Soft / August

Jordy Hiwula’s single goal in Bradford City’s 1-0 win over Peterborough United changed the tone of the conversation around the club from a general worry that no goals would ever be scored to more of a consideration of what a fully fit Bantams would look like.

Hiwula’s goal is the only return for a first week of over seventy chances in three games and the hunt for a striker continues despite Vincent Rabiega joining on a one year deal this week.

With everyone at Valley Parade slowly admitting that the club is weeks behind in recruitment from where it would like to be Bradford City are not alone in being unprepared for the new season – Everton are only 70% ready it seems – and the five league games in August start to resemble a soft launch rather than a start with squads being assembled up to the end of August.

Take – as an example – City’s Matthew Kilgallon who for reasons personal arrived at City not fit enough to play even in a situation where only one central defender was fit. That Romain Vincelot fits so well into the position is pleasing for many reasons but all those reasons mask how acceptable being ready for September rather than August has become.

Because of this there is reason to believe that Chief Scout Greg Abbott may be able to find the striker City are looking for – Abbott, McCall, and most of Bradford seem to want a proven goalscorer – in the last weeks of the month.

Take – for example – Sheffield Wednesday’s Gary Hooper who is a proven goalscorer across four divisions, Scotland and Europe but is currently sharing time at the owls and not getting the lion’s share of that time.

With Steven Fletcher having arrived in South Yorkshire and Fernando Forestieri edging his way out Hooper has a good chance of playing. If Forestieri can be convinced to stay then Hooper is considering spending his twenty ninth year making cameo appearances from the bench.

Of course Hooper is probably out of City’s range – I doubt he is a target – but in the next two weeks it could become obvious to Hooper if he is going to get game time or not and if he is not he might decide that he would rather move on to somewhere where he gets it.

Another example is the oft talked about Adam le Fondre who has yet to feature for Cardiff City this season despite some pressing for his inclusion.

At the moment le Fondre is being well paid to go out on loan – Wolves and Bolton had him in the last few years – but as the end of the transfer window now means an inability to play for another club until the start of January the likes of le Fondre are facing a long time watching football happening around them without getting involved.

Of course this is not a new phenomenon just one with different timing. It was that players would turn up to pre-season and cast glances around the training field and play in a few friendlies to decide that New Face One and Young Kid Two were probably going to get into the team over them. Rather than bench warm for a year they looked for a move before the season started in August.

That still happened but it happens in this first month of the season. August is pre-season with fifteen points available. Last year the soft launch August pre-season told Phil Parkinson that Nathan Clarke and Rory McArdle needed a more mobile player alongside them and so Reece Burke was signed.

One shows one’s age when one wistfully recalls when a team was ready for the second Saturday in August.

So Matt Taylor of Bristol Rovers is “tired” three games into the season with the ink not yet dry on his new contract but rumours starting immediately that he is having second thoughts. Jay Simpson does not appear on the Leyton Orient team photo and speculation rises.

Which is perhaps where Abbott and McCall are poised ready for a player who shake loose who previously seems cemented into position.

Using the power of home supporters to bring down the prices for away fans

For some of us, it is a matter of principle. It is going to hurt to do this, but the board of the Supporters Club & Trust have collectively decided not to attend this game. – Bristol City Supporters Trust on the season opening game with Sheffield Wednesday.

The attempts of Bristol City supporters to mobilise a boycott of one their club’s games is not new in the bowels of English football nor is it likely to have any serious impact on the authorities who it targets.

The Robins Supporters – or some of them at least – are refusing the £39 entrance fee to Hillsborough to watch Bristol City’s return to The Championship. The argument is almost entirely economic on their part in that they believe that a pound short of forty is simply too much to pay for a football match.

The economics of the situation go deeper than the reach of one club into the pockets of supporters of another. The higher up in football one attempts to go the more the expenditure of clubs is, and the more the income rises to match that. Clubs pay out more to stage a Championship game than a League One game and do that by higher TV deals, and higher admission prices.

Stroke Leo: £20 a time

Football runs on a common assumption that the higher up a team a person supporters in the pyramid the more money they have to support them. I’m a Bradford City supporter as an accident of birth – I am because I was raised in Bradford – rather than as a function of what I earn.

Bristol City as a club are no strangers to the idea of throwing a lot of money around – we remember their approach to last season’s League One – but the club Bristol City and the people who follow them are not the same.

The governing assumption in football support is that whatever our football club do we are conspirator to and that we lend our support to. On the most case this is a harmless assumption although I know of a good few who have involved themselves with clubs (myself included) who end up with a Go Set A Watchman moment.

In the case of teams like Sheffield United, or Oldham Athletic, when they were trying to sign Ched Evans that assumption is tested to breaking point but those cases are rare. Most of the time if our club do it then we have done it.

This was illustrated to me in an argument with Rochdale Football Club (No, not that argument with Rochdale Football Club) when I suggested on this very site that £20 admission to a League Two game was too much and was told by Rochdale’s fans that “I charged the same.”

Do I? Personally?

Economics is ethics

Refusing to pay to go to Sheffield Wednesday for Bristol City supporters is an inherently ethically based act but when they stand on a point of principle the ground beneath them is shaky.

Well meaning though they are the Bristol City Supporters Trust compare the price they pay to £25 that Reading and in doing so charge Sheffield Wednesday with this greed rather than the culture of football that gives us these assumptions.

If only this were someone else’s problem and Bristol City’s trip to South Yorkshire was on a Tuesday night in January and priced accordingly.

Which is not to criticise the Bristol City Supporters at all just to suggest that they redirect their ire. The people at Hillsborough probably do not care about what Bristol City fans think. The people at Ashton Gate probably do.

Mark and Me, Me and Mark

I once suggested to (Joint-Chairman) Mark Lawn that Bradford City look at extending the policy of affordable football – which is an economic rather than an ethical decision from the Valley Parade boardroom – to away supporters.

Mr Lawn said that the support had 1,000 “walk ups” a week – this was back in League Two – who paid £20 each and I suggested that had someone travelled all the way from Torquay to watch a League Two game they deserved a medal for services to the game rather than what I considered to be an expensive admission charge.

To his credit Mr Lawn agreed with the principal and said he would have a look at it. He was unhappy with the interview that that meeting resulted in and I could not say what happened to the idea.

So I speak from experience – albeit thwarted – when I suggest that the Bristol City Supporters Trust should be talking to their boardroom about how much away supporters (and home fans without season tickets) pay and that Sheffield Wednesday supporters should be doing the same at Hillsborough.

Clubs listen to their own supporters, not someone else’s, and it is with their own clubs where supporters have power.

There is an obvious solidarity here. You get your club to bring prices down, we will get ours to do the same.

Using the power of home supporters

Bradford City have – almost by accident – become a case study in how to build a fan base that has resulted in the superb #onefournine effort. Massive credit goes to James Mason at the club for realising the potential and for starting enacting a social reform in football pricing.

When any club says they simply have to put up prices they can be directed at Bradford City as a riposte which says that building a fanbase is about committing to making football affordable.

I’d like a constitution of Bradford City that enshrined affordable football as a permanent value but failing that I’d call on the club to take affordable football a step further to away fans and to walk ups. I’d like a pricing structure for season ticket holders, walk ups and away fans that was built around a common ethic that football is affordable for football supporters.

I’d like the club to reduce the price for the Torquay supporter who has come from Devon, or the walk up at Valley Parade, or anyone to (for example) £10 not because of the economics of the situation but because of the ethics. I’d like Bradford City fans to politely suggest to those who run Bradford City that they do this. I’d like those who run Bradford City to politely suggest to boardrooms we visit that they do the same.

Away supporters have no power in football. They are the moveable problem that home teams deal with as a crowd and then forget about. It is perhaps overstating matters to suggest that to the home team away fans are second class citizens but you will, Dear Reader, have your own experience to draw on on that conclusion.

But home supporters have a degree of power over the clubs they support. Home supporters can put pressure on their club and put points on a club’s agenda. A boycott of away fans represents a smaller policing bill, a boycott of home fans represents a probem. We have power as home fans.

I think you, I and the Bristol City supporters should start using that power for the common good.

No disrespect is meant to Gary Megson but, really, Sheffield Wednesday should fire him

No disrespect to the competition or Bradford – it’s fantastic that Johnstone’s Paint sponsor the competition – but we have to do what is right for Sheffield Wednesday.

Which is to say losing matches. Gary Megson’s actions in the defeat on penalties to Bradford City seemed to make that more likely and while I’m not expert on the amount of effort put in by a custodian in a Tuesday night match and how it would tire him out for Saturday if I were facing a penalty shoot out I’d be glad to have Nicky Weaver in goal.

If I were a Sheffield Wednesday fan I’d probably wish the Megson did the kind of unexpected exit which our own Peter Jackson performed last week and not because of the idea that he has shamed the club, or disgraced the competition or anything so emotive but because in two ways Megson indicated that he failed to grasp the task in hand managing a club like the Owls in League One.

Bradford City are not a club the size of Wednesday, but we are big guns in these lower leagues and have been there to have had pot shots taken at us for the best part of a decade now. For a time there was a hushed aware when teams visited Valley Parade – the kind that comes when a player who is used to 3,000 capacity stadiums visits a proper ground – but that did not last long. Bit by bit the reputation City had of a top club at the bottom was chipped away by the odd home defeat here, the weakness shown there and by season after season of being knocked out of competitions like the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy by teams from further down the football pyramid.

Under Colin Todd’s management a lot of the things he was doing in the league were undermined by constant defeat to the likes of Accrington Stanley – then a non-league outfit – and Notts County before the fraud. For a half decade City were ground out of cup competitions at the first time of asking and – in retrospect – the sight of “Premier League Bradford City” going out to Acky Stanley chipped away at any fear factor we had.

So players of other clubs reading this morning that Sheffield Wednesday lost to Bradford City will see Megson’s Owls as a little less than they were, a little bit more beatable. Likewise the players on the field – struggling to maintain the idea that they are not League One players but rather Championship players waiting for re-promotion – have a niggling doubt that something at Wednesday is not what it was.

Understanding how cup form sabotaged the long league seasons has come through hindsight mostly, but as a manager who is going to get promotion Megson should understand the perils mentally of losing to a club in the leagues below you.

And lose they did. The other strike against Megson for a Wednesday fan is that they team he put out against City were ill prepared and it showed. Luke Oliver hit the bar in the last minute but more importantly he converted a header which was nodded away from what looked to be behind the line. There was no bad luck in the game, Wednesday got what they deserved, nothing.

The players oozed a mentality that they had been sent out as second class citizens at the club. They did not play like the people who would be expected to be dropped into a League One game next week, they played like they were the off cuts. Many a manager had challenged his fridge fringe players to “show me what you can do” but Megson seemed to say “Show me what you can’t.”

At any level of football a manager should not send a team out with that attitude. Tell a team that they are second best and they will prove it on the pitch. Take Arsene Wenger’s 8-2 reversal at Manchester United. As two midfielder’s exited Arsene told Arsenal’s players that they were not good enough – certainly not as good as the guys who had left – and his players showed that at Old Trafford. Imagine – if you will – had Arsenal played that game with Ces Fabregas suspended and Sami Nasri injured. Would the attitude of the Arsenal players been the same or would they have pulled together to cover the missing men? Had Sheffield Wednesday gone into last night as the young heroes being called on in an injury crisis then would they have walked taller, won more tackles, felt better?

Not only is preparing players as Megson did unprofessional but it is avoidable. Clinton Morrison screaming his head off at team mates is not a way to prepare footballers. A young kid making his debut at the back deserves more than his team mates being told that they have to play. Tell the seniors that they are there to help the juniors, tell the juniors that you need a performance from them.

The next time one of the players who finished the game for Sheffield Wednesday is called on by Gary Megson how is the feeling of knowing they are part of the cut offs team going to effect them. Megson might be schooled in 38 games of a Premier League season with Bolton Wanderers but the demands of the game lower down are that the division between first team and reserves is much finer, and the need to have a squad all pulling in the same direction has been aptly illustrated by the last three years at Bradford City.

So, while one means no disrespect to Sheffield Wednesday or their manager my experience of watching a team in similar circumstances suggests that the manager lacks what is needed to take a big club back up.

When the fear factor goes, much goes with it, and Megson chipped away at that last night.

The best manager in the history of Bradford City

Colin Cooper is expected to take a hand in selecting the team for Bradford City’s game with Sheffield Wednesday but when looking back the history books will ready that Phil Parkinson took over at Bradford City on the 29th of August 2011 and that Colin Cooper managed the club for one game.

One game, one win, no draws, no defeats, four goals and – for relish although it will not be recorded – a great performance. When looking at Phil Parkinson’s profile the mind boils everything down to win percentages. Cooper will forever top such a list for Bradford City: 100%.

That Cooper reverts to assistant if he is lucky – or like Wayne Jacobs before him – ends up being told to leave is a little saddening. Two cheers for the club for making decisive action after Jackson’s departure, and a note of sadness that Cooper has not had the chance to show what he can do in the job.

Show what he could do like Terry Dolan who took the club to a height after being given the job until Martin O’Neill’s contract details were sorted out. Dolan was caretaker who made himself unignorable and got the job but it seems that the die was cast in favour of Parkinson before Cooper’s team started. It is a shame, but one game should not chance long term planning.

So Cooper takes his place in history and points a way forward for Phil Parkinson. The Bradford City team which beat Barnet is a team of promise who can play a bit of football and Parkinson may do well to notice that. The team can play a bit, and does not need to be shoehorned into a style which does not suit it.

Much is made of Parkinson’s direct playing style but – until Pat Rice decided he would extend his contract this season – he was to be Arsene Wenger’s number two at Arsenal running a team famous for trying to pass and walk the ball into the goal.

If the criticism of Peter Jackson was that he was not using the resources as well as he should then one should expect his replacement to do things differently and arriving at Valley Parade, watching Saturday’s performance, and decides that they would be better served whacking the ball long would be to fritter away the resources for the sake of enforcing a style of play.

Such discussions are for the future. Parkinson will set out his team and hope to be as effective as Colin Copper’s side was.

Oscar Jansson will keep his place in the side and the back four of Liam Moore, Guy Branston, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall are expected to stay in place although Steve Williams hopes to be fit soon and Luke O’Brien’s place on the bench signals that he is coming in from the cold. When Peter Jackson tells his side of the story of why he left Bradford City one hopes that someone asks him what he was doing with O’Brien.

The midfield four of Chris Mitchell, Richie Jones, Michael Flynn and Jack Compton will stay in place having got everything very right but with Kyel Reid having joined the club Compton may face some competition for his place. Parkinson would do well to have watched Saturday’s performance and decided that the route to improvement was to replace any of those four.

Likewise James Hanson and Mark Stewart will be wondering which of them will be standing down to allow Paul Benson to be give a place in the forward line. Cooper’s single game as City manager shows everything anyone needs to know about the striking pair and – were Benson to join – one would think less of Parkinson if he were to make changes without giving the current side a chance.

That is if the current side are deployed in the Associate Members Cup rather than the development team. This competition has given many a young player a run out in the past and brought very little success for the Bantams on the way.

Sheffield Wednesday arrive at Valley Parade sitting ninth in League One and with their own new manager – Gary Megson – still looking for his first win on the road. Wilson’s trips away have included a visit to Alfreton Town in which the Owls XI lost 14-0. One wonders how many of the starting side from Saturday will be played if the XI side gets results like that.

Then again, what can one read from a single result in isolation?

Where now for Paul Jewell?

It all fit so well.

Paul Jewell would return to glory at Brian Clough’s first Championship club and the comparisons between the two strikers who retired early and inspired smaller teams to great things would be further cemented. Jewell’s exit came amid chants for his job from the Pride Park South Stand, admissions of contrition from the chairman Adam Pearson and Burton Albion – home of the actual successor to Clough – rising towards the Football League. Both East Midlands clubs are looking at the same manager.

Jewell has left Chris Hutchings in charge – again – and has suffered a significant dent in his reputation having taking on the Pride Park job with a remit not to keep the Rams in the Premiership but to launch a return the season after. The fact that he made such a poor fist of even attempting to stay in the top flight was put down to the players, the failure for a replaced squad to start a promotion campaign falls on Jewell – at least in the eyes of most.

Damning for Jewell were Pearson’s words on his exit – that he was a manager with a proven track record of getting teams out of the Championship – which risk ghettoising the former City and Wigan boss into the Neil Warnock position where he is trusted to get you to the big leagues but no further.

It is unlikely his next role will be at a club higher than the role he has just left leaving him looking at his record – something of a 2:4 with City and the Latics as successes and Sheffield Wednesday and Derby as failures – and hoping that if he is to be considered a promotion expert his next role does not tip the odds against him.

The former City boss is stuck between the limits of being a promotion specialist and the hardship of maintaining a positive role in modern football – even after keeping Wigan in the Premiership the grumbles had started at the Latics who wanted the club “moving to the next level”

Jewell’s next level seems frustratingly out of reach.

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