Untruth / Misinformation

If you are anything like me you probably spent a good deal of yesterday being lied to.

At 12:00 Phil Parkinson was due at a press conference where he would become Bolton Wanderers manager. He was late and the reason that was given by Bolton was that the new manager was stuck in traffic.

Of course he was not. Some two and a half hours later when Parkinson did take the the stage it was not the result of a traffic jam it was – as Bradford City’s official statement would later all but say – because the paperwork around the deal (which, lest we forget, is the deal and everything before is negotiation) had not been completed.

It is a white lie of course – stuck in traffic – and hardly anything to be especially upset about. Only it comes at the end of a week where where almost everything that seemed to come out of the Bolton Wanderers camp was – being kind – misinformation.

At the end of their negotiations with Parkinson the man himself would confirm that the club had made a contract through his agent some weeks ago. Once he had said that a lot of what had emerged out of Bolton in the last few weeks started to look like, at best, misinformation.

But one might be understanding to a need to not show one’s hand in negotiations was there really a need to lie about traffic conditions on the M62?

They have also told Parkinson that their debts are not what everyone says they are and that they will be able to sign players because their transfer embargo will be lifted soon. Very well, believe that too.

The Hunt

One should not single out Bolton Wanderers as especially egregious offender in this. They figure recently but are far from alone in seeing lying to football supporters – be they those who follow your club or not – a matter of course.

So much of the talk that comes out of football is colourful misinformation and most of this is considered to be fairly harmless. Teams overplay their chances, talk up their atmosphere, and do all those other things which sit comfortably on the side of “public relations” rather than lying.

And of course clubs deal in a marketplace where there is a negative result of allowing rivals to know you business dealings. This is obviously true in some cases. One recalls Bradford City flying Stephen Hunt from Ireland only to be told when he landed at Yeadon that Hunt had been contracted by, and would be signing for, Reading.

Even with the cover of secrecy that clubs protect their business dealings with Hunt was swiped away from City. It is impossible to say how many deals would be scuppered if there was no secrecy involved but then again it is also impossible to say how many would go along exactly as they do now.

All football club’s business dealings are treated as if secrecy is sacrosanct and the price of that secrecy is a practised dishonesty with supporters which I would suggest is unhealthy.

Unless one considers one’s self a consumer of a club’s football product then one probably sees immediately the problem that emerges when the community around a football club becomes used to the heart of that community habitually lying.

Look at any club forum on any discussion and there will be a theme running through that whatever the official line is, it is dishonest.

The football clubs that sit in the middle of our communities are thought of as having the ethics of politicians – and not the good ones – and for good reason. As the “stuck in traffic” suggests being dishonest with the community they are in is as natural as breathing for them.

Does it have to be this way?

Trouser

What would happen if a club decided that – as a core principal – that openness with the stakeholders in the community and transparency was the foremost concern.

In such a situation unless there was a critical reason to keep something secret it would be public. If a player wants to be paid £5,500 a week to play for the club then that would be known. If the club makes an offer for a player – in or out – then that would be known.

That someone might gazump a bid for a player is an obvious concern but players (and specifically player’s agents) are happy to tell our rivals who are interested that they had better make a move quick because money is on the table. At the moment what we have is not secret dealings, it is just secret from us.

Imagine if as soon as Bolton Wanderers made an approach for Parkinson, or Huddersfield Town made one for Nahki Wells, the information and amounts offered were available to all to read. Would the business of Bradford City have been significantly disadvantaged by this?

And while one could understand that a number of people would be upset by a searchlight being shined in all corners of a club’s business – George Graham would never have been able to trouser £425,000 in such a situation for example – the benefits could outweigh those concerns.

What those benefits are are, I’d suggest, that a fully informed community is better able to make judgements. Judgements on how the team should be performing, on how the business is performing, on almost every aspect of the club.

And better judgements make for a better community. #chairgate shows what a good community can be. If you are happy with, and see nothing other than, being a consumer of the Bradford City football product this will mean nothing to you.

History

That club’s are run with such secrecy comes from the origin as factory clubs owned by the bosses and watched working classes. When clubs moved to being privately owned the bosses became businessmen who held the same regard for the spectator as the paternal boss did for his employees. They were to be told what they needed to know and little more.

Now football clubs are part of an industry arm of capitalism they treasure secrecy as the source of a competitive advantage and Manchester United would no more reveal their plans any more than Apple would show you the next iPhone. In that they will leak it when it suits them.

Of course coming from the land of EV and 50%+1 this would be alien talk to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp. With the exception of three German football clubs are owned by the members and while the expectation is not total transparency from elected boards down the level of openness that Rahic will have experienced at Stuttgart is probably unheard of in modern English football.

Ultimately this subject rests on how one likes to be addressed. Football club treat supporters like children to be protected from the bad, told only what is good for them, and expected to behave as they are instructed.

I do not have that constitution and that cuts against my grain.

This week has been a good week for Bolton Wanderers but – were a Trotters fan – I would not appreciate being spoken to in such a low tone of voice.

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.

How Bradford City lost the first game of the Qatar World Cup

Milla!

My worry for the World Cup in Qatar is that should – in 2022 – I carry on my personal tradition of taking the four weeks off work to watch the competition I might end up watching some really poor football matches.

Which is not to say I am not sympathetic to the problems of human rights – I am – or annoyed by the politics of FIFA – they annoy me – but the problems of football have always been weighed against the the enjoyment of football.

FIFA might be considered by many a bunch of crooks but watching Germany rip into Brazil was amazing as was watching Cameroon beat Argentina in 1990.

Cameroon beating Argentina might be the biggest shock result in World Cup history. For Cameroon everything went right and for Argentina – World Champions on the day – very little did.

Upset

All of which echo’s Phil Parkinson’s words after City lost 3-0 to Reading in the FA Cup this week.

In the days after the game Parkinson said “To achieve a cup upset, which ultimately we would have to do again (to beat Reading), you need everything to go in your way. A lot of things went in Reading’s favour, from completely resting their team on the Saturday, having a home fixture, being able to play their strongest side and then getting off to a terrific start.”

Parkinson has balanced his commitment to Bradford City with his love for Reading well this week but – perhaps – this is where the manager is a little selfish. Once the Berkshire press and national had taken the microphone away Parky concluded: “They got lucky, we could not even put up a fight.”

Which was not what the BBC wanted to hear and probably not what the Reading newspapers – who quickly announced that The Royals were in a cup final before adding a “semi” for good measure – were keen on hearing but it seemed to be the most honest assessment of the situation I had read.

Back to the future

The Qatar World Cup will be played in December rather than June or July which will cause all manner of problems for the Premier League but at least will allow football to be played. In December the temperature of Doha drops to twenty-six degrees rather than the upper thirties of June.

The logic is simple. Football cannot be played in in June in Qatar. It is too hot and while some players could have struggled to have a game the chances of good games were probably reduced. Even FIFA – an organisation who seem to have very little interest in actual football compared to organisation of football – could see that it faced a global humiliation of a month of watching teams West Germany/Austria through games.

The prospect of games were teams were concerned with saving energy, or just trying to get through games, because of the heat seems to have loomed large and the tournament was moved.

Even FIFA understand that to host a good football competition you have to give the teams a chance to play good football.

“Come Monday night we turn the telly off”

The Reading vs Bradford City game had been put on Monday night because of various TV deals between the FA and UEFA about showing Champions League matches.

Playing the third long away games in six days Bradford City were shoved onto BBC One for a live no-contest. Four minutes into the game it was obvious that City were not just going to lose that match but that they had been incapable of competing in a game.

The players were not able to play a competitive match.

And this is not to do with a level of fitness – City were not less fit than Reading – it is to do with understanding multi-polar handicaps.

City were not more able to play a third game in six days than England or Scotland would be able to play in the June heat of Qatar unless – of course – England were playing Scotland in which case both teams would be suffering the same handicap.

Reading knew that and that is why the gave their team six days off. To extend the point the game on Monday night was like a World Cup game in Qatar were City playing in June while Reading were in December.

Which is why the overwhelming feeling for me and seemingly for Phil Parkinson too from Monday is not that City got knocked out of the FA Cup – although that happened – but that City never got a chance to try progress. That The FA did what was best for the TV Deals they struck, and best for UEFA and their TV deals, but not what was best for teams wanting to play a good football match or fans wanting to watch a football match.

Which considering the FA’s stance on FIFA moving the World Cup leads one to conclude that the FA are less interested in allowing teams to play football than they should be.

When the immoveable object met the immoveable object and Bradford City and Reading agreed to a replay in the FA Cup sixth round

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Andrew Halliday, Mark Yeates, Francois Zoko

Balls in bags

On Monday night, at Old Trafford, something well happen that has not occurred in over one hundred years. Bradford City will be in the draw for the FA Cup semi-final. The goal-less draw at Valley Parade in the FA Cup sixth round with Reading guarantees that the Royals will be in that draw too.

The immoveable object met the immoveable object in the first of the four quarter final ties and while City will look back to a chance or two which could have resulted in more the game which mustered only a single shot on target had the hallmarks of a pair of teams more concerned with losing than committed to winning.

Which is not to criticise either side for that approach – I spoke recently about how Phil Parkinson’s approach puts importance on not being out of a game – but to explain the dynamics of a game which promised everything and left tension unresolved.

Each side enjoyed a half of the game. The first forty five minutes Reading edged possession and hit the post through Pavel Pogrebnyak although the seemed to be a fast and loose being played with left hand touchline calls by a linesman who gave the benefit of geography to the Royals.

Nevertheless Pogrebnyak’s shot – along with a deflected effort by Hal Robson-Kanu – was all that Ben Williams in the Bradford City goal had to do. Williams’ inclusion over Jordan Pickford was a surprise but a pleasant one. Williams kept goal for every Cup tie while Pickford was tied to Sunderland.

“The guy that brung her”

That Parkinson kept faith in the keeper that had got him to the sixth round recalled Paul Jewell’s decision at Wolves in 1999 to go for promotion with the eleven who had been his most regular starters. “A girl dances with the fella that brought her”, I said then and I think it now.

Indeed after watching Ramires burst from the Chelsea midfield to put the Blues into a 2-0 lead Williams has not conceded a goal in the FA Cup. Thinking back to that day one recalls how Chelsea were lacking a Claude Makélélé in holding midfield.

While Chelsea had allowed the Bantams to build in the forward midfield positions Reading deployed a man to sit in front of their back two and make sure that Billy Clarke’s influence on the game in the first half was as minimal as possible. Nathaniel Chalobah sat next to Clarke and forced a gap between Jon Stead and James Hanson which split City’s forward options leaving the Bantams disjointed in the final third.

Chalobah put in a very impressive game – especially in the first half – and looked as if he may be the decisive difference between the sides until Phil Parkinson tweaked his approach at half time to play more through left and right midfielders and less through his front man. Chalobah – oddly – is on loan from Chelsea. He has a very brought future.

Tweak

Parkinson’s tweak was to have the ball played through Billy Knott and Filipe Morais – and to have Knott and Morais pick the ball up deeper – and then allow Clarke to drift left and right effectively taking himself and Chalobah out of the game.

And so City enjoyed more of the game in the second period. Morais had a chance just after half time which he passed when he could have shot – he seldom is accused of “making the wrong decisions” as a Kyel Reid or Omar Daley was although he probably does as much – and James Hanson swept a ball the wrong side of the upright after good work by Jon Stead.

The best chance of the game presented itself when Morais bent a free kick in and Andrew Davies connected but watched his headed chance take the paint off the post as it skimmed wide. Davies’ reaction suggested he knew that the best chance of the game had gone, but that the tie would have more chances in it, and so it will prove on Monday week.

Reading’s Pogrebnyak tried to handle the ball into the goal in the last moment. That was all the City defend had to cope with in the second half.

It would be easy to miss

In the swirl of a crowd of 24,321 at Valley Parade and the first FA Cup sixth round since the mid-1970s, and in the media coverage which seems to have decided that this game was not worth watching, it would be easy to not give credit to Phil Parkinson’s team. (Hob Nob Anyone? can give Steve Clarke’s team credit.)

That City went toe to toe with a Championship side is impressive. If one were to ask which side regularly played at a higher level one would be simply guessing an answer. There was a character needed from City’s side today to handle being favourites and there was a character needed to turn the performance around at halt time.

That good performances and great character are common does not make them less impressive.

Looking forward

One wonders what City have to do to win the second game which was not done today. Away from Valley Parade the Bantams have a tendency to replace Billy Clarke with Billy Knott and play Andy Halliday – a late sub today – to create a different shape to the midfield and that shape seems more effective.

City have won more games away from Valley Parade this season in League One than at home, and on travels to Chelsea, Millwall and Halifax Town have shown character in different ways. The Valley Parade turf was better than it has been (which is, of course, not down to Roger Owen who is not responsible for the pitch) but is heavy and the ball bounces little from it. A better surface will not suit City any more than it does Reading, but it will allow for City to play the tight triangles that much of Parkinson’s attacking play is built around.

City face trips to Coventry City and Gary Jones’ Notts County in the nine days before Reading. In League One today City slipped to tenth and the expereince in the build up to this tie did not suggest that the Bantams will be turning games in hand into three points.

1911, and all that

But those worries are for another day. It will be the 16th of March and City will still be in a cup competition and that has not happened in over one hundred years.

Not for Parkinson though. The manager who has as a modus operandi not being out of a game is not out of a tie. Nine days to assess Reading, and the game that passed, and to plot a victory which will make City more than a name on a ball in a bag.

Nine days cannot pass soon enough.

Bradford City and Peterborough United ab ovo

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Alan Sheehan | Oliver Burke, Jason Kennedy, Billy Knott, Andrew Halliday | Jon Stead, Billy Clarke | Francois Zoko, Mark Yeates, Oliver McBurnie

Nec reditum Diomedis ab interitu Meleagri, nec gemino bellum Troianum orditur ab ovo; semper ad euentum festinat et in medias res.
Nor does he begin the Trojan War from the egg, but always he hurries to the action, and snatches the listener into the middle of things…
Horace on Homer, Ars poetica.

To watch a a football match is to experience life in medias res. While every game has a structure starting, middling, and ending those games are largely only understandable in a wider context. Uninteresting is the match which does not continue a story at the start and suggest one at the end. The meaning of the 32nd game of a season is given by the 31 game which proceed it.

Not so Bradford City’s trip to Peterborough United where both clubs seemed to be attempting a start of things.

Most obviously in the case of the home side who dispensed with the services of Darren (Son of) Ferguson in the week and replaced him with Dave Robertson. That Robertson ended up winning his first game in charge of The Posh was largely down to a first half in which Bradford City wasted some chances and wasted more chances to create chances against an ill fitting wing back formation.

With Billy Clarke playing removed from Jon Stead in the forward line and Billy Knott partnering Jason Kennedy in the midfield City’s compact 442 once again committed only to not giving away too much of the game too early while Peterborough were laid raw in wide positions. Oliver Burke looked fast and had a fine chance to claim a lead which he squandered and from that point he faded. Andy Halliday returned to the left wing where he had been unimpressive at the start of career and looked unimpressive showing perhaps that he has found a calling in inside midfield that should not be ignored. When he switched inside later in the game his seemed more comfortable.

City’s side was marked by its absences today. The point where Filipe Morais and Gary Liddle became cemented into the team sheet might only be obvious in retrospect, but it is obvious. James Hanson spent the warm up going through his paces with the coaches but was not included on the bench. James Meredith warmed up a few times but that was all the stretching his legs got and it seemed to become clear that minds were on next Saturday’s FA Cup quarter final with Reading and not on Dave Robertson’s first game as a football manager.

Indeed when Oliver Burke was removed following Peterborough’s scrambled first by Gaby Zakuani – and when Parkinson moved to a 4312 – Meredith remained on the bench with Knott taking the holding role rather than Alan Sheehan moving forward. Parkinson may reflect how much more comfortable his side seemed in the 4312 having switched from the 442.

Robertson in the home dug out found his victory from going to a 442 and launching the ball into the City box as often as could be. If this is the start of his time as Peterborough manager then the home fans who this week went through possible replacements for Ferguson discarding some for not playing good enough football may find that they have to get used to something less beautiful. There is enough about Peterborough to suggest that they will be aiming for promotion to The Championship next season.

For City the game was players not playing with injuries they would previously have battled through, and a general lethargy in the display, and at some point in the afternoon a plan formed which is probably not spoken at Valley Parade.

Looking at City’s performance this season and seeing how strong the top four in League One are a case could be made that anyone outside the third and fourth positions in the play-offs has less chance of promotion. Parkinson could send his team out to sacrifice life and limb for a push to get to fifth or sixth but – having been defeated in the play-off semi-final – the result would be that next season the club would be in no better position than it was this.

However if those limbs are saved for the Reading game and if the Reading game were won then the rewards of an FA Cup semi-final would add significant chunk to the club’s income and – with no directors to trouser the cash as a loan repayments – that income would have no better place to go than into Parkinson’s purview. A new pitch, three top quality recruits, and a new contract for Andrew Davies and City start August 2015 as one of the favourites for promotion.

One shot as favourites rather than two as outsiders.

A late penalty made the score 2-0 but that is immaterial as – it may be – is City’s game with Crawley Town on Tuesday night. A win against Reading next Saturday and Parkinson will turn his attentions to next season via a semi-final, just a Robertson will hope that this result and his plan for next term gives him the job at London Road on a full-time basis.

Which would make this game the embryonic start of next season and a rare case of football’s ab ovo.

Reading, writing and arithmetic

The FA Cup sixth round draw presented a home game against Reading which would not be televised on the BBC.

After being giant killing heroes against Chelsea the tone of the build up to the Sunderland game was questions as to if players would be able to repeat the achievement. Emphatically the answer was a Yes.

Yet BBC avoided the incongruousness of asking if the giant killers could kill another, smaller, giant when it dodged the Sunderland tie. They also opted against City’s sixth round tie which will be shown on BT Sport.

Bradford City vs Reading is not so much David vs Goliath as David vs Avinadav. Who wants to watch that? Elsewhere the Titans of Manchester United meet the Behemoths of Arsenal, making them both seem normal sized.

The complaints that have emanated from Valley Parade (and the surrounding area) about the lack of television coverage are financially motivated – City wanted the money that comes with hosting the Sunderland game – but much of the newspaper coverage about the decision that fed from City fans being upset was a part of a lengthy war between the Press and the BBC.

The Murdoch press has been attacking the BBC for years. The question the validity of the licence fee in what is a politically and business motivated campaign against the public funded body by an arm of News International, which in turn owns BBC rival Sky Sports. The Times is just The Sun writ respectable and serves the same ends. The business of Murdoch’s business is promoting Sky over the BBC.

The Daily Mail needs no excuse to attack the BBC in the same way and for the same reason as they attack asylum seekers. A mix of politics and the business of giving their customers what they want or what Paul Dacre thinks they want at least. The rest of the newspapers follow along with the line.

Flip the decisions around and the same newspapers who are mock-amazed at Bradford City being “snubbed” would be talking about how the BBC ignored the millions of United fans who wanted to see their heroic comeback at Preston in favour of showing a game at a ground that most weeks is half empty, so little is the Great British public’s interest.

None of these newspapers were demanding that a deal be worked out to show Bradford City vs Swansea City on the BBC in the 2013. If the public deserve to be shown giant killing why was The Sun, The Times, The Daily Mail et al not beating a drum to have a deal struck so that game could be seen live on the BBC than being shown “live and exclusive only” on Sky TV?

None of the acres of back page coverage of City not being on the BBC is about viewers getting to see remarkable football. None of it is about Bradford City fans. None of it is about trying to make the cup more “magic”. None of it cares about clubs like Bradford City at all.

It is all about newspapers using Bradford City as a stick to beat the BBC with.

And do I like my football club being used like that? Do I like my club being used by The Sun, or by The Daily Mail, or whomsoever wants to, to batter the BBC?

No, I do not.

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I would rather that Bradford City had nothing to do with The Sun at all.

At Bradford City we praise other clubs for leaving a wreath at the memorial to the fire of 1985 or donating a cheque to the Burns Unit and we do this because it shows kinship with the people of Bradford and Lincoln who died that day.

To show kinship with the people of Liverpool I think Bradford City should have as little to do with The Sun as possible.

If possible I’d like Bradford City to have nothing to do with The Sun at all.

Outside of Bradford City fans

Which is not to say that a person cannot believe that Bradford City would have made great television just that outside of City fans (who were, mostly, at the game) but I do not trust the people are “upset” about this BBC snub and magic of the cup.

Their ire does not add up.

I think that most of the year all I read in the same newspapers which talk about the BBC snubbing City is seemingly endless coverage of the minutia of the top of the Premier League. Every day in every newspaper football from the Newcastle United/Spurs position down is treated like runt cousins of the beautiful game.

Teams at City’s level can win games, lose games, sack managers, set records and on and on and have their news fit on the inside back pages after puff pieces about Premier League players and speculation about transfers that might happen rather than the results from games in League One that have happened.

The media which are now demanding Bradford City are the same people who, at best, could not care less about the club the rest of the time and, at worst, actively work against the interests of clubs like City creating a football culture which minimises clubs outside the Premier League.

In 2004 the same newspapers who now are suggesting a BBC bias against Bradford City barely even reported about the fact that Bradford City came within minutes of being liquidated. I remember Look North (for all its failings) did give the Bradford City fans trying to save the club a voice.

How many newspapers who are demanding giant killers be rewarded suggested that the £5.1bn deal should be shared through the football community? How many back pages are devoted to the club’s who struggle against administration in the football climate they create? How many sports editors run stories which tell people to turn off the subscription to wall-to-wall Sky Sports TV an go see their local club?

The supporters of Bradford City are cynically and deliberately being used by newspapers who are faux friends of fans of clubs like ours. We are being used to bash the Beeb and sell some of the newspapers. And those newspapers next week will be using their power to stop going to games at clubs like Bradford City, to stay at home with a subscription to Sky to watch Premier League or La Liga while choosing when to “cash out” on a gambling app.

Our supporters will go to the game, and take their friends, and their families, and sell out Valley Parade.

But – I hope – not buy the papers the day after.

How the Reading job showed City’s Parkinson problem

Why Colin Cooper did not get the Bradford City job

I heard a story from the horse’s mouth. Colin Cooper, in interview with Joint Chairman Julian Rhodes, was asked how he would work with incoming Chief Executive Archie Christie and Cooper was clear.

“I would not,” he said, “I’d get rid of him.”

“Well,” Rhodes is said to have replied, “he is making the decision.”

The dream job comes up

As soon as the statement was read out that Reading had “parted company” with Nigel Adkins Phil Parkinson’s name was being mentioned in connection to the vacancy. Within a few days Steve Clarke had been appointed to the job.

Parkinson is to Reading what Stuart McCall is to Bradford City – or Peter Beagrie perhaps – but a man of some significance at Elm Park and his performances as Bradford City manager could hardly suggest his name more.

However Parkinson’s achievements – and other Football League achievements – seem to be unimpressive when it comes to recruiting managers in the Premier League. This tendency to forgo Football League managers has started to spread downwards.

Which saves a problem

All of which saves Bradford City looking for a replacement for Parkinson and the upheaval that that would bring.

It would be foolish to say that Parkinson is a peerless manager and that City could not replace him but remembering that the last time the people in the boardroom were asked to come up with a name to manage the club that name was Peter Jackson.

When one looks at the difference between the club then and the club now it is hard to find anything which cannot be put down to Parkinson. From Wembley to Wembley, Wells to McLean, the club is built in the image that Parkinson wanted.

Which is not to criticise

And this is not an overt criticism of the boardroom just a recognition that they greatest achievement they have in the modern Bradford City is not getting involved and allowing Parkinson to build the club as he wishes. The impressive thing is how much Parkinson has built on his own.

Of course he has had Good Lieutenants at his sides but compare the years under Parkinson to the conflicts at the club between Peter Jackson and Archie Christie, or Archie Christie and Mark Lawn, or Mark Lawn and Peter Taylor (or rather, some of his players), or Stuart McCall and Two of the Boardroom and on and on.

Since Parkinson arrived Bradford City have not so much been a club united as a club with someone to stand behind and follow. Right now Parkinson is running Bradford City and everything at the club is adjunct to that.

The boardroom request to play more attacking football is characterised as just that – a request – rather than a demand. When Parkinson could not get his team playing around a playmaker he decided to revert to his previous less attacking formation and not a peep was heard publicly from the boardroom.

What would be left?

Without Phil Parkinson Bradford City have very little at the club on the footballing side. One assumes that on his exit Parkinson would take his backroom team with him – they all signed contracts at the same time suggesting that unity – and once Parkin et al leave then there is no chance of continuity.

For the right reasons they appointed Phil Parkinson with a remit to remake the club as he saw fit. To their credit they have largely stayed out of how Parkinson has run the club. I have worried in the past that Parkinson needs some support in his role and that the club lacks institutional knowledge retention but I’d be more worried is this boardroom started to tell the manager how to do his job. When it comes to football at Valley Parade Phil Parkinson is by a good distance the domain expert.

The boardroom are stuck in catch 22. They found success by giving Parkinson free reign to do as he wants but then they are under the constant threat that Parkinson could be tempted away and they would be left with nothing.

This is the Parkinson problem and without a solution there must just be relief that when Steve Clarke was appointed.

BfB watches the play off finals: Part three, Reading v Swansea

Football is regularly referred to as a soap opera and, as Reading and Swansea today battle it out for a place in the Premier League next season, one can take comfort in the fact that, for all the cliff hangers we go through, it apparently will never end.

Aside from the occasional doom monger declaring there are too many teams in the Football League and it should be cut – plus the very real threat at times of some clubs going bust – the ongoing narrative of football, with its up and down snakes and ladders system, keeps us enthralled and keeps us believing in the sentiment “there’s always next season.”

The idea that Bradford City could be one day back in this position, looking to return to the Premier League, seems ludicrous after the season just gone. Yet when we were enjoying our brief spell among England’s elite a decade ago, Reading and Swansea fans would scarcely have expected to be in this position today.

10 seasons ago, the Royals and the Swans were playing each other in England’s third tier. Whereas this afternoon both clubs completely fill Wembley, the attendances for the two league meetings that season were 11,003 at the new Madejski stadium and 5,073 at the old Vetch Field. Reading lost the play off final to Walsall that year, while Swansea dropped into the basement league. In the following two seasons, the Welsh team were almost relegated from the Football League.

Only 3,000 or so fans were turning up at their low point, but in their attractive new stadium they are now looked upon as a big club. Although they’ve gone through a number of managers climbing back up the leagues, they’ve maintained a certain philosophy of always playing attractive passing football which has shaped their management choices. While City seem to change what they’re looking for in a manager every time they get rid of the last one, the Swans have worked out a plan that today sees them on the brink of the Premier League.

Reading too have done superbly. Making it to the Premier League in 2006 and successfully reversing the decline so many clubs can’t get out of when they are relegated from the top flight. The internal appointment of Brian McDermott – ironically replacing now-Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers – has worked wonders and their overturning of Cardiff in the play off semi finals was joyous. Especially given the less than ethical way Cardiff have gone about their business this season.

As the two Premier League hopefuls march out into a deafening Wembley stadium, it’s worth pausing to consider how unlikely this all – City in League Two included – would have seemed a decade ago. And, as motivating as the Reading and Swansea stories should act to us and others now, how much their ascent might have initially been inspired by the manner City had made it from Division Two to the Premier League at the end of the millennium. The soap opera never ends.

Today’s instalment unsurprisingly begins in cagey fashion, and the tension is aided by a certain amount of needle between the two clubs that sees fouls reacted to angrily and referee Phil Dowd routinely surrounded by complaining players. One such incident five minutes in sees Reading’s Zurab Khizanishvili harshly go in the book, following long and loud Swansea protests. It would become an interesting talking point not long after.

Reading start the game better, with winger Jimmy Kebe causing plenty of problems down the right flank and some panicky defending seeing Swansea players uncharacteristically hoofing the ball down the pitch. Reading are clearly more pragmatic and physical in style, and you begin to wonder if they will bully the Welshmen into defeat.

But then a rare Swansea foray forward ends with Khizanishvili flooring Scott Sinclair in the box, leaving Dowd with an easy choice in awarding a penalty. More difficult is what to do about the already booked Reading defender. It could be argued it’s a straight red offence; at the very least it should be a yellow. Dowd elects to take no action; perhaps balancing out the dubious early booking for Khizanishvili. Still Swansea don’t seem to mind as Sinclair converts the penalty to put them in front.

36 seconds after the re-start, it’s 2-0 and might already be game over. Stephen Dobbie bursts down the right, exposes Ian Harte’s lack of pace as he drives into the area and Sinclair is eventually left with a tap in. The club’s record signing, at £1 million, could have – depending on which over-hyped media story you read about the value of this game – earned the Swans between £60 and £90 million with his double strike. Three quarters of the game to go, but it’s a long way back for Reading.

Their reaction is limited, with the occasional attack lacking in purpose and belief. The Swans fans “ole” every pass from their players, who now look in control. The game goes quiet again, but then five minutes before the break Nathan Dyer races past the immobile Harte before pulling the ball back for Dobbie to stroke home. Reading’s misery is compounded by sub Jay Tabb and assistant manager Nigel Gibb being sent off on half time following arguments with the officials about a penalty claim rejected. They might have been second best for 20 minutes, but at the interval it’s difficult to begrudge Swansea their 3-0 lead.

Reading need a response, and immediately pull a goal back in the second half through Noel Hunt’s deflected header. Seven minutes later the always impressive Matt Mills heads home another corner and the game wakes up from its dreamy like state into a nerve-wracking hum-dinger. While Tabb and Gibb argued with Dowd for no obvious reason, McDermott was clearly giving the team talk of his life.

The physical and height advantage Reading enjoy is finally proving a factor, though they can play football too as Kebe and Jodi McAnuff attack down the flanks. Jem Karacan’s shot hits the post, with Hunt’s rebound effort brilliantly blocked Swans defender Gary Monk. Royals corner follows Royals corner as the pressure builds, but in time Swansea’s fluster is replaced by composure and they begin re-gain control.

A daft and unnecessary challenge in the area by the experienced Andy Griffin floors Fabio Borini, leaving Swansea and Sinclair with a second penalty of the afternoon to kill the game off, with 12 minutes to go. Sinclair’s effort is almost kept out by Adam Federici, but ends up in the back of the net to seal a hat trick. Reading pile everyone forward in the final stages, but Swansea’s defence has seemingly sorted itself out and they keep clearing the ball. Reading are defeated by the better side, but have been too much the architects of their own downfall to avoid a summer reflecting on what ifs.

So Swansea will become the 45th different club to play in the Premier League – for which next season will be its 20th following its formation in 1992. For all the justified criticism the top flight receives for keeping all the money and not caring about the rest of English football, that almost half of the 92 league clubs have played in it demonstrates it’s not the closed shop so often portrayed.

That, however, is more due to the enduring competitiveness of the Football League rather than anything Richard Scudamore is responsible for. And for all the glamour and success the Premier League isn’t shy of congratulating itself for, the numerous great stories newly promoted clubs – City included – have provided is still an essential backbone to the top end of this sport.

Whether Swansea can take Blackpool’s place in the heart of neutrals next season remains to be seen; but whatever happens, the majority of the 72 Football League clubs can dream with conviction – rather than delusion – of one day emulating them.

Didn’t you used to be Rafa Benitez?

The scarcity of football in these snow bound weeks seems to have set the fan’s mind set into watching pretty much anything as so after the delight of the improvised Portsmouth squad beating Coventry on Tuesday night came the supposedly wondrous triumph of Reading at Anfield where Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side were knocked out of the FA Cup.

Benitez cut Shakespearianly tragic figure on the side lines as he watched his team capitulate to a Reading side that showed all the Hallmarks of the Royal’s great sides: They cheated a bit, moaned a lot and – for some unfathomable reason probably connected to the fact that they are the club in closest proximity to your average tabloid newspaperman’s house just outside London – they were lavished with praise for their effort.

How Benitez – mic under nose and awkward questions to answer about his future – must have longed to grab the TV crew and march it to the Referee, to Brian McDermott, to Shaun Long and demand a reason why the 93rd minute penalty that levelled things for Reading was given considering the fairly obvious nature of the dive. No penalty, no extra time, no news story from this Third Round FA Cup game.

Nevertheless Benitez is “in trouble” now and many are calling for him to be fired from his job. Unless he is stealing for the Anfield stationary cupboard, using their computers to write his CV or as in the case of one former Anfield player turned sacked manager at another club running up £44,000 work of sex line bills on the club’s phone then sacking is not an option.

The word sack is thrown around liberally in football and is misnomic. When a centre-forward plays badly he is dropped and someone else plays the position for a time while the player himself is paid to sit on his backside or play in the stiffs.

We would never say that Jim Jefferies “sacked” Benito Carbone by paying him to not do anything yet we use it all the time for the process of taking the roles and responsibilities away from managers but continuing paying them. Sven Goran Eriksson’s time out of football after England finished almost to the day that The FA stopped paying him after his “sacking” by England ad some say that we paid Sven more to sit on his backside for a year than we did Steve MacLaren to work as manager for two.

Of course a manager without any management probably starts looking for another job and might get one soon taking away the contract from the previous club just as a player in the reserves might move on to a new team but there is no onus on either to do so while they are being paid as City found out with Carbone back in 2001.

So rather than Liverpool sack Benitez – or any club sack any manager – it would probably be more accurate to suggest that the Reds might drop him and if they can stomach the idea of paying £4m a year to someone who they don’t use in the company – and a further £4m to his replacement no doubt – then they could do just that but the club would end up in a situation where it is paying £8m a year for the managerial position to be filled and – and England’s experience suggest that this could be the case – not even getting half the value of that back.

All of which concerns Bradford City only slightly and this slight way is this. In a post game discussion with a Liverpool website (us football site webmasters have a secret club – seriously) I suggested that Martin O’Neill would be the only choice for the job to which I was told my man on Merseyside has discovered that a similar thought had passed around Anfield to a point where though back door channels O’Neill had been sounded out and had said that he was not about to break his contract with Aston Villa – he had refused to do the same with Leicester City preventing him from taking up the Leeds United job once – and so either a deal had to be worked out with Randy Learner at Villa Park or Liverpool would have to wait.

So wait they do, because while they take no joy in Third Round exits they have a plan for replacing Rafa that involves bringing in a man they feel will do better rather than throwing a wide net open after getting rid of the incumbent and seeing what they find. If they are not able to get the man they want then they will stick with what they have.

Such thinking is thin on the ground at most clubs in and out of the boardroom where little attention is paid to the person following the current, to be dropped, incumbent of the manager’s position, much less to the idea that the exiting man might be falling below whatever standard is drawn for a reason which is not solved by replacing him.

John Sheridan – manager of Oldham Athletic – was fired about a year ago and replaced with Joe Royle who allowed the teams faltering play-off push to fizzle out entirely. Royle was replaced with Dave Penney who has taken the Latics to 19th in League One hovering over the relegation places and one must wonder who pitched the idea of sacking of Sheridan and if they are considering the same with his replacement. Certainly whatever the problem was that saw Sheridan relieved of duties does not seem to have been solved by his exit.

If Benitez was to be paid by Liverpool to stay at home one could argue that the next manager would not lose FA Cup games to weaker opposition but few could make a case that suggests another manager would definitely perform better in the League than Benitez. Two years ago the Red got 76 points from 38 games making a perfect average of two points per match but still finished fourth. It is not performance but rather of over performance that is the expectation.

All of which seems a million miles away from Bradford City at present save the commonality that surrounds a section of the supporters of both clubs (and many other clubs it has to be said) who look at sacking the wrong way and talk much about removing and little about replacing and certainly do not consider the financial pitfalls of paying two people to do the same job.

Care should be taken around the opinions of these people who are so ready to spend other people’s money.

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