Boo boys, boards and Bradford City

Having been a Bradford City fan for the last 20 years it is safe to say that I hold a ‘football supporters’ CV that possesses, more ups and downs than the average football fan.

I have spent many a Saturday afternoon stood on the Kop watching claret and amber clad footballers run up and down the hallowed turf. Or, during away games, sat at home, with the radio pressed to my ear, attempting to pick up the coverage from hosts such as Chris Cooper, Tim and Stix and the legend that is Mr Derm Tanner; as they attempt to paint a picture of the events of the game into the listeners’ ear (some better than others in my personal opinion).

I have witnessed chairmen come and go, managers change in the blink of an eye only for the new one themselves to fall victim to the rotating door that is Valley Parade. The stadium itself has changed over the time I’ve held my season ticket.  Stands have grown, changed, lost their roofs, gained a corner, been opened by the Queen and graced by fans throughout the football league ladder.

So why now have I have decided to type (or attempt to type) an article/rant/opinion or even a question…

I have become, like many other City fans, upset, disillusioned and almost embarrassed at times in the last few years with life down at Valley Parade. But being a fan for 20 years, I don’t see this as something that is out of the ordinary for the everyday City fan. However, it does seem that for an alarming  number of ‘City fans’ this discontentment must be voiced at every opportunity wherever and whenever possible.

I don’t know whether this negativity is something that has always murmured and occasionally rumbled throughout the terraces, and that I have been naive enough to think that it didn’t; or whether it is indeed it is something like Town – unfortunately on the rise. Don’t get me wrong, I have had my moments as an adolescent and as twenty plus year old man screaming at players and managers alike. I have spent many a Saturday, after a horrendous display, complaining to mates over a pint or on the bus home about certain players’ performance and worth in the team. I have even been known to, on rare occasions I can honestly say, call for a manager or chairman to resign or be sacked.

However I do not understand those ‘fans’ who seem to want to pick fault with everything that is Bradford City Association Football Club, in particular, and ironically do so via the club’s official message board.

Rant part over – the question I would like to raise to these people is simply, “What is the point?” Yes, we know that City are not having the best time of it at the moment; yes, we know that sometimes the manager’s tactics may not always match those of our own expectations; and yes we know that those higher up have made decisions that have sat like a bad curry.

But what do these people expect? I am not for one minute suggesting that voicing an opinion is wrong or unhealthy, but what I am saying is that those who voice opinions that do not seem based on fact or reasonable argument can only further disrupt or upset those involved with the club at whatever level. I am not trying to point the finger, as I truly believe that those City fans that have been with the club through thick and thin will share my feelings and know who I am talking about.

A case example can easily be found during, I hasten to add, City’s game against Swindon. As mentioned, I am a huge fan of Derm Tanner and believe he paints as honest a picture of the game as he can, for which I have no doubt he is respected by a vast majority of City fans.  It therefore baffled me that no sooner had Andrew Davies been dismissed for reasons unknown to Derm and Mike Harrison, that messages began to appear calling for not only Davies’ head but also that of Parkinson’s. What further baffled me was that it seemed as though those who had found this information out had simply been watching the very brilliant ‘panto’ that is Soccer Saturday, and had not actually been listening to or been present at the game!

Unfortunately these incidents are not a rare occurrence and other forms of social networking seem to be a good place for these people to berate players both past and present as well as fellow supporters, even on a personal level.

I’m sure and hope I have opened a can of worms surrounding this subject and hopefully spoken on behalf of a number of City fans. I could go on further but I shall leave that to someone else. Hopefully I’ve started the ball rolling that will begin to squash theses ‘so-called’ fans and help give the club I love a push in the right direction.

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’s show of loyalty focuses minds on the future

So how did you feel, deep down, when it appeared Peter Taylor was going to walk out on Bradford City to take the assistant manager position at Newcastle United?

In the hours that followed the Bantams’ important victory over Bury, it seemed inevitable that Taylor would depart for the bright lights of the Premier League, leaving City with another managerial vacancy to fill and a promotion bid on a knife edge. After the 4-0 crushing to Cheltenham less than a week earlier, remarkably top seven hopes looked stronger than they have all season, following the back-to-back wins over Lincoln and Bury. Taylor’s immediate future, in some doubt after the Cheltenham spanking, suddenly seemed secure. No one expected his departure to be his choice.

On Monday evening, as we considered the likelihood of Taylor’s exit, what were you hoping would happen? After Cheltenham, the number of fans calling for his removal seemed higher than ever. It would be foolish, but not at all surprising, to base such judgments on the current form guide, but perhaps a few of these people regretted their haste at the final whistle against Bury. If you called for Taylor to go after Cheltenham, was your mind changed by the subsequent results? And if it was, how would you have felt if Taylor had accepted a very attractive offer to move to the North East?

There should be little doubt that, had Taylor departed, the timing would have been awful for City. The January transfer window may not mean as much to lower league clubs, but with loan deals expiring and the need to strengthen the squad – not to mention the possibility of bigger clubs eying up the likes of Steve Williams – to be searching for a new manager could have disrupted the season significantly. By the time a new man was installed and had taken the time to evaluate the squad and bring in new faces, play off hopes may have already been over.

But instead Taylor elected to stay, demonstrating a level of loyalty that, sadly, we don’t see too often in football these days. Witness Micky Adams jump ship from Port Vale to Sheffield United. Note that Torquay’s Paul Buckle could be about to take the reins at Bristol Rovers. Recall Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet quitting Leeds United for Newcastle and Tottenham respectively three years ago. Few would have begrudged Taylor had he elected for a return to the big time, but he felt a responsibility and desire to stay:

The time wasn’t right now, and I think I’ve got a job to do at Bradford. I wasn’t comfortable leaving Bradford earlier than I need to, I know what the game is about, I can easily get the sack in a month’s time, I understand that, but I don’t really feel I want to leave at this particular time. I want to produce a team, I’ve come here, three months of last season and they’ve really switched me on. I’ve always had a special feeling about the club, and I’ve still got that feeling.

For loyalty to work, it has to be reciprocated, and that is what makes Taylor’s decision to stay all the more remarkable. All season long, he has faced criticism and abuse from a section of supporters. From booing his team even though they had won, vocally disagreeing with substitutions, racing to the dugout to tell him to go and slating his tactics; Taylor has had to endure a huge amount of stick.

This won’t be new to him of course; even after delivering Wycombe Wanderers’ only ever league automatic promotion he was slagged off by many of their supporters, while his unsuccessful spells at Leicester and Crystal Palace can’t have been enjoyable towards the end. But still, the treatment he’s endured for much of this season can hardly have left him feeling wanted.

Loyalty from his employers has also been limited – recall the lack of public backing Taylor received when he was under huge pressure last October. We at BfB have talked to death about his one-year contract and the flaws of taking such a short-term approach; and, with the chances of getting a new contract seemingly hinging on him steering the club to a top seven place come May, the possibility of unemployment come May is high. Don’t forget Taylor has his wife to think about and a normal life to try and lead. He could be set to uproot from Baildon in a few months time if he loses his job, so the prospect of greater job security in Newcastle must have been very tempting.

So having shown such loyalty, the question now is where this leaves us supporters and the joint Chairmen? Firstly, as fans, do we get behind Taylor and his decisions strongly enough? I must admit I do not and often find myself questioning his team selections and certain performances. Having in the past strongly backed Colin Todd and Stuart McCall, I feel jaded and less willing to be the one who jumps to the defence of Taylor. Surely it’s someone else’s turn to take the lead in backing the manager, especially those people who were so vocally calling for his arrival a year ago.

But that is hardly fair to Taylor on my part, and though I don’t like the manner he’s treated certain players and wish he’d sign some wingers to provide a greater supply line to the forwards, the prospect of losing Taylor on Monday filled me with fear and dread. Push came to shove, we as supporters had to consider whether we really did want him to stay or go. I wanted him to stay, so now I owe him the courtesy of more positive and vocal backing.

Whether you agree or disagree is down to your personal choice. But if you are pleased he has elected to remain at the helm, I’d urge you to think carefully the next time you want to criticise him or demand his sacking. Turning down another job doesn’t make Taylor a better or worse manager than he was before and shouldn’t absolve him from critical analysis, but let’s remember that he’s shown he really does care and is determined to do his best for us.

Todd used to be criticised for not showing enough passion and giving off an air he’d be just as happy to be employed elsewhere. Taylor has proved that, for him, this isn’t the case.

As for the joint Chairmen, the contract issue may now be one that requires action sooner than they might have liked. In fact Mark Lawn, speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, has indicated a new deal could be in the pipeline:

We are now talking to him about the future so it looks to me that we are moving forward with Peter Taylor as our manager.

“The future” may only relate to January signings rather than plans for next season, but having shown the club such loyalty the Chairmen are slightly backed into a corner of having to consider showing Taylor some back. Is it acceptable to keep him dangling and only reward him after success has been delivered, or should they back up recent kind words by showing faith and rewarding him with an extended contract now? Clearly there are risks in doing so: if Taylor agrees a new deal but City remain in midtable, the Chairmen will be criticised by some supporters for sticking with him for next season.

But equally, events of the last few days show how highly rated Taylor is within the game. As his current contract gets closer to expiring, what is the likelihood he will receive further offers from other clubs? And if, with a few games left, City are in the hunt for a play off spot, would the uncertainty over Taylor’s future have a negative impact on the team’s form?

Events over the last few days demand a change of attitude and outlook from us all towards Taylor. We surely cannot coolly applaud him in victory and loudly slate him in defeat anymore. We surely cannot keep him worried about unemployment by failing to back him. If we supporters and the Board believe he is the man to revive the ailing club’s fortunes, it’s time for actions to speak louder than words.

Otherwise the next time another club comes calling, he might just say yes.

Pressing the Flesh

The players are working ever so hard; the manager wants to build long term success; the fans are great; it’s a wonderful club; there are no problems with the chairman … fans’ forums with the manager follow a certain script. From Paul Jewell to Lennie Lawrence; Terry Yorath to Stuart McCall; the personalities change, but the message remains fairly constant.

However, what I have never seen before was, at the evening’s end, the manager standing at the exit shaking every supporters hand and thanking them for their attendance. Here was the former England international and Premier League manager firmly closing the gap between supporter and manager. As we read this morning of Wayne Rooney’s transfer speculation, and view endless replays of Champions League matches, the contrast with Peter Taylor standing at the door of Bradford’s Irish Club shaking hands with the supporters of his fourth tier club is all the more remarkable.

We will return to this theme, because it emerged as the key moment of the night. However, first let’s cover the usual business discussed when a football manager meets the fans. The Supporters’ Trust organised a fans’ forum to coincide with its AGM (which I will cover in another piece as it deserves a stand alone report). Peter Taylor, Wayne Jacobs and Luke O’Brien (one of the Trust sponsored players) were our panel.

The evening opened with Peter Taylor laughing at the suggestion that he might have been glad that the forum did not take place two weeks ago. He revealed that his daughter had joked that had he been sacked at Barnet at least it was close to his family home. Peter Taylor said there was no real issue with Mark Lawn and that both of them were men who ‘said it like it was’ and that any disagreements were quickly put behind them.

In response to a question about the T&A headline that suggested that Peter Taylor was seeking reassurance from the board about his position, he said he had merely told the paper that if he were the chairman of a football club he would immediately clear the issue up and go public. It wasn’t meant as anything else other than a general observation, but that had been changed into a managerial crisis. He did mention a story that Paul Jewell had relaid to him. When Jewell was under pressure at Wigan Dave Whelan, the chairman, had asked permission to go into the dressing room. When he got here he told the players that Jewell was his manager, he wasn’t going to be sacked and of they didn’t like playing for him they could leave immediately. Decisive action that completely cleared the air.

A question was asked about the inclusion of the Manchester United loan players in the team the lost to Morecambe. Peter Taylor said that at Northampton Hunt was injured, on top of Ramsden’s longer injury, it left him perilously short of cover in defence. He had already been talking to Manchester United and both players were signed on the morning of the Rotherham game. He could not play them at the Don Valley because both had played for United’s reserves the previous evening. Of course, City gained a morale boosting point at Rotherham and kept a clean sheet. However, the loan deal stipulated that both players had to play in their first available match – which was Morecambe – but after that the decision is solely Peter Taylor’s as to whether they play or not.

It was touch and go as to whether they will remain at the club, Manchester United play Wolves in the League Cup and they may be recalled to appear in that match. Peter Taylor said that the loan players were costing the club less than Luke O’Brien’s basic wage and that bringing them to the club had not hit his budget.

Tactics are always an area of discussion, particularly in this era of Championship Manager games where everyone is an instant expert, one fan caused amusement by suggesting a 4-4-3 formation, the manager said yes please if he could get away with it, but the real discussion focused on the merits of 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. Most fans seemed to be supporters of 4-4-2 but as Peter Taylor pointed out we lost using that formation against Southend and had played 4-3-3 in the League Cup matches against Forest and PNE. The manager said that the players should not hide behind a system, it was possible to play well and badly using either formation. He did mention the frustration of opposing teams coming to Valley Parade and playing 4-5-1. A tactic designed to frustrate and get the big crowd on the home players’ backs. Wayne Jacobs mentioned that he had seen one team play two up front at the then divisional leaders Rochdale and then come to Valley Parade and play five in midfield.

We had to have a Luke Oliver question. Peter Taylor said he thought that Oliver had done a great job for the club and he had decided to play him there as the team were short on confidence and, at that time, needed the easy ball for the big target man. He didn’t think that Evans, Moult or Speight had held the ball up well enough (and he had told them as much) and after the Stockport game he decided that it was time for a change.

With James Hanson now fit he didn’t envisage playing Oliver up front again – at least on a regular basis. Luke O’Brien was asked what his favourite position was. He initially gave the party answer of being happy to play anywhere, but did say that he had begun his career as a left winger, he had later modified to left back and that was now his preferred position. Peter Taylor said he thought that OB was a better player than OB thought he was and that he was very effective going forward. He needed more belief in himself when attacking.

On training facilities OB said it was a pain to get changed and travel in their cars to Apperley Bridge, but once there, at least at this time of the year, the pitches were fine. Wayne Jacobs said that the facilities desperately need upgrading, he had been to non-league clubs with better facilities. He said some of the big signings City made in the summer of 2000 could not believe their eyes when they saw Apperley Bridge. Apparently, people from opposition clubs have been known to come and watch City train.

Peter Taylor also appealed for the City fan who had been posting on the internet the formation City had been training with to stop doing so as the only people it aided was the opposition. Dave Baldwin was actively looking for other options and the club may spend some money on new facilities in the future. Of course, City were going to Weetwood, part of Leeds University’s campus, but talks broke down at the eleventh hour when the university revealed that the lady who would have the ultimate say on which part of the facilities City could use was rarely on the campus. Suddenly there was the possibility of restrictions on certain days and even a suggestion that on some days they would not be able to use the goalmouths.

Peter Taylor said he had come to Bradford City because he thought that City were a wonderful football club and one that would be amazing if it was turned around. He said the reaction to Cheltenham’s goal was unbelievable. He did admit that a small section of the support can make it hard for the players, particularly the younger ones. Luke O’Brien reminded us that many of the players were simply not used to the big crowds at Valley Parade. Many of them had signed from the non-league or other lower league clubs where crowds numbered in the hundreds or low thousands. However, following the Cheltenham game the players couldn’t wait for the Oxford game to come around.

Peter Taylor then made probably the most telling intervention of the evening. He said when he first came he thought of the fans ‘crickey these lot are a bit impatient’. But he now understood that a lot of that frustration was born by ten years of decline and possibly the worst home record in the entire Football League over that period. His attitude has changed and he is trying to build a positive relationship between the players and the fans.

He has seen opposition clubs come and use the Valley Parade crowd as a weapon against their own team. He said we all have to change and muck in together. It was the only way forward. He accepted it is difficult at times, but it was vital.  There is still a long way to go this season and with Hanson and Price up front our squad is as strong as anyones.

The panel were unanimous (as you would expect) in their belief that City would be promoted this season despite the poor start. At the conclusion of the evening, Peter Taylor shook hands with each individual, it was evident that the manager had identified one of City’s biggest strengths and weaknesses – its fans. Of course, there may well be an element of self-preservation in this approach, but perhaps when the fans roared their support in the wake of the Cheltenham goal it was the moment Bradford City hit rock bottom and bounced?

How clubs lost control of the football kit

Were one to be asked the simple question “What colours to Bradford City wear?” one would answer in no time at all that the Bantams wear claret and amber.

Indeed were one to be asked the same question about almost all the clubs in the league then a similar speedy response spring to mind. Arsenal: Red with white sleeves, Newcastle United: Black and white stripes, Tranmere Rovers: White and blue, QPR: Blue and white “super” hoops; My Dad has a recurrent and utterly unfunny joke about what colour Leeds United Third Reserves sock tops in 1977 were and – at this point – I’d like to ask him to stop it.

Nevertheless despite a F’ther’s hilarity there is a clear connection in our heads between the team and their colours and strips they wear.

Be asked a similar question: “What kit do Bradford City play in?” and one might struggle more before recalling the amber and pinstripe shirt with claret shorts. Expand that question to “What kit did Bradford City wear in August 2006?” and most of us would be left struggling to recall the exact details.

“Claret and amber,” we would say adding “Stripes” with some confidence but further than that we would struggle.

Ten years ago when City were in the Premiership David Mellor’s Football Task Force issued its edictful charter which would describe to clubs a few desirable traits on pricing and inclusionism one of which was the recommendation that clubs change the home kit no more than once every two years. The calls – like ideas on pricing which have pretty much been ignored at every club except this one – fell on deaf ears and this season eighteen of the twenty Premiership clubs have new home kits, sixteen of them having changed them at the start of last season.

I shall sidestep now the talk of the merits of buying a replica shirt and the ethos and culture around it. You might not like them, you might think they look rubbish on the portly frame of a gentleman of advancing years but you will appreciate, dear reader, that others have different views. Indeed you may also add – with some zest and gusto being put behind you from this writer – that no one puts a gun to your head and makes you buy a shirt and that should you be parents of children who will raise Holy Hell until they have a garment purchased then the fault is not in the stars but in yourselves.

Yes to all these things but understand that people do buy them – often in great numbers – and that this represents a significant source of income for many clubs or rather it has previously and – and here is the rub – is a well that is starting to dry up.

Fashion has a hand in this – in the 1990s wearing a football shirt attained a level of approval that it simply does not have any more – but increasingly the machinations of clubs to maximise the income from replica shirt sales has started to have an effect. Every change of shirt weakened the effect of that change. There was a time when the last shirt looked hopelessly out of step – like a guy at a Sex Pistols gig wearing bell bottoms – but as the frequency of change increased so they became less tied to a time or a team and became more a generic bit of club related clothing.

Club shops up and down the land sell rugby shirts and tank tops, scarves and huge jackets in the colours of the team and none of these gain the kind of official stamp that used to be given to the replica shirt and now seems to have slipped. While no one would concern themselves that their scarf had gone out of date – indeed I wear an appropriately coloured AS Roma scarf to City in the cold of the winter – so increasingly people are less and less worried that their replica shirt might not be the latest version.

Does it matter which Arsenal shirt you wear? As long as it is red and has white sleeves it is an Arsenal shirt. If it is blue and white hooped it is QPR. If – as my scarf suggests – it is claret and amber stripes it is Bradford City. These things are in the DNA of football supporters and it is not for a club to alter even if they could.

In trying to have more control over football in the money drenched post-Gazza’s tears years clubs as a whole have found themselves less and less able to exert the authority they claim over supporters. For every attempt to create the pre-game venue fans still call into their favourite haunt for a beer. For every attempt to mobilise a fleet of official travel one sees numerous recognisable cars in a convoy on the motorway to away games. For every change in strip one notices that one starts to see more and more of what people might call classic shirts.

One struggles to think of a way that a club has tried to package up and resell football to its supporters that has not – in the longer term – failed. The sight of David Beckham in the green and gold of Newton Heath joining the Manchester United supporters protests about their club’s owners and their attempts to wring every penny out of their loyalty said much. If even the most famously consumerist and notoriously wide-eyed supporters in the game will not accept being told how they should support their club – and how they should think of their club – then no one will.

Newcastle United could no more tell their supporters that the club no longer wore black and white stripes than they could that they were no longer to make a cult hero of Kevin Keegan or that they should like the person in the number five, not the number nine, shirt. Even if the club were to send the team out in some day glow yellow then St James’ Park would still be peopled with black and white stripes and grim resignation of having to put up with the situation until status quo was restored. Wearing any of the Newcastle United Toffs shirts would be just as correct – if not more – and one could argue that anyone who wore this classic 60s City shirt at VP next year would look more like a Bradford City player than the ten on the field.

The more a club attempts to control what the fans do the less the fans seem to want to do it. Spurs have launched six new kits – three designs, two sponsors – for this season but the result seems to have been that supporters would rather distance themselves from the idea of buying a kit at all. Assuming the “glory” of finishing fourth in the Premier League did not cause a spontaneous ripping off to run bare chested down the street of last years then, they seem to be supposing, it will do for next.

Bradford City though – as with a good number of teams – have differed from the traditional kit with last year’s claret shirt and this year’s amber number and while it is confusing for those watching on TV and can be be a tough hard to get used to the club has not effected any permanent alteration of that DNA of football. In short by changing design so frequently – from wholesale changes to the marks and flashes that appear and disappear at will on kits – clubs have lost the control over the football kit just as they lost control of what supporters call the stadium they play in by changing it too often.

Some clubs manage to effect permanent changes: Leeds United and Tranmere Rovers both moved to wear white to ape Real Madrid, John Bond rebranded to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic as AC Milan, Bill Shankley gave Liverpool red and not white shorts; but on the whole there are things are immutable despite the efforts of those who offer up alternatives.

Bradford City play at Valley Parade, wear claret and amber striped shirts and think that all the best things in football are summed up by Stuart McCall and even when those things are not true at a given time, they will be again in the longer term.

These things are are weaved into football DNA.

The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting

There was a public clamour to discover the detail of the crime that saw Jake Speight convicted of assault and so the lower end of the tabloid press responded and laid out in grisliness the other side of the story.

Dig out the story if you want. I think – with some personal experience – that stories of domestic assault are are horrible enough without the needless tone of an article like this but obviously The Daily Star’s editors feel that there is a need to egg the pudding describing the victim as “Stunning”.

If the article changes your level of sympathy or empathy for the victim, if it makes you think more about the need to take action against Speight, then you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

And the question asks: Does it matter?

The reaction to the article has been a return of the debate between fans as to whether Speight should be sacked with people believing that there should be no place at the club for someone who behaves as the new signing has done and others attesting to the idea that player’s personal lives are away from the game and that in effect aside from missing a week of training his assault simply does not matter.

Does not matter that is as much as his capacity to score goals and be a part of a winning Bradford City side. It is hard not to have some agreement with this point of view when considering the recent history of this football club. If what matters about Bradford City is not the merciless pursuit of wins then why are we four months down the line from firing Stuart McCall as manager? The club was much nicer with our favourite player in charge.

If the aim of Bradford City is to be a collective of people who you are proud to applaud onto the field and think would probably like to share a beer with you then what was the purpose for anyone of removing the most beloved figure in the club’s history? If we want a Bradford City full of nice guys then why is Wayne Jacobs criticised for being “too nice.”

The past six months have seen a definitive statement made by a section of the supporters and by the club itself that winning football matches is more important than almost any other concern. Should Speight start to score goals then – one is forced to assume – he will win around the people who pushed so hard to see McCall ousted from the club because nothing matters more than winning games.

Indeed some would point to Speight – who has been tried and convicted – having a right to carry on his life and career on the basis of his application and ability rather than his past. You can, dear reader, take a view on that but we need not debate it again on these pages.

Why do we think we know footballers?

The counter opinion is that that Speight should not be allowed to wear a Bradford City shirt because he is to be considered unworthy of such distinction brings us to a more uncomfortable truth and one which sits at the heart of football supporting.

As football supporters the common ideal is that – with the odd exception – were we to meet the footballers we cheer on the field we would probably enjoy their company off it, what is more they would enjoy ours.

In the back of his mind the football supporter has a belief that were he to be in a pub on the Saturday night next to the player he watches on a Saturday afternoon then he could share a thought and talk over the game. Confuse this not with sycophancy – this is not about hero worship – but rather the idea that there would be an automatic magnetism between player and supporters because they were concerned with the same passions: Football, and the club.

Not only that but without evidence to the contrary we assume that the footballer is probably a good bloke. We think he will be someone we find likeable because – after all – we like him. We look at how the game is played by the footballers we like and from that infer a set of characteristics which find admirable.

We decide that James Hanson is a solid, hard working lad with Roy of the Rovers dreams in his head and stars in his eyes now he has been given a chance to play in the big leagues. I’ve never met him but he might be an utterly insufferable man bloated with egotism at his own achievements however I’ve seen his play from that feel I have some connection to him. That I somehow know him.

So when it emerges that the footballer is not what we would have thought he would be we are robbed of our disillusion – even if we have rarely given them serious thought or fantasy – and for some people that perceived betrayal is unforgivable. I’ve never met John Terry and I’m not the sort given to indulging the kind of inference of character I talk about above but some people are and those people found the revelations about him to be almost a personal slight.

How well do you know John Terry?

To some people it was as if Terry had put up a front to them, pretending to be an all round nice guy and good bloke, and that because they knew him through his game when he turned out to be a bit of a shit they we outraged by the duplicity of the man. How dare he pretend to be the thing I want him to be only to prove he is not?

All along John Terry has always been John Terry and while he might not want the world to know about it because of the effect on his lucrative sponsorship deals and his personal privacy it is our inference as football supporters watching him play that has afforded him that status. All along he has been a bit of a git but the fact that he kicked a ball around well created – in the mind of fans – the persona of “JT The Great Guy.”

Confuse this not too with the idea of idols and Gods with feet of clay. This is not a situation where we find a hidden truth where previously we had some knowledge but rather one where we find only a truth where before we had assumption.

Smarter footballers are able to manage their public persona in a way that hides any negative traits in the same way that actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio are able to spend years ensuring that they do as little as possible which anyone might find objectionable in order to allow the public to project onto them some positive characteristics. Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise saw their stars dim when the public started to see too much of their own shapes, taking away the forms they were ale to afford them themselves.

The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting is that the chances are that were we to be given the chance to have that drink with a player then we would probably not like them. We would try talk about the club, about the game and they would have different passions, different interests. They might even find us odd. For various reasons few players are as interested in football as supporters are and – like Benoît Assou-Ekotto who plays for Spurs and represented Cameroon in the World Cup – sees the game just as his day job.

When we are presented with a story like Jake Speight’s assault then it becomes clear that some footballers might be down right objectionable (or they may not be, again I’ve never met Speight so have only mediated and assumed lore to make a judgement on) then this distance between what we would want a player to be and what they actually are is brought into sharp focus.

And so, to personal matters

Some years ago I was out in Leeds in the aftermath of City’s 3-1 win over Portsmouth in which Lee Sharpe had had a rare great game and bumped into the player in The Courthouse. Without going into details let it be known that Sharpe was not enthusing about football or his performance – not that he should be, it was his night out too – and following that night the BfB policy of trying to avoid matters off the pitch fermented.

In the eight years since I have lost track of the number of emails which I’ve received which detail the transgressions of various players as detailed by City fans the majority of whom were some how disgruntled by an encounter with a player.

Recently and most benignly Barry Conlon was “outed” as liking a drink and not really being that bothered about the club as if the man who had at that point had twelve clubs in ten years should be a teetotal dyed in the wool Bantam. Every year one sees a dozen or so players come or go from Valley Parade and to expect them all to care about the club as deeply as a support does is unrealistic to the point of madness. Opinion was divided on Conlon but – from this corner of the web – it was given on the basis of what he did on the field and not an expectation that he should be as interested in Bradford City as a supporter.

Nicky Summerbee was vilified following an exchange with City fans who thought he should care more – or like Omar Daley appear to care more – but to demand the commitment of fans such from hired hands is setting oneself up for a fall. On Summerbee and Daley and all others who seem to not – and indeed probably don’t – care as much as fans then again one looks at the performance on the field rather than judging them against some perceived idea of the player who cares as much as the fan. This is not the fifties, and there is only one Wor Jackie.

When City signed Gavin Grant mails came in talking about the player and repeating things which have since turned up in court and BfB was once again left with questions as to how to talk about a player who was scary in his deviation from what supporters would want him to be. What can one do in that position when talking about football other than just talk about football?

Supporters have expectations of players and it is not for me to say if the expectation that Jake Speight be an model citizen is appropriate enough on a personal basis is a healthy thing or not but I will say that anyone anyone who expects footballers to be in life what they are in the mental fiction we build around them is going to be disappointed. As my brother is so fond of saying “(I) hate everything about football apart from the football.”

At BfB we try to talks about the club on the basis of what happens on the pitch and – even in a case as trying as Jake Speight – we will continue to try to do so.

Bradford, the City which needs to smile

Flicking between channels during The Simpsons advert break one weekday recently, I was shocked to see Valley Parade appear as part of the backdrop behind a BBC national news reporter. The piece actually had nothing to do with Bradford City, it was about how the life expectancy of people living in poorer places like Bradford was a couple of years less than people who lived just a few miles down the road, in nicer areas.

My surprise turned to annoyance. As a Skipton resident, it was great that the reporter was telling me people who lived down the Aire Valley from Bradford are statistically likely to live a bit longer, but why did this national news story have to focus on Bradford at all? It was just another negative media piece about the UK’s sixth largest city, at a time when it seems to be getting especially kicked in the teeth from all sides.

During the recent General Election campaign, the plight of Bradford was highlighted when local resident Emma Heal attacked David Cameron for the way the Conservative Bradford Council had allowed the city to go into decline. She was referring to the embarrassing hole in the city centre where a shopping centre was supposed to have been built long before the term “credit crunch” was heard of by most people.

Then there’s the on-going saga with the Bradford Odeon, an iconic building allowed to rot away through no one having the ambition or vision to do something worthwhile with it. More serious was the recent Bradford murders which generated huge national media coverage, little of which gave a positive impression of the city.

And the negative headlines may not yet be over. Recently Bradford City announced its home game with Southend had been switched from Saturday 28 August to the evening before, without providing any explanation. But it’s recently become clear why, as the English Defence League (EDL) is scheduled to be holding a protest in the city on that day, which has forced the police to ask for the League Two fixture to be moved (the demo is advertised on its website, and there are rumours Bradford businesses will be closing for fear of trouble).

You need only watch footage secretly filmed by the Guardian in May, or check out local media reports of demonstrations the EDL has held in other English towns, to appreciate what might be in store for Bradford that Bank Holiday weekend. One of the organisers told the Guardian reporter, “Bradford will be huge…(it) is a place that has got to be hit.” Memories of the Bradford race riots in 2001 remain fresh, the prospect of similar scenes would have the vast majority of Bradford people despairing, and TV crews charging up the M1.

Far be it from me to influence your political views, but if you are against the EDL’s protest you might wish to visit Centenary Square on Saturday to add your signature to a petition to stop the event.

Regardless of whether or not the demo does go ahead, the problems in Bradford remain. The way the City has been allowed to decline is heart-breaking, and the reputation it has among people who live nearby shows just why it has such a poor national one. So many of my friends talk of going shopping to Leeds or Manchester or Harrogate or anywhere but Bradford, and who can blame them? A few years ago I organised a trip around the pubs of Bradford for my birthday night out. Some friends were genuinely fearful of coming, having pre-conceptions of what the City is like. In the end they were pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the City Centre pubs were. Not that they’ve been back since, mind.

The City needs shaking up, it needs people with a vision and sense of realism to tackle the issues and give every resident the sort of place to live they deserve. It needs a pro-active commitment that won’t be abandoned when problems arise, it needs more than short-term thinking or a belief that a magic wand can solve everything. It needs help now, but sadly we won’t hold our breath.

And what does this have to do with Bradford City? Not much, but as the new season approaches and we largely remain optimistic about the prospects of glory, perhaps it’s worth reflecting on whether the football club can play a role in lifting some of the gloom.

Of course winning football matches doesn’t remove the problems. We’ve just seen a World Cup held in the World’s poorest continent, which had sparked over-optimism from some people that a football tournament could change these issues. It couldn’t, but it could have helped a little. And even though it’s inevitable that, in years to come, we’ll be treated to media stories about how the World Cup didn’t change Africa and how those lovely stadiums are now under-used, we shouldn’t forget it did some good.

Which Bradford City Football Club could also do locally. For all the negative media stories and problems that affect the City’s image, how good would it be to have Bradford associated with success through reports of the club’s success? “Bradford win again” we might hear every Saturday night on the BBC Football League Show. “Bradford are top of the league” would make a change from hearing about all those league tables the City inevitably appears near the foot of.

In our Bantams bubble we sometimes allow ourselves to believe only those of us inside Valley Parade on a Saturday afternoon care about the team’s fortunes. But who listens to the home radio commentaries BBC Radio Leeds is so jubilant to have agreed again for this coming season? Who else scans the back page of the T&A every day? Who else would join us in Centenary Square to celebrate a promotion? Bradford City does matter to more people than just those of us committed enough to go to the games, and it can do some good in difficult times.

As we prepare for the big kick off, hoping that this time it will finally go in the manner we dream it, it’s worth considering whether who most of all needs Bradford City to get promoted this season is the City of Bradford itself.

Club v country

As Peter Taylor continues to quietly devise his plans for next season, a huge wave of approval from Bradford City supporters’ greets his every decision.

Impressing when handed a short-term deal last February, the Bantams boss currently enjoys high levels of popularity; and there is growing excitement and belief at what can be achieved next season. At times Taylor is receiving praise when he hasn’t necessarily done anything to deserve it, such is the level of goodwill. Come the big kick off on Saturday 7 August, a sold out City away end will roar on the players at Shrewsbury. The supporters will be right behind the team and management.

A huge contrast to the England national team right now. After a truly dismal 0-0 draw with Algeria on Friday, anger is widespread. The players were booed off the field by England fans in South Africa – and in thousands of pubs and homes up and down England. Wayne Rooney reacted badly, prompting further rage from fans. The country is not united in support of the team, the consequences of failure in the final group game on Wednesday aren’t worth thinking about it.

For us City fans, used to years of failure, it’s a scenario we know all too well. Team under-performs, leading to boos and angry reactions from fans, leading to the never-ending debate about what makes a good supporter and how paying money to watch the team entitles you to express your feelings. It will happen again next season, no matter how good a job Taylor does.

But though I sometimes despair at the way fellow City fans moan and heap over-the-top criticism on players and management, it’s a different type of anger to the public mood towards the England team. And even if England get it right on Wednesday and go onto lift the World Cup, you suspect it won’t quite prompt the level of joy we might imagine it would.

Whatever the merits of Rooney’s outburst, he had a point when he spoke about the loyalty of England supporters. This is not an attack on any fan or even a question of patriotism, but more how we really feel about those who wear three lions on their shirt. Quite simply, we don’t really like this English team. We don’t look upon them as national heroes in the way we did of Terry Butcher, Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce. We don’t believe they feel the same way as us.

As almost every man, woman and dog has uttered since full time on Friday, England players are overpaid. At the best of times we don’t like that, but in the midst of economic turmoil and ahead of a week where we all might learn some bad news when the new coalition Government reveals its emergency budget, we especially hate players for it. Throw in some less than heroic behaviour from the likes of John Terry, Ashley Cole, Rooney and Steven Gerrard, and we don’t exactly have the England team we’d aspire to cheer on.

Which means the mood towards the players can be lukewarm at best, and when it goes wrong we throw our anger about them being overpaid and badly-behaved back in their faces. They are guilty of crimes we cannot really ever forgive them for. We’d all love Ashley Cole to score the winner against Spain in the World Cup Final, but few will be calling for a statue of Cole to be erected, or ever feel warmth towards him that a generation continue to hold towards Geoff Hurst.

So no, we’re generally not loyal supporters – but with good reason. And while the reaction to England’s draw with Algeria is comparable to when City were defeated by Accrington last February, the fact we supporters responded by travelling in numbers to league leaders Rochdale three days later and passionately cheered on those same players who let us down says much about the difference between club and country.

Taylor is currently being praised for the urgent manner he has gone about getting next season’s squad ready, but when you look at it more closely he has so far only brought in two players who didn’t pull on a Bradford City shirt last season. What he has done is re-sign the bulk of last season’s team – that’s the team which led the club to a lowest league finish since the 70’s – and we couldn’t be happier.

However disappointing last season was, watching the team when it was on form was hugely enjoyable. Whatever criticisms you want to continue throwing at Stuart McCall, he got his signings right last summer and City were only lacking two or three players and a heap more luck then they were granted during December and January. Who can forget the standing ovation the players received after losing at home to Crewe? They exasperated us at times, but a meaningful affinity was built between the team and supporters. How can we ever cheer the ‘overpaid’ Emile Heskey in the same manner we do James Hanson?

And we’re no different to other clubs. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United supporters will be disappointed with their team’s overall performance last season, but in defeat they did not turn around and start hammering the players for being overpaid. Steven Gerrard did not have a good season for Liverpool, but his wage packet was never an issue to Reds supporters in the way his under-performance for England on Friday was to the country. They generally stayed behind the bulk of their players.

Which shows the difference in loyalty for your club and loyalty for your country. I admit I’m not really an England supporter and to me international football is usually a pain because it means Match of the Day won’t be on, or a welcome respite during the summer when the gap between City seasons seems so long. But even for passionate England fans, what exactly have been the highlights over the last few years? Euro 96 was fantastic, the Beckham-inspired 2-2 draw with Greece and 5-1 demolition of Germany in ’01 superb. After that I’m struggling. Certainly nothing to match the feelings of joy we experienced during the high points of City’s very disappointing 2009/10 season, or any other.

So as I read comments from England fans demanding Rooney be dropped to teach him a lesson – or worse, from some, that he dies – I feel prouder to be a Bradford City supporter and know what really matters. We City supporters have our arguments and the booing and moaning at games can get me and others down, but at the end of the day we all deeply care for the same cause and when it does go right it means so much more than anything our national team can ever do for us.

Bradford City win promotion next season or England to lift the World Cup? I know where my loyalty lies.

Remember

“Remember” it said on the t-shirt that arced from the arm of a Northampton Town supporters at the young Bradford City fans who stood in front of them, taunting them, jeering at them.

“Remember” is what on the t-shirt of the man who jogged back towards the Kop moving with only a little pace past a father – one assumes – who took a photo of his daughter in front of the goal posts.

“Remember” is what it said on the shirts of the men who walked back behind the cordon of yellow high-vis jacketed stewards who would separate supporters from players as the team walked a lap of appreciation. Unlike the young people described in not too favourable terms elsewhere who charged the length of the field to and from the visiting fans these men walked back calmly, casually, arrogantly.

“Remember” it said on the t-shirts of the people who had remained in the stands and watched events on the field -a shameful ten minutes in the history of Bradford City where visiting fans were subject to utterly needless abuse – and they might have wondered why after years of watching this wretched ritual of misbehaviour that happens after the home game of every single season why the club are so lax on the offenders.

During the week, before the game, during the pitch invasion there were warnings about the legality of invading the pitch and the possibility of lifetime bands. Still, we know Mark Lawn’s thoughts on yobbishness and we know that he will pursue the people who invaded the pitch with the same vigour and promise of life bans that he did people who attacked his car. The Accrington Stanley car park might not have good CCV but the Valley Parade pitch does and a good hundred people could not see inside the ground again, with every justification.

Because “Remember” is not just a word, a word on a t-shirt, a word to talk about the people who died in the Bradford City fire and in a way it never should be. No one effected by 11th of May 1985 needs a t-shirt – no matter how well meaning – to tell them to remember.

“Remember” is a message. A message which rings through from a different age of football supporting where yobbishness was the plague of the age and football fans were penned in behind high fences to prevent them from getting onto the field in celebration, in exuberance, in emergencies.

“Remember” is a requirement for anyone who lived through the 1980s when at Valley Parade, at Birmingham, at Heysel, at Hillsborough, at Furiani to pass on.

“Remember” why it is easy to step from the Kop at Valley Parade onto the field, remember what would have happened twenty five years ago if it had not been. Remember what did happen and remember how the game changed to try ensure that people could go to football matches in safety.

Football changed after the 1980s and supporters were afforded – at long last – a respect that they were not a part of a homogeneous whole of misbehaviour. That happened so that facilities were improved, that safety was improved, that fans were not assumed to be animals to be caged in shoddy, dangerous environments and it happened because supporters and clubs made it clear that the behaviour that had taken use that point could no longer be tolerated.

Ultimately the offence on Saturday was not a sullying of the day where this club was supposed to remember it was a realisation that to some people – the people who invaded the pitch and not just those who taunted the visitors but the dad and his daughter and similar – “Remember” was just a word, hollow and meaningless.

If it is worth the football community – as opposed to the families – remember the fifty six people who died at Valley Parade then it is worth doing it in the context of how we make sure the circumstances that brought it about never occur again.

By bringing closer a situation where you and me when going to a game are less people and more crowds, are less individuals and more a mob, are less who we are more who they were then another Bradford or another Hillsborough becomes more likely.

That is what the people on the field needed to remember. The things these criminals did when they invaded the field was not just an insult to the people who did lose their lives twenty five years ago, they made it more likely that a loss of life at football will happen to fans again.

We’ve gotta fight (fight, fight, fight, fight) fight for this love as Bradford City travel to leaders Rochdale

I always look forward to Rochdale away. In a division largely filled with run-down dumps or B&Q-purchased new flat pack stadiums, the compact and tidy Spotland ground is one of the most charming. Its size is suited for a fanbase lacking in number but not passion. Visiting supporters are allocated a full stand that runs lengthways down the pitch. With a low roof, the acoustics are excellent  for generating a cracking atmosphere. And while you wait for kick off, the PA announcer treats you to an enjoyable trip through recent indie music history, with a distinctive Mad-chester twist.

I’ve always enjoyed Spotland – and I thought, no assumed, that it would be us one day leaving it behind as the reversal back up the leagues finally began. But instead, it is Rochdale set to instigate the goodbyes and leave us. And by us, that’s League Two, which like it or not we are now firmly part of the furniture of.

Dale go into tonight’s fixture top of the league and eight points clear of 4th-placed Chesterfield, with a game in hand. And though the weight of history may yet spark some late-season jitters – Dale have famously being in England’s bottom division since 1974, so no pressure then – it seems highly likely visiting supporters of League One clubs will next season be enjoying Spotland’s delights.

All of which puts the Bantams in the most rarest of positions, at least in our own eyes – second favourites. Since demotion to League Two in 2007, a belief City are too big for this league has been maintained. No matter the respective league position of the opposition, each league fixture has been approached with the supporters’ mindset we should win it, causing more frustration when we don’t.

With recent form so disastrous and Dale’s progress since thrashing City 3-0 at Valley Parade continuing in terms of results if not performances, no City supporter will harbour any expectations of an away win this evening. Cup ties apart, the Bantams have not got into a game with such little hope since the League One trip to second-place Bristol City in March 2007 – a repeat of that night’s scoreline would do nicely.

But the underdogs tag is something which personally excites me rather than has me searching for the nearest cliff or message board to mutter “look how far we’ve fallen.” For the majority of my City-supporting life, we’ve been just that – underdogs. The small team from the big City who battled against larger clubs and often won. As supporters we would get behind the team in a way which has rarely happened at Valley Parade since the turn of the century. We’d understand the difference we could make, and our players’ mistakes would prompt groans but not boos.

Filling out Accrington’s away end may be heart-warming, but I’m not sure I necessarily like us being considered a big club. It brings expectations that the wage and transfer budgets can hardly hope to match. It has lead to delusions of grandeur which see our fantastic stadium no longer as homely and intimidating as it was pre-1998, due to ultimately pointless and financially-suicidal development work. We congratulate ourselves on having the biggest crowds in the League, but we still have thousands of empty seats on match days. Rochdale may be small, but they are comfortable in their own Spotland skin.

It’s not that there’s an identity crisis, but my hope in Bradford City ‘rightfully’ climbing up the leagues is not so we can be big again, but small. I see our natural position at bottom half Championship/top half League One. Should we reach such heights again, no one will go on about us as a big club, no one will rave on about our big gates, no City supporter will think we should win every game. We’ll be more understanding in defeat, and more jubilant in victory.

But such hopes, no matter how seemingly-modest for a club with Premier League history, are far removed from the current, grim reality City find themselves in. The debacle at Accrington on Saturday firmly punctured the mood of optimism triggered by Peter Taylor’s appointment and the pressure is growing on the team to pick up. Taylor could not have had a more dismal start to what may yet be a short time in charge, his most realistic objective tonight is damage limitation.

Changes will be made, particularly to a backline bolstered by the curious loan signing of Robbie Threlfall from Liverpool. While the prospect of the 19-year-old replacing Luke O’Brien will be relished from a section of support who don’t rate last season’s fans player of the season, one might question the long-term value of allowing another team’s youth player to take the place of a City one unless he has a Valley Parade future beyond the one month deal signed.

However, with a lack of wingers at the club, Taylor may have signed up Threlfall with the intention of pushing O’Brien to left winger. Certainly O’Brien has hardly been the main problem of a defence which has wilted too often all season, and it’s unlikely Taylor will view a swap of left backs as the solution.

In the centre Zesh Rehman, hauled off at Accrington for tactical reasons but also because he was simply awful, is likely to be on the bench. Former Dale player Simon Ramsden may be moved over to the centre to partner Matt Clarke with Jonathan Bateson recalled to right back, or the forgotten Steve Williams may get a chance.

Credence to the theory Taylor may push O’Brien into midfield comes from the unconvincing displays from Gareth Evans outwide, who may be pushed up front or start from the bench. Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn impressed Taylor when far from their best, and will continue in the middle despite the competition from Steve O’Leary.

Omar Daley is not expected to be fit so Chris Brandon, Leon Osborne or Scott Neilson will battle for the other spot. The latter’s early season form is increasingly a distant memory – against Notts County in the JPT last October, Neilson impressed Sven Goran Eriksson enough for the Swede to make a serious inquiry about him (see a special edition of City Gent, available on Saturday, for an exclusive interview with Stuart McCall revealing this and more).

There is some confusion over where City played 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 at Accrington, but so isolated was James Hanson it seemed clear to me and everyone near me he was playing a lone striker role. Taylor may choose to go with Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne, or trust the advice of assistant Wayne Jacobs that Hanson is a much better player than Saturday’s tame showing and at least grant him a partner.

Rochdale have survived the January transfer window with most of their stars not snapped up, save for the excellent, Paul Arnison-thrashing Will Buckley, who signed for Watford. This transfer was rumoured to have caused friction between Keith Hill and his chairman Chris Dunphy, but for now the manager remains despite Dunphy fearing he’s already “outgrown” the club.

At Valley Parade they produced a level of performance not witnessed by City fans in our near three-year stay at this level, it would not be an exaggeration to say that, on the night, a Championship club would have struggled to live with them. Despite the pre-season loss of Adam Le Fondre, the two Chris’ partnership of Dagnall and O’Grady has blossomed. In a team of outstanding players for this level, special mention should go to 19-year-old defender Craig Dawson – who has attracted interest from Spurs and Blackburn.

Their team sheet offers City little hope, but cast into the role of second favourites should be a cue to turn up the noise instead of despair. 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 and tonight we hope to begin the path that means we’ll shortly catch up with the tiny Lancashire club which has overtaken us through getting things right on the pitch, instead of bragging about how wonderful they are off it. Tonight we sing about how we’re City till we die, before the club itself really does.

Can’t wait.

Another day, another message board discussion

Bradford City director Roger Owen is not a happy man. The man who was rumoured to be the target of Stuart McCall’s We All Stand Together comments has reacted with some anger to criticism which suggested that the recent call off against Notts County was as much down to a fall in standards at Valley Parade as it was falling snow.

Owen – who has a rising profile at Valley Parade – addressed City fans saying

I have been prompted to speak in light of some really quite hurtful comments … relating to the capabilities of those at the Club who worked so hard to get Saturday’s game on.

His further comments make fascinating reading. City tried to get the game on because Notts County were in financial trouble but not because they thought the Meadow Lane club could do with the money but rather because should they get it – they might have signed someone by the time the reply is staged. One might have suspected that such unsporting – if as Owen says valid – reasons are applied to the staging of games but perhaps one would not have expected those things to be verbalised in a public forum and doing so seems a little crass.

The comment which have sparked Owen’s ire come from – of course – the club’s Official Message Board and Owen joins Mark Lawn in demanding a removal of anonymity from that place as a way to make people more accountable for what they say. One has to wonder who these calls are aimed at? When a decision was made to stop fake name and anonymous positing on this website we wrote some rules and got about our business. Lawn’s prompts came about a month ago and one wonders why they are no further toward fruition.

One also wonders what the effects of removing anonymity from the Official Message Board would be on those who would happily have their comments attributed to their correct name. If BantamHead89 writes something offensive or insulting about the manager, the players or the groundsmen what of the is the come back that he should expect if the club know that BantamHead89 is Jimmy Smith from Terrace Street in Idle? Would he be banned for matches? Have his season ticket removed? Will Jimmy face a visit from Matthew Clarke and James Hanson on a dark evening to “discuss his views.”

While one ponders that question is it worth considering the background of the problems the club has with the supporters it interfaces with through the Official Message Board which has always been troubled but never more or less so than any other club. When Lincoln City sacked Peter Jackson and his assistant Keith Alexander Iffy Onoura the number two used his FourFourTwo column to discuss how after returning home from a 14 hour day he had put in on behalf of the Imps he had read on a web forum how he “did nothing.”

The Bantams OMB says similar things about Wayne Jacobs and does so under the heading of the word “Official” and were that all there was to say about the web forum which once again is dragged into the fore of the conversation of Bradford City then it would be easy to say that the whole thing should be shut down. It is not.

Spin back six years and the OMB was the lifeblood of Bradford City as the club headed to oblivion of a second administration. The community around it was a significant factor is raising what was at the time the largest amount of money put together by football fans in defence of their club’s future. Community – with almost no exception – is a good thing and the community which has emerged around the Bradford City OMB is no different.

That that community comes under the banner of “Official” is a problem for the club – many have asked what any person would do were they to read that their own employer carried negative commentary about them – and one which Lawn is right to try address but his carrot and stick approach of removing the anonymity in exchanged for continued use addresses some of the problems the OMB might have in terms of the level of debate being brought down by brickbat attacks from faceless people but does not capitalise on what the OMB could be.

The OMB is a community – like it or not – and it is probably the biggest community of Bradford City fans assembled outside of VP on a match day. It puts City Gent and BfB into the shade in terms of numbers and impact. City are forever answering issues that arise from comments on the Official Message Board be it a negative as it was today or responding to questions obliquely asked on that forum but they have never commented on an article on this site, or on the other non-official sites.

As a community the OMB is significant but Bradford City do not get the most from that community – not by a long way – and they are not alone in that. Having played a significant role on projects for Premier League clubs trying to address the question of how best to leverage the community around the club into a workable web presence I would suggest that there is not a football club in this country that “get” the web and what to do with it.

Owen and Lawn are right to try remove anonymity from the Official Message Board – the instinct of having supporter be accountable for what they say is a good one – but the OMB is a problem for this club and other clubs on the whole because football clubs still have not decided what to do with the Internet and how they best can use it to further the idea of a football support for all that carries on all week long.

All Together Now

Singing in support of your team has been a traditionally accepted role for all football fans but at City, with the exception of a small but thankfully vociferous and melodious minority, we seem to struggle to fulfil this aspect of our allegiance.

So why don’t we all sing?

Well, to use the musical taunt, it’s a lot easier to “sing when you’re winning” and that is something we haven’t done enough at home this season. But that in itself is nothing like the full story.

Football singing is a community activity but evidence seems to suggest that, despite thousands being there under the banner of “supporter”, the City fan base is a divided community.

For the “critics” having paid the ticket price is support enough and unless success is achieved (instantly?) then booing is the only thing that unites them vocally .It’s the old story of “I’ve paid, it’s my right” and you can’t deny that but calling it support is stretching the interpretation of the word.

The “stoics” are a significant section, maybe even a majority, of City’s support. They applaud effort as well as achievement but try not to get too visibly emotionally involved – disappointments of the past still hurt. Words of encouragement are freely given if occasionally tempered with cries of frustration as the reality of lower league football is accepted for another game/season. Highlights are rare and do elicit vocal, even musical, responses but comments tend to be made in conversation rather than in song.

The main vocal support comes from the “young guns” and thank goodness it comes from somewhere! Without their contribution the place would be eerie indeed. They carry the silent majority in a way that is appreciated by travelling fans far more than the crowds at home.

Each of these groups is full of supporters who would all claim a commitment to the City cause but there is no coordination especially when things aren’t going so well. So why don’t we all sing?

Well, daft as it sounds we need something to sing – not something to sing about, just something to sing. Cast your mind back and see how many of “City’s Greatest Hits” you can recall. What did we sing at Wembley? What did we sing in the Premiership? If it’s not the level of success that raises the level of song then what is it?

My answer may not be scientifically accurate but I believe it lies in the chant “Who are yer!”

For what seemed so long the City squad suffered from rotation. Not the tactical rotation beloved of the rich Premiership managers but the rotation brought about by short term stays and /or commitment of so many players. It is hard to chant a player’s name when he is only with the club on a few months loan. The affinity built up with players such as Michael Proctor and, more recently, Dean Furman, is all too soon broken, often for reasons beyond our control. (The “Deano” chant still rings in my ears.)

The cult (correct spelling) that was Barry Conlon was another case in point and whilst some of the chanting was ironic it did at least unite many fans.

Of the present City staff who among them has their name ringing round the ground? Not one player and yet this team has showed itself more worthy of vocal support than any for a long time. The manager then? Well yes but as debates on this site and vitriol elsewhere have shown for every one chanting “Stuart, Stuart” there seems to be an equivalent number of critics thinking if not calling, “Out,Out”. We are not all together!

So who will take the initiative? Stuart himself has been criticised on this site for using players’ nicknames. Oh for that level of familiarity in the stands! Who then will unite us in vocal support? Who will be our heroes on the pitch and how will we show our appreciation?

Would James Hanson appreciate “Jimmy, Jimmy” as much as Jimmy Quinn? Is there a prospect of “The Mighty Flynn”? Would Luke and James welcome a revival of “O.B., O.B.” ringing round the ground? Would Gareth Evans respond to “EVO, EVO” in a similar way to Deano? Can we as supporters boost the morale and maybe the performances of Zesh, Rambo, Bully and the rest simply by chanting. Whether it’s nicknames, real names, initials it’s worth a try. We need to get behind players as individuals well as the team. If there are no natural “characters” in our side we need to create them. We need to turn youngsters into legends not through irony but through genuine encouragement – dare I say affection!

As a “stoic” I want to sing, I join in chants but they seem to fade before they are established where I sit. I am not interested in abusing the opposing fans – they have their job to do. I am tired of berating referees – it does no good as far as our results go. I want to do my bit for the team.

As for real singing, we don’t need to borrow “HI, HO [insert club name] from Jeff Beck and many other clubs, when we already play “I love the City tonight”. Why not bring it forward. Playing it as the players walk off is too late. Give us the chance to make it work for us not accompany our exit (well the exit of those that have stayed to applaud the players off).If we get it going now Snow Patrol can contribute to our City long after the white stuff has gone.

All together now.

McCall echoes Law’s bluntest comments – will we pay attention this time?

Arresting oratory rarely comes from the most lucid speakers. Churchill’s finest hours came not from his desire to play with words but the bluntness of his statements. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” may flow off the tongue well but more importantly, it is guttural, basic.

As one decade ticks over to another there is a tendency to look back to the last and encapsulate and in doing some one piece of oratory sticks out above others. A couple of years from the start of the decade then manager Nicky Law delivered this damning pronouncement:

At some grounds the crowd are like a goal for the home team, here (at Valley Parade) they are like one for the opposition.

It is blunt to the point of offence and hastened Law’s exit from the position he had at the club but remains – despite two administrations and three relegations – the outstanding comment of the ten years perhaps because of the bluntness. It was the manager of the club at the end of his tether and is perhaps made more significant by the slide that followed Law’s exit. The gaffer – love him or loathe him – was issuing a warning to supporters. He was not the first.

Ten years before IPC Magazines – those people behind Roy of the Rovers and NME – had asked all 92 clubs what music they ran on to the pitch to. This was before the Sunderland’s use of Republica’s Ready To Go updated run-on music and years before Burnley perfected it with Arcade Fire’s Wake Up (Coyle, leaving that, you must be mad) amid the usual Z-Cars of Everton and Newcastle’s Local Hero came not the name of a song but an anonymous comment from Valley Parade.

We usually run out to total silence

Both phrases talk in terms of warnings and strike hard against the memories of Valley Parade after Gordon Watson’s goals against Barnsley, against Liverpool in 2000, against Blackpool in 2003 but anyone who has followed City – especially those who follow City on the road and have heard the contrast between VP and away grounds – knows that for the talk of “best fans” which is heard from all clubs the Bantams backing at Valley Parade is almost always underwhelming.

The City Gent‘s Dave Pendleton talking about the rising Ultras movement in English lower league football commented on how fifty Accrington Stanley fans were able to out-sing 11,000 Bantams in Valley Parade. There are many reasons for this – the movement from standing to all seats, the breaking up of singing groups in the stadium, offish stewarding and so on – but Pendleton’s reflections are not isolated incidents.

At the time Law’s comments seemed to be petty, small-minded and ungenerous – the last actions of an Emporer before the fall of his Rome – but in retrospect they read as as stark a warning every issued to a footballing community. “Care for you club” – they seem to say – “because no one else will and you will suffer the consequences.”

The comments point to a helplessness – a desperation – of manager Law at the time. Some took his comments as a direct criticism of all but from the distance of years they strike one more as a man saying that he can only do so much. “I’m doing what I can,” they float, “how about a bit of help from the supporters?”

Within a couple of years a dozen people were sitting about the Goldsborough in Bradford trying to tie two ends of the club together, trying to riase enough money that City were not be put into liquidation rather than continuing administration, and no one had time to consider Law’s words but they rang around the chasm between the pub and Valley Parade with a mocking resonance.

Reconciling the two positions is difficult. Twice in the last decade Bradford City supporters showed summers of endless depths of passion, of stoicism and of belief to keep the club in business and able to play football through winters in which often the converse was true. Impatience was common, spinelessness frequent and, sadly, distaste poured forth. I heard it said by one of the dozen people who spent a summer raising the money to keep City going that the club was not just saved to give some people a place to moan every two weeks.

This decade was not a week old when Stuart McCall delivered a comment which to many echoed Law’s words and while they were less blunt than the previous manager’s they – for some – contained the same meaning.

If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club.

Rumours following the comments – which the T&A’s Simon Parker attributed to being about the supporters rather than McCall pointed at – were that the manager was upset at the attitude of some of the directors perhaps specifically Roger Owen although one was also reminded of the infamous Brian Clough story which has the great man sacking three tea ladies he discovered sniggering at a Derby County loss. Negativity – Clough believed – undermined everything.

Certainly McCall was quick to point out that he was not criticising the supporters talking about the great backing they have had from the fans 6,000 of whom have signed up for Season Tickets for next season but as with Law’s comments some see this as McCall’s attack on the fan and want a similar response with the manager being stripped of his responsibilities.

Regardless of his intended target McCall’s comments apply equally to supporters as they do to the boardroom, the dressing room or elsewhere at Valley Parade. Clough and Law shared the belief that negativity aided the opposition and it seems that McCall has come to the same conclusion.

One has to wonder what Bradford City 2010 have been like were the reaction to Law’s comments not a ire that he should dare speak against Bradford City supporters but as a motivation to resolve to make what difference a full throated support can for a club? Poor atmosphere is common in football home ends up and down the country but it need not be the case and if atmosphere has a purpose in victories in football then the Bantams support could resolve to be the team that uber-supports rather than just another ground where nothing is ever as good as it could be.

Would we have seen Bryan Robson’s side slide away? Would we have seen the lifeless surrender of League One status at Huddersfield and at home to Leyton Orient? Would we have seen the wilting away of last season’s promotion push? Would any of these things been avoided had Law’s comments rung true and the type of support which often is only witness in away ends could be heard in the home sections of VP.

Certainly at the club the idea that there is a negativity at Bradford City has been noted. Mark Lawn has talked about the message board and making posters responsible for what is said in the hope that it would alter the tone while the moving of away fans to create a noisy Bradford End has been a qualified success with the atmosphere created by some way the most positive in the stadium, and the noisiest.

This website stand accused – from time to time – of “having a go at the fans” which is sometimes true but in this case is not. (Incidentally for my part I have no qualms about saying that on occasion I feel the need to point out unjustified negativity of a section of City fans and for those fans to bleat about being “attacked” or being the subject of having BfB “having a go” is an hypocrisy. If – in one example – a person is man enough to stand up in front of the fans around him – including a good few twelve year old kids – and call Joe Colbeck “a c*nt” then he is man enough to take any criticism aimed at him.)

This is an article about a nameless source at Valley Parade in the 90s, a manager in the form of Nicky Law in the last decade, The City Gent’s Dave Pendleton and another manager Stuart McCall in this one and it is about putting aside a pompous pride and thinking about what is best considered for the wider Bradford City community.

I’m a guy with an opinion, Some bloke at VP is just some bloke, Law was a jobbing manager, Pendleton is just a guy who writes a fanzine, McCall is a club legend and they all speak to the same conclusion about the effects of support and the detriments of negativity. What voice are we not going to ignore before this issue is addressed?

Note on comments An interesting debate on Stuart McCall is taking place elsewhere on this website which need not be duplicated here. Instead – and this is a departure from the usual track of comments – suggestions on ways to improve the mood, the atmosphere, the tone of the club are would be appreciated below.

Anger

After the score went to 2-3 yesterday I was disappointed, at 2-4 I felt an emotion I have experienced several times during my active period of support for city. This disappointment and anger was not directed at the team or Stuart, they showed commitment and effort. Rather it was directed at the sizeable proportion of “fans” around me in the Midland Road stand who suddenly remembered that they had something really pressing and important to do and needed to leave the stadium immediately.

What I witnessed at Valley Parade was a game that could have gone either way, it was exciting, tense stuff that did not justify a walk out. It seems to me that a section of our fans don’t really want to support our team. What they want is to sit there comfortably and watch a score board showing the ”right” result.

I am not talking here about blind faith. I have sometimes felt that the team have not given their all and consequently did not deserve to win. This wasn’t the case against Rotherham, they fought and they wanted to achieve.

In conclusion I would like to ask that fans stay until the end of the game and support their team, If they can’t do that then stay away and do their washing, shopping or other essential Saturday afternoon task. I’ve mentioned support a couple of times, that’s what supporters do.

Blind faith is back at Bradford, and it is aimed at Rory Boulding

It is always heartening to hear supporters singing a players name. The shouts to the rafters, the way the rest of the team respond to the encouragement, the praise singled out and heaped upon one cog in the machine celebrating the individual while glorifying the team.

The name sung aloud, the glory shared: “One Rory Boulding!”

Three strikers sat injured on the sidelines and Gareth Evans – who had only been in training a day – came off for the younger of the two Boulding brothers to enter and hear his name sung. It was as confusing as it was ill deserved and must have flummoxed the players who had spent eighty five minutes pressing for a win over the league leaders and probably the striker himself.

Arriving with brother Michael from Mansfield Town Rory has been with the club for about fifteen months and has only featured a few times for the Bantams at any senior level. Having seen him a couple of times at reserve level in addition to his first team action I have to say that I think his place as fifth striker who comes on five minutes from the end is entirely justified.

I speak as a big exponent of the club playing the young players it brings in and someone who believes that playing those youngsters makes them better however nothing in Rory’s fifteen months has suggested that he deserves his name signing when he comes onto the field or that there should be any expectation he will do any sort of job at all for the starting eleven. It was instant adulation the likes of which Jedward would be surprised with.

If it was not confusing for Rory – who having done averagely for the reserves in his time at the club will have known that his promotion to the senior side was to do with injuries rather than intent – then it must have been thrilling. It warmed the heart to hear such utter, blind faith being heaped onto a young player sight – pretty much – unseen. If the sound drifted down the field from the Kop end to the goal then Simon Eastwood might have considered that he had put us in the semi-finals of a cup and still have a multitude of doubters where as Rory just has to run onto the field for adoration to be his.

Indeed City’s history – certainly recent history – is littered with players who divided the support. If sound could carry to Oldham then Joe Colbeck might be pleased to hear that a crowd that were so ready to take against him has rededicated itself to uncredited backing and down in Crawley Danny Forrest might consider how the crowd he used to be a member of rarely backed him to such unfettered degrees despite three match winning goals on the road. Forrest’s greatest successes for City were unseen by most, perhaps there is an assumption that Rory is the same.

Nevertheless despite this backing for Boulding it seems that Stuart McCall talking about bringing in a loan striker that Rory will be moved down to sixth in the pecking order. Modern football does not really have the concept of “getting rid” of a player – the best we could do is pay him to stay at home and there would be no benefit from that – but it seems that at the moment One Rory Boulding is only near the starting eleven because of injuries and will get further away.

The reason for this – and having only seen the odd reserve game this season perhaps this is not a full picture – is that Rory needs to apply himself more effectively because judging from those reserve games and his performances pre-season the first eleven is not missing out on much at present. All players have potential and all can be improved by the club’s coaching but they need to put in application to make progress.

For application one might look at how the shelf stacker from Idle played against non-league clubs in pre-season compared to the professional Rory. If on those games – or in the reserve games – Rory had shown Hanson levels of effort then there might be a case for calling for him or for him to be singled out but if this team is about effort then one can only suppose that McCall believes that employing Michael Flynn to trying his heart out up front and Rehman in midfield gives him more effort than Flynn in the middle and Rory playing as Rory has thus far up front. Had he looked a cut above in pre-season, taken his chances, show the desire that Hanson has then he would deserve all the backing that could be given.

All young players deserve support but they have to put in the effort and application for that backing to be rewarded and at present this is not the case with Rory. It may be in the future and hopefully the support he received on Saturday will help push him towards that although great acclaim for little effort is seldom a motivator.

Certainly at present he should be decide to push it would be on an open door. No one could accuse Stuart McCall of not backing those young players who put in the effort that has been a hallmark of City’s side this year. If you consider the City first team to be: Simon Eastwood 20, Simon Ramsden 27, Zesh Rehman 26, Steve Williams 22, Luke O’Brien 21, Omar Daley 28, Michael Flynn 29, Lee Bullock 28, Gareth Evans 21, James Hanson 21 and Scott Neilson 22 then the average age is 24 and over half the side are still covered by FIFA transfer protections for young players. The fringe players include Jamie O’Brien 19 and Jonathan Bateson 20 as well as the senior Boulding and Peter Thorne. Young players are getting a chance at City at the moment.

Nevertheless if the support is starting singling out players for praise – distinctly different to Joe Colbeck’s time at City – then there are plenty to choose from. Michael Flynn, James Hanson, Gareth Evans, Luke O’Brien and Lee Bullock are all enjoying great purple patches where hard work is manifested for City. One would have though that those five names and more would be above Rory Boulding in a list of heroes to cheer.

“One Rory Boulding” came the chant – just as well or perhaps City would have had to taken more than the two Boulding brothers – and the encouragement was impressive but placed in a way which left me utterly bemused.

An ugly victory as Hereford United fans get the wrong kind of Bradford welcome

It was a long way back home  – 180 miles to be precise – for the 176 Hereford supporters at Valley Parade on Saturday, but for many it will not have been Gareth Evans’ 41st minute strike and subsequent celebration in front of them which will have provided the lasting impression of a disappointing day.

The welcome some received from the people of Bradford could be fairly summed up as ugly, with stories of heavy-handed stewarding and a gang of teenagers punching and spitting on supporters outside the ground at the end.  Small and trivial these incidents may be considered in the context of the history of poor stewarding and hooliganism, but little consolation for the few on the receiving end.

It was midway through the second half that attention was diverted from a reasonably entertaining League Two encounter to the block of the Midland Road stand which housed Hereford supporters. Without knowing what was happening, it was clear stewards were dragging out a small handful of supporters in the most heavy-handed of manners. A Bulls visitor to Claret and Banter claims the stewards began throwing out supporters for persistently standing. When these fans quite reasonably argued that home supporters in other parts of the ground were also standing, they were apparently removed for questioning the stewards’ authority.

Meanwhile the photo evidence of a young supporter appearing to be forcibly removed reflects badly on the the people charged with home and away supporters’ welfare and some questions should be raised by those with the power to ask them at Valley Parade this week. At numerous City away games in recent years, stewards have attempted to force City fans to sit down; but the larger number of away fans make it next to impossible to enforce and efforts are usually quickly abandoned. Were these Hereford fans penalised for supporting a small club?

As the skirmishes ended, the reaction of City fans in the Bradford End was hardly commendable either. Aside from strong rivalries, banter between sets of fans at games is generally good natured and fun for both. The same Hereford fan who left a message on Claret and Banter claims home supporters initiated slit throat gestures towards them, while the choice and tone of the chanting towards them came across as unnecessarily threatening. Such anger might be understood, if not excused, were it directed towards Leeds, Huddersfield and Burnley fans, or even if the visitors were leading. The Hereford fans had done nothing to warrant this humourlessly-bile form of chanting.

And then outside after the game it got worse. Walking along Midland Road after home games all season, it’s been noticeable that gangs of teenagers have begun congregating on street corners in the hope something might “kick off”. A small mini bus for Hereford fans was positioned close to the away turnstiles, with one steward stood talking to them. I’d begun to walk past and towards my car, so didn’t get the best of views, but within minutes this group of Hereford supporters were surrounded by a gang of teenagers and fighting broke out. Those nearer claim a female supporter was punched while another female was spat at. Other Hereford fans tried to defend their own and the steward looked helpless. Eventually more stewards arrived to help and two police vans pulled up, with the group of teenagers fleeing up the hill towards Manningham Lane and hiding within the grounds of the nearby Mosque. A long journey home for Hereford fans must have felt significantly longer.

And as they departed so to did a bit of the club’s reputation. “Going to Bradford away? Watch yourself, I’ve heard the stewards are violent and home supporters ambush you outside the ground at the end,” is the kind of story which travels fast among rival fans. After the match City manager Stuart McCall had spoken of his frustration that, mid-way through the first half, a supporter within his earshot had barracked the players with the words “come on, we’re only playing Hereford,” but in this situation “only Hereford” is an important point. Perhaps these cowardly fans who attacked visiting supporters will steer clear when the likes of Rochdale and Rotherham come to Valley Parade, as they will bring sizeable numbers of fans which are likely to include plenty willing to get involved with a fight.

Next Saturday City travel to Macclesfield, a fixture I’ve been looking forward to for weeks due to the warm welcome I’ve received from friendly Silkmen fans on my previous two visits. Luton and Chesterfield aside, that’s usually the norm wherever you go in League Two and, for the majority of well-behaved City fans, it’s part of the enjoyment. What a shame that, thanks to the minority, there are now less people who will consider a trip to Bradford anything but ugly.

Where the blame lies as City supporters are warned about flying footballs and Arsenal fans throw objects at their former player

Ahead of kick off on Saturday, Bradford City and Burton Albion supporters were warned, via the PA system, of the possibility of footballs flying into the crowd while the players warmed up. As a supporter who has attended matches for many years, such a message sounded ridiculous.

A number of years ago I remember a stray football smashing someone’s cup of coffee out of their hands a few yards behind me in the old standing Kop, with the contents spraying all over the poor individual. Gary Walsh came over to apologise, and the supporter simply shrugged his shoulders and wiped himself down. Being struck by a football at full force is not a pleasant experience, but this person did not call the first injury claims phone number he could recite from a daytime TV advert, he did not rush over to a steward to complain about the wayward shooting of Robert Steiner, he didn’t even try to claim back the cost of the coffee. As the warning of the dangers of flying footballs was broadcast around Valley Parade on Saturday, my worry was that in a few years we’ll be watching our football from behind some form of plastic screen.

Like with so many other aspects of the growing Health and Safety culture in the UK, a look at the reasons behind why a person attending a football match would need to be warned footballs will be used prompts the real despair. In the matchday programme there was notice about another seemingly ludicrous Health and Safety measure introduced at Valley Parade, that under 2s are to be banned. Apparently this is “following incidents of small children being hurt at other grounds and legal action being taken against those clubs.”. Just as Lenny the City Gent is no longer allowed to throw sweets, seemingly behind every new Health & Safety rule was a victim with a questionable but probably legal case for compensation.

But as long as there’s a claim where there’s blame, such regulations will continue to be forced upon us. In the grander scheme of things forcing Lenny to cover up his belly and stating the blindingly obvious over the public address system is minor, when you hear of people suing charities for small injuries they may have picked up attending one of their events – increasing such organisations costs and even forcing them to cancel fundraising efforts. Personal responsibility appears to be someone else’s responsibility, no matter how badly you behave.

Over at Eastlands on Saturday, there was an incident not too dissimilar when Man City striker Emmanuel Adebayor choose to sprint the full length of the pitch to celebrate a goal against his former club, Arsenal, in front of his former fans. This caused many away supporters to react angrily, throwing all manner of objects in the direction of the Ivory Coast striker and barging over fellow supporters to get to the front of the visitors section to vent their fury. There are reports that a steward was knocked unconscious for a few seconds as a result, while nearby photographers had to be moved on as their chairs were flung onto the pitch. Some witnesses claim Arsenal fans had been singing some tasteless and offensive things about Adebayor’s family, only two weeks earlier Man United fans had been criticised for similar chants at Arsene Wenger.

Let’s be clear, Adebayor’s actions were highly stupid and the huge media fury directed towards the striker is justified; but do his actions excuse supporters from crossing the line past understandable vocal outrage to the sort of behaviour which, normally, would be considered criminal? In this instance, where’s there’s blame, there’s apparently an excuse to act like a mindless idiot.

This occasion bared similarities with Luton keeper Conrad Logan racing over to dance in front of City supporters after his side had struck what looked to be a late winner in the Kenilworth Road League Two clash last January. Logan received a bucket load of verbal abuse, but despite the despair everyone was feeling at apparently having lost the game, I don’t recall a single object been thrown or of any attempts to get onto the pitch to confront the dim-witted keeper. Certainly nothing on the scale the referee Trevor Kettle was to be subjected to from Luton fans as he walked off the field a few minutes later, having awarded a City a highly contentious penalty in stoppage time which denied them the victory.

On Saturday a seemingly routine moment of a Burton corner was performed while well-known City supporter ‘Charlie’ marched towards the set piece taker to complain at him. Had he done anything stronger than shout abuse, he would deservedly have been kicked out the ground. There is a limit to supporting your football team which most decent people, Charlie included, simply won’t go beyond. Those Arsenal supporters who threw objects or pushed fellow fans out of the way after Adebayor’s actions went past it. The consequences are that the rest of us supporters may one day face new restrictions which are as ludicrous as issued warnings over flying footballs. Plastic screens are used in other countries, after all.

But as the media expresses its outrage, one has to point the finger of blame back at it too. While Arsenal fans have strong reasons for hating their former striker, the modern day over-hyped Premier League, which sees rivalries magnified and hatred encouraged, plays its part in fanning such flames. In the days before the Arsenal v Man City match, the media were stoking up the fact Adebayor was facing his old club and continued to paint him in such a way as to encourage even more hatred from those who used to support him. If the return fixture wasn’t scheduled to be live on Sky, you can comfortably bet it will be now, hyped up non-stop beforehand so the spectacle of 60,000+ people screaming abuse at their former hero can be considered ‘entertainment’.

Just like the Manchester United supporter who arranged to have an offensive message about the number of Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough on the back of his shirt, such hatred in football is unnecessary, unhealthy and counter-productive. Instead of worrying about footballs hitting spectators, the games authorities should look at diffusing this growing problem, even if it involves taking on the media paymasters who they have become enslaved to.

Meanwhile we football supporters need to remember that this game has its limits and start taking responsibility for our own behaviour.

Chinese whispers

Despite Bradford City’s welcome 5-4 win at Cheltenham yesterday, there is talk from some quarters claiming things are far from rosy at Valley Parade.

Rumours and speculation are the order of the day, with a number of different sources pricking the BfB team’s ears that manager Stuart McCall went into Saturday’s game one or perhaps two games away from the sack. The evidence for this seemed to be that the three main members of the board had turned up to watch the team play Cheltenham. All three were City fans before City owners and – as the word from Mark Lawn suggests – if they did not turn up then there would be something to talk about.

Nevertheless such circumstances are the source of idle gossip. BfB has also heard from other, more reliable sources that the rumours of boardroom unrest with Stuart are if not a complete fabrication then very much largely untrue, leaving strong suspicion such rumours are the work of people with an agenda against the manager McCall. The agenda belonging to the people who regularly tell the rest of us that our manager is “not a manager” a proportion of whom step past the respectful mark of stating an opinion and into the realm of trying to agitate a scenario to support their views rather than speaking as is seen.

Recent history supports a view that the board are not looking to replace the boss. Julian Rhodes has previously backed his managers – it’s rumoured one of the triggers for the falling out with Gordon Gibb was over whether to sack Nicky Law and other chairmen would have sacked Colin Todd and even Stuart sooner. Mark Lawn’s outlook on managers is less known, but would have played a part in the decision to award Stuart a new contract last February.

Before the ink could dry, things had turned sour with the end of season collapse and near resignation of Stuart. The manager has started the season under pressure from a section of supporters and it’s unlikely a win which saw four goals conceded will be enough to quieten such doubters. The season is only four games old, but seems to already be approaching something of a knife edge. It can still be a campaign that ends in glory and there are plenty of positive indicators to support this, but the swirling rumours and lack of communication from the board could easily see fortunes take an entirely separate direction.

As a football fan, it’s common to return from a game to find other people have taken an entirely different view of the events collectively witnessed, but the attempted re-writing of history some are seemingly attempting to apply to the ‘Save our Stuart’ (SOS) campaign at the home game with Rotherham last April is pushing credibility. After the two defeats in Nottingham in the first week of the season, someone asked what happened to all those people who had displayed SOS banners in support of Stuart staying. It was quickly dismissed as an activity carried out by a small smattering of ten years old only which no one, certainly not the people demanding Stuart now be sacked, would admit to taking part in.

Odd, because I remember SOS signs held up all over the stadium in huge numbers (I also took photographs). Not everyone joined in of course, but it was a high enough participation to be considered a majority. When I looked immediately around where I sit, no one, even the blokes in front who complained non-stop all season about the lack of substitutions, failed to hold a sign up. I also looked over to the Kop, to the Main Stand and to the Bradford End and white pieces of paper with red writing were everywhere. Yet few appear willing to admit they held theirs.

Which suggests one of two scenarios. The SOS campaign was a unique and welcome opportunity for every supporter who attended the Rotherham game to vote on whether we should stick or twist with Stuart as manager. Everyone had the chance to share their view, by either holding up a sign or keeping their arms folded. This on its own was not how Stuart’s decision to stay on was ultimately made, but certainly a significant factor. I wonder if Julian and Mark held up their signs?

If you voted for Stuart to remain as manager, you surely have a responsibility to make sure your decision is followed through. Not by pretending you never held up such a sign a couple of defeats later, otherwise why should your opinion be taken seriously now? By holding up your sign to call for Stuart to stay, despite the fact he had offered to quit, you were making it known you wanted him to have another chance and four games into the next season he has not yet be given that.

If the fact everyone on message boards and T&A forums are telling the truth and genuinely didn’t hold up their SOS signs, it raises questions over how representative such sites are. A huge number of City fans did hold up those signs, but if the people who regularly contribute to message boards and forums are all people who didn’t it suggests they reflect only the opinion of a small section of supporters rather than anything close to the full picture.

Put another way, when the anger is really rising among some supporters and the comments on the T&A forums are stacking up, they still total few in the bigger scheme. Around 100 comments per story seems to be the average after a defeat, but these 100 comments usually feature the same five or six people writing more than once. Even if it was 100 hundred separate supporters angrily saying Stuart should walk, that’s 100 out of 11,000 who turn up to Valley Parade every other week. A sample of opinion which has validity – but not enough from which to shape tough decisions without further and wider consultation.

At BfB we claim only to be representative of the the writers views not of the readers – though we are grateful to receive 1,400 to 1,800 unique readers most days and have had over 120 people have articles published over the last decade. How many City supporters regularly make their views known to others in a wider context than mates down the pub? The SOS vote was the most public democratic decision we supporters have undertaken in years and its results should not be quickly forgotten.

With the speculation Stuart’s future may be in doubt, those who still support him, who held up their signs and who chant Stuart’s name at every game have a responsibility to ensure their voice continues to be heard. Too often those who shout the loudest have been able to dictate matters and while they are entitled to shout loud the fact that City have slumped from Premier League to League Two is not something which can be fully blamed on six weeks of madness.

Publicly at least, Stuart has retained a positive persona and will have done much to ensure the players’ spirits are not crushed by the disappointing start. The gradual improvement is there for all to see and the players Stuart has brought in appear to be settling in well and making a difference. There is every reason to believe the bad start can be just that – a bad start. As supporters we have a part to play in helping the club go forward and to end the season with a long overdue taste of success.

Though the Valley Parade boardroom also has a role to play and, while there’s plenty we supporters can disagree on right now, we can all find common ground in a desire to hear what they’re thinking.

Why can’t you do that every week?

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

Is that what would supporters ask of the the players, the manager, the club after the season at Valley Parade ended without promotion but with a fine win.

Bradford City’s problem – and the problem that has driven Stuart McCall to distraction and seen the 45th game of the League Two season finally rule City out of promotion or the play-offs following Dag & Red’s win over Notts County – is that the team team has been incapable of withstanding setbacks within games.

Goals ruled out, mistakes made, goals conceded all seeing the squad’s brittle morale crack. Think the collapses at Rochdale or Barnet, the reversals at Notts County or Morecambe. Defeats that came after when the team was incapable of withstanding the slings and arrows of fortune. In the swirling atmosphere of this day no such upset occurred and the Bantams powered to an impressive 3-0 win over an credible Rotherham United side who made a good fist of a game where ultimately they were lucky not to lose by more.

That the atmosphere was good was owing to the swell of opinion that Stuart McCall remain as City manager becoming vocalised and realised in a demonstration in favour of the gaffer. Save Our Stuart messages were held up, chants were made and the players responded with an intelligent and effective performance.

McCall sent out what – should he be true to his threat to resign – is his last team at Valley Parade with Kyle Nix recalled to create a four man midfield alongside Lee Bullock, Nicky Law Jnr and Dean Furman. Matthew Clarke was dropped in favour of Zesh Rehman and Steve Jones partnered Peter Thorne in the forward line. In the week – while paying tribute to Wayne Jacobs – McCall said he wished that his other signings had worked out as well as as his number two. Matthew Clarke, Michael Boulding, Paul McLaren, Chris Brandon and a few others are thus charged and as a result they cool their heels on the sidelines.

Those who did play did McCall proud with a display of tight passing at pace that could rank as the home performance of the season. After ten minutes pressure brought a corner which was cleared and returned goalwards by Dean Furman beating all on its way to goal except Peter Thorne who’s slight deflection continued the ball’s progress into the net. Rotherham’s defence were incandescent suggesting that Thorne was offside – visitors number four Danny Harrison could have been playing the City striker onside although confusion was king in the stands and on the field. The goal stood perhaps because Furman’s shot was going in and the Referee decided that a goal would have been without Thorne (entirely against the rules) or perhaps Harrison was playing Thorne on side or perhaps the Referee got it wrong.

Rotherham felt angry at the first and flattened by the second where Nicky Law Jnr got down the right – McCall’s diamond shaped midfield saw Law on the right hand side but not the right wing and he and Nix on the left hand side were able to keep in contact with the strikers which has proved a problem this term – and crossed low and firmly to Thorne who hit a close range finish after cutting in front of defender Nick Fenton. Thorne’s crisp finish left keeper Andy Warrington flat on his back, seemingly resigned to defeat.

Flat footed Fenton became flattening Fenton when – rather unprovoked – he lunged into Law as the City man shielded the ball out for a throw-in. That the visitors defender was yellow carded showed – perhaps – the end of season nature of the game rather than reflected the seriousness of the foul which was out of character of a well natured game.

The Bradford City team this season has not struggled when on top of a game exchanging blows with the South Yorkshire side but not being breached. A third almost came after half time when on a break – lovely to see a team come attack at VP – when Thorne crossed to Jones who saw his finish clawed away by Warrington. A second counter ten minutes later saw sub Joe Colbeck find Jones with an impressive pass and Jones sprint in on goal to finish the game.

Good performances were all over the field for the Bantams. Rhys Evans looked solid, Paul Arnison and player of the season Luke O’Brien got up and down the flanks and Rehman and Lee were solid against a lively attack which – when he came on – were dangerous especially in the form of Drewe Broughton. Also telling was the fact that Dean Furman took the all from the back four and used it well rather than allowing the back four to pump the ball long.

All of which came under a blanket of positivity from the assembled Valley Parade audience who got behind the team – really got behind the team – and the effects were seen on the field. Rotherham – who have enough points to have finished in the top three this season – were no soft touch but the Bantams bested them and while Thorne could have hat a hat-trick testing Warrington twice more The Millers were enterprising and could have got one back and – as we have seen – caused the wobble that has seen this promotion bid fail.

If they keep it up they will be challenging for the top three next season. The same is true of the Bantams on all levels. It seems to be that today and two weeks ago the represented a consideration on how the level of support and the level of performance are not just yoked together but that the one (not can but) will inspire the other.

The players took a lap of the field to applause – nothing compared to what everyone was expecting with the promotion which was expected – and Stuart McCall followed to a clear statement – “Stuart must stay” – from the supporters who had lifted the team to a fine win.

What would the players, the manager, the club say to the supporters who had created an atmosphere of inexorable victory:

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

Anger, Management and Rotherham

Sometimes in life it’s the little things that are crucial. In this case it’s the comma.

The release of emotion has always been seen as therapeutic. Some football clubs charge exorbitant prices for their contributions to this philosophy but at City we get excellent value for money.

Saturday will be an emotional game for so many different reasons. Doubtless there will be anger.

From where I sit at VP we can watch the progress of a game through the changing of the colour of a face – pale pink turns to red, to puce through to purple as the guy near us ratchets up his scattergun anger. Anyone (everyone) is a target, nothing is constructive but it is his right and I hope he thinks it is doing him some good at least.

But that’s the thing about anger – it has more shades than a Dulux colour card.

So where do you place Joe Colbeck’s second yellow the other season for harmlessly kicking the ball at an ad board just because of a lapse in ball control? Or the two footed lunge on Gordon Watson or the much more public Zidane “header” of a World Cup Final? They are all signs of anger. They all had immediate and longer-term consequences. They are all signs of passion. We want and demand passion, we feel it ourselves but if passion is anger then anger is an inevitable part of football. If there is anger on Saturday, and there will be from some, how will it be shown? Who will it be aimed at? and what will be the immediate and long-term consequences?

Is it healthier, personally, to stay away? If you go in an angry frame of mind is there any hope of improvement once inside the ground? And if you go to make your anger felt just because you’ve paid for the ticket, is it just to make you feel better?

No one will be more hurt and angry about the way the season has panned out than Stuart. So that brings us to management. We know his passion. He doesn’t need others to add to the way it hurts just because they can. He’s full up already.

Then there’s Wayne Jacobs, an easier target? But the partnership worked well until “mad March” approached and McCall has shown loyalty in supporting him under criticism since – a sign of good management. The board then? Not with the financial commitment they have shown.

That just leaves the players and this is where the real dilemma appears. Cheers or jeers are heard by all the team. Doubtless some have worked harder than others. Examples set by junior and loan players have not been reciprocated by some with much more experience. How do you applaud – or boo, as has become fashionable with some – half a team?

They are our team. As a team they have not fulfilled the expectations of so many but they are our team and we are their supporters. We have tried to lift them. We have failed. Should we walk away too? Doubtless some will but all the signs are that, in numerical terms at least, we are still likely to be the best supported team in the division next season.

There is no system of management that guarantees success. I you haven’t succeeded is failure the only alternative. Stuart sadly thinks so and has said he will go as a consequence but is this really good management? Look at the history of managerial change at our or any club, there are no guarantees! Whatever your personal assessment, Stuart will become a better manager and I for one, would like this to happen at Bradford. Change at some time is inevitable. Managers “walk” on success as well as failure however you define those terms. Good management would make it clear if Stuart is going or staying before kick off on Saturday. The reasons for this are many and all positive.

So that brings us to Rotherham. Their definition of success this season will differ from ours. We know what they have been through. Are they to be caught up as “innocent bystanders” in Bradford City’s anger and management issues?

So, if you go on Saturday, give serious thought to why you are there. If as a supporter, support. If in protest then “the sound of one hand clapping” should be sufficient.

If you go in anger then that brings us round to “anger management” without the comma and that’s another thing altogether as any therapist will tell you – for a fee!

The spirit of the mid-table finish

I had a good chuckle to myself before our game with Chester on Saturday. The match day programme was making a big deal about Sir Bobby Robson sticking up for manager Mark Wright, while his traditional programme notes were no more than a collection of press quotes sandwiched between over-the-top praise from the editor for his managerial ability. Apparently if he’d been allowed to work his “transfer magic” the Blues would now be 15 points better off.

As the home players came onto the pitch to warm up, the enthusiastic bloke on the microphone urged home supporters to give them a round of applause for earning “a heroic point” at Bury the previous week, to which they obliged. In addition to thanking the match day sponsors at least three times he also kept yelling about “believing” and it would have been interesting to see if the home fans, who must listen to this sort of thing every other week, bothered to listen or were screaming at him to shut up, with their team winless in 17.

But if two sides of the ground were trying to ignore the cheese, the atmosphere in the away stands was chalk in its comparison.

For some 30 minutes before kick off I listened to a group of fans nearby moan long and hard about City’s form, players and management. “We’d better win today, or we have no chance of the play offs.” As the stand filled up I felt as thought all around were either moaners or quiet people, the latter group probably biting their tongue like me. As the game kicked off some chanting began, but it soon fizzled into quietness and, by the second half, groans and moans. All I could hear was people yelling abuse. Every time Matt Clarke came near us he was told to eff off. Zesh Rehman was the subject of largely harmless but still borderline racist jokes as he failed to get the ball forward quickly. Michael Boulding and Steve Jones are lazy bastards, Paul Mullin garbage. With no substitutes in sight the focus quickly turns to Stuart. “He’s not a manager,” it’s said of our manager.

I’m not criticising fellow fans, I happened to be in a bad section of the away support and anyone who travels almost 100 miles to support their team has a right to air their views. City were awful, clueless during the second half especially. The lack of confidence quickly manifested into desperation to rush the ball forwards instead of showing composure. The quality of crosses into the box was pathetic, the invention in the centre of the pack minimal. Stuart should not escape criticism either, the 4-3-1-2 formation employed failed to have an impact on a five man defence, resulting in City playing too narrow and direct. He did not make changes to the team’s shape and the questions Blues winger Richie Partridge posed were not replicated on City’s flanks. The team has played better and been booed off, so such a reaction came as no surprise when the final whistle was blown.

Yet as disappointed as I felt with the performance and game trudging back to the car, it was the boos which remained ringing in my ear. No one would advocate the kind of over-optimistic uncritical approach of Chester and our recent dreadful run of form is testing everyone’s patience, but again we quickly turned on the team, groaned loudly whenever a move broke down and only chanted on a few occasions during the second half. A goal, no matter how undeserved, might have changed the poor atmosphere, but the spirit and togetherness we should have with the team on the road has disappeared.

And if that sounds fanciful, you mustn’t have watched City on the road last season. The atmosphere at away games during our first campaign in the basement league was the best it had been since the first in the Premiership. I still look back fondly at that night at Lincoln, where we didn’t stop chanting for 90 minutes and were rewarded with a thrilling win. I recall the joy at Blundell Park when Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu struck a stoppage time penalty and Stuart had to race over to appeal to those of us in the away stand to calm down, such were the scenes of jubilation which had spilled onto the pitch. I remember the fun we had at Accrington, the second halves at Darlington and Notts County, the Wetherall day at Rotherham, the noise we made at Bury and Rochdale. All of this and the club finished mid-table.

Of course we won more often on our travels than this season, which helped the enthusiasm of support. One of my favourite away trips last year though was Stockport. We were in an uncovered stand, it was raining heavily and we were playing terribly, losing 2-1; yet we didn’t stop singing, even throughout half time. Last season we had chants for almost every player, we would sing the White Stripes song and sometimes even Johnny Cash. After games my lot would drive home with our voices hoarse from making so much noise, but almost always feeling happy for the experience.

This season, for whatever reason it’s just not been the same. Huddersfield and Leeds were fun, but the edgier atmosphere you get in derbies meant it was less comfortable. At Accrington I watched a middle age man push my wife out the way and someone else spit at the home keeper. At Lincoln we witnessed fighting in the high street and then a group of our fans try to kick off with the home fans during the game. At Notts County we quickly dished out the dreaded “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” and told players to ‘eff off at full time.

At Rotherham I was freezing as we sat their quietly and a young lad behind me spent the game slagging off everyone else’s man of the match, Luke O’Brien. My favourite away trips so far are Macclesfield and Luton – the former because we cruised it so could spend the second half having banter with the home side’s struggling strikers, the latter because, after first half adversity, we passionately got behind the team. Bury was good for that, too.

I do wonder if the increased away followings this season have something to with why the atmosphere isn’t quite as good. I don’t mean everyone who’s started coming more regularly this season is a moaner or fails to get behind the team, but more that larger crowds mean the fans who regularly start the chants are more spread out from each other.

This may have nothing to do with the team’s failings on the road this season but, as our players attacked our end of the stadium on Saturday, how much of a difference might it have made if they were loudly roared on, applauded when they did things right and not yelled abuse at when they did things wrong? If a player gives the ball away he hears groans and that doesn’t help him to have the confidence to show more guile the next time he has possession.

There are at least three away games to go and there should be a decent turn out at each. I hope we don’t carry on like the last few away games, making some noise for the first 20 minutes before gradually getting quieter, applauding ourselves later over how we brought such a big crowd and how our team “don’t deserve us”. If it goes quiet at Morecambe next week and the grumbles start to get louder, I hope a few more like me will remember the spirit on the road last season and start singing, “Stuart McCall’s Bratfud Army.”

We supporters might not be able make the players perform better, but maybe like the Chester fans we need to at least try believing.

The fan’s lot

After plans for the evening came up in conversation yesterday morning, a Manchester United-supporting work colleague told me he couldn’t imagine a worse place to be that night than Spotland.

His views were partially based on the ignorance Premiership supporters like to inflict upon us lower league fans – his evening was to be spent in front of the TV watching Liverpool fool themselves into believing a 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid was the stunning achievement it might have been a few years ago – but as Rochdale charged forward in the final few minutes and almost delivered their own 4-0 win, I couldn’t help but look back on his words as prophetic.

Just getting to Spotland had been a tension-packed episode. I had booked a half day holiday and went through to Bradford with my friend Steve to meet my wife Rachel, a Primary School teacher, who was holding a parents evening. It overran by 40 minutes, which left us very late getting onto the M62 and subsequently stuck in horrific traffic in the ridiculously badly-planned roads leading into Rochdale, with less than an hour to kick off. After more stress finding somewhere to park, we finally got into the ground just as the teams were coming out onto the pitch and the consistent stream of people who arrived after us demonstrated the traffic congestion had not got any better.

So the least we deserved was a decent performance, right?

That’s the problem with football. Ultimately success is enjoyed by the few and the rest of us are left regularly coping with the heavy feeling of disappointment we had to bear as we made our back to the car at full time. The last few games for City have triggered a huge contrast of emotions that leave you wondering why we allow ourselves to be so openly exposed to them. It’s horrible to watch your team lacking the stomach to fight back while knowing there is nothing you can do to change it – and it’s a feeling we’ve become so used to in recent years.

It’s easy for us to feel sorry for ourselves, but many of us at least have the consolation of having seen City succeed and what better days are like. My feelings were more of concern for my wife, who first started watching City on a regular basis four years ago and who’s time as a season ticket holder has not seen anything like the level of success this season has been.

On evenings such as this I think I’m paying my dues and that, when success does eventually come around again, I can look back on these darker times and enjoy the moment that bit more. How do you keep faith without the good times to fall back on and if the belief grows that success will always be someone else’s preserve?

In the last two seasons City have grown their fanbase thanks to the season ticket offers and for away games there’s been rekindled enthusiasm. The true damage of last night’s defeat may not be reflected in the league table, but in maintaining the level of support the club has worked so hard to gain.

Stuart McCall talks about the players feeling the pressure when playing in front of large away followings like the one at Spotland and there’s an absurdity about the situation. Whether long-time supporters or relatively new, no City fan believes the Bantams should be playing at this level and getting thumped 3-0 by a League Two promotion rival falls woefully short of expectation levels.

Unfortunately this present team does not look equipped to compete at a higher level and the pressure of at least getting there is weighing them down. It cannot be a coincidence that the players have generally performed better this season in front of smaller away followings, something which might be more of a regular occurance if next season’s fixture list again includes Accrington and Barnet.

Maybe my friend knew what he was talking about when he said Spotland was the last place to want to be last night, in the second half it certainly appeared the players felt that way.

The Passionate Customer

For me going to away games is a very different experience from the regular trips to Valley Parade – and not just because some of the away trips are shorter. Saturday’s (longer) journey to Meadow Lane gave me cause to think about one of the main differences – the fans. I choose that word ‘fans’ carefully, for reasons I shall come to in a moment.

Back at our home ground I have had the same seat in the Midland Road ever since the stand was rebuilt. Around me are many of the same faces that have always been there, albeit the younger ones are grown up now. (The forty somethings who have become fifty somethings don’t look a day older, of course.) Through all those Midland Road years no one around me has ever shouted abuse at opposition fans or started a chant that has more to do with the team we hate. I still wonder how either of those helps my team.

I wouldn’t want you to think that we sit in silence. That would be very far from the truth. We have plenty to say and, even if the comments of one regular – ‘McCall, do something!’ – are less than obviously constructive, we have plenty to say about the team’s performance, be it good or bad. I am especially fond of letting the officials know what I think of them, although I doubt that they hear me.

Away from home, those around me are a different crowd and can be vocal in an altogether dissimilar style. There were over 1,200 City fans at Meadow Lane, about 10% of those who go to home games. A fairly representative sample, you might think. For the 90% who are relying on Jason Mckeown’s match report for their knowledge of how the fans reacted to the performance, I want to add a few thoughts of my own, particularly about supporters, as contrasted with fans.

The cries of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ were loudest in that short interval between the third goal and the players leaving the field at half-time. There were other chants, some of which are not for a site like this, but the more interesting ones showed a different slant on the fans’ views of the team performance. It was ‘We want our money back’ and ‘What a waste of money’ that got me thinking.

What those latter chants showed was that the fans go to watch their team with certain expectations. On Saturday the expectations were clearly not met when the second and third goals went in before half time. Had it been Chelsea scoring those goals, that response might not have happened. But this was a mid-table fourth division side and City were supposed to be better than them, especially after the promises of improvement after Barnet.

What the fans were complaining about was not just that the team was playing badly (which was plainly true), but that they had come to expect better. They had spent their hard earned twenty pounds each (plus travel costs and the rest) not just to see a game of football and to support the team, but to see them perform well and preferably to win. The whole notion of supporting the team through thick and thin had gone out of the window. It had been replaced by the customer’s privilege to complain about the quality of the product he had paid for.

If I go to my local supermarket and buy a full priced tin of beans, only to get home and discover that there is more juice than bean, then I am well within my rights to take it back and complain. I do that because I feel I have paid for better; I have been cheated; I want some recompense from the store; and perhaps I hope for improvement in the future. But nobody would dream of calling me a supporter of the store. I am a customer.

Professional football, as must be obvious to the thoughtful observer, is a curious mixture of sport and business. The business end has taken an increasingly leading role for some years now. The Prawn Sandwich Brigade are the extreme example of this change toward the customer. But the vocal away fans at Meadow Lane are different from the Prawn Sandwich Brigade only in the way they express their desire to obtain value for money. One lot keep quiet, because they don’t care about what is happening out there on the field; the other lot do care, but in the same sense as a customer cares.

Experience suggests that constructive criticism, especially from our managers, is the best way forward. Very few professionals in any walk of life improve by being abused by their customers. Many more will react by saying ‘I don’t have to take this, even though your custom is going toward paying my wages.’ Just try shouting abuse down the phone at a call centre employee and see where it gets you. Cut off, is where it gets you and you still haven’t got your complaint resolved. And shouting abuse face to face at the customer service desk when you return your beans will get you arrested.

Now I would be the first to agree that supporting (and this time I chose that word carefully) your team is a passionate business, not to be compared with buying baked beans. But I thought we’d all agreed after BarryBooGate that support means just that. You cheer and clap the good moments, few as they might have been on Saturday, and encourage improvement in the not so good moments.

There is a story often repeated where I live about the Liverpool team that won the European Cup in 2005. They went off at half time 3-0 down and all they could hear was their own supporters still singing at the tops of their voices all the way through the interval. We all know what happened in the second half and the likes of Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerard will tell you that they couldn’t let down their own supporters.

There was a little less hostility from the away crowd in the second half on Saturday. Some of it turned to sarcasm – the olés when the opposition kept passing the ball among themselves – and some of it became quite amusing – the chants of ‘Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal’ followed by a mock celebration. Just how these changes of mood come about would no doubt be a fascinating study for some psychologist. But what would they know?

What I’m trying to find out is whether football fans, and City fans in particular, have stopped being supporters and have become customers.

Supporters can still express any view after the match, especially in this Internet age. Sometimes for the players during the match silence says it all and I have to say that’s my attitude. If I’ve nothing to cheer or encourage, I stay quiet. Lots of people back in the Midland Road adopt a similar approach. We support whenever we can; we criticise among ourselves, not directly at the players while they’re still out there and there’s still hope. Even as a passionate customer, always seeking improvement in the quality of the product, how can I expect to achieve what I’m looking for by joining in mass negativity?

I may feel it appropriate to be negative and even abusive, if I want to be a passionate customer and put the ‘customer’ part above anything else. But is that still part of being a supporter? Haven’t I stopped supporting in any meaningful sense of that word?

Counting to ten…

I hate these types of weeks after City have lost. The league table inevitably looks worse, there’s a moment where you get up each morning and the pain of defeat suddenly comes back, work colleagues mercilessly take the mick out of you.

What I really hate about these weeks though is the level of debate among City supporters, or should that be lack of. Any sensible discussions online are hidden in a flurry of anger and the blame culture which so often blights this country. From everything going well, the club is apparently verging on crisis. Everyone and everything is wrong – and it has been all along.

The decision of manager Stuart McCall to play Rhys Evans has been the subject of most of the discussion and, ignoring rationale reason or the fact Stuart says the City stopper was fit enough to play, another entry has been added to Stuart’s list of crimes.

You almost want to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the arguments some are making for why, even if Evans was fit enough to play, it was a suicidal decision of Stuart to do so. At one stage there was a good argument against Stuart for this, but it’s been lost in a sea of drivel.

Adding to the debate of course has been Barnet manager Ian Hendon who, according to one supporter, has shown Stuart up to be the novice we all know he is after the Bees manager declared hearing City had the nerve to play a half-fit keeper motivated his team to win.

That’ll be the same Hendon who was celebrating his first ever managerial win and who enjoyed a stunning playing career with Leyton Orient, Notts County and Northampton. One would have thought most people would argue Stuart knows what he was talking about more than a bloke clearly trying to make some headlines, but not some City fans it seems.

If I was a Barnet fan reading the comments made by my manager I’d be curious, why on earth has a team which has not won at home since October need such a dubious motivation to spur them into playing like Real Madrid? Haven’t they been cheated their supporters somewhere?

But fine, add this to the list of Stuart’s crimes along with the others because it’s not one which contains rationale arguments anyway. Reading online some of the reasons for why Stuart doesn’t have a clue almost gives you renewed faith in believing he is the man – because if these are the best arguments people can come up with no one, least of all Stuart, need pay any attention.

Wycombe away we didn’t have enough shots on goal, is one argument I read today, wow why have we just offered Stuart a new deal? Apparently he gives too much praise to opposition teams, whatever that means. To me it implies people are not clever enough to realise there’s a difference between what a manager says to a journalist and to his players, though I do like the idea that opposition players spend their Fridays scanning the T&A website to read what Stuart says and are more confident as a result. I wonder if our players do the same?

Another fan argues that it’s disgraceful he plays Matt Clarke ahead of Mark Bower. Come off it, are you serious? Are you going to games with your eyes fixed onto your shoelaces, determined not to notice, never mind acknowledge that Clarke has been in excellent form? “We played rubbish last October.” “We were lucky to win a few weeks ago.” “Can you believe the muppet signed Chris O’Grady?” “We’re struggling for goals, and he got rid of the prolific Willy Topp.” “He never makes his subs early enough.” “He needs a hair cut.”

Then of course is the persistent criticism of Wayne Jacobs which makes no sense. It’s been going on almost since the day he re-joined and to date I’ve still not heard a single valid reason for why he should be sacked. I’m also intrigued to know this magical ‘experienced’ coach is who is going to come in for Jakes, tell Stuart everything he’s doing wrong and inspire City to the Champions League in four seasons, or something similar.

The criticism of Wayne Jacobs is similar to the abuse many persistently threw at him when he played for this club and just as much as I had no idea why it was justified then I don’t have a clue now. No one can possibly know what sort of job he is doing because no one is seeing his conversations with Stuart, training the team or scouting opposition. It’s disgusting and unfair abuse towards a loyal club employee who has done nothing to deserve it. Some would even call it bullying.

Any attempt to argue back at supporters who are so determined to be negative is usually met with abuse and ridicule, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been accused of wearing rose-tinted spectacles in recent years. I genuinely don’t understand why people are so determined to see everything so negative and it scares me. Scares me because if this is the logic they can display to football how do they react to stuff in their own life?

What’s the answer for those of us who might be upset at what happened on Saturday but don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Stay off the message boards, do not pass the heading ‘Your say’ when reading the T&A website, resist the urge to call the person labelling Stuart a muppet something stronger back. Ultimately just like the management and players, we need to keep looking ahead.

All of this criticism will go away if City win at Notts County of course, but I’m worried about our chances to be honest because it looks like Chris Brandon could make the bench. Stuart isn’t really contemplating using a half-fit player is he? Didn’t the idiot learn anything from what happened last week?

What arrogance. Ian McPharland won’t even need to bother with his pre-match teamtalk…

The Odsal debate calls for steady debate in the conflict of hearts and heads

In football, as with any love, decisions are often made by not by a valuation of the choices but of the criteria which those choices are assessed by.

We know the merits of two sides of an argument but we evaluate the weight of those merits. We know that Omar Daley makes some poor decisions and be frustrating but also that he can scream through defences and can score breathtaking goals. Our decision is not on if a series of things occur but rather how important those things are to us when weighed against each other. In a way we do that when we declare our allegiance. We know wins are more likely watching Manchester United but we feel more connected to Bradford City and the feeling is more important than the knowledge.

These decisions are the interplay between the heart and the head, between logic and the soul, and they are the very core of why we follow the clubs we do, marry the people we marry, live the lives we lead.

So it is in this context that we frame the notion of moving Bradford City to the Odsal Sporting Village in the medium to long term.

The arguments are simple. In the white, black and red corner there is the idea that City pay out £1.2m a year to play at a stadium owned by a hostile landlord in a part of town that has problems and few amenities in the half mile around the stadium for fans while the players train at a school playing field five miles away from the stadium and its offices. In the claret and amber corner is the fact that Valley Parade is – as Jason so eloquently points out – our home, our memorial and our history at a ground that is connected to the community the club serves and is one of the finer stadiums in the country out of keeping with our lowly league position as anyone who went to Accrington Stanley would tell you while Odsal is a bowl away from the City Centre where one would turn up, watch and go home.

We all know the arguments and could probably throw a few more onto the pile. Perhaps we could even add further corner or two to the debate. I warm to the idea of creating a ground within the City Centre if it were possible and others have talked about new locations in the Aire Valley. The options are plentiful for discussion.

Nevertheless those options will always return to this same decision making process. The head vs the heart and how important one is compared to the other. Is it more important to give the players decent training facilities than it is to play near The Fighting Cock? Is it more important to have strong links to a community or to a motorway network? Is it more important for Bradford City to be at the physical location where our supporters died or is it more important – even as a tribute – to do what (would seem, and one assumes is designed to) move the club forward?

The weight of one over the other keeps me awake at night and this is a time for clarity. In this debate – a significant debate on the future of the club – that clarity needs to come from an honest and frank assessment of the two options involved rather than the sloganeering and ad hominemisms vs silence and high handedness which has marked BORG and the authorities in the debate over the Bradford Odeon.

Perhaps it is not too much to ask for two sides of an argument presented and positive without attack on the other and a good debate followed by a ballot of season ticket holders to decide this issue. The future of club’s under the elite level in football is in engaging supporters then – on this the largest question of all – the club need to engage now.

Should they engage then the onus falls on us – the City supporters – to hold that debate appropriately.

More backing than barracking

This is my first article for BfB for a few years but I’m incensed after reading Omar Daley defending himself against criticism from fans.

The Telegraph and Argus website reports Omar Daley is not affected by recent criticism. The BBC reports the same with the City winger saying The fans pay their money to come and see me. The criticism hasn’t got to me, I’m just working hard.

I am baffled that Omar has to defend himself at all. What do we actually expect of Omar? As a player is what he is.

How much did we miss him earlier in the season when he was injured and when under the cosh we had no out ball at all? Are his performances not consistently better than those of last season? How many goals have City scored this season that have been down to him, his running and his pace?

I’m not suggesting he is our most prolific player of the season, but he has played a part? Yes. Why the hell is he getting criticised?

I’m so impressed with his character this year. He tracks back and tackles, he has helped his new mate Luke O’Brien out a few times when he breaks forward, he is always dangerous when running with the ball. Of course he loses the ball, makes the wrong pass or takes the wrong option from time to time, but he isn’t perfect but who is? You can not tell me that Manchester United’s Ronaldo takes the right option all the time, or that Fank Lampard should not always shoot for goal from long range when so many of Chelsea’s goals from from that.

Daley isn’t in the same class – no offence Omar – but thats why he is at the level he is at. Yes, he is an international player but for Jamaica, not Brazil – again no offence meant!

The bottom line is that some City fans are really starting to annoy me.

This season has been the best for at least six or seven yet some still find something to complain about, someone to pick fault with, someone to shoulder the blame and I think its completely out of order. We have had a mini blip, which all teams have, but the last 2 performances show that Stuart McCall has got tactics, performances, motivation levels right where they need to be coming up to some big games with Wycombe and Darlington and as we run in to the end of the season.

So I’ll ask something – as I prepare to be shot down – can we give the boys more backing than barracking please? We are five points of the top with two big teams coming to us in the next ten days, so lets get behind the boys and aim for six points which will put us firmly back in the automatic promotion hunt.

Why can’t Spurs fans sing about Sol when Huddersfield fans can sing about the fire?

Four men have been charged with singing what is a very offensive song about Sol Campbell after a unified decision by “people in football” that things had gone “too far”.

Harry Redknapp led the charge against Spurs fans – how ironic – and he was right to do so, His comments about not being able to understand the mentality of a Father who sings a racist, homophobic and generally nasty song in front of his son is echoed throughout the land. Almost no one outside of a football ground will understand the reason why such chanting is necessary, as will a good few people inside it.

All of which is right and proper – although gives rise to interesting questions – but why was the line drawn at Sol Campbell and Spurs?

As a Bradford City fan I have this season had to sit in a football ground listening to home fans singing mocking songs about the fire of 1985 on more than one occasion – in fact I can tell you having ill advisedly sat at Huddersfield Town with the collection of supporters who sit on the river bank side closest the away fans delight in it – so why is it that no one has been arrested, cautioned, questioned, accused of behaviour likely to cause affray or any of those other laws which – rightly or wrongly – are being used against the Campbell chanters?

I’m no legal expert so I’m not able to answer that question returning to Redknapp’s bafflement at the mindset of people who would engage in such chanting and adding my own belief that some self-policing in the form of right-minded fans booing the offenders would not go amiss. After all football fans seem capable of booing almost anything else.

It seems that the Campbell chanters are guilty of committing an offence at the wrong place and the wrong time and to be made an example of – they get no sympathy from me – but how much the lessons will be learnt by fans the length of the land, and what those questions are, is debatable.

Will the police be arresting Huddersfield Town supporters in the situation out lined above? Would they have moved in against the Bradford City fans who sang songs about cockle pickers at Morecambe last year? Will they arrest the guy behind me who shouted that Barry Conlon was a useless twat and should be substituted on Saturday? Doing so would have robbed me of the satisfaction of watching him cheer though gritted teeth after he scored.

What chanting is acceptable? David James believes that anything not racist or homophobic is allowed while others would suggest it is anything legal but the morality of grown men screaming swears until faces turn red at kids barely out of their teens troubles me greatly. I would suggest the people singing songs about the fire are worse than those swearing, being racist to or homophobic towards players but I’d say they were all under line of what should be acceptable.

I wonder about football when it has to look for law and browbeating debates on manners to decide whether or not deliberate offence of these kinds are socially acceptable.

A Rubicon

There are no comments to be made on this article because it is a personal reflection. It is not right or wrong just what I think of things – not OpEd just Op – and what I think is this: I did not enjoy the 3-3 draw with Barnet.

Allow me to elucidate. I love football. My earliest memories include watching Clough’s Nottingham Forest and Paisley’s Liverpool in Europe and I’ve seen football in six or seven different divisions.

I’m a City fan first of course but I’m not blind to good football and I enjoy the cut and thrust of a game. 4-4 with Bolton when we had two sent off, 2-2 with Sheffield United a couple of times, 5-4 at West Ham. I enjoyed these games as much as many wins.

I did not enjoy Saturday even though it was that sort of thriller and it had the makings of a cracking game of football.

It had goals, attacking excellence, defensive troubles, good defending at times and some impressive keeping, a controversial winner. It should have been the sort of game that while not great not to win left the taste of battle in the mouth.

The only taste it left was sickening and bitter and bad.

The feeling that should have been with me was a buzz from an exciting game but what I was left with was a sick feeling in the stomach that something has gone badly wrong.

Of course there were problems on the field. City’s second half display attacking petered out quickly but defensively we stood firm enough to keep the visitors to lashes from outside the box and one chance which Rhys Evans says did not go in and Stuart McCall was right to say that on balance we barely deserved a point.

It was far from vintage football but it was the stuff of promotion campaigns and in many ways what we go to football for or at least what I was under the impression we went to football for.

It was not the processional football that people fear the top four of the Premiership will become, it was the excitement of a contest. It was the cut and thrust. It was battling for the points against another team who wanted to go away from Valley Parade with something.

It was silence.

It was clapping the goals and nothing else.

It was abuse to our players at every turn. It was every single mistake being latched on as an excuse to pour vitriolic scorn onto the field. It was foul of mouth and of mood and unfathomably aggressive in the name of support.

It was horrific.

It was almost the total opposite of the phrase “City’s fans roared home the team home to victory.” It was hard to see how much less the players on the field – winning as they were – could have been supported. McCall says we barely dissevered a point and did not perform but any poor play on the field was nothing compared to the performance of the 12th man which was beyond wretched.

Not one person who has seen the game thinks that Barnet were a poor side yet the level, the constancy, the content of the abuse poured onto players such as the leading scorer in the division or a nineteen year old who has played less than a dozen games for his home club or the guy on a hat-trick for not brushing them aside was as unnerving as it was upsetting.

How has it come to this where the only sound to be heard was supporters that are so viciously, aggressively negative to their own players? How has it come to pass where players are not cheered on to inspire them but play in fear of not mindless but mindful abuse directed at them, directed personally, aggressively charged against them?

I admire Joe Colbeck for having the character to not wilt under this wrath. I worry that as he looks to come back to fitness in January when Leeds sell Fabian Delph and start looking for a new winger that there is precious loyalty shown to him to keep him at Valley Parade.

Do not mistake this, reader, for a call to arms to stop booing Player A or support the team with a kind of jingoism – although those things would no doubt improve matters at Valley Parade – but rather as a marker in my future recollections of my time following football; a Rubicon; a point where the hand becomes the wrist.

This is not blaming the fans for the performance or the result it is an observation and a worry. Perhaps fans get the team they deserve and if so how the Hell do we deserve to even be pushing for promotion?

This is not what I remember football to be. It is not what I became enraptured with in 1977 watching the European Cup being lifted of 1981 watching City for the first time. It is a perverted view of how football should be.

Saturday was a cruel caricature that is the stuff of Poe-esque nightmare where all that you thought was good turns out to be a spoiled, sick, rotten version of what it used to be.

Saturday mocked my faith in Bradford City and the fans that follow the club and the time that I – and others – put in supporting them.

It is that that left me sick in my stomach.

You can be free only if I am free

And so, Barryboogate has morphed into Ashleyboogate. This allows the Football Association to describe as ‘crazy’ the section of England fans who made their feelings plain about who was to blame for the Kazakhstan goal. It also brings a comment from the Football Supporters’ Federation that ‘People have paid their money and have every right to express their opinion.’

Well, yes, it’s a free country, isn’t it? Well, up to a point, do I hear you say? OK, I’ll say it for you. It’s a free country up to a point. The question often gets asked ‘But when do we reach the point when we’re not free any more?’

Some answers are easier than others. I’m not free to assault you or steal your money. I’m not free to spread malicious lies about your character. I’m not free to make racist or homophobic comments about you. And that list of crimes or legally recognised civil wrongs could and does fill a very thick book or two.

But what happens if you want to express an otherwise permissible opinion, about the abilities of a professional footballer or a manager or even a work colleague, but you use intemperate language? By ‘intemperate’ in this context I mean abusive or threatening or simply foul-mouthed. The answer is, at least as far as Bradford City is concerned, you will not be allowed to use such language.

The club message board has been suspended since Wednesday. The club ‘always welcomes criticism’, it says, and has ‘resolved the problem with regards to racism and unacceptable language’. Well, maybe it hasn’t. Or maybe it is the subject matter rather than the language that counts. The message board has been suspended because it has ‘recently seen unwarranted verbal attacks on players, staff and supporters which [the club] will not tolerate’.

I don’t read the message board every day, so I’ve missed the ‘verbal attacks’ in question. It surely is no coincidence, however, that they follow within days of Barryboogate. The manager made his feelings perfectly plain in his after-match interview. I don’t always agree with him, but on this one I’m with him 100%. To me as a supporter of Bradford City it doesn’t matter what opinion you have of one of your own players, you are foolish if you boo him and expect him to perform better as a result. If you boo him before he has kicked a ball, then maybe you are ‘crazy’.

But being ‘crazy’ is no reason for shutting down such a well used channel of communication. Being insulting or abusive certainly is a justification. You could even argue that the club is under a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent such language being used. So, not only does the manager have my 100% backing on this one, but so does the moderator of the message board.

Football has always been about opinions. The vastly knowledgeable Jimmy Sirrel, who died recently, once told an after-match press conference ‘You know the score. You can read the league table. The rest is all opinion.’ It’s all down to how those opinions are expressed.

There are people in all walks of life, far beyond football, who believe that there are only their own opinions. Everything else is wrong. At least they won’t start a fight in an empty room, but they may find themselves in that empty room rather more often than those who are prepared to listen to other opinions.

Most people with strong opinions listen to the other side and may well rarely change their mind. But at least they recognise the other side exists and respect their right to exist. I guess that’s what Bradford City mean when they say they ‘always welcomed criticism’.

But when an opinion can be expressed or challenged only in abusive or threatening terms, especially in a medium open to all ages to read, maybe it is time to draw that line and say ‘You are not free to say that in this place’. No, there are no ‘maybes’ about it. It was time to end the opportunity to be abusive. The minority of those who misused the message board may not have caused the physical damage that the other minority (or is it the same minority?) did on the coaches to Leeds, but both sets damaged the name of Bradford City and of football supporters. They took us one step nearer to the atmosphere in and around football grounds back in the 1980’s, a time when fewer and fewer people came to watch games. The vast majority of us must say ‘No more steps in that direction’.

Why Accrington Stanley need to learn lessons off the pitch as well as on it

I’m sure there will have been one or two supporters who left early on Saturday, now kicking themselves after missing such a stunning fightback – I was nearly one of them.

I didn’t want to leave early because I had no faith in the team’s ability to come back, though admittedly I certainly couldn’t see it, but because of the way I’d seen fellow ‘supporters’ treat my wife, each other and Accrington’s Kenny Arthur. With wholly inadequate stewarding, I feared for the safety of myself and others and that no game of football was worth this.

Let me start by explaining that my wife, Rachel, is quite a short person. Not that it’s a problem, but she can suffer when we go to the cinema and a tall person sits in front – and while sitting at the football is rarely an issue, standing on a terrace where the view is never as great is. So I was desperate to ensure she got as good a view as possible.

So we arrived early, went right to the front and stood by one of the crash barriers to the right of the goal. She had an unopposed view of the pitch, save for the gangway in front which fans have to use to enter and exit the stand. All seemed fine until, just after the game kicked off, a group of middle-aged men arrived and decided to stand directly in front of her, on the gangway, and pay little attention to anyone’s feelings behind them.

I watched with amazement as a steward stood nearby and did nothing. What’s worse more of their gang were joining them, having stopped off at the food hut. They ate with their backs to the game, a lovely view for my wife well worth paying £13 for.

Belatedly more stewards arrived to ask them to move, but then the problems really began. Their requests were not just refused, but responded to with loud bursts of swearing and threats. They kept trying to reason with them but there were more and more fans still arriving on the gangway and a lack of places for them to go and stand, even if they’d agreed to move. It became apparent that the stand was overcrowded and later there would be reports some fans with tickets were locked out. Given there seemed to be only ten stewards to marshall the crowd (no police), it was a worrying situation.

One of the most aggressive members of this group was eventually persuaded to comply, so suddenly leapt underneath the crash barrier and shoved my wife out of the way. With steam coming out of my ears I confronted him about his actions, to which he at least apologised. Two minutes later he was back on the gangway with his mates, with the stewards having given up and left.

So the game going on ahead was one Rachel could not see, instead she got to witness some of the most appalling behaviour I’ve ever seen at a City game. Instead of watching the match they continued abusing the steward nearby and making threats to charge onto the pitch. Occasionally they looked at matters on the pitch, one asking “what colour are we playing in?” The game was at least 20 minutes old.

Suddenly Accrington were 1-0 up and the focus of this group of supporters turned to home keeper Arthur. As he walked back towards his goal they hurled abuse in his direction for no obvious reason, to which he just kept his head down and ignored. As he went towards his towel inside the goal he was spat at by one of this group, which provoked an angry reaction from supporters around me.

A steward confronted one of the group, but it was the wrong person, so four or five of us began shouting to the steward and pointing towards the culprit. We were ignored, the steward choosing to scuttle off instead. This group remained definite and seemed to believe they were the innocent victims. “You couldn’t organise a p*** up in a brothel!” was one angry shout (note, that is what they shouted). I’ve heard some people say we didn’t deserve to go 1-0 down when we did and I have no idea if that’s true, as the game was not in my focus, but after this guy’s actions the only fitting punishment was for his football team to be losing.

So what would you do in this situation, your wife in an uncomfortable position with a large group of drunken men shouting horrible abuse and acting in a disgusting manner? I asked if she wanted us to leave and she said no, so I wandered to find us a better spot to move to at half time. In between it had become clear a couple were part of this group with a son, who looked no more than 6-years-old, left to his own devices and stood near us. When someone behind accidentally caused him to spill some of his drink, they received a volley of swearing and abuse from this kid. Judging by the language of his parents, it was easy to see where he gets it from.

So we moved at half time and I was partly cheered up to know that the supporter who spat at Arthur had belatedly been identified and ejected from the ground. We were now in the stand alongside the pitch with a decent, if limited view, and the conversation around us was on what it should be – a football match. There was lots of moaning, but constructive criticism which the players deserved for their lacklustre efforts, and when things did go right I was cheering with them and had I stayed where we were I don’t think I’d have been able to celebrate anything.

The behaviour of these City fans was despicable, showing no respect for Accrington officials or their fellow supporters. Those who had to endure their behaviour will have been left with a negative impression of Bradford City Football Club and that is the most depressing aspect.

Yet what really upset me was the action, or lack of it, from Accrington Stanley. As stewards they are supposed to look after our interests and our safety, but it was obvious they did not have the confidence or ability to manage a huge crowd. There was so few of them and one has to wonder what sort of away following Stanley had anticipated. Clearly it’s a friendly club and last season’s trip was one of my favourite away days out. I’d come across pleasant members of staff all willing to help and welcome us as we parked up, walked to a pub and then entered the ground. The stewards were probably nice people too, but in my opinion not good enough to do the job they were required to do.

In this day and age it is not good enough for a football match to be so badly managed and for paying punters to fear for their safety. This club has ambitions to build a fanbase and climb up the leagues, but if it’s going to succeed it needs a more professional attitude off the pitch as well as on it.

But at least we’d moved away from where the problems were and the afternoon took that unexpected turn for the better. Peter Thorne’s winner was one of those rare moments of unconfined delirium you only get to experience once every three or four years, but which reminds you why football is such a fantastic sport. So I lost the plot and jumped about like a madman, with my equally excited wife celebrating wildly and hugging me back.

The goal was sweet in so many ways – not least because I knew the coward who spat at Accrington’s keeper had missed it.

Positives from the negatives

“I like to think the team who takes the initiative is rewarded but it’s not always like that in football. We lacked a little bit of sharpness to pull them out of position.”

The above quote was from Arsene Wenger, who was less than impressed with the tactics of home side Sunderland as his Arsenal side laboured to a 1-1 draw, but these words could just have easily come from Bradford City manager Stuart McCall after Saturday’s draw with Luton.

Like the Frenchman, McCall was to endure a frustrating afternoon in the dugout trying to get his side to overcome opposition whose ambition was little more than not to lose. There are positives to take from this; it’s the third home game in a row that the visitors have taken a defensive approach and, while clearly not everyone is firing on all cylinders just now, it’s says much for the ability of City’s squad that teams are worrying so much about them. The frustrating aspect is how successful Bournemouth and Luton have been with their cautious approach.

Let’s just for one second suppose City hadn’t conceded that late equaliser and held on for the three points. Log onto a City-related message board now and you’ll find little but criticism for the performance and alleged poor tactics Stuart employed, would such strong views have been expressed without Michael Spillaner’s late goal? Remember City did have only 10 men for the last 15 minutes.

Amid the wide range of criticisms is an impression City failed because they adopted long ball tactics, but this was clearly not the case. If Stuart really wanted City to play long ball he would not have bothered playing two out-and-out wingers, or leave the tallest striker on the bench and play two for whom holding up the ball and winning flick-ons is clearly not their game.

Once again City’s wingers were double marked and there was little room for the central midfielders to influence the game in the final third. In an attempt to counter this, City tired to play the ball forward from the back with goal kicks sent short to defenders Matt Clarke and Graeme Lee. The aim with this, it seemed to to me, was to attract some of the ten Luton players camped in their own half to break rank and try to close Clarke or Lee down. Had this happended space would then have been created for our midfielders to take advantage of and the ball could have been played towards them. Other Luton players would then have to close down that player, freeing up more space.

The tactic didn’t work because of the discipline of the Luton players, who were happy for Lee and Clarke to keep the ball in their own half. It meant they had to either play riskier short passes to the midfield in front or knock it long in the hope a City player would get on the end of it. Two people sat near me moaned every time they tried the former option (“they’re lower league footballers, just hoof it!”) and equally the latter (“that’s just aimless!”). Clearly these fans expected Lee and Clarke to be able to play pin-point accurate long balls up the field.

In the second half Stuart told Rhys Evans to launch the ball forward himself and City would attempt to win either the first or second ball. This was more effective and finally they were able to enjoy more possession in the final third, but still space to do something with it was rarely afforded by the Hatters. More chances were created, however, with Hatters’ keeper Conrad Logan making two excellent saves. The final ball wasn’t always good enough and there was a lack of fluency to moves, but the effort was there and, considering the tactics up against, it was hard to work out what Stuart was doing wrong up until Barry Conlon struck.

We can’t just throw on more strikers, particularly with only ten men, to force the goal. In the centre Dean Furman and Paul McLaren worked really hard and were among our better performers. The wingers were trying their best and, while Colbeck had a disappointing game, Daley was a menace despite the difficulty of two markers. On a Message Board one ‘expert’ asked of Stuart with reference to the wingers, “why haven’t you told them, that when they receive the ball to pass it quickly and make a run off their markers, because they will have two players out of position?” If only football was as simple a game as some people seem to believe it is.

I believe that, at first, the two widemen were playing too wide, but tucked in more in the second half to better support Furman and McLaren. Michael Boulding was ineffective but it’s not as if the rest of the team didn’t want to play the ball to his feet, which is his strength – he was tightly marked. Bringing on Conlon was a clever decision in the circumstances and for those who screamed to ‘free Willy’, why would Topp have found the space and service Boulding couldn’t?

For all this negativity they were up against, City overcame it by getting their noses in front and, but for a moment of lapsed concentration, would have got the three points they clearly deserved. The concern has to be that other visiting teams will adopt similar tactics although, with a defensively-shambolic Gillingham and second-placed Bury due to visit next, perhaps we’ll see more open games. Three days before travelling to Valley Parade, Bury entertain Luton and, while at the moment the league table suggests the Shakers are a better team than City, it will be interesting to see what tactics Luton adopt then and how successful Bury are in overcoming them.

Like Arsene Wenger and Sunderland, it’s difficult to take a positive impression of Luton from Saturday, particularly after reading the managers’ assessment which is at odds with the evidence. They have 30 points to make up on all but two teams, but are seemingly happy to play for draws rather than the wins they clearly need. One cannot help feel they’ve already written off the season and manager Mick Harford is just trying to do a decent enough job to avoid the sack. Even in a league where physicality often wins over ability, this approach will not keep them up.

Despite the crude chant they’ve nicked off Leeds United, their supporters probably know it too and many appeared out to live up the ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality their predicament breeds. I walked down Midland Road after the match with a small group of 18/19-year-old City fans ahead chanting across to a larger group of Luton fans on the opposite side who chanted back. It seemed harmless banter, though you could hear increasingly angrier shouting coming from Luton fans and suddenly they were crossing the road and two or three were charging towards these City fans to start a fight. The police and some more sensible Luton fans dragged them away, but you still have to wonder about the mentality of middle-aged men trying to start fights with cocky teenagers.

Like Mansfield Town’s supporters singing racist chants last year, its supporters and team’s graceless football is helping to ensure less people feel sorry for them as they head to non-league. Back in my car and setting off, we discovered trouble did emerge near the retail park – from both sets of fans – which meant the police had blocked our route home. Somehow it seemed fitting.

Beating failure – Bradford City vs Luton Town – League Two preview

Come 5pm Saturday Bradford City’s promotion hopes will have either been strengthened or weakened – but one thing they certainly won’t be is over.

Two successive defeats is disappointing and three would be considered “unacceptable”, but with City’s home vulnerability resurfacing that is entirely possible as would-be-11th-but-for-crazy-points-deduction Luton come to town. After a week in which talk of failure has emanated from some quarters – preceding any actual failure itself – it’s worth reflecting on what it would look like. A home defeat would probably push City out of the play off positions; but, at worst, City would be six points behind the leaders, with 37 games to go.

It’s said by some that the fear of failure led to Stuart McCall playing 4-5-1 at Shrewsbury last weekend and, largely ignoring three key injuries and an appalling referee display, the City manager’s perceived negativity has resulted in some of the strongest criticism towards him yet. Whether or not the system worked in the way he intended; Stuart will obviously be moving back to 4-4-2 for this one.

Top scorer Peter Thorne, who’s absence in defeat has further highlighted his importance, is expected to be fit enough to lead the attack alongside Michael Boulding. Barry Conlon will be back on the bench having been made scapegoat by some for last week’s failings. Some of the criticism is unjustified but it’s hard to argue that the Irishman has done enough, when given the opportunity, to warrant a contact beyond January and it’s up to him to prove his worth. Willy Topp, fresh from a wonder goal in the reserves and closer to fitness, is also likely to be among the subs.

Lee Bullock’s injury will allow the promising Dean Furman to keep his place and Stuart may look for him to share more of the defensive responsibilities with partner Paul McLaren than Bullock has been. Former Hatter McLaren joined City in the summer having topped the League One assist chart the previous season, but the more withdrawn role he’s playing has lessened his impact going forward. Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley will be patrolling out wide, with some disappointment this week that they won’t be pushed as hard to keep up their excellent form as they might.

At the back Paul Heckingbottom, Graeme Lee and Matt Clarke will be looking to rediscover their early season swagger and, unless Paul Arnison makes a miraculous recovery, Simon Ainge will get a chance at right back. The 20-year-old made his City debut two years ago but has had few opportunities to push on, his last one ending in failure. Stuart’s decision to give youth a chance instead of making yet another loan signing is applauded on this site and Ainge will aim to make it a quiet afternoon for keeper Rhys Evans.

For Luton, former Bantam Lewis Emmanuel makes a second return to Valley Parade since leaving two years ago. Briefly it seemed he’d gone onto better things in the Championship but, despite having trials at Birmingham and Southend during the summer, Lewis has fallen with the troubled Hatters and could feasibly be playing non-league football next year. It’s to be hoped Don Hutchinson won’t carry the influence his fellow ex-Premiership star Darren Anderton managed two weeks ago, while ex-Chelsea striker Sam Parkin will need to be watched.

Yet the biggest threat of failure will arguably come not from the visitors, but in the stands. Considering we were topping the division two weeks ago, the criticisms levelled at City by many supporters this week have been unnecessarily high. Conversations before this match are likely to contain the phrase “we’d better win today” and, judging on past form, the chances of supporters getting behind the team if they don’t start well are highly slim.

A delve into City’s recent history adds further reason to fear such failure. During the past two seasons, promotion hopes looked credible going into the middle of September – and were all but extinguished when October was over. It’s easy to pin point the respective defeats to Huddersfield and Hereford as the moment things went wrong, but defeats are always going to happen and it was the later ones at home to Brighton and Accrington which really tipped the balance towards another season of failure. During both these games the crowd quickly turned on the team and worked against it – and a similar reaction if things aren’t initially going to plan on Saturday could prove similarly damaging.

Earlier this week one fan wrote they were sick of hearing the management and chairmen falsely building up our promotion hopes each summer, as though pre-season optimism has nothing to do with us supporters. Well promotion this season is my dream, promotion this season is your dream, promotion this season is Stuart McCall’s dream, promotion this season is Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn’s dream, promotion this season is even Barry Conlon’s dream.

If we all channel our efforts in the same direction, accepting we succeed and fail together, the chances of us all achieving those ambitions will surely be greater. So, should City fall behind on Saturday, how are you going to react?

The clouds that form over us – Shrewsbury vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

Once again one could be forgiven for thinking that Bradford City were going into a weekend fixture with the heaviest of black clouds over the club rather than playing the team a place below in a game in which the winners end up in the promotion area.

Having heard from various sources that City’s manager was inept, that the assistant was ruining what the manager did and that some of the players were simply good good enough and need to be got rid of it would be interesting to see what reaction a good result at Shrewsbury would have.

By reaction of course I talk about supporters. Within the club Stuart McCall’s job is to minimise defeats and keep player grounded in wins. A reaction in the dressing room akin to that in the stadium and we really are in trouble.

As it is by five we could be top again. Rhys Evans keeps goal but his back four is changed with TJ Moncur coming in for the injured Paul Arnison. Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee are in the middle with Paul Heckingbottom on the left.

Omar Daley continues in front of Heckingbottom as Chris Brandon recovers and Joe Colbeck will look to continue his impressive form on the right.

Dean Furman – rested from the reserves – may make a first start with one of Lee Bullock or Paul MaLaren stepping down, probably the former as McCall feels the need to add steel to his midfield for the visit to the other highly fancied club in League Two.

Shrewsbury have spent the money raised when Joe Hart made his England debut triggering a half million release clause in the deal that took him to Manchester City on Grant Holt who is am impressively troublesome striker but with the likes of Michael Symes and David Hibbert to pair him with the onus seems to fall on City to snuff out the expensive man in the way clubs would mark tight Dean Windass and not be troubled by whomever was alongside him – a role both Hibbert and Symes took.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding would both have been better partners for Windass – who is rumoured to be thinking over an offer to manage Grimsby Town – and both are in the same bracket as Holt entitled feared strikers.

Come five one of there teams will have laid down a marker for promotion. Come next season the bookies expect both to be in League One.

Good supporter/bad supporter debate part three

To the anger of some, Roland and Michael have stated their views on the message board culture and ‘Plan B’ argument on BfB this week; but if you don’t mind, I’ll add mine too.

Firstly I’ll say that I like message boards and their ideals. I’m a highly irregular poster myself, choosing only to chip in to respond to an opinion which particularly riles me or to join in with some banter (during the summer someone found a link to a porn film where the male star’s surname was Daley, and joked this was why our Omar was struggling for fitness – so I replied asking what the poster was doing to lead to him stumbling across this film). I do enjoy reading the boards though, and find the topics of conversation interesting and, sometimes, enlightening.

I can see why people participate in them, as talking about City as much as we’d like isn’t always possible with our loved ones; as we’d drive them round the bend and they are unlikely to say anything meaningful back. So I read threads from City’s Official Message Board a couple of times a week and enjoy some of the topics. Like being on your own on a train and listening to a group of friends nearby hold an interesting and funny conversation; I hope the participants continue speaking at a level I can hear and don’t notice I’m there.

But message boards do have their flaws too. I dislike the fact people don’t post under their real name. I appreciate it’s a culture that goes beyond Bradford City and to the wider world wide web, but it takes away accountability and gives the user licence to write statements they don’t have to back up with their own John Hancock. If you have conviction over your views, why hide behind an alias? Even though the people reading wouldn’t know who you are, it’s harder to write Stuart McCall is a muppet using your real name.

And yes, I should point out that I am no better. I have my own alias for the rare times I post. Once upon a time I did use my real name, but it had been recognised from appearing next to articles on here and I was soon receiving abusive responses and been asked where my mate Roland was.

The other problem I have, which Roland was getting at in his piece, is the lack of balance message boards have. There are many who’ll routinely post comments on them and make good points in victory or defeat, but when the latter occurs the amount of posts dramatically increases as several others join in, usually to criticise players and/or management. After the Bournemouth defeat I was glad I was straight out for the night with friends and wouldn’t have the opportunity to go online until Sunday evening, sure enough there was a higher number of posts than usual and a lot of it stinging criticism.

Look at the history of posts from a participant starting off the ‘McCall is useless’ thread, as you can do on the Official Message Board, and more often it’s their first post in weeks and months – probably since the last time they were angry with a City defeat. Where are these people when things go right and Stuart isn’t ‘useless’? This is where message boards lose perspective.

It’s a wider mentality though, if City win many of us will sit there content and go home in good spirits, lose and we’re moaning loudly and often booing and this kind of tone is continued in pub conversations after the game, to work mates on a Monday morning, oh and I’m still not satisfied that enough people have been told what went wrong, let’s go onto the message board…

My final irritation with message boards is the lack of argument those who criticise make. If you’re going to tell the rest of us Daley is rubbish and Paul Arnison isn’t up to it, at least explain why. It’s this last issue which has so riled Michael and Roland this week and, while no one disputes the right of others to hold a different opinion, failure to back it up with reasoning means it lacks credibility.

So we have some saying Stuart has no Plan B and that is why we lost, then when it’s argued by others that we did and it involved taking Graeme Lee off and bringing on Barry Conlon we’re then told it was a stupid plan and our manager is tactically naive.

My personal view is did we need a Plan B anyway? If we have conviction to play a certain way and players of sufficient ability to do so, why not stick to those principles to force our way back? I’m not saying don’t make substitutions or slight tweaks, but was there a need to launch long balls into the box with 20 minutes to go, instead of the passing game we favour in home games at least? Sure with five minutes to go launch the ball into the box, but for how disappointing Saturday’s defeat was we could easily have pulled a goal back minutes after Bournemouth had gone 3-1 up through playing the way we like, then it would have been game on.

That sort of conviction, to trust in your players and believe in the way you want to play, might not be something City can possess for sometime. I don’t know yet if our players are good enough, relative to this division, to beat most of others by playing better football – but I hope they can prove they are. Looking back to our last promotion 10 years ago I can recall only very occasions when manager Paul Jewell changed tactics in a game, even if we were trailing. Sure, players should be switched and if the opposition, like Bournemouth, are tactically beating you make alterations, but I hope that one day ‘Plan B’ will only be used in extreme circumstances.

Just over a year into the job, I still feel unsure about Stuart as our manager. Not in a sense that I don’t think he’s good enough – I can see with my own eyes the progress he’s made – but that, by being our manager, we have a legend who was and still is worshipped by most of us but with whom it is now acceptable to slag off and label ‘tactically naive’. I don’t think he’s above criticism and I think he’s made mistakes – though I fail to see why people are surprised and angry when he does given he’s managed a football team for barely 50 games – yet he’s a legend who’s given so much to this club and some of our supporters lack respect for it.

Win on Saturday and the arguments die down (until the next defeat) and those who’ve slagged off Stuart will say nothing. No offence to the people who run them, but I hope all City-related message boards stay relatively quiet between now and May because it will mean we’re having a good season.

Stuart McCall and Plan Nine from Outer Space

I have become so tired of hearing the phrases “tactically naive” and “No Plan B” and if life were QI then the siren would be going off around almost every football discussion heard.

These two phrases are banded about by the media with one being used to apply to Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson but within months of their uptake they became part of the lexicon of every football supporter.

Any team that has not won are lacking a “Plan B”. Every team that get beaten are managed by someone tactically naive. It is no more sophisticated analysis than saying that a match was a game of two halves but it sounds more analytical and there is is the key to its asinine overuse.

Stuart McCall and his management team was accused of having “No Plan B” this week not a fortnight since we saw a City team struggling to breakdown Exeter and until McCall pulled Paul McLaren further back on the field creating spaces and holes for midfielders to probe and twenty minutes later we had four goals. He either got very lucky, understood the tactics involved in the game or found a “Plan B”. That or he made a change, put some rockets up backsides and reminded the players that they had no little quality.

The whole assumption of “Plan B” in football is flawed. It assumes that every week a manager goes into a game telling his players little more than “Go with Plan A today, boys” which is probably a product of Championship Manager/Pro-Evolution Soccer thinking and almost certainly not based on anything that happens in a real dressing room where other teams are watched, players are singled out, danger-men noted and patterns recognised in the opposition.

Don Revie famously complied dossiers on every team in the First Division and every Referee that his Leeds United team could face in a season each game presenting itself differently to the last or the next, each game requiring individual preparation.

Not “Plan A” or “Plan B”. Nothing so simple.

In truth “Plan B” is one of those football phrases that when translated means little. If a manager’s team is losing then “Plan B” is the term given to his demonstrable actions. If those actions work and his team win then he is judged as “being able to influence the game from the sidelines”, if they do not he “has no Plan B.”

Likewise a manager is “tactically naive” if he does not use uncommon formations or should I say if he does not use uncommon formations and win. Sir Alex Ferguson won the treble using a 442 formation but very few called him naive. He won the double last year using the same formation which Kevin Keegan was using during his brief spell back at Newcastle United but few suggested the two of them as having the same tactical acumen. Too often “tactically naive” means “plays the default formation in FIFA 2009” and the people who generally believe that a Keegan or a McCall is lacking in understanding of how the game is played need a new way of saying what they think.

Tactics are painted in such broad brush strokes that such ham fisted criticism is almost inevitable. Within football tactics are about the jobs that must be performed on a field and who performs them, they are about making the most of combinations on the field, about when to attack and when other players should commit to attacking. They are nuances and subtleties that are simply not addressed in the phone number phrases that are passed off as analysis. “Four-four-two” is a starting point but it is not a tactic and when played with an Owen Hargreaves/Michael Carrick formation it is simply not the same way of playing football as when Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard occupy the middle positions.

These are phrases used as pejorative that have long since lost any meaning. One might as well say Stuart McCall is “player boot naive” that he has no Plan Nine from Outer Space. That or you could – if that is what you think – say that Stuart McCall has a troubling lack of options in his squad when his team is behind other than bringing on Barry Conlon to play a battering ram role and perhaps – as has been said before – that that sort of talk might be more appropriate than randomly firing around criticisms which have no granularity between “slight issue with” and “majorly incompetent at”.

Football management is not about applying single skills – you cannot add a dash of tactics to a team and make them win – it is a combination of mental and emotional skills and not the kind of problem that can be modelled and brought down to such simple mechanics.

It certainly cannot – in the most – be summed up by soundbite phrases. We live in a time when through official message boards and forums, fanzines and websites (such as this one which has given voice to over 125 City fans and only turned away less than half a dozen articles in ten years), blogs and letters to the T&A football fans are more listened to than ever. It is thus important that when they speak they do so with a sense of understanding of how what they say will be perceived and responsibility they have when they say it.

Believe your own eyes not a person on a message board

If you go to enough places you can find some big idiots. Football is full of them.

Like at Watford at the weekend. You can bet your bottom dollar that some of the Watford fans were telling others to sit down and stop being so biased to say that that ball didn’t go in just like City fans can watch Omar Daley do the exact same trick that wins penalties off clumsy defenders week in week out and still moan that he wasn’t touched.

You can find people ready to forget what they see and say what the thought they should have seen everywhere. Sometimes I wonder why some people bother going to games when they ignore the evidence of their own eyes.

Last week is was morons booing totally ignoring that fact you could see City had played well. This week it is people taking a pop at McCall and Jacobs after we lost 3-1.

First the Jacobs factor. I’ve no respect for people who single out Wayne Jacobs. These people are cowards too scared to have a go at Stuart. They don’t want to comment on the hero so they act like they know the difference between what the manager and is assistant do and blame the softer target. Cowards.

I don’t have much respect for the things thrown at the manager either. Reading the monotony of tripe that is the Official Message Board I read people saying McCall has on Plan B two days after I’ve seen the skip replaced by Barry Conlon and City play a 343.

I read that McCall has lost the plot. I’m speechless! We went into the game top! Did he lose that plot between 3 and 3:45? If so it is probably on the touchline somewhere.

It is not that I think that Stuart should be above comment it is that I worry that people might take this idiot commentary seriously.

Have a go at anyone but make sure when you do it makes sense and isn’t just ignoring what you see so say something else. Say Stuart’s plan B was stupid but saying he doesn’t have one just means you were not paying attention.

This is the age of the Internet and and everyone gets their opinion listened (including me, which so I’m telling you mine now) to but I just hope that the when listening to the sort of people who make the kind of moronic comments aimed at Stuart and Jakes this week people remember what they saw with their own eyes and ignore the kind of voices that complain at anything.

These kind of people who want to be negative about everything are not the sort of people who deserve listening to. They are not the people who saved this club, they don’t represent the people who saved this club, they are not the people who the club was saved for.

Football at the speed of thought

Remember when Michael Boulding was a bit dodgy, a bit of bother who wanted to sign but only if we would take his brother?

Remember when Darren Moore snubbed us for what looks like one season of Championship football and we had to ‘make do’ with Graeme Lee?

Remember when Omar Lazy used to get groaned at every five minutes?

Remember when City used to lose at home?

These ideas and loads like them have changed at City so quickly that the club seems to have altered itself over night. Going top of the league seemed a long way away after Huddersfield but we are and suddenly Stuart has a whole new set of problems.

How are we gonna get rid of Daley has become who will come in for him at Christmas? Boulding is starring and the summer is long forgotten. The City who no one ever thought much of are now expected to win every week. Hell even the full backs can go 90 minutes without being jeered.

After eight years of falling how quickly it has all turned around. How ready we are to have some feel good factor. Sure this is a good month and not a good season but the quickness of the people with brains to condemn the morons who booed on Saturday suggests that the City fan has a bit of belief and wants to enjoy his football again.

All this the result of two good months? Probably not.

Hard work on and off the field by Julian Rhodes first to keep the club and Mark Lawn to build it. By Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs and by a group of players prepared to put in hard work. Barry Conlon I’m talking about here, showing everyone that giving your all is the minimum.

So to us City fans. Away from home everyone is a Barry shouting and cheering but at home we have some of last season’s Omars needing to turn their performances round and believe in the team a bit more.

The good news is that we can do that turnaround at the speed of thought.

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