The football feedback cycle

Watch a game, mull over a game, talk about a game, argue about a game, mentally bet that something different next game, watch a game…

Thus the goes football feedback cycle.

One week you watch a player stroll around the field and spend the drive home wishing him gone, you post your views, you get into a bit of banter about it and next game when that player gets a hat-trick you are proved wrong. It is feedback.

You watch a manager’s team one week and think it will never get better and next week the team has turned things around, or the team has not and the feedback you get is that you were right all along. That is feedback and football thrives on it in these days.

Twelve years ago when BfB started brewing I made two assumptions both of which turned out to be massively untrue. Firstly that the close season period would amount to three months off and secondly that people would be logging on at six or seven on a Saturday night to read about City games.

Both these ideas were untrue. BfB’s biggest days have all come in the close season: signing Carbone, almost going out of business, appointing Stuart McCall as manager; and Saturday and Sunday are the quietest time of the week, nothing compared to Monday morning.

Supporters of all stripe love to talk about things because of the feedback cycle. It keeps everything interesting and dynamic. In the close season a signing is considered a result – Liverpool fans looked at Joe Cole signing the club as a similar kind of sign of progress as winning at Old Trafford – but during the weeks of the season it is the metronomic ticking of results which completes the cycle.

So in a situation where City have played one game in thirty five days – and that game was overshadowed – the feedback cycle becomes broken. Propositions and hypothesises are put forward but never tested, thoughts are expressed but never tried out. There is talk but without anything to inform the talk then much talk just becomes hot air.

Hot air being the problem of late. Frozen pitches have been calling off football matches up and down the country and less than a half dozen games in the bottom two divisions have been played in the last few weeks. The games that have been played have been changed – perhaps – by the weather enforced break. Two of League One’s promotion chasers have been the only match on days and both Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday have been unexpectedly beaten as pattens are broken and rhythms hard to rebuild.

The Bantams go into the game – and we assume that Cheltenham’s promises that the pitch will be playable will ensure there is one – with a few players coming back from injury although with usable training facilities being limited recovery might have been hampered. Rob Kiernan and Luke Oliver were both struggling to be fit for Boxing Day but should play. Shane Duff and Steve Williams are all suggesting themselves for a return while Simon Ramsden and Michael Flynn are both hoping to return early in the new year.

Lenny Pidgley – who is out of contract soon – keepers goal behind Richard Eckersley, two of Duff, Williams, Kiernan, and Oliver and at left back Luke O’Brien will play.

The midfield sees Tom Adeyemi approaching the end of his loan spell at Valley Parade which has been a mixed while Lee Hendrie also has the chance to exit. The midfield at Cheltenham is expected to line up Adeyemi, Tommy Doherty, David Syers and Hendrie while Omar Daley and James Hanson will be the forward pair – although the option from drop Daley back to make a five in the middle is always there.

Last season City went to Cheltenham without a goal and ended up being the better half of a nine goal thriller which turned around the start to the season. After thirty five days of thinking City boss Peter Taylor must be hoping for a similar impact as he mulls over his squad and the changes he may make to it in January. At least, after tomorrow, he will have something to add to the feedback cycle.

City’s game with Chesterfield off

The Bantam’s game with Chesterfield on Boxing Day has been called off because of a frozen pitch by local Referee’s Assessor Graham Atkins.

Only light snow is expected between now and the start of the game but temperatures are not expected to go above freezing and the VP pitch is said to be rock solid.

City’s next game is to be the match at Cheltenham on the 28th which would be City’s first match in 17 days should it go ahead, which seems unlikely, offering up Lincoln City away on the first day of 2011 as the Bantams next match.

Crewe game called off

City’s game with Crewe has been called off owing to the snow falls over night but – credit where it is due – Referee Kevin Wright has taken the time to explain his decision to supporters and the clubs.

The referee said “Once we took back the covers in the morning, it was clear that bits of frost and ice had already crept in. We left it for a bit to expose the pitch to the temperatures and it already began to go hard relatively quickly. Even if we had started the game, we would have barely got through 20 minutes of the match before it became unsafe.

After heavy snow and a frost last night no League Two games will be played today.

The unwelcome winter break draws to a close

In footballing circles the closer you get to the Arctic Circle there is talk of a Winter break which would allow the players a mid-season rest while conditions are too bad to play and supporters would appreciate the chance to stay at home in the warmth.

This last month the Bantams have had something similar, and it has not been enjoyable.

The one game in four weeks has been a shock to the system. An unwelcome cold summer holiday leaving one at a loose end on a Saturday afternoon and – snow covering being what it was – robbing the opportunity to keep snug in the snug of The Fighting Cock.

A week of perpetration, the increasingly heard comment to wives and girlfriends of “I’m looking forward to some football this weekend”, the thought about how and who and where City will play and then, nothing.

So a return to football on a Tuesday night in Bury is timely, the winter break having gone on far too long.

This game was due to be played on Boxing Day but failed owing to the snow. The Shakers used the generally static division to move the leagues resting in sixth after Saturday’s win over AFC Bournemouth.

The Bantams return to action with one addition in the form of Matt Glennon who has been signed on a six month deal following the exit of Simon Eastwood. Lee Clark has spoken highly of Eastwood suggesting he is ready to take over from Alex Smithes should that player leave as he expected to do so although having watched Eastwood for five months it is hard to share his opinion.

At times excellent, at times calamitous Eastwood lacks a steadying influence which was the hallmark of – in my humble opinion – the best goalkeeper City have ever fielded Gary Walsh. Eastwood is an fine athlete but has yards to go to become as good a footballer.

At 31 Glennon has been around the leagues and the hope is that that experience will settle a City back line which has better footballers in it than it gets results. Glennon sits behind full backs Simon Ramsden and Luke O’Brien and central pairing Zesh Rehman and Matthew Clarke who replaces the suspended Steve Williams.

Omar Daley returned to the City squad not match fit a month ago but one can imagine no player in the division is up to speed at the moment following the flurry of cancellations so the winger may get the nod to restarts. Stuart McCall is expected to form a 442 with Daley on the right hand side and James O’Brien on the left around the middle pair of Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn although Stephen O’Leary is expected to be back in contention and should McCall favour a 433 which he seems to be moving away from then he or Chris Brandon may feature.

Should that happen Daley may be pressed into service as one of the two supporting forwards to James Hanson alongside Gareth Evans – who struggled for form before this break – or Michael Boulding.

James Hanson – who it is said is prompting interest from higher up the leagues following his first five months in professional football – is expected to complete the team.

How much is game in hand worth? Gillingham vs Bradford City Preview

Snow.

The world is full of it and if this country had proper snow ploughs then we would not have a question mark over this weekend’s game with Gillingham. No, we would have a question over whether a vehicle used once every twenty years would start on a cold day.

If the game with Gillingham goes ahead then City look at playing off with the Kent side for a play-off place with them in seventh and the Bantams a place below and the right set of results – or postponements – could leave either fourth on Saturday evening.

Postponements being the challenge of logic in football. Inevitably they occur – City already have an away game at AFC Bournemouth to attempt to replay as well as Monday night’s cancelled Darlington home game – and unrealistically they twist the table leading to the question “how much is game in hand worth?”

Shrewsbury are a place above Gillingham and two above City and a point ahead of the Bantams. Is it safe to assume that – that game played – we can adjust City above the men from Gay Meadow? Some – Bill Shankley for example – would say not and point to every point having to be earned. The grizzled Scot would say that you have nothing when you have nothing and dinne ye forget it.

Nevertheless with 45 point from 28 games City are picking up 1.7 points a game so extrapolating that average we could assume that we would get that point – and a bit more – at least. Taking an example Grimsby Town – 22nd on the league and a point and place below Barnet – score at 0.78 points per game and thus it is probably not safe to assume they will overhaul the club a place above them however the fact that they are one down in the played column – and no one in the league has the 30 games played that have been scheduled – gives them the optimism that they may collect all three points.

Indeed when City faced relegation from the First Division under Chris Kamara Grimsby Town looked at our game in hand against then high flying Charlton Athletic and could have worked out a similar logic with City as likely to collect three points at home on that Thursday night as they were at any other time during the season. We won that game and beat QPR to stay up with our game in hand counting for three points.

Countering that in 1988 West Ham United had five games in hand over Liverpool which – if they were all won – would have seen them snatch the league. They collected less than half of those points and one was left to reflect not that Frank McAvennie and co had blow a chance at the league just that it was a quirk of statistics that suggested they had one and had the games been played in their scheduled slots in the season they would have been the same unremarkable results and the Hammers would have ended up third in a less exciting way.

Games in hand create falseness. City pick up 1.87 points a home game and 1.31 from an away one but how one uses those stats to create an adjusted league table is no more an accurate reflection than assumption that every game not played will be won.

What we do know is that the Bantams beat Grimsby Town last weekend and Stuart McCall struggles with riches in the midfield – Joe Colbeck is expected to start the next City game be it this one or the game with Wycombe Wanderers on Valentines Day – and misfiring strikers up front.

The midfield of Colbeck, Dean Furman, Nicky Law Jnr and Omar Daley seems set to continue while Paul McLaren is injured – in my experience the people who suggest we do not need McLaren in the team also puzzle about our corners not beating the first man when he is not playing and I would yoke those two points together – but McCall has a liking for Steve Jones which could see him included somewhere. McCall had tried playing Jones as a forward having seen his own strikers notch but two in eight from free play.

Probable starter Michael Boulding believes both he and partner Peter Thorne can get to twenty by the season end and I am reminded of an old footballing adage about front men: How many goals does the front man of a winning team scored? Enough. City are a drawing team of late and the strikers need to improve, or at least have improvement visited on them with better service.

The defence at City is mean – almost as mean as its critics – and only seriously leaked when they lost the headed defensive clearances of Barry Conlon at Luton. Six foot plus Zesh Rahmen’s inclusion at right back was more to do with getting a third big man to mark at set plays than it was a reflection on Paul Arnison and Rahmen is expected to retain a place alongside Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke with Luke O’Brien at left back and Rhys Evans between the sticks.

Except, of course, they will all probably be at home, kicking their heels, talking about snow ploughs.

The game that was never going to be

This is not easy for me to say, but for once I actually support something the Football League have said. Worse still, I have to say that I don’t think that the club I have supported through thick and thin (mainly thin) for the better part of fifty years has given sufficient thought to its fans. I can get out of the second difficulty by blaming the ref. That usually works in any event. But the evidence also points to the club and I can’t ignore it.

Back on 6th January, under a heading ‘It’s Snow Joke for Travelling Fans’, the Football League said ‘It is important that clubs do everything they can to prevent supporters making wasted journeys to postponed fixtures.’ The League’s guidance was perhaps primarily intended to meet the needs of away fans, but even in the fourth division some home supporters travel quite a distance. Especially when your home ground is so near to The Pennines, a club must expect a number of fans to have to encounter steep hills in even local journeys.

The postponement of the Darlington game was announced somewhere after 6.20, less than an hour and a half before kick off. I say ‘announced’ because I saw it on Sky Sports News. Sky, of course, were on the spot, ready for a live broadcast. The club website a few minutes later still said nothing more than a further inspection would be held at 6.00 and that team news would be posted at 7.15.

As it happens, my decision had already been made. Even on a fine midweek evening I have to set off no later than 5.30 for a 7.45 kick off. Kind friends who live much nearer were sending weather updates from early morning. I was checking forecasts on the internet – wonderful tool, isn’t it? – and by 10.30, once I’d read that the club wanted volunteers to shovel snow, I’d sent an e mail to my mates saying this would be wasted effort, since the forecast for Bradford was heavy snow by 6.00 p.m. and for the rest of the night. Whichever site I looked at for the next few hours, I got the same message. I mention that specifically because the Football League guidance does indeed allow for ‘the unpredictability of the British weather’ and the prospect of late postponements.

This weather was entirely predicted. Whichever internet weather forecast you used, they all said the same. City, I gather, have two supporters who are actually weather forecasters for television stations of the terrestrial type. Maybe somebody should have asked them! But, whoever it was the ref consulted, Mr D’Urso explained in a pitch side interview that he had been told there would be a small amount of snow before 6.00 and then nothing until 10.00. With the customary vision some of us expect from referees, I could do a better job from 75 miles away!

What troubles me about the whole business is the lateness of the decision compared with several other matches, not due to be played for a further 24 hours, where postponements were announced hours earlier. None of these other games was due to be televised, but I’m sure that’s purely coincidental. One of my informants tells me that Mark Lawn was heard on local radio as late as 4.35 asking for more volunteers. Was that a live request or a pre-recorded interview that should never have been repeated at that time of day?

The whole affair smacks of insufficient regard for travelling fans. It ignores the fact that those fans have to get back home from a game scheduled to end at 9.40 or so and that, even on the ref’s laughable version of a weather forecast, by that time there would be heavy snow. Or perhaps the Football League’s guidance is meant only to prevent wasted journeys to games and does not take into account return trips. I do hope not. At this time of year it is often the return journey that is the more hazardous.

The Darlington game will have to be re-arranged, of course. It may well be that Sky will try again next time and the income will not be lost to the club. Whether it is or not, if Bradford City really wants to be seen to care about football’s fans, wherever they are travelling from and whichever side they are supporting, they will have the chance to sell tickets at no more than £10 a head to all fans. Those of us with our season tickets will gain nothing personally, but the club will gain the respect of thousands, especially those who do not live within easy travelling distance of Valley Parade.

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