Preview / Absurd / Regret

In his preamble to musings on philosophy Danish poet Søren Kierkegaard commented “Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both.”

Debt

Racing Universitaire Algerios goalkeeper Albert Camus remarked “After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences, what I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations, I owe to football.”

Camus was not much of a goalkeeper and retired early with novelty remembering him as better than he likely would have been. His aphorism about what he owed to the game is as accurate enough for consideration as the first football season to be played behind closed doors kicks off on Saturday.

There is a lip service paid to the idea that the match attending supporter is the heart of football. This is obviously rendered untrue by those who live The Ladbrokes Life, or who watch Soccer Saturday every week, or who support Barcelona while living in Bradford who are capable of having an experience of football supporting that does not rely on attendance.

“What is football without fans?” was the question, and we will get an answer.

Hope

Over the summer Bradford City have rid themselves of around a dozen players who one struggles to find anything positive or celebratory to write about.

Hope Akpan was not as bad as a mass of people would have it but never did anything to suggest he should be missed.

Those players have been replaced with a second collection of players who are on the whole younger, and those player have been added to by a half dozen players from the youth setup which stands as a lingering testament to the planning done by Edin Rahic while he was chairman of Bradford City.

All this recruitment is best judged in retrospect but it seems highly unlikely that Bradford City have traded a group of League Two quality players for a group of League One quality players. Indeed it seems likely that while the players will have different characteristics they will on the whole be of a similar quality.

Absurd

Narratives around football centre on a type of control which the game seems to rarely, if ever, afford.

One player leaves only to become top scorer, another ends up in the semi-professional leagues and you would do well to see the justification in that given their performances for City. City sign the best player in the League and he is awful but the guy who could not get on the bench at Carlisle is great.

What makes a single recruitment successful? How much was Nahki Wells a success because of two huge morale boosting goals in his first few games? Why was the tireless Billy Knott of Chelsea not a player worth keeping? There are answers to all these questions in principle but that answer is so much a compounded of variables as to be unknowable in practice.

We look at these events and mesh them together in an extrapolation trying to establish that grouping unknowables together makes something knowable by the aggregate. We call that a good transfer window because the alternative seems too dark for us to be comfortable with.

By the time he had given up the goalkeeping Camus had started to look how the human condition attempted to create a sense of events and senseless world and dubbed the condition the absurd.

Absurd

Stuart McCall is planning for a season without striker James Vaughan who scored seven goals in free play last term. McCall should not replace Vaughan with another player so much as he must look to recreate Vaughan’s goals in the sum of play.

Twelve months ago Gary Bowyer assigned the task of goal scoring to a subset of the forward players. This tactical approach Hugo Meisl considered old fashioned in the 1930s but is very much the way the English football operated then and has until very recently.

In his second spell as Bradford City manager McCall tried to create a more multifaceted approach to the game in which players are required to contribute to more to the many areas of play than Bowyer’s teams were required to.

Assuming McCall does this again Vaughan’s goals are replaced if this distribution of attacking play brings one more goal from echo other outfield position. This seems a better way of replacing the striker than chasing another name player through the Wasteland.

Likewise a stronger team can be built from distributing defensive play throughout the team. Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United who task Oli McBurnie with breaking up opposition creative play by blocking passing lanes between their defence and midfield. To Wilder McBurnie’s success in doing that is as important as his scoring goals. McBurnie has six in thirty six for Sheffield United but Wilder judges him on the goal difference while he is on the field.

In City’s opening game – a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup last weekend – McCall showed signs of having a similar broader view of the impact of a player on the field. The City manager borrowed the Sheffield United trick of the central defender overload which saw Anthony O’Connor crossing to Harry Pritchard into space created by the forward players Guthrie and Novak not looking to score but rather moving away and taking defensive players with them.

There has never been a question of McCall’s passion but his tactical acuity has been called into doubt seemingly to provide a counter to that passion. McCall is a tactical facsimilator rather than an innovator and watching his career has shown that.

Absurd

AL: Belief. Motivation. Motivation, motivation, motivation! The three M’s. That’s what football is about. It’s all about motivation.

CA: Motivation, I follow that.

AL: You’ve got to get those boys on the pitch, motivated. It’s no good saying go out and buy some ice cream, go to the pictures. You’ve got to tell them what they’re doing. You’ve got to motivate them onto the pitch. Push them out with forks if you need to, but get them out onto the pitch. And then when the game’s over, get them in again.

CA: Now, you went to Hartlepool, and you had this system of getting them angry. Was that – Rage.

AL: Well, you know rage is very much an adrenaline inducing factor in all sports. I mean Linford Christie wasn’t in a good mood when he won the hundred metres, was he?

CA: Well, he was afterwards.

AL: Yes, but you’ve got to be in a rage to bring out the best in yourself. And what I do to my players, one of the tactics, this was an early tactic, is to kidnap their wives. Or girlfriends! Girlfriends or wives. I’d send them all on a bus up to Grimsby, with no ticket back, and, errm, the lads went mad. They were – One game against Rotherham, my whole team was sent off, almost as soon as they got on.

CA: Yes. Right. The other sort of weird thing you used to use. I’ll not say ‘weird’, but –

AL: Odd.

CA: Odd.

Alan Latchley, by Peter Cook

Absurd

When one looks at the 2020/2021 season to be opened in front of empty stadiums with teams trying to work out how to exist under a very poorly implemented salary cap it seems obtuse to question a club’s ability to create and stick to a long term plan.

It seems entirely obvious to suggest that Bradford City’s planning is limited and limited to subsisting with the hope of promotion but not the expectation. I may not be especially happy about this I am not tempted to direct this ire towards Julian Rhodes, Stefan Rupp, the man who runs the social media or the chap that cuts the grass.

There is an idea that Bradford City should be creating a plan to move upwards in the Football League and that failing to do so convicts the club, the people who run it, and anyone who does not share the Sisyphusan zeal of a lack of ambition.

I am reminded of an episode of South Park where the gang finds out that a group of Gnomes have created a three step plan that explains recent clothing theft. Phase one reads “Collect Underpants”, phase three reads “Profit” and under phase two there is a large question mark.

How one fills that question mark defines how one approaches the 2020/2021 season at Bradford City and perhaps football itself.

Some fill the question mark with blind faith and optimism, some fill it with statistical analysis and talk of tactics, some fill it with a demand that someone else fills it. Ultimately this might be a reflection of each supporter’s locus of control

However there is an answer as to what is in the question mark space but it is not blind faith and clapping harder or the idea that the club is secretly machinating against one’s best interests. It is simple, failing neo-liberal economics.

Neo-Liberalism

The changes in football in the 1980s and early 1990s are best understood as being the impact of neo-liberal economics on the game. In 1985 Tottenham Hotspur FC set up a Holding Company which owned Tottenham Hotspur FC allowing it to sidestep the rules of the Football League at the time which prevented owners from taking money out of a club in any significant way.

As with the privatisation of British Gas, British Telecom and other utilities Football – a hitherto break even activity – had found a way to join the Reagan-Thatcherite consensus that the market should govern activity.

No Bradford City fan needs me to say what football was like in 1985 nor do people need me to help them recall the years between then and Hillsborough. As Adrian Tempany recalls in his essential book having failed to defeat football through policing and identity card regulation the Thatcherites deregulated all that could be and made the game the market’s problem.

The market solved many pressing problems within football like unsafe, crumbling stadia. It increased the quality of the play which it started to call “the product” and began to invest in support infrastructure in a way hitherto unknown.

But while the market created the improvements needed it unsurprisingly began the tendency to monopoly – or in football’s case an oligopoly – which characterises the economic system. Whereas once the football boom was for everyone the capitalistic filtering of wealth to the top began.

Consumption

The successful clubs demand more consumers and cannibalise support. The language of football is the language of the unregulated market. Of assets and of performance, and failures to perform as expected. The language of football supporting is all but colonised by the language of consumption.

Soon after The Football Industry started to recatagorise football as a product that product stopped being the ninety minutes of a game and started to be the victory within that game. Football Clubs sell themselves as Glory Machines and supporters become consumers of that product rather than enablers.

Defeats then are recatagorised not as events in the life of a supporter – as things to be experienced – but as support issues similar to when your Netflix stops working. The clamour for refunds after a poor away performance is no different to the extra month on your package given when you were not able to watch TV for a night, called the customer complaint line, and they need to placated you.

Twenty five years after the deregulation of the football markets and supporters of Bradford City are now inefficiently assigned resources in a system which would prefer us to trade season tickets in for Sky Sports subscriptions.

Dysfunctional

There is no secret as to why Bradford City cannot create and execute a plan for improving Bradford City, just the unspoken realisation that we are living in a failing world created by our neo-liberal choices.

The tendency to monopoly has centralised football into an industry which functions at the top of the game and is increasingly dysfunctional the further down the pyramid one goes.

It is a laudable traditionalism in football that prevents the market’s answer to the problems being realised as clubs fight tooth and nail to retain their status but just because the likes of Bradford City refuse to bow to the market pressure to be subsumed into the higher echelons of football it does not mean that those market forces are not present.

One can have all the blind faith, or all the red faced anger, concerning City’s ability to create and maintain a plan one wants it will not alter the realities of operating in an unregulated and predictory marketplace in which there is no more easy a way for a League Two team to rise up the leagues as there is for the local Greengrocer to withstand the onslaught of Amazon and Tesco.

And lest this be read as a suggestion that no one cares about Bradford City it is not so, it is worse than that. A small group of people care a great deal and a huge group of people care that we and the rest of League One & Two just go away.

Phase Two: “Smash the capitalist system.”

Seems unlikely.

Unlikely

Increasingly, and in my opinion as a misguided attempt to deal with the absurdity characterised by the question mark of phase two, there is an attack on that supporting football as being counterproductive. That engaging in support is an unsophisticated act of blind loyalty, or blind faith, or both.

This attitude is as present as Bradford City as it is elsewhere and holds to itself as if too much optimism, too much loyalty, will let the people in the shadows of the boardroom off the hook for coming up with a direct path from the exclusionary level the club is in now to something better.

The faith that – given everything we know about the system that that Bradford City operates in – the difference between success and failure is the want of creating and sticking to a plan.

This too seems to be an act of naive faith on the par with the false correlation that clapping harder will make players perform better.

Phase Two: “The Rhodes Plan.”

Seems unlikely.

Optimism

Football is optimism.

Football is the optimism that the things a football club does – be they well planned or seemingly random – coalesce into something that wins football matches.

It is the optimism that for one factor that can be controlled and done well the tens of other contributing factors which beyond control will run the right way.

The only sense we can make of a football season is a retrofitted forced narrative in which we convince ourselves we could have had control so we can tell ourselves that we will have control of it in the future. In this way we try tell ourselves we can can control the world around us.

The last six months since 2019/2020 ended early on a Friday afternoon and everyone went home should tell us that the control is beyond us. Optimism is the sine qua non.

It is Camus’ view of The Absurd writ large. To characterise the optimism of football fans as something which football no longer needs is to pathologise the act of football supporting itself while surrendering to the neo-liberal view where football supporters are replaced by consumers of the football product.

Preview

We take all that, do it over nine months, and call it the 2020/2021 season.

I agree with Kierkegaard.

One can involve oneself in the emotional reach of a football season or not, but either way one will regret it.

Clarke / Post Hoc / Life

When thirty four year old Billy Clarke signed for Bradford City over the summer there was some upset at the club’s perceived inability to find new targets.

New targets were to follow in the personage of Elliot Watt and Levi Sutton but by the time they did a narrative was set that for the want of a recruitment network City were scruffing around to bring in the manager’s mates ahead of what would be a terrible season.

Clarke

No club will look back on football in lockdown with less fondness than Brentford who seemed to have three gilt edged chances for promotion to the Premier League and missed them all. For them the time will come and perhaps they appreciate the distance they have travelled in the past ten years.

In April 2009 Brentford turned up at Valley Parade £10m in debt but spending freely as they tried – and succeeded – in beating Stuart McCall’s Bradford City to promotion. There is a celebrated match report on this very website one can read about it from back when I was good.

Amidst the three entwined narratives of Stuart McCall’s time at Bradford City is the peripheral figure who is on loan to, should be sent off for, and scores for Brentford: Billy Clarke.

Jacko

There is story about Peter Jackson saving Bradford City from relegation from League Two which is rarely heard and lacks any real veracity.

Jackson took over a team destined for a reversion to the mean and a mid-table finish, performed significantly worse, and managed to make a last minute goal from Ross Hannah at Morecambe into a showpiece triumph.

Jackson lasted less than a half dozen games as permanent manager of Bradford City and left among acrimony. Like Billy Clarke poking the ball away for Brentford he is a part of someone else’s history as the manager before Phil Parkinson took over.

Five

“Jon McLaughlin’s fifty yard run and punch on a Crawley Town player is – to me – the moment when Bradford City’s fortunes turned.

The brawl that saw five players sent off was the moment when Phil Parkinson’s team coalesced into being the team which would go onto Wembley twice and Chelsea 4-2.

Had Johnny Mac walked slowly to the dressing room after the dour defeat none of that would have happened.”

Life

In 1970 John Horton Conway devised a Mathematical simulation known as Game of Life in which cells were placed on a grid and be dent of their having or not having the correct number of neighbours they would thrive or not.

Cells follow rules and from that the interactions happen. When I was around eight or nine years old I was entranced watching Life creating stories of villages smashing together, narrating the rise and fall of these areas of blocks, enforcing a story onto what was entirely deterministic.

In Life one created a starting situation, and followed a predetermined set of rules, and the complexity which followed was not in any way random but seemed that way because of the massive compounding of simple factors into something which while deterministic seemed to be utterly random.

Looking at it long enough, focusing on it long enough, staring at it long enough, a story started to emerge.

2021

Bradford City may have a terrible 2020/2021 season or it may be glorious but probably it will be neither.

A lot of teams in League Two have had to lose a lot of players and bring in mostly new squads and one suspects that the League will be decided by how quickly and well those players mesh into a team rather than how good they are.

One thing that Bradford City have going for them is that Stuart McCall – left a half dozen players by Phil Parkinson when he last returned to the club – has some experience melding squads together.

Foucault

All of which presents something of a difficulty for the modernist grand narratives which the match report for the Brentford game, the footnote of Peter Jackson, the friends of friends recruitment of 2020, or the McLaughlan Brawl and how it led to Chelsea are trying to present.

The Parkinson era did not end with the departures of Phil Parkinson or owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes but continued for another year or so with McCall’s side being an offside call from Promotion. Likewise the Rahic era did not end when Rahic and Julian Rhodes returned.

The narratives we attempt to use to analyse football as it happens are anticipations of post-hoc appreciations of events which will be given context in relation to other events.

Right now we look at events as they unfold and we decide variously if we think that it is smart recruitment or it is wrong headed and we decide what that will mean for events to come writing a future history as we do that. Looking at events and unfolding information and trying to craft them into the story of the future of Bradford City.

Clarke (Again)

All these events are Billy Clarke appearing dotted through history with significance assigned arbitrarily.

Clarke is just the manager’s mate, unless the group coalesces into a team and wins promotion in which case he is a great senior pro.

We construct overarching narratives to explain events dotted through the past excluding what does not fit our narrative and we do the same for a future we know will only be contextualised by the playing out of those events.

We are all watching John Horton Conway’s Game of Life and assigning meaning to what we see hoping to make sense of seemingly random patterns.

Doyle / Vaughan / Wasteland

The match between Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers in the first round of the League Cup will occur before the first league game of the season and in front of empty seats as laws and guidelines around the COVID-19 pandemic prevent spectators from attending.

Bolton forward Eoin Doyle is pleased with this outcome allowing him to avoid chastisement from City supporters following his protracted exit from Valley Parade. Doyle was part of a team at Bradford City that failed and then was strong armed into returning only to leave again, and then this, and now this.

That Doyle wants to avoid the ire of City supporters on the occasion of his first game in six months is telling. Aged thirty two he – and thirty two year old James Vaughan who also left Valley Parade of late – must have wished they had not heard the news of Lee Cattermole’s retirement, or at least the subtext of that news.

Cattermole

A peer of Tony McMahon at Middlesbrough and playing in Dutch football Cattermole announced that he would be hanging up his boots. As a combative midfielder in his early thirties Cattermole is the type of player who could have been sought after at League One and Two level for another half a dozen years but Cattermole would rather not.

His statement oozes with subtext. At home with his young family for the last six months – locked into home with his young family – powerless as a Global Pandemic lays waste to the world a new framing of the reality of being a footballer seems to have taken his thoughts.

A world of fitness drills and running, and away trips to Eindhoven or Exeter, and being away from his family for days at a time, all seemed so unappealing. The greasepaint and the roar of the crowd so distant he looked at what would have been a future as a senior professional and saw nothing.

Vaughan

I do not know that that is Lee Cattermole’s view. He might think of the clubs he would play for or the security of being financially very well off with his family or if it was the feeling that after six months of atrophy he did not believe that his body could return to the fitness of his twenties to give someone a full season but I imagine James Vaughan has all those same thoughts too.

Vaughan’s exit from Valley Parade was predictable with the striker wanting to return to the Merseyside based club where he had spent time on loan and City acquiescing to those wishes in short order. City manager Stuart McCall was stinging in his criticism of the player wanting to be at home more rather than get into the challenge before him.

One wonders how a person like Stuart McCall goes about managing players so far from the player Stuart McCall was – all heart and dedication – as Vaughan is and then one recalls that when McCall got to thirty two he went home too. McCall played in different times when football was a verdant land of plenty.

One can imagine Vaughan wracked over months by the thought of driving over the M62 towards a failing team which is too accustomed to failing in front of an often hostile stadium with people in it who demand something which he cannot sate and seeing that stretch of motorway as a waste land to be navigated but never conquered. Tranmere Rovers offering him a chance to make the Potemkin existence more bearable and to try silence the thought wondering, all the time, if he should join Cattermole in excluding himself from the broken landscape.

Eliot

In The Waste Land T. S. Eliot describes a Britain recovering from The Great War and facing up to the rise of an organised Socialist movement that threatened revolution and from it creates a Fisher King narrative.

The King is wounded and the country is broken and rendered into a barren, fruitless waste land where small people have taken the place of large characters. “He, the young man carbuncular, arrives, A small house agent’s clerk, with one bold stare, One of the low on whom assurance sits as a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.”

To repair the landscape The King needs to be fixed and to fix The King, The King needs to hear and to understand the three words repeated in the thunder that cracks the sky above the waste land: “Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata.”

In English: Give, Compassion, Control.

Clarke

The last time the League Cup’s first game preceded the League Season Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City should have gone out of the competition in the first round when Notts County missed an open goal in the 90th minute but went through, and again, and ended up at Wembley Stadium in the final.

That season for Phil Parkinson’s side was remarkable and is talked about almost as much as the win over Chelsea that followed it two years later is. They were halcyon times – for some – but when mentioned now are as likely to bring the sharp rebuke of allowing one’s self to wander in the past as much as they are the feeling of nostalgia.

The afternoon at Stamford Bridge saw two a brief cameos. Mohammed Salah went on to be of awe at Liverpool. Billy Clarke returned to Bradford City this summer slightly older than Vaughan and also keen to move closer to his home in West Yorkshire as his career winds down. Clarke knows that in a few years he will see football as a thing he once did.

To draw the map of football is to see huge constructs of wealth, prosperity, and greatness towering over a broken British football landscape. There is wealth and there is absence and the absence stretches for miles beyond the clubs in Liverpool and Manchester that Vaughan passes on his linear navigation.

In that barren rock there are farmers arguing over which crops to plant in the ash and there are people who would construct monuments and people who would pull those monuments down.

Doyle

Eoin Doyle has been in the waste land too long.

His move from Chesterfield to Bradford City was a good one but went bad and after eighteen months he was sent away only to find some form at Swindon. That form irked the club and the supporters who had cared very little on his exit and so he returned only to leave again, and then leave again and end up at Bolton.

Cattermole, Vaughan, Clarke, Doyle and the thought of playing in an empty stadium having had one’s body atrophy over six months cocooned with a family one seldom gets to enjoy. As younger men Vaughan, Clarke, Doyle having seen the broken players at the end of their careers and knowing that they are those players now.

Stepping into the waste land once again, driving the length of the M62 past the clubs of Liverpool and Manchester and past the farmers arguing about what crops to plant in the ash, and verbalising relief that they will be afforded the privacy – the dignity – of being able to perform in front of no one.

No sound of thunder or whimper of an ending and no supporters to look down at Vaughan, Clarke, Doyle and to shout as they do, and to swear as they do, and to vitriolise as they do.

And to sing the one chant which is heard at all football grounds in this the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty:

“Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata.”

Manager / von Neumann / Advantage

A small group of scientists asked a larger group of scientists who would best represent the intelligence of human kind and, with as much of a consensus of scientists every give, the answer was John von Neumann.

American-Hungarian von Neumann was a polymathic figure in science and his contribution to the fields he touched – which were many – were significant. His work on Quantum theory will shape Mathematics for the next 100 years, his work on The Manhattan Project shaped the history of the 20th century, and his work on Game Theory should shape the selection of the next Bradford City manager with his minimax theorem is our case in point.

In my limited way I will summarise it thus: When making a decision in any game theoretic situation a player will consider all options and select the one which minimises the maximum loss. Which is to say – in this instance – that when selecting a football manager players (in this case chairmen) will make the selection of the person who should things go wrong will go least wrong.

It is hard not to see this in action with Bradford City chairman Edin Rahic’s previous two selections. Neither Stuart McCall or Simon Grayson are bad managers and – and this is important – neither could be accused of being poor managers. If McCall were relegated there are some who would have defended him and Simon Grayson did do badly and is defended.  Both were acceptable appointments though and within the remit of what a League One club is expected to do.

This remit is discussed in the work of a slightly less intelligent but significantly more famous Mathematician John Nash.  The main thrust of Nash’s work was that game theoretic situations relied on the participants knowing the range of acceptable and common moves to them, and anticipating the range of acceptable and common moves available to the other players.

The Nash equilibrium also comes into play when considering the game theory of manager selection. There is an idea that the management of football club’s is a settled matter and a decision has been made on how it is done, and that any variation on that is to do it wrong, which means that football is in something like a Nash equilibrium.

Pardew

Except selecting a football manager is not a Nash equilibrium. The role that a manager does changes often. As recently as the 1990s managers used to sell in ground advertising. The Head Coach that Bradford City are looking for would expect that to be done by someone else no doubt, and would find that scouting is done by another person, and one does not have to agree with this breakdown of work that to accept that the role of manager changes.

And should the role change then the demands of the role changes and so does it’s remit as does the profile of a person who would do it well. von Neumann’s minimax theorem is the way which football deals with this.

The desire of chairmen when making the selection of a manager is to make the choice which is least likely to be a very bad choice which very often is the best available of the group of football managers looking for a job at any given time who have experience at the level you are at.

I am not even a tenth as smart as John von Neumann but I feel certain that he, as I, would call this The Alan Pardew Effect.

Unfair

Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp have a list of League One’s Alan Pardews ahead of them and von Neumann theorem would tell them to pick a name from that list. No one person the list will give them an advantage over any other but, at the same time, no one will give them a significant disadvantage. If there are managers who can be found lower down the leagues but who are in effect passing through to find them requires someone to break out of minimax and risk an outcome which does not minimise maximum losses.

So, for example, were the 29 year old Bolton Wanderers player Stephen Darby be offered the role of player manager at Bradford City – and he seems like a qualified man for that role – there is a risk that Darby will manifest zero abilities in the role and the club will loose a dozen games before sacking another club legend. However Darby would seem to have all the indicators that a player can show that he will be a good manager and should he be an Eddie Howe the decision to give him the job will pay far better dividends than appointing any of the League One Pardews.

Two things allow Bradford City to follow this find of approach. Few people seem to expect much of the next management appointment and there is a small but verbal section of fans think that the club is going to be relegated to League Two next season although the chairmen believe that the manager should over-perform and – by definition – expecting one of the League One Pardews to do this is against logic.

Credulity

In selecting a new Bradford City manager Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp a continuum of choice. At the one end they can pick from the list of what we might unflattering call League One Pardews and hope for an uncharacteristic over-performance knowing that an under-performance would not damage the club in a way which is beyond repair. At the other end of the scale is as far away from that list as is possible while still appointing someone who is a credible football manager with the stretch in credulity being the commensurate amount as is justified by the abilities of the target, should such a target be identified.

Which brings us to Nick Cushing.

Cushing is probably not going to be considered by any Football League club this season yet he won the Women’s Super League with Manchester City last season. He is, of course, in possession of an obscene level of resources at Manchester City but his reputation as a coach is very good. He is 33 years old and contracted to Manchester City WFC for sometime but that deal hardly seems necessary. Even the FA seem to believe that you need no ability as a manager at all to manage Women’s football.

If may, or many not, think that women’s football and men’s are non overlapping magisteria and you could believe that were a club like Bradford City to appoint Cushing they could be getting a superb manager or you could think they could get someone who has no relevant experience at all but my point would be that if the club are attempting to get someone who is disproportionately better than the standard of League One they need to find a candidate who has those qualities but is undervalued.

As well as appoint Cushing a club like City could look – and one doubts they would – at Mark Sampson who has experience taking England to a World Cup Final or, should they wish to annoy all the right people, Hope Powell. The level of experience on offer is not going to be matched by someone who got sacked by Scunthorpe Town, unless all that experience is irrelevant.

Instinct

The marketplace for football managers overvalues many irrelevant or partially irrelevant characteristics – such as one’s ability to play the game, or one’s connection to a club – leaving a significant inefficiency that can be exploited. As Arsene Wenger retires is it difficult to recall how hostile the English game was to the idea of overseas managers but Arsenal found they could replaced the entirely unimpressive Bruce Rioch with the Imperious Wenger because Wenger’s Frenchness saw him undervalued by English clubs who were hitherto happy to move around the same talent pool.

Wenger is probably the most celebrated example of a club getting a significant competitive advantage from recruitment. The Frenchman changed the way that footballers behaved at Arsenal, and his legacy is that every other team in the game duplicated the professional, thoughtful, tactical approach and a good number overtook him. This was able to happen because Wenger was undervalued in the marketplace and not just be the xenophobic. His extremely limited career counted against him in his home country as did his demeanor. Famously he was said to resemble a Professor more than a football manager. By ignoring all these points Arsenal were able to create disproportionate benefits.

To find a competitive advantage from recruitment Rahic and Rupp have to identify such areas of value negativity in the market and exploit them. That is exactly what the chairmen of Bradford City should be doing right now.

Come / Grayson / Go

Simon Grayson came and went from Bradford City so quickly that one might excuse him making few friends.

The manager was hired after Stuart McCall was sacked – and no one liked that – with a brief of turning around a slump which saw McCall’s team go from inconsistent play-off contenders to very consistent team heading for a middle of the league finish which would be finalised in May 2018.

Grayson failed in this. He failed for many reasons.

The squad had been split following one of the more serious disciplinary issues that a dressing room can face in January which McCall was ill-placed – and perhaps ill-equiped – to to counter. McCall was everyone’s friend but you cannot be everyone’s friend when sides have been taken.

The manager who can claim to have been promoted four times from League One seemed have enough of a grasp of a game to see what was going wrong both with that squad and during games and some of the time he could do something about that but not often enough to make a difference.

The chairman Edin Rahic had the finger pointed at him as the reason for Grayson’s failure. He has not paid Charlie Wyke a bonus that Wyke was due in the haste when Wyke had wanted it, or so we were told, and because of that Wyke and his fellow squad mates had effectively stopped playing.

How that story reflects worse on Rahic than Wyke I do not know but Rahic has become persona non grata at Valley Parade. He is autocratic they say, and he interferes. The same was said about Geoffrey Richmond of course and one suspects that Rahic would enjoy the same regard were the club to have the same success. Everything in football is seen though a lens of results on the field.

So the squad that was in the play-offs for eighteen months under Stuart McCall went to scoring a third of a point a game and Simon Grayson was on hand to say why.

It was not good enough.

Budget

A bad workman, the adage says, blames his tools. Grayson blamed McCall’s tools but – sensibly given the fact that Our Stuart was able to do far better with them than Their Simon – not because they were poorly assembled but because they were not costly enough.

A club like Bradford City – Grayson said – needs to put is resources into the First Team. One assumes that Simon said that to Edin, and Edin said to Simon that he and Stefan Rupp have a plan to develop young players, and to turnaround Academy released players and the two parties did not meet, or perhaps meet again.

The offer to the manager of Bradford City seems to be that you will get a budget to spend on the first team squad of between £2m and £2.25m and access to – and the obligation to work with – a development set up which one might guess costs the better part of £500,000 to support. That is money paying for squads with coaches who are paid to bring those squads on, who develop those players.

You get Tyrell Robinson, Reece Staunton, Josef Hefele, and George Skyes-Kenworthy and you get at least a half a dozen other players to consider. If you are a football manager you might find that attractive – raw talent and all – or you might also think that you’d rather that money is spent a contract for a senior professional or two.

If it is the latter then you would probably not be the man for Bradford City. And not just today.

Unpleasing

If there is not something that strikes you as unpleasant about the above sentences there should be.

Simon Grayson could not get the same performances out of the team that Stuart McCall could and, because of that, he wanted the dozen or so coaches at the club to be put out of work and the kids that they are coaching to be told to find a new club.

That is what focusing all your budget on the first team is. It is closing down anything that is not the first team. It happened under Phil Parkinson when the Reserve Team closed down and the path from promising youngster to first team member for Oli McBurnie was a broken path.

If you can imagine a Bradford City in the 1980s that did not bother with Stuart McCall, John Hendrie, or Greg Abbott then you can do what I cannot. A football club without the optimism that comes with player development is not really a football club I recognise. It is an artificial thing, a constructed thing, and gives up something too precious to be lost.

Simon Grayson wants to go down that route, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp do not, and so it seems like a good thing that there has been a parting of the ways.

Lazy / High / Low

I do not believe that any footballer is lazy.

I think that to become a professional footballer you have to put it a level of effort which precludes the genuinely lazy people from ever getting on a pitch. I have seen lazy footballers though – players like Alen Boksic who was once caught offside twice in the same movement while playing for Middlesbrough at Valley Parade.

So lazy was the striker – who was reported to be paid £61,000 a week for his efforts – that in the time it took him to walk back from hearing the whistle another Boro attack had started and he was caught offside again from a pass forward without ever having got onside.

The fact I can remember this outlier of laziness so clearly suggests to me that lazy football is a very rare thing.

Which is why I find it hard to consider Haris Vuckic and Mark Marshall lazy footballers following Bradford City’s inert home draw with Southend.

Two

There are two ways for a footballer to use the effort he puts into a game although these ways can be hard to categorise.

One way is to take responsibility for winning the ball back, for supporting your team mates by standing in a ready position to win the ball should they err, for ensuring that other players have options. Players who spend a lot of energy in this way are the players who make dummy runs that leave them isolated but other players open.

They are the players who hold deep rather than rush forward. They are the players who play possession football over five yards rather than ping a defence splitter over fifty.

We will – for the sake of this argument – call these players “High Percentage” because the governing motivation in what they do is to find options that work in a high percentage of situations.

Contrast that with “Low Percentage” players who take responsibility in a different manner.

A low percentage player is concerned mainly with how the next goal will be scored. They are the player who takes up the best position to for attacking play, who take that position in preference to offering an easier option for a teammate in possession.

The low percentage player surges into the box to following in for the chance – however slim – that a loose ball breaks to them. They play the glorious pass over fifty yards which is too often headed away but – sometimes – slices a defence in two.

Two2

The art of football management is – perhaps – balancing these two dynamics.

Stuart McCall – the definition of a high percentage player – has a belief in the low percentage footballer which was not shared by his predecessor as Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson.

That belief was obvious in McCall’s first (second) spell as City manager and has resurfaced in his second (third) spell. Against Southend United in a poor game with a poor referee that belief was a problem.

Trying to win the game while at 1-1 with twenty minutes left McCall put his faith in the low percentage Marshall, in Vuckic, and later in Jordi Hiwula, while high percentage Timothee Dieng watched from the sidelines.

City struggled to get the ball back from a Shrimper’s midfield for which “robust” and when they did get the ball struggled to get it through the visitors and increasingly made low percentage attempts to break that resistance.

Way

It should be said that most players exist on a continuum between the high/low percentage and that that position varies over time.

The best football of Peter Beagrie was a lesson in high percentage wing play but in his career, he had long spells of low percentage play. More recently Filipe Morais’ performance at Chelsea was low percentage for forty-five minutes then high percentage for forty-five – or was it fifty-four minutes – and one doubts had his performance not changed City could have come back at Stamford Bridge that day.

As a personal preference I like high percentage football – that is why I have little time for the en vogue motif of disliking Parkinson’s style of play – but I know very well that much of football support adores the low percentage player.

For me football is too in love with the periphery figure who would turn a game if only the work-a-day Joes in the rest of his team would only get the ball to him. I’m distrustful of any idea of football that suggests that a single player is removed from the responsibility of the team performance.

All players are responsible for the performance – at least that is what I think – but that does not stop the entire nation anointing Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, and Raheem Sterling as England’s saviours despite their inability to influence games.

City’s greatest low percentage player was Chris Waddle who would do one thing a game that no other player on the pitch could even do in their best dreams but would spend long spells of a match dreaming away on the wing.

Had Waddle stayed with City the mid-nineties season he played with City it seems sure that City would have suffered relegation but he left and was replaced with the more industrious – and higher percentage – Tommy Wright and results improved.

Last season Parkinson balanced the team more towards high percentage football and put out all ten outfield players to play in that way. That is why he favoured Tony McMahon on the right-hand side over Mark Marshall. While McMahon could not do what Marshall can do he can be relied upon to do something and it turned out that something was create goals which he did more of than anyone else in the division.

McCall believes he can free one or two – or last night two or three – players to provide the moment of low percentage inspiration to win games and balances his teams to do that and me to watch on increasingly worried.

Loved

Mark Marshall is well loved at Valley Parade these days – Vuckic less so – but both personify my worry.

Both are capable in their own ways. One of playing the ball that unlocks the defence – in Vuckic’s case, which he did for Marc McNulty’s goal on the night – and the other of making a telling run with the ball. Neither contributes to as much to the rest of the play as a high percentage players would.

Marshall lauds McCall for the freedom he has under this manager rather than the previous one and that is the freedom to play low percentage football. Marshall enjoys the freedom to try turn a sturdy full back and put in a cross but more so he enjoys the freedom to fail to do that.

He plays without fear but he also – by virtue of being a low percentage player – plays without end product and on the evenings where there is no end product the rest of the team – balanced as it is to allow he and (last night) Vuckic to create – struggle to find other avenues to goal.

So City end up at the whim of low percentage football which works less often but is more effective when it does.

Vuckic proved this when in the midst of a half of drifting where he wanted between the lines of midfield and attack he played a superb ball forward to McNulty. It was a telling contribution and something which Billy Clarke – the regular in that role – seemed unlikely to ever do. Marshall made no telling contribution and – by virtue of his low percentage play – was less use to the rest of the team than a Tony McMahon on the right would have been.

As the game ebbed to a draw and Southend’s muscular ways continued the usefulness that a high percentage approach seems to offer was more apt to the game that the the deft touches of a low percentage approach although McCall’s team struggled to adopt it.

The surprising thing – perhaps – is that anyone thought anything else would have been the case.

Drone / On

The 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers at Valley Parade followed on from the previous three one goal each affairs against Gillingham, Millwall and Oldham Athletic as Stuart McCall’s team continue to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

Delight in that McCall has in a short space of time managed to create a team which mirrors much of what was wonderful about watching the manager play his own game. One could argue that City have become – in seven or eight of the players – a team of defensive midfielders so calm in possession, so unhurried in their play, and so pleasing on the eye.

But frustrating that the defensive midfielder is not the creator and the team lacks creation. With James Hanson restored to the starting line-up Romain Vincelot opted to break the pattern of short passes between players who were alive to possession and hit the big man from afar with a well floated diagonal pass.

Le Rory, or Rory Le Cardle. The more things change, one is forced to think, the more they stay the same.

Last season’s Bradford City seemed to get exactly what they deserved from every game. If they were poor or off the pace they were beaten. If they were together and strong they got a point or sometimes more. This season’s vintage the opposite seems true in that every week one is left with the feeling that City were due more but that some Olympian conspiracy had denied them what was rightfully theirs.

This is a trick of the eye though and of the brain. If The Parkinson Years – which will be cemented as The Parkinson Rivalry with next week’s trip to Bolton – taught us anything it was to focus on results as being the purpose of a way of playing. Attractive football that does not succeed is ultimately not attractive football.

Because frustration is not attractive. Mark Marshall’s contributions today include a lashed shot in a crowded which bounced up in the defence and was headed in by James Meredith to make the game 1-0. His replacement after seventy-five minutes Filipe Morais’ contribution was a poorly selected pass to a closed down Haris Vuckic that saw Bristol Rovers break away and score.

Both seemed to be to be the result of this frustration. The City forward play too up much of the game but again one struggled to recall a lot of spurned chanced. Consequentialism suggests that what Marshall did was good – it resulted in a goal for us – and what Morais did was bad – it resulted in a goal for them – and one wonders if McCall is happy with his team playing on such a knife edge.

The knife edge was deep into injury time when Vuckic headed towards goal from a few yards out and Rovers keeper Kelle Roos saved well. Had Vuckic’s effort fell a foot behind the line then the lingering worries that this team does not create enough may have receded.

As it is those doubts still hover.

Hover

Sixty-five minutes into the game a drone hovered over Valley Parade.

It was an amusing story in the morning that the Referee took the players from the field and the game was delayed.

But what it was not was the reason to start a conspiracy theory but start one it did. The Occumist view applies here. There may be concerns about television rights, or about other teams scouting, or about using the drone as a method of attack but – probably – the Referee’s biggest worry was that it might drop on someone’s head.

Perhaps his own.

Inefficient / Attitude / Passing

Nothing useless can be truly beautiful – William Morris

Long after the final whistle of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Oldham Athletic came the revelation that City have scored without reply in the closing stages of the game then the Bantams would have been top of League One.

Bolton Wanderers – under former City boss Phil Parkinson – drew on his return to another former haunt Charlton Athletic and Scunthorpe United lost at a Port Vale side who have carried on whatever promise they showed on the first day of the season to nestle forth in the five o’clock league table.

For the want of a goal the Bantams were thwarted on an afternoon which was more interesting than it was exhilarating.

The Stuart McCall brand Bradford City are a strange team to watch as they find their feet. For sure they are possessed of some determination having gone behind to an early Peter Clarke goal when the former Huddersfield Town skipper targeted Daniel Devine at a set piece and beat the youngster in the air.

Devine typified the team in shrugging off anything like a set-back and carrying on the afternoon. Following Tony McMahon’s injury Devine switched to right back where aside from avoiding crossing the ball he looked for all the world like a seasoned veteran of the utility man variety.

So determination and no little craft in that as a team the role of the midfield – and one could make an argument that City played six, perhaps eight, players in midfield against Oldham Athletic – is fetishised beyond what seems necessary or useful.

The ball was caressed around the field with élan and possession was retained for long periods of time. When the equaliser came – a Billy Clarke penalty – it seemed to come because that possession had wandered into the box as it continued a scenic tour around Valley Parade. Ousmane Fane – excellent in holding midfield for the visitors – pulled down Josh Cullen in a moment of undue rashness and the game was level.

It is easy to laud this new Bradford City for the contrast that it presents with the five years that came before it. The term hoofball is banded about freely to describe Parkinson’s City as if one could sum up an entire approach in a single word.

Alt

There is something to be said for looking at Oldham vs Bradford City through the eyes of Phil Parkinson. Imagine one of those away trips that took an hour to get over the Pennines to watch Parkinson’s City take an early lead. Imagine watching Rory McArdle and Reece Burke swamp a tricky little centre forward, deny him possession, and snuff him out as Clarke and Cameron Burgess did to Jordy Hiwula.

Imagine watching a wide midfielder capable of laser guided shots gradually minimised through the game. He troubles the goalkeeper from long range on occasion but that is more acceptable than cutting through the defence.

Imagine the satisfaction that would have come watching their Billy Clarke withdraw from pressing the forward to hunt deeper for the ball in increasing frustration. Imagine how one would phrase the summation of the game to anyone asking. “Yes they had possession but they just passed it around midfield and never really broke us down.”

There is much talk about how with a different centre forward for Bradford City – and City have fielded five already this season with Vincent Rabiega making his debut off the bench today – would score goals and this could be true but thinking back on the game with Oldham Athletic one struggles to recall a plethora of chances missed.

Billy Clarke and Jordy Hiwula can both be accused of having missed the sort of chances one would expect them to score but saying that leaves twenty of the twenty two shots on goal in an impressive statistic unaccounted for.

I would suggest that against Oldham Athletic as with Coventry City most of the chances are of the half, or not clear cut, variety. That (around) twenty two chances that create just (about) two moments where one might expect the striker to score suggest the problem is not in finishing chances but in creating better ones.

Which returns to the question of the creators and where they are failing to convert the possession into chances with the implied understanding that possession is not equal to chances. Clarke and Mark Marshall – who faded into anonymity after a good opening – are chiefly accused here but creation is a shared aim which is not being served at the moment.

Addressing that – and with Paul Anderson ready to leave the club this week there is scope to address it – is the prime concern and bringing in a forward secondary.

It could be that there is a forward out there who can make the runs and command the space in a way that allows for more possession to be converted into chances which could then be converted into goals. It could be that a new creator is able to do that. There could be a solution found in the current squad which – after all – is not second in the League One table for no reason.

How that is addressed is something Stuart McCall has time to work on and may not need to work on at all. That City are inefficient is less important than that the are successful and they are successful at the moment.

However as the collective at Valley Parade congratulate themselves for being less like they were under Parkinson it is worth remembering that there was more to the last five years than just how the ball arrived into the final third of the pitch.

Away

Away games such as Oldham Athletic enjoyed today – where a great passing team passed itself out and Parkinson’s City went back to Bradford with something – were a part of the success of those teams. Stuart McCall has transformed City into a team of would be promotion passers from the team that frustrated would be promotion passers.

That frustration was not a function of the style of play but rather of the team’s attitude and that attitude was about grinding out results through a kind of bravery which centred around a managed risk on the field.

Watching Bradford City pass the ball around a lot but create a little it remains to be seen if City have that bravery within them bursting to get out or if the side pass that retains the ball is a soft option. It is that part of the Parkinson attitude – not signing players – which will define if City are promoted this season or if they are another of the pretty teams who populate the middle of League One.

Nahki / Armstrong

And so the rumours continued.

Greg Abbott announced that Bradford City were interested in signing Adam Armstrong from Newcastle United while The Times are reporting that Armstrong’s parent club are now interested in Nahki Wells who, should he move to St James’ Park, would trigger a percentage clause in the transfer deal that took Wells from Bradford City to Huddersfield Town and give Bradford City the cash to spend on a striker.

The breathlessness of the above is indicative of a change in football over my eighteen years writing this website.

It used to be that football supporters lived for the football matches. Now the matches are a frequently ignored data point in the continuing narrative of squad gathering. Hull City’s victory in the first two games of the Premier League season is a quirk in the story of a team with too few players.

Bradford City beat Coventry City, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United in eight days but this has not stopped the conversation around the club being entirely about who should be brought into – or moved out of – the squad.

Improving the squad may or may not be something that is needed this season – that would be a retroactive judgement made in May 2017 and speculation before that – but it is hard to imagine what football supporters would do in August if they were not talking about squad gathering.

Football supporting is now Pokemon Go with young men filling in for Pikachu.

Two

Nevertheless there are two things to note about the current cycle of rumour around Adam Armstrong arriving on loan from Newcastle United.

Notice how it is Chief Scout Greg Abbott and not Manager Stuart McCall who is talking about Armstrong. In fact it is Abbott who leads much of the conversation about recruitment to the club.

This in itself is in keeping with Abbott’s remit at Valley Parade and no bad thing but it is as stark a contrast with Bradford City up to the Summer of 2016 as one could see.

When Archie Christie had Abbott’s role he was geographically abused for having taken too high profile a role in transfer dealings and taking control away from the flailing Peter Jackson.

It is almost impossible to imagine Phil Parkinson’s Chief Scout Tim Breaker fronting a discussion on a target as Abbott does. In fact the first time most City fans heard Breaker’s name was in the revelation that he had left the club with Parkinson to join Bolton.

Abbott’s increased profile is a good thing. For football clubs to get better at transfers there needs to be a group-think approach to recruitment. Too often deals are done by managers to best serve the aims of that manager rather than the club.

The £250,000 that Phil Parkinson was able to reuse from the deal that took Oliver McBurnie to Swansea City was reused in the manager’s budget that season but as McBurnie starts to impress in Wales it is worth wondering if the long term aims of the club have been best served in that deal. I’m not the only one to have worried that after Parkinson, Lawn and Rhodes there is little left behind at Valley Parade.

Transfer group think is not popular in the English game – Liverpool’s transfer committee is seen as a problem – where any control taken from the manager is seen as a bad thing inherently.

my years of football have convinced me of it.

So Abbott speaking for the club is a change but and so it what Abbott is saying.

Should Armstrong join City on loan – perhaps as a result of Wells joining Newcastle United and freeing up the younger forward to move on – then City will be able to play Armstrong and Jordy Hiwula up front. Obviously this are two loan players.

City’s bid for Matt Green and the reported – or perhaps that is hopeful – interest in Adam le Fondre suggest that the alternative to a young loan signing not is an older permanent deal.

Which is a contrast to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims when the new owners arrived.

Much was made of the fact that City could find value in signing released players from Premier League Academy football, turning their careers around, and developing them. That was how Bradford City would scale from being a League One club to being a club able to get into – and stay in – The Championship.

Hiwula or Armstrong or Josh Cullen might play well for City but the value for that will go elsewhere. City might get promoted because of their contributions but – we are told – when they are gone City will not have a Championship quality team.

Which suggests that either the plan has changed – let us hope not – or the plan was never there – let us very hope not – or that City are caught up in the Pokemon Go of squad gathering as much as the supporters are and that a deep breath would be best for all.

What are we trying to achieve and is signing Armstrong the way to achieve it?

On the day that Wells was to join to Newcastle United then City will be richer than they were. How is that money to be spent? Is it a scatter-signing for a player in August 2016? If it is how is it going to work better than when Stuart McCall scrambled for signings in his first spell as manager when the budget fluctuated wildly?

Which returns us to the central question of 2016 which is how are City without Parkinson, Mark Lawn, and Julian Rhodes going to be better? Indeed are they going to get better? There is no reason to assume an era of success will be followed by another and every reason to assume it will not be.

Is The Rahic Development Plan still being followed? Is it being followed by everyone at the club? If it does then it would make more sense rather than bringing in Armstrong to find a promising teenage striker we own or can own – such as Reece Webb-Foster – and give him the development time.

And while doing that take any money that comes from a resale of Nakhi Wells and use it to fund infrastructural additions which will make the club able to stand up in the Championship.

Changes / Institutional / Retention

There has been much talk since his return to Bradford City that Stuart McCall had changed as a manager and that talk was manifested for the first time as his team came from a goal down against Coventry City to win 3-1 at Valley Parade.

A goal down and not playing well one worried at half time that whatever the City manager was to say to his players it would make matters worse. This, after all, was the criticism most fairly applied to McCall in his first spell as City manager. That he has the capacity to take a disadvantage and turn it into an eight game losing run.

That was the McCall way. McCall created teams that played not just with passion but were fuelled by it. When that passion was applied the result was a team of flair and verve that – like some Hendrix lead guitar riff – worked not because it had passion but because it was passion. When it did not work one ended up with two month sulks.

Which contrasted with Phil Parkinson’s five years at City were the Bantams were bass guitar perfect in their rhythm never to be put off balance. McCall had – in his previous time at the club – sent out teams transformed from bad (or average at least) to good after the fifteen minute break but too often it was the other way around.

City trailed Coventry City to a debut goal from on loan forward Burnley Daniel Agyei who had turned Romain Vincelot and finished well following a frustrated attempt to clear the ball up the left hand side of a lopsided Bantams team.

McCall had sent out a three man central midfield with Mark Marshall given a single winger role that overstates his ability to have an influence on the game. Marshall provided an outlet on the right for attacking play but there was no mirror to that the left leading to the singular problem with clearing before Agyei’s goal and a general problem all first half that City were predictable in dysfunction.

Coventry knew what the Bantams would do and that when they did it it would not work.

Coventry City’s Tony Mowbray deployed his Sky Blues team – still looking for a first win – to press high up the field and lock on City player to player. They played at an intensity which was not sustainable for ninety minutes – legs would tired and tired soon – but that one worried at half time would have broken the home team’s resolve and need only continue to keep the Bantams at arm’s length.

But at half time McCall addressed the problem down the left by pushing Billy Clarke – rancid in the first half, much better in the second – alongside Jordy Hiwula and having one or the other break left when the Bantams had the ball.

This tactical tweak had two effects: It balanced the width of the midfield giving an outlet on the left and it stopped Clarke dropping deep and – as a result – allowed the three man midfield to push forward into the last third. It was the opposite of the charge of tactical naivety but I never bought into that charge anyway.

That the change worked was down to metronomically good displays from the likes of Vincelot, Josh Cullen, Nicky Law Jnr, and Daniel Devine. Players who were able to maintain a level of performance and – by doing so – provide a platform for those who were playing poorly to turn their performances around on on.

This was the hallmark of the Parkinson era and the thing one was most worried about losing when Parkinson left. No matter who took over the knowledge Parkinson grafted into his teams of maintaining a level of performance when performances around you after going bad had to be lost.

How that knowledge has been retained is a mystery or perhaps it has just been recreated. Vincelot’s clean through ball to Clarke after an hour came when the visitor’s legs were too tired to press but the Frenchman had not fatigued physically or mentally. Clarke went for goal but was pulled down and Tony McMahon’s penalty pulled the score level. It was simultaneously reassuringly familiar and entirely new.

Coventry City’s approach of going man-to-man on the Bantams failed following the dismissal of Jordan Turnbull for conceding the penalty and within minutes Mark Marshall arrowed in a diagonal long range strike which is as good as any seen at Valley Parade in recent years.

Marshall’s performance was still a problem though and one which may become pressing as City progress. He spoke following the game about how previous managers had not allowed him to play with freedom and there may be good reason for that. Marshall unleashed is as liable to land a 25 yard screamer into J block of the Kop as he is the back of the goal.

That Marshall is allowed a platform at all is a balance created by the metronomic midfield. My worry is that he does not create enough to provide weight in that balance. His improvement is slow but this goal and this game showed a step in it.

A second McMahon penalty came after Cullen was hauled down in the box – that the midfielders were getting in the box showed the turnaround caused by the switch McCall made with Clarke at half time – and the stand in skipper stepped up to score again before hobbling off injured.

McMahon will miss four to six weeks after history maker Kyel Reid trolled into him leaving him with a dead leg he pushed too far. Reid had a very Kyel Reid type of game. He ran a lot, fell over too much, and should have scored a couple of times but did not and on each occasion recognised his failure with a big smile.

But Reid looked different from a distance and playing for another team: more dangerous sometimes, more cynical sometimes, more desirable maybe too;

Which is enough to make one think on a wet summer August afternoon where what one worried about losing with Parkinson and regaining with McCall began to evanish.

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.

Strikers / Trajectory

There are many reasons, dear reader, as to why Bradford City are struggling to sign a striker following a two goalless draws one of which resulted in a penalty shoot out defeat to Accrington Stanley and what I am going to do is add a reason to the list.

Understand that I’m suggesting that this is a part of a nexus of a causal events that are conspiring to bring about an outcome and not the single and sole reason for Stuart McCall’s struggle to get a number nine who can put the ball in the onion bag.

It has to do with Japan, Andy Cooke, and West Bromwich in Birmingham.

1996

There is a temptation for anyone recalling the past to see it as halcyon. I am forty three years old next week and that means I’m old enough – just about – to remember that twenty years ago people were saying that things where better twenty years ago and to have lived through both time periods.

But I do recall that the character of football in 1996 differed from the current game in many ways but specifically in this one: Player used to decline.

Which is to say that one could watch a player on Match of the Day in the First Division for a few years of his career and when he lost a yard of pace or a touch of sharpness one could be sure that one would be seeing him at a lower league ground soon.

It was the natural order of things. Bradford City – like many clubs – number some players who declined from the top league to the grace of a good career lower down amongst their iconic figures. The top flight was done with Peter Beagrie when he came to Valley Parade, it was done with Trevor Cherry, it was done with Roy McFarland.

There was a steady stream of players who would have had a good career at the top level and would take a few stop offs down the leagues before they went to the job as a landlord/raconteur at some local boozer back near the ground where they were most fondly remembered.

2007

When Andy Cooke signed for Bradford City under Colin Todd he joined the club for a Korean side having had a few months in the Far East and got home sick. Cooke was a decent enough worker although he would not have been an answer to anyone’s goalscoring problems but he did show an interesting route a football could take.

Way batter yourself around Bristol Rover and Burton when Busan I’Cons will give you a year living somewhere exotic. Cooke was last seen playing for Market Drayton Town and one wonders if he might have thought that Busan to Bradford was not the best move he ever made.

Jay Bothroyd came through the Arsenal youth system and played for Coventry City in the top division and as he declined it became clear his career was a slow decline. Bothroyd handled that decline differently to most and cut a path that is increasingly common.

When QPR had done with him and the contracts on the table would have seen him schlepping around League One and Two he upped sticks and moved on to Thailand and Muangthong United and then to Júbilo Iwata in J2. He was J2 top scorer and got a promotion to J1.

Rather than opting to struggle in League One and Two Bothroyd went to someone else’s top flight. A modern football does not need the last pay day as was the mark of many a footballer. They can go where they going is good?

Or not.

2014

Rickie Lambert got his dream move to his boyhood club Liverpool and he got to play for England in what was an unexpected Indian Summer to his career aged 32. Liverpool moved him on to West Brom a year later and if Lambert was not already set up for life following his Bristol Rovers and Southampton career he was after a year going into an out of Anfield.

Lambert is currently at West Brom but played only eighteen games last season scoring once. I’d suggest that he is the type of player who twenty years ago would have been keen to not run down his contract at The Hawthornes and see what happened after knowing he had the comfort of a near limitless financial cushion but would have been telling his manager today that he wanted to find a club lower down to give him a three year deal to secure him a decent future.

Lambert is atypical in the Premier League in having played in the lower divisions of English football. I do not wish to cast aspersions on Lambert’s Baggy team mate José Salomón Rondón but there seems to be no future in which Rondón joined Walsall after four good years at Albion but accepting his yard of pace has gone.

Indeed it seems that when a Premier League player begins to decline rather than accepting a deterioration in contract terms lower down the league they head for the money of China, or Dubai, or somewhere else that allows you to fail upwards.

2016

It is not the sole reason that Stuart McCall struggles to find a striker but football – at the moment – has a supply problem. Players do not have the career trajectories they once had and do not end up coming to a Valley Parade aged thirty plus looking for a solid three year deal to secure their futures.

The scarcity of that sort of player makes other good strikers – the Rickie Lamberts on the way up – harder to come by and McCall, like many managers, is looking for scraps.

Opening / Generative / Failings

One day after the last game of last term Bradford City was sold to new owners starting a close season which felt like nothing of the sort. Managers went and came, players followed or did not and and so the opening day 0-0 draw with Port Vale which marked a new era beginning felt oddly like a remnant of the old.

Oddly because while the faces had changed the problems remained the same. Stuart McCall replaced Phil Parkinson as City manager and will have been pleased not only with his team’s clean sheet but with how untroubled his goalkeeper was. Colin Doyle’s opening day did not see him seriously tested.

That the defence played as well as it did denied its rapid construction with Romain Vincelot dropping in along Nathaniel Knight-Percival and both putting in fine first ninety minutes. In training in the week Nathan Clarke joined Rory McArdle (injured) and Matthew Kilgallon (to fit) on the sidelines but the famously niggard Parkinson would have been proud of how few chances the City back four gave up today.

The midfield saw Timothée Dieng injured too – that last week in training must have been very exciting – and with Vincelot dropped back Daniel Devine came into make his début as Nicky Law Jnr made his second, or is it third, first appearance for City.

Devine’s first game answered a problem for McCall. As an eighteen year old he was largely able to stand up to the cut and thrust of a physical Port Vale who anchored the midfield with the impressive and tough Anthony Grant but looked confident enough to play on a level with the more senior players around him. He was good in the way that eighteen year old midfielders should be good.

There is a desire to bring in another midfielder to the club and one hopes that that desire is sated by Devine’s performance. It certainly should be. New chairman Edin Rahic has talked about wanting to develop young players and here is the first opportunity. The virtues of development are seen alongside Devine in Nicky Law Jnr who left Bradford City some six years ago as the kind of flimsy attacking midfielder who needed the steel of a holding man alongside him and returned cast in iron.

That may over-dramatise his changes but his usefulness at collecting the ball and taking responsibility for it was a revelation in the truest sense of the word. Law spent much of the first half setting the midfield line and controlling the distance between himself and wingers Filipe Morais and Mark Marshall. He plundered the occasional shot at goal too as did Vincelot who saw a shot just go over the bar, Billy Clarke watched Vale keeper Jak Alnwick push his effort onto the bar too, and there was a slash off the line to keep Alnwick’s goal intact.

But to iterate chances oversells City as an attacking force. Marshall, Morais and Anderson toiled without much return or sign of return. Morais involves himself in much and performed best of the three but never managed to find a cross or through ball or piece of play that created the chances the play up to the final third merited.

Morais on corners seemed a curious thing when one watches this video of all seventeen of Tony McMahon’s assists last season and notes how many of them were corner kicks. McMahon was at right back today, James Meredith at left back, and neither combined on the flanks with the wide men in front of them as well as one might have hope. The season is early and there is work to be done on understanding players patterns but all five fullbacks and wingers used were at the club last season yet seemed more adrift that then players in the heart of the team who were making first appearances.

Marshall followed on from last season with a performance which left one wondering what his aims on the field are. Is he to supply the ball quickly to James Hanson before the defence is formed up or is he to take his time and why – assuming he has one or the other of those instructions – does he not do it nearly half the time?

He is frustrating to the point of bringing down expectation levels when the ball comes to him. His delivery – which I would have argued was the best part of his game when he arrived at City – is so seldom seen that he borders on making himself redundant.

Which is a good word for Paul Anderson who has – in August 2016 – mislocated anything that made him a player to get excited about when he arrived from Ipswich Town. Anderson is a spectator to his own abilities with seemingly no sense of position – he comes forward when the ball goes beyond him, he drops back when James Meredith wants an option – and no output. I’m reminded of Irvine Welsh’s take on the unified theory of life: “At some point you have it, and then you lose it.”

McCall could persist with both Anderson and Marshall and in the hope that the pair will rediscover whatever it was that attracted Phil Parkinson to them and one suspects he will. One of the better parts of McCall the manager was his warm hearted work with players to try improve them. It might be that one longs for the ruthlessness of Parkinson who sliced Gary Liddle out of his team eight months ago having had him as a core member of the team previously.

Perhaps McCall might ring The Macron Stadium and tell Parkinson that he left a couple of things behind? But that is not McCall’s style and it is a real test of the manager who is praised for his man-management that he might manage these two (or three) men into something much more impressive than they showed today.

Football was – for a time – not wanting for attacking midfielders who could play in wide positions. The decline in wing play seems to have altered this and now every player who does not have a position is a number ten rather than an eleven. I’m not a man of faith and faith is required to believe that Paul Anderson will do in his second season what Peter Beagrie did in his.

As it is McCall is stuck with a generative unit which adds too little to be worth the shirts they take up. Add Billy Clarke to the mix and one ends up with a Bradford City team that can defend well, takes the odd pot-shot, but does not create good enough chances. Plus ça change.

Neither James Hanson nor Billy Clarke are the twenty a season striker that are bayed for but I’d argue that with a generative unit that fails to create no player would score twenty in this team. Which is not to say a further forward is not needed but that the real problem lays in creating rather than converting.

Port Vale were happy with their point at five o’clock and the aforementioned Anthony Grant will have impressed the watching scouts but City should not be wondering how this draw was not a win.

Preview / Players

It’s just words I assure them. But they will not have it – Simon Armitage

Something unique at Bradford City as one of the goalkeepers is the only player in British Football to have his transfer fee on his back as a squad number. Number one, and costing just one pound, is Colin Doyle arrived from Blackpool and looks to be starting on the first day of the season.

A commanding figure at six foot five Doyle has had the kind of career that seems to engulf goalkeepers who get used to the bench. He is thirty one and has played less than one hundred games.

Steve Banks – who arrived as keeper coach from Blackpool alongside Doyle – has the faith that the Irishman can step up to the duties of a starting keeper and should he fail then Rouven Sattelmaier gets a chance.

Sattelmaier – City’s first European number twelve goalkeeper – has played more first team games than Doyle, albeit at a lower level, and is three years his junior. The German talks confidently about challenging Doyle for his position.

It will be interesting to see at what point Stuart McCall opts for change – if he does – but the relative levels of experience afford an odd unbalance in confidence levels in Sattelmaier’s favour.

Joe Cracknell is third choice. He wears number thirty. The lesson he might learn is to not to get to thirty having been anything other than a first choice goalkeeper.

Of the five candidates for the central defensive roles Stuart McCall is spoilt for choice. Rory McArdle is initially unfit having had an operation in the summer and Matthew Kilgallon has had not pre-season following his release from Blackburn Rovers and so may not figure in the opening games but Nathan Clarke is able enough in the short term and Nathaniel Knight-Percival impressed on previous visits to and from Shrewsbury Town.

Kilgallon seems to be too high profile a signing to be anything other than McCall’s long term choice in one of the two central defensive positions and Knight-Percival has probably not moved to West Yorkshire with now expectations. McArdle has proved himself to be as close to undroppable as a player could be and there is little reason to imagine he will not carry on at such a high standard.

Which leaves McCall with – when fitness comes – the sort of headache any manager might want of having too many good players. There is the option of playing three central defenders which the new manager did experiment with when he was the old manager but failing that it seems that Kilgallon, McArdle and Knight-Percival have got reasons to perform in a fight for their places.

Which damns Nathan Clarke and youngster James King to a season picking up scraps.

On the left side of the two full backs James Meredith has no competition for his position following Gregg Leigh’s departure although there are moves, we are told, to bring in cover for the Australian. Meredith could be employed further forward should McCall play a three man central defence with wing backs. Should Meredith miss out then someone in the squad will be press ganged to left back.

And that someone is probably Tony McMahon who has played in most positions at Bradford City in his one and a half years at the club and after being – some may argue – the best player last season on the right hand side of midfield he has been officially announced as now being a right back.

A stranger move it is hard to imagine considering Stephen Darby’s position not only as right back and captain but consistent performer over the last few years. It is not accident that Darby’s name – as with McArdle – appears alongside the better moments of Bradford City’s recent history. An acid test of McCall’s second/forth spell at Bradford City is his ability to see this.

Again as with McArdle Darby starts the season injured and is two to three months away from full fitness. McMahon has the position for now.

Darby is important – very important – but McMahon’s abilities are not to be underestimated either. He led League One on assists last season and performed the wide midfield role far better than players who were signed with much more flourish. Finding a place for McMahon in the side is important but to replace Darby is to cut out the heart to add an extra hand – or foot – where it should not be.

Daniel Devine can also play right back, but he can do anything, read on.

Stuart McCall’s situation with midfielders is similar to his central defensive proposition in that he has at least three players who one might argue should have places and two places to play them.

Romain Vincelot continues the Brexit baiting European-ness of not only being French but also wearing number six and playing in midfield – does he believe he is Luis Fernández? – and seems assured a place in McCall’s side while Timothée Dieng who wears a more respectable eight jersey has done enough in pre-season to suggest that the two might combine into a dogs of war midfield. Or should that be chiens de guerre or perhaps coeur de guerre which sounds much more romantic.

However Nicky Law Jnr’s return – the first summer signing of what can justifiably be called a new era – suggested that he was likely to be favoured in a central midfield role. The aforementioned McMahon and Filipe Morais can also play the role and Devine has impressed too.

Devine, King and Reece Webb-Foster who we shall come to later have an interesting position in the 2016/2017 Bradford City squad. Where previously injuries in the Football League were on the whole covered by loan players new regulations mean that such moves can only happen within transfer windows.

This sets a requirement for players like Devine to be kept near the first team squad as cover rather than being sent out on loan, or isolated from the first team squad because the intention is to send them out on loan.

As the aim is to have a Devine, or a Webb-Foster, or a King ready to be dropped into first team action in the way that Wes Thomas or Tom Thorpe was last season then there is an opportunity to have those players blended into the first team squad. And in that context should Webb-Foster show day in day out in training that he can score then his path to the first team is highlighted.

This was not the case under Phil Parkinson where young players would complain about a lack of development – there was no reserve team some of the time – and there was an obvious preference to loan signings over development players. News that McCall is interested in Liverpool’s Cameron Brannagan and is trying to bring back Josh Cullen is interesting in this context.

It would seem that Vincelot and Dieng will start the season in the centre of midfield for City and that Law Jnr, and Devine, will cool their heels waiting for an opportunity or for McCall to try a three man midfield that would take Dieng holding and Vincelot and Law alongside him.

It would be odd if McCall – an advocate of the FourFourTwo – abandoned that formation just as its resurgence post Euro 2016 took hold. His willingness to do that perhaps depends on Brannagan or Cullen signing or the performance of the most disappointing group of players last season.

We shall dub these the creators if only because repeating the words “wingers, attacking midfielder and and drop off strikers” over and over will get tiresome. Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall’s failure to fulfil these roles last season deformed City’s season and to expect both to improve is an act of faith.

Anderson’s first season was interrupted by injury but when fit his play was not especially useful. He is fast and able to send a ball into the box at a ninety degree angle to his running path but as previously mentioned crossing is football’s overrated virtue and not only would Anderson have to play better this season to impress he would have to play differently.

Which means that Anderson – who enjoys a seniority at the club and is expected to perform – needs to not take the easier options he so often did in his performances at the start and the end of last season where he went wide hugging the touchline and hit the ball into the box and to nobody. His delivery was poor and considering the lack of numbers City got into the box that was a problem.

Anderson needs a reinvention. He needs to be the player who uses possession much better than he has done previously. He needs to be the player who can effectively cut inside as well as go outside of a full back and when he does he needs to have more presence of mind to find a target more often or to choose to do something else such as a surge into the area.

It might be that Anderson does not have these attributes to his game but if that is the case then he condemns himself as a very easy player to play against and one which will struggle. Even at League One level football has no time for the player who has but one way to achieve his aim and persistence is only admirable when a player carries on doing something effective.

Which brings us to Mark Marshall who has a similar situation albeit one he has shown more capacity to address. Marshall’s delivery is better than Anderson’s and he shows a willingness to vary his play which makes him genuinely difficult to play against but he is troublingly negligent in the defensive side of his game.

Marshall too often could be accused in his appearances last season with exposing the full back behind him and not working well in the defensive unit. A coeur de guerre midfield might give Marshall more licence to idle in this regard but he is simply not a good enough winger to set up a team to carry him if he does not track back.

Unlike Filipe Morais who offers McCall the type of endeavour that the previous manager loved but not the creative output which the team needs. Morais is being considered more of a drop off striker to play in what is now called the number ten position but was the hole although his effectiveness there seems to be a result of his randomness rather than the teams ability to blend him into a style.

Morais, as with Marshall and Anderson, is a creator who does not create enough and this is where the worries about Stuart McCall’s planning for the season start. The back six players provide a superb platform – arguably better than the one that Parkinson’s side had – but there seems to be a dearth of creators to stand on that platform.

Which leads back to McMahon who – like it or not – created a lot last season and should Anderson, Marshall and Morais not step up their contributions significantly then one suspects that McMahon will need to be taken out of whatever hole he would like to fit into and bashed back into one of the wide midfield positions.

Creation, assists, and defensive ability to not leave the team undermanned this should not be a difficult choice to make but one worries that McCall will have to learn this lesson the hard way. As it stands McCall is putting a lot of faith in players who have done little to merit it.

Should McCall favour a three man midfield then one might see Anderson and/or Marshall deployed further forward as part of an attacking three but that does not seem to solve the problems so much as make them less relevant by shifting the creation to the three midfielders. If McCall opts to play Vincelot and Dieng deep and a row of three creators behind a front man then one might worry about the effectiveness of such an approach but still these players would have to step up their performance.

McCall seems to be prepared to put that faith into Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall and one hopes that his faith is rewarded – much depends on it being – and one expects to see both starting against Port Vale for the opening game of the season and hopes to see the two players who were promised twelve months ago.

Which leads us to the subject of Billy Clarke and the strikers. Clarke’s promise at the start of last season evaporated leaving the top scorer of the year before idling towards the end of Parkinson’s time at City.

As with Anderson and Marshall the problem Clarke presents is that he does not scorer enough to be considered a goalscorer nor does he create enough to be thought of in that role and unless there is a drastic change in either of those qualities then there are problems when he is in the team.

One can try play a passing game routed through Clarke the number ten but to do so is to put undue faith in the Irishman’s sporadic ability to unlock a defence. This is a distinct contrast to James Hanson who one can rely on to beat defenders to high passes on a regular basis.

This was always the unsaid – or perhaps unheard – quantity in the debates over how Phil Parkinson’s side played football. Hanson would reliably win high balls, Clarke would not reliably unlock defences through craft. The argument was more pragmatics than cosmetics and the nature of that argument has not changed with the change of manager.

Get the ball to Hanson and there will be flick ons more often then there will be through balls from working the ball through Clarke. The two can play together with Clarke playing off Hanson but to do that Clarke needs to remain close to the man they call Big Unit and not wander off on esoteric crusades for the ball deep in the midfield.

Likewise to play the ball through Clarke and look for craft to open defences Hanson would need to be more mobile than he is and make the sort of runs which have not been a staple of his career.

Which is where Jordy Hiwula and Webb-Foster present options that are valued if only because they are unknown.

The problem that Stuart McCall has is that Bradford City do not score enough goals. I would argue that they do not create enough chances and the reason for that is that the team was set up defensively after a recruitment issue left the team with a goalkeeper and back four who could not deal with crosses.

The solution to not creating enough chances is in the creative players: the Andersons and Marshalls; and in the strikers: Clarke and Hanson; and the onus on them to make more chances to allow a reasonable conversion rate to result in more goals.

It is not impossible that this situation will have been addressed by a general step forward by the entire team – the defensive posture of last season prized not conceding over everything else – but unless it has or unless the players perform then the strikers will spend the season once more trying to convert a high percentage of fewer chances.

One can expect to see Hanson and Clarke start the season and one can expect before August closes the strikers and the creators to have been augmented. At the moment City and Stuart McCall seem to have a team that his half right which at least is not a step backwards.


This preview might get out of date quickly and if it does it will be updated. Just so you know.

Waring / Trophy

Bradford City will play Stoke City Under 23 team in the first round of the Football League Trophy along with Morecambe and Bury.

There is endless controversy about this move by the Football League to include Premier League reserve teams. The idea of watching Johnville Renee-Pringle, Joel Taylor, George Waring in a competitive FLT game is an anathema to what football should be.

Johnville Renee-Pringle has a superb name. George Waring has a decent record scoring six goals in fifteen games in a loan spell at Barnsley in 2014/15. Barnsley played Oxford United in the final of the Football League Trophy last season and won. Oxford lost the game 3-2 and George Waring – on loan from Stoke City once more – played in that game.

And so we have a situation in which George Waring plays for Barnsley and that is fine, and George Waring plays for Oxford United and that is fine, but when George Waring plays for Stoke City u23 then it is not fine. Not fine at all.

Swing

Let us dispense with Football League Trophy in one swing. Football teams represent communities of supporters and – statistically – there is serious reason to doubt that anything under the first team level is viewed as representative of that community.

People do not go to reserve games on the whole, they do not go to u21 games, they do not on the whole take a lot of interest in top level women’s football associated with their clubs. The tradition of British football is that a football club is seen as the first team and nothing else.

And so (unless there is a sudden groundswell of unprecedented interest) Stoke City u23 are not Stoke City – not really – and one does not expect Stoke City fans to come watch them. The game does not represent the community and game that do not represent communities are in decursu argumenti not football we need concern ourselves with.

It is a training match, or something similar, but what it is not is one community meeting another community for a game. This might be a romanticised view of the game (I’d argue that football without romance is just athletic movements) but important to football is the idea of meritocracy. In any game one team can beat the other. This might seem fanciful but I was at Chelsea and Aston Villa and I speak from experience. The irrelevance that the Football League Trophy has brought us is that the if Bradford City beat Stoke City u23 they will not have beaten Stoke City, and so the result will hardly matter.

But still we have the question of George Waring.

If we say that we are not interested in watching Waring play for Stoke City u23 and are against their inclusion in the Football League Trophy why are we for watching him play in the Football League Trophy for Oxford United? Or Barnsley? If it is not worth watching a Stoke City reserve like George Waring play for Stoke why is it worth watching him play on loan?

Year

Last season’s player of the year will not be at Bradford City this season. Reece Burke joins Josh Cullen and Lee Evans in returning to parent clubs. This is the case almost every year at every club in the lower two divisions.

Go to any League One game and it is not uncommon to see a half a dozen young players from Premier League academies on loan in League One matches. Players like George Waring who come from Stoke City u23. We do not want to watch them play for Stoke City u23, why do we want to watch the play for (or against) Bradford City?

Why is it good to watch Reece Burke but bad to watch George Waring?

If we worry that playing Stoke City u23 is not the same as playing Stoke City then what is playing a Bradford City team with two West Ham United u23 players in it? Football League rules limit the number of loans from a single club to four, and the total loans in one match day squad to five.

If Bradford City were to be offered a deal that gave them Reece Burke and Josh Cullen back for the 2016/2017 season but – as a part of the deal – West Ham’s Martin Samuelsen and Lewis Page must also feature for the Bantams then City would be able to field them all. There are a good few supporters who would see that as a very good deal. It might be a very good deal but if the Football League Trophy is Stoke City u23 and not Stoke City then how would Bradford City with four West Ham United players not be not Bradford City? Would it be any different with six players? Or ten? Or two?

Wider

There is a wider worry vocalised by Against League 3 that there is a covert agenda in place to bring Premier League B-Teams to the Football League in the same way that Real Madrid Castilla or FC Bayern Munich II.

The suggestion is that including Premier League u23 teams in the Football League Trophy is the first step towards such teams being allowed in the Football League. I would suggest that the first step has happened and that it has happened slowly to a point where as supporters we have got used to – even celebrate – our clubs being used as training grounds for a selected few from the Premier League Academies.

If we are against the Football League Trophy for including Premier League u23 teams are we not also forced to at least question if we should be against the same players being dropped into Football League clubs?


Note, I was not happy with the first version of this article so I made a few changes.

Unbalanced / Vincelot

Shall we begin with the warning, dear reader, that pre-season games are not to be taken too seriously and that not too much should be made of a poor afternoon where Bradford City lost 4-1 to Burnley without much of a whimper.

Burnley are a Premier League side and are built like it and the physical size of the visiting team’s back four against an attacking pair of Billy Clarke and Filipe Morais showed the porosity of options in replacing injured James Hanson. That Hanson when missed cannot be replaced is obvious to all. Play a different way without Big Jim, but do not play as if he is there. Stuart McCall found out today what Phil Parkinson knew in that. There is an obvious need for another forward.

At the back there is a type of order emerging with the Tony McMahon cemented in at right back in the absence of Stephen Darby and Nathan Clarke and Nathaniel Knight-Percival alongside him. They struggled today but signs of a relationship with Colin Doyle in goal were there. Daniel Devine will not be starting at left back but – at seventeen and taking responsibility for the ball that put some of senior professionals to shame – I’d expect to see him starting games this season. Despite playing left back today he was the best midfielder in claret and amber on show.

Which brings us to the afternoon’s issues: one old, one new.

City started the game off brightly but Mark Marshall’s inaction in the defensive third allowed Burnley to score – Marshall gets no credit at all for shouting back at McMahon (his captain, and full back) who balled him out after his mistake, Marshall is too old to be having a strop when his captain tells him what everyone else could see – and within minutes the game was utterly beyond the Bantams. In recent years we have seen Bradford City teams who prided themselves on never being out of games but the McCall standard of over-dramatisation returned and Marshall’s mistake swept through the team as nervousness and before half time Burnley had a 3-0 lead.

McCall’s statement that Marshall could play a key role this season assumed much improvement from the wide player which seems to have no evidential basis. Marshall’s tricks on the wing are impressive but he remains a literal liability. For every two times he does something with his ball skills he allows three chances behind him with he undisciplined performances. This was true last year and was true against Burnley in pre-season. Unless there is a very sudden change to how much he creates, or gives away, then McCall has a problem in the making.

The a different type of the same problem emerges for Paul Anderson. Once again big things are expected from the winger without any suggestion that he will achieve them. Both Anderson and Marshall create a type of possession but by fielding one or both of them McCall foregoes other possession. By telling Anderson to try fly past full backs one is axiomatically foregoing possession in from of the full back. Anderson/Marshall look for zone 16/18 possession and that stretches the midfield.

That midfield today saw a new recruit with Romain Vincelot joining from Coventry City for £80,000 to pre-empt the problem of the afternoon. Timothée Dieng held the middle of the pitch well but Nicky Law – coming forward out of midfield – left Dieng often alone in the middle of the pitch and – without Anderson and Marshall to tuck in – with too much work for one man to do. If McCall is to play Anderson and Marshall – and one would hope the pair would improve in the next two weeks to justify that – then Vincelot and Dieng are in and Law is out in order to create something like a balance.

More balanced would be to play only one of the Anderson/Marshall pairing and allow Law – or McMahon when Darby is fit – to create a tight three in the midfield but some distant worry niggles at my head and leaves me wondering if the changed McCall has changed for the better in learning the virtue of this kind of balanced middle four or if he may have fallen for an idea of attacking players rather than attacking chances.

The season is a long one and when it starts pre-season and its niggling worries are all but forgotten.

Wingers / Niedrigprozentig

Mark Marshall spent most of Phil Parkinson’s final season at Bradford City – and his first – sitting on the bench. He stands to spend his second season as one of the key players in Stuart McCall’s team.

On arrival at Valley Parade McCall discovered deep in a back cupboard a pair of wingers in Marshall and Paul Anderson in the same way one might knockdown a plasterboard wall in a Weatherspoons and find an ornate fireplace. Two flying wingers – as well as a tidy inside player in Filipe Morais – were idling around the training ground under contract and under used. It would seem that of all the things changed in the New Stuart McCall his love of a wide player is not one of them.

Said McCall on Marshall “He has proved he can play left or right. He’ll put crosses in from either side. We’ve had a bit of interest in him but for me he’s going nowhere. He can play a key part on both sides of the pitch. He likes to get wide and put crosses in and he gets lots of good balls in. And I’ll tell you what, he can finish. I know we haven’t seen it yet but he can do that as well.”

Wiki

Only one of ninety one crosses results in a goal.

That is as counter-intuitive a statement for supporters of English football – especially those of a certain age – to hear but with the plethora of statistical analysis of Premier League and Football League games over the last few season it has become obvious that eight-nine attempts to cross a ball do not result in a goal.

It cuts against the grain for a generation of City fans who grew up watching – loving – Peter Beagrie and Jamie Lawrence and then enjoyed Omar Daley, Kyel Reid and Adam Reach. Watching a winger tear into a full back is one of my favourite things to watch in football. But it is not one of the most effective.

This is attested to in research presented at Harvard and in in FourFourTwo magazine. Teams which cross the ball in open play more than others are significantly practically disadvantaged in scoring goals.

Crossing makes you lose more often. With a 0.01% chance of crossing resulting in a goal it is both inefficient as a way of creating goals and a poor way of retaining meaningful possession in the final third, as cross often results in turning over possession, and thus impairs other excellent ways of creating goals. Given the number of crosses in a game and that given that there are two teams in a given game one can only expect any single team to score from a cross once ever six games.

Once a month you can expect to see a cross result in a goal, and it could be against you.

Crossing, on the whole, does not work. Why did Phil Parkinson bring in two wingers? Why does Stuart McCall like them now? Read on, dear reader…

Tiki

The number of crosses (which is to say those in open play) in a game of English football has been falling for the past ten years. There are many reasons for this but all those reasons are haunted by the notional attachment to the Barcelona style of play known as Tiki-Taka. Tiki-Taka itself is a statistical reduction of the analysis that teams with low possession score fewer goals. Keep the ball away from the opposition and they will not be able to score. It is an inherently defensive tactic and always has been but has always been misunderstood as being based around attacking possession.

The world fell in love with Tiki-Taka because it fell in love with Barcelona and with Lionel Messi and this love blinding managers to some of the system’s drawbacks. First it is very hard to drill players into a Tiki-Taka system and equally hard to integrate new players into it. The authoritative work on this is I Am Zlatan where the iconic Swede all but states that Barcelona should change of they play to suit him because it is impossible for him to play as they do. Secondly it requires a specific possession skill-set in all but two of the eleven outfield players (goalkeeper, and one central defender who is allowed to be a clogger) and by requiring that skillset it diminishes other skills.

Which is to say that to play a possession game approaching Tiki-Taka one filters one’s players on how best they fit the skills needed and necessarily ignores those who have skills which do not fit. This reached an English nadir in Euro 2016 when Iceland’s overran an English midfield of Wayne Rooney, Dele Alli and Eric Dier. All three selected for the positions for their abilities in possession football rather than their abilities as central midfielders. Let us hope that Sam Allardyce does things differently.

This approach has become common in the Premier League rank and file and at clubs up and down the Football League who hold pretensions. If we take the definitive middle of the Premier League club at the moment – Everton – and look at their line ups towards the end of last season 1, 2, 3 one sees a morass of possession based attacking midfield players: Ross Barkley, James McCarthy, Tom Cleverley and Aaron Lennon.

Lennon is titularly a winger but started his career as a centre-forward at Leeds United before drifting out wide where he can beat players with pace but has no devastating cross to speak of. He is able to hold a ball and play a possession game and so he prospers. And this is not to criticise Lennon just to suggest that the game prizes some abilities he has to an extent where it overlooks ones he does not. Roberto Martinez – Everton manager at the time – would rather not lose possession than deliver a cross that found Lukaku more than one in ninety times.

It is not restricted to managers either. When he was favoured at Valley Parade many a fan’s team sheet was drawn up with a 433 that saw Devante Cole deployed in a wide attacking position despite seemingly never having crossed a ball in his life. Other skills are viewed of as more important.

Kiki

Which is to say that crossing has declined so it works one time in ninety because players selected by managers are not selected for their abilities to cross a ball and so quality suffers. As a result the ability of defences to deal with crosses has suffered from lack of use and a filtering of selection. When teams cross less they do other things and other defensive attributes are needed to play against them. Man-marking is more important than heading away high passes in much of football because there are so few high passes and so much movement into attacking space.

One hates to refer to England 1 Iceland 2 again but watching Chris Smalling play against the Icelanders is watching a player who has never been on a field against a James Hanson trying to work out where to stand against a player who does not want to spin off him.

Likewise strikers spin off defenders, they take up and look for space rather than occupying a defender as once they did. And the strikers who are good at finding space in order to retain possession are the ones who managers are picking. Ibrahimovic is once again the case in point here. His inability to retain possession in the way Tiki-Taka festished it meant that players who previously would have been described as midfielders were picked ahead of him for Barcelona to play as centre forward.

This was no problem for Barcelona and this is not a criticism of their achievements but rather an illustration of the priorities which football has fostered. Being good at attacking the area where there is no space – that is to say where a cross is aimed for in front of the goal and thus a direct path to goal – is less important in football than getting into the areas where there is space because there is no direct path to goal.

Teams are bad at crossing, and bad at defending crosses, and bad at attacking crosses and so there is an opportunity for a team who can cross a ball well to do so. This, one suspects, is why Parkinson experimented with bringing in Anderson and Marshall in the first place and why he abandoned that experiment after a few games last season.

McCall can revive that experiment and there is a scope for an advantage if the rot in defensive abilities is deep enough that League One central defenders are not able to deal with a decently floated ball into the box but statistical trends are against a manager who sets up a team to cross that ball.

Teams that cross forego goals – so the information tells us – and goals are hard to come by.

Hiwula / Guesswork

There is a school of thought which governs the signing of players like Jordy Hiwula who was recruited on loan by Bradford City from Huddersfield Town having come for “six figures” from the same Manchester City young team that gave us Devante Cole.

That school of thought is to contextualise the single signing as being a poor one because of his lack of success elsewhere – Hiwula has barely played and when he has played has recorded modest goal returns of late – and because any player not wanted by another club has a flaw which would become obvious with more attention.

There is a logic to this second point – managers rarely rid themselves of good dressing room characters first and there is a worry that man who played up front with Devante Cole might have the same attitude – and the first relies on the inexorable gravity of football that concludes that because most seasons are not successful for most clubs in the high standards of promotions and trophies then most signings are successful either.

These are boundaries which players struggle to verbalise their position within. Hiwula said on signing “I think the way that Bradford play will suit the way I play” which – considering that this Bradford City has played but one game – either denotes that Hiwula really likes Rory McArdle’s passing, or that he has not noticed the change of everything since his played against City on loan for Walsall, or like most footballers he just says the thing that seems right at the time.

Which is exactly what the school of thought that damns he does. It is countered by a second school which is more optimistic in presenting previous successes as similarly negative. Did you think that the sixth choice striker from Carlisle United would be worth a punt? Did you think that the skinny Ginger son of a Leeds player was worth a deal?

And the problem with both these schools of thought is that they are largely distraction from the a central truth which became increasingly obvious through Phil Parkinson’s time at Bradford City which was that these judgements on good signings and bad signings are retroactive.

Rory McArdle was a good signing, Gary Jones was a good signing, Stephen Darby was a good signing but those things were not true on the day the signed. Universally Lee Power was seen as a good signing but his debilitation after two games means that very soon that was not the case. See also Gordon Watson.

The quality of a signing is about many things which start after pen is put to paper: work put in on the training pitch is one, avoiding injury is another; The season is unwritten and players are as good as the effort they put in. Devante Cole seemed to avoid putting in the effort to adapt to a system he did not enjoy despite obvious talents. Will his former teammate Hiwula put in the effort? Will Hiwula be a good signing? That is in the hands of Hiwula.

Which is not to say that there is not an indication from a club’s transfer activity of many things but to single out individual transfers and make judgements on prospective performance is largely guesswork, and of little worth, be it in praise or damnation.

Mister / Definitely

Uwe Rösler is definitely joining Bradford City who are definitely going to be selling Bratwurst at half time and definitely paying one and a half million for Reece Burke who definitely posted a picture of himself in a City kit and he will definitely replace James McDarby who is definitely joining Parkinson at Bolton with Jamie Proctor who would definitely have scored twenty five goals this season as would Dylan Mottley-Henry who is definitely in the Barnsley first team by Christmas and definitely would have been brilliant for us as would George Green who is definitely the English Antoine Griezmann and Stuart McCall missed out in him because he is definitely not a proper manager and definitely just signing his mates which is odd because we definitely have not signed anyone but when we do sign people we will definitely be signing cheap German players who will definitely not be good enough but will be in the team because Edin Rahic definitely picks the team and all this definitely would not have happened if the Germans had not forced out Parkinson because the old boardroom definitely would not have forced a manager out and we definitely are going to be awful this year and definitely will be rubbish and under prepared and Greg Abbott definitely let Nahki Wells go because he does not know a good player when he sees one and why didn’t we sign Tom Bradshaw anyway because without him there is no chance at all of promotion and without Josh Cullen there is no chance of even winning a game and the young players are definitely not going to be given a chance because Omar Daley is definitely coming back.

But I expect promotion.

Definitely.

Dylan / George

Napoléon Bonaparte is reported to have said that that if the French army was left without someone to fight then they would fight themselves, or within themselves more probably and given that the Corsican was a veteran of his country’s revolution one could see the origin of the thrust of his point.

In football it is given to being the same. The summer is long and there is nothing to do other than recall the Icelandic victory and look at the slow building of a team at Bradford City after the exit of Phil Parkinson. That team takes some interesting shapes but as new Head of Recruitment Greg Abbott freely admits it is behind where it needs to be.

Work must be done for signings to be made and – it would seem – is being done.

Watching George Green on Saturday was a long awaited pleasure for me who had followed his career so closely but as was observed at the time Green is a player who would be a good signing but probably not a good loan signing. To borrow Green from Burnley one suspects that a club will have to promise to play his every week and even ignoring the lack of first team experience he has had at any club – a handful of Tranmere Rovers games – promising to play someone else’s attacking midfielders every week is an act of folly in League One where a gnarled defensive can get you – well – fifth.

Which is not to say that Green will not have a forty six game season for someone and be the finest player in the division – he may – but management is managing risk and there is a risk inherent in giving a starting shirt to a player who has not been blooded in the professional game. This was as true with Billy Knott as it is with George Green. It is true of Dylan Mottley-Henry too.

Dylan Mottley-Henry joined Barnsley of The Championship having been released by City months ago. It is a good move for Mottley-Henry but one doubts Adam Hammill will be sitting out many games to make room for him. To keep Mottley-Henry Bradford City – be it Parkinson or Stuart McCall – would have had to give the player a professional contract. No one knows how tight money is with the new regime at Bradford City but Championship money allows for more spending.

Mottley-Henry has a six month deal at Oakwell and if that does not work out then his cost is absorbed into the running of a Championship club. Less than the gates for when Newcastle United visit South Yorkshire. If the promising winger impresses then Barnsley reap the rewards, if not they hardly feel the pain. That is the difference between promotion and losing in the play-offs as starkly as it can be put.

Mottley-Henry, like Green, offers a risk which McCall and Bradford City are adverse to. Which tells us something else new about this new Bradford City, at least for now.

Timeline / Reboot

There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss, but when it looked back at us, you blinked – Bruce Wayne, Crisis

There was a point in the history of Bradford City where the club took one turn, and could have taken another.

To be more accurate these points happen all the time but watching Stuart McCall take a Bradford City through pre-season at Guiseley I ended up thinking back to the days of January and February 2007 when Dean Windass was allowed to leave City and join Hull, and Colin Todd was sacked.

Todd’s contract was up at the end of the season and it was an open secret that Julian Rhodes wanted McCall to replace him. The need for totemic best player Windass seemed to be over with Rhodes convinced that the Bantams had enough points that David Wetherall could not possibly get them relegated in his time as manager (which he did) and had he not Rhodes might have used – not certainly not needed – an investment from then supporter Mark Lawn.

And had Rhodes excersized restraint and kept Todd, or Windass, or both, or taken another option then McCall may well have arrived in June 2007 to the very type of situation he found himself in some nine years later.

But these things happen all the time. Had Notts County’s one yarder in the first round of the League Cup 2011/2012 gone a foot lower then there would not be a Phil Parkinson legacy – such as it is – for McCall to adopt.

That legacy is not to be understated either. Parkinson has left City in rude health. The leanness of the squad in summer which caused so much consternation is purposeful and a feature of the majority of clubs outside the higher reaches of the game where lengthy deals on players are more often liabilities than assets. Only the foundations are secured in League One football these days.

And the foundations off the field are secured.

Parkinson – as far as the story is told – never walked into the boardroom and demanded money the club could not afford for players and given how easily led the boardroom seemed to be that is a good thing. That the squad last season was patched with loan players rather than panic purchases says a lot.

List the players from last season who City owned to still be at the club this season and names like Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby – both absent today and for the start of the season following operations – would be iterated through. Ben Williams and Jamie Proctor would not.

“The owl of Athena spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” – as Hegel should have said – and it seems that dusk has not come yet for Parkinson.

Rather than a reboot of 2007/2008 and McCall’s first time as Bradford City manager in League Two it seemed that the manager was on the road not travelled, and playing in what could have been.

What was was an entertaining encounter. It would be wrong to talk about Guiseley as more than an extended and expensive training session and so to pick out specifics rather than trends seems to miss the point of the exercise.

Those trends though seemed positive.

The young players who stepped up from the lower ranks which Parkinson ignored and played with the élan of The Lisbon Girls allowed out to party for the first time. Daniel Devine’s name suggests itself.

The trialists looked lively in a way that seemed different to those Parkinson brought in. All looked capable and some looked impressive. The wheat from the chaff comes in spending time with the characters and seeing how they fit into a unit which is what games like this are all about.

It was good to see George Green make a long awaited debut. George Green and the subject of paths not taken is interesting assuming you remember the name.

And of the new signings Nathaniel Knight-Percival did not have much to do while Nicky Law Jnr set up an equalising goal for Tom Hateley (trialist) to score from. That moment when Hateley equalised revealed the game for what it was. The Bantams were happy to kick the ball around but would not go home in a defeat. The gears shifted up after falling behind showed a team working fitness rather than working to win.

And all seemed new. Parkinson has left something good at Bradford City but his exit seems to have taken with it some of the stolid tenancies which mired City’s thinking. All that was good seems good and all that was not seems new.

Which is not something that one would have expected.

Transfer / Improvement

If you were to use the words “nothing has happened” in relation to the last two weeks someone might look at you askance.

Prime Minister, Brexit, Iceland, Etc.

If you did said it about Bradford City’s transfer policy you would be able to claim some level of accuracy. The list of transfers in June 2016 grows and the signing club is not Bradford City in any of them.

And that list includes some interesting names too. George Moncur – who joined Championship Barnsley – is the very type of player one might want to see in Stuart McCall’s new Bradford City team. Paul Downing – who joined MK Dons – is reported to have been a target that City missed out on.

No matter. As season ticket sales report to be slower than hoped for there is an idea that were Bradford City to make some impressive signings then bums would go onto seats. This is wishful thinking. While there are players who might sign at League One level who could convert the unconverted they are hard to think of.

If you, dear reader, believe that were we to sign the much lauded Bradley Dack, or Romaine Sawyers of Walsall, or Millwall’s Lee Gregory that the man sitting in his armchair watching Match of the Day will be beating a path to Valley Parade I’d suggest you are engaging in a wilful self-delusion.

There are a number of great targets available for sure but the people who know them are not staying away from Valley Parade for their absence. If you are the sort of person who knows who Mark Beevers is you have probably already got your season ticket sorted out.

If you are waiting for City to sign a big name then I would suggest that there is no name City could sign big enough to stimulate your interest.

So while it is curious that City are a few weeks away from pre-season and have allowed the player pool to be whittled away it is not exactly troubling. New chairman, new owners, new manager, new scouts, new targets. It might be unfortunate than Moncur and Downing have slipped away from City’s grasp but it is hardly surprising.

And it probably beats the alternative which is a scatter signing where you get the best players you can find on paper and nail them into system. If you want to know what scatter signing teams look like you need only cast your mind back to Monday in Nice where a group of very talented players with very expensive price tags were beaten by another group of talented players with much less expensive price tags who had been assembled with a little more care.

Or better still think back to Stuart McCall’s first spell as City manager where players were brought in and shipped out with an indecent frequency causing a team with as brittle a character as one can remember.

Players like Paul McLaren came in and were shipped out and one wonders how much care went into their signings. Three of the best signing in City’s recent: Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, and Stephen Darby; all came with a guarantee of character from assistant boss Steve Parkin.

When signing a player managers want to – need to – know about the character of the individuals they are signing. Skills are obvious – on the whole – but how do you know you are not signing a Jake Speight, or a Leon Osborne?

Take two of McCall’s signings. James Hanson is proved himself as a character and as a player for Bradford City. Steve Williams has proved himself as a barber.

Williams looked like a superbly talented footballer and a classy defender but the two conversation I have had with people who knew Williams said they same thing. He did not have the desire needed to be a footballer. He did not “want it” enough and it showed.

There is a celebrated story of West Yorkshire’s own Frank Worthington – a sublimely talented 1970s footballer – turning up to play for Sir Alf Ramsey’s England wearing leather boots and all over denim.

This was the England team of Bobby Moore and the Shelf Cowboy need not apply. He did not fit in, at all, and which accounted for his few caps in the same way that his move to Liverpool was – according to David Peace’s account and popular folklore – cancelled because his to STDs he picked up in the space of a week.

Shankley, and Ramsey, took one look at Worthington and knew that as good as he was on the field he was not good for the dressing room.

How do you find these things out? How do you get better at recruitment? I’d imagine it has a lot to do with scouting, with knowing the difference between a good footballer and someone who is good at kicking a football, and about having enough contacts to find that information out.

Maybe it can be done ten times in the space of two weeks. Maybe not.

We heard much talk of hoping that Stuart McCall had changed and had learnt as a manager and here it is. It might put a dampener on season ticket sales that City have not brought in ten players in a week (and I would argue that it does not) but it heartens me that no one at Valley Parade is bringing in ten new faces with a week or two preperation.

To me that is the first sign that McCall has changed and, dare one say it, improved.

Holes / Fit

Stuart McCall gets to the business of building a squad to compete in League One next season and he does so starting with a compliment of ten outfield players and no goalkeepers.

The goalkeeping situation offers most scope for change. Ben Williams – who is considering a new deal – would not suit McCall’s style of play at all. Williams’ weakness on crosses forced deep sitting defensive lines in Phil Parkinson’s final season. McCall needs a keeper who can control the defensive line, keep it high, and clear out any cross that comes behind it.

And then he needs another of these keepers as back up, and perhaps a third considering the changes to loan rules.

Across the back four Parkinson has left three solid players: Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and James Meredith; and certainly Meredith seems to be exactly the type of attacking left back which McCall fielded all through his management career. Darby offers a balance on the right and – unless Parkinson is able to call either of both like some crazed Boltonian head of the herd – McCall would be best advised to keep both in position.

Rory McArdle seems a player to build any defence around and McCall’s fondness for a big central defender was personified in Marius Žali?kas at Rangers a year ago. During his first spell at the club McCall inherited David Wetherall and Mark Bower and ended up struggling to work out what he wanted from his central defensive pairing.

The new City manager often preferred two commanding central defenders and McArdle fits that bill but he has played his best football last season with a faster, clean up player alongside him and McCall might be advised to find one of that type of player as well as cover.

Considering Phil Parkinson’s sit deep team Stuart McCall might be surprised to find he has two wingers in his dressing room. Both Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson need to perform significantly better to be considered League One standard – which for Anderson is a bold statement considering his pedigree and remunerations – but the new manager has shown a commitment to wide play which affords an opportunity.

Filipe Morais and Tony McMahon are not McCall’s definition of a wide player but both could prove useful if in the merits of a better balanced midfield are to the fore. This all assumes that McCall will play the 442 formation he did at Valley Parade in 2010.

McMahon proved last season his ill-fit in a central midfield role being to weak in the tackle to hold the middle of the pitch. McCall needs an entire new engine room for his team. Last time he favoured one robust midfielder and one more attacking player while fielding two who could still be considered box to box players. It will be interesting to see if in the intervening time he has gained any faith in specialist defensive midfielders.

He has four players to bring in for that area. It will be interesting to see who they are and what roles they will take. McCall needs to find character and leadership in those positions and those things are seldom going free in a summer. It is easy to say that McCall needs to find his McCall, and is not untrue.

One midfielder is expected to be returning is Nicky Law Jnr. The Junior being increasingly humorous in a man who, like your author, has inherited his father’s hairline.

Up front McCall finds familiar face James Hanson. Discussion on Hanson will always be split and split along an ideological line. Hanson is the only player City have who could clearly be said to be the best at an aspect of the game in the division. People can cross a ball better, and shoot better, and defend better but no one in League One is as commanding in the air as Hanson.

This has massive implications for the opposition going into game. If a manager ignores Hanson he faces the prospect of watching his team be dominated from corners and crosses. If he takes special measure for Hanson he surrenders more space to other City forwards. That two men are marking Hanson at set plays affords space to someone else.

Ideologically though some are unable, unwilling or uninterested in this sort of dynamic between teams and are of the school of the thought that suggests it is for a team to dominate and dictate their way of playing onto the opposition. McCall was of this mindset too, far more than Phil Parkinson, and it will be interesting to see if he has changed.

The aforementioned Clarke seems very much McCall’s new Michael Boulding and while one can expect the manager to look at bringing in strikers one doubts Clarke will be hurried out of the door. Reece Webb-Foster will probably be given a chance – McCall’s record on untried players is a stark contrast with Parkinson’s – and another rumour reunites McCall with brief Rangers loanee Haris Vu?ki?.

Incommensurable / McCall

Officially announced new Bradford City manager Stuart McCall needs no introduction at Valley Parade and so let us not waste words with them.

And let us waste no time heaping praise on his playing career at City, at the FA Cup Final, at the World Cup, at Rangers. We know it was good, and he knows that we know it was good. We’ve been here before. Stuart McCall does not start his time at Bradford City ab ovo.

By appointing McCall Edin Rahic has joined a story en media res. The new City manager is the old City manager and in some ways he begins exactly at the point where he left the field having lost 1-0 to Bury in February 2010. The League Cup final, promotion at Wembley, Chelsea, Sunderland et al become a separate timeline that ended at Millwall and Phil Parkinson’s last game.

Rather than nothing being known about the new manager, everything is, and that brings with it a collection of nervousness about known quantities. Uwe Rösler would have brought with him questions, not so McCall.

With McCall we have answers on past behaviour, or at least we think we do, and the gnarling feeling in one’s stomach is the acceptance of that. It is the feeling of knowing what your birthday presents are.

McCall has been at Rangers, has been at Motherwell, and has been at Scotland and those qualifications need to disavow the most embarrassing of the criticism of him in the past – that he was “not a proper manager” – but from those experiences McCall needs to have learnt much to correct that course that he was on when he walked off the pitch after the Bury game five years ago.

Things that went wrong have to be put right in order that McCall be successful and some successful things need to be retained.

Ethic

McCall’s predecessor Phil Parkinson created teams which – through a peerless team ethic – dragged out results playing a direct game centred around not conceding goals. McCall’s Bradford City teams were in many ways the opposite of that. His teams worst characteristic was (and I exaggerate for effect) their ability to turn a poor decision about a throw in into a eight game winless run.

This is the greatest difference between the two managers. Parkinson build his team with an internal belief based on a spirit within the dressing room. There were times when this did not work and it was obvious that this did not work and times when it spectacularly did. It is impossible to imagine the McCall’s teams of 2007-2010 slowly grinding themselves back into a game at Chelsea when 2-0 down.

McCall’s teams, when they worked, were belief bubbles that players floated on. Remembering perhaps McCall’s best game – the 4-1 win over Exeter City – it was a projection of what Joe Colbeck could be to Colbeck and to the rest of the team that spurred the performance. This approach was not open to Parkinson who told the players that their achievements are the sum of their inputs rather than the fulfilment of their buoyancy.

Likewise ten minutes after Barry Conlon came on 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley the game was won 3-2 after the Irish striker caused mayhem in the penalty area. McCall cast the game plan at The Crown Ground aside in a way that Parkinson never did. When 2-0 at Chelsea (admittedly a different proposition) Parkinson’s team did not change how it played other than to play better. McCall’s ability to add a randomness to proceedings is a strength at times but was a weakness too.

Not only a weakness but a cause of weakness. When the belief is not in the dressing room and the player’s belief in each other’s abilities it is always subject to being assailed by external pressures. When Parkinson’s teams lost they looked at themselves and saw how they were good, and that how they would come good over time, but when McCall’s teams lost the looked at themselves to see all the ways they were bad.

Needless to say one hopes that the lessons McCall has learnt include an understanding of this and built it into his management philosophy.

Hope

Which leads onto a worry about losing the capacity that Bradford City under Parkinson had of being able to maintain a position within games. The term “game management” has become overused to the point of de-definition but recalling McCall’s celebrated 3-2 win at Accrington is to forget the times when games went beyond his side and they had little character to bring them back.

This is not uncommon but was uncommon under Parkinson who only rarely saw his City team more than a goal down. The ability to keep a game with grasp, even if it could not be grasped, is something that encouraged belief in the dressing room. City under Parkinson never lacked hope.

Yet so much of McCall’s managerial style was based around hopefulness (which is to say that his teams were never to be described as negative) that the nature of defeats like the 3-0 reversals to Rochdale and Accrington at Valley Parade came at a huge cost. To chase games at 1-0 down defensive responsibilities would be abandoned which would bring defeat, not victory, closer.

Those games were painful to watch in the stands and did damage to the squad. They were the counter to the sensational comeback but seemed to do more damage than those comebacks did good.

Another term used to the extent of de-defined is “stability”. It is not just manager retention, or squad retention, it is an environment in which lessons taught are understood and worked on, and improved, rather than one where behaviour patterns are random or seem to be random. McCall needs to have understood how to take the lessons from defeat but to not dwell on defeat and he needs to ensure that practise continues at City.

McCall the coach wins the praise of players for his ability to work with them but what is the point of having a coach to improve players if – as was the case – every twelve months the squad is changed drastically? Edin Rahic’s hopes of bringing in post-Academy players from top clubs seems to tie in with McCall’s skills but it will only work if there is a lengthy commitment to a stable development environment.

McCall can do this – arguably he can do it better than Parkinson – but the whole club has to be aware of the necessity of stability beyond the idea of just having the same manager standing in the middle of chaos.

Environment

Chaos perhaps being an apt description of 2007-2010 at times.

Stuart McCall created three teams at Bradford City and they can be summerised thus: The first one, the one that had a load of money thrown at it, the one that had a load of money ripped out of it; One might want to pretend against evidence that money is the governing factor in football but experience tells us otherwise.

It is rare that one finds a disharmony and successful football club. There are exceptions to this rule but more often it is accurate as it seemed to be in McCall’s first period as manager of the club.

Because there is a telling of history that is entirely manager-centric that is applied to Bradford City over the last decade. That Phil Parkinson arrived and – by virtue of his being a better manager than all who proceeded him – the club turned around.

This empowerment of the manager to the auteur of success is very common in football as it is “>in history. It speaks to something romantic in us all – that a single person can create wonders – and that romance is the hope that one such person might come and turn the fortunes around.

And the counter to that is that anyone who is a manager at a club that does not succeed has failed, rather than the failure being common or shared, as seems most often to be the case.

The reason Liverpool have not won the league since Kenny Dalglish left is because Kenny Dalglish Great Man theory says obviously untrue.

There is another view of history which would have it that Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s first time at the club was – to be frank – a mess.

This is an unpopular view and one that people are criticised for voicing. The perceived wisdom is that the club was making purposeful and direct steps back to the rude health as early as 2007 and that left it in good condition when Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp bought it. That wisdom does not correlate with what we know of the times.

You can pick your own example of this. What was going at Valley Parade when a deal was done with Royal Montegnée that brought Willy Topp to City as the first in a partnership? Did McCall want (W/B)illy and if not why did he get him? What was going on when Phil Parkinson – in the glow of the greatest FA Cup shock of all time – was seemingly forced to onto bended knee to apologise to two directors for pointing out the obvious problem with the pitch at Valley Parade?

What happened to the link up with RIASA? Was it a success or not? Why did the club employ Archie Christie to do one job and the manager Peter Jackson to do another when it would be generous to say that the two men did not work well together? Who wanted Christie at the club? Who didn’t? Why was Paddy Lacey signed on sixteen times the wage of Nahki Wells? Why did City end up paying £250,000 for a player that no one seemed to want at the club? Why was one of the chairmen serving up a spiteful fish course?

Only the most fanciful retrofit of history can call this a club pulling in the same direction.

Return, mentally, to the idea of the Bradford City squad being called in on a Sunday to play a game for a South African player that Mark Lawn had “discovered” and then having the game called off half way though and to be accused – according to then manager Peter Jackson – that they would not pass to the new “star player”.

That Jackson even let it happen, that Rhodes let it happen, that the architect of it Lawn let it happen, says so much about the state of the club at the time.

It all changed – for regrettable reasons – when Lawn took a step back and Phil Parkinson was able to take a team to Wembley. This consolidated Parkinson’s power at the club and all other directions were ignored, and retroactive considered ignored, because the idea of upsetting Parky by making him bring his team in to try out the South African lad risked too much.

And so the club had a single direction and benefited from it.

Which is what Stuart McCall needs to have learnt from his first stay at Valley Parade. When he was given a budget that required one squad to be ripped up and another build McCall should have said “no, that is not what I’m doing here. It will not bring us closer to what we want.”

If McCall is a different manager now this is how he needs to be different. He is a “legend” but that is an honourific afforded by the supporters and not the boardroom. He needs to use his legend status rightly rather than have it used to mask any number of curious goings on.

Fr example When one of the chairmen stopped talking to Stuart McCall in 2009 he should have asked supporters – publicly if he had to – just how the eight month sulk helped move Bradford City in the direction they wanted?

If a legend is not on the side of the fans he is not a legend.

A football club needs to have a single direction and everyone is adjunct to that. If the direction comes from the manager – as it did under Parkinson – then everyone at the club needs to stand behind him and anyone who does not needs to get out of the way.

If the direction comes from Edin Rahic then McCall needs to either understand that and be able to agree and support Rahic’s direction or he needed to have not taken the job.

But he has taken the job and while at the moment it is unclear as to what the shape of this new era Bradford City will be McCall, Rahic, Rupp et al need to be of one mind in this.

There is a view of the history of Stuart McCall as Bradford City manager that paints him as a capable manager in what was an increasingly dysfunctional situation. It is a view that writing BfB during the course of the years, and talking to the people involved, I subscribe to.

His capabilities are shown at Motherwell getting them into the Champions League qualifiers, the dysfunction at City was seen by Peter Taylor, and by Peter Jackson, and all the many messes which made the rise under Phil Parkinson so remarkable.

It is hard to say if that is the case and if McCall was a good manager in a bad situation, or if McCall is the failure in the Great Man theory that some say, or if it is some other history as yet untold about to shape the course of our club.

As Stuart McCall is welcomed back to Bradford City for a fourth coming we might be about to find out.

Timing / Signing

There is a worry, dear reader, that good signings are being made in League One and that shod of a manager Bradford City are not making them.

This is a problem of course. Without having a manager, a chief scout, and with having chairmen who have just arrived it at the club one doubts that anyone has a list of targets to bring in or if they do that that list is especially impressive.

The most impressive run of signings in City’s recent history came in the summer of 2012 when within a month Rory McArdle, Gary Jones, and Stephen Darby all arrived. Their arrival was Phil Parkinson’s coup and probably had not little to do with the fact that all three had played for Rochdale under Parkinson’s assistant Steve Parkin. One wonders how long a signing like Rory McArdle or Gary Jones takes to make. Jones had been shown around Valley Parade the season before he arrived but stayed at Spotland suggesting a year long chase for him but for all we know Phil might have turned to Steve one afternoon and told him the club needed a good central midfielder and Steve got on the phone.

Nevertheless the worry is that as City stand still signings are being made and the Bantams are missing out.

Using the summer transfer windows from 2010 to 2014 as a five year sample (which excludes last season, for fairness, as I’ve criticised it heavily in the past) Bradford City signed forty five permanent players. This includes loan signings being made permanent in the summer but excludes loan signings. Here is a list of those players.

Of the forty five players signed I’m going to say that fourteen were successful. By that I mean that in the season they signed they started at least two thirds of the league games the club played in the season that follow.

This criteria might seem to err harshly but the question at hand is about if the type of players needed for success are being sucked up while City are managerless and not about prospects or good pro squad men.

Any player who signed but started less than a third of the club’s games is marked as a failure.

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started more than two thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 27 May 2010 – Luke Oliver – 100.00%
  • 30 May 2014 – Billy Knott – 79.49%
  • 7 June 2012 – Rory McArdle – 100.00%
  • 9 June 2014 – Gary Liddle – 100.00%
  • 22 June 2012 – Gary Jones – 100.00%
  • 27 June 2014 – Billy Clarke – 82.05%
  • 4 July 2012 – Will Atkinson – 68.42%
  • 4 July 2012 – Garry Thompson – 68.42%
  • 5 July 2012 – Stephen Darby – 86.84%
  • 13 July 2011 – Ritchie Jones – 79.17%
  • 29 July 2012 – James Meredith – 84.21%
  • 4 August 2012 – Nathan Doyle – 89.47%
  • 9 August 2010 – Dave Syers – 73.17%
  • 29 August 2011 – Kyel Reid – 66.67%

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started less than a thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 16 May 2014 – Matthew Dolan – 7.69%
  • 27 May 2010 – Lloyd Saxton – 0.00%
  • 30 June 2010 – Jake Speight – 31.71%
  • 1 July 2011 – Mark Stewart – 20.83%
  • 2 July 2013 – Jason Kennedy – 11.63%
  • 3 July 2013 – Mark Yeates – 23.26%
  • 6 July 2011 – Scott Brown – 0.00%
  • 8 July 2011 – Patrick Lacey – 0.00%
  • 13 July 2011 – Nialle Rodney – 0.00%
  • 14 July 2011 – Andrew Burns – 0.00%
  • 20 July 2012 – Alan Connell – 21.05%
  • 22 July 2011 – Nahki Wells – 29.17%* See comments below
  • 30 July 2013 – Raffaele De Vita – 13.95%
  • 1 August 2013 – Matt Taylor – 2.33%
  • 5 August 2014 – Ben Williams – 30.77%
  • 5 August 2014 – Mo Shariff – 0.00%
  • 5 August 2014 – Matthew Urwin – 0.00%
  • 18 August 2012 – Carl McHugh – 31.58%
  • 31 August 2010 – Chib Chilaka – 0.00%
  • 31 August 2011 – Dean Overson – 0.00%

I shall let you, dear reader, pick more bones out of those two lists but my interpretation of them are that our recent history points to successful signings being made early – in June – and that the closer towards the start of the season one waits the less likelihood there is that the player will play a significant role in the coming year.

There is, of course, a caveat to all this and it comes in the form of the Parkin/Joned factor mentioned above. That a glut of successful signings were made in June is probably more to do with ongoing relations that it is to do with the time of the signing.

We enter into post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking here. That successful signings are made in June is a factor of having the relationships and structures in place to make those signings. In short if all the work was done (at any point) previous to the end of the last season the signings will come in June.

If we consider the end of July and start of August to be the time when clubs who do not have those relationships make signings based on who is left following the players who are picked off because of Parkin/Jones style relationships (what we call scatter-signing) then City – with no relationship at the moment – would be operating in that way were they to be bringing in player now.

Scatter-signing in June is to replicate the behaviour of August two months early.

Bradford City do not have – or do not seem to have – those relationships or structure in place at the moment. There is no one at the club who knows a Gary Jones to bring in in order to bring him in in early June.

Should Nicky Law Jnr return with Stuart McCall then there would be a June signing because of that relationship but that is not the same as sitting a manager in the office in June and telling him to bring in five faces before the Euro finish.

The clubs who are working on signing Gillingham’s Bradley Dack – who City’s Billy Knott seems to have joined the Gills in anticipation of him leaving – have been working on that signing for months. Even if City’s new manager was to be on the phone buying players today the June signings would probably be out of his reach.

And so talking about not signing players in June misses the point. It is not that the players are not signed it is that – I would say – the structure that need to be in place to bring in a Gary Jones or a Rory McArdle need to be in place before June.

New chairman, new manager, new era and all. We have to accept that Bradford City are forced to sit out the June 2016 recruitment.

McCall / Recall

And so it was that Stuart McCall returned to Bradford City.

McCall – manager from 2007-2010, player from 1981-1988 and from 1998-2002 – has agreed in principal to replace Phil Parkinson at Valley Parade will see the former captain leave his current role as a coach at Scotland and return to full time management for the first time since he left Rangers in 2015. McCall also enjoyed success at Motherwell in the SPL.

His credentials at Bradford City are above reproach. For many he defined the club and his exit as manager was a painful chapter in the club’s history.

However his time as manager continues to divide supporters, as does his return. While McCall offers something of a safe place for Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp – the club legend is always a popular figure – there will be a sense that having not been able to achieve promotion previously McCall is tried, and tested, and failed.

Whatever one’s thoughts behind that it seems that McCall was able to impress the German owners of Bradford City in a way that the other candidates – including supposed preferred choice Uwe Rösler – was not. His experiences as a player are impressive, and his presence in the Scotland set up adds to his knowledge. One wonders how McCall has changed as a manager since he left City, and how much that has played into Rahic and Rupp’s decision making.

McCall is expected to be formally announced as Bradford City manager before the week is out. There is also speculation that the incoming manager has started a recruitment drive at the club. Maybe his list of preferred targets and Rahic’s belief in who the club should be signing correlate.

When Stuart McCall arrived at Bradford City he was a club legend and while he was criticised (by me, although that was often ignored) there was this was tempered in a way it was not for his successor Peter Taylor. One doubts that on his return the Scot will have any illusions that his reputation is still stainless, or that it will not stain.

In full knowledge of how much easier it is to talk about football rather than do it, to coach players rather than take the responsibility of the big chair, to be a hallowed and separate club legend rather than get dirt under the fingernails to try improve things Stuart McCall return as Bradford City manager.

In my opinion that speaks much to the character the man.

Welcome one and all to the fourth, and different, coming.

Selection / Manager

First this then what? While the history of BfB remains unwritten if I were to follow our friends at A Post in doing so there would be a large chunk of that about the process of recruiting managers.

Because while Bradford City have not had to appoint a replacement manager for some five years in the five years before the practice was becoming so common as to have started to be tedious.

The transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson was something of a disorganised fumble with the candidates being interviewed not understanding the remit of the role they were applying for. Colin Cooper is believed to have told Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that were he to get the job he would sack Chief Scout Archie Christie and Rhodes reply – as reported by Christie – was that Christie’s input on the manager would weigh heavily on the process.

At the time Rhodes and Lawn had wanted John Still the then Dagenham and Redbridge manager (who is now manager of Dagenham and Redbridge again) to take the position but were turned towards Parkinson as a better option.

Jackson’s appointment was a Sunday afternoon nonsense where it seemed that the club had decided that as a former player Jackson could skip an interview process for who would replace Peter Taylor and go straight to the manager’s chair,

Jackson had been working in a care home when he got the call to become a football manager once more. In my view he was barely adequate in his performance and the problems of his appointment were those of his departure. No matter how Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp go about recruiting the new manager for Bradford City one doubts it can be worse than that period of the club’s history.

Peter Taylor had been an outstanding appointment to replace Stuart McCall bringing to the table a seniority which McCall lacked and a proven track record of success. Taylor’s time at the club is rightly not fondly remembered but it is his professionalism rather than the lack of material which stopped him from sticking a few boots in on the way out.

The Shane Duff fish story speaks volumes.

Taylor’s appointment is perhaps the model that Rahic and Rupp – and any other chairman looking – would best follow when looking for a new manager. Selecting a candidate who had achieved success is important but much more important are multiple successes across different situations.

This adaptability is probably what attracted Bolton to Parkinson. Parkinson has worked on a budget at City at first, and at Colchester United, and he has shown an ability to take on big occasions at Chelsea, Arsenal et al.

There is an element of confirmation bias in Parkinson’s appointment.

The news that Chief Scout Tim Breacker is leaving with Parkinson comes as music to the ears as the club badly need to readdress that area. Parkinson’s recruitment was becoming an problem at Bradford City. Of the players he was happy with Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and Kyel Reid were all picked up a long time ago and if there was a faultline between Rahic and Parkinson along the idea of recruitment then one would struggle to suggest that the manager should have been allowed to carry on doing things the same way.

Likewise following the defeat to Millwall I expressed a concern that Parkinson had created a kind of Oakland Athletics in League One (The Oakland A’s being the subject of the book Moneyball) which was able win in the grind of week to week football but were found wanting at the sharp end of the season.

That concern was just that – a minor concern, rather than a fully stated question – and of course is denied by memories of Aston Villa away and Stamford Bridge but while the strength of Parkinson was his team’s ability to grind out results and sneak 1-0 wins that was a weakness when overplayed.

One should never be critical the the days of milk and honey ended but Millwall game illustrates this concern. In one of the forty five minute periods – the first – the Londoners dominated City and in the others the Bantams were arguably the better team but did not repair the damage done.

Perhaps more significantly to the concern is that in those three forty-five minute periods that followed Parkinson’s side did not seem as if it could repair the damage of being 3-1 down. Keeping game’s tight and nicking goals works over a longer period, less so in a two legged tie.

But would overplays this at one’s peril. Parkinson was an exceptional Bradford City manager and as Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp look for his replacement they must hope to keep the best of Parkinson.

Parkinson’s teams were seldom out of games. Rarely were the side over a goal down and always did it look capable of getting something out of an encounter. One of the more compelling reasons to follow Parkinson’s City on the road was the fullness of the ninety minutes of football. Never being out of a game was a watchword of the previous manager, and hopefully will be one of the next.

This was in no small part down to the spirit Parkinson’s side had which was second to none seen at Valley Parade. One could write books about how the players aided each other through bad moments that stopped bad games and probably still not understand exactly how that team spirit worked. Suffice to say whatever it is needs to remain, as to Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle the chief proponents of it.

Finally Parkinson’s pragmatism needs to be a factor in the new manager especially when confronted with the stated iconoclasm of Rahic and Rupp who have a clear idea of how they want the Bantams to play (“High pressing, exciting”) but may have to accept as Parkinson had that tactics are created to suit players and situations. Parkinson’s final season at City was defensive by necessity. The new manager, whomsoever he may be, should hope to make sure that he understands this.

Colchester United and the Crawley Brawl

As far as match reports go few are more erudite than Damien Wilkinson’s comment on Bradford City’s 2-0 defeat in Essex at Colechester United.

Colchester will probably have harder training sessions than that.

The names may have changed but the problems remain for Bradford City. A goalkeeper making a mistake, a team playing without character, a ninety minutes where there were not enough threats to the opposition goal. A replay of Saturday but one could pick a dozen games since City returned to League One where the same could be said.

It has become manager Phil Parkinson’s nadir. The manager who builds teams – including one at Layer Road at the start of his career – based on players who will play for each other turning out teams who do not play for each other.

Original sin

Brad Jones – signed with fanfare – may step down as goalkeeper for the weekend trip to Rochdale after his mistake led to Colchester’s first goal.

Jones’ mistake does nothing for Ben Williams’ ability to control the space between where he can reach and where he positions his central defenders which is more Williams’ problem than his occasional mistake. Goalkeeper – more than any other position on the field – is a judgement made and stuck to. It is worrying that Parkinson believes in a fluidity between his custodians.

Worrying but not unprecedented. The City manager moved between Matt Duke and Jon McLaughlin when they were sharing goalkeeping responsibilities. Only Jordan Pickford – probably as a product of his loan arrangement – has been cemented into the City goal.

Street fighting man

McLaughlin’s exit plays heavy on the mind.

In Jon McLaughlin – who is keeping goal for League One leaders Burton Albion – City had a keeper who some still recall as making more than his fair share of mistakes but was vocal enough and improving to a point where he holds down a spot in the team at the top of City’s division.

McLaughlin’s play aside when considering the character problem in the team which City put out I cannot help but recall the sight of the City goalkeeper sprinting fifty yards to punch Crawley Town players after they had started to fight with City, and City’s Andrew Davies.

And while I’m not suggesting that there is a nobility in scrapping on the field I think back to The Crawley Brawl as a galvanising point for that City team.

I cannot – with all my powers of imagination – see many of the current City squad prepared to do what McLaughlin did that night. I cannot picture Williams or Jones or many of the current team sprinting fifty yards to stick up for their team mates in a fight.

Character study

As City warmed up against Colchester United Radio Five Live hosted a debate where they bemoaned the lack of leadership within the current Arsenal team. Arsene Wenger stood accused of inheriting leaders like Tony Adams and not being able to create anyone to replace them once they had passed into memory.

Journalist Henry Winter suggested that Wenger’s problems were the problems of all football. That in an era of squad players who understand that they will not be in the side every game, and in the era of increased player movement between clubs that can see someone like Mikeal Arteta leave Everton for Arsenal having seemingly become a part of the Goodison Park furniture, that the sort of leadership and character of a Tony Adams was not appropriate.

Expanding on Winter’s hypothesis would seem that managers have pursued players who can be used sparingly, and who understand that they are not essential to a team and can be rotated out, and so they do not grow the characteristics of the ever-present leader.

League One football is not Arsenal’s concern but the hypothesis may hold true.

It is hard to have players who could be described as leaders when those players after often at clubs over relatively short terms. Not every player had it in them to concern themselves with the general performance. Most look after their own game and – if you are lucky – that of the player next to them in a partnership.

Leadership – the type that promotes character in the team – seems an increasingly rare commodity and one which is not suited to being rotate or traded. For a player who has arrived on a two year deal as most do the point in which he starts to grow into a role at the club seems to be the point where the club start to look beyond him.

Take – as an example – Lee Bullock who in 2010 was the player’s player of the year but having spent eighteen months at VP. He signed a new contract that summer but changes of manager and focus saw Bullock play less and move on. While not wanting to comment on Bullock’s skills as a player it seems uncontroversial to suggest that no sooner had Bullock settled in then he was being marginalised in the number of games he played, and ultimately in his position at the club.

With players coming and going in this way it it hard to imagine how a player will establish themselves as leaders in the group of players to have the effect on the field we talk about. After six months you know everyone’s name, after eighteen months you might have everyone’s respect, but if you are marginalised after that how do you lead?

It has always been thus.

Stuart McCall was made, not bought, and both Andrew Davies and Gary Jones who also typified the trait were rehabilitated having started their role at the club as curios and ended them as key men.

Parkinson needs to grow leadership from within the squad – and perhaps allow the squad to promote their own leader – and that is a process which takes time if it happens at all.

Right now we are waiting for that before the club can progress.

A side note, for the foolish only

There is no question of another manager being best suited to carry out that process.

Perish that thought.

History

Until leadership emerges within the squad City are subject to defeats and bad performances as befits any team. Two defeats – marked out because of their lifeless performances – are set in the context of a season which is in turn set in the wider context of the club’s history.

Just like the display against Gillingham in September 2001 – a 5-1 win which represents the best I’ve ever seen City play in a season which had little else of skill – the highs and lows are modulated to fit in with the overall view of the season.

The good are forgotten in bad seasons. The bad in good ones.

Much of what came before the Crawley Brawl is not remembered now. The brawl itself though – the way the squad stood literally shoulder to shoulder in the fight – seemed to jump start the team spirit of 2013 and beyond.

Colchester United 2-0 away will sink into that context too, providing Phil Parkinson can find another way to galvanise Bradford City, to create team spirit where there is none, and to enable the team to create its own leaders and character.

The strange case of Steve Davies as Peterborough win 2-0 at Valley Parade

When Graeme Westley was appointed manager of Peterborough United during the week he sent an e-mail to the club’s fans promising that The Posh would make 600 passes a game, leading to 25 shots, leading to victory.

He promised to win, of course, because all new managers promise to win football matches but the dressing that Westley – a manager with some qualification around the bottom of the Leagues – used was seductive. Not only would Peterborough win but they would pass there way to victory.

And passing equated to the beautiful game. Westley’s promise would be that he would have Peterborough United remoulded as the football good guys – the Barcelona of the Nene – but one game later a man had a broken leg and even the opposition manager felt free enough of sanction that he would directly state that the tiki-taka team were throwing themselves to the floor to cheat.

What City did wrong

Phil Parkinson had a lot to complain about after the game but little new to say.

The regret that goes towards Paul Anderson – who had his leg broken by a Michael Bostwick tackle in the first half which the Peterborough midfielder can share the blame with Referee Paul Tierney. Referees should not allow bad tackles to the point where players think that diving in as Bostwick did can ever be acceptable and when they do referees should punish them.

That Anderson will miss the rest of City’s season is a function of a Referee who feels that he does not have to take the duty of care that he has to players seriously. It should be made clear to players like Bostwick that when they make tackles with aggression and without care they will be sent off. They are not so they carry on doing it.

But tackles like that are a long way from the promise of beautiful football. Westley’s brand of football is steel tackles in a silken passing glove. For the entire match they showed the aggression normally associated with kick and rush football but married it with an attempt to play a passing game.

As a plan it could work, as could Parkinson’s more practical approach, but both require a level of commitment from players which was lacking from the City squad.

Anderson’s break adds to injury problems but more troubling has been the manager’s inability to get anything like a performance regularly from either Anderson or Mark Marshall on the other wing who slumped back down after a promising game last week.

Which is not to assign all the blame to two players – lethargy was common – but rather to say that just as shaping a team last season around Mark Yeates as playmaker failed because Yeates did not perform so this season stumbles because the angles of attack which glowed last week were absent this, and they were absent for the want of effort.

Players in teams that win games make it their business that the team plays well. This quality is lacking from the current City site some of the time, not all of it, but there is no one charged with maintaining that quality in the way that a Stuart McCall did, a Gary Jones did, or an Andrew Davies did.

Parkinson is battling the entropy of average performances and today he lost that battle all of which leaves the strange case of Steve Davies.

The strange case of Steve Davies

Replacing Paul Anderson midway through the first half it seemed unlikely that the entire game would hinge on substitute Steve Davies but it was the centre forward who played right wing who was ten years on the wrong side of the winger who raced forward for the first Peterborough United goal and his lack of positional sense to play in a position which is not his own that cost much.

However it was Davies’ header which hit defender then post a few minutes early which on a day with a dash more luck would have had the balance swung towards City.

Davies’ willingness to get involved was a contrast to his team mates but when a ball came to him in the box he swiped and missed, and another was stuck under his feet as he tried to get through, and nothing much went right for him.

Indeed he was left leaving Steven Darby with too much to do at right back as Westley’s side put in a second. As much as Davies tried he could get nothing right.

But try he did, even as things did not go right for him, and one can’t help but wish the rest of the player would follow his example.

Taking back control of the result as Bradford City draw 0-0 at Barnsley

When talking this week about the need for Bradford City’s players to put in a Bradford City performance manager Phil Parkinson engaged in a little modesty, and a little evasion.

I don’t think there was enough out there in terms of the Bradford spirit and determination we’ve known – and that didn’t sit easy with me – Phil Parkinson

Four years ago on Tuesday saw the Bradford City manager who proceeded Parkinson go into a broad room meeting trying to justify a lifeless performance against Dagenham & Redbridge and failing. He resigned and within a week Parkinson came to the club after the cameo of a Colin Cooper 4-2 against Barnet.

Many wanted Cooper to have the job and Parkinson, less obviously attacking in his approach than Cooper, was criticised as he went about a process that made City more predictable and by virtue of that less interesting.

Jackson’s last side was as lifeless as one could imagine but it was not criticised for that having come after Peter Taylor’s weak outfits and Stuart McCall’s sides who famously could take an offside decision going against them in a win and sulk it up into a six game losing run.

This has been the way Bradford City have been perhaps since Paul Jewell left the club in the Summer of 2000. For those ten years we were a club often at the whim of external forces be they financial or on the field. To a greater or lesser extent until Parkinson arrived City were a club who seemed unable to control its own fortunes.

Unless one wants to journey back decades then it would be more accurate to say that it is not a “Bradford City performance” that Bradford City failed to show in the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham it was a Phil Parkinson performance.

Modus operandi

Having watched Phil Parkinson’s teams over the last four years it strikes one that first and foremost the City boss demands the level of effort which was lacking from his players on Tuesday night. For much of Parkinson’s time at the club he has been able to select a team from a squad who all were able to reach that level required.

That that situation was coming to an end has been obvious for some time. If one believes that the Gillingham performance would not have happened had Jon Stead been in the forward line, or had Andy Halliday been in the team, then one convicts oneself of the most idealised thinking.

On Tuesday night – and over the week – it became obvious that he did not have eleven who put in what Parkinson requires and so new faces were called in: Reece Burke on loan from West Ham United, Lee Evans from Wolves.

In the past four years Parkinson’s loan signings – as opposed to his loan to purchase deals – have largely been to decorate the fringes of his team. Burke and Evans came straight into the side recalling Parkinson’s first month at the club when the likes of Matt Duke, Jamie Devitt, and Andrew Davies were signed and put into the side.

Loan signings disrupt the flow of a team, but when the team is not flowing what is to lose?

Replacements in South Yorkshire

In the event Lee Evans turned in a fine performance in central midfield as the Bantams had more control of the central area than they had in any game previously this season. It should not be said that Christopher Routis is the sum of the problems at Bradford City but with him injured, and Tony McMahon ill, the middle two of Evans and Gary Liddle looked to have the kind of solidity which has been lacking of late.

Evans will be at the club for five months at least. He is young and has some ability. His signing on loan suggest is is an after thought but one finds it hard to believe that Parkinson can have thought that he could go into the season with such poor resources in central midfield and perhaps Evans’ two weeks sitting out games at Wolves focused his mind on how to progress his career at another club.

Only here for a month Reece Burke – 19 years old and having only played five games previously – slotted into the defence alongside Rory McArdle and never looked out of place. Burke put in a calm, assured performance as one might expect from a player on his debut but he seems to be a short term solution to the problem of replacing Andrew Davies.

Alan Sheehan – who has performed the role better than anyone else this term – was on the bench and is thought to be about to leave the club. Millwall defender Mark Beevers has had talks over a move but those talks came to nothing. Nathan Clarke is on the bench until such a time as Parkinson redeems him.

Redemption/reconstruction

While there were chances for Bradford City to win at Oakwell against Barnsley Parkinson’s City were not seeking a redemption so much as reconstruction.

Burke slotted into a back four which was supported by a central midfield who did not stray too far up field and most of the afternoon the full backs were supported by the corresponding wingers Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall.

Parkinson has made it clear that we are at a stage in the season were we can judge all the players (except for Brad Jones, once again absent having missed training all summer) but judgements on those two wide players – and a third Josh Morris – are not kind.

Anderson has – thus far – failed to live up to the hefty reputation he arrived with. His performance against Gillingham was risible and while he was defensively better at Oakwell he showed only very occasional abilities to go beyond the forward line and link onto what could be won by James Hanson.

There is much to do for Anderson.

Josh Morris – who replaced Anderson after just over an hour – has shown more in terms of the ability but is frustratingly easy to knock off the ball for a player with pretensions to take a central midfield role as well as a wide one. For defenders playing against Morris is about playing on the line of fouling and hoping that the Referee has no sympathy for the player who concludes every challenge looking back at the official and appealing.

More curious is Mark Marshall who has very good delivery of a ball when he happens upon the right position to deliver it from but getting Marshall into those positions seems to be a random process. Defensively he issues vague and wrong instructions to the full back behind him but such things are worked on in training and that could improve with time.

Going forward Marshall needs to position himself to take on defenders and go forward rather than to dribble past central midfielders and move sideways. A man who can beat a player is useful when attacking but dribbling through central midfield is dangerous at worse, and fairly pointless at best.

One understands Marshall’s frustrations even without agreeing with his way of venting them.

City’s trip to Barnsley was about keeping a clean sheet and in keeping a clean sheer starting building belief in the squad that it is master of its own destiny. The balance was in favour of defending and none of the wide players was given much of a remit to attack. Parkinson wanted to see if Anderson, Marshall, and Morris were prepared to dig in, that the team were prepared to do as told, and to be responsive for achieving an outcome, and the answer was a qualified yes.

In this context Steve Davies and James Hanson toiled up front with the latter often isolated and the former missing a great chance when one on one with Adam Davies in the Barnsley goal.

One doubts Parkinson will lose much sleep over that. He goes into training for the first time this season – and I would say the first time since Reading – with a team that can be said to have had control over the outcome of the game rather than been buffeted on the winds of occasion.

That was the first thing Phil Parkinson achieved when he arrived at City four years ago. He hopes to have won it back on Saturday.

Parkinson under pressure after City lose 2-1 at home to Gillingham

One wonders how quickly the pressure that swirls around football managers will start to swarm on Phil Parkinson after Bradford City lost a one goal lead to be beaten by Gillingham.

Pressure from results should be irrelevant. Results in football are both the most and least important thing in the game.

They are the most important because they are what the entire football club is geared towards achieving but the least for the same reason. As the sum of all the efforts of a club they aggregate out accurately in most cases. When those efforts are lacking then it is not important that the results are so much as it is an obvious effect.

Which was the case tonight as City’s early season crystallised.

Once again Phil Parkinson favoured the three man midfield with a playmaker but tonight the reason for that choice was not so much the dogged determination to force Christopher Routis into a position so much as the manager addressing the problems that were on the field against Gillingham, and probably seen in training for weeks.

And those problems were distributed around the field, and those problems were largely to do with the level of effort which the players applied and the amount of commitment which those players had.

The level of effort was not enough generally and it was not enough specifically in the case of Parkinson’s two wide players Mark Marshall and Paul Anderson.

“There go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them there.”

If there is an experience in football which fills me with dread its the winger who screams for the ball while hugging the touchline. They are the Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin of football. If only the ball could be got to them in whatever position suits them then they would use their influence to turn the game around.

The onus on the other players to serve them. It is the antithesis of the way of thinking and of playing which has seen Bradford City rise from League Two via Wembley and Chelsea.

And Parkinson – in August 2015 – has two of these players.

Marshall demanding the ball in his own half so he can run into the crowded midfield beating men but not making progress. Anderson getting the ball, turning from goal, and laying it off. Both of these players could be great in the future but if they are they need to make games like tonight far away exceptions to their common performances.

I have no truck with the idea that the other players on the field owed these touchline-huggers the ball.

Players get the ball when they are in good positions. When wingers run towards full backs effectively compressing their own team they are worse than useless. When wingers stand behind covering players they are worse than useless. When wingers watch the central midfield struggle from a distance they are worse than useless.

And it was obvious to me while watching Parkinson unleash his two wide men kept under wraps since signing that he must have noticed this tendency in both at the moment and that has forced him to pick narrow formations that exclude them.

There are two ways to play football: To make things happen, or to be a part of things that happen.

The last few years we have been spoilt with players who made things happen: Gary Jones, Andrew Davies et al; and out history as a club idolises them: Stuart McCall, Peter Beagrie et al; and the way those players was contagious.

And they spread their ethos of taking responsibility for the performance around the team. The culture at City in the last few years and at our best has been one of players taking responsibility for performances.

Tonight we had wingers standing with arms in the air. An illustration of the exact opposition of what brings results.

I refuse to write off careers on the basis of a few games but as far as I have seen of both Marshall and Anderson they have not even begun to show the character that success demands. This requirement comes into play before one considers the ability they may or may not have.

The questions marks

Wingers was not the sum of the problem.

We have a group of players who present with question marks over their character who have come into a group of players who had question marks over their character.

This is the team that surrendered to Bristol City, this is the team that were found wanting in the last third of last season following Andrew Davies’ injury, and those problems have not been addressed in the summer recruitment.

There is no pirouette to perform which says that it is the fault of the new players for polluting the old or the old players for not unleashing the new. There is a significant lack of character and willingness to take responsibility for performances that manifests in different ways and to different extents around the team and the squad.

And while some players are more guilty than others all players – and the manager – have to improve the collective. It is hideous in its cliché but the tide needs to rise, to float all the boats.

There is the continuing mystery of Gary Liddle who played a good performance in central defence rather than the much needed role in midfield. There was the problem with Tony McMahon who when put in central midfield represents the softest centre. I consider the role that McMahon plays in front of the back four as being the most important on the field and McMahon has not shown the capabilities to play that role thus far.

Again I do not seek to Damn him. He may be very good at that position but his very good performances will be a long way from this one not just in terms of the effect he has but in terms of how committed he is to the rest of the team and the performance. If he has a role in winning teams it will be shown character not present tonight.

The wrong side of history

This is the pressure on Parkinson. The parts he has brought together for this Bradford City team do not fit easily. He may try take responsibility for the defeat – as he did – but he can not take the players responsibility for the (lack of) effort away from them.

The players who did put in a shift tonight – and there were some – need to do more than just concern themselves with their own game. James Hanson, Rory McArdle, Alan Sheehan who put in good personal performances need to pull up the performances of those around then. That is what Gary Jones would do, and it is what Stuart McCall would do, and it is what Phil Parkinson needs from his senior squad members.

From a tactical point of view Parkinson needs to etch-a-sketch his team and start again.

Central midfield is the most important position in the team and out best player for that role should be there, so put Gary Liddle there. Hanson up front, Darby at right back, McArdle in the middle. All players you can trust to get a team out of a slump.

A shape emerges from that process and I don’t pretend to know what it is. I’ve banged on all season about Christopher Routis but watching Routis involve himself in play contrasted with Anderson hiding when the ball came forward, putting defender between him and the ball, it becomes obvious why Parkinson is picking the Swiss/French.

The pressure on Phil Parkinson comes from the squad he has assembled and making it work. I’m no fan of cliché like “Big Time Charlie” put unpacking that term is useful in analysis of Gillingham at home. Some players on the field felt that is was not their responsibility to win the game.

The wingers, McMahon perhaps, Ben Williams seemingly, Josh Morris, Billy Knott in parts (although his performance is a confusing one) and perhaps one, some or all those players think that they have made a bad move coming to Valley Parade, or that they are somehow apart from the performance of the team.

It is a long way from the Championship Play-offs to the bottom of League One but the blow of that distance needs to hit home hard – if it applies – and players need to make sure they do all they can to be a part of the a successful team.

Or they sulk, on the wing, or in midfield, or in goal, making out that it’s someone else’s job to get you the ball, or stop the man, or organise the defence.

And they fail, and we all fail.

Certainly I’m not going to be part of any criticism of the players who do show the characteristics in favour of new faces who meander the field.

There is no improvement in giving the ball to disinterested players and hoping that that sparks them into life. Anyone seeking to say that things would be better if only the players who has the bottle to win the ball shovelled it to those who did not have the weight of a history of Bobby Petta, Harpel Singh, Tim Steele et al to argue with.

Peter Beagrie did not stand on the wing with his arms in the air sulking because he could not get a pass. He rolled up his sleeves, hunted the ball, and supported his team mates.

The pressure on Phil Parkinson

Parkinson is under pressure but that pressure should be self applied.

It should be to make both his new signings and the players currently in the squad understand that there is a baseline of effort which they have to commit to win matches and that did not commit in the 2-1 defeat to Gillingham.

On the night James Hanson scored from a fine Billy Knott centre but weak attempts to control the midfield against an able and mobile Bradley Dack led to second half pressure from the visitors which too easily overwhelmed City’s rearguard and the game was lost through a Hanson own goal following a long range effort that went through Ben Williams as if he were not there.

The day after Parkinson needs to work out which of his players he can rely on to show character, and to put in effort, and turn performance around. He needs to deputise those players into forming the mentally weaker players – the followers if you will – to create an effective squad.

He needs to find or make a few Gary Jones/Andrew Davies in the current group and have them lead. The names which suggest themselves have been suggesting themselves for months: Rory, Stephen, Jim, Lids; but the team built around those men drifts.

I think that finding those leaders with the current squad might be the most difficult task that Parkinson has had as Bradford City manager.

I know that there is no other manager I’d want doing it.

Six months time

In six months time this article might be absurd.

Team building is a snowball rolling down a hill. It starts often in defeat and the response to that. Paul Jewell famously used the two points from seven in 1998 to build 1999’s promotion.

In six months time Paul Anderson might be everything we are told he is.

Mark Marshall might rip defences apart, Tony McMahon might be solid in central midfield, Stephen Darby might be improving the players around him, the defensive unit might be organised and on and on.

If all those things are the case are it will not be an extrapolation of the performance in this 2-1 defeat to Gillingham, or the (lack of) character shown in it, or the contempt for the effort that is required to win matches on display.

It will be the reaction to that. That reaction is the raw material which Parkinson has to shape his future from.

Post script

James Hanson played well.

Steven Gerrard, no EPLs and having the football we want

As I write this article Steven Gerrard, Liverpool footballer, is preparing to play his last match at Anfield after seventeen years as a professional at the club.

Gerrard’s exit is the final story in a Premier League which seems to have long since been decided. Chelsea have won the league – Oh Chelsea – and Burnley & QPR have been relegated with Hull City to follow probably.

I say probably because it would seem that given the choice between devoting its 24 hour news coverage to the fate of Hull City, or the play offs, or Gerrard’s closing career in English football the media seems to have decided that the England midfielder is the story to cover.

And of course this gave rise to criticism on Twitter because – well – there is nothing in modern life which does not beget the fury of people on Twitter. This criticism is summed up in the idea that the coverage is excessive considering that Gerrard had not won the Premier League championship.

EPL

When I first heard the phrase “EPL” I knew that something truly ghastly had entered the conversation on English football. As an abbreviation for English Premier League it makes perfect sense alongside the Scottish Premier League, The National Football League, Major League Baseball and so on but its creation as a term in common usage denoted the internationalisation of the top flight of the English game.

“How many EPLs has Gerrard won?”, “He won UCL!” and so on. This is the lingua fraca of discussing the top of English football on some places. I do not suggest you discuss football on the Quora website but if you do prepared to be amazed by just how remote the discussions are from the mechanics of week-to-week supporting of Bradford City.

But let me be clear this situation of internationalisation of the English Premier League support is not an issue because Americans want to watch Manchester United or that people in Indonesia want to follow Liverpool. It is an issue because those Americans and Indonesians are in American and Indonesia.

They are far away

Far away and not likely to ever go to Old Trafford or Anfield but able to follow their clubs remotely through websites and live TV streams. They can commit a good deal of time to their support and by virtue of their financial contributions in shirt sales and so on I’d support an argument that they had paid their dues.

(I use the term “their” advisedly, I’m not arguing that they are less fans, or that their support is less genuine.)

However the mechanics of supporting a club you will never see – or may only see once or twice – are different from those of watching a team week-in-week-out. I know this from my experience following Japanese side JEF United in addition to Bradford City.

For City I appreciate attributes from players such as the effort they give when trailing by two at Peterborough United, or how they try motivate their team mates to sneak a victory at Rochdale when a draw would be a perfectly acceptable result. The moments which tell you the most about a player or a team are those which are not lingered on by TV cameras. The walk back after a concession, the speed of which a player gets back to his feet, the look on his face when a team mate makes a mistake.

I have none of this information when following JEF United. I have stats. Goals scored, assists, number of EPLs won.

Framing the debate

Drop into a global “EPL Talk forum” and the discussion is almost entirely about stats and not about character which, in my opinion, frames the debate of football entirely in the wrong way. In my opinion the number of EPLs that Chelsea had one was not as important as the character which Bradford City showed.

(As an aside it was interesting how easily Chelsea recovered from that defeat in the FA Cup fourth round and how little impact it made on their profile, globally or nationally. I believe that was because there was no context to the statistics that the game offered. It was impossible to make sense of stats like how much money Chelsea cost compared to City when the disparity was so large, it was impossible to make sense of it so it was ignored.)

This debate framed poorly values different things at the top of the Premier League which attracts a great many supporters who are not regular attenders of games than it does at lower levels, and for supporters of teams at the top of the Premier League who do attend regularly.

It is hard to argue that the regular attenders pay for football – TV money, advertising and so on pay a good chunk of the bills – but when chunking up and down the Motorways its easy to imagine that regulars are showing a level of commitment that demands that the coverage of the game be set up for them.

This may be an illusion – a factor of the white lines late on a Saturday evening returning home – but the idea that football coverage is for the benefit of people other than those who go to games is not something which is oft considered. We assumed that the explosion in football coverage that came in the last twenty years would be for the benefit of the same people who have season tickets. We were wrong.

We do not have the football coverage we want.

Gerrard

Steven Gerrard has some remarkable achievements as a Liverpool player – UCLs and so on – but talking to people who go to Anfield his contributions are more marked in the way that City fans have considered Stuart McCall and Gary Jones in the past, and consider the likes of Andrew Davies and James Hanson now.

The tributes to him as he prepares for his final game at Anfield are the odd mix of a football event which has some resonance with supporters of clubs up and down the country and something which appeals to the debates of the EPL Forum.

These moments are rare, and when they come they highlight the distance between these two sets of value, and how wide that distance often is.

If Parkinson is the Special One if City only get one point?

As time ticked out on Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Walsall at Valley Parade Andy Halliday – playing right wing – stood defensively containing the visitors left back preventing him from playing the ball forward.

Play the ball forward – or beat Halliday with the ball – and the Saddlers would have a chance to create a chance. And from a chance they could turn the point time would give them into three. And that could not happen.

Likewise had Halliday tried to win the ball then City could have fashioned a chance to do the same but to do so risked losing position on the field.

As it was Halliday kept his man on the flank and the clock ran down.

Is Parkinson a special one?

Have no doubt, dear reader, that Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City side against Walsall will not have returned to the dressing room to an angry manager. Parkinson will not have blistered the walls with shouting nor will he have been furious at chances missed. In fact the 1-1 with Walsall is exactly how Parkinson would want his Bradford City team to play.

Of course he would have wanted more goals to be scored and fewer conceded. He would have wanted Francois Zoko to make more of the chance that fell his way in the second half, would have wanted Billy Knott to have confidence with his right foot when given the option to shoot with that, would have wanted Rory McArdle to not lose his location and head the ball cleanly seven yards the wrong side of the goal post. He would have wanted all those things.

And he would have wanted Billy Clarke to have run back to replace Andy Halliday when Halliday gave the left hand side of the Walsall attack too much space that allowed Anthony Forde to cross and Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila to head in after slipping away from the otherwise excellent Gary McKenzie on his début. We all wanted those things.

But we have learnt Parkinson’s method over the last 3 years, 177 days of his time at Bradford City and nothing suggests that he would unbalance his team to try take all three points when he had one. The failures that prevented City winning were in execution for Parkinson, but not in the planning.

Which raises an interesting question for City fans to consider.

At 2-1 down to Chelsea Phil Parkinson did not send his Bradford City team to play an all-out attack, nor did he at 1-0 down to Leeds, but those wins came from a combination of maintaining City’s position in the game (which is to say, not conceding more) and taking chances that presented themselves.

One can – and I have – criticise that approach as not doing enough to commit to winning a game against opposition who aimed to draw at Valley Parade but one cannot deny that the overall approach for games does not differ between matches.

Stuart McCall – for example – was fond of changing his team with the ebb and flow of the game. Chris Kamara was too. I would suggest that both McCall and Kamara would have looked at the Walsall equaliser as a signal to make attacking moves, bring on strikers and generally try to create a win.

And I found both managers created very exciting teams to watch. One recalls McCall’s City 2-0 down at Accrington Stanley only to win 3-2 following the introduction of Barry Conlon. Barry came on and caused chaos on the pitch that City benefited from massively.

One recalls the game at Addams Park Wycombe under Kamara were City went two down early on and Kamara brought on Carl Shutt to create a 253 which made for a massively unbalanced game which ended up as a cricket score in favour of Wycombe. At two down, Kamara thought, City were not going to win the game anyway so why not throw in some chaos and see what happens.

Parkinson is not a manager who enjoys adding chaos into games.

McCall or Kamara might have thrown another striker on at Chelsea, or today, and it might have worked. For Parkinson though staying in the game and working hard has worked.

But it has only worked at Bradford City and Colchester United. Supporters of Hull City and Charlton Athletic found Parkinson intractable and unadventurous and were largely glad when he left their clubs because of his tactics and approaches. At Valley Parade today he defended a 1-1 draw, and one doubts he would apologise for it.

If one is happy with Parkinson’s games at Chelsea, and at home to Leeds and Sunderland, then one is happy with the approach that created it then perhaps one just has curse bad luck today and regret that ill-fortune did not favour City today while accepting that other days it does.

Parkinson’s football is the application of pressure towards steady progress. To want him to be different is to want another manager.

Seven

The frustrations of the afternoon were obvious to all. With injuries to James Hanson, Filipe Morais, and Andrew Davies Phil Parkinson reverted to his 442 deploying Halliday on the right, Mark Yeates on the left and Billy Knott with Gary Liddle in midfield behind Jon Stead with Clarke playing removed from the front man. The result was a less pressing midfield that contained the game more.

Indeed Walsall seldom attacked through the middle and Liddle and Knott will reflect on a successful afternoon but Yeates was out of sorts on the flank and not involved enough to pick up the tempo of the game. Halliday was manful on the right. He was seven out of ten. Again.

The result was not so much a lack of creativity – chances came – as it was a misshape on the creativity. Stead held the ball up by fewer players ran past the forward line from midfield than had in previous games leaving him to pop the ball out from between his feet to anyone who might be near.

The supply from the flanks was sporadic. At one point Stephen Darby beat six men on a mazy dribble which was impressive but underlined the problem the players were finding. Without the reliable diagonal ball to to Hanson from McArdle City were less predictable but by virtue of that easier to play against. The paths to goal were improvised and Walsall’s backline stopped what they could. Dean Smith is a good manager and had his side well drilled.

But Smith, like Parkinson, hoped that what was created would tip the game his way but would rather not have lost. Walsall have not lost in eight away games and have their own trip to Wembley to plan for. City take up sixth place in League One.

It should have been a good day all round, but we have got used to better days than this. They are not long the days of milk and honey.

Parkinson has his thoughts on the bread and butter.

Parkinson should give McBurnie a place in the eighteen (but I would say that)

An even hand is applied to all, but I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

If you have read BfB for any period of time you’ll know, dear reader, that I am keen to see the youth of the club given a chance in the first team squad and that I think that a good club makes good players by playing them rather than being gifted them by good fortune.

That is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I like to think too that McBurnie shows the talent to justify elevation to the first team squad on a regular basis. Without a reserve team to blood him in the physical game of man’s football it is hard to comment on that side of his game but his cameo appearances for City have shown him as able to handle that side of football well enough to suggest he can handle some more of it.

I do flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I love the romance of the young player. I love the idea that the kid that started for City on Boxing Day 2013 spent Boxing Day 2012 playing Championship Manager. We saw it when Danny Forrest scored in front of the stand he used to watch City from, or when the man who used to work at the Co-op left a World Cup player on his backside at Villa.

It is that Roy of the Rovers drama and its one of the things I love most when watching the seasons of football.

But from a more pragmatic point of view we need Oli McBurnie.

A fast striker who – by virtue of his promotion from the youth set up – is not going to break the bank with wage demands he offers a way to trim the £500,000 overspend Julian Rhodes has talked about. In giving him first team games and making him a real part of the squad rather than a bonus we give him the environment to develop in.

Danny Ings was one of the Championship players of the season after his promotion from bit part player to starter after Charlie Austin left for QPR. Those longer in the tooth will recall how Dean Richards progressed when Phil Babb departed and the youngster was trusted with his place.

To me it makes sense for Phil Parkinson to see McBurnie as one of his main three. The fast one with the target man, and the hard worker. If that does not work out then we deal with that in the same way we deal with a new signing who does not.

When you see potential you have to put the work and give the player responsibility to make a good player. It might not always work, but not doing it never works and that is what City did with Nahki Wells, with Dean Richards, with Stuart McCall.

But even that is not why I flipping love Oli McBurnie.

I’m getting old.

I’m old enough now that I know a player’s Mum and I do know Oli’s. I’m not going to lie it gives me a massive amount of bias in favour of the young striker and that is going to have an impact on how I assess him.

But even as I admit that I still think that as the club talk about squad restructures and going half a million over “what we can afford” then we have the need, the opportunity and the ability to try crack one of the best prospects to have come into the first team for years.

So I think that when it comes to next season Phil Parkinson should consider Oli McBurnie as a part of his match day eighteen.

Parkinson’s hardest job as Gary Jones leaves City

The biggest job Phil Parkinson has had since he got to Bradford City is to replace Gary Jones who will leave the club during the summer.

What is more Parkinson’s ability to replace Jones will be the decisive factor in if he is Bradford City manager this time next year.

Parkinson’s tribute to Jones vocalised exactly what City will miss about the captain. “Enormous contribution”, “right mentality”, “character”, “superb role model”, “heart and soul”, “I cannot speak highly enough of him both as a person and as a football player.”

Jones’ ability should not be understated – a League One club (like Rochdale) might judge from his performances last season that he was still worth a place in the team – but Parkinson will miss his leadership. Not since Captain McCall left had City been left with such a significant hole in the dressing room.

A good captain improves the players around him, he pulls them through games, and he inspires them to find something which without him they would not have. Stuart McCall was the example for his and anyone who watched him dragging a City team to the Premier League would have recognised those qualities in Jones at Villa Park, at Burton Albion, at Wembley.

Jones ensured performances from the players around him. After years of watching a team with the nominal leadership of David Wetherall, the withering leadership of Tommy Doherty, the slight times of Simon Ramsden, the shouting ineptitude of Guy Branston City had a player who led on the field and led well. Every great team has an avatar of the manager on the field and Jones did that for Parkinson.

Which leaves the manager with a problem. No matter who gets the armband next season Parkinson needs someone who shows Jones’ leadership. Someone inline with the manager, who can be the manager’s voice on the field, and can give Nathan Doyle a kick up the arse when needed.

Without that leadership any team stop being greater than the sum of their parts and then when parts start to misfire they become less still. We saw this as Stuart McCall’s side faded away for the want of the on the field character that, as a player, he shared with Jones.

That team was – and one could argue this at length – man for man “better” players than Parkinson’s side last season but they were a worse team and much of the construction of that team was in “right mentality”, “character”, “heart and soul” which Gary Jones brought.

And without that City – mid-table last season – cannot expect a better return next year and one doubts that a same again display from Parkinson will be considered acceptable for a boardroom which twitches more than not.

As Gary Jones exits Phil Parkinson has a lot of work to do.


Aside, from Michael Wood, on Gary Jones There was no way to fit this into the article above but as a story I think it says much about Jones. Before Wembley City were approached by The Sun to ask for single game on shirt advertising for the League Cup final. City would have worn The Sun logo on the shirt but at sometime before a decision was made the idea was presented to the two Liverpool born players: Gary Jones and Stephen Darby.

And it was Jones who replied that he did not want the club to take The Sun’s money.

Carlisle United defeat leaves City thinking about the punitive sacking

Let us, dear reader, forgo discussions of the 1-0 defeat to Carlisle United and move without flinching to the mainstay of this discussion. Should Phil Parkinson remain Bradford City manager?

I shall ruin the surprise. I think he should

I think he should but I think that a club and community that sacks Stuart McCall can sack anyone – Wembley or no Wembley – and unless there is a change in the boardroom that is the reality in which we live.

My contention on Parkinson is that he has the abilities that Bradford City need in a manager and that if he were not the current manager, and he were available, he would be the top of our list for the job.

We save ourselves the effort and the expense if we just ride out this bad run.

That idea is not one that has traction in the modern culture of football management which revolves around the punitive sacking and let us not make any mistake removing Phil Parkinson would be a punitive sacking.

You can hear it in how people talk about the idea. “One win in twenty one” they say (it is beginning to be a credible sample size) and then mumble about deserving better. The second half troubles me in this. Poor results, even poor performances, are not personal slights and trust no one who treats them as such.

Nevertheless the punishment for such a return is to be sacked. Why is that the so? Because received wisdom tells us it is so.

When I was younger (I was born in 1973) the idea of a rapid manager turnaround was a joke that was becoming a reality at the poorer run clubs. Now it is a truism that almost every manager is considered to be a dozen games away from being fired.

Arsene Wenger loses at City and there are calls for him to be sacked. He loses 5-1 at Liverpool and there are calls for him to be sacked. Someone notices that Arsenal have not won a trophy for a good few years and there are calls for him to be sacked. Spurs have sacked manager after manager as Arsenal stuck with Wenger and have never passed them. They simply burn resources in the changes.

What was a joke is the conversation that has seeped beyond the more tedious parts of Talk Sport into football culture like a drop of ink into water. It is everywhere now. As much in boardrooms as it is on Twitter. We even have a song about it.

If a manager suffers bad results he’ll be sacked in the morning.

Statistics say that bad form rights itself with or without punitive sackings but that hardly seems to be the point. Boardrooms can do very little in terms of direct action to be able to suggest they have a manifest control over the destinies of their teams.

Sacking a manager looks like action but seldom does it come with any change of policy and so aside from the cosmetics of looking like a boardroom is taking action the result of a punitive sacking is almost always negative.

Using Bradford City as an example we call recall Trevor Cherry was sacked as a punishment for bad form and replaced by Terry Dolan who seemed to do a better job taking the team to the edge of the top flight but he in turn was sacked for the same kind of poor run and the Bantams did not get lucky again and Terry Yorath did worse.

If Hutchings, Wetherall, and Jackson do not tell you what the impact of the punitive (rather than planned, from a policy change such as Geoffrey Richmond’s arrival) sacking is then an article by this writer never will.

But this writer would not make that case. Not only is it a pointless argument to have – the boardroom at Bradford City acts as it will – but it’s also not the reason to keep Parkinson.

We should keep Phil Parkinson as Bradford City manager because he is a hard working manager who knows how to bring success. It is not the only way to bring success but it is a proven way. He brings success by instilling a work ethic and having a set pattern of play which is rugged and practical.

I’ve seen more attractive teams playing football although rarely ones with more character, but the fact that those things are the right things to have do not change with a run of bad results or even with relegation.

If you think the answer is to install a manager who promises to play a 352 and drag in some playmaker to Platini around the pitch then you must have been sleeping all last season, or faced in a direction away from the ball.

If you think the answer is just to change to anyone else then go lay down until your sense returns. If you think you “deserve better” then I don’t know what to say to you other than that you have an inflated sense of entitlement.

If you did pay attention last season (and in the other good seasons the club has had, and not just the ones which brought promotions) then you’ll notice that there is only hard work and effort. If you have a manager who prizes those things above all else then why change other than because you want to mete out punishment?

This briefing against people who leave City has to stop

It did not take long when Nahki Wells left Bradford City for Huddersfield Town that the subject of our neighbours from the West’s predilection to interfere with dogs (In which way? The worst possible way) started to be talked about. Nahki shoots, Nahki scores, Nahki and your Labrador. You know the sort of thing.

The humour might not be to everyone’s taste and the aggression between the two teams is often troubling but the claim is so absurd as to be the laughable subject of a joke. It might not be to me or you (or it may be) but a comment like that made about our former player is a joke.

There is something less funny though about a tenancy that has come into the narrative when someone leaves Bradford City. There is something sinister.

Take, for example, former manager Stuart McCall who Mark Lawn told myself and Width of a Post‘s Jason McKeown was ill when he left Bradford City to the point where Lawn worried that he would no longer be able to carry out his duties. No matter what one thinks of McCall’s abilities as a football manager the man was at City for another six months and has had three years at Motherwell without being unable to do his job because of ill health. In fact here he is fronting a Scots anti-smoking for better health campaign.

And while one would not doubt the stress that McCall was under at City the last few years have not painted a picture of a man too ill to work. Nevertheless that was the discussion when McCall left the club.

Tom Doherty – we heard – had let Peter Taylor down rather than the manager failing in some way. Shane Duff was “just a van driver now”. Even Reece Brown was “somebody’s brother” on exit. I’m not going to get into talking about Archie Christie but I witnessed first hand the man changed from being considered as having a word unimpeachable at Valley Parade to being spoken about – again from people at the club – as being untruthful. The “ill health” you heard of has not prevented Mr Christie from carrying on his career.

Again take your own view on what is accurate but be aware of the change which happened over the course of a few days.

Then onto Nahki Wells. Disruptive Nahki who if left unsold would destroy the morale of the squad which he has been a happy part for two and a half years or so the counterpoint to questions as to why he needed to move on so quickly went.

Now it may be true that Wells is all those things – I never recall the rest of the squad refusing to celebrate with him and they seemed to get along well – but if he is then this tendency was only brought to life after he left and was far from apparently in his character over the course of the two trips to Wembley. Did that look like a squad with poison running through it? I shall say that it did not to me.

But it seems that like the joke about Nahki Wells and the dogs there seems to be a reaction to changes at the club from people who carry enough influence to effect the conversation in the Bradford City community that (to borrow a Malcolm Tucker term) briefs against he who has left.

The community end up with a piece of information which seems to come from a source with authority what cuts against the grain to suggest that an exit decision was the right decision.

This has to stop. It is poisonous itself to the ability for the club to learn from is history. Every decision – in the light of briefing – is rendered so obviously correct and no question as to if it has worked is ever asked.

This has to stop. Its undignified, it lacks the character that our community should demand, and it impedes our progress as a club.

The time and the place for Michael Flynn

At a Q&A session in the week – and again in the Telegraph and Argus – Michael Flynn has talked about his belief that while the Bradford City’s plans on developing players are well meaning but the club should focus on the first team squad and should direct all the resources at getting promotion.

City’s skipper speaks out and people listen. It is good to hear the thoughts of any of the players even if they did prove to be slightly off the mark when talking about the cost of the development project (he apparently claimed Development Squad players earn £300 per week, a figure way off what Archie Christie, who is in charge of the club’s budgets, told BfB when explaining the £145 a day cost for the whole set up) – although some of the players might object to their leader talking in public about their pay packets – but is this really the time for Michael Flynn to be voicing his thoughts on the way the club manages its resources?

Signed by Stuart McCall, Flynn has played under four different managers at Valley Parade. Peter Jackson seemed set to dump the number four casting him to the depths of the squad but Flynn’s big performances saw him work his way back into the first team up to being captain. Every manager has grown to appreciate the Welsh midfielder as much as the supporters who he acknowledges diligently at the end of every game. Three times the job of manager of Bradford City has come up while he was at the club. He has – as far as we know – yet to apply.

That sounds factitious but is worth consideration. Flynn is telling the club how it should be spending its resources and his suggestion is that we should direct everything – George Green money and all – into getting out of League Two. If that sounds familiar it is because it is the modus operandi of Bradford City in Stuart McCall’s second season, and in Peter Taylor’s season at the club.

It is the ideas that brought Paul McLaren to the club for a season, and Tommy Doherty and we recall how those seasons turned out. Flynn’s comments echo John Hendrie back in 2009 when he talked about throwing more money at the first team. Lots spent, some promise but ultimately no return and much of what was in place before had to be taken apart after. One might argue that the club is still recovering from the decision to spend the money that came from Fabian Delph’s sale on the first team. One might also say that we are on a long road of recovery from Geoffrey Richmond’s six week plan that we should put everything into a first team that would stay in the Premier League. Certainly it is hard to argue that we are not recovering from allowing Peter Taylor to build a one season squad last term.

If it is Flynn’s opinion that it is the Second Season of McCall/Season of Taylor plan that Bradford City should be following – perhaps hoping for third time lucky – then there is a time and a place to make that statement. The time is when a new manager is being recruited, the place is in a job interview where he tells Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes why focusing everything on the first team will bring promotion this time when it did not in the previous two attempts. That time and place is not in the last three paragraphs of a T&A article.

None of which is to say that Flynn should not vocalise his thoughts or that the club should not allow its captain to talk about his thoughts, but Flynn needs to explain just why the throw everything at promotion approach will work in 2011/2012 or 2012/2013 when it did not in 2008/2009 or 2010/2011.

The club deserves credit for trying to break a cycle of failure which has seen us slide down the leagues each time thinking that if we could just get back up a division then we could start planning for the future. Even if the current development squad project was to fail then merits of trying a different approach rather than repeating the plans of past seasons – which many would say failed – are today are still valid (and perhaps even more so in future), and they are still laudable.

Even if the captain might not agree.

The ghosts of the Wimbledon past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The friends of Bradford City welcome back that rarest of thing

Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.

Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.

Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.

O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.

Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.

Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.

Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.

To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.

McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”

An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.

A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.

Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.

One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.

Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.

The cost of changing managers

As Phil Parkinson sits down to watch his first Bradford City game as manager already he will have made a signing and put in approaches for others with Charlton’s Paul Benson having talked to City as one of three clubs he is expected to consider joining before tomorrow’s transfer deadline.

Parkinson is unequivocal. He wants to add players to the squad and he wants to do it before Wednesday. This time last week the current squad were Peter Jackson’s team, his lads, hand-picked and with some security. Now some of them are looking at a long time on the sidelines.

Jack Compton is first with his neck on the block. A player on loan from Falkirk having not parted on the best of terms with his manager he worries that he might be sent back to Scotland but the arrival of Kyel Reid casts a shadow over his future. For sure Parkinson might have watched Compton for a couple of games, but he knows Reid from old.

Compton though is a loanee, and such is the life, but what the likes of Nialle Rodney, Nakhi Wells and Ross Hannah will make of Paul Benson’s arrival should it is a little more significant. These players might all have a future at City, but that future is pushed further away when the club start bringing in senior players over your head. Hannah might look at Benson’s record at Dagenham and Redbridge and think that he could do now what Benson did then, but that he might not get the chance to now.

Hannah is bubbling under, and so are James Hanson and Mark Stewart. Performances like Saturday and momentum builds and careers come from that. Sitting on the bench watching players signed over your head is a route back to non-league.

As Benson would probably testify to League Two is a league that makes players and as Stuart McCall would note bringing in the big names often does not work. Watching Saturday’s performance one might conclude that if you put eleven men on the field and got them playing the right way then you have eleven good players.

Nevertheless manager’s want to change things and while three months ago Peter Jackson was feathering his nest with his own squad so Phil Parkinson will do the same. Players come in with signing on fees, players go out with contract termination agreements. It is not cheap and the three rebuilding jobs of the last few season suggest it is not effective either. Peter Taylor’s self assembled team did no better than Stuart McCall’s.

There is scope for improvement at any time of course. The squad needs more wide men and has very limited resources in the holding midfield area. There is also an argument that when the right player becomes available then you add him to the squad. The right player is an example to the younger players in the squad, someone who trains and plays in the right way and with the right professional attitude. A Stuart McCall if you will, a Peter Beagrie. Paul Benson might be that kind of player.

Ultimately Bradford City, once again, pick up the price of changing the squad once more but there is a different cost an a more human one. Peter Jackson went to people like Hannah, Wells, Rodney et al and – on behalf of the club – told them that Bradford City was a way to start your career. The cost of changing managers may end up being those careers.

Another search for a manager begins

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will be used to looking for a new manager and – after three appointments two of which lasted less than a year and a bit – they show no signs of having a grasp of the right criteria to make those appointments.

When Stuart McCall “resigned” from the club the question we asked was what the plan was for the recruitment of his replacement was. A lot of these questions have been answered with the move to new facilities at Woodhouse Grove and the appointment of Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Director of Football Development.

There is a plan at the club which Christie was brought in to implement to develop players for the first team – and to provide more players for the manager with a more extensive scouting network – which aims to take some of the onus of recruitment from the manager and have a retention of knowledge beyond the man in the dug out. Unlike the situation where Peter Taylor left and his backroom staff were sent away with him Jackson having left yesterday the players have familiar faces around them.

It is this type of system which saw an end to Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle United and – in a way – Alan Curbishley at West Ham but is increasingly common in football. Indeed on Jackson’s last day at Valley Parade Michael Flynn told Radio Leeds that Colin Cooper took the players through their paces while the manager spent the morning on the phone to football managers trying to find a striker on loan. The team and manager lunched and went over the plan for the Barnet game, then resigned.

(It should be noted, and as an aside, that Keegan’s contracted stated that he would have the final say over players brought into the club and when the club’s Director of Football Recruitment Dennis Wise signed Xisco – the issue which Keegan resigned over – Newcastle United were in breach of that contract and while Keegan resigned he later successfully sued the club for constructive dismissal. One wonders what the detail of Jackson’s contract was.)

The manager’s remit is the first team and the requirement is not for an holistic club builder but rather for a game winner, and someone who with coaching and deployment can edge a performance an inch or two better. There is a list of managers who were considered to replace Stuart McCall (now Motherwell): Peter Taylor (now Bahrain), Steve Cotterill (now Portsmouth), Russell Slade (now Leyton Orient), Peter Jackson, Lawrie Sanchez (now Barnet), Jim Magilton (now caretaker assistant manager Shamrock Rovers), Dean Windass (working for BSKYB), John Coleman (still Accrington), Iain Dowie (no club), Martin Allen (now Notts County) and Wayne Jacobs. Six months ago John Hughes (no club) declared an interest in joining City and John Still (still Dagenham) interviewed for the position.

How many of these fulfil the remit which Jackson was being asked to work within? Certainly John Still – the victorious Dagenham manager of last week – would do having worked with Christie before but one has to wonder how much of an appreciation of what skills the next manager needs to have, and how those skills are distinct from those which were required when looking for McCall or Taylor.

Having appointed a big personality in Jackson – and perhaps had personality clashes – Lawn and Rhodes may be tempted to opt to bring in a younger manager who is more malleable, less set in his ways of how to run a club, and able to work within the current structure. They would do well to avoid “Yes” men.

The aim of the club is to have an appointment before next week’s trip to Morecambe which suggests that there is someone in mind – probably someone who has talked to the club six or eighteen months ago – but that Lawn and Rhodes do not have the clarity to bring someone in immediately. Were John Still to be the choice then one imagines a call would be made, a resignation drafted, and the new man revealed on Monday. The fact that there is a week until appointment suggests that there are discussions to be had and a choice to be made. There is a suggestion that three interviews will be held this week. One has to wonder what Lawn and Rhodes think they will hear in those interviews which they had not heard in the last two rounds, and how they will be able to sift the answers to get the right man. We are to assume that Jackson and Taylor were both the most impressive people in interview.

The early runners

The link to John Still – who talked about how he would have joined City were it not for the uncertainty over the future of Valley Parade – is a strong one with the Dagenham manager being in the final two of the club’s thoughts when Jackson was appointed. The club would – not doubt – have to pay Dagenham to free Still from his contract.

Impressive in the last round of interviews was former Hibs and Falkirk manager John Hughes who is out of work at the moment and could come in without any compensation payable. Hughes is a strong candidate for the job but one might expect him to be appointed this morning rather than next week if he is the chosen one.

Former players Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass have their name’s mentioned often in connection with the job. Beagrie has shown no interest in moving into management thus far but Windass has made his desire to take over the club known – Terry Dolan as his assistant – and could fit in as the type of rookie manager who may appeal to the board who have had problems dealing with experienced number ones.

Former Barnsley manager and City man of the 1980s John Hendrie is also an option although one might wonder how many conversations Hendrie has had with Stuart McCall about the board at Bradford City and how that would colour his view of the job were it offered.

City have always been fond a bit of fashionability and so perhaps Jim Magilton – who is working as caretaker assistant at Shamrock Rovers who qualified for the Europa League with this superb strike last night may be an outside bet having talked to the club previously.

Other names work mentioning include Colin Cooper the current caretaker manager and former player and Farsley manager Lee Sinnott. Paul Ince has been mentioned – his promotion with MK Dons would impress the board almost as much as his collection of shiny medals but his track record is patchy.

Finally John Coleman has interested City in the past.

Accrington Stanley and the Bar(ry)ometer

For those seeking a barometer on events at Bradford City’s the club’s trips to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground provide just that.

The first meeting between the teams in modern times saw Joe Colbeck – fresh from his return from loan at Darlington – the hero as City ran out 2-0 winners and Omar Daley tore the home side in two. The hard work of striker Barry Conlon brought praise that visit and there was a sense that four months into his time at the club it seemed that Stuart McCall was starting to get the basis of team together.

Three years ago City were outplayed for eighty minutes and then Stuart McCall brought on Barry Conlon and one might riot some how managed to be the catalyst for a stunning turn around that saw City leave Stanley boss John Coleman with a ruined wedding anniversary and City fans happy.

Happy for a time though because it was though that – eventually – City could do better than Conlon and his manager Stuart McCall and so the change was made to Peter Taylor who with huge fanfare took his City team for their first game.

You might remember the wet ground, the late arriving and early departing Mark Lawn with a vandalised car, and the performance that set the tone for Taylor time at Valley Parade. There was a sense of optimism in the air that day that – probably because the display was away from home and followed not long after by a great 3-1 win at Rochdale – which went undented. Recall, if you will, the people who said that Taylor was going to sort out the mess that Stuart McCall had caused. Try not to look at the top of the Scottish Premier Division.

The optimism of Taylor’s arrival was in marked contrast to last season’s trip to The Crown Ground where City were so badly second best that manager Peter Jackson could find not an iota of optimism. Having taken up a team of the Disunited from Taylor Jackson – following Accrington – could not see how the club would claim another point in the season. At that point Peter Jackson thought Bradford City would go out of the Football League.

So Bradford City go West for the fifth time with Jackson having nailed together a team he has more faith in and which built around the optimism which was in such short supply in April’s visit. A team for which improvement is the aim and the assumption that enough improvement will drive promotion. Seeking a first win of the season following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Oxford and on the last of three trips away from home that started at Leeds the tone for the return to Valley Parade for three back to back home games will be taken from this barometer test.

A device to measure pressure City’s barometer readings have been troubling for some years. This summer – for the first time since relegation from the Premier League – there seems to be a realism in the club’s aims and that has brought with it a sense of optimism that the club is going in the right direction.

There is a question as to how long optimism can be maintained without victories and – along with that – the merits of optimism. Paul Jewell’s side famously gathered two points of the first twenty-one and got promotion at Wolves with many expecting them to fall at the last hurdle. Any optimism garnered on the last four trips to Accrington have done nothing to stop the club going backwards, often by a route of its own choice.

As long as there is progress in the players then – perhaps – there should be an optimism to match.

Jackson goes into the game with Martin Hansen in goal – there is a rumour that the Liverpool loanee is undroppable in his time at City although there is always that rumour about loan players. Jon McLaughlin is working his way through his interrupted pre-season and once again is being viewed as an answer to all problems. Never wanting to disrespect a player who I believe is a good and serviceable goalkeeper worthy of his place in the squad and team but never has a player sat on the bench performing so well. On the bench he is the human traffic light always on red, the unbeatable keeper, the greatest custodian in the club has had.

Three of City’s back four have been unchanged all season – the other position has rotated to three different names. Liam Moore, Guy Branston and Robbie Threlfall are constant, Luke Oliver, Steve Williams and Lee Bullock have changed. Oliver is expected to retain his place having played his part in the build up to Ross Hannah’s equaliser on Saturday. There was speculation that Oliver pushed Duberry, or at least that is what Duberry said, or was told to say by someone at the club, and he is sticking to but he is not doing twenty months for that, no way…

The midfield presents Jackson with options having favoured a five at Leeds and Oxford with Chris Mitchell at the base of Michael Flynn and Richie Jones with Mark Stewart and Jack Compton on the flanks but the improvement seen with Michael Bryan and a 442 might prompt a change in shape that sees one of Flynn and Jones benched. Jones brings a hamstring niggle into the game and perhaps that will see him sitting the match out.

Stewart – a player still finding his feet but showing some nice feet when he does – would then press forward alongside James Hanson who once again showed the limits of his abilities as the only player detailed to attack on Saturday. Given the thankless task as the only pink shirt in the other half at the Kassam Stadium Hanson has an unfruitful afternoon and sure enough garnered criticism for his play in isolation. Conlon used to suffer criticism too, but his replacement was Stanley legend Paul Mullin and soon Barry was missed. An object lesson if ever there was one.

All of which is expected to leave Naille Rodney and Ross Hannah on the bench – impact substitutes in a Conloin stylee perhaps – but gives Peter Jackson the sort of selection problems which Taylor could have only dreamed of where his has a choice of players who all seem to be keen to show how they are improving.

To show a twitch on the barometer, and perhaps a reduction in pressure.

2011/2012 I/IV: The manager

In comparison to his two predecessors, there’s something unique and noteworthy when looking at the characteristics of Bradford City manager Peter Jackson – his ordinariness.

Stuart McCall took his place in the managerial dugout with his legendary status and heart-on-his-sleeve love for the Bantams, which meant no one who shared his passion for the same cause would have wanted him to fail. His replacement Peter Taylor came with an outstanding track record that inspired widespread confidence he could achieve great things. And so for the past four seasons, so much of the focus and responsibility for what’s happened on the pitch has been centred upon one person.

Whereas both McCall and Taylor’s managerial qualities were universally held in high esteem at one point, towards Jackson there is much lower adulation, far less attention and a reduced level of expectation. Having been presented as a potential managerial hybrid when he became City’s Interim manager last February, amongst fans on the eve of this season, there is either a general warmness or quiet disapproval regarding Jackson. Trusted to do the job yes, but no one seems to be expecting miracles.

This outlook might be personal to Jackson; but, after the last two appointments were ultimately judged not to have worked out, it is perhaps more a case of the club and supporters falling out of love with the idea that a manager is the answer to all the problems.

For now at least Jackson has regained the sort of popularity he enjoyed when captaining the club with great distinction and dignity during the 1980s, before a second spell in the early 90s proved hugely disappointing and a defection to matters blue and white. Ever since he’s been considered more an annoyance than legend, whether managing Huddersfield for two separate spells or popping up as an agent for disgruntled young City players. His returns to Valley Parade saw him endure some strong and at times vile abuse, and the idea of him ever being welcomed back as manager would have seemed laughable.

Time heals wounds, and as Jackson cropped up as Lincoln City manager in 2007 – quickly followed by being diagnosed with throat cancer – attitudes towards him began to change. As McCall struggled as manager the season after, Jackson’s name was put forward as an alternative solution. He was passed over in the interview stage in favour of Taylor after McCall quit in February 2010, and a year working in a very different environment with his wife was ended by some proactive phone calls to Julian Rhodes when Taylor went the way of McCall, five months ago. The rehabilitation of Jackson’s standing amongst City fans has been swift since.

Even when he was claiming to bleed blue and white, Jackson was never far off our radar – so the strengths and weaknesses of his managerial ability have already been heavily debated before. Past successes are easy to point to – twice he left Huddersfield better off than when he took over them. Failures are also difficult to ignore. It’s not hard to see why Rhodes and Mark Lawn chose Taylor’s CV over Jackson’s 18 months ago, and the fact his three previous managerial appointments all ended with the sack suggests there’s a high possibility it won’t end brilliantly this time either.

Yet there is much to commend Jackson for since his first game in charge at Gillingham in early March. If he didn’t exactly set the world alight in terms of results, he at least applied some brakes to the post-Christmas slide in form that had pushed City from play off outsiders to relegation candidates. The season ended badly, but could have been far worse. Performances weren’t much better overall, but the style of play was at least more attractive. Jackson oversaw survival with a week to spare, all the while left uncertain over his own future and with growing off the field problems overshadowing his minor achievements.

Jackson’s desire to get the job full time was laudable. As the Valley Parade rent situation looked desperate, BfB understands he was told that this season’s playing budget could have been as low as £400k; on top of the potential 10 point deduction to start the campaign from. Such a bleak prospect would have put many people off – remember Bryan Robson in 2004 walking away because he felt the job, post administration two, would be too tough? Yet Jackson remained unfazed, determined to take his chance.

If his Interim manager record of four wins, three draws and seven defeats is hardly the stuff of great promise, the impact his personality has had on the club certainly was impressive. Who’d have thought, as he posed a lot and talked about himself in third person while managing our local rivals, that this annoying git would actually prove himself to be an immensely likeable bloke?

His loud, passionate and enthusiastic persona may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and maybe it didn’t have the greatest affect on the players he inherited from Taylor. But now having built his own squad and appointed his own coaching staff, there’s a feeling that Jackson’s motivational style can make players perform above themselves and improve as professionals.

And it doesn’t just begin and end with the players. Jackson clearly enjoys mixing with supporters and talking to the local media. Those who attended the club’s recent open day will have witnessed the manager serving burgers with Lawn and chatting away happily to anyone and everyone present. Just like McCall, it’s clear that Jackson doesn’t regard this as any old club and is proud to be here. That may not translate into success, as McCall showed, but it can only help.

Like Taylor, Jackson has only being handed a one-year deal and what the Board and supporters’ expectations are from him this season are unclear. Everyone knew that for Taylor it was promotion or bust; but given how far away the club was from achieving it last season, to demand the same from Jackson would seem unrealistic. That’s not to say this season can’t end in glory, but that smaller steps need to be focused on first before the bigger leaps.

The fact Taylor’s one-year deal was so centred on delivering instant success did not produce a stable atmosphere, and when things went wrong it quickly felt like he was a sitting duck rather than someone who would be given time. Perhaps that’s why the loan market was so overly used by Taylor – he simply didn’t have the space to develop existing players by giving them chance to come good. Perhaps that’s also why the likes of Jon Worthington and Mark Cullen were signed but given little opportunity when they didn’t make an immediate impact. Will Jackson face a similar type of instant pressure of having to narrow his focus on simply getting a result on a Saturday to keep his job, or will there be leeway for him and his players to make mistakes?

For me, success and the offer a new contract for Jackson come May is for us to be able to look back and reflect on improvement: a more appealing style of football, more committed performances from the players and a healthier league position. If a forwards momentum can be started, it would be wrong to risk its continuation by sacking Jackson if its speed is not as fast as we’d ideally hope.

We’ve spent four seasons impatiently trying to scramble out of this division and truthfully haven’t even come close. Now has to be the time to truly take it steady rather than keep hoping to find shortcuts; and for Jackson the challenge this season should be to prove he is the man with a map to success.

Above all else, it may be that this season – relative to the last few – talk in and around matches is less about the manager. The fact that hiring and firing managers has proven a failed policy in delivering improvement will probably never be embraced by some, but this year more than ever there is a collective responsibility for everyone involved with the club to perform.

Maybe Jackson is an ordinary manager, who we could do better than but could also do worse. But after the last few years have seen so much hope and expectation pinned on his predecessors, it might be nice having someone in charge who we already recognise as having faults – in order to move past this culture of blaming every failing upon the occupant of this role.

Following the prevailing narrative

Pre-season allows a different view on football.

Nestled at the side of the pitch the players – who will be seen from the height of stands and the back of terraces – are up close and personal in front of a few hundred supporters. Players who look almost like a fleshly blur when at the far end of Valley Parade are right in front of you. Live and loud.

Very loud in some cases. Guy Branston’s “discussion” with the Referee at Nethermoor was the sort of language which very much would be both foul and abusive but not only did the officials do nothing about it they did not even break stride or blink, nor did the players. Par for the course perhaps, and not something one appreciates when watching from the stands.

Football is a sweary game up close and the players have nicknames, and they all end with “y” or “o”.

One thing one might notice about the players this season – not those on the field so much as those watching their team mates – is the fact that they are not wearing suits.

This time last year there was much talk about suits. The problem with Bradford City circa Stuart McCall was that the players were a shabby mess of leisure wear and lounging around and the solution in the new, sensible, and obviously better regime of Peter Taylor was to get the players dressing professionally. To this end Roger Owen provide the money to kit out the Bantams in a nice yard of cloth.

That was the narrative of last summer. The rise of professionalism under Peter Taylor and the need for things like overnight stays which would not see the season out and culminating with the clumsily named Make-Tommy-Doherty-Ride-A-Bus-All-Night-Gate.

Those things are not important now, or so the prevailing narrative of Bradford City tells us, because the key the success is the Twitter team and the Development squad.

The Twitter team aptly describing the trend started by Ross Hannah to use the social networking site to talk about the Bantam in a really, really, really positive way.

Hannah, Branston, Nialle Rodney. They beat the drum proudly for Bradford City and this is a good thing. You can buy the PR and good mood which has derived from reading the daily musings of the assembling City squad but it is safe to say that the people who brought you Santa Dave would not have invested in it.

The Twitter team strikes one as indicative of a good squad dynamic. Of young lads getting on well together and enjoying being footballers. It is many things good, and nothing at all to do with the need for suits which was so important a year ago.

Likewise The Development Squad and the rise of “Woodhouse Grove” as the training facility – a far cry but not a long way from “Apperley Bridge” which this time past year we were being told was suitable – are the essentials in the current story of the reconstruction of Bradford City.

Not that one wants to complain about these things. Almost everything that has happened at City this Summer has been a progressive step which will have improved the club at the end of the season regardless of promotion but the worry is that this time next year if promotion has not been reached will the Development squad be hanging up at the forgotten back of someone’s cupboard next to Roger Owen’s suit?

Will City players be banned from Twitter as their peers at Leeds United and would that move be trumpeted as increased professionalism needed to sort out something shabby. There is a cycle of what we are told is salvation one season being shoved out the door the next.

These things would seem dependant on the prevailing narrative of the club, and that is not a good thing.

The prevailing narrative is a powerful thing and one which governs how we view the club in terms of its progress and how the club view us.

City spun from being on our uppers to putting upwards of six figure bids in for players while Peter Jackson has moved from being the man who does not always say what he means when he swears that he bleeds blue and white to being the arbiter of truth when he says that Omar Daley has not been offered a deal by the Bradford City team he now manages. If it is the case that there is no deal then someone might want to tell Omar Daley that. Regardless this shows how Jackson has changed in perception at the demand of the narrative the club creates.

Like Taylor and his professionalism, and like McCall the Messiah, Peter Jackson as City manager is subject to his own narrative arc. He is cast as Saul, converted by the blinding light to the one true path and ready to make good for the faith not in spite of his wrongdoing but because of it.

So the Development Squad goes to Bradford Park Avenue while the seniors will entertain Premier League Bolton Wanderers in the first game at Valley Parade of the season.

Jackson is seeking a gatekeeper and will use both games to try out someone to perhaps replace the ill Jon McLauglin for the first game of the season. Mark Howards’ attempt to impress on Tuesday night was not impressive and so Iain Turner – a wanted man – will be given the chance to keep goal if he wants it against Bradford Park Avenue, or Bolton Wanderers, or both. McLaughlin’s illness keeps him out of both games. Goalkeeping coach Tim Dittmer has been given a squad number.

Simon Ramsden is expected to make a long awaited return against Park Avenue for a team which is thought to be mostly the development squad and Ramsden will feature at and he is expected to partner Luke Oliver in the middle of a back four with Lewis Hunt next to him on one side and Robbie Threlfall on the other. At times last season that back four could have started games for City. Andrew Burns and Adam Robinson could feature in either game but it seems that Peter Jackson is moving towards Chris Mitchell, Steve Williams, Guy Branston and Luke O’Brien as his first choice backline. Expect those to get a run out against the Trotters.

Jackson’s attempts to pair new signing Richie Jones and player of the season for the season where there was no player of the season David Syers met with mixed returns on Tuesday night and the Bantams looked a sterner outfit with Michael Flynn alongside Jones. Flynn seems to be being edged away from the Bantams first eleven but has responded in what seems to be typical fashion for the Welshman with some gutsy performances suggesting he will not go quietly into the night.

Should he play on the Friday night the future for Flynn may have been decided, if not then he has a chance of staking a claim. The development squad against Avenue is expected to feature Patrick Lacey, Alex Flett, Luke Dean and perhaps Lee Bullock while Bolton will face a midfield of Jones in the middle, the impressive Jamie Green on the left, Dominic Rowe on the right and one of the Flynn/Syers/Bullock mix in the middle.

Leon Osbourne is looking too developed for the development squad but not enough for the starting eleven. Scott Brown could play in either squad. Scott Brown is the future.

Up front Jackson is expected to give Nialle Rodney and Nakhi Wells a chance for go at Park Avenue as he tries to get a deal for Wells with Mark Stewart and James Hanson looking favoured for the Bolton game. Ross Hannah is in the middle, a decent place for a forward. Darren Stephenson, already, is starting to look like like he will struggle to get a chance.

Hannah, of course, is not for playing now. He is to be thrown on with twenty minutes left of the Leeds game in the first week of the season and to snatch a goal. That is his narrative, and deviation from it will cause some upset.

BfB meets…Bantams Banter

The 2010/11 season may have been one to forget for everyone who cares about Bradford City, but the introduction of a dedicated podcast – Bantams Banter – was a rare bright spot competing against a tide of widespread misery.

Presented and produced by City supporters Tom and Dom, the regular series of downloadable audio shows quickly grew in popularity – as the pair’s comedic style when talking about City became a must-listen for Bantams fans around the world. “Over time, word of mouth has spread about the show and we ended up with a 100,000 downloads last year,” Dom Newton-Collinge told BfB. “We want fans to feel, when they’re listening to it, that they’re getting an honest view on City matters. Like they’re at the game almost, sat next to their mate. We tend to say what we see, which is what all the fans do. And I think that’s why it has been so well received.”

“THEY’VE NEVER TOLD US OFF ONCE. THEY COULD EASILY HAVE DONE.”

There are just under 10 minutes until City’s friendly with Guiseley is about to kick off at Nethermoor Park, and BfB meets up with Dom at the front of the main stand to interview him about the success of Bantams Banter. Sidekick Tom is unable to make it, as his cousin’s band is playing at the 02 Academy in Leeds. Our discussion about finding a suitably quiet place to chat leads to Dom suggesting we gatecrash a part of football stadiums he is very familiar with from his podcast work – the press box.

A quick negotiation with the Telegraph & Argus’ Simon Parker later, and we’re clambering over empty seats to the quiet annoyance of City’s official website editor, Mark Harrison, in order to find an empty spot. On the row in front of us, a few seats to the right, are Mark Lawn and other members of City’s Board. It’s a slightly surreal experience; though for Dom it seems more a case of sitting with good friends like Mark Harrison – oh, and close to the guy who once made him redundant.

“I worked for Bradford City for a few years,” Dom explained when I asked him about his background. “I was the assistant press officer, which included getting to travel with the team to away games. It was the best job in the world: I’ve been a season ticket holder since before I can remember.

“Then when Mark Lawn came in there was massive changes. They thought things would be better when Stuart McCall took over, but it didn’t work out. So I got back from a holiday in New York, where I’d spent every bit of money I had saved up when I was working for City, and Lawn said he was going to have to let me go, and made me redundant. I was absolutely gutted.”

Not that Dom was out of work for long, with BBC Radio Leeds’ Derm Tanner straight on the phone with an offer to work with him. Dom revealed, “He taught me all the ropes – everything I know in radio now I learned from Derm really. I was at the BBC when I got a job offer from Sky, and I ended up working for them doing horse and greyhound racing commentaries. I knew nothing about them at all! I hated the job, they knew I hated it and they laid me off after six months.”

Now working for a local radio station in Bradford with his friend Tom, the pair began to develop the idea of Bantams Banter and a podcast dedicated solely to Bradford City, featuring hard-hitting opinions mixed with humour. They approached the club, who agreed to the idea, and when the show launched in August 2010 it carried the club’s ‘official’ tag.

“Well it was official until they listened to it!” laughed Dom. “Then they said they liked it, but the Football League would have something to say. But even though it’s no longer official, the club are really good about it. They really like it and they try to do everything that can for us, such as meeting the players.

“They’ve never told us off once. They could easily have done. They know we push the limits, but they accept that it’s just honest views.”

“BECAUSE THIS IS OUR OWN THING WE CAN BE MORE RISQUE AND EDGY ABOUT IT.”

As unplanned as this location for our interview was, with the match having now kicked off, it seems like the perfect way to chat to Dom given the format of Bantams Banter. Last season a podcast was produced for every home game, and the majority of the content is recorded while they watch the match live from the Valley Parade press box.

“We put loads of research into it before we launched Bantams Banter, in order to discover what works,” added Dom. “We listened to Chris Evans, BBC Radio 5live. Just trying to gather as much information as we could, and then thought how can we take these shows and make them our own?

“We’re trying to introduce a new way of reporting and new style of media. There’s been a bit of a breakthrough recently where you can be more silly and people like it. We’re trying to introduce that to sport. Soccer AM have done it and stuff, but because this is our own thing we can be more risqué and edgy about it.”

Initially the podcast got a lukewarm response with few downloads, but Tom and Dom stuck at it and, over the course of the season, its popularity grew considerably to around 4,500 downloads per game. “After the first few we thought ‘it is worth it?’ because we were getting about 100-200 downloads. We persisted with it and tried to make it look as professional at it could. It’s worked out now and really taken off.

“To be honest I feel quite shy and embarrassed about the fact I do the show, but I want people to listen to it and I want people to download it. I’m not going to profess that we’re some type of media geniuses or anything, it was just lucky the idea works, and we’ve got the people who download it to thank for that. Because without anyone downloading the podcasts, it would be nothing really.”

“ONE OF THESE DAYS I WILL GET MY HEAD CAVED IN – IT WILL MAKE A GOOD PODCAST!”

That producing the show while a game is underway comes across so natural on the podcasts is testament to the pair’s broadcasting abilities. Trying to record an interview under such circumstances at Guiseley quickly showed me how difficult it must be to remain fully focused on producing the show, though Dom admits the pair quickly forget the fact they’re even recording.

“When you do a podcast of the nature we do you forget that you’re on. That is one of the reasons it works well I think because we don’t have to think about what we’re saying it’s more natural. You can tell it’s not very professional and that we don’t really think about what we’re saying.

“While regular radio commentators just need to focus on that afternoon, we recognise we need to make sure our content carries into the week. Not everyone listens to it straight away, that’s why we try to make it funny if at all possible, because humour keeps something fresh. We try to give listeners something to laugh at. They don’t want to hear us say ‘Hanson has tripped over’ they want to listen to ‘oh bloody hell Hanson’s fallen over, what a donkey!’

“If you listen to our podcasts now from last season, you can still laugh at it. Even though the game’s months old.”

And this approach led to many memorable moments on the show last season. Highlights included the dramatic Stockport home game, where listening back you could vividly relive the pain we all experienced during that nerve-jangling 90 minutes. On another occasion they recorded a podcast from Crewe’s Gresty Road, and found themselves confronted by angry home fans when they cheered a City goal.

Dom recalled, “This big group of people sat in front of us were absolutely going for it – shaking their fists at us, telling us where to go, all sorts. Tom was really nervous. But something happens to me when I step into a football stadium, where I turn into an absolute nutter and I don’t care. One of these days I will get my head caved in – it will make a good podcast!”

“HE SAYS HE’LL ONLY WEAR IT IF WE GIVE HIM PICKLES EVERY WEEK, WHICH WE WON’T!”

In addition to recording the majority of each show live at the game, they carry out interviews with players and management. Manager Peter Jackson is a keen fan and this week invited the pair to view the new training facilities, while even the players are enjoying the extra attention the podcast – and the range of t-shirts – brings.

“Guy Branston loved the t-shirt we’ve done about him, though he did give us a bit of stick – he says he’ll only wear it if we give him pickles every week, which we won’t!” laughed Dom. “He was also telling us that he really likes the idea of the podcast and the t-shirts, because players at this level don’t necessarily get the opportunity to have that sort of attention. So it’s really good for morale. They think ‘oh I must be good because I’ve got a t-shirt’.”

Aside from the recording, production is time consuming. It can take around two days just to edit down the amount of content they have, in order to produce the final version. Fortunately with such a close working relationship, the pair get on really well.

“We’ve had tiffs sometimes when we don’t agree, but we realise the other one is only arguing because the other’s idea isn’t necessarily the best,” explains Dom. “When the show goes to the editing table for instance, there are bits that I cut out because Tom’s said something stupid. And he’s the same with me if he thinks I’ve pushed it too far.

“From start to finish Tom and I do everything. We know there’s a cap on our audience. At the end of the day Bradford City are not like Man United with 300 million fans. We know it’s not going to make us millionaires, but as long as people are enjoying it and it is making a difference – like helping the club out by raising money for the youth team through selling t-shirts – then it’s worth doing.

“Every penny we make goes into the podcast. The equipment isn’t cheap, my lap top broke last year for example. We went through a phase of thinking ‘should we charge for it?’ because many podcasts do. But at the end of the day we thought why should people have to pay for it? We enjoy doing it. We didn’t want to lose listeners because we’ve worked really hard to build a listener base.”

“IT’S THE MOST POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE THAT I’VE EVER SEEN IN A CITY TEAM.”

That said the show doesn’t exactly pay the bills, and the pair are hoping to develop their radio careers. They recently recorded a demo with Derm and are hoping to hear back from BBC Radio Leeds with good news. Not that they’ll be stopping Bantams Banter anytime soon.

“I’d never want a job that would stop us doing Bantams Banter. On Radio Leeds you’ve got to censor yourself more, and that’s not really us. We’d love to do it, because we want to be known and we want to get Bantams Banter more known. We think that if we are working at Radio Leeds, we can also attract more listeners to Bantams Banter.”

Ambitions for the new season including building on the podcast’s success by doubling downloads, while they are currently developing new ideas to gradually bring into the show. “One is try and pop out to an alternative sports clubs in the Bradford area like archery, and try and find out what it’s all about, “ revealed Dom. “It just adds something else. There’s going to be Bradford City fans doing these alternative sports and we want to hear from them.”

With the new season just around the corner, the duo are gearing up for getting back into the Bantams Banter swing of things and will be producing a podcast for the Bolton friendly. As the interview comes to its end and we pay more attention to the players on the pitch at Guiseley, Dom is filled with as much enthusiasm as any City fan about the team’s prospects. And his close access to the players – not to mention his previous employment at the club – make him a useful barometer of the mood around Valley Parade.

He explained, “I like the new morale that’s going on. It’s the most positive atmosphere that I’ve ever seen in a City team. I remember when we got relegated at Chesterfield and being in a changing room with grown men crying, like David Wetherall.

“I’ve got every faith with Peter Jackson. I like the fact he’s willing to take a risk in signing young players. He knows what he’s doing in this league, and he’s a Bradford City hero. He’s been here and done that, and managed throughout the leagues.”

To listen to last season’s Bantams Banter podcasts, click here for the iTunes store. The Bantams Banter website is under construction and will be available soon.

Mark Leonard, for one night only

There is a moment etched into the collective memories of Bradford City supporters of a certain age in which City rake a long, high ball forward for a flick on and then for Mark Leonard to out jump his defender and loop a header into the goal. If you were at that game already you have conjured the moment in your mind.

Mark Zico Leonard scores against Everton.

The ball lofted forward was by Peter Jackson – putting a lie to the idea that he did nothing on his return – and Ian Ormondroyd’s flick on to Leonard would be repeated when Sticks headed down at Wembley eight years later. The Everton side featured a recently transferred Stuart McCall on his return to Valley Parade and the goal loops over Neville Southall – at the time considered the best goalkeeper in the country if not the World – who would finish his long, illustrious and brilliant career in that very goalmouth aged 41.

Watching the goal again does not dim the memory although things jar: The bars fencing in supporters for another, The way that Southall picks up and rolls out a back pass, The physical size of the players who to a man are seemingly a stone heavier than their modern day counterparts;

On that night Leonard shone as bright as any player might. Against the league champions, and uncharacteristically for a team starting to decline, that was Mark Leonard’s night.

The story wrote itself of course. Leonard had broken his leg having been hit by a car on the way to sign for Everton and this was his “unfinished business”. He had joined City from Stockport County with a good scoring record at the lower levels but had not been able to fill the not inconsiderable boots of Bobby Campbell competing for a place in City’s forward line with Ron Futcher in the season the Bantams made the Division One play-offs. Leonard scored 29 goals in 157 appearances for City, none of them recalled with the glee of the evening against Everton.

Leonard did not score a goal every other game, his knowledge of the offside law – or his ability to put that knowledge into practice – was massively limited and seldom has a City striker strayed beyond the back line to invite the flag more. His nickname – Zico – was ironic. For all his hard work, honest endeavour and tireless efforts the only flash of brilliance Leonard showed was that header.

Which damns the man with feint praise. Leonard worked hard as a player and that was appreciated by City supporters. Zico was ironic but affectionate. The mood might have wished for Leonard to be putting the goals at the rate that Mark Bright and Ian Wright – Crystal Palace’s deadly strikers that season who were first and second in the top scorers list – but the fact he did not was not for the want of effort. Leonard was one of football’s triers. Everton was his moment in the sun, but he never let anyone down in his years in the shade.

Indeed for a time he played at centreback before his unwept at exit from Valley Parade in 1992. He went on to win a promotion to the Football League for Chester City playing for Preston North End and Rochdale but never moving above City. When he left football became a top class crown green bowler ranking in England’s top ten. Perhaps he really was Zico when aiming at a Jack.

When thinking about Mark Leonard – Lenny to some, Zico to others – I wonder how he would be received by the modern Bradford City. Perhaps he would be a Gareth Evans of a player with as many critics as he had people in his corner, perhaps he would be a Jake Speight with his hard work ignored and eyes fixated on his goal tally, perhaps he would be a Barry Conlon.

Looking at Leonard’s goal scoring record one is struck by how the higher up the divisions he went, the lower his return. Like Chesterfield’s Jack Lester who seemed to work out after his spells at Nottingham Forest that he was more effective the lower down the leagues he was and one might have forgiven Leonard for staying low and being a good scorer in the bottom two divisions. As a rule though footballers though are built from ambition always want the bigger prize, and to play at the highest level, to forgo a good career in the shadows for some time in the light.

And for one night, Mark Leonard achieved that.

Jamie Lawrence, the workaholic

Jamie Lawrence is approximately 60 metres away from me when he picks up possession inside his own half 67 minutes into an FA Cup tie with Grimsby. 10 seconds later, and I and dozens of people around me are hugging the Jamaican international following a sensational weaving run past numerous blue shirts than ended with the ball passed crisply into the back of the net.

It is a glorious solo goal and – in the days before football was breached by health & safety guidelines and players weren’t sent off for celebrating with fans – Jamie has chosen to run to the part of the Kop where I stand to celebrate with us supporters his special moment.

Lawrence only ever scored 14 times in his 170 appearances for the club, so this strike – which ultimately proves the winner in one of the last genuinely exciting FA Cup matches before the magic of the cup began to wane at all levels – can be viewed as a peak moment in his Bantams career. Certainly Jamie is fondly remembered for the occasional brilliant goal, such as against Norwich that same season, and West Ham and Tottenham in the Premiership a year later, but it wouldn’t be his first quality to come to our minds when we recall the Londoner’s time at Valley Parade.

Jamie was a battler, with a commendable work ethic that stood out even in a team featuring the likes of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. He would give everything he had to the cause, running up and down the right flank defending as equally effectively as he attacked. Most of us fans lapped it up – a rare real life example of the myth that we’ll always get behind a player who might not be the best, so long as they put 110% effort.

Not everyone agreed though, and in some ways there was almost a snobbish attitude displayed by Lawrence’s dissenters. Jamie was a poor player with limited ability, they argued, but he gets away with not being given a hard time because he hides behind his work rate. In the days when Peter Beagrie struggled to win over the crowd and was at one stage packed off on loan to Everton, some argued Lawrence should be criticised as widely too.

Yet Lawrence’s work rate and application levels stood out to me as inspiration rather than a disguise. Sure he wasn’t the greatest player in the world, but without working so hard on his game and displaying such passion, those skilful qualities he did possess would never have been seen either. Lawrence grafted to win our trust and respect, and once we supporters, team mates and management built up our faith in him we were rewarded by ever-improving levels of performances. While other members of the 1997-98 mid-table first division squad were left behind by the bar been risen the following season, Lawrence kept pace and became a key figure in the club’s promotion to the Premier League and successful survival in the top flight the year after.

The lessons we can take remain as relevant today as they were then. Without working hard, mastering the basics and showing the right attitude – none of us would progress so well in our own careers and even in life. I’ve personally learned from Jamie that demonstrating an aptitude for hard work can get you a long way in winning over people; and the greater responsibility and promotions you crave – offering you the chance to really show your worth – are the rewards. In contrast I’ve seen other friends go into a job believing they are above it and then failing to put in the effort or focus on improving, leading them to fall at the first hurdle.

Not all footballers can be as good at taking on players as Lawrence (I remember him selling Steven Gerrard a dummy once), nor are they capable of curling the ball into the top corner from 30 yards like he did at West Ham in 2000. But there’s no reason why any player can’t look to emulate him in the effort levels they put in on the pitch and at the training ground.

Sadly, players that came close to matching Lawrence’s work rate have been few and far between in recent years.

So I loved the fact I got to hug Lawrence at the front of the Kop that day. Because his stella goal was the result of him trying and succeeding to overcome personal failings and win over doubters; of recognising the need to improve and taking responsibility to do so; of building up confidence in yourself and in other people’s minds.

And of how anyone – if they work hard enough – can surprise themselves and those around them in what they are truly capable of.

Losing the losing culture

The Bradford City joint-chairman Mark Lawn is rarely shy in expressing his opinion, but in the two weeks following the club’s announcement it was staying at Valley Parade next season the 50-year-old has become especially vocal in his views. Some of the opinions expressed disagreeable perhaps, but much of it has been worthy of note.

Lawn’s latest comment, that he believes there is a “losing culture” surrounding the club, certainly offers an interesting talking point. Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Lawn revealed his determination to instil a winning mentality that has even included him talking to youth team coaches Peter Horne and David Wetherall to ensure it’s adopted at all levels.

All laudable in principle, but what exactly is a “losing culture” in the first place? And how do you ingrain a winning ethos into the fabric of the club? A losing culture would allude to issues over mentality and the habitual or characteristic mental attitude in responding to situations. Psychological issues, in other words. Culture, however, suggests it is more to do with the working environment rather than problems with individuals (and years of changing personnel, with no tangible difference, backs this up). So how can that be reversed?

Lawn also commented about his losing culture view: “I said that to one manager here and he hit the roof.” This reaction – either from Stuart McCall or Peter Taylor – would appear understandable given it is was their job to build the right atmosphere for players to give their best, so it would seem like a personal criticism over their ability and attempts to do so. Peter Jackson has previously made similar statements about a losing culture existing at Valley Parade, but this is easier for him to say when he was trying to secure the manager position and present himself as the solution.

Now he has to cross the line to being on the side of the players, and in time may find others declaring he is part of the problem.

And by then the viewpoint will probably be very different for Jackson. From inside the confines of the dressing room he leads, next season he will have a much greater appreciation over the level of pressure he and his players will be under to deliver results from those outside of it. Supporters who will cheer when things are going well, but who are very quick to hammer players when they are struggling rather than offer encouragement. The losing culture on the field is heavily contributed to by those in the stands.

Then there’s the boardroom. McCall will be able to tell Jackson only too well about the weight of demands City’s Board are capable of placing upon the team and manager. Roger Owen’s attacks on McCall in December 2009 were said to have led to the City legend angrily confronting Owen; while Lawn’s own relationship with McCall, a long-time friend, had become so strained they were no longer talking. Over the last few weeks Lawn has publicly criticised Taylor’s style of management too. McCall and Taylor were once looked upon so favourably, but when the chips were down both can argue they were not supported as adequately as they believe they should.

At Bradford City we supporters and Board members have become used to seeing the team fail to match our expectations and so possess a mentality of quickly turning on them when they do. People justify booing and screaming abuse on the basis that – if they didn’t – the players would think they can get away with under-performing and so, because of the boos, they will try harder in future. Those who try to go against this grain by offering encouragement can find they are criticised too. Last season, for example, I was shot down at one game for trying to be supportive of Luke O’Brien.

We fail to achieve our goals year on year, and the frustration builds. Come the next season optimism is allowed to flourish and the atmosphere improves for a time; but as soon as things start to go wrong criticism is quickly aired with the weight and baggage of the past decade of failure. Too many people are quiet and shy in praise when the team actually is succeeding, but are ready to jump down their throats when they start to fail.

That’s a lot of responsibility for the players to have to bear, and it could be argued that Taylor especially could have done things differently to ease that pressure. In the home dressing room last season, he put up special signs for every year the club had achieved “nothing” in a season, going back to 2000-1, as a way of motivating them. The thinking, presumably, was to get the players to contemplate how much success would be cheered if they could deliver it to the club, but you could argue this history became a burden. Certainly the players didn’t respond in the way Taylor would have intended.

So much of the expectation on the club is out of the control of the players and management, and so it has become a problem they alone cannot fix. Already Lawn has talked optimistically about City’s playing budget next season, and come August many of us will be joining him in building up the club’s chances of promotion. It’s good to be confident of course, but expecting too much seems to set us up for disappointment and leads to negativity and anger towards the players.

Success in football so often goes to those who react best in defeat; but when the boos and grumbles are so loud, the pressure for the next game grows so large and reminders of recent failed history are so regular it hinders the team’s ability to produce that perfect reaction. If only we could stay on their side in the bad times as well as good, they would surely be more likely to look forwards with determination rather than dread.

This losing culture runs through the whole club and, as interesting as it is to talk about tackling it, perhaps the only way we’ll ever build a winning mentality is when we truly recognise that we all have a major role to play in making it happen.

Clayton Donaldson and Bradford City: head vs heart

To the unobserved, the battle to secure League Two hotshot Clayton Donaldson’s signature would place Bradford City as rank outsiders. Championship outfit Coventry City, newly-promoted to League One Chesterfield and moneybags league newcomers Crawley Town are among a host of clubs said to be chasing the 29-goal striker; and so the appeal of a failing League Two side which has recently struggled to pay their players would seem limited.

Yet the Bantams have an emotional attraction to Donaldson that no other interested party can match, and newly confirmed manager Peter Jackson is hoping romanticism can override career progression or opulence in swaying Donaldson to head to Valley Parade. Born in Manningham and having grown up in the youth set-up until being shown the door at 15, Bradford City has one distinct advantage over all the other clubs trying to secure his signature – he has actually dreamed of playing for them.

But will that be enough? The psyche of a footballer is one we supporters regularly struggle to understand. While we will all have shared childhood afflictions of wanting to play for our football club, somewhere along the line that passion for one team seems to disappear in professional footballers and an outlook that a club is an employer, rather than an institution, takes over.

Sure we supporters, in our own careers, can sometimes hold a special affection for our employers and be loyal enough not to move on, but a job is a job and ultimately it’s up to our employer to keep us happy or we’ll get itchy feet. Many footballers seemingly view clubs in a similar way.

Yes, it’s a privileged career and most decent footballers know and appreciate that, but one can imagine the sort of frustrations we have with our own jobs and employers being replicated by players: “The wages are rubbish compared to what we could be earning elsewhere”, “I hate the boss”, “I’m sick of how we’re treated.” However special it is to play football, it is, at the end of the day, their job.

So footballers who have gone onto truly live those childhood ambitions of becoming heroes for their club are few and far between. Wayne Rooney still talks of being an Everton supporter, but didn’t stick around at Goodison Park for very long. It’s difficult to argue with his reasoning either, as he prepares to take part in his third Champions League final for Manchester United this evening. But as he hopes to score the winning goal against Barcelona, who’s to say he didn’t harbour childhood dreams of playing in the European Cup final for Everton?

Meanwhile Steven Gerrard, Liverpool born and bred, continues to play for his underachieving team. He’s had some tempting offers to move on in the past and came close to doing so, but he’s forgone career progression and trophies to continue flying the flag for Liverpool – at times truly appearing as though he is walking alone with a bunch of average team mates. His had a great career for sure, but somehow the fact he’s arguably the finest English midfielder of the past decade isn’t widely recognised because he’s not at the summit of his sport. These days he doesn’t even get to play in the Champions League.

Does Gerrard care? Probably, but playing for his beloved team is more important to him.

But it’s not just about who you grew up supporting. Stuart McCall didn’t support City as a kid, but no one would dispute that his feelings for the club are as strong as any of us supporters. Michael Flynn will have even less reason to care, but despite failing to hit the heights last season the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch demonstrates 100% commitment to our cause. Jackson has recently stated he wants to find players who truly want to play for City, and although he wanted to release Flynn he probably has the ideal man to build this vision of a team around.

Disappointingly in recent years, it’s rarely been the case that City players have been bothered enough about playing for the Bantams over another club. Two years ago I personally felt hugely sad that Dean Furman and Nicky Law opted not to sign permanently for City, after successful loan spells. Furman in particular was very popular with supporters, and his reasoning not to stay on at Valley Parade – because he wanted to play at the highest level possible – seemed unfulfilling when he rocked up at Oldham.

Sure it was a division higher, but with crowds at Boundary Park half the size of City it hardly looked a glamorous step up. Instead he could have remained at City, built on his reputation and became a true cult hero at a football club who would be talked about for decades after.

Similarly Law – who was said to have been put off from signing for City by the reduced likelihood of a promotion push that next season (2009/10) – chose Rotherham for the Millers’ greater potential and more lucrative salary. Two years on Law remains in the same division as City – though in fairness he might have been part of Blackpool’s Premier League adventure after Rotherham turned down a bid from the Seasiders 18 months ago – and his career has only minimally progressed.

So what of Donaldson? If you were in his shoes, would you want to re-sign for a club who once rejected you and who seem unlikely to rise up the leagues in the near future, just because it’s your hometown? Would you not want to play in the sizable Ricoh Arena for Coventry against clubs like Birmingham and Cardiff, two divisions higher? Would the no doubt lure of higher wages at Crawley persuade you to move South, talking up how impressed you are by the club’s “ambition”?

There are a number of similarities to City’s chase for Donaldson and the hunt for Michael Boulding three years ago. Boulding had scored 25 goals for a relegated League Two side, and a host of clubs made advances. City, in a much stronger financial position and publically talking up achieving back-to-back promotions, were a leading club in the chase. Boulding signed, but it didn’t work out for a number of reasons. While Boulding argues otherwise, you wonder whether he cared enough about City when the chips were down. Certainly he was too often anonymous in games for my liking.

This time around City, with Donaldson, are somewhere near the back of the queue to sign him. If the decision is taken by the head overruling the heart, the Bantams have no chance. But if the desire to be a hero at the club he grew up supporting – in front of his family and friends – is more important, Donaldson will be coming home.

And for Jackson the pursuit of Donaldson is a no-brainer. Because, if he gets his man, he can be confident Donaldson will be signing for reasons he wants all of his team to personify next season.

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part two, off the pitch

If there was one chant that must have been music to the ears of Bradford City chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes it will have been the chimes at Southend that rang “Love the club, hate the team.

The team which failed on the field were cast as no hopers who could not care less and the manager who brought them to the club maligned. Regardless of your feelings about both players and manager(s) those in the boardroom must have thought it was just a matter of time until the Valley Parade ire would be turned in their direction.

And, dear reader, you will have your own thoughts on how justified that ire would be.

The season started off with Bradford City’s directors proudly backing Peter Taylor as the new manager although later Mark Lawn would tell us that he had reservations about the appointment having watched Taylor’s style of play. Nevertheless City – according to the directors one of whom had reportedly fallen out with former boss Stuart McCall – had the right manager in place and promotion was on the way.

Mike Harrison of The City Gent disagreed and felt the wrath of Valley Parade being unceremoniously called into the club to explain his prediction of eighth. Come the end of the season the “ludicrously optimistic” jokes wrote themselves but one could share a worry for the Bantams directors had they not handled the situation so poorly. Feedback loops at football clubs and Bradford City have been in a negative loop all season. Taylor’s arrival was an attempt to change that with the hope that positive thinking off the field would be manifest on it. That change of culture – from negative to positive – is important but the way to achieve it is more a matter of winning hearts and minds than applying the strong arm.

The club’s confidence stemmed from Peter Taylor’s appointment and from the traits which Taylor brought which were lacking in the previous manager. One could argue past the return of bovinity about the merits and methods of both but Taylor had been involved in success and knew what that success looked like. When he told the club that the team needed overnight stays, new suits and Tommy Doherty then the directors put hands into pockets and found the money for them, or so it was said.

Doing, and having to do

Savings were made at Valley Parade: A burst pipe fixed here, a new lighting system there; but most impressively Mark Lawn announced that – with some sadness – City were relocating to training facilities in Leeds with Apperley Bridge no longer considered suitable. The day before pre-season and suddenly Apperley Bridge was fine, the training facilities Taylor demanded to join the club were not forthcoming and the mood for the season was set. After the cameo of Lee Hendrie he and his uncle John were at a supporters evening chaired by Lawn who made it clear that despite the urgent need of the summer to replace the facilities they must now be considered good enough. He told BfB that they had to be, because there was no money to change them.

Taylor, in the meantime, had started using the relaid Valley Parade pitch to train on and credit to all that it withstood a bad winter better than many other surfaces. The trapping of success include a good surface and on that City have progressed this year. The supporters – underwhelmed probably – respected it enough to stay off it after the final game of the season.

The winter of bad weather also saw a season ticket promotion which prompted calls of amateurism from the club on the one hand and on the other asked questions about the strategic direction of the club. There is a worry that the club create direction and policy on the hoof and looking at a “cheap and cheerful” promotion which prompted a response of being “cheap and nasty” those thoughts seemed to be confirmed. It was not just the cackhandedness of the advertisement but its inability to communicate the message that City’s season tickets were superb value, a message which was lost in the infamous Santa Dave advert.

All of which led to a comment in The City Gent and threats passing from club to fanzine. Legal action was mentioned and once again the club was at loggerheads with supporters. One has to wonder if – on reflection over the season – these fall outs between the directors and the supporters which increasingly crop up should be approached differently. Mark Lawn’s car is vandalised and he talks about winding the club up. Mike Harrison talks out of turn and there are threats. The City Gent’s John Armitage criticises and there is talk of legal action.

Perhaps it is time to look at a new approach?

2004, and all that

Administration looms large over the summer and it will be said that this is not the time to talk about anything except securing the future of the club but those who battled to put the club in the hands of Julian Rhodes in 2004 for Mark Lawn to join him in 2007 will recall only too well the talk of how supporter would be at the heart of the new Bradford City. The club saved by the fans would not forget the fans. If 2010/2011 tells us anything it is that the supporters of Bradford City are to toe the line.

I speak as someone who has sat with Mark Lawn this season. He is not an unreasonable man and in talking to him one cannot help but be sympathetic to a man who clearly loves the club, clearly is trying his best, and clearly is crying out for assistance. Jason and I heard him talk about how the supporters interact with the club. How the OMB is used in anonymity and how a “Friends of Bradford City” scheme could be used to raise much needed funds and while these things are true the tone of the conversation stands as a stark contrast to 2004’s rhetoric. The club that was saved by the fans putting in a six figure sum is now telling them what to think, or so it might seem.

Lawn cuts an isolated figure at times. He admits to his blustering style but one wonders if it belays a worry that his aims for the club will never be realised. He is at great pains to paint out that his door is always open but one wonders if an open door is enough. Bradford City as a club pledged itself in 2004 to be more about the supporters. Perhaps Lawn and his fellow directors need to engage with supporters in a more active way. Show me a hundred Bradford City fan and I’ll show you a hundred skilled people across many fields. The only time these people ever get asked for help is when there is snow to be cleared from the field on a winter afternoon.

Indications from the club are that there are developments on this and it will be interesting how much the club are prepared to let go in the interests of supporter involvement. The benefits of supporter involvement are all in engagement. At the moment Bradford City is a product consumed by supporters – and in that context the customer complaints procedure is pretty bad – and how long any club should carry on in that way is debatable. In 2004 this was going to be our Bradford City. That spirit needs revisiting especially as we once again skirt the waters of administration if only because the loss of it has contributed to rendering the club in the position it now finds itself in.

Should this not all wait until after Administration?

There seems little doubt that Bradford City are in for a torrid summer and one might think that talk about learning the lessons form 2010/2011 off the field can wait until we know for sure that there will be a 2011/2012. Were you to think that, dear reader, you may be correct.

However our experience after 2004 tells us that things said in the heat of a troubled summer fade in the winters of a season and many of the problems the club finds itself in can be put down to the distance that emerged between supporters and City in the last ten years.

The atmosphere at Valley Parade is atrocious but with supporters set firmly is customers rather than invested parties there is little invitation to do much more than pay up and turn up, little reason for many to treat professional football as a thing they are invested in.

In addition the boardroom is out of touch with supporters. For sure there is a note of websites such as this one, of the Official Message Board, of The T&A comments section, of The City Gent but these are the publication of enthusiasts not the word of the man on the Clayton Omnibus. Small samples taken as representative have informed decisions made with the club.

Geoffrey Richmond would not take a meeting with any supporter’s organisation which numbered fewer than 4,000 members but – in a very real way – handfuls of people on the Internet are setting an agenda which the club respond to and those people are not necessarily representative of the general view of supporters and it is that general view of the people who tossed tenners into buckets in 2004 which the club losing sight of.

Moreover though as the club struggles to survive once more the need for vigilance in the boardroom could not be more clear. Supporters are a constant for the club which is under threat from a boom or bust policy which targets promotion. The spirit of 2004 suggested that involvement from supporters would create guardians for the club within the boardroom to prevent us from reaching this situation again.

Yet here we are.

The lesson of 2010/2011 off the field is a correlation between the deterioration of the relationship between Bradford City’s boardroom and Bradford City’s supporters

The grudge match

When one talks of job ending decisions at Bradford City: Nicky Law’s damning of City fans as being worth a goal for the other side, Paul Jewell taking meetings at Sheffield Wednesday, Colin Todd’s punch up with Lee Crooks; Jim Jefferies made his on a muddy field in Bradford in early December 2001.

No one really knows what exactly the gnarled Scot growled across the training ground to his club captain Stuart McCall as the midfielder tried to get stuck in in a training match but the effect of the words became obvious.

The shouted phrase, and what happened after, started the end of at the club Jefferies and the end of Bradford City’s attempt to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking.

The words were “You’ve lost yer legs” and nothing has been the same since they were uttered.

Hearts vs Motherwell

Hearts face Motherwell in the SPL this weekend bringing into competition for the first time the two men at the centre of that ruckus in Jefferies and Stuart McCall.

McCall’s Motherwell lag behind Hearts in the division but both are expected to make the cut at the top of the league which will pay this game little regard. Hearts look set to claim a Europa League place but in a league dominated by Celtic and Rangers this is exactly the type of SPL march that seems to pass without much notice.

Jefferies path from Valley Parade took him to Kilmarnock where he posted respectable finishes for the modest club before returning to the club he joined City from. His success – it seems – is in making Hearts the best of the rest.

McCall’s Motherwell bubble around the middle of the SPL. His aim is to get into the top six before the league is split in two and in the longer term it is to move the third Glasgow club closer to the other two. It is said that McCall got the Motherwell job after the chairman – who fell out of love with the idea of appointing the former Rangers player after seeing his decline at City – fell back in love after seeing how Peter Taylor struggled with the Bantams.

There is little significance to most in the match up of the teams if the managers, but south of the border in this corner of West Yorkshire a mention is merited.

Folklore

Skip back to the legs comment and a month or so on top of that and – so folklore has it – Jefferies assistant Billy Brown told his boss straight that to get City going in the right direction they had to break the dressing room (one assumes to rebuild it) and that they had to take on McCall to do that.

Nominally McCall was a part of the coaching staff having been assistant manager under Chris Hutchings but the midfielder had long since been excluded in that role. As City sunk on the field the feeling was that the management had to increase that exclusion.

So when the Bantams took the field post-bust up for a televised game against Manchester City they did so with the skipper purposefully missing for the first time since his return to the club three and a half years before.

The game was lost, and not long after Jefferies was resigning and returning to Scotland. McCall carried on playing, moving to Sheffield United, for three years. His final match being a reserve game for the Blades at Valley Parade.

By that time City had become locked in the slump that continues to this day. The defeat to Manchester City and Jefferies departure turned that season from one of instant return – it stated with a 4-0 win over Barnsley – into struggling under Nicky Law to get to safety as quickly as possible. Administration followed.

The merits of the decision are easily criticised in retrospect. McCall provide he had more to give and Gary Locke – Jefferies chosen replacement – found it impossible to match McCall’s abilities on the field.

Perhaps McCall had been a problem for Jefferies to build a new side around the likes of Locke, Andrew Tod, and Juanjo but that aim was to conduct a curious experiment. An experiment in trying to prove SPL players could be transplanted into the English game and play at a high level. Middlesbrough tried the same thing this season, to similar effect.

The grudge?

One wonders what City would have been like without the bust up. Would Jefferies have gone had McCall meekly have accepted his being put out to pasture or would he have stayed at the club and what would the effect of that been? Had McCall allowed Jefferies to make his mistake without an argument – and argument which at the time prompted questions about his appropriateness – then would he have been given his chance to manage City back in 2002? One can but speculate.

Ten years on one wonders how significant the event was. Certainly City were not heading anywhere good under Jefferies but admitting that the Premiership return would not happen is as good a place as any to mark the start of these troubled times.

McCall may credit Jefferies with giving him the motivation to carry on playing. Having been told he could not do something made him want to do it. Perhaps it is that which gives him the motivation to get on in management at Motherwell.

Playing four times a season, every season, and referencing something that is ten years and an era of a different club ago this is no one’s grudge match. McCall tries to prove himself as manager and Jefferies attempts (and succeeds in many respects) to return to the reputation he had before he came to England and Bradford City.

Everything else seems a world away.

In praise of Bradford City 1998/99

This article first appeared in the excellent football website The Two Unfortunates in February 2011.

The Crumbling Terrace: Pre-amble One
Towards the end of the 2008/9 season

There we are, on the crumbling terrace of Morecambe’s old Christie Park ground,, watching Bradford City and wondering how it all came to this.

It turns out in the game that City will be robbed a winning goal when Peter Thorne bundles in from close range and that a line’s flag twitch – the doubt going to Morecombe’s on loan Rene Howe – will bring defeat and more so bring to an end Stuart McCall’s expensively assembled side’s promotion push. Those things are for the future though because the more pressing problem is that the police are taping up a barrier in front of us telling us that we can’t lean on it because “a bit or pressure and it will be over.”

How did it come to this? Why did it come to this?

The Man Who Would Not Walk Again Takes Flight: Pre-amble Two
Late 1998

Ashley Ward has scored for Barnsley – recently of the Premier League – and they are going to sneak a 1-0 win at Valley Parade despite having only ten men but something in the Bantams psyche seems to struggle. Let us not kid ourselves, we have watched Bradford City team edged out of games, losing 1-0 and being a dash unlucky about it, for decades now.

There is something in Paul Jewell’s side which seems to denounce that idea. Jewell is a rookie, younger than his captain McCall at 32, but he seems to have built a team which has the character and desire that was sadly lacking from the man as a player.

Two goals were scored in injury time, both by Gordon Watson a player who 18 months early had almost lost his leg after a tackle described as “The worst I have ever seen in football” by Chris Waddle. This is his comeback game.

Watson had been taken from the pitch to hospital where he had almost lost his leg to a tackled six minutes into a local derby with Huddersfield Town. Kevin Grey’s “tackle” came when City were already one down and while an equaliser was scored the whole game was overshadowed by an horrific injury. Then manager Chris Kamara had burst onto the field in anger, his face turning sickly on seeing the wound. Everything was overshadowed.

Now he was back and in five minutes Gordon Watson scored two goals and turned a blank return into two points. Moreover though he maintained the belief that seemed to have dripped into the club under Paul Jewell. The manager from nowhere brought a belief from somewhere, and it had changed the club.

Two goals in five minutes. It seemed fated, everything seemed fated.

The Promise

May 1999

On the 9th of May at around 2:17 on a bright May afternoon Bradford City were promoted to the Premier Division of English football as runners up to Sunderland following a season which had threatened nothing at all.

The opening day – a defeat to Stockport – saw returning club legend Stuart McCall injured and was followed by two points in six games and suddenly it seemed that the team that cost a staggering £3.5m to build and included City’s first two £1m plus signings in Issiah Rankin and Lee Mills was going to achieve very little.

Hope came after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United where the Bantams looked more than capable and belief came from that, or so it seemed, and that belief was cemented by the return of skipper McCall and a gradual climb up the table that included Barnsley, 2-1, and Gordon Watson.

Watson’s story seemed to typify the playing squad who had all come back from some kind of injury or – in the case of McCall – exile. A key figure in the club’s failed push for promotion in 1988 McCall always had “unfinished business” with City and so as he anchored the side using the wealth of experience that comes from an FA Cup final, World Cup goals, multiple titles with Rangers he made good on that promise.

When City were promoted – a 3-2 win at Wolves on the final day of the season securing it – it was very much McCall’s promise manifest. Certainly a season of performances represents something precious to any football supporter. We know, as supporters, that players are more mercenary than we would like to admit and when a player seems to match us for how much he cares we cherish that player.

And that group of players, in this case. Players who seemed invested in the outcome of the season which offered a deliverance for many. Watson from injury and the ghost that haunted him, McCall from the previous failure.

Peter Beargie had arrived a summer before under allegations – and later convictions – to do with a sexual assault while he was at Manchester City. Beagrie faced prison when he arrived in his first, ineffectual, season but the change of manager from Kamara to Jewell seemed to have focused the mind. Everything Beagrie did seemed to have a point to it, every cross made to perfection, hanging impressively for Lee Mills to arrive onto. At the end of the season three quarters of the club’s goals came from Beagrie, Mills or fellow striker Robbie Blake.

If Beagrie had faced prison then fellow winger Jamie Lawrence had been there. A convicted bank robber Lawrence had been something of a novelty on his release signing for Sunderland and then Leicester City but that novelty had faded and Lawrence wound his way to Valley Parade which seemed to be another step in a career of wandering but once again Jewell seemed to focus the mind, tell the player that his achievements were limited only by his belief.

This became Jewell’s hallmark with Bradford City and was a trick he repeated at Wigan Athletic. His ability to take a player and make him perform seemed to border on the magical and no more was this true than with idling forward Robbie Blake.

Blake was a bit part player transfer listed for being pulled over for drink driving in the week Diana died and incapable of nailing down a place in the starting line up despite the odd impressive performance. He was a slow right winger, able to show tricks but without the traction to stick in the team, until Jewell’s intervention.

Jewell got under Blake’s skin – famously they used to have bust ups with Jewell offering him nowhere to hide and dubbing him a “sulker” – but whatever the means the ends were impressive. Direct, skilful and cunning Blake formed a partnership with Lee Mills which tormented the division.

Blake’s anticipation allowed him to feed off the £1m costing target man Mills and grow into the type of player the manager himself felt he could have been had he had the application. The man who used to lay out Kenny Dalglish’s shorts Jewell’s playing career was a cautionary tale used to motivate the strikers he managed.

As a signing Mills – sadly – turned out to be a one season wonder after problems with drink cost him his place in the Premier League but for that season he represented some canny business for the club. Chris Kamara had been keen on Mills while the player was at Port Vale but it took Jewell’s determination to put in the £1m bid and secure the player. Belief, it seemed, was the watchword.

Another player who suggested much for some season and was anointed by Jewell’s belief was midfielder Gareth Whalley. Whalley, a £650,000 recruit from Crewe, became a midfield partner for McCall adding a sly pass to the captains driving heart. Darren Moore seemed too big, too cumbersome, to be a Premiership player but Jewell made him the defensive rock partnering him with one of Jon Dreyer, Andy O’Brien or Ashley Westwood on the basis of the opposition.

Gary Walsh, veteran of the Manchester United bench was as sure as one could imagine between the posts. He had a calm confidence about him that seemed to exude throughout the team. Walsh had left Old Trafford after collecting a lot of medals while hardly getting his kit dirty and ended up at Middlesbrough where he had been a small part of Bryan Robson’s Teeside revolution but in Bradford City he seemed to have found a place where his achievements would be recognised on the merit they had.

As a keeper Walsh was something to behold. Possessed of an unerring sense of positioning Walsh was the type of goalkeeper who seemed to suck the ball into his hands. Not for Walsh the need for acrobatics but rather a calm sense of seeming to play the next few second of an attack out and conclude where the best place to be to gather the ball at the end of it would be. A belief, if you will.

Late on in the season £1m brought Dean Windass to the club – a perfect match or player and team – but Windass’s contribution was minor although not insignificant. One bank holiday Monday at Bury with the team running on empty it was Windass who – like Watson before him – pulled three points out of seemingly nowhere.

Not that every signing Jewell made worked well. Full back Lee Todd was signed to replace club man Wayne Jacobs but Jacobs – as he would do all his career – saw off the challenge to win back his place. More obvious though was the £1.3m spent on Arsenal’s young prospect Issiah Rankin – a player of whom Jim Jefferies remarked “could not finish a bowl of cornflakes”- which proved profligate in excess.

A player with lighting quickness Rankin struggled for goals and after a fruitless pair of games at Huddersfield and at home to QPR was dropped for Blake to shift from the right hand side and Lawrence to join the team. Rankin never looked forward again.

Belief, it seemed, was lacking.

And It Was About Belief, Of Course
May 1999 and onwards

All these things eclipsed: The players, the manager, the belief; and they eclipsed in a game at Wolves that lead to two seasons in the Premiership, Benito Carbone, Stan Collymore and the story which is too often told. The first season in the top flight continued much of what had been good about promotion but the sense of hunger that Jewell used to feed the belief had gone. Within a month Watson was gone, Blake and Moore on the transfer list, and slowly things fell apart.

Those years continue to define the club – the financial fallout ruins the club to this day, we are the footnote in discussions about a Paul Scholes wonder goal – but seldom is the making of those days, how we got to a point where we could throw it all away, considered.

So a crumbling terrace in Morecambe and the failing of a promotion campaign and everything seems so far away now. Much further than the positions in the league and the comparison of Christie Park to Old Trafford or Anfield.

The reality of football is that most Autumns turn into hard Winters and joyless Springs. Most players want to achieve but fall short, most teams lack collective belief. This is not the game’s tragedy, the tragedy are those years having seen such a thing, and the wanderer waiting for its return.

The re-shifting of the goal posts

“It’s great to see someone with passion on the touchline”, “You can see how much the club means to him”, “Thank goodness we’re playing attacking 4-4-2 again”. A paraphrasing of the recent sentiments Bradford City supporters have bestowed upon interim manager Peter Jackson, but there’s something very familiar about it all.

For this nature of praise was considered to be negative just 13 months ago. As Stuart McCall was driven out the club following intense Boardroom and supporter pressure, his commitment and passion for the Bantams were argued as not being valid reasons to back him as manager. His attacking brand of football was considered naive. We needed someone with a proven track record, who knew how to get out of this division and who wouldn’t let emotion cloud his judgement. We didn’t need a club legend and we shouldn’t be allowing sentiment to determine who is in charge.

How times change. Or to put it another way, we’ve now seemingly gone back to the future.

Jackson is now talked up as the ideal candidate to revive City, and though he has greater experience than McCall it is still much of the qualities he shares with the now-Motherwell manager which are currying favour. Compare Jackson with another rumoured candidate for the job, Phil Parkinson. Like Jackson he has enjoyed some success as manager – Colchester’s promotion from League One in 2005/06 was an unexpectedly glorious achievement, he also took Charlton to the play offs last season. Like Jackson, he has endured failures as manager. Yet no one is flying the flag for Parkinson to take over, a man who has no previous connections with the club.

The passion for City that Jackson has is a hugely desirable quality, just like McCall’s love for City was considered to be when he first took charge.

Events over the last year have undoubtedly started to reverse the belief that McCall’s loyalty was more a hindrance than a benefit. With greater resources than McCall, Peter Taylor has taken City in a backwards direction. The style of football under Taylor, held up as what was needed a year ago when McCall’s attacking philosophy led to a poor run of form, was widely-derided. Meanwhile the “clueless” McCall has found employment in the top flight of Scottish football, and is so far doing a decent job.

A year or so ago we at BfB were heavily slated by many people for backing McCall. We’re big boys and we can take it, and we’re also above making attempts to state “we told you so” now. Nevertheless this reverting in attitude needs to be acknowledged and minds need to be made up – otherwise a year down the line the passion of Jackson could be considered a bad thing all over again.

Mark Lawn told us that McCall was an ill man when he left the club, and so the parting of ways in February last year was probably the right thing to happen and we shouldn’t be harking back to argue it was a mistake. However, the fact Stuart was so unwell can be partly attributed to the pressure he was placed under by disgruntled supporters and his employees. Instead of receiving support during a difficult time, he had to endure one of City’s directors publically slagging off his efforts and many fans calling for him to be sacked.

Poor results tend to cause that with any manager, but in McCall’s final few weeks so many matches went against City due to inept refereeing; a year on Jackson’s City have won two games with the help of some questionable officiating. A fine line between heroic and hopelessness.

McCall was unlucky at City. Sure he made many mistakes and he was guilty of raising expectations to a level he couldn’t meet; but so much about supporting Bradford City felt good knowing a club legend was at the helm who cared as much as we did, and the amount of goodwill afforded to him to succeed was such a positive force. The way he was driven away left many of us supporters with some emotional scars that have been difficult to heal. Whether you agreed or disagreed he had to go, the way he left was not our finest hour.

The anger wasn’t just directed at McCall, but at many of us supporters who had backed him and tried to have their say. “You know who I blame for the mess the club is in?,” a person who sat near me repeatedly said during McCall’s final weeks. “All those idiot supporters who held up those SOS signs that convinced him into staying (in April 2009).” Well I was one of those idiots, and I don’t think my opinion should have been any less valid than anyone else’s. Oddly this person has been very quiet all season.

Many others uttered similar sentiments in attacking fellow fans. Yet in April 2009 a democratic majority had appealed for McCall to stay on as manager and the fact others were so quick to undermine that verdict and ridicule their fellow supporters  broke down a community which has remained fractious since. As fans we were rarely united under Taylor, but oddly almost everyone agreed he was the right man for the job. The new arguments raged about how some of us – BfB included – were allegedly not backing Taylor positively enough. And then how quick some people were to turn on him.

We’ll never all agree on everything of course, but it is only now after Taylor has departed and McCall’s standing among fans is being restored (history is starting to show that while he may not have done a brilliant job, he didn’t do a bad one either) that the feel-good factor is truly returning.

The point of raking up old ground is not to start another debate about McCall’s departure, nor is there even the slightest intention to argue I and others were perhaps proved right all along. But if those negatives which were directed at McCall are now considered the right qualities in recruiting Bradford City’s next manager, let’s at least have the decency to stick by them if the going gets tough under Jackson.

McCall’s passion for the club was in time viewed as a negative, so – and assuming he gets the job, which appears inevitable – will the same fate befall Jackson in a year’s time? We cannot keep changing the goal posts on what are the right and wrong qualities for the City manager, otherwise we are destined to believe we’ve always made the wrong choice and go for the opposite the next time.

If we are to agree again now that a passion for Bradford City – while not a pre-requisite for any future vacancy – is a desirable and positive trait to look for in a managerial candidate, we shouldn’t go back on this and throw it in Jackson’s face if appointing him on that basis doesn’t go to plan. Whatever the future under Jackson would hold, he will be entitled to expect support from those who are so vociferously calling for him to get the job now.

Above all let’s just start treating our managers better, especially those who genuinely do care as much as we do.

A movement in the second string section

Peter Jackson makes some good points when he talks about bringing Bradford City reserves back to Valley Parade from their half season long sojourn at Eccleshill’s Plumpton Park but the change in venue asks questions about the way City are run and affords uncomfortable answers.

The Interim Manager’s logic is sound. To beat “the Valley Parade fear factor” players need to play more often at Valley Parade but coming just seven months after the much heralded measures to keep the pitch smooth it seems that the Bantams have once again abandoned a policy in the mid-term of its development.

This is a common theme for City and one which has long since started to question the appropriateness of what emerges from the club.

It is important to have a better pitch, but now it is not. It is important to have new training facilities, but then that “could be used as an excuse”, it is important that the player wear suits.

The list continues further back than most of us care to remember. It was important at one point to have a Defensive, Offensive and Midfieldive Coaches under Nicky Law. One struggles to recall why.

So let us not say that all these changes are wrong, some put right things which were previously done badly, some put things in the way the new manager wants it, but all have a consumption of resources and suggest a club without a plan of how to get to success.

The first point is a problem in a practical sense. There is only so much money comes into the club year on year and we can all think of a better use for that that making changes to things considered essential by the previous manager.

If Peter Jackson decides the players can turn up to games in pajamas – fitting for the long coach trips he considers essential – then director Roger Owen is left with a squad of suits he paid for at the behest of Peter Taylor and a feeling that he need not have bothered. Even in that sense it is wasted resource.

Moreover though these changes paint a picture of City as being the sort of club who rather than having a plan and a way of doing things which will bring success so craved are able to be influenced into pretty much any decision on the basis of the last football expert (manager, if you will) who walks into the room.

Without a consistent approach – with policy changed on an ad hoc basis – the club end up tail chasing trying to fulfil the requests of one manager, then flipping those requests for another.

While debate still goes on about Peter Taylor as a manager there is no doubt in my mind that he is a man who knows what success at a football club looks like. He has seen it and been part of it often enough to know – even if he could not put it in place at City – and in terms of laying out a roadmap to improvement there is no one at the club even near his level of qualification.

City need domain knowledge of footballing success. They need someone in the boardroom with enough nouse to be able to tell a manager if moving the reserves here or there is a good idea and to balance the cost of that with the effectiveness. They need someone who can help the board manage the manager.

Stuart McCall had no problem with Apperley Bridge, Peter Taylor took one look at the place and demanded a change. Peter Jackson is used to far better but wraps it up in bring “a proper club”. With these opinions voiced in the last sixteen months by three managers is it worth the club looking into moving? Who can make that decision for the board considering the differences in opinions of different managers?

Is it worth moving the reserves? Taylor says yes, Jackson says no and the City board – as they should – back the man who is in charge of the club but to do that with confidence they need to acquire more knowledge of what makes a successful club to inform that judgement.

Without that they are left taking the judgement of this year’s manager and paying for making changes for the judgements if the last.

What to swear when you are in Rome

Bradford City want to talk to Accrington Stanley’s John Coleman about being the next Bradford City manager. Coleman wants to talk but it seems that Accrington Stanley want compensation for their manager and City do not have that sort of money. Insert your own comment about paying interim managers here, dear reader, I’m all commented out.

Nevertheless it seems that Coleman would like a word with the Bantams too making all the noises around the idea that City – as a club – can take him where his ambition drives. After 526 games at The Crown Ground the 48 year old believes that he has something else to give at a bigger club.

He is right – or rather he is right that Bradford City are a bigger club – but how much he has to give is probably not his decision. Third in the list of the longest serving managers to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger Coleman has been in his job since 1999. Peter Taylor was in his for forty six games.

Taylor’s replacement – on what if John Coleman or fellow interviewee John Hughes had their way would be a very short term basis – by Peter Jackson has been greeted with some considerable delight in some quarters. It is a generational thing of course and to those who are of a certain age then Jackson alongside Stuart McCall, Ces Podd and John Hendrie in the club’s pantheon. The image of him kissing the curiously tube like Canon League Division Three trophy in May 1985 is no one’s enduring image of the day, but it is the one we would all prefer to remember one.

Replacing the five time promoted Taylor Jackson – as with Stuart McCall compared to Colin Todd – pales into insignificance for experience but it is hoped that his connection to the club will steer him good. That in having the club in his bones his belief will be a more powerful agent than anything that the hired hand could muster.

In his bones, perhaps in his blood. There is much made of the colour of the Oh Neg that flows through the man’s veins. If Stuart McCall was the wounded idealist feeling every result – even his next job saw him with claret and amber – and Peter Taylor the academic unhurt by scores then Jackson is the opportunist able to find the right thing to say at the right time.

When in Rome swear you are claret and amber, unless talking to Lazio supporters then you bleed blue and white.

Which is not a criticism of the man just a recognition – were it needed – that if one wants to have a career in professional football one needs to be flexible about one’s passions. George Graham managed Arsenal, John Rudge went to Stoke after decades at Port Vale. Matt Busby played for Liverpool, John Hendrie for Leeds. Perhaps Jackson is Bradford City’s Brian Clough ousted from one rival to lead another.

Certainly if he is the opportunist then this short term role he has at City is his opportunity and opportunity that has been presented because of his connection to Bradford City. It is not easy to imagine the likes of Andy Richie or Mel Machin (The shoulder’s to Jackson’s time at Huddersfield) being given the Valley Parade job let alone being well received in it. Jackson’s prior connection serves him well.

We should not speak ill of this shield of popularity – it was that shield and its ability to allow the manager space to build the club which had me excited about Stuart McCall’s appointment – but with John Hughes and John Coleman interviewing and rumours that the club has set its sights on Keith Hill (Quote Mark Lawn: “We would all like a Keith Hill”) or Rochdale or Alan Knill of Bury (Para-Quote Mark Lawn: “But even there I’d be thinking play-offs three times and no promotion?”)

In Jackson City have one of the better qualified and highest profile of any of the people considered to be connected with the club in a significant manner – although Carlisle United manager Greg Abbott and the guy at Motherwell who did what Rangers could not might be considered above and Ipswich’s Paul Jewell certainly is – but considering the Bantams alarming turn around of players per season in the last fifteen years it is not surprising that a whole host of managers have some Bantams connection.

Chris Wilder – the Oxford manager – meandered to Valley Parade at some point in the 1990s before exiting for the team he supported in Sheffield United but one has to wonder if three months at a club a decade and a half ago is even worth considering as a prior connection to the club.

And so City’s joint chairman are presented with a choice between Jackson – who represents a significant link to the club’s past – and one of the interviewed managers who has no connection but (in some cases) great track records. In short, it seems, they have a chance to decide between the club hero or the CV. There is an irony there.

The question is an open one. What, if there is one, is the benefit of a club appointing a manager who has a previous connection with that club?

Peter Jackson: managerial hybrid or the great divider?

I’ve always looked at the Burnley situation when Owen Coyle left and the fans were calling him every name under the sun. Then they couldn’t wait to get rid of Brian Laws. If you’re a fan, you can’t have it both ways. Be careful what you wish for.” Peter Taylor, February 4 2011

After Stuart McCall – hired due to his passion and commitment – and Peter Taylor – recruited because of his experience and successful track record – both ultimately failed managing Bradford City, does interim arrival Peter Jackson represent a managerial hybrid?

On the face of it and, after a typically showman’s introduction to the media, it would appear Jackson has the potential to offer the best of both worlds. He has been quick to point out that he always puts 110% commitment to the club he is at, and that managing Bradford City is to him extra special. In terms of his outwards personality, he is probably as close to McCall as the club can find to a manager who’ll project how much he cares – and, like Taylor, he’s also successfully guided a club out of this league.

Anyone who once claimed to bleed Blue and White can never be considered as passionate for the Bantams as McCall – who once said that a game of tiddlywinks between City and Town would still really matter. Similarly, Jackson’s managerial pedigree can’t compete with Taylor’s. Nevertheless City’s Board, who have targeted the qualities of passion and previous success during its last two recruitment drives, might see Jackson as the closest to delivering both.

Jackson offers strong commitment to City’s cause, and he has a history of some success. So if McCall’s passion is still considered a good thing and if a track record like Taylor’s is still a desirable quality, there is a strong argument to make for Jackson to be entrusted with the job beyond the next few weeks

However, scratching beyond the surface of Jackson’s managerial record does throw up some doubts, which suggest he may not be the long-term answer for City. His first managerial role at Huddersfield in 1997 undoubtedly started well. Back in the old Division One, the Terriers were cut adrift at the bottom of the league and looked doomed to relegation to the third tier. Jackson made an instant impact after taking over in November; reviving the club and guiding it to a very respectable mid-table placing.

When the momentum was continued in the next season (1998/99), Town topped the league for six weeks before eventually being overtaken by Sunderland and City. As form tailed off badly towards the end of that season, which was far from in keeping with the ambition of new owners, Jackson was sacked. It was no coincidence that he was ordered to pack his desk on the same day the people of Bradford lined the streets to celebrate the Bantams’ promotion to the Premier League.

Yet the Terriers hardly prospered without him and he returned to manage the club four years later when it was at its lowest ebb – two relegations in three seasons, and a period in administration. Jackson famously inherited just eight players, yet guided the club to promotion out of the bottom tier – via a play off final penalty shootout win at Wembley – in his first season back. The following year, in League One, Town narrowly missed the play offs after a superb late run. The year after they made the play offs but were defeated by Barnsley. A year later the club drifted to midtable and he was again sacked.

Which led him to League Two Lincoln and a situation similar to his first spell at Town. The Imps had endured a terrible start and were facing the drop, but Jackson was again able to turn it round and pull Lincoln up to midtable. As he recovered from battling throat cancer, he couldn’t improve on another midtable position the year after. Early on last season he was sacked as the Imps plummeted down the league.

The point of looking back at all of this is to illustrate the recurring pattern of his management. When he takes over a team it usually triggers a sizeable short-term boost and relative instant success, but as times goes by he has proven unable to continue that upwards momentum or take a club onto the next level. He can motivate players for sure; he can improve the quality of the squad by making effective signings. But eventually, it seems, he either takes a wrong turning or goes off the map – and he struggles to recover. He twice left Town better off than when he took over, but couldn’t take them as far as they wanted to go. Though it must be noted that no one who has followed him in the Galpharm dugout has so far being able to do any better.

It can be argued, with some justification, that he was often a victim of the rising expectations his efforts had triggered, but he has rarely made any attempt to downplay them. When Town topped Division One during the early few weeks of the 1998/99 season, he argued loudly and passionately that his team could last the distance – they dropped off. Exactly a decade later he boldly predicted his Lincoln side would earn automatic promotion – they didn’t even come close to the play offs.

All of which offers a huge question mark over what City are looking for in their next manager. If it’s all about achieving that short-term boost of winning some football matches and getting a promotion, Jackson represents a strong candidate. But if we’re looking for the next manager to be here for years and to build up a team – which has in recent times suffered from lack of stability and short-term signings – and climb back up the leagues, one struggles to find enough reasons to believe Jackson is the right man.

And another long-term consideration when assessing him has to be the huge divide of opinion that even his temporary appointment has generated. It is both surprising and interesting that Jackson’s arrival has been very strongly backed by a sizeable number of supporters. Of course he is considered a club legend to supporters of a certain age, but the bad blood his affiliation with Town caused – which, lest we forget, saw him endure some terrible receptions over the years when returning to Valley Parade as opposition manager – has been quickly forgiven and forgotten by many.

Other fans are equally dismayed at his arrival – indeed some supporters are even vowing not to attend games while he remains in charge. It will be very difficult for him to ever successfully unite the fans.

This may not matter in the short-term – especially if Jackson’s arrival prompts the type of immediate boost in form that his introductions at Huddersfield (twice) and Lincoln delivered – but old wounds will prove difficult to heal even over time. Whatever is said now of McCall and Taylor, they were hugely popular choices for the vacancy they filled and, in McCall’s case at least, that helped him retain support during difficult times. In contrast it wouldn’t take too many home defeats for discontent towards Jackson to become notable. Even a promotion from League Two would provide little sentiment if City struggle under Jackson in League One.

For now at least Jackson is in the driving seat for the job. Lose the next two games, and he can blame it on the situation he inherited and propose alternative solutions. Win the next two games, and the clamour for him to get the job full time would be difficult for the Board to ignore. Imagine City get four points from the games with Gillingham and Rotherham, many people are calling for him to get the job but someone else is appointed? At some point down the line, the new manager would have a dodgy period and Jackson will be brought back up into conversation as a fantastic opportunity wasted. The Board would be heavily criticised for sending Jackson away.

Ultimately, it should all come back to properly evaluating what’s required for this role and what the expectations should be. Is it all about getting a promotion and then addressing other issues from a position of greater strength, or should the club be striving to follow longer-term thinking and focus on building on and off the pitch? Is all that’s required from the new manager a promotion next season, or are we looking for someone who’ll be here for years to come – channeling as much thought into matters such as youth development as he does targeting three points the following Saturday?

If the former is the objective, Jackson’s name deserves to figure high up the list of potential successors to Taylor. But if it’s the latter, the best answers probably lie elsewhere.

Why we should all feel very sad and also a little ashamed as Wayne Jacobs tends to the garden

Those near enough to see him up close on Saturday said Wayne Jacobs was in tears as he headed down the touchline at the final whistle of Bradford City’s thrilling win over Stockport. He must have known that this was to be the final time he would embark on that familiar walk to the dressing room at quarter to five. A two-year hiatus apart, Jacobs had been making it either as a player or assistant manager since 1994. But, with Peter Jackson watching on from the Main Stand, as of Monday he will be kicking his heels at home.

Whoever ultimately takes over as City manager from Peter Taylor, it seems highly unlikely there will be a role for Jacobs in the next set up. Indeed the fact he has been overlooked for the caretaker position in favour of Jackson – no doubt a costlier arrangement – says much about the opinion the club’s Board hold of him. But if this is the end, it is an ill-fitting way to treat such a loyal club servant.

Wayne Jacobs should be considered a Bradford City legend. Well, he is in the eyes of most supporters who fondly recall the tremendous workrate and commitment to the cause the left back provided during 318 appearances in Claret and Amber. Signed on a free transfer from Rotherham, Jacobs quickly took our club to his heart and was a key component of the Bantams’ rise from Division Two to the Premier League. Many supposedly-better players were left behind by the club during that unforgettable ascent to the top, but Jacobs kept up despite numerous managers signing left back replacements who looked set to take his first team place.

But all the way through his career there was a soundtrack of grumblings. Sometimes they were faint, sometimes they were very loud – but they rarely went away. This soundtrack was provided by a minority of supporters who, obsessed with always finding a weak link in the team, vocally told the rest of us that he wasn’t good enough and we had to get rid. They reacted with glee as the likes of Lee Todd, Andy Myers and Ian Nolan rocked up, and couldn’t understand it when Jacobs fought hard and managed to retain his place. Despite such commendable determination to fight on, Jacobs was always categorised as soft and an easy touch.

And so when Stuart McCall brought him back to the club as his assistant in 2007, many of us knew what would happen next. Sure enough, complaints about Jacobs the hopeless assistant manager began to be aired and grew in volume as City struggled to gain promotion. Rather than attack McCall, many fans shamefully attempted to pin the blame on Jacobs. No one had any idea how good or bad a job he was doing because none of us see him in action in his role, but faceless morons on the T&A website and elsewhere did their best to chiefly pin the blame on his shoulders. It was telling that you could never find anyone who’d admit in person to disliking the assistant manager.

Too much of this unjustified criticism seemed to be little more than playground bullying. Let’s pick on the ginger one, who is religious and was allegedly a hopeless left back. He’ll be going too easy on the players in the dressing room, he’ll be trying to be their mates. He doesn’t have a clue how to coach people, and all the defensive failings on a Saturday must be his fault. Whisper it quietly that the club’s major success of the last few years – Luke O’Brien – plays Jacobs’ position. His superb development probably had nothing to do with his tutelage.

The criticism died down when Taylor took over, kept Jacobs on as assistant and publicly sang his praises. But as soon as results slipped this season, the blame was once again finding its way to Jacobs. Now some say he has to go because he has been part of two failed management structures; now some are delighted that he is departing the club. I guess the fact Jacobs cried at the end shows he really is a “softie”.

Fortunately the vast majority of supporters, albeit the quieter lot, have not treated Jacobs so disgustingly. We loved Jacobs for being part of the club’s rise to the Premier League, we loved the fact that he was marking David Beckham at Valley Parade. Sure he wasn’t the world’s greatest full back and he made mistakes, but his incredible commitment to the club and towards making up for his own slight weaknesses was an inspiration as we climbed into the Premier League.

So we feel sad that Jacobs is set to no longer be around, and sad that someone who cares so much about the Bantams probably isn’t going to be able to channel that commitment towards reviving it. We’ll never forget Jacobs; but when we do recall him with fondness a part of us will also feel guilty – guilty about the way such a City Gent was badly treated by a section of our fellow supporters for reasons we still cannot understand.

Farewell Jacobs, we really will miss you.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

The managerial failure cycle – bad choices or bad strategy?

The recent demoralising defeats to Port Vale and Chesterfield have once again heaped the pressure on Bradford City manager Peter Taylor. This weekend the Bantams face a crucial home game with Stockport that could determine his immediate future, but already it seems implausible to believe Taylor will be employed at Valley Parade beyond the expiration of his contract in May.

It will soon be time to search again for the man to revive this ailing football club but the fact we keep going around this cycle of getting rid of a manager and replacing him with new one – with little success in reversing a slide down the leagues – can already leave us pessimistic that the next manager isn’t going to be any better.

To blame the club’s decline on poor managers would be over-simplistic and, no matter who takes residence in the dug out after Taylor, there will still be all manner of financial issues that hold us back. Yet so much is reliant upon the manager that it is such a key position to get right, and as thoughts soon turn to filling a vacancy it is a process that needs to be reviewed in order to increase the chances of it succeeding. We can’t just keep hiring and firing and hope the law of probabilities means we’ll stumble on the right manager eventually, can we?

Over the last few days Michael has written two excellent articles – here and here – on what the club and supporters might be looking for in the next manager. Too often, it seems, football clubs in general appear to have no thoughts on the right person to take their club forwards beyond sacking the present incumbent and waiting for CVs to file through in the post. It seems a backwards methodology in these days of recruitment specialists and head hunters and, as City apparently keep getting the choice of manager wrong, it’s worth posing the question of whether this is because as employees we keep making bad choices, or because the qualities we are looking for have either not been considered enough or were misguided.

Let’s try and find out…

Chris Hutchings
“Oh Wetherall’s free! Fantastic header!”

Sunday 14 May 2000, and Martin Tyler’s description of David Wetherall’s winner for Bradford City against Liverpool – which confirmed the club’s Premier League survival – is relayed around the world. A pitch invasion follows the final whistle and the celebrations in and around Bradford go on long into the night.

But something’s not right. Rather than looking joyous or even relieved, manager Paul Jewell is sporting a scowling face that radiates the pressure he has been under from media, supporters and his boss. A few weeks later he quits, fed up of the way he has been treated. And the last successful Bradford City manager we’ve had goes onto enjoy a fine career elsewhere.

It is at this point the look behind the strategy should begin; because although the steep decline that followed was more to do with finances than bad management, nothing on the pitch has proved a success since.

I never agreed with the decision to appoint Chris Hutchings as Jewell’s successor, but it’s difficult to dispute the logic that led to Chairman Geoffrey Richmond promoting Jagger’s assistant. Since Lennie Lawrence departed in 1995, Richmond had enjoyed great success promoting from within after both Chris Kamara and Jewell delivered a promotion and survival in the division above the following season. An Anfield-esqe bootroom culture that promoted continuity was a worthy blueprint.

I never agreed, because the circumstances were different. Kamara and Jewell took over a club with the resources and capacity to be better than they were, but City had now climbed to a level they had not previously reached for almost 80 years – and we needed some experience to help us negotiate uncharted territory. Instead Hutchings was entrusted with the biggest transfer budget this club is ever likely to have, and given a remit to improve the style of football and guide City to a mid-table spot.

History shows this was far too ambitious – not to mention damagingly expensive – and, as clubs like Stoke and Wigan continue to battle to preserve their top flight status year-on-year, the idea that City could prosper by turning to flair and playing 4-4-2 at Old Trafford now seems breathtakingly naive. A more experienced manager would surely have known that the strategy was all wrong.

Jim Jefferies
“It is my opinion that he was an undiluted disaster for Bradford City from beginning to end”

With such a talented squad at his disposal, it was no surprise that Hutchings quickly came under pressure as results were poor, and Richmond – to his later regret – failed to back his man and sacked him. What we needed was an experienced man who’ll who whip these under-achievers into shape. A no-nonsense manager.

Such requirements led to Jim Jefferies, a tough-talking Scot who’d enjoyed great success in Scotland, taking charge. Yet within weeks he was telling Richmond that the club was effectively relegated and needed to get rid of the fancy Dans. It was only December.

In the excellent ‘The Pain and the Glory’ book Richmond was scathing of the job Jefferies did, but in some respects ‘the Judge’ did a good job in at least helping the club prepare for tough financial times ahead by getting rid of high-earners and sellable assets before the end of the season. He was given little money to spend on replacements with City now in Division One, and it proved a thankless task trying to take the club forwards when so much quality was being taken out.

Jefferies left the club after 13 months, and with such fiscal times on the horizon, the search for a new manager centered on candidates with experience of finding lower league bargains and happy to manage on a small budget. Peter Jackson turned the position down, so in came the Lawman.

Nicky Law/Bryan Robson
“I’m just hoping we can bring back the 16,000 who were here for the first game.”

As City went through the turmoil of administration and emerged skint and picking up out-of-contract players from Brentford, it was difficult to imagine a better person to have in charge than Nicky Law. He managed the club well through a very difficult 2002/03 season – targeting battlers over flair – but was a victim of rising expectations soon after. The remaining high earners departed in the summer of 2003, and the wage constraints meant that Law struggled to find replacements good enough to keep City in the division.

So Law was sacked after 12 winless games, and with Gordon Gibb now in charge it is interesting to speculate how his approach to recruiting the next manager differed. Gibb had enjoyed success building a theme park with sufficient attractions to keep people visiting, and it was clear that much of the thought behind appointing former England captain Bryan Robson was to increase falling attendances.

It didn’t work, and a deflated Gibb would depart just 8 weeks later with Administration 2 just around the corner. Meanwhile Robson was benefiting from a larger budget than Law and was able to bring in experienced loan players, with a greater focus on skill over graft. Results were improving, and though it would probably have proved too little too late City might have managed to avoid relegation had the administrators not taken over and being forced to sell key players.

Robson was left trying to keep City up with players he’d declared only two months earlier to not be good enough for the club and who were welcome to leave. With the prospect of limited funds in League One, he felt it was a job he could not continue.

Colin Todd
“I honestly think Colin should be right up there for any manager of the season…I see him as the man to take us back up the football pyramid.”

With the club in such dire straits that summer, appointing a new manager was hardly the most important priority. Colin Todd, assistant to Robson having come close to landing the job the November before, was handed the reins. However sour it ended, it proved a good choice as Todd steadied the ship while the club limped on following the narrow survival of administration. An 11th place in the first season was beyond Julian Rhodes’ expectations:

I thought we would be facing a relegation battle. Bearing in mind this season was going to be about coming out of administration, I thought we might well be facing life in League 2 when the rebuilding could really begin.

Todd’s time in charge was categorised by low budgets and limited stability. He put together a decent team that threatened to finish in the play off picture, and though the following season saw little progress (another 11th place) the Bantams still only lost 13 games. Todd, however, was under pressure from a section of supporters.

Some argued the former England international lacked passion for the job, and that defeats didn’t hurt him enough. Some argued we could do better than treading water in mid-table. But when he was eventually sacked midway through his third season, City drowned.

Rhodes, who had previously backed his man strongly even during difficult times, admitted that the pressure of supporters and stalling attendances was a telling factor in booting out Todd, especially now he had just launched an innovative season ticket deal that required thousands of people’s commitment.

When it gets to the stage where they [supporters] stop coming then something has to be done. At the end of the day it’s their club.

He was right, only now it was our League Two club.

Stuart McCall
“I will see myself as a failure if I don’t get the club back up at the first attempt, and I’ve got the strongest desire anyone could possibly have to achieve that.”

So out with Todd’s lack of passion and after David Wetherall’s unsuccessful caretaker stint, the hunt for the next manager did not require an advert in the classifieds. We needed someone who cares, someone who will get the players going and someone who will not tolerate underachievers. We need arguably the greatest achiever of City’s modern history.

In came Stuart McCall, along with the investment of Mark Lawn that allowed the club to hand the manager a relatively strong playing budget for the first time since Chris Hutchings. McCall was the overwhelming choice as next manager from fans because of the passion he’d put in to the job, no one can argue they were disappointed on that front at least.

Unfortunately, no matter how much Stuart cared he was in his first manager role and working in a division he didn’t know, and the inexperience was to show as success continued to allude the club. McCall put his neck on the chopping board straightaway by declaring he’d be a failure if he didn’t guide City to promotion at the first attempt – but he did fail attempt one, and then attempt two, and he was on course to fail attempt three before he eventually quit.

Of course the experiences along the way helped him to become a better manager, and by the end he had enough knowledge of the lower leagues to be able to use a reduced budget to bring in non-league players that could make the step up. Nevertheless, just like with Todd, the lack of speed to the progress left McCall under heavy pressure.

The passion and how much he cared went against him in the end. We didn’t want someone who would be more upset than us if they lost, we needed a wise head who had a track record for success. Passion was good, but the very reasons McCall was brought in were no longer what the club was looking for. This time a job advertisement would be needed.

Peter Taylor
“4-3-3 can be 4-3-3 and not just 4-5-1”

Which brings us back to Taylor, who was appointed on the basis of his outstanding track record in delivering success and high level of experience. However, criticisms over the football Taylor favours have followed him throughout his long managerial career, and he is now heavily slated for style of play City have produced for much of the season. We know Taylor will be gone soon and, when the discussions over the qualities to look for in his replacement begin, it’s likely that style of football will feature strongly on the next list of interview questions.

So there we have it

“There’s only two types of manager. Those who’ve been sacked and those who will be sacked in the future.” (Howard Wilkinson)

Hutchings to Taylor via Jefferies, Law, Todd and McCall. All were branded failures and, with such a cycle of hiring and firing helping the Bantams fall from the Premier League to League Two, one is again left to wonder what could possibly lead us to believe the next guy will prove any more successful?

But is it a matter of changing managers proving futile, or is our ongoing failure to find the right man more to do with the goalposts continually shifting?

Was Nicky Law sacked because the lower league manager route was wrong, or was hiring someone with great experience of handling small budgets actually a sound strategy that should have been continued? Instead of getting some guy who used to play for Man United to pack the stadium out, after Law should we have recruited then-Doncaster manager Dave Penny, for example?

Did Stuart McCall fail because he cared too much, or was the passion we hired him for the right quality required and Dean Windass should have been given the job instead of Taylor? We ask for one quality in a manager, don’t like some of the other characteristics that manager brings and then dismiss that original quality during the next search.

We want a manager who is not the last one, and so we go and get one – and in doing so we always find that the next guy is lacking some things but not the same things. So while we might have thought we’d found the solution, we end up finding a new thing to be the problem.

Circumstances – not least City’s changing financial capabilities – have changed often during the last decade. But as we soon start to prepare to recruit another manager it’s to be hoped the criteria will be more thought out than finding someone “not like the last manager.” Because over much of the past decade, that has often appeared to be the case.

Welcome to the tactical sophistication

Watching City getting men behind the ball defending with numbers rather than quality and leaving the attacking side of the game undermanned it suddenly struck me what this “dour football” of Peter Taylor’s really is.

City lost 2-1 to Port Vale in the glare of a watching TV audience having tried to keep a closed shop most of the game but then after two goals – the second of which was offside – ended up unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes. It was not pretty stuff either, and ultimately whatever the plan at kick off, that plan did not work.

Having spent much of Friday talking about the principal that how if the job was offered in the summer Taylor’s name would still top the list of potential managers the practice of watching a dour, negative display jarred but the final reckoning City lost to an offside goal and were it not for a great block would have drawn the game. If wishes about Bradford City were snowflakes we would have woken up to a hefty covering Saturday morning, and we did.

However for all the dourness and negativity those two moments – had they fallen differently – would have given City a creditable result (a draw, assuming one of those snowflakes did not melt) and so Taylor would note that his tactical approach – while unsuccessful – was realistic in its chances of getting a result.

Were it not for a mistake by a linesman or a bit of pondering by Lewis Hunt that left John McCombe in to block then The Bantams would have had a draw at promotion chasing Vale. For all the negativity that is evidenced in the game the approach is practical, reasonable and realistic.

But it is dour and watching the game we wanted the players to break the shackles and entertain, going for a win.

We wanted the players in our struggling team to forget the fact that in frustrating and negativity the chances of a draw are there for all to see and to go for broke. We wanted the manager and players to play an attacking game at a promotion chaser, seeing if they could bring back a win.

There is a word to describe that attitude and the word is naive, or at least it was.

In football it is naive to look at away games – especially those against promotion chasers – as the chance to get three points. Away victories are uncommon. Look at any Saturday of results in The Football League and something between two thirds and three quarters of the results will be home wins, then draws will be the next most common, then away victories.

Sir Bobby Robson used to say that a team need wins its home games, draw away and should expect no better than that and will achieve its targets. Two points per game will get any team promoted from any league.

Perhaps Peter Taylor has this in mind. If he does he seems a long way off achieving it but that “long way” was a linesman’s flag away against Port Vale. No matter what you think of the approach or the manager’s approach his understanding that when one goes away from home one frustrates and tries to minimise opportunities knowing a draw is a good return is common thinking in the game, it is the realistic choice.

So we should use the terms that apply consistency, or so I realised when considering “dour football.”

This “dour, negative football” is “tactically sophisticated” as distinct from being “tactically naive”. Likewise the desire to see more “attacking football” – to see players who leave more space as they uncompress the game looking for space to play in – is to want the players to be more “tactically naive.”

This revelation ruined my evening and once again one of my Nan’s oft sage (although always containing the odd swear) turns of phrase came into my head. “Them buggars best be careful a what they wish for, cause they’ll get it.”

I never took to the phrase “tactically naive” because I could never think of the opposite to contrast this naivety with. The fans over the years that use the phrase against managers like Stuart McCall at City and Kevin Keegan at England must have had something in mind as the opposite, but I could not see it. If trying to win every game was to be considered tactically naive what was the opposite? What was tactical sophistication?

Naive has a good half dozen meanings in the OED but in football’s lexicon it seemed to point towards a kind of inability to accept certain pragmatic realities and react to them by changing an initial approach. It was being incapable of flexing tactically to cope with the opposition. A tactically naive manager was one who always ended up getting beaten by some veteran gaffer who saw the benefits of soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter. When Keegan’s Newcastle United lost 1-0 at St James Park to Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1995/96 it was the only time that his team had failed to score in a home game that season The Red Devils having frustrated the attacking flair of the Magpies and caught them with a Cantona sucker punch.

It was the “naivety” of Keegan for all to see supposedly in that his team out played but did not outscore their opponents. That season ended with Keegan’s famed “I’d love it…” speech which was used as proof that the grizzled old Scot had bested his naive foe. That dour football had bested attacking flair, the naivety of an attacking approach had been exposed.

“Sophistication” is probably not the word that springs instantly to mind watching last night’s first half of Bradford City’s football but there it was, for all to see, a sophisticated tactical approach which recognised the realism of the game and set out with a pragmatic plan to get a result.

It is old Arsenal’s 1-0 ways against new Arsenal’s being four up having gone on the road with a plan to play and after half an hour at Newcastle United only to ended up lucky to get a point. Arsene Wenger naive to carry on attacking at four up but wanting his team to play a certain way rather than accept the reality that closing the game down at half time would have meant coasting to a victory.

Knowing what we do about how teams come to Valley Parade with rows of defender and packed midfields and try nick a point, sometimes taking more, and expecting our team to play in a different way simply because it is more enjoyable to watch is laudable but it is the very stuff that was called “tactically naive” this time last year when Peter Taylor joined the club.

“Them buggars best be careful…”

This is the situation we are in. A popular consensus wanted Taylor and his “tactical sophistication” into the club and perhaps there would be more sympathy for the browbeating over how dour it can be to watch if – when watching a manager who wanted to play attacking football – the words “tactically naive” were not allowed to float around unchallenged so often.

“Move on”, or so we are told, but the point of this article is not to wallow in the blanket of snowflake wishes and memories but rather than to state that “move on” too often means forget to the point where as a football club we have become masters of Orwellian doublethink.

Attacking football is naive, and we want an experienced man who can play in a tactically sophisticated way. When we get that we want someone who can bring more flair and make the team more enjoyable to watch. Passion is not important in a manager, then we rage at the dispassionate figure on the sidelines. The manager does not have enough knowledge of the English game, but the next one is too parochial. The manager is too showbiz and interested in talking about his past as England captain, but the next one is too sour and grim.

Least we forget the purpose of constant war in Orwell’s 1984 is to waste the excess of production. This is exactly what City do when changing managers.

The club’s resources go not into improving the team but rather into changing it to suit the new approach – Omar Daley’s exit for Kevin Ellison being a great example of that – and then changing that back again when the mood sees fit to replace manager.

So while City slip to a tenth away defeat of the season – the most of any club in League Two although, worryingly, we have played more games than most – I reflect on how unsuccessful the approach has been but how much that twelve months ago it was presented as the solution.

This is important as we look for another solution.

Playing favourites

Jon McLauglin was left cooling his heels again on Saturday after Peter Taylor dropped the keeper to return Lenny Pidgeley to the side for the weekend win over Wycombe. Talking to the T&A the City manager offered his sympathy saying

Jon has done nothing wrong but you have to make a decision that you think is right. I thought it was a good game to bring Lenny back.

Pidgeley’s return from four games out with a virus saw him excel while Lewis Hunt – survivor of a penalty appeal which I would have been surprised if it was given at the other end for City – seemed to be shoved back into the side as soon as he could be. Luke Oliver is nailed into the team thanked for playing up front while Omar Daley was played all around the field but did not get a note of thanks from manager Peter Taylor when he exited the club.

Taylor stands accused of playing favourites.

Compared in style to sometime City boss John Docherty who peopled his team with former Millwall youth players Taylor’s lads from Wycombe: Oliver, Hunt, injured Tommy Doherty and now, ahem, departed Gavin Grant; are perceived to have a leg up over other players in the side.

When Doherty cost City a goal at the start of the season Taylor was quick to jump to the midfielder’s defence. When McLaughlin erred the finger was quickly pointed. As a way of managing one’s players some would approve of singling out players for criticism and some would not – Stuart McCall would never allow his team to be criticised accepting any blame on himself, Taylor points fingers at the squad and refuses to accept a scrap of responsibility – but it is not the criticism but who Taylor aims it at which provokes a response.

If McLaughlin can be hung out to dry why can’t Doherty? If Oliver has to be thanked for playing (poorly) out of position why isn’t Daley who played on both wings, up front and at the front of central midfield during his last season at City?

Perhaps the question is framed wrong.

Having brought four players from his previous club Wycombe – as well as the odd face from Hull City who one assumes the manager has a contact at the KC Stadium who prompts him as to who might be worth signing – Taylor obviously has his favourite players. Luke Oliver has played for the City manager at three clubs. There must be something that Taylor likes in him.

With Oliver, and Hunt for that matter, one doubts the players were signed for their raw ability so much as their attitudes. Taylor knows them, knows how they react, and want that attitude in his squad at Valley Parade.

Luke Oliver has by no means the most impressive defender I’ve ever seen but his attitude is extremely admirable. He is one of the most discreet players I’ve ever watched able to box up mistakes and errors he makes – and he makes them – and put them deeply in the back of his mind. No sulking, no dragging a bad performance from one game to the next, just getting on with getting on.

It is not hard to see why Taylor defends that attitude. McCall’s team had a nasty habit of taking one defeat into the next game, and to the next. If Taylor wants to avoid that – and he should – then the attitude that Oliver has is important. Ditto Hunt, ditto Doherty.

Why shield those players while hanging out others to dry? One would have to know the players man for man to be able to make that call but one might speculate that players who have that attitude Taylor wants – be they his recruits from former clubs or those players he found at City who signed up for the Taylor plan – get the protection while the others are chided unless they come into the fold. Michael Flynn was fulsome in his praise of Taylor, and is never criticised.

The results of Taylor’s methods are questionable – we are not on for promotion and it looks as if the manager will be on his way next season – but the manager has to be allowed to manage and part of Taylor’s management techniques is to set up examples of good attitudes and good behaviours protecting those players while leaving others on the outside, tempting them to come in.

Management by playing favourites, if you will.

In praise of Luke O’Brien

In the middle of a truly wretched second half performance against Lincoln City last week, came an extraordinarily brilliant Bradford City moment. It involved a young full back charging forwards with the ball and then, superbly, nut-megging two defenders to get past them before racing into the penalty area. He then hit a terrific curling shot that narrowly flew wide of the far post, with the keeper beaten. It wasn’t quite a spectacular goal, but it still took your breath away.

It hasn’t been a season of great individual performances, but Luke O’Brien is enjoying an outstanding campaign that has seen the home-grown left back emerge as the only rival to David Syers for player of the season. And if this award went to the player who’d produced the most consistently-strong performances over the course of the campaign, Luke would probably be set to pick it up for the second time in three seasons.

And who would have thought that a year ago? When Peter Taylor arrived at Valley Parade, O’Brien’s days began to look numbered. Part of a dreadful team display at Accrington in Taylor’s first game in charge, the new manager rushed out and signed Liverpool left back Robbie Threlfall on loan. O’Brien wasn’t dropped out of the team, but moved to a left winger role that lead to up-and-down form for the rest of the campaign. When Luke lost his starting place for the season after the Easter Monday defeat to Macclesfield, and with Threlfall looking un-shiftable at left back, his future looked very uncertain.

Yet even though he began this season in and out of the team, O’Brien rediscovered his best form and regained his left back position from an off-colour Threlfall. Since being unfairly left out of the Morecambe defeat in October – to make way for a loan signing Taylor was forced to play at the first opportunity – O’Brien has started every game for City. Team performances have proved wildly erratic since, but one constant has been the excellence of the former City youth player.

His game has come on significantly, and there’s no doubt Taylor – not to mention assistant manager Wayne Jacobs, who played that position so well for 11 years – have helped him to develop. Luke is not the tallest player, but has gained the confidence to not be bullied by opposition players who have in the past targeted him. He is an excellent tackler who has learned when to stay on his feet and when to make a challenge. He is always willing to get forwards and shows great levels of fitness getting up and down the pitch.

Playing left wing last season was far from O’Brien’s comfort zone, but the improved dribbling ability and confidence going forward he has since demonstrated is evidence to the positive difference it made.

But above all the credit should go to O’Brien himself. Ever since breaking into the first time under Stuart McCall in October 2008, Luke has shown outstanding levels of work-rate and commitment to the cause. He never goes missing in games by shying away from the ball; and he displays a creditable focus on doing the right things for the team and his manager, even if that sometimes goes against the crowd’s wishes. Witnessing the way that the 22-year-old has developed his game and established himself as a key first team player – the Lincoln game was his 100th league start for City – has been one of the few bright spots of City’s time in League Two.

Is he appreciated by fans as much as he should be? Sadly not, and even at the last two games I’ve heard the odd supporter in ear shot complain about his supposed failings. Yet full backs are never the star of the show and are often only truly noted when they are bad; and the fact O’Brien puts in so many excellent performances that can largely go unrecognised is a sign of how consistent he is. If he had a shocker, everyone would suddenly notice.

The constant criticisms aimed at Leon Osborne this season have underlined how, ultimately, being a young player emerging through the ranks doesn’t afford you much leeway with your home crowd. Yet as we grimly wish away a disastrously-bad season and look forward to some less than committed players leaving in future, there is great comfort to be had from having someone like O’Brien on our side. He grew up sat among us, watching City in the Premier League from a seat in the Kop. He is now living our dreams and performing in a way we all would if we could live it too: giving everything we have, to make up for slight deficiencies in ability – because we’d care so much.

He is not here simply to pick up a wage, he gets it.

And in terms of the impact he’s made on the field – and relatively speaking – he is the best young player City have produced since the last O’Brien (Andy). Just like the now-Leeds United centre back, Luke can go much further in the game than Division Four.

Let’s just hope he stays around long enough to take us up there with him.

Taylor stays as manager for now: probably the sensible decision, now for sensible planning

We may all carry very strong views on the subject but, ultimately, very few of us would have wanted to swap places with Bradford City Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn on Wednesday.

The day after the Bantams had disastrously suffered a fifth defeat in six games, Peter Taylor was called in for a meeting with the pair. And a decision over whether to sack the City manager or allow him more time to turnaround a sinking season must have been a difficult one to make. It carried a huge weight of responsibility, and only time will reveal whether retaining him for now proves the right or wrong call.

There is growing pressure for Rhodes and Lawn to take action. Taylor could not have picked a worse time to make catastrophically-bad management calls, and the situation is becoming desperate. Just like the Burton Albion postponement two weeks ago, the cancelling of Saturday’s game at Macclesfield seems especially ill-timed for Taylor. By the time City welcome 2nd-placed Wycombe to Valley Parade next Saturday, midweek results could have dragged them ever-closer to a desperate relegation battle.

And that’s why, despite the huge levels of unrest over Taylor from what can surely be considered the majority of City supporters, sacking him now is not the straightforward answer many assume it would be.

Lessons from the past

Certainly it would be interesting to gauge Rhodes’ take on the situation, and I’m sure the name of Colin Todd must be playing on his mind. Almost exactly four years ago Rhodes took the decision to sack the then-City manager with the Bantams slipping down League One but still in mid-table, and come May the club was relegated. The rights and wrongs of Rhodes’ actions then are still argued to this day, but it’s difficult to dispute that dismissing the experienced manager just after a turbulent period of transfers and replacing him with the club captain made City much weaker for the battle ahead.

Perhaps more telling is to look back a year before that, when Todd was under-pressure from a large proportion of supporters during the 2005-06. Just like in 2006-07 and just like now, the expected promotion push had faltered and City were becoming embroiled in a relegation zone. When Oldham thrashed the Bantams 4-1 in March, it looked curtains for Todd. Yet Rhodes stuck by him and Todd was able to turn it around during the final few weeks and ensure a mid-table position.

It is a repeat of that type of situation that Rhodes and Lawn will be hoping Taylor can deliver. Because as bad as the last few weeks have been for City, it should be remembered that, up to the collapse at Barnet, the players had proved they were capable of winning matches (just badly lacking consistency). The squad Taylor has built are not proving good enough for promotion, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough to keep the club in League Two.

Equally Taylor has shown over the past 12 months that he is capable of turning around poor runs of form. It will take a long time for those of us who attended both games to forget the Accrington and Rochdale away games when Taylor first took charge last season. At Accrington it looked desperate, and no -one would have predicted City would follow up their worst performance of the season with their best to defeat the then-league leaders. Even earlier this season it looked bleak for Taylor and City after a dismal 1-0 loss to Morecambe – City won four of their next five matches.

Can City recover from Tuesday’s debacle? Taylor’s history suggests so.

The negligible impact of changing managers

It’s exactly a year to the day since Stuart McCall’s final match in charge of City. The 1-0 defeat to Bury left the Bantams languishing in 15th place and eight points from the play offs – they finished the season 14th and 10 points short of the top seven.

It can be argued Taylor halted the slide that had occurred during McCall’s final two months of the season, but that there was no improvement in results underlined yet again the ineffectiveness of changing managers mid-season. Sure at other clubs a new manager can have a dramatic upturn, but it never happens here. Sacking Todd didn’t improve the club, dismissing Chris Hutchings and Nicky Law didn’t prevent relegation in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Even when the club’s last successful manager, Paul Jewell, was first appointed as caretaker he failed to improve results instantly.

You have to go back to Chris Kamara to find the last time changing managers mid-season improved the club – and that was 15 years ago.

Lawn and Rhodes may not have been around to make all of these managerial changes, but they were involved in the club as supporters at least and they should know that the history of City changing managers mid-season has undeniably proven a flawed strategy. At best it makes no difference, at worst – like when David Wetherall replaced Todd four years ago – it can prove a fatal mistake. Neither may like Taylor very much right now, but the risks of removing him are so great that sticking by him at this moment is surely the sensible option.

Taylor needs to save the club in the short-term, then the Chairmen need to start focusing on the long-term

City’s situation doesn’t look great, but it could certainly be a lot worse. If a victory can be ground out and followed by another two or three quickly afterwards, relegation will no longer be the potential issue it is becoming and a mid-table finish will be assured. Right now City are battling to ensure they can enjoy a meaningless end to the season.

Whatever happens, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be our manager beyond May and, if the Bantams ship can be steered back onto a safe course, the thoughts of Rhodes and Lawn have to quickly turn towards finding his replacement.

And that above all is the futility of sacking Taylor now. It will cost City a certain amount of money to issue him an early P45 and to hire his successor before the end of the season. And, with the playing budget likely to be reduced next season, is it the best use of limited finances to make that change now because we’re sick of the dreadful style of football Taylor persists with?

Instead City can take their time, assuming results are quickly turned around. Rather than rushing in to finding the next manager, they can conduct a lengthy search and even enlist help from people outside the club in choosing the right person. They can think long and hard about the type of manager they believe can take City forwards, and start the recruitment process sooner rather than later.

Why wait?

Because why wait? Taylor wants to see out the remainder of his contract, City are highly unlikely to renew it. As long as results improve and City are comfortably in mid-table, what’s stopping Rhodes and Lawn from confirming to him there will be no new contract and that they are beginning the search for his replacement? Taylor can be free to see out the final few games, and his successor can be lined up to take over before the season ends.

That way the next City manager can assess the playing squad and make decisions on whether to offer out-of-contract players new deals and which areas of the squad needs strengthening in the summer; rather than arriving sometime in June with a number of players having left and limited opportunities to assess the players he has until next season gets underway. Taylor can even offer advice and information before he departs.

Maybe this isn’t a practical idea – though this sort of transition would take place in pretty much every other walk of working life, so why are football clubs different? Who knows, by taking this approach Taylor can even be assured of leaving the club with his dignity still in tact, rather than a scenario of his final few days being played out with City underachieving in mid-table and Taylor continually being quoted in the Telegraph & Argus that he is “hopeful of a new deal”.

In the end, most of us will get what we want

Let’s be frank – this is one of the bleakest periods supporting Bradford City we’ve ever experienced. The last 10 years have been woeful at times, but this current mixture of poor results and appalling style of football is crushing to watch. I’ve never known a season where City have won matches and I’ve still felt miserable, such has been the way some victories have been achieved. Taylor was an outstanding appointment a year ago, but for whatever reason it’s not worked out.

However, it’s clear Taylor will be leaving the club within the next few months. And so as much as some of us want him to depart instantly, in the end the potential negative consequences – plus financial implications – of speeding that process mean that sticking by him, for now, is the sensible option.

That said, if the league position gets worse the pressure for Lawn and Rhodes to act will become intense and they will have to re-assess Taylor’s immediate future .

This club has never fallen into non-league before, having been elected into the Football League in 1903 before a ball was even kicked. 100 years on from our greatest triumph of winning the FA Cup, it falls on Taylor to ensure we don’t experience our lowest-ever on-the-pitch moment.

We need him to turn it around urgently. We don’t have to like the guy, but right now we should be supporting Taylor in keeping our beloved football club alive.

The horror transfers

Is he worth £35m? To Liverpool, No, to Newcastle he is priceless.

So was the discussion over Andy Carroll’s exit from St James Park to Anfield – one has to wonder if had Peter Taylor joined the Magpies three weeks ago what he would have thought of losing the target man (and if Luke Oliver would have replaced him) – and the impact of the totemic striker’s exit seems set to weigh heavy on the minds of Newcastle United supporters, Liverpool fans having all but forgotten that they have sold their other “World Class Player” to Chelsea this same day.

Until a ball is kicked the winners and losers of transfer deadline day seem to be mostly in the mind and as Geordie supporters beat themselves up over the exit other football supporters with a twinkle of empathy will recognise in their own club’s history when a player exited but seemed to take more with him.

Those are the transfers that hurt. Those are the horror transfers.

As City fans we’ve seen this kind of exit taking emotion a number of times. When Stuart McCall left the club in May 1988 to join Everton it seemed obvious that the years of progress were coming to an end but there was not an unexpected departure. McCall, and team mate John Hendrie, were expected to leave having giving promotion a good try and so when they did there was a grim resignation that the good times – unless the money was reinvested well and it was not – were probably over. They were not horror transfers.

Likewise when dynamite Des Hamilton or Andrew O’Brien left the club to go to St James’ Park few felt the exit in the heart. O’Brien left when City were all but down while Hamilton was iconic for his goal at Wembley but his exit to Newcastle United for £1.5m was considered to be a nice bit of business and – if anything – the Magpies over paid for a young player who had looked good, had potential, but not shown consistency as yet.

The manager who signed him: The same Kenny Dalglish who is spending £35m today.

Those transfers broke banks rather than hearts and for the real horror transfers one must look elsewhere. The exit of the much respected Eddie Youds in 1997 to Charlton Athletic was unfathomable with Chris Kamara obviously still wanting the player but Geoffrey Richmond announcing the that books had to balance. Promotion followed a few years later and so Youds is a footnote rather than a true horror.

A horror transfer leads one to question the direction the club is going and for the answer to echo back: “Nowhere.”

A blow softened by the team reshaping to bigger and better was the double departure of Don Goodman and Martin Singleton to West Brom. Both players had been part of the promotion side of 1985 and their exits seemed to rob City of attacking talent. The arrival of Rocket Ron Futcher with eight goals in ten games healed all wounds.

For the real horror transfers there can be no happy aftermath, no consideration of how the player who has been so cruelly ripped from one’s grasp might have fit into a team that did well, and for that we must go to Christmas 1994.

John Docherty – who seemed to be a football manager so evil as to be picked out of a badly written backstory in Roy of the Rovers – decided that as his team did poorly the entire squad would be put up for sale. Unsurprisingly for a sale entitled “Getting rid players we don’t want” most of the men had few takers however the talented defender Lee Sinnott and heart of the team Lee Duxbury did attract interest, from Huddersfield Town.

Any straw poll of the better member of that squad would have put both players towards the top and a host of lightweights Docherty signed from his previous club towards the bottom yet it seemed – and it came to pass – that the moustached twirling evil Docherty would be selling out players, so he could bring in more of his mates from Millwall.

Both Duxbury and Sinnott ended up celebrating promotion for Huddersfield Town while City simply meandered nowhere robbed of character and watching our players perform for our rivals. The heart sinks to recall it and the money paid – a combined fee of less than was paid for Tony Adcock – was frittered away aimlessly.

Eventually both players came back to Valley Parade, but the horror never faded.

Waiting to get lucky, but not the Andy Gray way

If you are planning something for the end of May, dear reader, the time is nigh where that booking can be confirmed.

Not that the optimistic Bradford City fan has given up on the season – not at all – but rather the focus of that optimism has slipped down somewhat from Champions, to automatic promotion, to play offs and now to the hope that the season will not contain a relegation battle.

Such slight returns are the stuff of football supporters. Seasons that start with a club tipped to go down end in the Premier League, seasons that start being about the promotion end with videos released called “The Great Escape.”

Managing the hard way, but not the Andy Gray way

Peter Taylor was appointed because Stuart McCall was not doing well enough and sits in exactly the same position with exactly the level of criticism. It is hard not to look back at this point to twelve months ago when the “not a proper manager” left the club in favour of the “experienced professional” and wonder how the dust settled so quickly that last season’s debates could be so quickly revisited without hint or irony or apology.

How many people were dubbed naive optimists for saying that replacing McCall would not improve the club? How many people promised an improvement under Taylor and are now saying the same about his replacement?

One would have thought that replacing McCall with Taylor to the net effect on movement towards promotion of not very much at all might have convinced one and all that the manager was not the problem but – having talked to Mark Lawn this week – then it seems fair to say that changing the man picking the team is not expected to change performance massively so much as it is an area which can be controlled when most cannot.

One wonders – assuming that Peter Taylor will be leaving City – what the next manager needs do to be more successful? There are hopes of changes in facilities and so on but those hopes are slim – City are not planning a ground switch as Chesterfield did at the start of this successful season for them – and so what is to be done to turn the club around?

The L word, no, not the one Andy Gray would use

Luck, it seems, is what City need.

Luck in a set of players. That when Player A meets Player B they gel, that they like each other on the pitch and off it. They the players become a team and that the team makes the players better.

Luck augmented by a manager for sure but the rapid changing of managers can not be expected to yield results even if we do know the reason for it now.

With luck the team wins early games, confidence grows and the unit is forged. A team like Chesterfield – buoyed by their new surroundings – go from also-rans to promotion probables on the strength of this.

Does luck exist in football? One recalls Golfer Gary Player’s comments on luck: “The more I practised, the luckier I got.”

Who will play, probably not Andy Gray although I doubt he is busy…

So this group of players – ineffectual for four defeats on the bounce games – go to the team chasing the League Two title and are called upon to create luck for themselves.

Jon McLaughlin shows a safe pair of hands, but he could shout more. Richard Eckersley looks good coming forward but he needs to tell the man in front of him that a full back can not defend on his own. Luke O’Brien on the other side is in a similar position. He motors back and forth well but he needs to tell the player who has watched a second man join in a flank attack that he (winger or wide forward) simply has to get back and defend.

The central defenders Luke Oliver and Shane Duff need to be more mouth on too but Oliver has to realise that as the big man at the back it is his job to organise the defensive line into a line and Duff needs to help him by paying more attention. Both do their jobs well individually – Oliver deserved credit for getting head up and sticking with it – but defending is not an individual thing.

If these lessons are not learnt then something of a cavalry arrives with Simon Ramsden, Lewis Hunt and Steve Williams all hoping to return to fitness soon. Ramsden and Hunt are hoping to make the bench.

New recruit Jon Worthington sits on top of a back four well and if he were to look at City and decide that a team which has had a half dozen captains actually needs a leader then he would not be far wrong. David Syers has been brilliant this season, he rarely goes missing, but he needs to realise that he adds more to the attack by arriving late than pressing early. Tom Ademeyi shows a powerful energy at times, but a more solid, constant flow in his game would make him a 90 minute, rather than a fits and starts, performer.

Those three might find the returning Michael Flynn takes back a position in midfield but Flynn is more likely to replace Gareth Evans in the attacking three with Omar Daley on the other side. Evans has shown admirable hard work and effort and that should secure him a place in the side, but seldom does, while Daley is Daley and at times unplayable. He needs to defend when told and he does.

James Hanson leads the line. He does that well and without thanks. He needs to get some thanks.

And he needs to get lucky, but not in the Andy Gray way.

Not a must win for Peter Taylor, but a must win

Another week another must win game comes around for Peter Taylor as calls for the manager to be shoved out of the Valley Parade door reach a crescendo. The most moderate City supporters can see no future under his management fearing his success sapping the enjoyment out of Valley Parade as much as his failure seeing the club go nowhere.

Taylor’s remit on arrival at City in March was very much about results and not performance with the previous manager’s teams being good to watch but ultimately not getting the results craved. Enjoyment is an emotion and not twelve months ago the talk was that it was not possible to keep a manager on emotion.

So results were all that mattered, and always were, and without any indication that there is any reason to hope that the manager who follows the current boss would be more successful. Mark Lawn has let it be known that he thinks (or thought, two weeks ago) that Peter Taylor is doing a good job at City. Peter Taylor is Lawn’s choice after not only a selection process but also an unprecedented three month probationary period in which the performances were no different than they have been this season.

Mark Lawn knows the inside of the club better than most of us and he says that Peter Taylor is doing a good job on the basis that – one assumes – he knows the conditions he is working under.

Ultimately Taylor is a hired hand at City and truth be told probably cares little for the club over and above his professional approach being tied into the success. There is no reason why he should. The last manager adored Bradford City and that point was oft used as a stick to beat him with.

So while the rearranged trip to Aldershot is a “must win” for Peter Taylor one has to wonder how much he will be upset by the outcome. City will struggle to get promotion this season from the position we find ourselves in (although hope springs eternal) and Taylor will no doubt not have his contract renewed but as he exits one doubts he will look over his shoulder with much regret – he asked for things to get the club promoted, was promised them, and they were not delivered – although his exit would probably see more problems for Mark Lawn.

Financially backing Peter Taylor has cost Lawn in the pocket for sure but the recruitment of the manager and trumpeting of the team as favourites for the division – to the stage where weight was thrown around at people who dared suggest City might be 8th this term – questions his judgement and fitness to find another manager.

“Let me slaughter your idol, and as a reward I shall bring you your heart’s desire.”

There is an almost Faustian deal that has been broken between Mark Lawn and Bradford City supporters. This writer made no secret of his desire to see Stuart McCall remain at the club and few would argue that this season would have been any worse but it seems that the promise of improvement – promotion no less – was the inducement which was offered to Bantams fans in exchange for McCall’s exit.

Not overtly, not bindingly, but that was the mood in the air and in the courts of the minds of Bradford City supporters Lawn is charged with breaking that promise. He got what he wanted, the new manager and the chance to preen in the local paper talking about professionalism and promotion and what did the fans who backed him in this “improvement” end up with?

A six-two-two formation and Mark Cullen

Picking Peter Taylor’s team is more tarot reading and not once has BfB been able to get it correct this year. The manager picks the team he feels will do best – I have no axe to grind with him on his team changes and recall previous managers being criticised for not changing their starting eleven – and in the last two games it seems to have failed to do so.

Changed are expected with Tommy Doherty waiting for a recall in the midfield over Lee Bullock and the attacking trio of James Hanson, Jake Speight and Gareth Evans all hoping for a place in the side.

I would expect Peter Taylor to keep the back four of Richard Eckersley, Shane Duff, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall with Luke O’Brien ahead on the left hand side of a five with Gareth Evans on the other flank and Tom Adeyemi, Doherty and Lee Bullock with James Hanson up front, or perhaps Speight. Honestly, it is just guess work.

But not a “must win” for Taylor. What is the worst that happens if he loses? Even if he were fired tomorrow he would walk away with a year’s money and look back and say with a great deal of honesty that he told the board what he needed to make City successful and those things were promised but not delivered.

Increasingly though these games are “must wins” for Mark Lawn. A report in the T&A in Saturday pre-emptively highlighted the idea that there is no one else to invest in City and questions about the joint chairman and how his actions in the last year have improved the club – indeed some would ask if they had not sent the club backwards – are increasing.

Some winning would be a good defence against that.

I found Robbie Threlfall’s leg in my garden…

…seriously I did.

It was laying there, dismembered, on the grass near the two stone frogs named George and Geraldine after two especially repulsive girls I knew at University. It had one of his boots at the end of it too and his City sock.

This is not the first time this has happened. One time I wandered in the garden and found a bit of Bruno Rodriguez next to the thin, white reeds I try call Daffodils. It was in that location where I found the thigh of Bobby Petta, one of Owen Morrison’s arms, and that reliable right foot of Paul McLaren.

I doubt I’m alone in this problem, the finding of parts of Bradford City footballers in my suburban environment, because it seems clear that limbs must be falling off the members of our squad at an alarming rate.

Threlfall’s leg falling off is probably the reason why now he is a part of a Bradford City team which is “not good enough.”

When Threlfall arrived from Liverpool he was something of a revelation. He played the ball with a sweet left foot delivering a quality cross and scoring free kicks. There was a comment on this very website from someone who said that it would be great to sign Robbie Threlfall but he probably would not come because he was simply too good, and someone else would get him.

At the start of the season Julian Rhodes noted that the board had had to put more money into the club because “players like Tommy Doherty don’t come cheap” – Doherty’s beard might be in my shrubbery along with other vital parts of him – but nevertheless those players did come to Valley Parade and were considered good enough then.

And let us not mince words here. When they were putting five past Oxford they were good enough but on the back of a 2-1 defeat to the same team they are condemned so either bits of them have fallen off – laying in my garden – or the players have not changed at all.

Changed physically that is. Robbie Threlfall’s leg has not fallen off and I did not find it in my garden but there is a difference between the player who surged into the 3-1 win over Rochdale and the one who seemed ineffectual on Saturday.

The same can be said all over the field where poor performances were observed. In almost every case the player who is being dubbed as “not good enough” has moments one can pick out where he excelled. Springing quickly to mind come Gareth Evans and Northampton last season, or Omar Daley and Rotherham, Luke Oliver against Bury.

The players can play well, they have not changed physically, so the same high levels of performance can be reached again.

Who is to blame for this situation? The players, or so we after often told these days, although it must be said that under Stuart McCall it was (according to many people) the manager’s failing that performances slipped. While City sat 17th in the division this season BfB got an mail from someone asserting that we recognise that Peter Taylor is a “better manager” than his predecessor and perhaps in that way he is. If the art of good management is making sure someone else takes the blame?

The players have not changed physically but the same cannot be said for their mental states in which poor performances, brittle confidence and a lack of belief seem prominent.

My belief is that football is mostly a mental game. Once players are fit and trained – and these things are by no means assured at Bradford City with the club incapable of practising set plays of late because of the flooded training ground – then the difference between a Premier League player and someone in the middle of the lower leagues is pretty much in the mind. Is Gary Taylor-Fletcher the guy who scored the winner over Liverpool in the week for Blackpool or a struggling Lincoln City forward? I would suggest that he is both, depending on what he believes.

Who is enfranchised by the club to be in charge of the mentality of the players, to build the belief in them? The manager.

Famously when City beat Everton 3-2 in the FA Cup Chris Kamara told his players that Chris Waddle would be the best player on the pitch on both sides. It was a mental trick to tell the ten other players in claret and amber that they could get stuck into the eleven in blue and it worked. If Andy O’Brien could tackle Waddle in training, he could have Kanchelskis in the game.

Not that the manager is allowed to carry out this task of belief building in isolation. Internally he asks for what he needs to help build that belief – proper facilities, overnight stays, suits – and gets some but not others and one can only imagine the results of that on the squad.

(From personal experience as a contract worker if I arrive to an office and find a shiny iMac with CS5 waiting for me I know the company means business, if I find a sagging 486 with Photoshop 8 on it I’m hit by the idea that they might not be on top of their game.)

Externally the forces that press on a team are less the lower down the leagues are less – a Premier League manager at someone other than “the big four” has to cope with his players watching Sky Sports News and being told that they are rubbish compared to someone Manchester City have just signed – but still there are forces that seek to distract the player’s mind and pollute the core message the manager tries to drum into them.

“You are as good as you play, and you control how well you play.”

Play well, you are good enough. Put less than 100% in, lack discipline in your approach to the game and to the game itself, do not believe in yourself and your team mates then you are not.

You are as good as you play and so you control if you are “good enough.” The reason I like Peter Taylor as a manager is because he seems to understand the requirement for building this belief even if he has not achieved it as yet.

I did not find Robbie Threlfall’s leg in my garden because it is where it always has been, attached to the same body that impressed all against Rochdale. That his performance levels have changed a mental shift which can be shifted back.

I simply do not believe in the idea that players stop being “good enough” or that the vast majority of players who have pulled on a City shirt could not have been “good enough” had they had had the belief instilled in them.

The current players are good enough and it is up to the club – Peter Taylor for sure but not just Peter Taylor – to get the best out of them.

Improvements for the new year

It will be away at New Douglas Park, Hamilton that Stuart McCall starts his career post-Bradford City as manager of Motherwell and as the Bantams start 2011 with his replacement Peter Taylor at the helm one could be excused for wondering where the current incumbent of the City job may be in twelve months time.

At Valley Parade in League One would seem to be the most preferable answer but one that seems remote. One can cheerily look back to Chris Kamara’s promotion side of 1996 and recall how over the festive period they looked as unlikely to be upwardly mobile as Taylor’s team but something shifted and Wembley awaited.

This though is the most wishful of thinking and the vast majority of sides who look like they are going nowhere at Christmas end up at that very destination come May, a notable exception being Colin Todd’s City side of four years ago who looked set to sail of to not much until “improvements” were made that relegated the side.

Todd’s sacking is a cautionary tale for the season, Mark Lawn’s Ghost of Christmas past.

Probably not up, probably not down it seems that City are going to bob around until the end of the season when Taylor’s contract is up and in all likelihood so will his time at Valley Parade be. One can assume at this point the same arguments for the sake of continuity and stability on behalf of Taylor as were voiced for McCall and probably the same arguments against it.

For me the key benefit of stability at this time is that the club would save the money spent bringing in staff, new players and new ideas with every change of manager which in the end so often result in so very little.

But Taylor was not hired to build on what is in place at Valley Parade and his remit is not the long term progress of the club it is the short term need for promotion and with that in mind it is almost impossible to imagine him staying if that aim is not reached, and entirely impossible to imagine it under the terms laid out by the joint chairman who appointed him.

So one wonders where Taylor will be this time next season, and suspects it will not be at Valley Parade. Hope springs eternal though and despite the dispiriting 4-0 defeat City go into the new year but six points off the play-offs.

Using last season’s table as an example City would need a points average of 1.56 a game to reach the play-offs and currently we score 1.2 which means that to get to last season’s seventh place total we would need 48 points from 26 games or 1.84 a game which – if extrapolated over a season – would give a club 85 points.

85 last season would have placed a team second above AFC Bournemouth and so the task for the second half of the season is set. City have to do as well as AFC Bournemouth did last season to get into the play-offs. To get to an automatic spot City would need 2.23 points a game which is akin to finishing a season with over 100 points.

One can be one’s own judge on how reasonable an idea that is.

City face Lincoln City with a team as mutable as any. After a 4-0 spanking in which only Gareth Evans seemed to come out with any credit there seems to be not a single place in the side not up for grabs and so predicting who is in the side is predicting which of the players Peter Taylor feels have done least poorly.

A host of faces may be exiting Valley Parade in the next month with Lenny Pidgeley having not shown so much as to suggest that he was worth bringing in over Jon McLaughlin. Richard Eckersley will go back to Burnley to a new boss – Brain Laws having left this week – but Simon Ramsden hopes to be fit again soon to take his place.

Also hoping to be fit to replace loanee Rob Kiernan are Shane Duff and Steve Williams, both of whom may play on New Years Day, and Michael Flynn’s return could see the end of the hot and cold blowing Tom Ademeyi. Lee Hendrie’s contract is up, and he was sitting on the bench for forty five minutes on the 28th which captain Jason Price should be heading back to Cumbria before too long with Evans returning to the squad.

City face a Lincoln City team bolstered by the return of Scott Kerr – former City man who played a blinder in the Bantams 8-2 win over Darlington eleven years ago – but low on points having sacked Peter Jackson to improve the club and then spent a year trying to get Chris Sutton to improve them and failing. No matter what Lincoln do they seem to be a team mired in the lower half of league two.

One wonders if – after his first three games none of which are at Fir Park – Stuart McCall might be tempted to test City’s resolve for players like Flynn, Ramsden or Lee Bullock hoping that they could play a role in an SPL side. More so if McCall has money to spend in Scotland would either of the pair he found in non-league football Steve Williams and James Hanson fancy a move up North? Certainly if I was the manager of Motherwell I’d be looking at both those young players as being able to make that step up.

January will see changes in playing squad, managers changing later no doubt. Improvements to either not necessarily following.

Stuart McCall becomes Motherwell boss as managerial unrest again grows at Valley Parade

There can’t be many, if any, Bradford City supporters who aren’t cheered by the news Stuart McCall is to become the new manager of Motherwell. The Scottish Premier League outfit are set to officially confirm McCall as the new gaffer on Thursday, ending a 10-month gap from managing for McCall after he departed the Valley Parade hotseat last February. In the interim, he’s been scouting for Norwich City and helping coach one of the Bantams’ youth teams; but his appointment at Fir Park is another chance to prove himself a number one.

A return to a country and league where he enjoyed so much success as a Rangers player represents a terrific opportunity for McCall. The only other British club other than City to wear Claret and Amber, Well are lodged in midtable of Scotland’s top flight and have the small matter of a Co-operative Insurance Cup semi final clash with his old club at the end of January. Unlike managing Bradford City, there should be less pressure to deliver instant success. Motherwell are not stuck in a lower division they believe they are too big for, and the realistic best that McCall can be expected to achieve, in time, is a third place finish behind Rangers and Celtic, some cup silverware and/or European qualification.

Like any manager, he will have expectations to cope with. But with Fir Park average attendances half of that at Valley Parade, the pressure may not be as intense.

McCall’s biggest strength when managing City arguably turned out to be his biggest weakness. He cared passionately about the club, defeat hurt him as much as any of the rest of us. When things were going wrong, he didn’t come across as the inspirational leader we remember so fondly on the pitch. It would cause a snowball affect, with a couple of bad defeats turning into numerous bad defeats and, while no one can question how committed his players were to him right to the end, one was left wondering whether he was the positive leader in the dressing room they needed him to be in difficult times.

But at Motherwell, the lack of previous history with the club should allow McCall to be more dispassionate. Of course it will hurt him when Motherwell lose, but he will be less inclined to take it personally or readily believe those who jump to criticise him. That means his judgment is less likely to be clouded, faith in his own ability much stronger, skin much thicker.

That McCall has secured another job is an impressive achievement in itself. Lower league football managers rarely get second opportunities and the fact that, on paper at least, McCall’s record in charge of City doesn’t look great suggested he was destined for the comfort of TV studios for the rest of his working life. That lower league managers are generally thrown out on the scrapheap in this manner seems wrong, as managing clubs with fewer resources appears much more challenging.

One of the quotes of 2010 was then-Blackburn manager Sam Alladyce’s assertion that he could manage Real Madrid. But beyond the ridicule this sparked, he had a valid point. It is easier to manage a club with vast resources to buy the best players like Madrid than it is to be in charge of a small fish like Blackburn. The likes of Jose Mourinho deserve their place in Madrid’s dugout, they are the best, but why do managers who fail at bigger clubs and earn the sack then get another job ahead of those who have failed at smaller outfits?

McCall’s three spells at City – particularly his two as a player – mean he will always be held in the highest regard by 99.9% of Bantams supporters. Indeed, after the pressure he came under during his final few weeks and continued civil war among fans over the rights and wrongs of driving a legend out of the club for much of 2010, a warmer front from all sides seems to be developing. There was even a poll on the Official Message Board over whether he should be brought back as City boss now (a small majority saying yes). That wouldn’t have happened even before McCall’s new job was sealed, given he and Mark Lawn fell out weeks before he departed.

The warmer front is there because of the managerial unrest brewing at City. The morale-smashing 4-0 defeat to Cheltenham has seen Peter Taylor’s popularity reach new lows. At the turn of the year, City are six points off the play offs – exactly where they were a year ago under an increasingly under pressure McCall. When you remember Taylor benefited from an increased budget during the summer, it underlines how little progress has been made and, once again, the futility of changing managers.

Let us not enter into another debate about the rights and wrongs of forcing McCall out a year ago – BfB usually gets a stack of hate mail for even daring to mention it – but let’s agree it hasn’t worked in the way it was expected. So the question is, will it the next time?

Taylor was handed a one-year contract, which in my opinion has negatively influenced the way he has attempted to manage the club. As things stand, it’s implausible to believe he will be handed another contract in May – if he makes it that long. But whatever the next few weeks and months might hold, it’s to be hoped the joint Chairmen are carefully evaluating the situation now.

It may not be a time for drawing up a managerial shortlist for replacing Taylor, but if things stay as they are and he is destined to leave, what happens next? Can the club afford to keep making each season promotion or bust, when such a short-term approach is routinely being proven to fail? Do we keep handing out one year manager contracts until someone finally gets it right? We can’t stay in this division for long, it’s said. But then we were saying that four years ago and here we still are.

We need a long-term strategy, and personally I believe us supporters should have more insight and a say into what that strategy should be.

We can continue to dispute whether it was right McCall was pushed out of the door, but we can probably all agree that not having a plan beyond his removal is looking a major mistake. The vacancy advert went out and Taylor was eventually judged the best candidate a year ago, and for a time the club bowed to his every whim. If Lawn and Julian Rhodes still believe Taylor is the best man, the opportunity is there to back him in the transfer market this January – providing the club can afford to. Without a significant boost to the quality of the squad, it’s highly unlikely Taylor will be able to fire City into League One next season.

Meanwhile McCall has a fresh opportunity, and what probably helped to persuade his new employers to give him the job was the record of the guy who replaced him at Valley Parade.

Snow, swearing, and why we are not going to Aldershot this weekend

The game at Aldershot Town’s Recreation Ground hosting Bradford City this weekend is off with the snow down there being worse than it is up here – and the BfB back garden test shows a foot of winter – and s the fact that the Shots are coming off the back of an FA Cup defeat to Dover, that they have signed the promising Wesley Ngo Bahang on loan from Newcastle United and the fact that they are 12th in League Two three places above City probably do not matter.

Indeed by the time this game is played – and we have been in the cancelled Aldershot trip trap before – the returning to fitness Gareth Evans may have been joined by the likes of Lewis Hunt, Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Michael Flynn or Shane Duff who could have crawled from the fitness room and burst back into action.

Likewise – depending on when the rearranged game is played – the likes of Tom Adeyemi, Louis Moult, Richard Eckersley, Jason Price and Rob Kiernan may have returned to their parent clubs while Lenny Pidgeley’s contract has expired. Such is the nature of modern football with the possibility that half the players on one side might no longer be at a club after the hand of nature intervenes.

The hand of nature intercedes in football increasingly commonly – it is to do with the effects of Global Warming moving the Gulf Stream – and clubs now switch to an orange ball in the winter months without even waiting for the snow. Ipswich Town added the blues lines to the orange ball in the interests of clarity. We get blasé about the orange ball but in the past it was the source of much mystery.

How many orange balls did each club have? What happened if during a snow game all the orange balls burst? Would a white one be used or would a game really by abandoned because the ball was the wrong colour? Perhaps most importantly why in July 1966 was an orange ball used for the blisteringly sunny World Cup final?

If we get blasé about the orange ball that is nothing compared to the tedium we have to the foreign player and his attitude to snow. There was a time when on the sight of snow a local paper would hightail it down to the training ground to find whichever South American or African player was employed by the club and would look suitability fascinated by the snow.

“He’s never seen the stuff,” the manager would say, “but he’s getting used to it.” The freezing player would be pictured in high jinx with his local team mates.

Most famously one of Wesley Ngo Bahang’s predecessors at Newcastle United Mirandinha was pictured messing around in the white stuff with team mate Paul Gascoigne. For reasons lost in the midst of time The Magpies Willie McFaul seemed to think that Gascoigne would be perfect for giving the Brazilian an introduction to the North East.

So Gazza and Mirandinha were thick as thieves with the Gateshead midfielder teaching the man from Brasilia about life in England. How to say Hello, how to say thank you and – infamously – how to say sorry.

The Gazza and Mirandinha combination came to Valley Parade for a Simod Cup match in 1988 where Stuart McCall played one of his two games against Gascoigne (the other being in Euro 1996, and after many glories at Rangers and Gascoigne dubbing the City man “the first name on his team sheet”, and each missed the games in the Premier League) and City were victorious 2-1. Mirandinha missed an open goal from six yards and Gascoigne looked good.

Mirandinha was an interesting player. Selfish, of course, and like our own Brazilian Edinho he seemed to keep a loose definition of tackling sliding in on defenders a little too often. One time early in his career at St James’ Park ‘dinha slid in clattering a defender to the ground as he tried to clear it. The Referee trotted over to have a word with the striker using the international language of the yellow card only for the striker to approach him with an apology in the words of English Gascoigne had taught him.

“Referee,” said the Brazilian his hands probably clasped together, “Fuck off.”

Which is probably why successful clubs employ people to settle players into their new environs and seldom allow the likes of Paul Gascoigne to do the job.

Willy Topp has gone, and it is to the sadness of all that he will not be photographed having a snowball fight with James Hanson or getting up to high jinx with Lee Bullock. There is Omar Daley of course, but for Daley the snow is the skiddy top that allowed Kevin Austin of Darlington rob him of a year of his career with the kind of horror tackle which has also mostly receded into football history but was – at the time – put down to the conditions.

A good reason why we are not going to be going to Aldershot.

The optimist and Omar Daley

If you are the type of supporter who rarely views games away from Valley Parade – and with 11,000 at home and about a tenth of that number following City away that includes a great many of us – then the next time you see Bradford City they will have played three games and shaped much of the season.

City take on Bury at Gigg Lane on Tuesday night and on Saturday week Peter Taylor takes his team back to former club Wycombe Wanderers and sandwiched between is an FA Cup first round game at Colchester United and do so having won three of the last four games.

Rollocking good wins over Oxford United and Cheltenham as well as a ground out display at Barnet have seen Taylor’s City team turn around. Those nine points – were they not firmly ensconced in “the bag” – would have seen City at the foot of League Two and probably the manager out of a job. Oxford United’s supporters insistence that Taylor would be “sacked in the morning” seemed a little wide of the mark five goals later.

Indeed five games after the 1-0 Morecambe Taylor – should he get a result against Bury and other results go the way he would want – then the Bantams would be tickling the play offs.

Not only that but wrapping five past Oxford – and beating Cheltenham – could hardly have been more enjoyable. Taylor side have – on occasion – played entertaining and winning football.

This balance of enjoyable and winning is especially relevant agianst Alan Knill’s Bury side. Last season City faced Bury twice in the space of a month and twice Bury manager Knill stated after the game that his team was outplayed and twice saw his team victorious the second time being in Stuart McCall’s final game as manager.

Those performances typified the end of McCall’s time at the club and formed much of the problems that Taylor had at the start of this season. McCall’s City played well but got beaten, Taylor’s side just got beaten but as things turn around for the current City manager he must hope to not suffer the same outrageous fortune as was suffered at Gigg Lane last year. Now City have slipped into a knack of out playing the odd team it is enjoyable that that is being reflected in the result.

(As a note about mentioning of Stuart McCall in this and other context. I grow tired of hearing and pretending that one of the most significant figure in the last few decades has no significance. If you don’t like mentions of Stuart McCall when that significance is called upon on this site – or if you want those mentions to be aggressive – then please feel free to take a number, stand in line, and kiss my arse.)

Enjoyable being a key word for Saturday’s win. The joy painted over the faces of the players as they roared into Oxford was marked and one can not help but wonder if the likes of Omar Daley and Lee Hendrie might have wondered when in treatment rooms for extended stays that those days would ever come again. Daley’s celebrations earned him a booking but few would deny a player who has suffered so much his moment in the sun.

Few I say but some would. As a player Daley is frustrating for sure but the level of criticism that pours forth to him would suggest he is something other than the player capable of winning games as he did on Saturday.

They key – perhaps – to understanding the Daley game is the oft said idea that he takes the wrong option which often means he takes an option which does not come to fruition (not always the same thing) and there in is the frustration of the man. Arriving four years ago Daley was rightly accused of laziness – his woeful defending coast City dear against Leyton Orient – but in the years which have passed his development has been noted.

Yes, he takes wrong options but he is brave enough to make a decision, to take an option, and that speaks to his character and his improvement. Football is full of players who will take your money and try make sure they never look too bad and as a result never do anything that good – j’accuse Andrew Taylor – but Daley risks standing out for the wrong reasons in order that he might at times stand out for the right ones.

His enjoyment on Saturday was shared by all who had bitten the tongue when frustrated by his running in the wrong direction who did not lambaste him but just hoped that next time would be another of those times, and it was.

Lenny Pidgeley is expected to make a second start for the Bantams after a good debut and the back four of Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams who was peerless on Saturday, Luke Oliver and Luke O’Brien will continue in front of him.

Tom Adeyemi was something of a passenger in the first half against Oxford and David Syers’ hammer finish from the bench suggested the one over the other. My call would be Syers to play alongside Tommy Doherty but when you are in the position that Taylor seems to be taking City into one does it by managing players and whatever he is doing with Syers is clearly working.

Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne play on the flanks in what is this writer’s favourite type of midfield. Four men with one fast and wide and one tighter and more on the flanks. It is the same balance of a midfield as Jamie Lawrence, Stuart McCall, Gareth Whalley and Peter Beagrie.

Up front City wait for a call from the FA to find out if James Hanson will be suspended following his red card on Saturday which City have appealed and Jason Price stands by to start in his place. Omar Daley is alongside, finding his niche.

So three games on the road begin and an optimist would say that City will be back at Valley Parade with 23 points, a place in the second round of the FA Cup and a triplet of great performances that got great results. That optimist probably never grumbles at Daley either, probably enjoyed Saturday more than most too.

Which way up is the map supposed to be?

The stretch of the M1 we followed to get down to Burton today was fraught with spells of heavy rain and high levels of spray, which made driving hazardous. And then three junctions before our turn off, traffic came to a complete standstill as an accident still some 10 miles ahead left everyone stationed.

In many ways it symbolised the year 2010 for Bradford City.

Faced with little to no movement on the motorway and with the clock ticking to kick off at the Pirelli Stadium, the atlas was hastily opened and an alternative route was worked out by getting off two junctions early. Abandon plan A, see you later non-moving traffic.

But what looked a good idea on paper proved to be almost as big a nightmare. The A roads we plotted as our short-cut were filled with heavy traffic, roadworks and over-used junctions through small towns which caused colossal tailbacks and took over 20 minutes a time to get through. Stress levels through the roof, but in the end we got into the ground just as the players came out for the game.

Perhaps if we’d waited on the M1 while the accident was cleared up we might have missed kick off, just like several City fans and even Burton’s planned starting player, Nathan Stanton, who had to be dropped to the bench. But as alluring and promising as the short-cut appeared to be in solving our immediate problems, the subsequent unexpected twists and troubles with plan B made it difficult to argue we had made the right decision.

Last February, Stuart McCall was forced out of the club he enjoyed highly distinguished spells of success with as a player – and who he still cares so much about he’s now even helping out the under 14s team – because it seemed his progress as manager was too slow and City were at a standstill. He’d made mistakes for sure; but after the majority of fans held up SOS banners begging him to stay in April 2009, he set about building a young hungry team which was just two or three players short of taking City into the direction we wanted to go.

Yet a few defeats around Christmas last year, and the impatience of many fans and members of the board became too strong and all of it was torn up. There had to be another, quicker path to realising the success we craved, it was felt; and rather like the alternative route devised from our road atlas this afternoon, his replacement Peter Taylor looked good on paper.

Ten months on, the evidence is mounting that getting rid of McCall as manager has proven a backwards step for this club. Sure, I know and understand the arguments about how McCall had been given almost three years and the lack of progress was there for all to see. I also agree he had sizeable transfer budgets and failed to make the most of them.  But after he offered to quit in Spring 2009 and after many of us begged him to stay, we saw tangible evidence of him learning from past mistakes which deserved more time to see through. After trying the short-cut approach of throwing money at people like Paul McLaren, he was building a team with great potential that could grow and take the club forwards over the next few years.

Taylor was an outstanding appointment for sure, but as City slumped to a seventh defeat in 13 league games this afternoon the reasons to believe he is the man to revive this ailing club are few beyond those that were apparent last February. The league position, the results, the performances and the level of passion have all declined since McCall fell on his sword.

For a week since the brilliant victory over Cheltenham Town, we’ve all basked in that warm glow of happiness and the positive mood was prevalent in the Burton away end at kick off and even through to half time, with City unfortunate to be a goal down after Jon McLaughlin brought down Lewis Young in the area and was unable to keep out Shaun Harrod’s spot kick on 31 minutes.

And though Burton had played well and hit the woodwork twice, City had been equally impressive and regularly cut through the Brewers’ defence during an exciting opening 45 minutes. Omar Daley, moved to left wing as Lee Hendrie was absent, twice cut inside and forced saves out of keeper Adam Legzdins. The hard-working David Syers had a long range effort tipped wide of the post. Then Daley produced a stunning run from the wing that saw him beat defenders for fun, before wildly blasting over from six yards.

The players were backed strongly by an enthusiastic away following. Confidence was high that we would come back in the second half.

But then, inexplicably, Taylor switched tactics and pushed Daley up front in a 4-3-3 formation, and the players changed from passing the ball around the pitch to direct balls to James Hanson and Jason Price. I remember McCall was often heavily criticised for not changing tactics or making subs early enough in games, but all season long Taylor has chopped and changed early and not for the first time it had a negative effect.

Why ditch a 4-4-2 formation that was working well in all but the scoreline? It sums up the lack of trust Taylor seems to have in his own players and over-dependence on functionality over style. City became one-dimensional, predictable and easy to defend against. Burton grew stronger and James Collins headed home former Bantam Adam Bolder’s cross to make it 2-0, after Luke O’Brien had made one excellent tackle but couldn’t get his bearings in time to stop the cross.

And therein lies the other downside to 4-3-3, which we often saw under McCall last season. By going so narrow in shape, the opposition have extra space to run at isolated full backs, often doubling up on them. Burton’s speedy wingers Young and Jacques Maghoma terrorised O’Brien and Reece Brown, the former at least standing up to the challenge admirably. Meanwhile when City had the ball they had no-one in wide areas to stretch the game, and moves kept ending with Brown crossing from deep and Burton’s defence – superbly marshalled by former promotion hero Darren Moore – easily clearing.

Just like the M1/A road dilemma, switching to plan B so quickly had not worked out as hoped. What of Plan C? Well when your subs bench contains three strikers, a defensive midfielder and two defenders, there isn’t one. With City struggling to provide the forwards any service, all Taylor could do was swap the front three and hope the ball fell kindly in the box. Daley was taken off, a bizarre decision but sadly typical of the level of faith shown in the Jamaican all season. With it, the opportunity to go back to using width was lost.

Burton’s third came after another successful charge down Brown’s part of the pitch – the shell-shocked youngster almost begging for the final whistle by this stage – and Russell Penn tapped home. City’s direct 4-3-3 approach failed to create a single noteworthy chance until a 93rd-minute header from Syers. The pre-match positivity had long since drained to silence and resignation, but not anger.

All of which leaves City having gone two steps forward and taken one step back over the past fortnight, and the longer-term outlook returns back into focus. This writer saw City director Roger Owen in a service station on the way home (but lacked the courage to ask one of McCall’s loudest critics what he now thought of Taylor and the results of the actions he was calling for last January). The two recent wins shield Taylor from the Board sacking him and the recent improvement should not be dismissed readily, but this week the pressure is on again.

The dilemma is whether Taylor’s ways will prove a success in the long-term and to keep patient as it stalls again, or whether it’s best to find a different route. Whatever the future holds, the current problems raise suspicions that, last February, the club took a wrong turn and is now struggling to work out which way up the map is supposed to be.

Perhaps it’s time to face facts, I think we’re lost.

The clip show

Don’t you just hate it when a sitcom resorts to doing a clips episode? A tedious plot which somehow requires the main characters to spend half an hour looking back on the funniest moments of the past, so the majority of the episode is just about re-living past highlights. It suggests laziness – or a lack of ideas – on the writers’ part. And it should be redundant in these days of DVD boxsets.

Well we at BfB are not lazy – or at least not being any more lazy than we usually are – and we’d like to think we’ve still got plenty of ideas; but with recent events feeling something like Groundhog Day, a step into the archives is an interesting way of placing some perspective on our current woes.

So here goes

Let’s begin in April 2009 and an article written by former BCST man and much-valued BfB contributor Richard Wardell. With Stuart McCall on the brink of leaving as a promotion bid collapsed, Richard argued against those calling for Dave Penny to be installed as manager by offering a vision of the future.

It was a warm Tuesday evening in late September 2009 and as the City supporters trudged away from Valley Parade, there was much talk about whether the appointment of Dave Penney in the summer had been the right move by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn following Stuart McCall’s exitNow that Penney and City had suffered their third consecutive home defeat, this time to league newcomers Burton Albion which left them in the bottom half of Division 4, many City supporters were questioning Penney’s appointment.

What’s so astonishing about these words is how close to the truth they are now, in September 2010. Replace Burton with Port Vale and Penny with Taylor, and the words pretty much describe the current reality. So far the decision to replace McCall has not worked out in the way some fans argued it would, and that has to register with people who are already beginning to tell the rest of us that Taylor’s removal is now the answer.

Taylor arrived last February to widespread acclaim. Everyone was pleased he was to become our manager this season, including a minority who are now slating Lawn and Rhodes for appointing him.

Let’s go to the Official Message Board – so often the platform for supporters’ views the club pays a lot of attention – to remind ourselves. A poll of who should be next manager saw Taylor come out on top with 53% of the votes, with the second highest votes coming for Martin Allen with 22%. 116  supporters voted, a decent representative of City fans. The day Taylor was confirmed to widespread joy, one fan commented, “I would love Taylor to bring [Tommy Doherty] into strengthen the midfield!”

The point of digging up such old comments and poll results is to highlight how everyone has a responsibility in the views they air. The changing of managers allows every one of us the chance to put ourselves in the position of the owners and decide who we’d like to see installed in the dugout. The fact the majority of fans clearly voted for Taylor in February – and voted he remained when a new contract was discussed last April – means we must take some responsibility for his appointment.

It’s therefore deeply wrong to so readily drop that support and pretend you never wanted him – and to blame Lawn and Rhodes for making a decision you had called for. And if supporters are going to ignore their old views or pretend they never aired them, how are there opinions now in anyway credible? Like Lawn and Rhodes, we need to be giving the manager support during this difficult time, because the majority of us appointed him believing he was the man for the job.

There’s also a big question mark about where calls for Taylor lead us. The club have only been prepared to back him for a short time, how long will the next guy get? Suddenly the club is not been run on the basis of a long-term plan, but on the form guide. It’s a highly unlikely-route to success that will only succeed in ensuring an increasingly regular vacancy is unattractive to sane managers.

Or as Michael excellently put last February:

For as long as BfB has been going I’ve been hoping that the correlation between often changing managers and a lack of success might be grasped by all at, and who watch from the stands at, Valley Parade. Alas it seems not to have been and the virtues of sticking with a manager – any manager – and allowing them to build a club and a dynasty rather than a single team are lost.

Taylor, with his training ground demands, perhaps represented one last chance to allow long-term thinking to work. An alternative strategy has yet to be aired – or perhaps even considered – by anyone.

An increasing criticism of Taylor in recent days has been his TV commitments. Over the last fortnight Taylor has appeared on the BBC, Sky and ESPN – usually offering punditry on the England national team. The complainers argue he does not have his mind on the City job and is failing to manage the players – he should after all have them in for 25 hours a day training. But if City were winning no one would bat an eyelid over his TV work.

So the question is does it make a difference? Let’s go back to Taylor’s track record for our next clip. To May 2005, when Hull were celebrating a second successive promotion. Or to May 2006, when Hull were celebrating staying up in the Championship. Taylor was the manager who oversaw this memorable chapter in the club’s history – but that wasn’t all he did. He was also England U21 manager.

That’s right, Taylor managed two football teams at the same time, and was hugely successful in the club one. Suddenly spending an evening in a Sky TV studio doesn’t quite seem so disgraceful, does it?

Let’s fast forward a little bit, back to McCall as manager. We all dreamed his appointment would lead to instant glory, but only three months into the job there was a crisis as City suffered eight winless matches and fell to fourth bottom of the Football League. Eventually results improved, and although the damage to City’s promotion bid was already done for that season at least, the turnaround in form was impressive. City finished 9th, thinking “if only” about that poor autumn run of form.

There are obvious similarities to the current poor run of form Taylor is trying to turn around. Let’s recall how bad it was in the autumn of 2007:

Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the…final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.

That was describing the infamous 3-0 defeat to Accrington, but it could equally have been an account of the recent 2-0 defeat to Southend. The point of looking back on this miserable time is that we know City were able to turn it around, just like they can this time. And unlike in 2007, if the turnaround can occur soon there will be much more of the season left to climb up the league. Back in 2007 the players looked hopeless and you couldn’t see us scoring a goal, but hard work and determination saw them eventually turn it around and show how good they were.

The current crop of players are capable of doing the same.

Finally let’s look back to the even more recent past – Taylor’s arrival. That too coincided with a shocking performance against Accrington, and as the club’s poor form under McCall continued it was difficult to see where the next win would come from. The fact City’s next match was away at leaders Rochdale meant we all certainly knew it wouldn’t be anytime soon. How wrong we were.

The players were brilliant that night – so too were the fans. Non-stop chanting that began well before kick off and only ended when we’d finished applauding Taylor and his players off the pitch. It was a reaction to the dismal form and the woeful atmosphere, which had been especially dreadful at Accrington. And it clearly made a difference to the players.

So I’d like to end by looking back on my own words ahead of traveling to that ‘inevitable’ defeat because I think they are as prevalent now as they were then.

Yet again City are drifting and, as familiarly depressing as this is, now should be the time to do something about it. Those of us going tonight should loudly back the team like we haven’t done all season. We should be chanting at 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, whatever. We should be leading the fight for our cause – even if we’re not sure what the cause is.

This is our football club, and we’re allowing it to fall into further decline by standing their muted at Accrington and booing the players. They didn’t deserve their bus ride home on Saturday, but if someone’s going to inject some passion into their boots and make them remember what an important cause playing for Bradford City is, well it’s got to be us.

So tonight we sing, tonight we support our team in defiance…Tonight we sing about how we’re City till we die, before the club itself really does.

See you at Stockport.

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

Do Bradford City have the worst supporters in football?

Now we can begin to understand why City have such a poor home record? Yes, we have had some awful teams, but the atmosphere they have to play in is cynical and negative. It’s a perfect storm of poor teams with fragile confidence playing in front of the worst fans in the entire Football League. Yes, the worst fans and I mean it with all my heart. We are terrible, we have the numbers, but nothing else: no humour; no passion; no belief.

For a long time Dave Pendleton was the poster boy for Bradford City supporters. Hair thinning and with a twang to his voice that stakes him unmistakeably in the West Riding Dave was the man that was called on when television companies and radio stations requires a City fan. Back in the Premiership days ITV’s On The Ball’s sponsors picked fans to represent clubs and you to go back and watch the video you would see Dave in front of a pub fireplace in his classic 1970s City shirt telling someone off camera to cheer up because this time last year we were at Crewe. He edited the City Gent, got called on to write for The Guardian about the club. If someone from Bradford were to have written Fever Pitch it would have been Dave.

So when Dave Pendleton says that City fans are the worst fans in the entire Football League he is not throwing bricks over the wall at unseen targets. He is talking about his peers, and his peers should take note.

What is the best support?

Dave Pendleton’s comments about City fans being the worst supporters in football provoked an interesting debate and one which – in the days after – caused the long time Bantam fan to muse further. “I would easily be able to find examples of much worse behaviour from supporters of other clubs. The lingering threat of violence, and even seventies style racism, at several well known clubs for example. I made the comment more out of frustration. I want our fans to do better and I know they can be.”

Out of frustration but his comments were certainly recognisable. No matter where one sits at Valley Parade one can hear the sound of negativity most of the time and that negativity is expressed in curious ways. Some time ago I recall hearing an agitated debate between two grown men where one had taken objection to the other launching into vulgarities at City’s then right winger Joe Colbeck. The argument progressed as one might expect it would – one side calling for the other to be less negative or go home, the other defending on his right to have his opinion voiced – but it struck me that very few other places in society would this discussion occur.

Very few other places would a man feel he could stand his ground against someone who had called him for swearing violently at a teenager and almost nowhere else would a foul mouthed tirade be considered in any way supportive. Football supporting – and one uses the phrase loosely – had a different set of considerations. Pendleton pays tribute to the people he worked with on The City Gent, on the work of the Bradford City Supporters Trust, on those who assist in the Bantamspast Museum but – accepting that work – returns to notion “We have an inordinate number of fans who leap rapidly on any error a City player makes. More often than not these same people are the last out of their seats when a goal flies in and almost never urge the team on during a period of City pressure. Sadly, they have become the dominant voice of Valley Parade.”

Many would recognise this characterisation. The experience of watching games at Valley Parade is to be as to enjoy despite the atmosphere and not because of it. Infamously a winning team was booed off the field this season representing a new low in this dominant voice.

Anecdotally this seems to be the core of this growing concept of bad support – the leaping on of errors and reticence to encourage – and from that it may be possible to establish an idea of what might be opposite that. That good support might be a tolerance for failures and a readiness to (vocally) endorse the team with a positivity.

Understand here that we talk not about the individual supporters at Valley Parade – after every game where boos ring out the players wander over to applaud the more favourable fans who have stayed to applaud rather than spitting venom and wandering away – but rather of the idea of a communal voice. The single speaking of a people Legion which, as we will come to in time, may no longer be a relevant consideration.

What’s so bad about feeling good?

Mark Lawn’s car was vandalised leaving the joint Bradford City chairman livid. Over the course of a weekend he mused about how worth it it was keeping the club going with his money and considered withdrawing his loan from the club putting it back into administration.

This story – the threat of administration – is often mentioned by those who criticise Lawn but seldom is the vandalism considered as destructive event as the booing of the team on a Saturday. It has parallels being against those who are part of the club, obviously counter-productive and largely a way for those involved to vent spleen. The difference being that while criticising (and abuse without violence) Lawn is seen as different to the players. Criticising the chairman, the manager, the chief executive of a club is often considered a sign of distinction.

Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League despite a constant criticism of chairman Mike Ashley which is seen as only good sense while Liverpool and Manchester United’s owners are vilified but in all these cases there is a bar (on the whole) in booing the players on match day.

This website does not shy from venturing opinions on the chairmen of the club and considers it very much a part of the remit of the supporter to keep a watchful eye on those who own the club and criticise when called for.

There is distinction drawn between the two strands of criticism. At St James’s Park, Newcastle that distinction is drawn in obvious terms by supporter and writer Andrew Wilkins. “The team are the team and the reason we criticise Ashley is because what he is doing gets in the way of the team doing well. If we were booing that team then we’d be stopping them doing well too.”

Wilkins sees this point that negativity in the stands on match day has a directly negative manifestation on the team as unequivocal. “I take colleagues to St James’ and all they can do is talk about how the fans lift the team. I’ve seen it happen when a player does something and gets encouraged for it and just grows and grows during a game.”

There is little one can do to measure the levels of negativity within various teams and see if those teams correlate with the more successful sides and so one if left with personal experience to inform ones thoughts. The United fan I worked with in Manchester amongst a sea of Blues was so often lampoons as guileless, artificial and almost childish but his team won the league while the City fans floundered around the second tier proclaiming both their affinity to the concept of being “real football fans” and their belief that everything was – pretty much – hopeless at Maine Road .

One has to wonder if the cynicism which is so much a part of the idea of authentic football supporter is not counter-productive in itself and that the wide eyed positive optimism portrayed as plastic consumerist football is not a path to success.

Are there cheerleaders in Soccer? No, unless you count the fans!

The cheerleader is rarely seen at British football although they have appeared. First at Watford in the 1980s – Elton John was credited as getting them in because he had an eye for the ladies which suggests how long ago it was – and then sporadically at almost every club in the game.

They appear – these girls with Pom Poms – and work out a dance or two but somewhere around the onset of the dark nights when Winter starts they seem to disappear never to return. For a while Bradford City’s Bantam Belles started the season well but seemed to fade with the club’s optimism every year.

English football has no love of the Cheerleader (Scottish football has no facility, the weather in Aberdeen not being suited) and their absence is part of a general neglect of anything which could be described as pre-match entertainment. Mascot dramas, Opera singers, player interaction with the crowd; All these things have been tried and sit with the Cheerleader in the part of the history books reserved for the regrettable.

Bradford City is no different to most football clubs in this regard but it does contrast with our neighbours Bradford Bulls. The Bulls transformation from the cloth cap of Northern to the razzmatazz of the Super League was alarming to many but impressively effective and the continued sight of car stickers and t-shirts that testify to the time when the club were the best team in the World having won a pan-Continental challenge as well as four domestic titles.

Pop stars singing on the field, girls with pom poms, Bullman and Bullboy the stories of the atmosphere of Odsal had a near mythic status but those days – like the team’s triumphs in Super League – seem behind them. Bulls fan Phil Parsons sums up the mood saying

“(The Bulls) seemed a bit deflated as of late. Some of this is obviously to do with the results on the pitch but quite a bit of it has been because of things off the pitch as well. A lot of people wanted McNamara to go a lot earlier than he did and this seemed to lead to a lot of discontent among the fans. It was other things as well, for example the pre-match entertainment used to be excellent and a lot of it this year has been pretty poor and it’s just sucked the atmosphere out of Odsal.”

Parsons has signed up for the Bulls Pledge – cheaper season tickets if so many people get on board – but hopes that the club cab use the next season as a new start. “They should make a massive deal of it. Go back to things like having an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma just before kick off, the fireworks and having the teams walk out together, that sort of thing. Odsal used to have the nickname ‘Fortress Odsal’ because it was such an imposing place to come to as an away team and the fans loved it. That’s want I want back from next season.”

The correlation in the minds of both Parsons and Wilkins is clear. Good atmosphere off the field – however it is brought about – brings good results on it or at least contributes. Newcatle United’s players are inspired, Bradford Bull’s opponents are scared but in short that good support brings good football, or at least winning football.

I love a party with a happy atmosphere

If a good atmosphere begets good results then it might be worth considering what good supporters do which aids the players or hinders the opposition. Certainly City’s players and management have talked gravely about the silence of Valley Parade. Nicky Law said the crowd was worth a goal start for the opposition suggesting a reverse of the effect that the Bulls seek while Stuart McCall fumed at the booing of individual players suggesting that it hampered the team as a whole.

Peter Taylor highlighted the effect on the development of the younger players in the team of the players being booed suggesting that they would be less willing to do the things that help them develop into better players for fear of the Valley Parade ire. Joe Colbeck was never the same after he went to Darlington and came back with the confidence of having couple of games of the most purposeful practice without the censure in failure.

So we gather ideas of how good support – which we correlate with the idea that good supporters end up with successful teams – manifests itself. Speaking about match days and about what occurs during match days we emerge with a hypothesis: Good support is the tendency to allow for player’s failure giving those players the scope to both be more adventurous (and responsible) in their play and to learn from that experience (which is especially true for the young players) and to believe that the whole is best served by belief in the collection players.

It is difficult to quantify support outside of the realm of bums on seats and noise generated but anecdotally one finds it hard to recall occasions when the clubs which are known for having better supports who are yoked to success have gone against that hypothesis.

It was rare that Liverpool supporters attacked a player but the treatment of Lucas Leiva in recent seasons strikes a contrast to the story of singing while 3-0 down in Instanbul inspiring the players. The fear in football is that when the fans start to boo a single player that the ten other men worry that after a mistake they will be the next target. Peter Beagrie summed up this feeling in his comment about what constituted genuine courage on the football field – “Doing the same thing the twelfth that has left you on your backside for the last eleven because it is still the right thing to do.”

Manchester United supporters made a fable out of Deigo Forlan’s failure to score allowing the player the room to grow, Newcastle United idolise their number nine in a way that seemed to cause the current incumbent to grow a foot when the shirt went on his back. Even over at Leeds United where they are not know for tolerance they express to their players a belief that the club will do well in any division they are in should they apply themselves correctly.

It might seem trite – almost childish in its simplicity – but the supporters who are best able to suspend any disbelief they have for the duration of a game are those who do best in the longer term. The non-cynical attitude of children is mirrored – at least during games – by the fans of clubs who do well and the problem with children is that they grow up.

So now then

Cynicism is no bad thing and if more of football was cynical then the game would be in better health. If every season a 80 clubs did not plan the season on the idea that they would end up promoted then so many balance sheets would not be bright red.

Cynicism in supporters could can be helpful too. After Bruno Rodriguez, Jorge Cadete and Juanjo it was incredible that the levels of cynicism at Valley Parade allowed for another overseas superstar to have his name plastered on a shirt and anyone who showed cynicism probably saved themselves £40.

However when Topp took to the field the suspension of disbelief – the ability to park cynicism – was noticeable for its scarcity at Valley Parade. Nothing really suggested he would be a good player but we all convinced ourselves he would be Pele and so he enjoyed ample chance. Compare that with Barry Conlon who scored more goals in one game that Topp has got in his career and the problem becomes clearer.

This is mental gymnastics. The ability to double-think away from the cynicism that comes with following a club for seasons in which one learns that success is rare is a tough skill to learn and like any skill it is best reinforced when it comes with a positive result. If the double-think of supporting does not lead to results then people are less likely to do it – as with post-Topp City – but Beagrie would testify that it is still the right thing to do.

The supporters who have had the most experience of this working do it more often – Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle United and so on – and one could say that the are the best supporters but one would shy from saying that the opposite are bad fans, or to come full circle “the worst fans in football”.

Just that of all the tools which football fans use to be able to do “good support” City fans use few. Perhaps supporters are not bad just not less good and in a competitive football environment in which all teams compete in the longer term City fans are not worse than many but a few clubs have fans who are better able to use their presence to boost their teams.

To those teams the spoils. The rest of us look disparagingly at the Manchester United supporter and his giddy belief that whichever kid Sir Alex throws in will be the New George Best or the Newcastle United fan who has his team’s number nine tattooed on his thigh they look back at us with sympathy.

For we have more of what they would call cynicism and they have more of what we would call success.

Time for Plan A?

As Saturday approaches I have begun my usual guessing game over what team Peter Taylor will choose.

Stuart McCall was criticised on many occasions last season for not having a ‘Plan B’ Taylor it appears has got a plan C, D and E. With the season only a handful of games old Taylor has already used 20 outfield players- that would quite possibly be more had Michael Flynn and Leon Osbourne not been missing through injury- and also 4 different skippers. Taylor has explained his high rotation of players and his reasoning is fair. Firstly he says does not yet know his best side and secondly there have been a high number of games in a short space of time, two of which have gone to extra time and therefore he has looked to give players a rest. However, with 4 games of the season gone, with only 1 win and 8 days since the last game surely now we will see what Taylor believes to be his strongest side.

The only player that has begun every game is Jon McLaughlin and although he was called into question by Taylor following the Torquay match he still remains first choice. There is no doubting that he is talented, assured and confident between the stick and it appears he will not let any previous mistakes affect him too easily. But he is young and needs not only some experience in front of him but consistency too.

Unfortunately his most experienced defender and club captain, Simon Ramsden has had his involvement limited by injury. This has seen his understudy, Lewis Hunt step into the vacant position and he has performed adequately, but no more than adequate. Hunt to me seems a more than able replacement for our consistent captain and yet at the same time his lacklustre, relaxed approach to the game leaves me thinking he could be a lot more than adequate.

In the first game against Shrewsbury he did not appear to be fit, which was unfortunately exaggerated as he tried to handle the impressive Ainsworth. In the following games he still appears to amble over to the touchline whenever he is required to take a throw in, rarely appears to be willing to receive the ball and as far as I can remember has never created an overlap for his winger. In fairness to Hunt we do not know what his instructions have been from Peter Taylor and he may well be ordered to be so conservative and concentrate on his defending- a job which he performs very capably. Even so I can’t help but hope we see a fit Ramsden taking the field again before too long.

The other 3 slots across the back 4 have not had had reduced options through injury and yet are still chopped and changed. I am a firm believer that an understanding between the defence and goalkeeper needs to be established from playing together regularly. How often did you see Sir Alex Ferguson line his side up without Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister when both were available, or Wenger without Tony Adams and Martin Keown or even Mourinho without John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

Those partnerships were part of some the most successful defences in the Premier League’s history because they were exactly that. Each player knew what their partner was going to do and their goalkeeper behind also created that same understanding be it Schmeichel, Seaman or Cech. Something our current number one Jon McLaughlin must do with whoever plays in front of him. I don’t doubt the ability of any of our current centre backs but all of them will play the game differently and if McLaughlin has a consistent partnership in front of him then that will allow him to become more confident in his decision making knowing what his two defenders in front are most likely to do.

So far it appears to be any 3 from Steve Williams, Luke Oliver and Shane Duff for the two centre half roles with last season’s captain Zesh Rehman providing back up. I was never a huge fan of Rehman last year, but do feel as though he became a lot more assured and solid when Taylor took over towards the end of the season and is possibly a little unfortunate to be overlooked. For me Steve Williams is a rough diamond and has the potential to play at a higher level. I would compare him to a lower league Rio Ferdinand in his style of play. However, much like Rio Ferdinand at the beginning of his career he is still inexperienced, still learning and prone to a mistake. For that reason I would suggest he needs an experienced, vocal leader alongside him. Luke Oliver, unfortunately, does not possess those qualities and although he appears to be Taylor’s favoured option – he has started every league game so far – I would still favour Duff. I do not base this so much on my own observations of Duff due to the limited amount of opportunity I have had to watch him but more on my second hand knowledge of the player from Taylor himself.

When Duff was signed Taylor acknowledged that it was because he felt that Williams and Oliver did not have enough league football experience and Duff has racked up almost double the amount of league appearances that Williams and Oliver have combined. Further, Taylor described him as a ‘good leader’ in the mould of Tony Adams. It is for those qualities that I consider him to be the perfect partner for Williams.

Left back is also a position that is very much in the balance with a decision to be made between two very different players. Robbie Threlfall probably began the season as the favourite after impressing on loan last season. He’s tall, and can boast of an extremely sweet left foot but has been found out at the beginning of this season while the smaller, quicker Luke O’Brien has impressed. Unfortunately, despite getting himself in promising positions O’Brien’s final ball and decision making in the final third leaves something to be desired.

Still if he could cross a ball like Threlfall he probably wouldn’t be playing for Bradford City. It is possible that following his outstanding first season and deserved Player of the Year trophy Luke O’Brien became over confident and it was a combination of this and the lack of competition for his place in the side that led to his disappointing second season. Now with Threlfall pushing him for the starting berth he has returned more determined with a point to prove and on current form deserves his place. That is of course unless Taylor chooses to deploy him further forward in midfield.

Midfield provides Taylor with a selection headache before he chooses his personnel, is the side more suited to 3 in midfield and 3 forwards or a more standard 4-4-2. We have seen both systems tried so far with varying degrees of success. One thing that can’t be denied is that there is plenty of competition, especially in the centre. For the Stevenage game we set up with 4-4-2 with Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty occupying the central roles. Both players are very good at what they do but are they not too similar? In that game both played very deep and this left a gap behind the strikers and meant they were not provided with enough support. This appears to be something Taylor also identified at half time when replacing Bullock for David Syers.

This would suggest Taylor favours Doherty, and despite being considered to not look fully fit by many supporters, I would agree that he has the edge. Doherty is more mobile than Bullock, a superb passer of the ball and, judging by his performance against us for Wycombe two years ago, he has the ability to dictate and dominate a game. His perfect partner would be Michael Flynn. Last season Flynn was one of our most impressive performers but unfortunately injury has ruled him out of featuring so far. So until Flynn’s return Tom Adeyemi and Dave Syers look to stake their claim. If footballer’s were judged on academic achievement both of these would be in the Premier League however despite both impressing in patches neither can justifiably believe they deserve to be a certain starter.

Out wide the sometimes brilliant but more frequently frustrating Omar Daley looks to have returned from his horrific injury lacking in confidence and a yard of pace slower. Unless Taylor can find a way to help him return to his previous best I fear that his days as the winger who could petrify fullbacks may be over. Following Scott Neilson’s departure that leaves a lack of options on the flank, O’Brien proved he is a more than capable on the left last year but that also means he has to vacate the position of full back. On the other side Gareth Evans is yet to find his best position as either striker or winger. You can guarantee he will give it his all in either position but as a winger he is probably better coming inside from the left as he did against Rochdale last year and therefore perhaps not the solution on the right. Leon Osbourne is yet to return from injury but after impressing at the end of last season there is reason to be enthusiastic about his return. He, like Evans may benefit from a more advanced role as a wide forward and considering the amount of different options we have in terms of central midfielders this would give an compelling argument for a use of a 4-3-3 formation.

That would leave 1 striker from 3 spearheading the Bradford attack. James Hanson, Player of the Season last year impressed all fans with his strength, ability in the air and work rate. Some do worry that he may suffer from second season syndrome and he hasn’t dominated defences in the same way at the beginning of this season. It is important to remember he was injured in the run up to the beginning of the season and will only be beginning to reach full fitness, he has not lost his ability over night and would appear to have the perfect qualities suited to a lone striker.

Big things are expected from loanee, Louis Moult following his arrival from Stoke and he has shown glimpses of fantastic ability in his limited opportunities so far but Taylor appears to prefer using him out wide. That leaves Jake Speight and although he arrived under a cloud he was one of the few positives that were taken from the game against Stevenage and helped him on his way to winning over the supporters. He works tirelessly and was a real handful for the defence, and reports suggest he is going to be rewarded with a deserved start come Saturday.

I had hoped putting my thoughts in writing would help enable me to understand Taylor’s thinking and give me an insight into his possible line-up for Saturday but still I am clueless. I suppose at the end of the day I’m just a fan and that’s why when the team kicks off on Saturday I will take my place in the stands and Peter Taylor will be in the dugout.

So over to you Mr.Taylor, I certainly still have complete faith.

Could the City Gent be banned from Valley Parade?

It’s funny how by inadvertently spotting something by chance then leads on to something quite puzzling – and then quite worrying. A friend alerted me to a reader’s letter which appeared in the sporting letters section of The Yorkshire Post on Monday 9 August, attacking City Gent editor Mike Harrison. Knowing that I contribute to the fanzine, my friend said I should take a look.

The letter had been written by Kevin Mitchell, a long-standing City supporter who used to produce the content for City’s Clubcall phone news service, and was a reaction to opinions Mike had shared for the paper’s previewing of the new season.

But the tone and nature of Mitchell’s attack seemed unjustifiably harsh. So I contacted Mike to find out what was going on. Although reluctant at first, he pointed me to his Yorkshire Post piece and explained how he had made what he considered to be tongue-in-cheek remarks, but which had upset one of the club’s joint Chairmen in particular.

Mitchell was close to the Board during Geoffrey Richmond’s reign; and while his response to Mike’s comments might be a coincidence, it could also be speculated whether he sent it in knowing how the Board felt. But if anything that was the least of Mike’s concerns, as he’d been informed the club is considering banning the City Gent from Valley Parade.

The offending article was part of the Yorkshire Post’s pre-season preview, where a supporter of each regional club was asked to share their predictions on matters such as where their team will finish and who the key player will be. Mike, who has contributed to this annual feature for a number of years, offered lukewarm views on City’s prospects for the season ahead, and made one particular comment which the Board appears to have taken as a dig at them.

Mike explained to BfB, “The first I knew that they were upset came after I received an unexpected phone call from Peter Taylor! It’s the first time he’d phoned me and he wanted to check if I’d said something about him having a bigger players’ budget than Stuart McCall in the YP. I knew I hadn’t, and I said I’d find out who had and he seemed okay with that.” (It turned out to be Terry Dolan).

As it was a Thursday and the media pitch up at VP to do their weekend interviews, Mike went along to Valley Parade armed with the Terry Dolan interview to pass on to Taylor and with his own fans’ view, just in case the City manager was upset by his comments.

“It was while I was waiting to speak to Taylor that Head of Operations David Baldwin approached me with his objections to the Yorkshire Post piece,” Mike revealed. “David left me in no uncertain terms that my comments were seen in a bad light and he reminded me about the fact they let City Gent have free rein in and around VP, plus I had offended them last season when an email written for the Internet Bantam list ended up being seen by the Board via the Official Message Board.

“It seems that their main gripe was that they were not happy with my flippant comment when asked ‘What changes need to be made off the field?’ And I replied ‘There are too many to list’. I was certainly left in no uncertain terms that City Gent’s future at VP was in doubt and would be discussed by the Board and that he would be phoning me soon.

“Not long after, Mark Lawn appeared and as he wandered past me in the corridor outside the 1911 club he said sarcastically ‘that was really positive what you said in the Yorkshire Post, Mike’. As I had already spoken to Baldwin I didn’t respond and neither did I say anything to him as he walked past me again a few moments later.”

This exchange took place prior to the Shrewsbury defeat. And although Mike has still yet to be called in, Baldwin confirmed to City Gent contributor Mark Neale at the Stevenage game that the threat of a ban remains. Baldwin is now away on holiday. No decision has been made so far on whether to ban City Gent from being sold in and around the stadium on matchdays.

It should be noted that Mike did not exactly dismiss City’s chances for the season in the Yorkshire Post article; instead he adopted a note of caution and predicted an eighth-place finish. On the question ‘Where will you finish?’ Mike responded, “I have learned my lesson from the last three years, when I was far too optimistic about our chances. So, this time I really am going into a new season not expecting much from the team. That way, it should be easier to handle the disappointment that seems to come with being a supporter of Bradford City. Either that, or the reverse psychology will work on our players and we’ll win the title by 10 points!”

Sadly this meaning was missed when the sub editor of the Yorkshire Post cut Mike’s comments drastically from his original reply sent to journalist Richard Sutcliffe. Another comment that had annoyed the Board and Mitchell, where Mike was reflecting on the mood of some fans unhappy with the constant changing of managers at Valley Parade, was the light-hearted response to a question about offering advice to the manager, “Think of your time managing City as good experience for the next job.”

“To be honest I was totally shocked by the comments of Baldwin and Lawn”, added Mike. “I went to VP thinking ‘phew I’m glad didn’t upset Peter Taylor because it was Terry Dolan and then when he’d actually seen the quote he seemed okay with it’. And yet I walked into something else which was totally unexpected.

“To be honest, the off the field stuff I was referring to in the YP was the embarrassment I felt having a former player locked up – though Taylor admitted to me he would have signed him had he not been convicted for murder – and a newly signed player being jailed for allegedly beating up his girlfriend and not telling City about it.

“Lawn trumpeted the fact that a new training ground was found and he had a go at Bradford Council for the fact the club had to go to Leeds to train, but the deal fell through and the first City fans heard about it was when the players reported for pre season training back at Apperley Bridge. How embarrassing was that? If the Board are not as embarrassed as I am on just those three topics well I can’t legislate for the fact that some of them appear not to have a sense of humour.

“Whether or not there is a wider question here about the Board’s paranoia about what fans say about them and a desire from them to quell anything that is deemed negative about them I’ll leave that up to the City fans to make their own minds up about.”

It’s clear City’s Board is unhappy that negative opinions of City appeared in a prominent newspaper. And there is a clear link between it and their own PR efforts of recent months. Throughout the summer we’ve had endless updates about how great the new playing surface is, we’ve heard that Roger Owen played a proactive role in fixing a leak on a stand roof and, last Friday, there was a bizarre piece on the website about how he and his wife had sorted out the players’ suits.

Great effort from them both, worth commending internally and maybe in the Chairmen’s programme notes. But a news story? There’s an increasing nature of the Board telling us how well things are going off the field and how brilliant Taylor is. Owen, who publicly criticised McCall when he was manager, seemed to be using this story as a chance to praise Taylor for insisting on high appearance standards. But City fans will judge Taylor by how well he get his players performing on the pitch; looking nice before kick off isn’t going to have any bearing on the league table.

As regular readers of the City Gent will know, Mike and other contributors have been wholly positive about Taylor since arriving as manager last February, but the scars of disappointment in recent years and the less than sensitive way some Board members and a section of supporters chased McCall out of the club have left a weary and cynical outlook for some fans. Sure Taylor is great and all, but how long until some people turn on him like many did on McCall, Colin Todd, Paul Jewell and others? And as for getting wildly excited at the start of the season and believing this promotion favourites rubbish; have we learned nothing?

We at BfB have received heavy criticism from a number of fans in recent days for not backing Taylor strongly enough, despite the fact that for months numerous articles have been published offering praise for the manager. Our failing, in these people’s eyes, seems to be that we’ve not joined them in offering over-the-top complements for every little action he undertook over the summer, which inevitably included slating McCall as a poor comparison. Some of the praise Taylor received from others was well-intended but largely meaningless. And it didn’t count for much when many of these same people tore into Taylor after the Torquay loss.

There is no editorial policy whatsoever at BfB, so I can’t comment for how othe