so very many years in a ground with only 4,000 wooden seats and plenty of vast open terracing, the development of an all-seater, 25,000 capacity stadium with modern facilities suggested to the old hands that football really was changing for the better.

For those of us who watched our football back in the sixties at decrepit grounds, where toilets were, shall we say, basic and corporate boxes were about as real as the Tardis, the changes throughout the eighties and nineties seemed to befit the new era. We wanted to be treated as ‘customers’, not just as turnstile fodder. We wanted to bring our children along, knowing that they would be safe and comfortable. The nostalgic days when the youngest spectators were lifted over the heads of the almost exclusively male adult fans, so that they could sit at the edge of the pitch and see what was going on, were dead long before Mr Justice Popplewell and Lord Taylor were publishing their reports into safety at football grounds.

Those of us who had been young supporters in the sixties and seventies had lived through the escalating violence at and around football. If we had thought so far ahead as to wonder whether we would allow our own children to come with us to games, we would surely have shuddered at the prospect of bringing them into such an atmosphere. Much as we wanted to encourage them to be the next generation of supporters for our local team, we could not have risked bringing them to Valley Parade or any other ground.

I hope my fellow-survivors of the fire will forgive me for saying that perhaps we were fortunate to be Bradford City supporters from the late eighties onwards. We had already paid in advance a very high price for the progress that came in the next twenty years and are still paying a rather different, purely financial price for the promotions of the nineties. Victories on the field were watched from ever-improving stands; from more and more seats; and even after three-course lunches from in-house caterers.

The outsider would probably argue that the lurch back to the bottom division was attributable to the way the club was managed after the Premiership years, to the previous chairman’s ‘six weeks of madness’, to the two spells in administration and, generally, to that familiar malaise of modern football, overspending. We deserved what we got and shouldn’t complain about watching fourth division football.

Most of us don’t complain, although we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t compare the facilities at Valley Parade with those at grounds we haven’t visited for a few years. Not all lower league grounds are still rooted in the 1980’s. Some clubs have excellent modern stadiums, even though their teams are playing in Leagues One and Two. Others have at least a partial excuse for poorer facilities, having just come up from The Conference and with very limited finances to develop their grounds.

But it’s not just about seats and prawn sandwiches. What has really changed for the better in professional football is the attitude towards spectators. Directors have realised that they have to run their clubs on commercial lines. They have to treat their supporters more as customers. Safety is still an issue, so visiting fans are kept apart from home supporters. Stewards are not there just to show people to the right seat. It isn’t quite like working in a theatre. But then the Romeo supporters at the Old Vic don’t hurl insults at the Juliet fans, do they?

Bradford City supporters should be the last people to argue that other clubs should spend more on improving their grounds. Those who live in glass stadiums, etc. But attitude costs very little. I was quite getting the hang of being a ‘customer’. Some of the grounds where I have been spending my money of late have not had the facilities I had been accustomed to. But the clubs in question usually had genuine explanations and almost always gave advance warning. If I hadn’t been prepared to risk the uncovered terracing at Accrington, I needn’t have gone. They told us in advance, our club printed that warning in the programme and I went with my eyes open.

Other clubs have given me a choice of standing in the open or sitting under cover. Macclesfield, for example, told us in advance that there would be a limited number of seats available, so we got there in good time to make sure we were not left out in the open. They realise that not all visiting fans want to stand outside. Some do, but we less young ones have become accustomed to covered seating. So, within their understandably limited resources, well done to Macclesfield for giving us a choice.

And so it was that my travels around the fourth division had persuaded me that even the lower league teams had accepted the need to look after the fans, as far as finances permitted, and that they didn’t assume we were all teenage hooligans. But all that confidence in the better, more customer-friendly game came to an abrupt end at Edgeley Park, the home of Stockport County.

I’d been there as an away fan not that long ago. Three years back, on an early season sunny Saturday, we had had the ‘Macclesfield’ choice, except that the open area was seating, because Stockport had spent some time in what was then called the First Division, where all-seater stadiums were compulsory. This time around it was early March and the weather forecast was for strong winds and driving rain. So, once again I wanted to make sure I got a seat in the covered area. There’s nothing quite as bad as sitting in the pouring rain. If you are uncovered, somehow it feels better to stand up and get wet.

What a disappointment, then, to discover that, contrary to previous recent experience and in the absence of any pre-match advice, we were not allowed into the covered seats. They were to be kept empty. There wasn’t even the old explanation about keeping the fans apart. As I said, three seasons back we could sit in there, with the home fans much further down the touchline and well away from the visitors. But this time those covered seats were just empty, as if to taunt those of the visiting fans who really would have liked the opportunity to sit under cover.

A few tried to shelter from the driving rain by walking to the corner nearest to the empty seats, where the stand provided some protection from the strong wind and rain. The reports of the stewards’ reaction to that harmless and understandable movement do not make happy reading in the context of customer care. The situation was exacerbated for me by the news from a friend that he had been to the same ground earlier in the season and seen visiting supporters, admittedly in much lower numbers, in those same empty seats.

I thought all of football had long since cottoned on to the notion that for every young lad who was prepared to stand in the pouring rain with his shirt off there were three or four couples who wanted to bring their children into a comfortable environment. It’s called customer choice and, while football cannot safely give the fullest range of such choice, in most cases it costs very little and in all cases it encourages the very supporters professional sport needs to attract.

At the start of the week when 700 Bradford City fans turned up at Edgeley Park their club had just won a Football League award for a revolutionary ticket pricing scheme aimed entirely at making football affordable in one of the best appointed grounds in the lower leagues. Maybe we have got too accustomed to safety, comfort and affordability, all in one package. I know that if I’d been seeking to make a good impression and achieve a higher income for Stockport County, I would have taken heed of that weather forecast and given the visiting fans the option of paying the same price the Stockport fans paid at Valley Parade to sit in covered seats. Maybe the Football League could think about how it wants its clubs to treat their fans and advise on minimum standards (finance permitting) of customer care.

The Boy Who Never Grew Up

Dean Windass probably likes to think of himself as a footballing Peter Pan. Despite pushing 40, the evergreen striker continues to bang in the goals and shows no sign of winding when so many other players his age have already hung up their boots.

Bradford City fans may be inclined to agree with the Peter Pan comparison, although at this moment not in the same way. Forget playing like a child, he certainly seems to have the mindset of one. Listening to him air his views on Radio Leeds today, you could almost hear the sound of his toys been thrown out of the pram. Windass has spit out the dummy and declared he is taking his ball home as he doesn’t want to play at Valley Parade anymore. Peter Pan is apt; he is certainly the boy who never grew up.

The reason for his outburst? The evil Captain Hook, or Julian Rhodes to us, has demanded a pirates ransom (250K) in return for his freedom. Should Hull not come up with more gold, he will be locked up and forced to spend the rest of his days in the tortuous abyss (League Two). Our hero is trying to escape, screaming for help as loudly into any passing microphone. But with the dastardly Rhodes’ Ginger-haired Smee tying him up harder, he won’t be walking the plank to freedom just yet.

Listening to Deano label City’s demands as ridiculous makes me want City to reject any offer from Hull and force him to rot in our reserves. How can £250k be considered ‘ridiculous’ when City have twice turned down double that offer for him in recent years? After each of Wigan’s failed bids, Deano was offered extended terms as a reward for loyalty. Having been well looked after by the club, he thinks its unfair we are asking so much for a player who has scored 20+ goals three years in a row. Apparently Rhodes agreed he could go, so that’s that. How dare the evil pirate ship Bradford City demand to receive what he’s worth?

The most frustrating thing about the whole episode is why he has felt it necessary to come out and say anything. Listening to his words, he sounds like a sulky Italian or ungrateful young star. You certainly wouldn’t think he was a 39 year old player with a career of almost two decades. Why couldn’t he just stay quiet and wait for the deal to inevitably work itself out? He could have left the club where he has become a hero with most people’s best wishes.

We City fans have a lot to be grateful to Deano for. In two separate spells, he has proved an excellent goalscorer and good figurehead. He is our 4th highest goalscorer of all time and has provided numerous happy memories. His goals have been crucial and plentiful. Windass is very much like Robbie Savage and Paul Dickov in been a player opposition fans love to hate, often with good reason. It was incredible some of the stick he would get, but it made us love him more. As the City Gent’s Mike Harrison once wrote, “he may be an idiot, but he’s our idiot.”

Yet City in turn have been good to him. It was by playing for us that he rose to national fame with his swashbuckling style of play and cheeky chappy media demeanour. After proving himself a Premiership player for us, he got a good move to Middlesbrough. As his career took a dip, he rejoined us and again showed his form and ability after a difficult first season back. It’s not surprising he has such a long list of admirers in other managers and several moves to sign him have been turned down.

He also clearly loved been a big fish at City. He was our hero and lapped up the ‘Deano’ chants. It seems to have gone to his head and his attitude has upset some. I’ve heard stories about Deano’s behaviour last season that cannot be put in the public domain. If true, it’s fair to say the decision to loan him to Hull last January was not completely about the money.

There’s no doubting we missed him and relegation would probably have been avoided had he stayed. There were also some idiots on message boards criticising him unfairly, but it’s fair to say the majority of City fans appreciated our number 10 and still considered him a hero. What a shame he has to act like this and upset his second love.

Last season Colin Todd famously said that Deano considered himself, “bigger than the club.” Those comments may have been tongue in cheek, but they certainly seem very fitting now. He will get his move and one day, as he compiles his inevitable autobiography, he may be ashamed of how he left this club. Although don’t bet on the boy growing up.

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