Gone / Parkinson

It would seem that Bolton Wanderers will confirm that Phil Parkinson is their new manager tomorrow after Bradford City’s new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp agreed to allow the long serving manager to talk to the Lancashire club.

Parkinson leaves behind him a Bradford City transformed from the struggling League Two team he inherited when they sat in 23rd position. His record of having improved the league standing of the team in each of his five finishes is impressive in itself but coupled with a League Cup final, wins over Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Sunderland and Leeds United make a case that Parkinson is the club’s most successful manager in the club’s history in terms of the resources available to him and what he achieved with them.

Parkinson built teams of iron character with players who redefined, for me, unity on a football field and his legacy will be measured in the high watermark set for players who wear the shirt from now on in terms of the effort put in and the support given to team mates.

Legacy

While it is Parkinson’s abilities to make these teams of his overcome huge obstacles that will have him remembered – giving Chelsea a two goal start is a good example – his real successes are on the nuances of manufacturing a team which rewarded effort in support with effort on the field.

But it would be wrong to say that Parkinson did not have his detractors. There were many who were concerned with his style of play and how it focused on a long delivery into the final third. There were questions about his ability to recruit players to improve the team with the summer of 2015 resulting in a lottery of players none of whom worked out. There were also concerns about his willingness to bring young players into the Bradford City first team set up which contrasted with Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims of developing talent.

Those questions will not need to be answered and Parkinson leaves Valley Parade having created a genuine symbiosis between supporters and team that becomes the next incumbents biggest asset and the now former manager’s lasting legacy.

Parkinson also achieves that rarest of things for a Bradford City manager in that he leaves on something of a high. He has not been sacked (well, only the once, and that was a few years back now), or forced into resignation, or hounded out, or told he would have not had his contract renewed, nor did the club or a majority of supporters want him to leave.

Parkinson was a good thing and – it seems – that good thing has come to an end.

Motivation

As Parkinson leaves suspicion is thrown on Rahic and Rupp as to how they could have avoided the manager’s departure and how determined they would be to have kept him. One could only guess at this but it would seem that Rahic had meetings with Parkinson and one assumes that at those meetings the two explained their approach to each other. Parkinson, one assumes, did not especially like what he heard from Rahic and decided that his career was best served elsewhere.

One can have one’s own thoughts on if Rahic should – when Parkinson told him that he wanted to carry on his career elsewhere – have told Parkinson that all the manager’s plans would trump all the owner’s decisions. While the change of ownership might have given Parkinson the pause to exit it seems unlikely that fundamental disagreements could have emerged in the space of two weeks that precipitated the exit.

Parkinson may explain his motivation but ultimately you, I, and Edin Rahic have to accept that he has made that decision and take it with good grace. That good grace to the likes of Gary Jones and Jon McLaughlin who return to Valley Parade as opposition players, rather than boos and backbiting, is another part of the Parkinson legacy and something best carried on, in my opinion at least.

Incumbent

And with Parkinson exiting thoughts turn to his successor and very quickly to Uwe Rösler who has been linked with the position since the new owners arrived although Rahic was quick to speculate that the link was created in the English press because both parties were German.

Rösler’s track record in management is not especially good enough to promote his name above any other candidates and one hopes his application is considered in that way. Linking Rösler seems to be educated guesswork as does linking Dutchman Huub Stevens.

Steve Parkin and the rest of Parkinson’s management team are expected to follow him to Bolton Wanderers and – experiences with Chris Hutchins colouring judgement – that may be the best for all.

The rise and pause of James Hanson

Having watched them fail to cope with his muscular style in the FA Cup it was hardly surprising that Millwall put in a bid for James Hanson. The London club – who will compete with City in League One next season – have seen the effectiveness of the Bantams bluntest object first hand and were evidently impressed.

The Lions bid has been rejected. The word from Bradford City was that it was not near the amount the player is valued at which sounds troublingly more like a negotiating tactic than a hands off notice. We await developments with a sense of worry.

For most who cast an eye over Valley Parade in the past five years James Hanson’s rise is the rise of Bradford City. Emerging from nowhere – he did used to work at the Co-op – to heights previously unprecedented and very unexpected. It was Hanson who scored the goal which took City to Wembley in 2013 and who the BBC choose to use as their representative of the club in their coverage of that League Cup final.

It is not hard to associate the tall striker with all the good things that have gone on at City in the past few years. He was the man of the moment in the greatest moment to date at Villa, he scored a superb strike at Burton Albion in the playoffs, and he worked his backside off on the left hand side against Chelsea. In-between he puts in the kind of hard working displays that he promised back in 2010.

But there is a temptation to ask what the limits of using a player like Hanson are. At League One level the teams that do well have a powerhouse forward like Hanson but the higher up a club goes the less used the more obvious parts of Hanson’s game are. Strength and the ability to hold the ball become necessities at some point although that point is a deal higher than the middle of League One where City are at the moment.

One is tempted to look at the stalled progress of Hanson’s former partner Nahki Wells and suggest that somewhere in the middle of The Championship – the hurdle that Huddersfield Town cannot manage to leap over – there is a gradual change in playing style away from the type of football that gets you into the league at the bottom and towards the type of football that gets you out of it at the top. Wells and Hanson were a classic big man/little man pairing and that is out of fashion at Watford and Norwich where promotion is being celebrated.

Indeed much of what Bradford City under Phil Parkinson do could be said to be out of step with the successful teams of the division above. Football as a whole sneers at City’s physical play, direct football and hard work ethic. That sneer is turned away after Chelsea, or Sunderland, or similar but only in those instances. The prevailing narrative of football is that what City do week-in-week-out is some how less teams that pursue “pure” football.

Parkinson is given awards for his work but none of the managers who lost at Stamford Bridge is tempted to imitate him.

Which gives Hanson, and Parkinson, a moment of pause. Will City’s rise be a result of the same patterns of play – albeit with refinement – or will the club, management and players have to change to progress?

When Jordan Pickford went back to Sunderland as a man walks into a bar

There is a cliché: A man walks into a bar and talks about how he could have been a great footballer but it just did not happen for him. Maybe it was injury or a couple of good players in the youth ranks in his position. Maybe he got further in the game but maybe a change of manager stopped him from getting the chance, or maybe he bottled the big chance but he probably would not tell it that way.

There are a hundred stories from a million people who almost were, but never was.

(In fact, as an aside, I once talked to former City keeper Mark Evans‘ Dad about how in the early 1990s John Docherty had given Evans the impression that he would jump from number three to number one only for the Scot to be fired a few days later.)

And one of those stories is laid out for Jordan Pickford who returned to Sunderland from Bradford City. After Pickford’s 21st birthday at the weekend the terms of his loan would be restated meaning Sunderland would not be allowed to recall him until the 8th of April 2015.

This was unacceptable to Sunderland where Pickford sits behind Vito Mannone and Costel Pantilimon on the bench and so Pickford returned.

Which is the end of the story for the clubs.

Vito Mannone is out of contract in the summer and Sunderland’s place in the Premier League is a little tentative. One can see Pickford finding a chance to get near the Sunderland starting eleven, and one can see him doing well if he does, but one can see many scenarios where that does not happen.

Sunderland’s right to keep Pickford out of the FA Cup stopped him from playing in the win at Chelsea – not a bad learning experience for anyone – and now his return home will stop him learning about a team chasing promotion.

It is not genius to suggest that is Pickford does get the chance to play for Sunderland next season it will probably be in similar circumstances. The club from the North East do as they wish to do.

But what about Jordan Pickford? How will this decision impact him?

Watching Pickford’s athleticism some have been tempted to see him as a future England keeper. So much more than raw athleticism goes into making a top quality footballer thought and what is more is learnt in games that matter.

Indeed Matthew Syed’s Bounce and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers go as far as to suggest suggests that purposeful exposure to experience that matters is the be-all-and-end-all of development.

If that is true then while Pickford has clocked up some useful hours in goal for City this year his chances of becoming the player his raw athleticism suggests he could be have been hampered by Sunderland’s insistence on keeping him back.

The experience of playing against Leeds United, Chelsea, Halifax Town, Millwall, Reading and for the rest of the season at Bradford City would have made Jordan Pickford into a better player. Not getting that experience increases the chance that he will become the cliché of the might-have-been.

If Jordan Pickford knows this he should be furious at Sunderland.

He should march into Gus Poyet’s office and tell him “I’m in the Sunderland first team from now on Gus, otherwise you are flushing my career down the pan.” Every week he sits out during his younger, development years damages him.

If he is watching Sunderland from the stands knowing that City wanted him in between the sticks he should tell Poyet that he wants to leave to go to a club that takes better care of him – be that Bradford City or not – and he would be right to do that.

Football is full of players who never were. Because of Sunderland Jordan Pickford is already the goalkeeper who could have been playing in the win over Chelsea. While he sits in the stands for the next three months Jordan Pickford might want to think he is going to be the goalkeeper who could have had a decent career.

How Bradford City got to the sixth round of the FA Cup and how easy it was

The Team

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

A story of abject failure

Bradford City’s 2-0 win over Sunderland was most remarkable because of how easy it was.

From Billy Clarke’s third minute shot deflected in by John O’Shea onwards the result at Valley Parade was hardly in doubt.

Bradford City played accurate passing at tempo which Sunderland could not match, and with a shape which Sunderland would not adapt to. Robbed of midfield quality in Jack Rodwell and power in Lee Cattermole Sunderland played Liam Bridcutt and Sebastian Larsson in the middle against City’s three of Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle and Billy Knott and lost the midfield.

Bradford City dominated the first forty five minutes. Liddle sat behind his two partners who were both admirably disciplined, and while Bridcutt picked up Billy Clarke in the playmaking role Sunderland manager Gus Poyet left Larsson on his own with three players.

And Larsson could not deliver a quality of possession on the flanks for Sunderland who had based the game on the ball to wide players – Adam Johnson looked lively – which would be put in for Steven Fletcher to finish with Danny Graham in support. Fletcher vs Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies was hardly even a contest.

Better matched were James Hanson and Jon Stead against O’Shea and Wes Brown but with Clarke coming forward and Hanson moving out wide left City pressed with strength, movement and intelligence. O’Shea and Brown with Bridcutt coming back were unsettled by Hanson’s strength and Clarke’s speed with ball at foot.

Only unsettled though, but with so much of the rest of Gus Poyet’s team selection playing exactly as Bradford City’s Phil Parkinson would have wanted it to be it seemed that the Premier League time arrived at, and played with, a hand tied behind their back.

And that hand was tied by Gus Poyet. At half time, watching his team lose the midfield battle, Poyet threw on Connor Wickham for Graham, went route one, and lost the game.

In terms of a manager approaching the game, understanding how the opposition would play, and putting out a team capable of navigating that Poyet failed utterly abjectly.

Shall we switch narrative?

We have become old hands at this of course. The giant killing narrative that is spun around a team who have done what Bradford City have done in the last few years. The talk is of passionate performances and playing with character. It is of small changing rooms and bad pitches.

(The pitch was was better today, something I would congratulate and praise Roger Owen for but as he has said he is not directly responsibility for the pitch and that it is not his responsibility so I offer him no congratulations and no praise at all.)

Talk like that misses the point of Bradford City’s wins against Chelsea and Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan but it especially misses the point of this game. Bradford City did not approach Sunderland with a blowing hurricane, just with determination, but Sunderland’s preparation and approach was so far away from what it should have been that the distance between the two sides was great.

For all the coverage of a “team of heroes”, or “plucky players”, or (curiously) “real men” the reality was a Bradford City team who put in a very steady performance. Not that the players were not very good – they were – but that at the end of the game where City had won in something of a canter no player had especially surprised, or played beyond himself, or amazed.

All had played very well, in a very good unit, and carried out the roles that they were assigned very adeptly. Billy Knott – the agent provocateur against Chelsea – slipped into the discipline of a central midfield role as well as he had since first he joined from Sunderland. Filipe Morais continues to curb his solo excesses too.

Everyone played very well but Bradford City did not spring a surprise on Sunderland, or mug Sunderland, or rough Sunderland up. Bradford City played in the same way as in the win over Milton Keynes Dons on Monday, and did not have to play better to beat Sunderland.

Sunderland were the team that were beaten 8-0 by Southampton once again. Bradford City – in this giant killing – were just here to make up the numbers.

The best thing about Sunderland

The only good thing one can say about Sunderland is that the team is much, much poorer than the supporters. The supporters of Sunderland applauded former players, applauded Bradford City for beating them, applauded Bradford City fans for the atmosphere in Valley Parade. They deserve better.

They will be told – perhaps by Guy Poyet – that City roughed up the team on a bad pitch and the media will tell them they were beaten by a team with chutzpah.

But that is not true, and those fans know it.

Poyet set out an attack that played to City’s strengths and a midfield that was outnumbered in the centre of the field, and they played without the commitment to a team structure and the belief that what they were doing would work.

One does not want to downplay what Bradford City and Phil Parkinson have done against Sunderland or in his time at City. The level that City play at is very high and the squad’s character is obvious to all.

Sunderland played badly and often Parkinson’s teams make other teams play badly. Parkinson has his team close down the space for opposition players making time on the ball claustrophobic. That was certainly the case today.

But Parkinson just had to ensure that his team continued Monday night’s MK Dons performance and the victory was not even difficult.

So then now…

After a few minutes Billy Clarke took the applause after lashing a shot back across goal which cannoned off John O’Shea and into the goal past Vito Mannone and City – perhaps – expected the Premier League visitors to come back into the game. Phil Parkinson’s return to 442 from his 4312 was the making of his City team against Halifax in the first round of this competition, as City go into the sixth round the three men in the middle smothered Sunderland.

Sebastian Larsson – a fine player – struggled to move the ball to the flanks effectively. Occasionally Johnson looked impressive but with only Larsson in the middle either Knott or Morais could help full backs deal with wingers. Graham was anonymous finding no room to play around Gary Liddle and Stephen Fletcher’s abilities in the air are less than either of Davies or McArdle’s.

The best Fletcher did – and the best chance Sunderland got – was a ball that slipped through the offside line and nestled at the Scots striker’s feet until McArdle appeared (as if from) nowhere and hacked the ball away. The cliché writes itself here, McArdle wanted it more, but Fletcher did not seem to want it at all.

Contrast that with the quick thinking in the second half when James Meredith pushed Johnson all the way back into the corner of the pitch and Johnson lobbed the ball out for James Hanson to head softly beyond Brown and O’Shea, but not beyond Johnson deep, and to Jon Stead who picked up the ball and finished well under Mannone.

An hour in and with Sunderland resorting to playing long balls which Davies and McArdle took care of, and aside from Ben Williams making a single save the Bantams defence was untroubled.

Phil Parkinson and his City players took plaudits from a capacity Valley Parade – including a good few Sunderland fans – for a fifth Premier League team beaten in three years. The sixth round of the FA Cup is the last eight teams in the country. Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United (or Preston North End), Aston Villa West Brom, Reading, Blackburn Rovers and Bradford City.

Wigan was unexpected and tough, Arsenal was hard but deserved. Aston Villa was a double sucker punch at the end of the game and Chelsea was understanding the power of pressure and seeing that pressure pay. These were all great, great games and great football matches to be at.

Sunderland, though, was easy.

How we will all be sorry after Bradford City drew 2-2 at Port Vale

The Team

Jordan Pickford | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Christopher Routis, James Meredith | Filipe Morais, Gary Liddle, Andy Halliday | Billy Knott | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Mark Yeates, Ben Williams

Football, not football

Writing about football is difficult.

Writing about writing about football is easy.

In fact I would argue that the vast majority of the coverage of football is, in one way or another, the coverage of the coverage of football. The most viewed BBC Sport page is an abstract of a lot of newspaper stories of “gossip” – which is to say stories which no one even attempts to claim are true – while picking up the collection of local papers after the 4-2 win over Chelsea revealed column inches of reports on what City fans had said about the game on Twitter.

It is reaction to reaction, and while it is often confused for writing about football it is not. Football is that thing that happens on the field between three and five on a Saturday.

This is a preamble as to why the week of accusation followed by apology at Bradford City has been both the most and least interesting subject of conversation.

It is interesting because it concerns two of the most fundamental considerations at a football club that impact on football.

Most obviously the pitch. Literally the core of a football club Phil Parkinson pointed out, rightly, that the pitch was in very poor condition. Colchester goalscorer Chris Porter said it was the worst he had played on.

Worse Gus Poyet, manager of next Sunday’s opposition Sunderland, suggested that the forthcoming FA Cup tie between the two clubs might be moved to The Stadium of Light to provide a decent playing surface.

He did not mean it really. It was a joke but the butt of the joke was Bradford City’s ability to maintain the basic needed for a football match – a pitch – and so the butt of the joke was Bradford City.

Bradford City are a laughing stock.

The lack of blame game

Parkinson had pointed the finger squarely at Roger Owen and his co-director Graham Jones for failing to do anything about the state of the pitch which the manager had believed was within the remit of Mr Owen. He later apologised for mentioning any specific director and agreed that the quality of the pitch was a collective problem.

The club – in turn – issued a statement which read that Mr Owen and Mr Jones had no specific responsibility for the pitch but iterated through things that the pair had achievements including “sourc(ing) funding for equipment and improvements through the connection with fans group, Friends of Bradford City where they are the link to the Board” which would seem to be an act of receiving, rather than raising, funds.

Other achievements of a similar scale were mentioned and as the statement made it clear that they were responsible for small achievements but carried out those responsibilities without any remuneration. The message from Bradford City seemed to be that Parkinson was wrong to think that the pitch was the responsibility of Mr Owen and Mr Jones because the pitch was a little above the pair’s pay grade to be involved with.

Parkinson had thought that it was Mr Owen’s job at directorial level to look after the pitch but he was wrong. It was nobody’s job, at least not specifically, and so no specific director deserved any specific criticism for not doing anything about the pitch because – as a collective – all the directors shared responsibilities and thus – one assumes – any criticism shared between the directors too.

And Parkinson had made criticism, albeit pointed in what the board of directors said was the wrong direction, but that criticism was not responded to. Not responded to in in public at least. In public had been where Parkinson’s apology was made. It was carried on the club’s website which seemed to have misplaced the City manager’s original criticism from the news section.

Without portfolio

I think at the time they thought I was making excuses because the home form was poor but I don’t make excuses. Nothing was done, no help was given to the groundsman and now he’s the one with all the stress of us playing on probably the worst pitch I’ve ever seen.Phil Parkinson, 2nd February 2015

So one considered the second point which was Parkinson’s apology to the Directors without Portfolio for suggesting that they had responsibilities they did not have. Parkinson had said that he had been left with the impression that it was considered the problem of the pitch was an excuse for poor results. In Parkinson’s apology he did not, nor did the club, attempt to put right the statement Parkinson had made about the directors believing that the manager was making excuses.

Indeed there was no clarification from any specific directors or the whole of the board as to if Parkinson was right to think that it has been considered he was excuse making, that he was wrong to get the impression, that the board would perish the thought that the manager who had taken them from the bottom of League Two to the fifth round of the FA Cup via Chelsea, Arsenal, Wembley, Twice might incorrectly walk away from a board meeting thinking that he was doing anything other than a near unprecedented superb job as manager, at least from the business’ point of view.

So the picture was complete. The manager who beat Mourinho had walked into the boardroom to complain about a fundamental problem with the pitch but left having his judgement on football questioned and with the impression that it was thought he was making up excuses.

Football has a right history of managers clashing with Directors. Sam Longson got his own way at Derby County against Brian Clough and that is why Nottingham Forest ended up with two European Cups and not The Rams. You either think that football managers should be second guessed by local businessmen or your don’t. Most managers do not believe they should and some find a place where they are in harmony with the boardroom. One wonders what Phil Parkinson spent the week considering.

And so to Saturday

All of which is 1,016 words that are only tangentially about football in that they threaten the club’s ability to play the game well at home – the pitch – or under the successful manager in Parkinson who has attracted admiring glances from clubs in the top two divisions. The grass at Port Vale allowed City to settle quickly into an easy pattern of attempted ball retention against a Valiant’s side which looked as poor as any City had faced this season, Millwall aside.

Nestled in lower mid-table Rob Page’s Port Vale allowed Parkinson’s Bradford City as much time on the ball as wanted – at least in build up play – and there was something about the ease on the ball which concerned the Bantams. The popular diagonal pass between Rory McArdle and James Hanson went unplayed as McArdle enjoyed the time to pick a pass to central midfielders who moved forward uncomfortably.

With too long in possession City were indecisive and allowed the first half to all but peter out without a chance. At times it seemed like there was a game being made of attempts to play the perfect pass into Jon Stead, other times City looked like they would dominate in the box only for the ball to go unfinished for the want of players looking for flick downs.

In such situations one always worries about Filipe Morais. As a player Morais is alternatively impressive in position and undisciplined in action. He suffers a tendency to try shortcut build up play with a lashed shot at goal or an attempt to dribble from the centre of the midfield which fail but is a key part of build up when he succeeds.

For Parkinson this must be frustrating because of the frequency in which when Morais goes “off-message” fortune favours him. Forty minutes into the game and Morais decides that it is time for him to lash a low shot from outside the box which is easily charged down but the same player – doing as manager and team mates would want him to – grasped the ball and took it to the byline to cross to the waiting James Hanson who headed the first goal.

Filipe Morais squandered possession with a daft shot but got the ball back and made the opening goal. The tendency to do the former seems symbiotic to the ability to do the latter. In the second half when a good run from James Meredith saw Hanson test Vale keeper Chris Neal again and the ball fall to Morais, exactly where Parkinson would want him to be, to finish smartly, exactly what Parkinson would want him to do, and make the game 2-1.

2-1 because minutes before Vale were allowed to cross in with ease as Morais allowed the left back all the time he wanted to make his cross. The problems with a wingless team are the number of crosses that come in. Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle deal with a lot of them but not this one which was rolled in by Achille Campion from a flick down which both central defenders would probably wish they had attacked more firmly.

Who then does Parkinson charge with the responsibility for the goal? Morais for not cutting off the supply? McArdle and Davies for allowing a flick down? Billy Knott for having seen a close range chance which would have made the game 2-0 earlier saved by Neal who would do the same to Hanson later on?

By the time the game entered injury time City should have been leading by some margin and would have been but for Neal. Vale’s goal was a rare foray forward in a game which was increasingly about City coming forward. The late entry of Mark Yeates for Knott was Parkinson putting on a player who could make the most of late possession but Yeates was caught on the ball and a few seconds later Jordan Pickford was being sent off as the rapid counter-attack saw the keeper slide Greg Luer’s legs away.

All Ben Williams did was pick the ball out of the back of his goal.

The reaction to the reaction

And so back in Bradford blame was assigned.

It was the fault of Jordan Pickford for the foul, or of Mark Yeates for losing the ball in midfield, or of Hanson/Knott for not finishing the chances that Neal saved, or of Parkinson for not going for the win but the game ended level and a point away is always a good result at any level.

The disappointment – it seems – is that there was a growing consensus in support in the reaction to the Chelsea win that City were upwardly mobile and making a surge for the play-offs. This may still be true and this result may be a part of that but the narrative is not about conceding goals in the last minute.

The problem with the growing consensus is that it is based on reaction to the reaction.

City beat Chelsea, and so should be able to beat anyone in League One, and if not then there must be a reason for it and if the reason is at all mitigated then that is “excuses” and not tolerated. Anything other than a victory is because the team failed to do something they should have done, and failure is something that should not be tolerated.

And the people who fail, and who make excuses, should be told that they have failed and made excuses.

It is through this bastard child of logic that one can come to the conclusion that Phil Parkinson is the reason that City are not successful rather than the reason they are. People with that way of thinking honeycomb the support of football and get far too much attention for my tastes. These people flatter themselves that they present an alternative view of a situation but what they offer is a twisted view based on misunderstanding and ignorance. They should be pushed to the edge of the community of Bradford City support with the other trolls.

However, and this is worth considering, if a person was able to do it without pay there would be nothing to stop such a person with such a twisted view of how football works and the reasons for success from joining the board of Bradford City, from not have any specific responsibilities of any note, and from using board meetings as a place to let Phil Parkinson (or any other City manager) know he is making excuses for his poor performance face to face.

And let us hope is not something that happens or we all really will be sorry.

What the club should tell the BBC to do with their television money

The fourth round of the FA Cup – for Bradford City – was all about how fans were not going to be able to watch the game in person. The fifth round seems to be able how fans will not be able to watch it at home after both the BBC and BT Sport acquiesced on the chance to show the Bantams tie with Funderland (or Sulham, if you prefer).

Of the eight ties five will be shown on television and one of those games will not be Bradford City’s which – as a result – means that Bradford City will not be paid the not inconsiderable sum of £250,000.

This has caused consternation with supporters furious and the club even going so far as to announce the lack of news on the website. In keeping with the vast majority of the games that Bradford City play the Funderland tie will not be televised. Nor will Colchester United on Saturday although this is not mentioned

The idea of television companies paying football clubs to show matches was a compensation for the number of supporters who would stay away. It does not take a flying pass in further maths to see that the £250,000 figure represents far more than the difference between a 12,000 and a 22,000 full Valley Parade. The television money is equated to prize money and all are upset that City’s win over Chelsea has not deemed them worth selecting for that prize.

Mark Lawn, who can always be relied upon to resurface when a television camera is present, led the complaints saying the BBC “they don’t understand a thing about football” and added that the television companies had “let themselves down”.

Lawn makes the point that City’s win over Chelsea last week created a ten year spike in Match of the Day audiences but the BBC probably do know a thing or two about football and television and they know that people did not tune in to watch Bradford City win but rather to see Chelsea lose. That that loss came to City is – for them – immaterial.

Which is not to say that Lawn and many, many others who believe that Bradford City vs Fulham – let alone Bradford City vs Sunderland – represents a better two hours of television that West Brom vs West Ham are wrong but rather contemplate for a moment concepts of loss aversion.

One could be excused for thinking that TV executives had crept into Valley Parade and lifted a quarter of a million pounds from the safe rather than not wind-falling the sum to Bradford City. Forsaken gains are important in the world of potential that is League One football in a way they are not in the rest of life.

Football clubs regularly accept risk and risk that leads to loss, and seem to act like potential gains are guaranteed. One only need look at how Bradford City approach the sell on clauses of Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley to see that.

There is an uncomfortableness to the club’s stance on not having gained from a television match, and the club comes off like a petulant child not getting what want but think they deserve. A full Valley Parade (#bethedifference, again) and a football performance should be the club’s focus and tantrums about not being on television are unseemly.

Not only unseemly but a missed opportunity of
sorts. When sixteen teams are left in the FA Cup – all in the same position on merit – it is by definition unfair for one to be gifted £250,000 by virtue of a random draw and one not to be.

Had Funderland come out at Manchester United/Cambridge United then would Bradford City deserve to be given £250,000 more than the winners of Preston North End/Sheffield United? Are we comfortable with the idea that the BBC/BT Sports are the arbitrators of that decision? At the moment the Market has decided that Bradford City will not be on television. Reward for beating Chelsea is not something the market is interested in.

After all the ties are created at random from a group of teams who – the FA would argue – have an equal right to be there. Assuming that £250,000 is a sum of money which makes a difference to a League One club then it is obscene that it is distributed in such a random manner?

After all fifteen teams cannot create a fifth round of the FA Cup. Fourteen cannot. Each club is as as important as the others in this round if only to give a breadth to the choices for television viewers.

If television has £1m to put into television five of eight ties of sixteen teams then split £1m down sixteen ways and allow all the teams – who have all equally earned it – to take a slice. Television has far too much influence over football for my taste. I’d rather it were minimised, and that steps were taken to minimise it, rather than see my club grabbing greedily for it.

If your view, dear reader, is that Bradford City should be on television against Funderland because it represents an attractive tie then you have my agreement but I disagree fundamentally with the system that allows television companies to give an ad hoc reward one team over another for the same achievement of getting to the fifth round.

When the club had the national spotlight – and a co-chairman who is vocal – I’d prefer that point be made.

Why Sunderland should be begging for Jordan Pickford to play in the FA Cup

Preamble

The BfB legal advisor Joe – who is a man who just occasionally gets time off – enjoys playing Poker. He plays it and he is good at it. Very good.

Often he is asked ask to teach you how to play the game. Those who are are told to get out their wallets. You must bet in training what you do not want to lose. Only when the stakes involved are significant can you learn about how the game is really played.

You can play for pennies and for counters but that will not teach you how to play when the turn of a card actually matters. To get better at Poker – Joe says – the game has to matter.

Mu-Hill-Whaeal

A trip to Millwall for the third round of the FA Cup was nobody’s choice for a reward from beating Dartford. One doubts too that the Londoner’s would have been especially pleased to see themselves paired with Bradford City.

Ian Holloway’s side are struggling in The Championship while Phil Parkinson’s City team bubble in the middle of League One. Not much to pick between the two.

The strength of the teams that either side puts out could tip the game in one direction or another and no result could be considered much of a shock nor will be considered season defining.

Other ties were far more appealing. There was much flapping about the idea of last season’s final being replayed, and of a repeat of the 1973 final when Leeds United go to Sunderland. Sunderland’s interest in the competition being is significant importance to City’s on loan Jordan Pickford.

Remembering Jordan Pickford

Pickford arrived at Valley Parade looking as full of rawness and potential as any goalkeeper I can remember seeing. In his opening month one wondered if the rawness would be exposed to deeply that his potential be lost.

Pickford’s communication with the back four was so poor it was counter-productive. He came for crosses and then dropped back, or came and served only as a distraction, or did not come at all and saw the ball go past him. He was a liability.

But his reflexes were excellent, and his positioning good, and he made impressive saves some of the time. Even that communication problem was mitigated in some way by the fact he shouted at all. The sooner a nineteen year old goalkeeper learns that it his job to shout at seasoned defenders to get them into position the better for everyone.

Real football

A player only learns those things from what is termed “Real Football” but what “Real Football” is is open to interpretation and context. When a modern Premier League player gets a first cap for England against San Marino in a World Cup qualifier he has probably never played against worse players but the experience of a real international is useful. What use it is to someone with fifty caps is less clear.

For this definition when talking about Bradford City and Jordan Pickford we shall say real football is football where the result matters and where something important is at stake. Something like three points, or a place in the next round, or a manager’s job, or just the emotions of supporters.

When Jordan Pickford got into real football at Valley Parade the mistakes he made, and he made them, were forgiven because of the obvious potential in the rest of his game. Pickford needed games. And Pickford got games. Every league game so far. And now Pickford is realising the potential he has.

When Sunderland watch Pickford’s improvement over the last five months they must not recognise the footballing man compared to the juniors kid who joined City, but they must also have been expecting such a transformation, else why send him to Valley Parade in the first place?

But Pickford had played games before on loan outside the league with Darlington and Alfreton Town, and in it with Burton Albion and Carlisle United, with about seventy games under his belt thirty five of them in the league.

Cribbed maths could tell us that it has taken fifty professional football matches for Jordan Pickford stop having to rely on potential as the justification for having him in the team. Sunderland have to find a club, or clubs, who will give a player a season of games they could think of taking him back and having him in their team.

The tickets on the last train home

A first team place in the Football League is a rare thing. Each week less than a thousand players will get onto a field the Football League. Only assuming each team plays two loanees a week in the fourteen who can play then less than one hundred and fifty players are loan players places are available.

That one hundred and fifty includes players like Jon Stead who is both loaned from another Football League club and not a player in development. How many spaces are available for a player to be loaned from a Premier League cup for first team games when he needs development rather than being able to offer something immediately? One hundred? A dozen more, a dozen less? For twenty Premier League clubs with a few dozen kids each.

We are accustomed to looking at this from the point of view of teams loaning players. That teams like Bradford City are given the chance to have a player (like Pickford) who could go onto Premier League or International football and that they sometimes pay for this but sometimes are allowed to borrow future talent for nothing at all.

From the eye of a needle

Rarely is the idea flipped around.

A first team shirt in the Football League is a rare thing. One of the biggest assets that any club has is that it creates eleven development opportunities every week that clubs loaning players out want.

Teams like Bradford City’s side gives them away for free at best, or sometimes even pay for the privilege.

Every player I have ever been impressed by with has proved this to be true. Being able to run fast or kick a ball accurately is one of the first steps a player needs. The rest of the steps he learns through playing in real football matches. And more specifically applying himself well in real football matches.

Without this the talented youngster becomes the typical non-league nearly man who could have had his shot at the big time and seems to have the skills but never does work hard enough.

If clubs in Bradford City’s position knew the value of what they had they would charge clubs to take their players on loan rather than just looking at the system as a way of filling shirts. If clubs loaning players understood the value they would be willing to pay.

And if Sunderland understood the value of playing in a competitive, FA Cup tie at Millwall that really matters to the development of Jordan Pickford they would not be refusing to allow him to play, they would be begging Bradford City to put him in the team.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

Saturday and Joe Colbeck’s return to Valley Parade in a Hereford United shirt saw abuse to a level of vitriol which was shocking in its ferocity even to seasoned Bradford City supporters.

The debate panned out over that abuse: that it had stopped Colbeck playing well, that is was deserved, that it could never be justified; and each has their own judgement on reasons for and effect of that abuse. Ultimately in most circumstances each will keep his own council and decide for themselves if grown men screaming and swearing at footballers is something they wish to endorse or not but in other circumstances – and in this situation – a personal opinion is secondary to the law of the land.

Offensiveness becomes an offence

On Saturday there was a crime committed at Valley Parade in full knowledge of the entire attendance and that crime went unpunished.

The Public Order Act 1986 sets out the law of the land on this subject (and you will excuse the paraphrasing for length) in that (Section 4a) a person is guilty of intentional harassment, alarm or distress if he uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person, or to provoke the immediate use of unlawful violence by that person or another, or whereby that person is likely to believe that such violence will be used or it is likely that such violence will be provoked.

Colbeck – a veteran of many an abusive Valley Parade crowd – could probably not be said to have felt that he would be the subject of immediate unlawful violence. Section 4a (and Section 4, which governs the fear or provocation of violence) carry prison sentences and seem governed by context. Colbeck only has no reason to fear that being sworn at on the field will lead to violence because he has been the subject to it in the past but, then again, he has also seen the Bradford City crowd lob bottles and other items onto the field and so perhaps we would be wrong to not link the two together.

Nevertheless we can fairly clearly say that Section 5 of The Public Order Act 1986 is relevant: A person is guilty of an offence of harassment, alarm or distress if they use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. The act details that a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine….

The act details the laws governing rioting, array when offences are done in collectives of people and creative readings of the Act could very well see them become relevant. It would – however – be impossible to suggest that Section 5 was not broken at Valley Parade on Saturday. There is a distinction for sure between those who boo and jeer and those would would have committed an offence as detailed in this Act and the one group is a subset of the other.

One could seek to dress these offences in any number of ways: using the term football culture would be one, that players are “paid enough”, suggesting that there was a crowd rather than an individual; but as we have seen previously convictions for taking an individual part in a crowd activity have happened at football matches and that with criminal convictions come football banning orders.

Which is not to suggest that I would like to see half the Bradford City crowd on Saturday banned from football and convicted but that they should be, should the law be pursued and applied with vigour. The club have banned supports in the past for racist abuse and brought all the power it could muster down on the pitch invaders after the Northampton Town game at the end of last season. That those people are generally held in low regard and are smaller in number than those who abused Colbeck in a way which broke the law.

Offences were committed but neither the Police or – judging by the speed of their reaction to the Northampton game – the club felt that those offence were worth pursuing legally.

Can football take its own action?

In 2005 a Dutch game between Ajax and ADO Den Haag was halted by the referee. There were no safety problems in the stadium, there was no pitch invasion, there was no dangerous playing conditions but the game shuddered to a halt and the teams were taken from the field as if there were.

The cause was a song, and not a very nice song, about MTV Europe VJ Sylvie Meis. Meis, now better known as Mrs Rafael van der Vaart, was to Dutch football what Victoria Beckham was to British. Well known and well commented on.

But not to be commented on in this way – nor should anyone be – decided the Dutch FA who gave an instruction to officials sometime before that targeted abuse would result in a halt in the game, and then if it continued an abandonment. The instruction was designed to protect officials themselves but deployed to protect the virtues of Ms Meis.

There is a logic to the Dutch FA’s position. Why should a Referee (or the girlfriend of a player) be the subject to a crime on a continued basis. If bottles were flying onto the field or if the players or officials feared a physical assault then the game would be suspended so (and remembering the difference in the laws of the countries) why should they tolerate a sustained verbal abuse? If it is said that players are paid enough money to take in good nature any abuse thrown at them (and I would disagree with that idea) then are Referees? What about other spectators like Sylvie Meis?

The Dutch action is notable for its scarcity. Italian games feature booing of black players – Mario Balotelli was told by banner recently that “an ‘African’ can never be an Italian” – and all will hope that the situation in Russian football improves in the next eight years. England’s players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were abused in Spain. Sol Campbell -infamously – is the subject to a disgusting song sung from Spurs fans.

One can only imagine the effects of a repeat of the Dutch action would be in those cases and hope that it happens.

The foolishness of crowds

It is preached (although seldom practised) that one should never say behind the back of a person what would would not say to their face and while Joe Colbeck – or Sylvie Meis – could hardly have said that things were not said to their faces but there is a certain cowardliness to the football supporter’s mass abuse.

In fact even in our use of words around the subject we describe a holistic idea of a mass of people making a single statement rather than considering that collective as a group of individuals. Ask some of who swore violently at Joe Colbeck on Saturday and they may tell you that they would be prepared to say word for word what they sang as a part of a crowd directly to the man’s face but should they do that, should anyone shout abuse at you in any situation, then one are afford some protection in law.

The behaviour of crowds is the behaviour of those within them and while a person might be be happy to behave in a given way within that crowd there are rights – rights asserted in Dutch football – which protect the individual from abuse. These were not afforded to Joe Colbeck on Saturday.

Should they have been? Free speech, and the concept of free speech, is a valuable thing but is now and always has been balanced agianst the rights of the individual.

The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much

The football supporter has long since mastered the art – such as it is – of personal abuse to such an extent that it has become cliché. The Referee’s parents were not married, and he enjoys himself on his own a bit too much or so the songs go and rarely does anyone consider this to be offensive. Indeed to football’s officials this kind of abuse comes over as static. When Wendy Toms, the first female linesman, completed her first Football League game she was asked how the crowd were and replied “The same as always, abusive.” Too much of the criticism of officials is conducted – and thus ignored – in this way.

Some players have played entire careers as the subject of abuse in one way or another. Some thrive on it – Robbie Savage talks about how he is fired up by being fired at – while others shrink under it as some say Colbeck did on Saturday but to allow the individual to ignore an offence – and, dear reader, you are reminded that this article discusses the section five abuse – as it that denies that the offence has taken place is beside the point. That Savage might be man enough to take the stick does not help the other players (and referees) who are not and who have career’s blighted by section five offences (and, in addition, those players in situations such as Balotelli’s). It is a part and parcel of football, it is said, but need it be?

Separating the part from the parcel

Take someone to a football match who has never been before and different things strike them. For me, back in 1981 at my first game, it was the lack of a live commentary track over the public address and I know people who have said that they were shocked by the amount of mucus left on the grass, on the viciousness of every single tackle (“even the soft ones would leave you crying”) and on the suddenness of the action. For my Mum, on taking her to a game in the Premiership years, it was the swearing and the negativity.

We take it as a given that football supporters will be offensive and abusive in the way that twenty years ago it was a given that supporters would be violent and aggressive – indeed it is difficult not to see the verbal abuse heard on Saturday as the last vestiges of the physical violence that marred the game – but it need not be so. Screaming at Joe Colbeck that he is a “wanker” is no more hard coded into the DNA of football supporters than booing black players or throwing seats onto the field was. It is a behaviour and one which – with the right will from the right people – could be removed from that game.

It is far from a desirable element of the football. Footballer supporters are painted by a mass perception that they are vulgar, yobbish and offensive and this makes us easy to ignore. The fact that it is common does not mean that it is set in stone nor does that fact that it might be cathartic or enjoyable.

Indeed the idea that the football supporter cannot help but be abusive – that it is part of our nature – is in itself an insult to everyone of us.

Would anyone’s enjoyment of Saturday afternoon have been ruined without the abuse screamed at Joe Colbeck? If you answer yes, that you revelled in hearing grown men screaming abuse at Colbeck, then I can only hope that you do not sit anywhere near me and certainly would like you not to.

But would we change it?

There were offences caused at Valley Parade but – as Paul Firth the writer and former judge who provided much of the legal research for this article attests to – most of the time the police at the most would slap a £50 ticket on the offender and call it that. The law is not especially interested in actively enforcing this issue for now and nor are football law makers.

Football is sanitised – or so the thought goes – and grounds lack atmosphere with the sad reflection being that often the most notable chants are the negative ones. Sunderland fans who wrote the genuinely charming “Cheer Up Peter Reid” song but were noted on Saturday for singing “One Mike Ashley” to taunt their rivals. If all there is to celebrate is the perceived failure of others then what is there left to support? You do not need to go stand in Valley Parade to giggle every time Leeds United lose.

A person might want to vent their spleen while at the football but surely would have to do so within the law of the land – some people on Saturday did not but there is no will from police, football or Joe Colbeck to go any further with that – but accepting that and extrapolating it forward one has to wonder what sort of football we are creating, and passing on.

We have a football of negativity. Booing is the lingua franca of the game, cheering being punctuation to goals and little more. Away followings are known to offer more volume but not an especially different type of support. Even the modern examples held up of great support like The Accrington Stanley Ultras are as versed in poking at the failures of others than the unfettered support of their own (“Premier League, you flipped it up…”)

Does it matter? Perhaps not. Time will tell and it will tell in twenty five years time when one looks around the grounds and sees if the generation of kids who have more things to do with their time and money than any other chooses to spend that on the game we pass on. I have had wonderful days supporting Bradford City, utterly unforgettable days, but would I tell my son or daughter that they should involve themselves in something as negative as manifest on Saturday?

It is hardly the stuff of an enriched and full life.

So now then

Football’s authorities at almost all levels are prepared to leave atmosphere at football in the lap of the Gods while clubs do what they can to stop racism but feel without a remit to do anything else. The law of the land is happy to ignore the vast majority of offences committed in stadiums up and down the country while FIFA’s attitude towards supporters is curious at best.

Ultimately football is ours and it is ours to change in the way we want it. We – as football supporters – need to decide what sort of football we want today, and to pass on to the future.

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