Using the power of home supporters to bring down the prices for away fans

For some of us, it is a matter of principle. It is going to hurt to do this, but the board of the Supporters Club & Trust have collectively decided not to attend this game. – Bristol City Supporters Trust on the season opening game with Sheffield Wednesday.

The attempts of Bristol City supporters to mobilise a boycott of one their club’s games is not new in the bowels of English football nor is it likely to have any serious impact on the authorities who it targets.

The Robins Supporters – or some of them at least – are refusing the £39 entrance fee to Hillsborough to watch Bristol City’s return to The Championship. The argument is almost entirely economic on their part in that they believe that a pound short of forty is simply too much to pay for a football match.

The economics of the situation go deeper than the reach of one club into the pockets of supporters of another. The higher up in football one attempts to go the more the expenditure of clubs is, and the more the income rises to match that. Clubs pay out more to stage a Championship game than a League One game and do that by higher TV deals, and higher admission prices.

Stroke Leo: £20 a time

Football runs on a common assumption that the higher up a team a person supporters in the pyramid the more money they have to support them. I’m a Bradford City supporter as an accident of birth – I am because I was raised in Bradford – rather than as a function of what I earn.

Bristol City as a club are no strangers to the idea of throwing a lot of money around – we remember their approach to last season’s League One – but the club Bristol City and the people who follow them are not the same.

The governing assumption in football support is that whatever our football club do we are conspirator to and that we lend our support to. On the most case this is a harmless assumption although I know of a good few who have involved themselves with clubs (myself included) who end up with a Go Set A Watchman moment.

In the case of teams like Sheffield United, or Oldham Athletic, when they were trying to sign Ched Evans that assumption is tested to breaking point but those cases are rare. Most of the time if our club do it then we have done it.

This was illustrated to me in an argument with Rochdale Football Club (No, not that argument with Rochdale Football Club) when I suggested on this very site that £20 admission to a League Two game was too much and was told by Rochdale’s fans that “I charged the same.”

Do I? Personally?

Economics is ethics

Refusing to pay to go to Sheffield Wednesday for Bristol City supporters is an inherently ethically based act but when they stand on a point of principle the ground beneath them is shaky.

Well meaning though they are the Bristol City Supporters Trust compare the price they pay to £25 that Reading and in doing so charge Sheffield Wednesday with this greed rather than the culture of football that gives us these assumptions.

If only this were someone else’s problem and Bristol City’s trip to South Yorkshire was on a Tuesday night in January and priced accordingly.

Which is not to criticise the Bristol City Supporters at all just to suggest that they redirect their ire. The people at Hillsborough probably do not care about what Bristol City fans think. The people at Ashton Gate probably do.

Mark and Me, Me and Mark

I once suggested to (Joint-Chairman) Mark Lawn that Bradford City look at extending the policy of affordable football – which is an economic rather than an ethical decision from the Valley Parade boardroom – to away supporters.

Mr Lawn said that the support had 1,000 “walk ups” a week – this was back in League Two – who paid £20 each and I suggested that had someone travelled all the way from Torquay to watch a League Two game they deserved a medal for services to the game rather than what I considered to be an expensive admission charge.

To his credit Mr Lawn agreed with the principal and said he would have a look at it. He was unhappy with the interview that that meeting resulted in and I could not say what happened to the idea.

So I speak from experience – albeit thwarted – when I suggest that the Bristol City Supporters Trust should be talking to their boardroom about how much away supporters (and home fans without season tickets) pay and that Sheffield Wednesday supporters should be doing the same at Hillsborough.

Clubs listen to their own supporters, not someone else’s, and it is with their own clubs where supporters have power.

There is an obvious solidarity here. You get your club to bring prices down, we will get ours to do the same.

Using the power of home supporters

Bradford City have – almost by accident – become a case study in how to build a fan base that has resulted in the superb #onefournine effort. Massive credit goes to James Mason at the club for realising the potential and for starting enacting a social reform in football pricing.

When any club says they simply have to put up prices they can be directed at Bradford City as a riposte which says that building a fanbase is about committing to making football affordable.

I’d like a constitution of Bradford City that enshrined affordable football as a permanent value but failing that I’d call on the club to take affordable football a step further to away fans and to walk ups. I’d like a pricing structure for season ticket holders, walk ups and away fans that was built around a common ethic that football is affordable for football supporters.

I’d like the club to reduce the price for the Torquay supporter who has come from Devon, or the walk up at Valley Parade, or anyone to (for example) £10 not because of the economics of the situation but because of the ethics. I’d like Bradford City fans to politely suggest to those who run Bradford City that they do this. I’d like those who run Bradford City to politely suggest to boardrooms we visit that they do the same.

Away supporters have no power in football. They are the moveable problem that home teams deal with as a crowd and then forget about. It is perhaps overstating matters to suggest that to the home team away fans are second class citizens but you will, Dear Reader, have your own experience to draw on on that conclusion.

But home supporters have a degree of power over the clubs they support. Home supporters can put pressure on their club and put points on a club’s agenda. A boycott of away fans represents a smaller policing bill, a boycott of home fans represents a probem. We have power as home fans.

I think you, I and the Bristol City supporters should start using that power for the common good.

How we let a good season become bad and what we can do about it

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Adam Drury | Garry Thompson, Nathan Doyle, Gary Jones, Mark Yeates | Aaron McLean, Jon Stead | Raffaele De Vita, James Meredith, Kyle Bennett

The 2-1 result against Tranmere Rovers that saw the Birkenhead team relegated to League Two meant more to the home side than it did to us.

The less said about Tranmere Rovers this season the better. A manager sacked for gambling on his own club and players deliberately sent off probably including a time at Valley Parade when Ian Goodison hit Kyel Reid.

Thinking back over the season that Sunday afternoon – it was moved for a EDL protest back before all their voters jumped ship to UKIP – saw the end of City’s promotion push this term. Matthew Bates made a debut but proved to not be Andrew Davies and when Ryan Lowe scored the only goal of the game there was a start of the end of the form that had taken us to Wembley twice.

We came into this division on a high and started very well. That start faded away as did Nahki Wells who joined Huddersfield Town and so City started a slow climb to a performance target which was easily reached.

“Easily reached” being my opinion, but also the opinion of the Tranmere Rovers supporters who would no doubt have looked curiously at you if you had told them that this both our teams had battled relegation.

If you had been following Bradford City this season then you might have been excused in thinking that the season had been a lot more difficult than it has. In fact depending on which part of the chorus of Bradford City supporters you were closest to you might have thought that City had a terrible season.

Not for those lads and lasses at the back of the Kop who make such an impressive noise. They are this season’s poster people for backing a club through thick and thin. At their lowest ebb – Walsall at home – they still made a better noise than Valley Parade heard during our last season at this level.

If you listened to the majority of City fans who mainly did not allow the Bantams to occupy their minds then the club did “ok”. By virtue of the fact that you are the sort of person who is reading this article you may not appreciate just what a small part the club can play in the lives of some people who are proud to self-identify as Bradford City fans.

Mark Neale – he of The Friends of Bradford City and many other Bradford City supporters associations – is convinced that the club has around 2,000 supporters who get involved in the club between games (apologies to Mark if that figure is not accurate, I’m pretty sure the spirit is)

And while that figure might go up or down in small movements over years it is importantly not a percentage of the attendance. If 10,000 turned up they would be 20%, if 3,000 turned up they would be 66%. They are constant.

Which means that this season eight or nine thousand people have been coming to Valley Parade this season having read a bit about City, and talked a bit about City, and largely taking a lead from the two thousand who involve themselves in City between the games.

Which is becoming a problem.

If you are in that two thousand you probably know #bcafc, and Width of a Post, and Claret and Banter, and even the quangoesque Bradford City Supporters Board. If you do know these things, and pay attention to them, you’d think that Bradford City had had a terrible season.

Which is not to say that all of of this coverage have been negative or has all been suggesting that we have been terrible. Far from it. You can find Bradford City supporters who are pathologically positive and can find silver linings on the biggest clouds but when one attests that one is 100% in one’s support for Phil Parkinson one is being drawn into a conversation about a lack of support for Phil Parkinson.

And that has been the conversation this season for the two thousand. That Parkinson should be sacked (or that he should not), or that some (or all) players are not good enough (or that they are), or that City are battling relegation (or that they will win that battle)

Which would make sense if one were in the opposite end of Prenton Park watching our team be relegated but we are not.

At the end of March City dipped to 15th place for a week in a league of 24 teams but for the majority of the season City have nestled in mid-table.

(You can, if you want to be as asinine as it is possible to be, suggest that this is mid-table mediocrity but when Jon Stead and Aaron McLean scored in the last ten minutes left to ensure Tranmere Rovers would be relegated the idea that it is the Bantams who can be termed “mediocre” would not have been well received by the home supporters.)

So why has this season of an expected return – a newly promoted club should plan for retaining their position in their new league – become characterised as being one where City struggled against relegation? When City were in either the top third at the start, or the middle third for the balance, why has the context been that City have been in the bottom third?

Let me draw a line here between the context of this season and the idea of being negative. The problem this season has not been that people have looked at the events and looking at them concluded a negative view. It is that they have looked at them and, ignoring the facts, created a worst view of the status of the club.

You and I, dear reader, can draw a positive or negative view of a season after which City finished in 11th position with 59 points but saying the season was worse than that is just lying. And that is what the conversation has been around all season.

The conversation has been a lie.

It has been that Bradford City are doing worse than they were, and that Parkinson was performing poorly when he was not, and that the players at the start of the season were not good enough when objectively, as a group, they were.

And this has caused a problem because as the two thousand argue a false premise the eight thousand have their support framed in that context. That the people who “know more” than them are telling them that (either) things are terrible (or that things are not as terrible as other people think they are).

This sets a mood. You can have your own view on if the mood around the club and its fans affects the players on the field but I’ve observed that that relationship is symbiotic. Indeed if one were to believe Messers Lawn and Rhodes (and there is no reason why one should not) then they are supporters of the club in the boardroom and thus the fans are the player’s bosses.

Defender Shane Duff – one time Bantam – made it very clear that the mood of one of the chairmen used to directly affect the players in his time at the club.

Mr Lawn sat in with the Bradford City supporters today signing autographs for other supporters and it is hard not to wonder where the chairman – who during the two trips to Wembley could not have been more visible – had been all season? His warm and friendly face has been noticeable by it’s absence since the sale of Wells in January and during the time. When the context of the season needed to be stated he and his partner Mr Rhodes were not to be seen. Not that Mr Rhodes ever is but if there was a benefit to the team of Mr Lawn’s appearances around Wembley then surely there would have been a benefit of the club’s boardroom firmly stating that Phil Parkinson’s team were performing well, despite poor form, and that this season was on track.

Is not the prevailing view in the higher echelons of Valley Parade? If it is why not say it? I worry that it is because of this false premise being argued by the two thousand and the belief that appearing to be on the wrong side of that conversation would not be desirable.

Perhaps it is additional credit to Phil Parkinson that not only has he taken Bradford City to promotion, and then attained a very good 11th placed finish, carrying the mantle of leadership of the club alone and without public support from his employers especially if that support could have addressed the two thousand and challenged the false premise?

One wonders though where City – and specific the two thousand – go from this season? This was a good season but the discussions between the core of two thousand have contextualised it as a poor one. I believe that that has been a part of a feedback loop which has fed the eight thousand which has got to the pitch and by affecting the players made the season worse.

What is more I would suggest that this is a problem for much of modern football where the reality is that 80-odd teams at the end of every season will not have any silverware to celebrate with. That the majority of supporters are suffering this problem of their own two thousand being dragged into conversations based on false premises by sections of that support.

If next season takes the pattern of this then will we see a repeat of this year? If so what can be done about it? Does anything need to be done about it or are we, as a community, happy with the way this season has been discussed?

Those questions need to be considered by football supporters up and down the country, but at Bradford City we have the backwash of two trips to Wembley and what good what good will remains from that. We could use that to try form a community which better understands how a good season has been made bad by a small percentage of a small percentage who really should have been told they were wrong sooner.

Outsiders are welcome

“Come and visit Bar 71 lads”, said the Swindon Town steward who had appeared from nowhere after we had queued up at the County Ground away ticket office for tickets to Saturday’s game. “It’s for away supporters only, and we’ve put Bradford City photos up to make you feel at home. There’s even one charting how far you’ve travelled today, which I researched myself.”

So we did visit Bar 71, located directly underneath the away section of the County Ground. And though the posters looked a bit naff (see photo below) and the beer hardly cheap, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience with plenty of room and big screen coverage of the Chelsea v Arsenal game. And though we were the only people there for half an hour, by the time Robin van Persie was completing his hat trick, Bar 71 was packed out with City fans. And suddenly in from the pitch outside burst a jokingly annoyed Lennie the City Gent, wondering why no one was sat in the stand watching his routines. “Never mind the beer,” he ordered “get out there.”

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

There has been much comment made of Swindon’s decision to charge us £25 to watch a League Two match and rightly so. Times are tough and all that – football, at this level especially, should be an affordable activity not a luxury expense. A week earlier I’d attended the Blackburn Rovers v Tottenham Premier League fixture and paid just £17 for the privilege. When you consider the petrol expense of travelling 200+ miles to Wiltshire, Saturday was a costly day out.

Yet after getting past the monetary concerns, it was also a hugely enjoyable experience. Bar 71 might be little more than a glorified Working Mens Club, but it was a nice touch by Swindon to lay on facilities for away supporters. Financially profitable for them, of course; somewhere nearby, there will have been a local pub or two missing out on revenue we would have otherwise provided them. But the Robins were also making an effort to ensure our matchday experience was a good one, rather than rely on others to do so.

It may have cost £25 a ticket, but if we’re in the same division next season I personally will favour a trip to the County Ground over some League Two away games (like, for example, Port Vale – £20.50 ticket, not allowed in their supporters bar).

And that’s a point that few football clubs – Bradford City included – appear to be aware of. Away support is an important financial consideration, and there is much they can do to make sure a visit to your stadium is an attractive proposition beyond providing away fans with a decent view of the match.

Perhaps Brighton deserve the status of pioneers in this respect. As part of the development of their brand new Amex Stadium, they built an away stand where they can make bespoke changes to the facilities. Visiting supporters to Brighton this season have arrived into an away concourse in the colours of their team, with posters of their present and past heroes on the wall. Inside the ground, the away seats are cushioned. Martin Perry, Brighton Chief Executive, explained the reasoning to the BBC during the summer: “Why not be welcoming to your visiting club? Why not make it a fantastic experience for them? Because actually what happens is, they look for the Brighton fixture and they say “I’m going to that one” and we get a full house.”

Swindon’s Bar 71 was a low rent equivalent. Bespoke posters on the wall, a chance to socialise before the match and then a 5-second walk to the away turnstiles once everyone in your group had supped up. Certainly profitable for Swindon in terms of the bar and food takings; but potentially even more rewarding for the club when it comes to the number of fans who attend their club’s fixture at the County Ground the following season.

Not that it’s solely a football club’s responsibility to ensure away fans have an enjoyable experience. My favourite away trip of the season so far was Oxford in August. A few hundred yards from the stadium was a pub which put on outdoor seating, a special beer tent and a DJ playing indie classics. We were warmly welcomed to join the large group of home supporters, and we spent a good hour chatting to a number of friendly Oxford fans. A great experience which they do for every game, apparently; and because of it we’ll be travelling to Oxford the next time that City play them.

At Morecambe, Bradford City supporter Dan Thornton – who’s caravan park is based opposite the Globe Arena – has for the last two seasons put on special events before Morecambe-Bradford matches for City fans only. Although the racist stand up comedian was not to my taste and so I won’t be going again, other City fans were not bothered by it and will go in the same high numbers next time.

Whoever instigates them, the efforts of Brighton, Swindon, Oxford and Dan add something extra to the day which makes them more rewarding. When the most important factor – the match itself – is beyond our control and more often than not disappointing, it’s nice to return home from a day out with something positive to look back on from it.

Which brings us to the obvious question of what – if anything – Bradford City and us supporters are doing for visitors to our own city? As much as we can complain about Swindon’s £25 entry, the fact we charge away fans £20 to see their team at Valley Parade makes our moral high ground position rather dubious. The facilities in the Midland Road stand are okay but nothing special, while there is no Bar 71 equivalent (or a realistic location to open one) to offer visitors.

Sadly, there are no decent pubs in the immediate vicinity of Valley Parade and – without doing some research first – few away fans would have a clue where to find one. The excellent Haigy’s is hidden away, and the City Centre pubs aren’t especially football-focused. The Sparrow Cafe on North Parade, for the moment, remains a hidden gem that only a handful of City fans are aware of (well worth seeking out if you’ve not been, mine’s a pint of Bernard Unfiltered if you’re buying). That and a good curry after the match aside, it’s hard to know what would make a trip to Bradford especially more attractive for an opposition supporter.

Does it matter? When opposition away followings at Valley Parade are sometimes dipping below 100 and rarely top 500 I think it does. Consider that – to a Southern-based opposition fan – a trip to Bradford is similar in distance and effort to Accrington, Morecambe and Rotherham, which would you favour if money and a social life meant you had to pick and choose?

In early 2012 City will face away trips to London borough clubs Barnet, Wimbledon and Dagenham – a fair equivalent to the above for us. Some fans will go to all three of these; me I will probably go to two of them. Wimbledon I’ve not been too before so that will be included, and my other choice would probably be Barnet on the basis I had much more fun travelling down to North London last season compared to going to Dagenham the year before.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t give a toss what away fans think of Bradford and the fact they will rock up on Manningham Lane at 1pm looking for a pint and can find only sex shops. But when experiencing the difference in visiting a club who were genuinely welcoming to me and who had clearly made an effort to ensure I enjoyed my time, I feel sad and wonder if we lose out financially from the fact ‘Bradford City away’ is unlikely to be any opposition fans’ highlight of the season.

Satisfaction (I can’t get no)

Last Saturday’s game against AFC Wimbledon was my first since returning from a September holiday abroad. I mention this not to gloat over those unable to take advantage of low season holiday prices but to create a context for the thoughts in this piece. Whilst away I like to be truly away – no papers, TV, internet, radio, little contact with others from my home country and no mention of football.

But just before I left there was a crisis at the club (again) – a manager had “left”, a caretaker had taken over and another manager hastily appointed. Right up until I packed my case I had been content to allow new and young players time to gel and despite results I had a sense of optimism that, with patience and structure, the club was at last moving in the right direction. The prospect of fame for “Jackson’s Juniors” had been appealing to say the least. But in the end I left the country with a sense of uncertainty that had nothing to do with fear of flying but fear for football at Bradford City.

On my return to these shores the BfB website was switched on almost as soon as the kettle and, lo and behold, the crisis had deepened. The club lay desperately close to the non-league drop zone and a sense of despair permeated the articles and comments as I struggled to catch up with events that I had missed.

By the time I got down to the pub the following evening I was suffering, not from jetlag but from déjà-vu – new backroom staff, old boy signings but very few points to show for all the changes. Fortunately my friends reassured me that things were not as bad as they seemed, that this was not Taylor Mark II and the potential was there. All we needed was some luck. With their confident claims ringing in my ears I joined them in looking forward to Saturday’s game and, when the day arrived, set off in high hopes.

The rest, as they say, is history. I watched a match that, whilst entertaining in the first half at least, had many of the hall marks of last season. Younger and new players that I had been ready to give a chance to, had been discarded, a captain dropped and even newer players who seemed little better if not worse than those they replaced had been brought in. There was effort but no cohesion. A midfield woefully uncertain as to where they should be were all too easily drawn into a back 7 (or 8/9), a striker given no real service and a strike partner (?) playing as near to him as a batting partner in cricket. A fortunate but deserved lead – a rare thing at V.P. – was allowed to slip away but at half time there was hope that the new manager (new to me at least) would see the problems we all could see and address them. Sadly there was yet more déjà-vu. No change in the system, no leader on the field, a player having a nightmare game not replaced and substitutions that were too late and only disrupted the play even more leaving young Liam Moore to battle three Wimbledon players to try and deliver some sort of cross – no support just leave him to it.

I stayed until the end, many didn’t. I applauded the efforts of the players, many didn’t. I did not boo, many of those who had stayed did. And I left without any of the sense of positivism that I had felt when approaching the ground.

Now there are many on this site and elsewhere that would criticise my negativity and encourage me to remain positive. After all it is still September, there are good signs and it’s too early to be so despondent. Yet I look at the league table as well as the calendar and realize that whilst it may still be September almost a quarter of the season has gone. Our position gives genuine cause for concern and is made even more worrying by the fact that a win next Saturday, however welcome, would make no difference to our league position. The gap is already open and it looks like getting bigger before it narrows.

So am I guilty of negativity? Despite my outward signs of support and encouragement for my team my thinking is downbeat, the concern is worrying and am I somehow transmitting these feelings to the team? No matter how positive I try to be I get the feeling that my individual contribution to City’s performances is about as much use as my holiday contribution was to the Greek economy.

There is a big problem at Bradford City. There may well be several problems on and off the field that combine to make it so as articles on this site have suggested. Much has been said by those in charge of the team and the club but I believe more has been left unsaid and this leads to the different levels of dissatisfaction in our supporters.

All those involved with Bradford City, fans and staff, have an opinion as to what is needed to bring about a change in our fortunes. I have deliberately made no attempt in this piece to put forward my own views because, in the end, my views, and yours, count for nothing. But when pleasure in following your team is deprived, when optimism seems more and more unfounded, what should be a mutually satisfying relationship between club and fans is fractured. Rows increase and an eventual break-up seems inevitable. So however much I/we may dislike it we should not blame fans(?) who berate their chosen targets. It does not help but it is an understandable release of frustration built up over the years and yet most have managed to stay in the relationship.

I, like many others, have taken the disappointments my team have given me and yet I start each season and, hopefully, each match in a positive frame of mind. It’s the time between games that I struggle with. I suppose I am lucky, I can put post match disappointments to one side or ameliorate them with pieces such as this but at times I feel embarrassed even guilty about the way things are at V.P. and my contribution to them.

So please, can I have something tangibly positive from the club to satisfy my need to feel good about my team. Because right now I can’t get no satisfaction – and I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, tried, tried.

Phil Parkinson looks to address the mentality, but the problems run deep

Phil Parkinson’s post-Wimbledon defeat comments about a losing mentality at Bradford City may be entirely accurate, but it remains curious where this mindset has originated from and how it can be addressed.

After the Bantams third successive defeat, Parkinson declared: “In the second half after we conceded their second goal I thought there was just too much acceptance that it wasn’t going to be our day… The club is fragile in terms of getting beaten too often and I’ve got to change that mentality around.”

It might seem an obvious statement to make that a club which has endured such a dismal 11 years has a losing mentality, yet a look at the starting eleven on Saturday suggests it’s worrying if this is the case. Seven had either joined the club during the summer or within the past month. Of the other four, only Michael Flynn and James Hanson were at Valley Parade just two short years ago. If it’s all about mentality, how does it spread so quickly to relatively new faces and what is causing it?

On a day where we celebrated our 125-year-old home, it was the long-standing problem of a poor Valley Parade record which again came into focus. Since returning to the Football League in 2001, City have won 85, drawn 62 and lost 88 matches at home – a weak platform which has hindered attempts to halt the slide down the divisions. Only once over the previous 10 seasons – the 2008/09 promotion failure – have the Bantams not lost at least a quarter of their home games. The rate of player turnover has been relentless over that time, but it seems the problem cannot be solved.

What is it about our own turf that opposition players find so welcoming and our own so daunting? Perhaps the lack of width – Valley Parade is one of the narrowest pitches in the country – is a hindrance. On Saturday Wimbledon lined up in a 5-3-2 formation which made it very difficult for City to get in behind, especially on the flanks. Looking at many of the teams who have triumphed over the years, a defensive focus is a common feature in how they line up. Either flood the midfield or keep numbers at the back, and City struggle to find the space to play in the opposition half. Other clubs with wider pitches don’t seem to have this same issue.

At a considerable cost, the pitch could be widened by getting rid of the first few rows on the Main Stand and Midland Road sides, although the disabled facilities in the latter are hugely important and would need to be adequately replaced. All of which is perhaps unrealistic and it’s worth noting that Peter Beagrie had few problems with the pitch; but as Kyel Reid struggled to get past his full back all afternoon on Saturday and attracted a barrage of abuse from fans, you couldn’t help but feel he would have benefited from a bit more space to utilise.

As for that barrage of abuse, it remains a bone of contention just how well we as supporters get behind the team at times. Earlier on in the season the atmosphere was much improved and the standing ovation the players received when trailing 1-0 to Bristol Rovers two weeks ago undoubtedly had an influence in the second half recovery. As the half time whistle was blown on Saturday and with City having played okay but not fantastic, a fan nearby kept his arms folded before breaking out into a smug grin and telling his friend “I’m not applauding that”.

Fine, not exactly the finest 45 minutes we’ve seen, but surely missing the point of what been a football fan is supposed to be about?

Too often people seem to have this viewpoint that they are not on the same side at the team. If the players don’t do the business, it becomes their job to tell them by booing and swearing and moaning and a variety of other negative reactions. We undoubtedly have the most fans in League Two, but no one can tell me that we have the most supporters. I genuinely don’t understand this refusal to get behind the players when they struggle, and instead opt to be personally outraged.

Of course such attitudes prevail at football grounds up and down the country and so can hardly be used as an excuse for repeated failure. Deep down, I think, we all know that being positive and cheering for the players would make some difference, but we each have our reasons for choosing to behave the way we do. Perhaps, for the seven players which started on Saturday who are new to the club, coping with the obstacle of fan abuse is something they simply have to get past and they will become better players for it.

Looking beyond the mentality issue and for other reasons for the backwards steps in form recently, the early days of Parkinson in the Valley Parade dug out deserve some consideration. Two weeks ago it seemed the unexpected transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson had gone remarkably smoothly, but now the disruption in line ups and strategy is becoming clear.

Parkinson hasn’t changed a great deal in truth, replacing two loanees from the previous starting line up with permanent players and strengthening the attack and defence. The victims of these changes – Oscar Jansson, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart and Guy Branston – can certainly feel hard down by, but the potential shown by Reid, Jamie Devitt, Craig Fagan and Andrew Davies suggests the squad is stronger as a result of these arrivals. Just as the season started with Jackson’s team struggling to find its rhythm; it is now taking time for the new-look team to come together.

Time being a key word when looking at the job Parkinson performed at other clubs. He has never been an instant impact type of manager that Ron Atkinson was famous for in the 1990s. The promotion achieved at Colchester took four seasons of building work; he was sacked by Hull before been given time to turn a poor start around; and he was relegated as Charlton boss in his first season before developing them into play off semi finalists the year after.

His methods appear to be proven in the long-term, but short-term pain has to be lived through first.

Indeed his first 10 games at his three previous clubs show an interesting pattern for two at least. At Colchester he made a great start, taking 19 points from a possible 30 – though the team had already been in good form before he took over under caretaker boss Geraint Williams. At Hull, his first 10 league games saw only one win and a total of five points acquired. At Charlton he lost six of the first 10 league games, picking up only six points. The two points from a possible 15 achieved at City so far are very much along these slow-burner lines.

All of which fits in with the club’s abandonment of short-term thinking which has occurred so often in the past. Parkinson has delivered clear improvement over time at Colchester and Charlton (at Hull we’ll never know), but it wasn’t a speedy journey. Even before we get depressed about the League Two table after 10 games, we can probably predict with confidence that Parkinson will not deliver promotion during his first season at Valley Parade. For him to succeed, patience will be required.

If a losing mentality really does exist at the club, it’s been proven in the past that drastic changes are not the answer. Defeats like Saturday hurt a lot, but as fans it often seems like the lows are more severe than the highs. It’s almost as though we’re collectively nursing an open wound that isn’t allowed any time to heal, causing every subsequent bump to seem even more painful.

There is – perfectly understandably – a losing mentality amongst us supporters in that we are far too quick to allow the gloom to descend; indirectly forcing the recent past to weigh heavily on the shoulders of everyone connected with the club. We have to find a way of coping with defeat better; we have to find a way of not allowing the most recent 90 minutes of football to dictate our mood for the next seven days; we have to change this scapegoat culture and learn to better support our players in good and bad times.

The only constant of the past decade is our narrow Valley Parade pitch and us supporters. The misery we’ve endured over that time certainly isn’t our fault, but we can all play a role in turning around the club’s fortunes by challenging the mindset that this constant failure has inflicted upon us.

The week we lost our faith

The round trip to Crawley Town was a long and tedious 496 miles in total, but by the time City’s players alighted from the bus back at Valley Parade the mood of the season had quickly turned as dark as the Bradford night they walked into.

By all accounts, the team was poor in losing to Crawley – surrendering a 1-0 half time lead to concede three goals in dismal fashion. The result kept the Bantams third bottom of the entire Football League, with a gap to the clubs above beginning to emerge. Small wonder then, that many of us supporters are feeling so despondent.

Yet at the same time, the outcries of anguish and the anger which has been directed at individuals who represent the club has been difficult to observe this week. The criticisms have been loud and far reaching, and suddenly the outlook of how the season is going appears to have been altered. The likes of Guy Branston and James Hanson are singled out unfairly; Phil Parkinson’s signings are retrospectively criticised; while a sinister and unhelpful vendetta from some towards Archie Christie continues.

One can understand the concern over City only winning one of their opening eight league matches, but less so the need to be so negative and to panic.

Weeks like this – coping with a Bantams defeat – have become such a regular occurrence in recent years that it’s all depressingly familiar. And as a result the only option to avoid having to feel miserable and upse  is to switch off as much as possible and try to focus on other things in life until Saturday. But it’s always there, at the back of your mind – worrying and fretting about your club. And as much as you want to ignore people on message boards and on Twitter attacking the players, there’s an overriding worry that others will be listening and acting upon this vitriol.

Is it justified to suddenly allow a glass half empty outlook to dictate the overall mood of us supporters? Perhaps in the past yes, but on this occasion I strongly believe it isn’t. Crawley sounded bad for sure, but only four days earlier I and some 300 other City fans had watched the players put in a strong performance against Port Vale, where they were very unfortunate to lose. The last time the team played at Valley Parade, they produced an eye-catching display that included a first half performance as good as anything we’ve seen for years.

Looking at the season as a whole, the effort levels and standard of performances have also been encouraging. To date I have seen every game but Accrington, Dagenham and Crawley. Each time the workrate and determination of the team has been commendably high – and I understand this was the case against Accrington and Dagenham too. Application-wise there is room for improvement, but it seems Crawley was the first occasion this season where we can agree the players really let us down.

So why be so quick to jump upon them and write them off? Branston was in the PFA League Two team of the season last year, has he become a bad player overnight or is it a question of him finding better form and confidence? Hanson is picked upon time and time again, yet so often this season the team has not played to his strengths making it very difficult for him. Chris Mitchell is viewed as slow and lightweight, rather than us focusing on his on-the-ball qualities. Matt Duke is clearly lacking match sharpness, but some have seemingly written him off.

The strategy adopted by the club this summer should not need repeating, yet it is now criticised in retrospect by some in the laziest of ways. If Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had ignored the idea of the Development Squad and once again thrown money at the first team this summer, I personally fail to see how we’d be any better off save for a few more points at this stage. The club has lacked a sufficient infrastructure off the field for a number of years and progress is too much at the whim of how big the playing budget is for a particular season. This long-term approach is just that, long-term. We should not be writing it off after just eight league games.

There has been talk that the emphasis of the club has changed from a “building season” to “promotion or bust”, because of the signings Parkinson has been allowed to make – but when viewed closely the facts don’t support this theory. The new boss has sought to make changes to the two positions in the team covered by loanees – wide left and goalkeeper – by bringing in players on permanent contracts. Surely this is in support of a longer-term focus?

Craig Fagan has arrived too, but we know from Peter Jackson’s final days that a need for a striker had been identified and he was actively searching. Fagan is a notable signing and it’s been suggested won’t have come cheap. Perhaps but, given the former Hull striker had missed a year’s football through a broken leg and was struggling to find a club, it seems more likely he is here on low wages with an eye on impressing enough to ultimately attract interest from higher up the leagues (or even a better contract with City next summer).

This is similar to Lee Hendrie last season, who had a decent short-term impact. We can question the wisdom of signing Fagan and where this leaves the promising Mark Stewart, but that doesn’t mean the club has abandoned the strategy agreed in the summer. The problem with suggesting it is now “promotion or bust” is that the expectation bar is suddenley raised and City’s performance seems all the poorer as a result.

In many ways, weeks like this one show a lack of perspective to our judgements and emotions. Losing to Crawley is upsetting, looking at the league table is painful – yet with rationale thinking and remembering the bigger picture, the level of doom and gloom should have its limits. If you’ve sent Branston a nasty tweet this week – as many did – shame on you, because you are not in any way helping the club progress. If you attack players and management on message boards, at least throw up constructive solutions to the problems you deride.

Football supporting seems to allow us to be childish and moody in how we behave – especially in defeat – when in every other walk of life we would never dream of acting in the same way. It’s time to take a step back more often, appreciate the difficulties the club faces rather than jumping in with anger and blame. Passion is a good thing, but directing it in a destructive way does little to help and this seems to be all that some can do.

Bradford City is a club that has to welcome and be grateful for every supporter it can get, but it needs to be remembered that it is our choice to support them and this sense of personal injustice we throw back at them when they struggle isn’t always their fault.

The actions taken this summer mean that this season we have the chance to help create something special. A team we can be truly proud of, because they care deeply about our club and understand what makes us special. Parkinson is trying to implement an attacking, passing style of game that is a welcome relief from the direct football we’ve endured so often in recent years. The Development Squad offers the promise of providing a handful of players good enough to make the first team in time. Scott Brown looks amazing, and he can play soon.

We are not that far off from been a good side, already too much hard work has been completed to throw it all away. So please, let’s not go to the Wimbledon game on Saturday with arms folded waiting for an opportunity to act indignant; let’s do our bit and prove to the team and to each other what being a football supporter is really all about.

The show of solidarity

The Team

Matt Duke | Liam Moore, Luke Oliver, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Chris Mitchell, Ritchie Jones, Michael Flynn, Kyel Reid | Jamie Devitt, James Hanson | Ross Hannah, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart

To an outsider at least, Bradford City’s start to the season must appear to be on the brink of being labelled catastrophic. Yet within the four sides of Valley Parade this afternoon and over the past few weeks, it’s hard to recall the last time we felt so giddy with excitement.

Michael Flynn’s successful stoppage time penalty means City have struck a late equaliser two weeks running and stretches the unbeaten run to four games, though only once in this season’s nine league and cup matches to date have the Bantams won outright over the 90 minutes. Yet while in the past such form would prompt moaning, instead there is optimism. We’re not looking at the future with glass-half-empty despair, but with relish. No panic, just patience.

When at half time the players trooped back to the dressing room a goal down to a decent Bristol Rovers side they did so with the boost of a standing ovation from just under 10,000 home supporters. How many times has this scenario happened over the past decade? Typically when losing at the break, the only question is how loud in volume the boos would be; yet today there was a defiant and powerful message delivered to players – we’re genuinely right behind you.

And how richly deserved that standing ovation was. Lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation which allowed loan signing Jamie Devitt to operate in a free role behind James Hanson, City dictated the tempo right from kick off and produced a display of attacking, passing football that was remarkable to watch. The ball was passed back and forth with great accuracy and some dazzling attacking moves were only thwarted by a strong visiting defence or eventual slight inaccuracy in possession.

For the last four seasons in League Two, we’ve largely become used to a more direct style of football which has proved effective at times but at others was dismal to watch. Today City looked as if they’d spent the week watching DVDs of Arsenal and – dare I say it – Barcelona. Quick fire, one-touch football with the ball knocked across from wing to wing and ending up in the penalty area having remained on the turf on route, rather than hit high. On another day and against weaker opposition City could easily have been three or four goals up.

Devitt is skilful in possession and proved hugely effective in his free role, while fellow home debutant Kyel Reid looked a constant menace on the left wing and regularly had the beating of Pirates’ right back Adam Virgo. With Chris Mitchell again providing that mixture of width and central support alongside the again impressive Ritchie Jones and Flynn, the Bantams dominated the first half through their stylish approach.

Goalscoring opportunities were less frequent, though Devitt was unfortunate to see an overhead kick attempt sail over, Flynn could have gone better with an effort from the edge of the area and Devitt again came close with an excellent run but weak shot. The best opportunity of all fell to Jones, whose late charge into the box saw him meet Reid’s superb cross brilliantly with head and the gangling Scott Bevan pulled off a world class tip over. Aside from a moment of confusion where Bristol Rovers thought they had scored – only for the dismal referee Nigel Miller to eventually realise his linesman had flagged for a foul rather than goal – it was one-way traffic.

So when Matt Harrold got free of Luke Oliver to send a looping header over Matt Duke and into the net, following a superb pass from Stuart Campbell, there was no justice at all. City continued to press, but the downside of Phil Parkinson’s formation – which had been hinted before the goal – came into focus when two brilliant crosses into the box were missed by home players. There just weren’t enough people getting into the box and, as wonderful as the build up in the final third was at times, City lacked options when it came to finishing them.

Hanson bore the brunt of this frustration from supporters. Understandable at times as his work rate seemed to be lacking his usual high standards, but once again it seems a question of feeding him the ball in areas where he can hurt the opposition. Perhaps this new style of play means selecting a target man like Hanson isn’t going to be the most effective approach. But equally more runs into the box from midfield are needed to support him or whoever is selected up front instead, and as the half came to an end with that uplifting standing ovation the question to ponder was whether we are lacking a striker or just missing David Syers.

The quality of City’s play wasn’t as exceptional in the second half – partly because of Rovers’ manager Paul Buckle’s decision to place a deep-sitting midfielder right in front of his back four in an effort to curb Devitt’s influence – but enough of a head of steam was built up to find an equaliser on the hour.

Hanson’s header from a corner struck the post and Devitt’s rebound attempt was blocked by a defender, but as the Hull City youngster looked set to hit another shot at goal he was hauled down for a penalty. Flynn – second-choice penalty taker behind the benched Jack Compton – side footed it casually into the right corner and the strong backing from fans increased further in volume as substitute Ross Hannah forced Bevan into another outstanding save.

Disappointingly the Bantams sat back and Bristol Rovers re-took the lead when Eliot Richards was allowed too much space to send a powerful shot past Duke. It is a source of worry that a back four which looks solid for the most part of games can then switch off and is so often punished for doing so. Guy Branston, Oliver, Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall couldn’t be faulted during the match, but Parkinson needs to find a way of tightening them up further.

City pressed hard in the closing stages, but just like last week you couldn’t see an equaliser occurring. But then, half way through the four minutes of injury time, a great piece of skill by Devitt lead to him being tripped in the box for another penalty. Compton – who again impressed when coming on – pressed his claim to take the spot kick, but Flynn was given the responsibility a second time, firing into the opposite corner despite Bevan’s best attempts to keep it out.

Another draw doesn’t do much for City’s league position, but there’s no doubt an upwards direction is being taken. From being unlucky to lose games at the start of the season, the Bantams are now somewhat unfortunate to be drawing matches. Parkinson’s ongoing search for a striker might prove to be the final piece in the jigsaw, but if the current standards of performance are maintained the victories will surely come.

And when they do, the joy is everyone’s to share. The atmosphere inside Valley Parade today was superb and while it might not intimidate the opposition it certainly makes a difference to our players. Everyone can see how much they care and are trying for this club, and only an incredibly heartless person wouldn’t appreciate their commitment.

Peter Jackson, Colin Cooper, Archie Christie and Parkinson have or are building a team that we can truly feel proud of, and the half time standing ovation proved how much we care about – and feel inspired by – our players.

The most important early season victory

As Bradford City faced up to a defeat going into the closing stages of Saturday’s game with Morecambe, a heavy sense of disappointment hung in the drizzly sea air. Yet with plenty of time to contemplate matters while the home team time-wasted in vain, a thought crossed my mind over how much this apparently inevitable loss actually mattered.

Of course any defeat is disappointing and the fact it would have left the Bantams 91st in the English football pyramid would have been tough to stomach. With no midweek game, there would have been far too much time to brood before Bristol Rovers next Saturday offered an opportunity to get the despair out of our system. But in the wider scheme of the next nine months of the season and our expectations, it appeared little would have been lost from Hannah’s exhilarating equaliser never occurring.

Because this season’s primary objective – unlike the past four – is not promotion. Sure, we’d all love it to happen and a morale-sapping loss to Morecambe would have pushed that dream further away. Yet for the first time there is already a soft cushion to break our fall if and when the reality of promotion hopes looking hopeless occurs. There will be no scratching head of moment and wondering what to do next; no significant misery when thinking that “we’ve got to go to bloody Macclesfield again” next season; no angry demands for key personnel to get out of our club; and no need to rip everything up and start again.

New boss Phil Parkinson talks Alan Partridge-esqe of evolution not revolution in his plans since taking over from Peter Jackson – and expectations towards what he can and should achieve are unaltered. This is a ‘building season’. A term some can argue lacks ambition but others would point out has heart-warming connotations. Building means get better. To improve. Succeed with this approach and, at the end of this season, we’ll be stronger than when we began it – how often has that proved the case over the past few years?

And what makes that not just bearable but downright exciting is the positive attitude this outlook engulfs in almost everyone. Jackson and Archie Christie did not spend this summer recruiting apparently proven players with the objective of them being instantly successful, but people with the potential to develop and grow with the Bantams. We have players who genuinely want to be here, and are telling anyone and everyone who listens that this is the case. Get on Twitter and read the lovely things our players have to say about the club and about us fans. Watch them perform with 100% commitment every time they take to the field – as they have in every game so far. They are here to further their careers – not by putting themselves in the shop window, but because they consider this to be the place to do it.

Something special is fostering within this club, and it has the potential to be a fantastic journey.

Parkinson arrives very much the outsider. Clearly on board with the philosophy, but having not been around to instigate it. He will go on and do it his own way for sure, but there is no need to stamp his own authority on the squad or to adopt a different path in some ill-judged attempt to justify his worth.

Just read what he told the Telegraph and Argus after the Morecambe draw:

I have found so many good people at this club this week. So many are prepared to give everything they’ve got for the cause of Bradford City on and off the pitch. There are a lot of people pulling in the right direction. I just hope we give it time and supporters will see a gradual improvement.”

In the cold light of the League Two table not much is different. City are only two points better off and one place higher up than they were exactly a year ago – and we all remember how badly that campaign turned out. Yet even without Hannah’s intervention at the Globe Arena, the mood this week would not be one of fear and panic, with early calls for the manager to be sacked and to take his star player with him. That was the case 12 months ago this week after a 2-0 home loss to Port Vale which saw Tommy Doherty booed.

While no two supporters will ever hold exactly the same view, in general there is a groundswell of approval towards the new-look Bradford City squad and great affection towards the players. If Doherty was last year’s headline-grabbing signing, this summer’s was Guy Branston. Some idiots started to boo him against Barnet last Saturday, but despite a slow start to the season his passion and work rate for the club means he is very popular. On Saturday he was awarded with his first chant.

Look through the team and the outlook is the same. Mark Stewart is yet to score, but gets his name chanted when subbed. Jack Compton lacks a bit of pace, but everyone’s on their feet when he picks the ball up out wide. Liam Moore is quickly becoming a favourite, even if the Nathan Doyle comparisons are far-fetched. Heck even Luke Oliver’s performances are rightly winning approval.

Sure James Hanson and Michael Flynn are attracting some criticism, but neither are short of fans willing to fight their corner either. The standards of work rate and application have been set high and everyone coming into the team has to live up to them. Mistakes will be made, games will be lost and the need for improvement won’t diminish – but in general it seems we fans are desperate to stick with the players rather than turn on them.

Back at Southend on April 15 2011, the smattering of loyal City fans present for a feeble 4-0 defeat famously chanted “We love the club, hate the team.” The ill-feeling towards that group of players was at times slightly over the top, but the contrast in the attitude of this year’s team is stark. That does not mean they will prove any more successful in carrying City towards the upper echelons of this division, but it seems we will be more forgiving of them if they aren’t.

Of course it would have mattered a lot if City had lost to Morecambe on Saturday. But the pain would be shared between the team and supporters rather than the latter group slating the former. There’s a feeling we are in this together, battling for the same cause and as desperate as each other to achieve it. So it mattered that Hannah scored to reward that collective spirit and enable it to grow even more.

As supporters we always want to win, otherwise why bother wasting time and money following City? But more than ever this season it seems we want to win because we have fallen back in love with our football team and feel proud to be a City fan again.

Maintain that feeling until May; and this season will have been a success regardless of what the league table states.

What to do about the Bradford City Official Message Board?

The shock resignation of Peter Jackson so close to last Saturday’s home game with Barnet meant parts of the matchday programme had become out of date – but somewhat by accident, director Roger Owen’s Boardroom notes appeared to be perfectly timed.

Owen began his column criticising the manner in which some supporters on Bradford City’s Official Message Board (OMB) had been attacking the club. This was connected with the Bantams’ slow start to the season but – with the OMB going into overdrive during the 48 hours before the Barnet game and many users queuing up to attack Mark Lawn over Jackson’s departure – Owen’s views seemed even more applicable. He said:

The inane and ill in formed (sic) comment s (sic) of a few on the Club’s message board do you no favours whatsoever and my clear advice to those who specialise in this type of comment is quite simply ‘find something better to do with your time’.

Everyone is entitled to pay their money and voice their opinion, but wild speculation, often attributed to ‘someone close to the club’ is wrong. If you have anything to say put your own name to it.

The fall out over Jackson almost deserved for the OMB to carry a parental warning, given how strong and nasty some of the personal attacks were towards Lawn especially. Without any explanation at that point offered by the Board or Jackson as to why the latter handed in his resignation, many quickly jumped to conclusions and instigated criticism. A week later and we still do not know the facts of that meeting. Any conclusions had to be half baked, and were often over-the-top.

While the Board could have been quicker in communicating and perhaps been more open and honest – and while Lawn probably shouldn’t be free of some blame for the situation – that so many were so quick to judge and spout anger without facts did not reflect brilliantly on City supporters.

Yet that’s life – and that’s the instant communication, social media-driven world that we live in today.  The club cannot stop criticism and, in such a unusual situation as Jackson’s walk out, they cannot avoid having to face some difficult questions.

What the club thinks of the OMB

As Lawn was openly attacked on the club’s own website last week, a reoccurring question once again came up – why does the club bother to have the OMB? Are the benefits it provides City – for example potential advertising revenue – an acceptable trade off for providing a platform for supporters to regularly criticise its own employees?

Because part of the programme article included an open invitation for supporters to email Owen, I contacted him to find out.

“The OMB is something Mark Lawn very much wanted to encourage and did so before my time on the Board which started in July 2009,” explained Owen. “The OMB was seen as a means of transparency for the fans in order that dealings could be made clear and I think in that respect Mark’s ambitions have been met. Since the OMB came into being and gained popularity, however, it was obvious that the club could not respond to each and every point and we have always said that if fans were to contact us individually, we would respond. My (programme) article confirms this point.

“Sadly, the OMB has been somewhat hijacked by posters not putting their own names to points they make and by threads almost instantly wandering off the original point into meaningless chat and personal fights between posters. This leads to irrelevant drivel often being the outcome. So when I suggested that if posters could not be better than inane, they should find something better to do with their time, that is what my comment was centred on.

“Despite all this, I do feel there are two benefits to the club. First, there is a conduit for feelings and opinion. I read the OMB most days as does David Baldwin and Alan Biggin. Julian Rhodes and Mark read it periodically, as does Graham Jones and Steve Longbottom and we do discuss the OMB at Board Meetings, from time to time. There are some sensible posters and being in the game of serving the public we should listen and take note and act where sensible things are raised, I spent most of my career doing the same at Morrisons.

“As far as revenue from the OMB is concerned, this is not our main or prime motivation. All revenue from all websites goes to a central pot for re-distribution. We do get a financial benefit but the drop in traffic at Valley Parade and elsewhere does underline the fact that our main and lasting reason for the continuance of the OMB is for you, the fans. I just wish that there was more sensible discussion.”

The insatiable appetite for all things Bradford City

All of which is fair comment and does show an understanding of the modern world and the challenges football clubs face in engaging their own fans.

Football support simply doesn’t begin and end on a Saturday afternoon when the team are in action. For most of us, the only thing preventing every one of the week’s 168 hours including thoughts about City is the need to sleep. From the minute we wake to the moment we go to bed, football and Bradford City is commonly on our minds and a topic of conversation. You just don’t switch off.

The world wide web offers numerous ways of feeding that habit. News websites like the Telegraph & Argus, BBC and City’s own provide updates on what’s happening at the club; the likes of BfB and other fans sites offer comment and in-depth analysis; while Facebook, Twitter and message boards enable greater interaction.

This interaction wouldn’t be stopped by removing the OMB – users would simply congregate elsewhere. So, as Owen states, the club acts as a willing host for sharing views, gossip and to debate – while at the same time having an invaluable way of tapping into the mood of fans and then responding to queries. Yet apart from appointing a handful of moderators, City have no control over the manner and tone users adopt to express themselves.

The appeal of the OMB

The OMB is not the only such place City fans can interact with each other in this manner – with the Claret and Banter website and the truly dreadful Telegraph & Argus message boards, which upset even the paper’s employees – yet it is clearly the most popular. Between midnight at the end of Tuesday and 5pm Wednesday, no less than 46 different topic threads had been commented on. There are 7,646 registered users, with many having posted comments thousands of times.

One such regular user is Steve Dresser – known as ‘Robert Robertson’. He kindly talked to BfB about the appeal of the OMB.

“We’ve had plenty of good things on the OMB; there is a FIFA league, Burns Unit bets and the like and a few of the lads know each other offline,” explained Steve. “The moderation is better now but still needs perfecting, there is a need for any libel to disappear overnight but some of the threads that were negative were deleted without explanation which riles users even more.

“Where there is a large group of people, a cloak of anonymity you will get idiots. Look at Tesco’s Facebook page, the place is full of idiots asking ridiculous questions but they get a polite answer or just batted off, you get that anywhere and football fans (some of us) are hardly known for being brains of Britain.

“You can’t police debate and it’s difficult to keep that on track, some people are blatantly unable to have a debate, recent criticism of Hanson was met with a comment to me that ‘you couldn’t do any better’. I mean where do you start with that? I doubt I could but the whole point of the argument was that we were trying to ascertain whether our striker was doing his bit.

“Whilst I’ve been a bit critical of Lawn, you can’t doubt his heart is in the right place and he’s a big fan of the OMB which is a reason we still see it today. It’s all about what they want from it, intellectual debate? There are pockets of it and overall you start to know who is worth listening to.

“I think criticism is a good thing, some are too sensitive but if we all want ego massaging then it won’t happen – I’d like to think the club were big enough to listen to areas of concern and not just dismiss it as ‘moaning’ or ‘negativity’ as it’s very easy to do so.

“It’s a lot better since we were moderated as libel and needless abuse now is dealt with and users banned who cause trouble – but it a very fine line between encouraging and facilitating debate and policing opinions.”

That said Steve believes that recent events show City could be much more proactive in using the OMB to engage with fans. “The Jackson story caught us all by surprise and there are bound to be conspiracy allegations and yet again the absence of a satisfactory statement to actually explain what went on meant the rumours gathered pace – another PR disaster by the club,” he argued. “Seemingly any PR foul up is the blame of the OMB rather than the club.”

“There’s a definite gap in communication since Jon Pollard (former club secretary) left; he always needed some help moderating but we don’t have ‘ask the club’ or indeed anyone providing an official line, just the moderators who are only fans themselves and can’t answer intricate questions about ticketing or whatever, more and more companies are becoming switched on to social media and City are missing out big style. Often rumours and the like could be nipped in the bud with an official line or a sticky post at the top regarding issues, but they miss that opportunity.”

The other side of the coin

If a message board is like going to a pub, the OMB can often seem to be like a decaying back street boozer with a loyal but seemingly declining clientele, glaring unwelcomingly at outsiders and angrily fighting each other. There is appeal to the OMB and I like a good read of it myself, but the gloomy negative outlook and way some people can dominate the conversation means numerous other City fans detest and have long since given up on it.

BfB spoke to a handful of supporters who don’t use the OMB, in order to understand what puts them off. Steve Baker declared, “I get nothing out of it. It serves no purpose whatsoever other than adding ridiculous rumours and commenting negatively on the players and whole club structure. I used to use it as thought it would give me an inside track as to whats going on at City but it does nothing of the sort.”

Leon Carroll added, “I find it to be everything I dislike about modern football, second only to the ‘comments’ on the T&A website. I rarely go on it other than when I wanted to find news about new kits each summer. Everything else is coloured by opinions I don’t care to read. It always feels very immature and I feel a bit old when I’m on there – I’ve never registered.”

Frank Wood concluded, “I no longer use it because I find it difficult to sign onto; find the layout and navigation slow and unhelpful; am fed up of some regular users slagging off players and management; and find it something of a closed shop, with newcomers not made particularly welcome.”

Such negative viewpoints represent a challenge of sorts to the club. If they want to maintain an environment where fans are encouraged to share their views so the Board can view opinions, what can they do to attract the people who refuse to go near it? Without them they are lacking the full picture of fans views which – if decisions are based upon – can lead to even more frustration.

In Stuart McCall’s final days as manager, for example, the OMB was awash with comments for him to go. Yet once he quit a sizeable angry backlash from other supporters was visible elsewhere whose views had never appeared on the OMB. Every fan has an equal right to have their view heard by the club, but right now a sizeable proportion do not feel welcomed in doing so.

Removing the anonymity?

The problems with the OMB are numerous, but perhaps all stem from the negative outlook that prevails on it. The level of usage is much lower when City win compared to when they lose, meaning a balanced picture of fans views is impossible to gauge. The user name approach – rather than using real names – provides users a mask to hide behind when attacking the Board, management and players. As Owen says, if different users disagree a constructive debate rarely occurs – instead it’s typically throwing insults and name calling back and forth.

Steve Dresser, however, disagrees that removing user names would make any difference. “Why the constant obsession with putting names to post?” he queried. “Should we expect the illumini coated gestapo to arrive at your seat to escort you to the lair on a matchday if you did tell them? I don’t see what knowing people’s names achieves, what does it matter?

“Surely if something is being said is worth a debate then whoever posted it has achieved their aim. Their name doesn’t come into it.”

“If they want to go down that route and add to the moderation (which was implemented haphazardly) and ironically saw us lose some of the really good balanced posters we had due to the tactics employed. Then they should do what a popular forum does and ask for work/uni/college email addresses if they want to police it properly – but is it down to policing or rather – a bit of mind control and shutting up those asking difficult questions?”

What next for the OMB?

If the club values the OMB as much as Owen claims, one hopes they are considering how they can make it more appealing to more fans without alienating those who currently enjoy using it. If they are fed up of users personally attacking them and spouting claims without facts, they need to find a way of enforcing greater responsibility (getting rid of user names is an obvious first step). Criticism towards the club and its employees can be healthy and shouldn’t be prevented, but there are much more constructive and inviting ways it could be expressed.

It is laudable the Board wants to continue offering fans this platform to engage with others about Bradford City away from matches. But right now too many people feel negatively towards it – at times this includes the club itself – and efforts surely need to be taken towards addressing the issues in order for the OMB to be more widely viewed as welcoming and worthwhile.

With special thanks to Roger Owen, Steve Dresser, Steve Baker, Leon Carroll and Frank Wood.

The Skipton Bantams

Life, they say, is full of ups and downs. For Bantams fans it’s been a long series of downs ever since “that” David Weatherall goal and that has perhaps been reflected in the support for the team.

But news of the projected re-formation of one once strong organisation might just offer a glimpse of comfort for those looking for evidence that the bottom of the cycle has been reached and the only way is – as Tony Blair and a group called Yazz and The Plastic Population used to say – up.

Ten years ago a Skipton-based Bradford City Supporters Club had more than 100 members – not bad in an area traditionally inhabited by Burnley and Leeds supporters. But somehow the club folded as the two key movers behind the group fell out with the board and, for whatever reason, decided that they should transfer their allegiance to Morecambe. Curious you might think, but, hey, there’s no accounting for taste.

With disappointment at the club’s decline giving way to despair, there was little enthusiasm to pick up the reins in Skipton – until now. Two Bantams fans have decided to attempt to recreate those heady days when guest speakers such as Stuart McGod, Lee Mills, Geoffrey Richmond and Jim Jeffries would attend a packed pub in the town and spread the gospel.

The two men behind the scheme are Chris Harbron, a former mayor of the town, and the retired ex-editor of the local rag (who introduced Bradford City reports into its sports pages).

“You still see lots of City shirts on the streets. Those Bantams fans did not just disappear so we’re trying to rekindle the interest,” said Ian Lockwood, the ex-journo. He’s not what you could call a lifelong City fan. “I was a York rugby league fan but my young son started getting interested in football. The dreaded words ‘Manchester United’ were heard so I decided to take him to watch a game of ‘real’ football,” he said. “Skipton is almost exactly the same distance from Elland Road, Valley Parade and Turf Moor. Of course Elland Road was like wanting to go to Mordor with all the other orcs and Burnley were away that Saturday so we tootled off to City. They lost 4-0 to Wycombe but they were now ‘our’ team.”

Their first meeting is in the Narrow Boat pub in Skipton at 8pm on Tuesday August 23. It’s a regular winner of the Keighley and Craven CAMRA Pub of the Season award so that’s a good start.

The first meeting is to gauge interest, form a committee and see what members want to do.

“We’ll follow what people want to do. We could sponsor a player, get speakers in but we need to decide some basic questions like how often do we meet and do we charge a membership fee,” said Lockwood. There are no plans to organise coaches to matches but that may well change if City reach the play-off finals (you have to be optimistic).

So far the well-established Shipley Bantams club has been offering advice and the club has been approached about providing a speaker for future meetings.

For further information, email skiptonbantams@gmail.com or turn up on the 23rd. If you can’t make it, an expression of interest would be valuable to see whether or not Skipton has fallen out of love with the Bantams

A victorious night for Bradford City in all but result

The Team

Oscar Jannson | Liam Moore, Steve Williams, Guy Branston, Robbie Threlfall | Mark Stewart, David Syers, Chris Mitchell, Michael Flynn, Jack Crompton | James Hanson | Ritchie Jones, Nialle Rodney, Ross Hannah

With five minutes to go in this 1st Round League Cup tie, all seemed as it usually is whenever this derby fixture takes place. Leeds United were winning, thanks to a slightly fortuitous goal, and looking very comfortable in holding on, as their fans chanted about hating Man United to prove their indifference to us. Bradford City’s players were still giving their all but looking beaten, while we vociferous away fans were beginning to quieten and face up to defeat.

Yet for 70 game minutes and a memorable half time interval this evening, it seemed as though the world of West Yorkshire football was experiencing an almighty earthquake in its status quo; and that, even when the after shocks would have died down, things would have never quite be the same again.

This was an extraordinary night for City. Up against their more illustrious neighbours who sit two divisions above, they twice roared into a lead to threaten a cup upset in front of 17,000 supporters and a national TV audience. Up until Ramon Nunuez fired home a Leeds winner with 15 minutes to play, it would be difficult for anyone to dispute that the Bantams had been the better side. After such a dismal showing against Aldershot last Saturday, the best we could realistically have hoped for in this game was a respectable performance in defeat. We got so much more from the players, which overshadowed the pain of another Leeds defeat.

It was evening that will not be quickly forgotten. When Mark Stewart darted into Leeds’ penalty area and past three defenders 31 minutes into the tie, years of disappointment left you glumly expecting his cut back to fall just out of reach for the onrushing Jack Compton and so be cleared. Yet Compton got their first, lifting the ball effortlessly into the back of the net in front of the Leeds Kop – thus sparking delirium.

For a second we froze, not quite daring to believe it had happened. And then, unreserved jubilation; cheering at the top of your voice and lots and lots of jumping up and down while hugging anyone and everyone.

The feeling of happiness was overpowering – we are leading Leeds United at Elland Road. And no matter what was to happen for the rest of the evening, we’d just enjoyed unadulterated pleasure that no one could take away from us. This may not be on a level with promotion or Liverpool in 2000, but it was genuinely one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve ever experienced following City.

And incredibly we got to do it again. Leeds had woken from their inexplicable first half slumber with an equaliser a minute into the second half; but rather than implode City just continued to play with astonishing self-assurance and guile. Michael Flynn was picked out by the outstanding Robbie Threlfall, before charging into the box and striking the ball powerfully into the top corner. This time it was right in front of us, but still the one-second pause to make sure our eyes aren’t fooling us was required. The celebrations seemed even more manic, and when I began to regain self-awareness of where I was I realised my non-stop hugging and dancing with strangers had left me half way down the gangway and a few rows from my seat.

That City went onto lose the game in many ways didn’t really matter. We’d given Leeds United an almighty scare. We’d experienced two unforgettable moments of sheer ecstasy. We’d played with so much courage and commitment that our prospects in League Two this season now seem so much healthier.

Sure, actually winning the game would have topped it all off empathically. But what a bloody amazing night.

A night where it was impossible not to feel a huge surge of pride in being a Bradford City supporter. 4,100 of us ventured into Elland Road, and the passion and energy put into backing the team through constant chanting and cheering is what the football supporting brochure advertises but rarely delivers. The atmosphere was electric, and – it must be noted – so much more enjoyable than our last meeting with Leeds three years ago.

On that occasion, there seemed to be a greater sense of entitlement that we should be capable of beating Leeds, which led to the usual moaning about players and positive backing evaporating when an early goal was conceded. As for the chanting in that game, so much of it was about expressing our hatred of Leeds that it felt more a sideshow than genuinely fun.

Anti-Leeds chants were aired at times tonight, but overall the choice of songs was all about our love for Bradford City and in support of our players. The volume and regularity of the chanting was outstanding, and all around me at least it seemed no one was unwilling to join in stretching their lungs. Much more productive than wasting our energy moaning and booing.

The response from the players told its own story. Lining up in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation that saw Stewart moved to the right flank and Chris Mitchell allowed to play in a more natural central role, the Bantams took the game to Leeds in a display carrying genuine attacking threat that, for the first 20 minutes, saw all the chances occur at one end. Flynn and Stewart fired in a couple of shots each which flew wide of the target, while David Syers continued where he left off on Saturday in linking up the midfield and attack with intelligent running and passing.

At the back Steve Williams’ return added a much greater level of assurance, with Guy Branston alongside him producing the kind of committed performance he’s loudly promised to contribute and Liam Moore looking anything but the novice his age and experience suggest he should be. With new keeper Oscar Jansson looking reliable, a solid base worked well in sniffing out a lightweight Leeds attack and helping the team get forward.

Cue Crompton – in much better form tonight – scoring in front of the Kop and the bedlam in the away end. Leeds attacked with more purpose as the half wore on, but at half time the mood of excitement among supporters on the concourse had reached uncontrollable levels – it reminded me of Wolves in 1999. Just 45 minutes to hold on for a result we’ll never forget.

Sadly the dream was punctured by Nunez producing a curling shot that flew into the net a minute into the second half. But when Crompton fired narrowly wide two minutes later and then Syers robbed the ball from Paul Connelly and raced into the box, shooting just past the post, it was clear this City team is made of sterner stuff than others who have worn claret and amber in recent years. James Hanson was a constant menace all night, and his clever off the ball running helped Flynn find the space to make it 2-1 on 57 minutes. The dream was back on.

Perhaps if referee Colin Webster had awarded a penalty when Hanson seemed to be tripped in the box by Patrick Kisnorbo it would have been game over. Perhaps if David Syers hadn’t collided badly with Andrew Lonergan – causing Peter Jackson to have to replace him with Ritchie Jones – City would have remained more solid. As it was, Ross McCormack headed home a second equaliser on 70 minutes when he was left unmarked in the box. Five minutes later, a loose ball took a deflection off Branston, presenting Nunez with a tap in for 3-2. 15 minutes to play, but it felt like game over.

Leeds finally took control and could easily have scored a couple more, but that would have been harsh on a City side who kept fighting but struggled to rediscover their earlier dominance. Nialle Rodney and Ross Hannah were brought on, but neither really got into the game. Deep into five minutes of stoppage time, a half volley chance for Hannah ended with a tame shot easily saved. The final whistle quickly followed.

No boos from City fans when it did. No significant grumbles about the effort and application. Only warm appreciation and proud cheering as the players came over to applaud back. “Why can’t we perform like that in the league?” is a pertinent challenge that it’s hoped the players will respond to in the right way. But with the disbelief of the half time booing on Saturday still a hot topic, thar challenge is one to also be directed at us supporters.

Tonight everyone connected with the club was united in support of the same cause, and it’s gratifying to note just how much was achieved from it. If we could all replicate such admirable efforts towards the bread and butter stuff, the season will surely prove to be more rewarding. Perhaps, like tonight, the club won’t quite accomplish as much as we’d like this season, but surely we will have more fun along the way.

Our footballing world had returned to sobering normality by the end of this game; yet for 70 game minutes and a memorable half time interval this evening, we proven that we have the collective ability to truly shake things up for the better going forwards.

The expectation levels as Aldershot travel to Valley Parade

So here we go again then. The start of a new season, the recommencement of our weekend moods being dictated by people we have no control over, the beginning of another ten months worth of cheering, anguishing, yelling, swearing and singing in support of our team.

Only this time, more than ever over the last few years, we seem to have little idea what else to expect from a new Bradford City campaign. The last four years have seen lofty expectations of promotion go unfulfilled; and – as a result of so much focus going into this singular aim – the club has often been left much weaker than it was. Although the strategies in place this summer aren’t necessarily perfect, there’s a feeling we are not just entering a new season but beginning a programme of more considered, if slower, building.

Listening to the BBC Radio Leeds fans forum midweek, the buzz phrase appeared to be “quiet revolution” when reflecting on the close season. A new approach to the way we sign players, more resources channelled into the training facilities that are so important in preparing them, and a more subtle build up to the big kick off lacking the usual bluster and hype. Unlike the last few seasons, the prospect of failing to get into League One next May doesn’t feel like such a potential disaster.

That said, tomorrow’s opener against Aldershot is the first real test of this new way of thinking which appears to be widely embraced – from the chairmen to supporters. It’s easy to pretend promotion isn’t the be all and end all when there’s no league table to look at, but another story if and when things aren’t going as well on the field. As supporters we are well versed in finding scapegoats for failure, and without much trouble we can already picture the fall out if this season doesn’t go as well as we hope.

Because let’s face it, every single one of us wants City to get promoted. That doesn’t mean we will be intolerant of once again coming up short, but equally the longer-term philosophy adopted now won’t spare the players from half time boos or manager Peter Jackson from message board demands for his removal. The path ahead is not likely to be smooth, and strong leadership is needed at all levels – the boardroom, the management team, the players and supporters – to retain convictions and to see strategies through.

Jackson has been effectively told he does not have to deliver promotion this year; Archie Christie is not expected to have produced 11 undroppable first team players by May; Ross Hannah will not be judged a failure if he doesn’t score 20 goals. From the outside, the plan is all about careful improvement and – as unappealing as the word is in football – it feels like this will be a transitional season.

Aldershot up first represents a useful barometer of City’s prospects. Beaten in the play off semi finals two years ago, the Shots’ 14th place finish last term was the embodiment of a mid-table team. This will be their fourth campaign back in the Football League, and their previous three have included defeats at Valley Parade. It is a game City will be expected to win, offering the new players in particular a first test for how they perform in front of an easily-irritated crowd.

After last Saturday’s 4-3-3 formation struggled against higher league opposition, a 4-4-2 set up is more likely tomorrow with James Hanson leading the line alongside Mark Stewart. Both have enjoyed promising pre-seasons where they have linked up well, and though it is too early to make rash proclamations there is a Lee Mills-Robbie Blake feel to the way they partner up.  Nialle Rodney is probably third choice striker and – with the Football League returning to five subs instead of seven – Hannah may start the season on the sidelines.

In midfield one of pre-season’s more fascinating subplots was the rehabilitation of Michael Flynn. Appearing alongside Robbie Threlfall and Luke Oliver in a Bradford City XI at Silsden a month ago, the Telegraph & Argus speculated that it could be the end for his time at City. That evening he was heads and shoulders the best player on the park, and his subsequent performances have seemingly changed Jackson’s mind about him. Now it seems a matter of who partners him in the centre.

David Syers will probably get the nod initially, depending on where Chris Mitchell is deployed. On the flanks Jack Compton should make a debut on the left and the opposite flank will either by occupied by 17-year-old prospect Dominic Rowe or – if Ritchie Jones is fit and starts alongside Flynn – Syers. Nahki Wells is another option, as is Luke O’Brien over Compton if Threlfall is preferred at left back. On Saturday Threlfall told Twitter followers he was staying at City, but Jackson appears to disagree. Scott Brown, who has impressed greatly in pre-season, is not eligible to play for the first team until his 17th birthday in November.

At the back the far-from-shy Guy Branston and Steve Williams should the central places, though the latter is struggling with an injury and may make way for Luke Oliver.  The right and left back slots are a choice between Mitchell/new loan signing Liam Moore and Threlfall/O’Brien respectively. Simon Ramsden is out injured yet again, and Jackson’s downbeat midweek comments about him on BBC Radio Leeds suggest there are doubts over his ability to ever fully regain fitness.

Martin Hansen will start in goal, with Jackson revealing he believes Jon McLaughlin is struggling for confidence and so likely to be on the sidelines for a while. At the moment Liverpool won’t allow Hansen to play in the Carling Cup tie at Leeds on Tuesday, which may mean a third keeper is brought in on loan over McLaughlin.

That will be the usual mixture of new and familiar faces to place our season’s hopes and dreams upon then – though if things go to plan there will hopefully be fewer changes to the squad next summer.

In a season of lowered expectations, perhaps there is one main aim that we can all agree on and which we should all strive to achieve – enjoying ourselves. I love Bradford City so much. Important people in life come and go and there are loved ones who will always mean the world, but apart from that latter group nothing else ever comes close to the passion I feel for the club and the time and energy I put in to following them.

It wasn’t a case of that interest waning, but last season was a hugely depressing and disengaging experience that tested our faith. Losing so often wasn’t nice, but the style of football even when winning was so dismal that attending games felt more of a chore than the usual highlight of the week.

So this season I want to have fun. I want to be part of brilliantly positive atmospheres and non-stop chanting in support of the players. I want to be enthralled by more stylish football and to be on the edge of my seat when City attack. I want to be cheering great goals and going home happy more often, because I’d either seen a great win or a great performance attempting to win.

I want to feel proud to support Bradford City Football Club again. That has nothing to do with winning promotions – glory is usually someone else’s preserve – but it has everything to do with being part of a community that recognises effort and which feels proud of who we are.

I just hope such expectations aren’t too much to ask.

Recent Posts