The end of a season which asked more questions than it answered

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Gary Liddle, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Tony McMahon, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Matty Dolan

One could be excused for not knowing that Bradford City’s season finishes on Saturday at Crewe Alexandra such as the finality of the last home game of the season with Barnsley that saw the Bantams win by a single, excellent Jon Stead goal.

Stead hit a volley across the Tykes keeper Adam Davies and into the far side of the goal after a well floated Billy Knott cross had found the striker running deep in the penalty area. It was the type of moment of excellence that City’s season has produced sporadically and that suggested that the year that was could have been more.

Indeed next Saturday when 2014/2015 has ended and assuming a set of results The Bantams could finish the year a single place outside the play-off.

Seventh would underline the improvement of the year – Phil Parkinson will once again have improved on last year – but continues the theme of the taunting of what might have been for this team. On the final day of the season that saw City produce (some argued) that greatest shock result in history The Bantams will be playing for the chance to allow Notts County the chance to avoid relegation.

Notts County – home of Gary Jones and Garry Thompson, formerly of this Parish – played a small part in City’s season refusing to move a home game in the run up to the Reading FA Cup Quarter Final. The result was a knackered City being outplayed on the BBC which seemed to deflate the rest of the season.

Jones and Thompson and a host of other players who have been a part of City in the last four years were obviously absent from the post-game meander around the field. It was not so much a lap of honour or appreciation so much as an acknowledgement of the end of a chapter for Bradford City.

After four years of Phil Parkinson the manager had taken City to a point where the club had reached a ceiling of sorts and – with rumours of investment – contemplated which parts of its soul would be exchanged for a chance to crack that ceiling.

56

There is little to say about the observance of the minute’s silence, the singing of remembrance songs, the wearing of remembrance hoodies, the fact Roy Hodgson and FA Chairman Greg Dyke laid a wreath and so on which is apt to say in relation to the memorials for the fixty six supporters who died at Valley Parade in the fire of 1985 and who are commemorated at the final home game of the season.

People express their grief in different ways and I have spoken to a number of people who have an unease at the commercialisation and branding that has recently grown up around the tragedy as I have people who find the commemorations moving. Again People express their grief in different ways.

Martin Fletcher, for example, has channelled his grief and need for answers into a set of questions which make up a part of his work “56: The Story of the Bradford City Fire” and Fletcher has been criticised – and abused 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – for doing this. I’m not here to suggest that Fletcher is right or wrong although I am sure that he has the right to ask questions, and that asking question is the right thing.

On Saturday every ground in the country stood silent for a minute to remember for the victims of the fire of 1985. The England manager and the Head of the FA visited Valley Parade to pay respects. It was a national football event. It was the recognition which some people maintain the fire of 1985 has never had in the English football community.

Succinctly

Succinctly: It is time for the Bradford City community to step back and allow the bereaved families and friends to remember the individuals who died as they see fit.

We talk about “The Fifty Six” but to the wife that lost a husband, the son that lost a father, there is no fifty six. There is one or two or three or four with memories which need to be kept, graves that need to be tended, and years that never happened, and lives that were not lived.

We – the Bradford City community – are not involved in that and we need to recognise that.

Individuals who support Bradford City are, and often groups of individuals who support City are, and those people will go on tending graves, feeling loss, and being haunted on empty Tuesday afternoons in September regardless of the ribbon shown into the shirt or the silence at Goodison Park.

We need to recognise that.

Money

Driving away from Valley Parade on Sunbridge Road a Rolls Royce belonging the the Dorchester Hotel overtook us. The imminence of money is all around Valley Parade. Gianni Paladini, Bernie Ecclestone, Latish Mittal are reported to be in talks to buy Bradford City and to invest millions into the club starting with an eight figure sum just to buy League One players.

One side says that the deal is a long way off but other sources say that it is all but signed save creating a name plate for the honorary title that Mr Lawn will retain at the club.

Why buy Bradford City?

A list of clubs owned by people willing to sell which have shown the ability to fill Wembley Stadium is not a long one. It includes QPR – who the people who are trying to buy Bradford City own/previously owned – and a few other clubs.

There are worries about what new owners would do at the club. The worries seem to take two forms. That they might ruin the supporter base with expensive season ticket prices and that they might ruin the playing side by sacking Phil Parkinson.

On the second point it is probably worth remembering how insecure Parkinson’s job is under the current regime.

Earlier this season it seemed from the outside that Parkinson had to be dragged into apologising to board member Roger Owen after complaining about the state of the pitch. Parkinson had believed – with good reason – that the pitch was Owen’s responsibility and criticised that.

At one point I heard – and there is no guarantee of the veracity of this comment – that Parkinson had been told to apologise on pain of being held (and sacked) in breach of contract. He went home with this in mind but cooler heads prevailed and he humiliated himself with an apology the next day.

I repeat the no guarantee about this information just as there is no guarantee that the other times the the board have considered sacking Parkinson were accurate. Former players have been asked if they would be able to become Interim Managers, or so they say in private, but they could be lying.

Without winning

Bradford City’s have had spells under Parkinson where wins have been impossible to come by. When City went twelve games without winning in 2014 there was no full throated support from the boardroom to dispell the rumours that clouded Parkinson’s future.

There was uncertainty at a boardroom level – at least perceptually – and while it would be far from me to suggest that new owners would behave any different it is important not to idealise the current regime (not a problem I have) or forget how quickly things turned to see the exit of Peter Jackson, for example, or the situation at the club under Peter Taylor which Shane Duff reported as a picture of a manager undermined.

Worry about Parkinson’s job position under new ownership if you will, but if there is no takeover then worry about him under the current board too. The Devil you know might be better than the Devil you don’t, but they are both still Devils.

Bradford City are not so much managerially stable as they are successful. When Parkinson’s stock is low he beats Arsenal, or Chelsea, and it rises again. You can call this stable if you want but to do so is to ignore the meaning of the word as it is used in football.

If one were to buy Bradford City then chief in its assets would be Phil Parkinson and so removing him would seem counter-productive.

Were one to buy a League One club and look for the best manager available then Parkinson would be high on one’s shortlist anyway. It is not for me to ventriloquize Paladini but why buy Bradford City and sack Phil Parkinson? When looking at Bradford City’s structure or a vision on the field what else are you buying into?

Season ticket prices

Likewise if one were to buy Bradford City because of the support then why damage that with increasing season ticket prices? The current pricing structure has allowed for an increase in permanent support and the ability for City fans who are not taxed by massive home season ticket prices to spend more travelling away.

The broadness of City’s support which is not exclusive of people on lower incomes, nor the young, has given a lively and exciting fanbase. Why buy Bradford City if they intended to damage the support base?

One could increase prices per person with the drop in attendance and increase revenues in the short term but one risks decreasing numbers, (audio) volume and support levels to the point where City stop being an attractive club to buy.

Double season ticket prices and one might as well buy the comfortable few of Chesterfield, or the tidy support of Doncaster Rovers.

Sitting Bull

Phil Parkinson has ended a season having won plaudits on one hand, and been bullied on the other. In my hand I do not have a season ticket renewal form which – had it been issued around the time City were plastered over every newspaper in the World for beating Chelsea – would have guaranteed that the new owners would host 2015/2016 at 2014/2015 prices and probably been very well subscribed as a result.

This would have secured the impressive supporter base secured for another season. We hear constantly how the current boardroom act as custodians for the club but that does not extend to committing new owners to honouring the (good) practices in place for supporters at the moment, or so it might seem.

Bradford City has two assets: Phil Parkinson and the supporters; only bad business would change these on a whim.

The season ends, the season begins

Gary Liddle played well covering Rory McArdle in the centre of defence against an aggressive Barnsley attacking line up but his relocation from holding midfield seemed to highlight the problem of the season and why in a year of dizzying heights the Bantams end up firmly in the middle.

Liddle shifted out, Christopher Routis in midfield, Tony McMahon in the holding position, Billy Clarke in the role earmarked for Mark Yeates, Mark Yeates nowhere to be seen. The method of Phil Parkinson’s success is in character and – simply put – he does not have enough character to go around.

Rightly – in my opinion – Parkinson would rather play someone with good character out of position than give a shirt to someone who he believes does not have the mentality he is looking for.

Christopher Routis is the prime example. Often poor but also willing he goes his place because – to paraphrase – a better man than he is a footballer. With players out of contract in the summer the question that Routis poises (and he is by no means a great leader) is key.

How does Parkinson assemble a squad with both character and capabilities? What value do you put on each? Andrew Davies has both only plays two thirds of the season. Jon Stead has both but only for two thirds of the season and at other times his character goes missing. Should both be given contracts? Should either?

All season there has been an issue with players outside the match day squad struggling without Reserve football to engage them. Players who are decent enough when in the side are not options when in the squad.

The poster boy for this is Jason Kennedy who will leave City in the summer and look back at his time before Filipe Morais’ second half against Halifax Town as being his best while at the club. As soon as Morais started to play regularly and Kennedy stopped having games to play in it seemed obvious who should be selected and who should not be but it is easy to forget just how rusty players like Morais, like Francios Zoko, like Oli McBurnie become without Reserve team football to play.

Whatever reason there is for not entering a second string side into a Reserve League must be balanced against the impact it has on the fringe players of the squad. At the moment City can maintain around fifteen or sixteen players who can be called on to play and – tired legs, injuries and suspensions being what they are – that has proved too little to mount a promotion challenge.

The squad needs a depth of quality but – at the moment – the fitness of players outside the match day squad cannot be maintained and even when it can large squad beget their own problems with players too far away from a starting shirt to keep motivation and bad character creeping in.

If – as talked about – there is an influx of money into the club in the summer these questions become easier when answered by the fundamental questions remain unchanged. How to keep a squad of 22 players happy, and at peak fitness, and all getting on with each other. City and Phil Parkinson are nearly there and have been there at times this season, and over the last few years.

Get that right next year and – money or not – the end of season would be more than a 1-0 win over Barnsley.

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 raw deal at Nethermoor, but better than no deal at all

One has to feel a little sorry for Guiseley after they were given exactly what they did not want from the Football Association tribunal as they set a fee for James Hanson following his Summer move to City at much below the price they wanted.

The Unibond League club had bulked at the Bantams offer of £7,500, a sell-on percentage and a pre-season game between the two clubs next year when City offered it in the summer but as the transfer window began to shut and the non-leaguers pointed out that that had paid twice as much for the player Hanson partnered up front that original deal was exactly what the F.A. gave them.

Rarely have City ever got the benefit of a tribunal decision so one imagines a glass or two will be raised to the man in Manchester who were charged with the judgement of Solomon today.

Guiseley will feel hard done to for sure and probably reflect that they would have been better talking up the Bantams by a couple of thousand rather than aiming high – it is said they wanted in excess of £30,000 but these figures are only rumoured – only to be disappointed. They had no chance of keeping the player and are not hard done to in Hanson’s exit. He was a part-timer working in Idle Co-op when up front for them, a professional for City. No one would deny him the chance of that.

Hanson has been a roaring success since his move and has reportedly attracted the interest of Coventry City in the Championship as well as a good few League One clubs in his first six months which one doubts he would have had he kept banging goals in at Nethermoor. If his time at City proves to be short lived and he exits for bigger things then the slice of that deal they get may prove a bigger reward than they have now.

Les Ferdinand’s 10% sell on from the move that took him from Queen’s Park Rangers to Newcastle United netting Hayes some £600,000 which dwarfed the £30,000 Rangers paid for him up front. So pleased were the non-league side with this that they built a function suite and named it “The Ferdinand Suite” in his honour.

That Hanson is coveted by Coventry – or indeed anyone outside of Bradford City having spotted him and Stuart McCall having seen him as a potential City player – is down not to his performances for Guiseley but rather those for the Bantams and thus is seems right that as his development from talented amateur to proper professional comes and the risk that entails is born at Valley Parade then the tribunal would favour those at Valley Parade.

That City got the player “on the cheap” is true if he is successful – and he seems to be – but many a man has failed to make the grade as a professional and the deal is only inexpensive if a player settles into being a pro. Many have not and it is unfair to those players who plug away working in a shop all week and trying to impress scouts on a weekend to set fees for them so prohibitively high that clubs cannot afford to take the risk that the corn will pop in the pan.

So Guiseley get a raw deal but the alternative would seem to be no deal at all and those at Nethermoor would do well to keep fingers crossed that Hanson gets back in the goals soon and his value – and the value of a sell on clause they now have – increase.

“The James Hanson Suite” would be a just reward.

Transfer Widow

My girlfriend probably things I am having an affair. Every morning I furtively close my hands around the screen of my trusted N95 and sneak a peek at some covert information, these modern days such actions are tantamount to having lipstick on one’s collar in the list of telltale signs of infidelity.

Every morning I gaze longingly at every loving word crafted to speak of outlandish possibility and I know that such things will never come to pass but we can all dream. Every morning I covertly check out the BBC’s transfer gossip and rumours page.

Sitting all year round the scrapings of tabloid and broadsheet fantasy goes into a kind of meltdown every January when the transfer window opens and a parade of names are stapled to clubs in a cavalcade of would be transfer.

Most concern players few – if any – have heard of joining clubs that simply do not need them. Today we learn with lusty glory that Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is set to spend £7m on Slovakia international defender Martin Skrtel. – or so the Beeb tells us that the Telegraph tells us – and we raise an eyebrow and ponder if the Anfield club’s failure to mount a serious challenge for the title is really for the want of a player who costs less than Newcastle United paid for Jean-Alan Boumsong.

“Failure to mount a serious challenge” is a phrase that haunts Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side troublingly. Clearly The Reds are not winning the thing this year but to suggest that they have not mount a challenge is akin to suggesting that Scott and Oates were just having a wander in the snow just because they were beaten to the Pole.

The vowel light Skrtel may be Kendal Mint Cake to Benitez and our job is in the observation. In likelihood Skrtel will not be heard of again being swooped to play for Bryern Munich, Rapid Vienna or Fulham’s Reserves but for a day we can all imagine him wandering down the wing in Red. It is the pornography of the Subutteo generation.

Of course the Mighty Bradford City have not featured in this procession of names and clubs for sometime but this is no bad thing and not something one would complain about although Big Sam will save his job by pairing Michael Owen with Bradford’s Barry Conlon is probably as realistic to us Skrtel’s move to Anfield is to supporters of his – nameless – club.

Realism is not the point. Distraction is.

Football – as previously mentioned once or twice – had gone to Hell in a handcart at anything other than the top level and like the trappings of the French Lord’s of old the purpose of the big name club transfer gossip is to distraction joyless citizenry from the dullness of their every day existence. Never mind the fact your club cannot afford to have the stadium roof fixed – Manchester United are thinking of buying a Belgian who’s agent will take a cut the size of Luton Town’s much talked about debt.

It is football supporting as Hello Magazine reading – a glimpse at how some live with the far flung hope that you might one day move there yourself. Queens Park Rangers suggest that one day it will I guess, and I suppose one day we did too.

So furtively I look at my mobile phone to read this list of pipe dreams and I should be as offended as I am when I see those documentaries on the lavish fineries of Royalty I pay for but have no access to but for some reason I’m not.

So rest assured should you be worried Ria it is not an affair but with lusty eyes trained on what I want but can’t have it is – at least – flirting.

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