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.

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