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 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

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

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.

Why I’m fed up of this player-bashing culture

Like an experienced performer trying to win over a sceptical audience, Peter Jackson seems to appreciate the value of pulling out a crowd pleaser every now and then. And his announcement earlier this week that Bradford City players will next season have to wash their own kit predictably prompted roars of approval from far and wide.

There’s nothing, it seems at the moment, that can prompt wider agreement and glee among Bradford City supporters than the barracking of our useless, under-achieving players.

Talking to the Telegraph & Argus, Jackson played to the gallery with this delightful soundbite: “They have to take more responsibility in themselves and in the club.” Who wouldn’t cheer in agreement at such sentiments? And who, with passionate managers back in vogue following the much-derided impassive style of Peter Taylor, wouldn’t want to hand Jackson the City job for next season?

The T&A has continued that theme this week, somewhat oddly gloating about the fact none of the players (or ‘flops’ as they dubbed them in their headline) available for transfer have yet been the subject of interest from other clubs. Try reading some of the reader comments that appear below the story, if you can stomach it, and feel the vitriol aimed at the players. “I hope most of them end up working in a call centre”, “Would you want any of this shower of sh1te?” and the hilarious “Ive heard the dry cleaners at wibsey are considering signing half of them.” Ouch.

The message is reverberating very loudly: last season’s failings were largely down to the players, collectively they are a disgrace and have brought shame upon the club. “Love the club, hate the team” was sung at Southend just over a month ago, and this sentiment has been continued at subsequent matches, on message boards and via the local media ever since.

But when do we get past this? Don’t get me wrong, I understand the anger and disappointment with the efforts of the players last season. As a group of professionals, they should have delivered a much stronger performance than 18th in League Two. Of the players still contracted to the club – forced to endure this non-stop barracking and taunts from Jackson that “I bet some of them don’t even know how to use a washing machine” – there are a few I’d prefer we got rid of.

Yet unless everyone is miraculously sold, it looks highly likely that the players we continue to bash will be expected to be the cornerstone of next season’s efforts on the pitch. So when do we stop these attacks and start to support them again? And in the long-run, what damage might this climate of hating the team cause?

The washing your own kit idea by Jackson is ultimately pretty silly and as big a gimmick as last season’s talk of Taylor demanding the players wore suits before the match. As Mark Lawn told this site in January, Blackpool players currently wash their own kit. But the implication that Blackpool’s over-performance of the past two seasons is down to their players knowing how to use a washing machine, rather than their abilities and collective team spirit, not to mention the inspirational management of Ian Holloway, makes little sense. Tomorrow Blackpool’s players take their self-washed kits to Old Trafford for the biggest game of their lives, and perhaps their focus will have been better served solely on achieving an improbable victory rather than the additional worry of getting rid of stubborn grass stains.

Back at City though, one is left to query whether the washing own kit punishment is fitting to everyone who will be asked to perform it. Does David Syers deserve to have to wash his own kit? What about Luke O’Brien or other youngsters on the verge of the first team? How about potential summer targets, will they be keen to choose City over other suitors if they hear of a culture where under-performance is rewarded by petty punishments? What has Ross Hannah done to deserve being penalised for other people’s failings?

Personally I don’t think having to wash your own kit will make much difference to the players’ efforts in the same way looking smart before the match had no bearing on the league table last season, but the thinking and reasoning behind it does concern me. Football supporters up and down the country seem keen to treat players like school children, getting upset if they go drinking five days before a match or demanding they are punished with extra training or a placing on the transfer list for poor performance. I don’t know about you, but being treated in this way wouldn’t motivate me to do better.

Instead of building and maintaining a culture of fear of retribution, shouldn’t we try looking at how we can encourage players to perform better in a more positive manner? What is stopping players with proven track records from displaying their ability when they cross the white line at Valley Parade? How can we build their confidence and belief? Instead of wailing about how disgraceful they are when they make mistakes, how can we work as one to achieve our aspirations?

Everyone knows there is a booing culture at Valley Parade. And that fear of failure, that mindset of punishing mistakes – by booing them on Saturday or demanding they wash their own kit during the week – seems to lead to the same result. Players hide away from taking responsibility, hide away from attempting the more difficult things, hide away from the risk of falling into the firing line.

The infamous backpass by Tommy Doherty against Port Vale in September sums up much of the past decade. His team mates were looking to him to take on too much responsibility – he shouldn’t have been passed the ball in such a dangerous area in the first place – and when he made that mistake we booed him. Forget how the Doc felt that day, what were his team mates supposed to think?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Look at Accrington Stanley. Anyone who was there for our 3-0 defeat last month can’t fail to have been impressed by their attractive style of football, and also how the supporters backed them positively throughout. On a number of occasions their passing moves broke down through individual mistakes, or the build up approach seemed very slow. None of the Accrington fans booed mistakes, or screamed “forward” impatiently like we do at Valley Parade. The league table shows what a difference it can make, so why can’t we be more like that?

Above all else, I hope this player bashing culture ends sooner than later. I don’t support Bradford City so I can flaunt my outrage over how players can have the contempt to fail to achieve my expectations. I go to cheer on a group of players who may not be the best in the world but who are our own, playing and trying to succeed for my club. Sure we have duffers and languorous players every now and then, but in general I don’t enjoy hating people and I don’t view the fact I pay good money to cheer on my team as a right to bawl at them if they let me down.

So let’s get behind Jon McLaughlin, Simon Ramsden, Luke O’Brien, Michael Flynn, Luke Oliver, Jake Speight, Steve Williams, Leon Osborne, Lewis Hunt, James Hanson, Luke Dean, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threfall, Syers and Hannah. If they all remain the nucleus of our squad next season, it’s time to stop punishing them for past failures and work with them to put right past wrongs. We all have a role to play in making that happen, instead of keeping up this sulking viewpoint that we have been wronged.

And if these players ever read this, I just about know how to operate a washing machine. So give us a shout if you need a hand.

The 2010/11 season reviewed: part two, off the pitch

If there was one chant that must have been music to the ears of Bradford City chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes it will have been the chimes at Southend that rang “Love the club, hate the team.

The team which failed on the field were cast as no hopers who could not care less and the manager who brought them to the club maligned. Regardless of your feelings about both players and manager(s) those in the boardroom must have thought it was just a matter of time until the Valley Parade ire would be turned in their direction.

And, dear reader, you will have your own thoughts on how justified that ire would be.

The season started off with Bradford City’s directors proudly backing Peter Taylor as the new manager although later Mark Lawn would tell us that he had reservations about the appointment having watched Taylor’s style of play. Nevertheless City – according to the directors one of whom had reportedly fallen out with former boss Stuart McCall – had the right manager in place and promotion was on the way.

Mike Harrison of The City Gent disagreed and felt the wrath of Valley Parade being unceremoniously called into the club to explain his prediction of eighth. Come the end of the season the “ludicrously optimistic” jokes wrote themselves but one could share a worry for the Bantams directors had they not handled the situation so poorly. Feedback loops at football clubs and Bradford City have been in a negative loop all season. Taylor’s arrival was an attempt to change that with the hope that positive thinking off the field would be manifest on it. That change of culture – from negative to positive – is important but the way to achieve it is more a matter of winning hearts and minds than applying the strong arm.

The club’s confidence stemmed from Peter Taylor’s appointment and from the traits which Taylor brought which were lacking in the previous manager. One could argue past the return of bovinity about the merits and methods of both but Taylor had been involved in success and knew what that success looked like. When he told the club that the team needed overnight stays, new suits and Tommy Doherty then the directors put hands into pockets and found the money for them, or so it was said.

Doing, and having to do

Savings were made at Valley Parade: A burst pipe fixed here, a new lighting system there; but most impressively Mark Lawn announced that – with some sadness – City were relocating to training facilities in Leeds with Apperley Bridge no longer considered suitable. The day before pre-season and suddenly Apperley Bridge was fine, the training facilities Taylor demanded to join the club were not forthcoming and the mood for the season was set. After the cameo of Lee Hendrie he and his uncle John were at a supporters evening chaired by Lawn who made it clear that despite the urgent need of the summer to replace the facilities they must now be considered good enough. He told BfB that they had to be, because there was no money to change them.

Taylor, in the meantime, had started using the relaid Valley Parade pitch to train on and credit to all that it withstood a bad winter better than many other surfaces. The trapping of success include a good surface and on that City have progressed this year. The supporters – underwhelmed probably – respected it enough to stay off it after the final game of the season.

The winter of bad weather also saw a season ticket promotion which prompted calls of amateurism from the club on the one hand and on the other asked questions about the strategic direction of the club. There is a worry that the club create direction and policy on the hoof and looking at a “cheap and cheerful” promotion which prompted a response of being “cheap and nasty” those thoughts seemed to be confirmed. It was not just the cackhandedness of the advertisement but its inability to communicate the message that City’s season tickets were superb value, a message which was lost in the infamous Santa Dave advert.

All of which led to a comment in The City Gent and threats passing from club to fanzine. Legal action was mentioned and once again the club was at loggerheads with supporters. One has to wonder if – on reflection over the season – these fall outs between the directors and the supporters which increasingly crop up should be approached differently. Mark Lawn’s car is vandalised and he talks about winding the club up. Mike Harrison talks out of turn and there are threats. The City Gent’s John Armitage criticises and there is talk of legal action.

Perhaps it is time to look at a new approach?

2004, and all that

Administration looms large over the summer and it will be said that this is not the time to talk about anything except securing the future of the club but those who battled to put the club in the hands of Julian Rhodes in 2004 for Mark Lawn to join him in 2007 will recall only too well the talk of how supporter would be at the heart of the new Bradford City. The club saved by the fans would not forget the fans. If 2010/2011 tells us anything it is that the supporters of Bradford City are to toe the line.

I speak as someone who has sat with Mark Lawn this season. He is not an unreasonable man and in talking to him one cannot help but be sympathetic to a man who clearly loves the club, clearly is trying his best, and clearly is crying out for assistance. Jason and I heard him talk about how the supporters interact with the club. How the OMB is used in anonymity and how a “Friends of Bradford City” scheme could be used to raise much needed funds and while these things are true the tone of the conversation stands as a stark contrast to 2004’s rhetoric. The club that was saved by the fans putting in a six figure sum is now telling them what to think, or so it might seem.

Lawn cuts an isolated figure at times. He admits to his blustering style but one wonders if it belays a worry that his aims for the club will never be realised. He is at great pains to paint out that his door is always open but one wonders if an open door is enough. Bradford City as a club pledged itself in 2004 to be more about the supporters. Perhaps Lawn and his fellow directors need to engage with supporters in a more active way. Show me a hundred Bradford City fan and I’ll show you a hundred skilled people across many fields. The only time these people ever get asked for help is when there is snow to be cleared from the field on a winter afternoon.

Indications from the club are that there are developments on this and it will be interesting how much the club are prepared to let go in the interests of supporter involvement. The benefits of supporter involvement are all in engagement. At the moment Bradford City is a product consumed by supporters – and in that context the customer complaints procedure is pretty bad – and how long any club should carry on in that way is debatable. In 2004 this was going to be our Bradford City. That spirit needs revisiting especially as we once again skirt the waters of administration if only because the loss of it has contributed to rendering the club in the position it now finds itself in.

Should this not all wait until after Administration?

There seems little doubt that Bradford City are in for a torrid summer and one might think that talk about learning the lessons form 2010/2011 off the field can wait until we know for sure that there will be a 2011/2012. Were you to think that, dear reader, you may be correct.

However our experience after 2004 tells us that things said in the heat of a troubled summer fade in the winters of a season and many of the problems the club finds itself in can be put down to the distance that emerged between supporters and City in the last ten years.

The atmosphere at Valley Parade is atrocious but with supporters set firmly is customers rather than invested parties there is little invitation to do much more than pay up and turn up, little reason for many to treat professional football as a thing they are invested in.

In addition the boardroom is out of touch with supporters. For sure there is a note of websites such as this one, of the Official Message Board, of The T&A comments section, of The City Gent but these are the publication of enthusiasts not the word of the man on the Clayton Omnibus. Small samples taken as representative have informed decisions made with the club.

Geoffrey Richmond would not take a meeting with any supporter’s organisation which numbered fewer than 4,000 members but – in a very real way – handfuls of people on the Internet are setting an agenda which the club respond to and those people are not necessarily representative of the general view of supporters and it is that general view of the people who tossed tenners into buckets in 2004 which the club losing sight of.

Moreover though as the club struggles to survive once more the need for vigilance in the boardroom could not be more clear. Supporters are a constant for the club which is under threat from a boom or bust policy which targets promotion. The spirit of 2004 suggested that involvement from supporters would create guardians for the club within the boardroom to prevent us from reaching this situation again.

Yet here we are.

The lesson of 2010/2011 off the field is a correlation between the deterioration of the relationship between Bradford City’s boardroom and Bradford City’s supporters

United 3 Disunited 0

Viewed through the singular picture of the four league meetings at the Crown Ground between the two clubs since 2007, the rise of Accrington and the demise of Bradford City could not be more evident.

After the Bantams outplayed their hosts in January 2008 to triumph 2-0 and were lucky to grab a memorable 3-2 win in October the next season, Stanley achieved a deserved 2-0 victory in February 2010 and today completely outplayed their West Yorkshire counterparts in delivering a 3-0 scoreline that flattered only the visitors. Most worrying of all is how much further in opposite directions the clubs may yet go: could we end this season two divisions apart?

Towards Accrington there can only be warm appreciation and envy for what they are on the brink of achieving. That cute little club we defeated 2-0 some 39 months ago has slowly grown and grown; moving up 5th place today after crushing the Bantams. They could even yet seal automatic promotion; an incredible achievement for a club which pulls in the second-lowest average attendances in the division.

But then, from the outside, Accrington appears to be so united. As the players walked out onto the field at kick off, the hardcore Stanley Ultra supporters behind the goal unfurled homemade banners with the word ‘Believe’. They provided a passionate level of backing towards their players during the subsequent 90 minutes which – in volume and originality – defied their lowly numbers. The quality of atmosphere deserves to put 99% of fans of professional football clubs in this country – including us – to shame.

The players, superbly drilled and confident, responded to their fans with an energetic display that City simply couldn’t live with. On a dreadful playing surface, they passed the ball around with an urgency and skill that was a joy to watch. Under John Coleman – who in his 12 years in charge has improved Stanley’s league position every season – they are creative but organised. However the most telling difference between the two sides was the reaction to making mistakes.

Accrington ain’t Brazil, and their attempts to pass the ball around quickly on several occasions ended with the ball flying out of play or going to the wrong man. But not once could you hear groans from home fans – just positive support to get going again. Coasting in the second half, a mistake that allowed Omar Daley to shoot wildly wide saw an argument between two Accrington players spill over into the beginnings of a fight that saw others step in to defuse. They were 3-0 up, for goodness sake.

Such levels of passion and determination were woefully lacking in City. Whatever Stanley have been getting right, the Bantams it seems have been getting it wrong. Peter Jackson paused from walking down the touchline just before kick off to hug and shake the hands of City supporters in the main stand; like a politician canvassing for votes, all to aware of the spotlight upon him. While Coleman builds on at Accrington, City’s last three visits to the Crown Ground have seen a different manager in charge.

Who knows what Jackson’s chances are of getting the City job anymore? Results have become worse than they were under Peter Taylor and, as sympathetic as we can be over how difficult the job is with the players he’s inherited, Jackson must assume some responsibility for six defeats in eight.

Not that his players did much to help him. It took nine minutes for Accrington’s promising start to be rewarded by a goal, with Luke Joyce being allowed to run and curl a superb effort into the far corner. Seven minutes later Andrew Proctor was played through on goal and finished emphatically past Lenny Pidgley. While Accrington fans continued their positive chanting, the City following – easily the lowest in numbers of the four trips to the Crown Ground – was turning on their team.

The Bantams did at least begin to put up some fight and threatened to pull a goal back. First James Hanson prodded a tame effort at home keeper Alex Cisak; then a hard-working Omar Daley went on a jinxing run and saw his cross shot beaten out; next Robbie Threlfall free kick went narrowly over and then, after David Syers’ shot was blocked, Lewis Hunt’s long-range volley was well tipped over by Cisak.

Yet every time Accrington went forward they threatened to overrun a City defence which has been woefully inadequate all season. The third goal came after a long throw in was flicked on by Luke Oliver, and Sean McConville got free of his marker to head the ball into an empty net with Pidgely badly positioned. At least the referee put us out of our misery by blowing for half time shortly after, though the ugly barracking the players received as they filed to the dressing room by the away end was as miserable as anything we’d endured on the field.

Behind the back of our stand, an amateur football match was taking place on a different pitch during the first half and many City fans gave up on watching their team to view this one instead. As amusing as it was for a huge cheer to go up when the team in orange scored – their players raced over in celebration and waved at us – the contrast in the nature of support compared to Accrington fans hardly reflected well on us City supporters, no matter how trying the circumstances. The Accrington Ultras, observing our cheers for another match, chanted “S**t support” and it was difficult to argue.

The second half at least saw the damage restricted in scoreline, though it would be beyond even this writer’s optimistic nature to argue a degree of pride was restored. Lee Bullock came on for the ill Steve Williams; later on Chib Chilaka replaced Hanson but failed to make any impact. Daley’s effort that prompted the two Accrington players to fall out aside, there were no serious attempts on goal from City. Accrington had chances to make it four or even five nil and didn’t let up all afternoon.

We could put this debacle down to players not caring about the club. We can bemoan the manager as not being good enough. We can take solace in the fact many of these underachieving professionals won’t be at the club much longer. But in many ways this is failing to grasp hold of the problem and will most likely lead to repeats of these failures.

Sure some of the players were found wanting in their effort levels today, but not all of them. And the fear is that we didn’t just lose 3-0 because our players didn’t match Accrington for effort, but that we lost 3-0 because the ability of our players is that far behind.

Barnet’s surprise win over Gillingham is troubling, and for City the priority is to get that one more victory from the last three games needed to ensure survival. But after the dust settles and thoughts turn to next season it would be nonsense – even before we contemplate potential point deductions – to expect a promotion push.

This club is so far behind where we think we should be, and there will be no quick fixes. Right now it seems there are too many divides between the Board/Management/Players/Supporters and somehow we need to truly pull together and rebuild ourselves into a united club we can be proud of.

Someone like Accrington. Walking back to the car, my friend wearing a City shirt, we received non-stop taunts of 3-0 from young kids, while their parents talked excitedly about the play offs. Meanwhile The Accrington Ultras were still in full voice, marching out the home end playing the drum and chanting about their love for Stanley.

It all looked like a lot of fun. Perhaps one day we can fall back in love with our club too.

Relatively miserable

Like the bad guy or monster in a film who you think has finally been defeated, only to keep reappearing and causing further havoc – Bradford City’s relegation prospects have become a recurring nightmare in recent weeks. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water and be consoled by mid-table mediocrity, it has been back to looking over the shoulder.

So as a confident Burton Albion raced into a lead on Tuesday which, in truth, they rarely looked like surrendering until Jake Speight popped up to equalise with 15 minutes to go, I – and no doubt thousands of others inside Valley Parade – was gripped by fear and pessimism about the immediate future.

Just like after we lost at home to Chesterfield, trailed 2-1 to a nine-man Stockport and were defeated 2-1 at Stevenage; I was fearful that this relegation threat – as daft as it seemed at other times – was very real. And with the club making loud noises about its long-term future being uncertain, the additional problem of a demotion to non-league could be terminal. Well-placed sources claim City’s Board has approached the Football League for their views on the ‘doomsday’ scenario of the Bantams entering administration and moving to Odsal. The League is said to relatively sympathetic, but the experiences of Chester and Boston suggest Conference officials may not be so helpful if City were to drop out of the Football League and go into administration.

Such dark thoughts occupied my mind as, in front of me, on the pitch, City’s players struggled to find the desire – not to mention the guile – to cancel out Burton’s lead. And as the atmosphere inside Valley Parade simmered backwards and forwards between discontent and positive support, I feared not just that we were in a losing battle to stay up but witnessing the third to last match ever at our 108-year home, before we start again next season supporting some AFC Bradford City on a Sunday league pitch.

Then Speight scored, and joy quickly turned to relief that things might not turn out so bad after all. And as the cheering subsided and we roared City onwards towards an unlikely – and what would have been undeserved – victory, a chant of “We are staying up” bellowed out the Bradford End. And I half-joined in, feeling much better about everything.

And then someone near me got angry, and I felt a bit stupid and very frustrated before wondering what’s the point.

The angry person was upset at the Bradford End chant, and it triggered him into a sarcastic rant about how pathetic it is that people are pleased over such a small achievement that City should now be able to survive the drop. His point had some validity; we began this season with credible hopes of achieving so much more and, as a club, we largely still believe ourselves too important for our surroundings. But still the timing of his outburst – firmly puncturing the mood of those around him just as we had something to celebrate – revealed a side to football supporting that I struggle to understand.

Unhappy that we can now be happier, because it’s not good enough to be thankful of avoiding the worst. Nothing can change how disappointing this season has been – and a huge inquest needs to take place when the dust finally settles – but limiting the damage at least should allow us to break into the briefest of smiles.

But that negative attitude has become such a widespread fabric of supporting Bradford City. 10 years ago, a Premier League club getting booed off for playing poorly against Southampton. Ever since it’s has been a downwards spiral of ever-lowering standards.

Under-performing players who in the end have to be ditched to save money. That weaker financial position leads to weaker replacements who become equally unloved, who are then swapped with even more inferior players. It has gone on and on like this. Performances always seemingly getting worse – from the disgrace of losing to Southampton in the Premier League to getting thrashed 3-0 at home to Torquay in League Two. Even the wins are tempered by the fact they generally came against teams we were recently much higher above.

It’s been on heck of a bumpy, uncomfortable fall. This past decade.

Aside from an almost year-on-year decline in league position, it’s the lack of good times and moments widely savoured along the way which illustrate how low the enjoyment factor has been allowed to fall. And this circle of decline means that even players who deserve some recognition for their efforts in claret and amber have largely been quickly forgotten or are widely derided.

Imagine you were asked to draw up a six-player shortlist – PFA-style – of the best City players over the past decade, in terms of their impact over at least one season. We’d all struggle to compile such a list, and even then widely disagree. (For what it’s worth, my personal top six from this decade of despair would be Mark Bower, Dean Furman, Stuart McCall, Donovan Ricketts, David Wetherall and Dean Windass – bet you disagree with at least two if not more of my choices). Top six team performances of the past decade? Top six moments? Not a great deal of choice to go for, is there?

But the upshot of all of this is that the pressure of continued failure and lowering expectations lies heavily on these inferior players of the present. This current team isn’t capable of much, other than preserving our league status. That might not be good enough, but one has to wonder whether the blame of failing to realise expectations beyond what the players are collectively – and individually – capable of should be fully piled onto their shoulders?

For 90 minutes on Tuesday, many received non-stop abuse for their failings. It ain’t Gareth Evans fault we’re in League Two, forced to recruit players like Gareth Evans.

Above all else, I guess I wish we could act as though we are on the same side as our players more often, instead of this near-constant outrage that they are letting us down. So when we are urging our team to equalise against Burton, but then – when they manage that – instantly turn around and slate them for not being good enough, it seems we are merely trying to inflict as much misery as we can upon ourselves – and. ultimately, it is we who suffer for that.

No one would suggest we get out the open top bus should City stay up this season. But, after staring down the barrel of the non-league gun, we should take some degree of consolation that it probably won’t turn out as badly as it might have.

The bellowing

Everyone has one near them at Valley Parade. No matter where you are in ground you are not more than a blast of the vocal cords away from someone who can really bellow.

Where I park myself in games we have a number of them – I might even be one myself at times – and each of these bellowers have their own bug bear which brings about the bellow. For some it is the shout of handball whenever the kickeater goes near a shoulder, for other’s it is pointing out the failings of the Referee. On Saturday those people were busy.

Also busy on Saturday was one orator who’s chief comments comes on the occasion of a corner kick which is cleared by a defender. As the ball arcs away one hears the pull in of breath and the exhale “You’ve got to beat the first man City!”

Invariably there is a qualification: “losers” is a favourite at the moment, the odd vulgarity too; but never any sense of a sense of why the move had failed. Of why with the entire field to aim at a player would go for the very place where the opposition are standing.

A corner kick has to beat the first man for sure but if that were the only qualification then could one could punt the ball high and happy over a hundred yards and believe one had done good work? A corner has to beat the first man of course, but not the last City man and as the Bard said “there is the rub.” The first man is only on the field to get between he who has the ball and he who would receive it.

Football is easy to play in the stands and even easier to heckle. A corner kick that beats everyone is as useless as one which is cleared by the first defender but considering the first defender takes a position near to the most dangerous attacking player who is being targeted to head the ball in then it is unsurprising that so often does he get to the ball.

Likewise a direct free kick “has to beat the wall” but if – in doing so – it beats the crossbar it is a chance wasted and so the taker tries to aim at a gap over wall and under bar or rather he has to do that if his aim is to score.

If his aim is to avoid the criticism of the attended masses – the bellowing – then he can just hit a nice shot that raises over the wall and – drat! – clears the bar. No one ever got booed for forcing the keeper to scramble across his line, but such a shot is unlikely to go in.

And no one every got booed for putting a corner deep in the box, and when crossing a free kick no one ever got booed for hitting one towards the edge of the box and not into the danger area where the keeper has to gamble on coming and can be beaten to the ball. Trying to whip a ball in with pace that gives the keeper a decision to make risks putting the ball too near the goalie (he can use his hand, so he gets to more things than the strikers) but it also promises more rewards for the forwards than a punt to the edge of the box.

What is a player to do? He has a choice between the safe thing that offers no risk but little reward and the rewarding route which risks drifting a ball over the bar, to the keeper, at the first man and incurs the ire of the bellow.

This conundrum happens all over the field. Does a player take responsibility for the ball or does he pass it on to a team mate? The one keeps him safe from the bellowing but puts his team mate in trouble, the other and he might be the one who is left with football pie all over his face.

When up front does the player make the run behind the defender knowing he will look a fool but trusting his team mate to try find him or does he stay short and in the defender’s pocket knowing that he will not be the odd one out? That someone else will take the blame.

Wingers who drift as wide as they can on to the touchline looking like they present an attacking option but leaving the battle in the middle unjoined, visually separating themselves from their team mates, hiding in sight. Players who do not meet the captain’s eye as he looks for someone to take a penalty. When one player misses there are ten on the field who “would have scored” but they are no more use than the ten thousand in the stands.

This question defines – for me – what one could call “quality” in footballers. Peter Beagrie was one of the best players I’ve ever seen and his answer to these questions is the I Ching of football. “Real bottle is doing the thing on the twelfth time you know to be right, even if it has gone wrong for the last eleven times.”

“Not trying” in football is only rarely seen in the Alen Boskic walking around the pitch as if out for a summer stroll but is more often seen in the player who does not take responsibility for the collective performance. The player who at the end of the game says that the has done little wrong, but one struggles to recall any time when he could have done anything right either. Not trying is not risking looking a fool, not risking the bellowing.

Not everyone can deliver a ball like Beagrie but everyone can follow his lead. Rather than hiding in the game every player can try play the corner which just drifts over the first man’s head and onto our centre forward who nods home or the cross which leave the keeper in no man’s land and sometimes they will look like a fool for doing so, probably more often than not, but they do it because it is the right thing to do.

Rather than than the meaningless ball, the hidden player, the shy free kick. I can forgive a player his inability to do what is difficult but not his unwillingness to try that for fear of exposing himself to ridicule. Give me the player who will try hit the sweet spot than one who does just enough to make sure he never puts his head over the parapet.

I think about the “first man” guy every time we get a corner and how the difference between the corners he bellows at and those he cheers when they are converted is the matter of an inch or two that goes over that first man’s head and drops for the second – and our – man. The difference which invokes an often vitriolic response is an inch or two in a ball hit over thirty yards.

Rather than an inch or two lower than two feet higher and the corner taker slinking away as his team mates chase ball and get the bellowing for not being “in position”. Rather the players look to do what is best, rather than look to not be considered the guilty party.

Throwing the game

Bradford City are almost certain to face FA action after referee Rob Lewis had a missile hurled at him on Saturday following his frankly rubbish performance in the game against Northampton Town.

The missile at Lewis comes in the days after City were told that they had to address the issue with things being chucked from the stands. The club have tried and been unsuccessful in stopping the problem which has occurred far too often.

Not that one would criticise the club’s endeavours in this area. They are proactive in trying to stop the missile issue offering an anonymous text line to report offenders but targeted one person in ten thousand is always going to be difficult.

The club need the help of supporters to condemn the action and tell the perpetrators that what they are doing in unacceptable. I’d sign BfB’s name up to that piece of paper without hesitation. All the criticism of Referees that supporters make is invalidated when someone lobs something at the man in black.

Rob Lewis’ display should have been the stuff of investigations – questions like “what did you book Kevin Ellison for?” should have been asked – but instead of that the blame has fallen on the supporters once more, for the misbehaviour of one in our midst.

I have my own issues with the way that Refereeing is approached and believe that those in power do no favours to the work-a-day League Two officials who are at the sharp end of the game. The fact that when Lewis disappears down the tunnel he is out of contact and unquestioned adds to the level of frustration fans feel, but does nothing to justify assaulting him.

In a better world Lewis would post his match report for us all to read and we could find out why Player X was yellow carded while Player Y was not but there is no feedback for the paying customer, no respect from the official side of Refereeing that the supporters deserves to be informed.

The lack of respect though that causes someone to hurl something at a man is a different, and more serious, matter. It is little wonder that the game considers fans as chattel if fans cannot police themselves to the extent that offenders are not outed as displaying behaviour which is considered unacceptable.

I’m in favour of a top to bottom review of Refereeing that includes changing the relationship between official and supporter to give the support a right to know how and why a decision was made.

That cannot happen though when Referees are dodging objects and City fans need to join the club in making it clear that this sort of small minded, small brained, big problem will not be acceptable behaviour for anyone who wants to call themselves a Bradford City supporter.

Club v country as Bradford City and England go head-to-head

Bradford City will not only go toe-to-toe with Shrewsbury Town a week on a Saturday, but the England national team. As the Bantams march out to high ho silver lining at Valley Parade, some 230 miles to the south west England will be lining up for a crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales. No prizes for guessing where the attention of the country’s media will be, but what of City fans?

There are questions to be asked about why City are seemingly happy to allow a home game to take place at the same time as England are in action. But it has been suggested the club had little choice in the matter. Apparently an attempt to switch the game to Sunday was rejected by Shrewsbury because they have a match on the Tuesday; and a compromise to move kick off from 3pm to 1pm on the Saturday fell through because it would have required an overnight stay for the visitors, at City’s expense. So the club will be hoping the lost matchday revenue will be less than the hotel bill would have proved.

Equally they might feel resentful about why England are playing at 3pm on a Saturday at all. Numerous other scheduled fixtures around the country have had to be moved so fans can have the chance to watch both games, and football in this country largely operates on the rule that 3pm Saturday kick offs should never be televised because it will hurt crowds elsewhere. Why would the floating supporter go down and support their local club if there’s a match they can watch from the comfort of their own armchair?

International games might be the exception to the 3pm rule, but it would surely have caused little hardship for England and Wales to have played on Friday night rather than forcing everyone else to change their plans.

So fans are left with a choice next week. To the die-hard supporter it will be an easy one to make – club always comes before country, and Wales is hardly the most exciting of international fixtures. But other fans may find they are tempted to give City a miss – the cheapness of the season tickets means it’s hardly a disaster to not make the odd game – while pay on the day supporters may find the choice between paying £20 for a 4th division game or some pints in the pub to watch England an easy one.

Ultimately I feel sad and cheated. I hate international football normally and couldn’t give a toss about England. And that’s because I was born and lived the first five years of my life in Wales. This is the one fixture I care about seeing, and it’s one I’ve been excitedly talking to friends about and swapping banter since the draw for the Euro 2012 qualifiers was made in February 2010.

But even so, to me it’s a no-brainer what to do. Club comes before country always, and so I’ll be watching City at Valley Parade. Perhaps I’ll take a radio to listen to Wales-England too, perhaps I’ll tape the game and turn my mobile off while at Valley Parade to try and avoid the score (though it’s unlikely you can attend a large public gathering of football fans and manage not to hear someone mention the score, and that’s before we even consider the likelihood of the PA announcer letting it slip).

Still it will be a great shame all round. City lose money, the attendance and atmosphere will be worse and fans will be forced to miss one of two games they’d want to see. Perhaps I won’t be the only one hoping England get well-beaten as punishment for the FA failing to look after the lower and non-leagues yet again.

The feel-good factor as Jackson maintains pole position

As the Bradford City players celebrated a second successive victory at the final whistle, the bumper away following began loudly chanting Peter Jackson’s name and encouraging him to come over. The interim manager duly obliged, theatrically punching the air in triumph which prompted an almighty roar of approval. And someone made a joke about how Jacko must have had a blood transplant – because he no longer seems to bleed blue and white.

This has been one of the most remarkable weeks in my time supporting the Bantams. I was too young – not to mention not interested in football until I reached double figures – to have seen Peter Jackson the Bradford City player. Sure, I was aware and appreciative of his past history and emotional connection with the club; but all I’ve ever known is Jackson the panto villain who we booed and sang horrible songs about when he came to Valley Parade as Huddersfield manager.

We used to hate him; but now he is quickly restoring his hero status after one heck of a first fortnight back at the club.

Before his second win from three games, it had been confirmed Jackson will remain in charge until at least the Shrewsbury home game in two weeks. The bad news for the 40+ applicants that City’s managerial vacancy has attracted is it already seems implausible that anyone but Jackson will be taking residence in the Valley Parade dugout anytime soon. As City’s Board prepare to conduct more interviews, Jackson continues to impress and win over the doubters. Mark Lawn has already stated it is his job to lose.

The victory over Morecambe was achieved without the same level of grandeur witnessed on Tuesday night. And just like Rotherham, the Shrimpers have strong cause to feel aggrieved over a big refereeing decision that went against them. With 13 minutes played and the score 0-0, a mistake by Luke Oliver saw Garry Hunter charge into the area from a wide position only to be halted by a clumsy tackle from a desperate Gareth Evans. It looked a stonewall penalty, but referee Nigel Miller – who had a wretched game – waved the protests away.

A home penalty and goal then would have been undeserved after City began brightly with Michael Flynn (twice) and Oliver came close to scoring in the opening ten minutes. With the outfield line up unchanged, City continued where they’d left off on Tuesday in attacking with a persistence and attractiveness rarely seen all season.

To add some perspective – and not including the Stockport win, given it was against nine men – the number of goal attempts achieved during Jackson’s three games in charge is equal to the total shots City produced in Peter Taylor’s final five matches before Stockport (41). An illustration of the Bantams’ more positive-minded approach, which was rewarded on half an hour when James Hanson headed home the game’s only a goal after a Morecambe clearance hit Evans and looped up into the air.

It felt rough on Morecambe going into the interval. The home side had created plenty of opportunities with their own bright attacking play, which could have seen them take the lead after only 20 seconds when Kevan Hurst rounded Jon McLaughlin but shot wide of an open goal. Other chances were spurned, with Danny Carlton often in the thick of it, as the downside of Jackson’s more attacking approach was revealed with City’s back four left too exposed.

Jon Worthington and Flynn were working hard in the centre; but out wide both Evans and especially Scott Dobie were guilty of failing to track back, allowing home wingers to double up on full backs. Lewis Hunt in particular had a tough time and could justifiably have demanded more support from Dobie, who continues to looks short on commitment. Evans at least improved his defensive efforts after the break.

And though Morecambe battled hard in the second half, like their new stadium – somewhat laughably-named the Globe Arena (yes, I know, it’s a sponsor’s name – but still) – they looked increasingly limited and ordinary as the afternoon wore on. Once Kevin Ellison had replaced Dobie the Bantams looked more in control than ever. Only the fact that it was 1-0 did the closing stages provide hope for Morecambe and nervousness for City.

The visitors could have been out of sight well before then: Evans twice had belting efforts blocked by home keeper Joe Anyon, Hanson fired a volley narrowly wide and then a long range effort narrowly over, and Jake Speight had his customary weak effort at goal. Worthington was again outstanding in the middle, though Flynn worryingly had another poor game. Morecambe’s best chance was wasted when Stewart Drummond headed straight at McLaughlin.

Then deep in stoppage time Ellison barged through into the box only to be tripped, and Miller blew for a spot kick. This prompted somewhat worrying scenes of City players fighting over who took it. Ellison grabbed the ball, only for Speight to try to wrestle it from him. Steve Williams got involved with the arguments – probably as peacemaker rather than to put himself forward. Flynn eventually took the captain’s role of assigning responsibility to designated taker Evans, and then Anyon saved his spot kick. Ellison’s rueful smile told its own story.

But it mattered little as the final whistle was instantly blown, enabling the players and Jackson to celebrate with the 1,500 City fans (almost half the attendance) and for City to rocket up to 17th. Still some work to fully confirm their League Two status – but like Jackson’s chances of a more permanent contract, a massive step in the right direction.

The feel-good factor at full time

The feel-good factor at full time

Smiles everywhere as we filed out; in the final 10 minutes, the non-stop chanting that helped the players climb over the finishing line was memorable and as much of a highlight as Hanson’s goal. Suddenly the feel-good factor is back, and the impact Jackson has made on players and supporters in such a short time is truly extraordinary.

Is he the right man for the City job? I still don’t know, and personally I don’t think we should rush in to any decision. But whatever happens over the next few weeks – after such a dispiriting season – I just want to thank Jackson for restoring my enjoyment of football and my pride in supporting Bradford City.

And I never would have thought that he would be the man to do that.

The sad truth

It goes against how I believe any football manager should be treated – I know they should get, and deserve, far more time than this – and his predecessors have received greater support and commitment from me in similar circumstances.

But I’m afraid I can’t do it this time…

I don’t want Peter Taylor to be our manager anymore.

Two straight defeats have undone the excellent work of beginning the year with back-to-back wins. City have twice climbed to the cusp of the play offs this season, on both occasions after they had beaten Bury 1-0. However a lack of consistency and the hindrance of starting the campaign so badly leaves the team seemingly unable to take that next step and elevate themselves from play off hopefuls to play off contenders. It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year.

And I can live with that, really I can. Years of disappointment mean you have to learn to accept failure or find something else other than Bradford City to care about. So I don’t believe Taylor should leave Valley Parade because he is failing to deliver success in his first full season – in time I think he would get this club promoted, just look at his track record – it’s something deeper than that.

I’m sick and fed up of the horrible style of football we’re enduring under Taylor.

I didn’t go to Oxford, so I’m not in a position to criticise the 13th league defeat of the season. But listening to Derm Tanner and Mike Harrison commentating on the game for Radio Leeds, a feeling of embarrassment and despair grew inside me that I can no longer dismiss. It was obvious that, once again, City possessed no greater ambition than to defend deep and nick a goal. Indeed Taylor’s post-match interview admission that he’d played Omar Daley and Mark Cullen up front so the team could counter-attack – rather than speaking of a more positive game plan – was depressingly familiar. We’ve played this way so often this campaign.

And his approach is unlikely to change. In October and November we saw City playing some excellent football, but when a few close games subsequently went against us the attacking style that had turned around the campaign was reined back again. Entertainment and excitement has been largely lacking all season.

That matters a great deal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I am desperate for my football club to achieve promotion and to escape this division. I want us to climb back up the leagues and, ultimately, re-establish ourselves as a Championship club. I especially want to see City earn a promotion via Wembley and all the excitement that brings. I want to see larger Valley Parade crowds roaring on the team, and for that feeling that we belong in the division we are part of to return – rather than this current unsatisfying state of considering ourselves superior to our league opponents.

But more than anything, I want to enjoy watching City. Supporting Bradford City has never been about glory, and as overdue as some success now is such great moments can’t last forever and the regular week-to-week experience has to be enjoyed not endured.

That’s why I ultimately don’t want Taylor to manage my club – because the style we play and the enjoyment factor is, to me, perhaps more important than the league table.  I’m probably in a minority for thinking this way – football is all about results and, if City were winning most weeks from this style of football, few of us would be complaining. But as I listened to City apparently stick 11 men behind the ball at Oxford and be 11 minutes away from winning, I knew that even if we’d have held out I would not have felt happy about the three points.

I guess I just don’t want it this way.

Taylor can take City to League One in time, heck he can take us to the Championship eventually. But if the journey there is going to feel this underwhelming and tedious, I’d rather we stopped and dug out the map to find a different route. I want to love watching City again, like I have felt for many years even during difficult times. That desire to go to games as often as possible remains for me – starting with Burton home on Saturday, I’ll be attending all five of City’s matches that will take place in that next fortnight – but these days watching the Bantams is more of a routine than an escape. It’s supposed to be the opposite way round.

All of which leaves me feeling and looking a little foolish. For much of the last 11 months I have argued Taylor should have been awarded longer contracts than the club were willing to provide. Yet if they’d have acted on my views, dismissing Taylor now would prove a costlier exercise. All I can say is that the principle of giving managers time to deliver success is, to me, absolutely the right one to uphold. Over the last year the club has focused too much on the short-term and, 13 months on from throwing away the longer-term building work of Stuart McCall, it hasn’t got us any further. It’s time to stop making each season promotion or bust; we have to give the manager – Taylor or whoever – time to get it right.

So if you want Taylor to be sacked because of the current league table, I can’t agree with you. Sure the poor results point to a poor manager, but after a decade of utter failure it should be obvious there are no quick fixes and overnight success was always unlikely to occur. Equally I don’t believe sacking Taylor will improve results and enhance our promotion prospects, it will most likely mean taking a step back initially. It’s just I’d rather take that step back and then move forwards if it means we don’t have to endure football as dismal to watch as it has been for most of this season.

Despite my views, I won’t be leading the cries of ‘Taylor out’. In fact if that chant is aired on Saturday it’s unlikely I’d join in. Match day should be a time for positive support, no matter how difficult that often can be to muster. My personal views are less important than the efforts of the team to win, and I wouldn’t want to undermine that effort for my own selfish reasons.

But unless Taylor returns to the more positive attacking football that we’ve seen in the past – for which he’d quickly receive back my full support , even if results aren’t transformed – I fancy I’ll raise a smile if or when he leaves the club. After so much tedium this season, it will make a rare change.

A disengaging time

Is it simply because of the stop-start schedule of games over the past month, or is it something deeper?

Should Bradford City’s boxing day clash with Chesterfield beat the weather, it will only be the second time in 33 days the players will be in action. The season has been frozen by the late 2010 big freeze, not much is happening and it all feels a bit tedious.

But even when City were able to get on some green grass and beat Hereford a week last Saturday, enjoyment was in short supply. Far from it satisfying an itch, it seemed an occasion to get over and done with. In general the mood among supporters – as measured in many different ways, not least the number of message board postings, next year’s season tickets sold so far (according to the guy serving me when I renewed mine yesterday), and even hits to this site – appears flat. The news coming out of the club in recent weeks generally dull.

It’s all very quiet, it’s all a bit disengaging.

Supporting the Bantams usually comes with a feeling of frustration rather than constant happiness, and there’s no doubt things could certainly be a lot worse than they are right now. Yet still this is the most ordinary season I can remember in a long while. The football has been enthralling on occasions, but mundane more often. We’re not on the edge of our seats as often as we’d like, nor are we on our feet cheering uplifting goals as regularly as we’d expect.

It’s difficult to look forward to the second half of the season and feel the buzz of anticipation that a narrow gap to the play off positions should offer. It’s not that City aren’t capable of going onto finish in the top seven come May and thus fulfill our hopes, but more the probable manner in which any success will be achieved.

This is an efficient Bradford City side which is conservative and guarded. Wins are laboured. Flair is constrained by structure. Defence is the best form of attack.

We knew it was going to be like this, really. The February exit of Stuart McCall left a managerial opening that placed winning football matches as the top quality when choosing from a lengthy shortlist of applicants. Peter Taylor was the outstanding candidate, but behind his unquestionable achievements were loud warnings that style would give way to organisation. Years of failure left us wanting this winning-above-all approach; hard luck stories of good performances going unrewarded were tedious. Winning is all that matters; so Peter, do whatever it takes to get us out of this league.

We knew what we were getting with Taylor, and those expectations have been realised. McCall’s teams had heart and commitment, but naivety and disorganisation undermined their high levels of effort. City appear much more prepared under Taylor; they go onto the pitch with a more impassioned outlook which is about following a carefully laid out strategy.

If City were laying in the top three places, or even in the top seven, Taylor’s ways would be more enthusiastically backed. But even if the promotion places are still well within touching distance, the 14th-place position City currently occupy and fact the highest league placing of the season, so far, is only 10th leaves Taylor’s ways open to question and doubt. The sacrificing of as high of a level of entertainment could be more accepted if the league table made better reading. It seems were not quite getting the best of either world.

Which leaves afternoons like the recent one against Hereford endorsed but not enjoyed. City’s first half display had merited more than the one goal, but the second half defensive retreat in holding the narrow lead against a team at the bottom of the league was uninspiring and difficult to watch. It would be wrong to say that it was the performance Taylor had wanted to see from his players too – he admitted it was a poor second half display after the game – but such afternoons are becoming a regular occurrence.

And that’s where it’s becoming a bit disengaging to many supporters. If more regular defensive-minded wins like we saw against Hereford and at Bury will take City into League One next season we’ll all be delighted, but that doesn’t mean we’ll fully-enjoy the journey. And if we can’t enjoy winning games of football, what is the point of it all?

When Taylor’s City have been good they’ve been great to watch. The Cheltenham home win was the season’s high-water mark in quality of performance, the Oxford thrashing that followed two weeks later was more memorable and left us all feeling rather giddy with excitement. But with more games like Hereford and even the frustrating defeats to Wycombe and Macclesfield, it suggests the Cheltenham and Oxford wins were Taylor’s City on very top form rather than playing a level they can achieve on a regular basis.

Winning is important, but another key aspect of football supporting is the bond you have with your team. This season there are certainly plenty of players I admire – Tommy Doherty is a joy to watch, while Lee Hendrie and Omar Daley have put in some superb displays. I also have strong affection for the former non-league players – James Hanson, David Syers, Steve Williams and Jon McLaughlin – plus our homegrown talent Luke O’Brien. But in general, the relationship between supporter and other players is more distant and cool.

I write this having only missed two league games this season (plus I didn’t see two of City’s four cup games) and I am used to feeling ‘close’ to the players, through travelling up and down the country to cheer them on. But that affection between players and supporters which was so evident in recent seasons seems less to me this season. It doesn’t help that there are so many loan players who form part of the starting eleven each week, but sometimes in away games you’d like to see the players look a bit happier to see us before kick off and be a bit more prepared to applaud us at full time; rather than a half-heartededly clap from the half way line, like we received at Wycombe in our last away game. Michael Flynn is missed in so many ways.

The four wins out of five undoubtedly recaptured that missing enthusiasm and showed what this team is capable of, and it’s not just for the health of City’s league position that we all hope such heights can be realised on a more regular basis. For now, it’s hoped that the eventual resuming of City’s season will thaw out current levels of cynicism and restore that joy of following  the Bantams, which is felt even in difficult times.

Because personally I want to care more about City’s season than I do right now. I want the highs to feel better, even if it means the lows have to be greater too. I want to load up the Telegraph & Argus website on a Monday morning and feel connected by what’s going on at the club, rather than experiencing bordom at reading another interview from an underachieving loan player unsure about his long-term future.

I want this mission of getting promoted out of League Two to be enjoyable and engaging, rather than feeling like a task that has to be completed before the fun can resume again.

When offensiveness becomes an offence

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

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

Offensiveness becomes an offence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can football take its own action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The foolishness of crowds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Separating the part from the parcel

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

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

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

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

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

But would we change it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now then

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

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

Those small victories

Over the years supporting Bradford City, I’ve always taken greater pleasure in those occasions where we get one over someone or something. A cocky set of opposition supporters; a petty referee; a manager who made derogatory pre-match remarks; Rodney Marsh.

But rarely has putting someone in their place felt so unenjoyable as City supporters ‘victory’ over Joe Colbeck today.

That was the sideshow which overshadowed a reasonable contest that saw the Bantams gain a precious victory over bottom-club Hereford to move back into the play off hunt. David Syers’ eighth-minute belting shot ultimately proved decisive. It was a nice moment for the early player of the season frontrunner given the frustration of missing numerous chances in his last outing against Macclesfield, three weeks ago.

And though it was hardly a sparkling team performance and offered little evidence that City are good enough to be successful this season, it was the sort of result that promotion-winning sides routinely grind out. That was the most important aspect.

But the joy of victory was tempered by the unpleasant atmosphere in which it was played in, and the specific targeting of one man. Colbeck’s first return to Bradford since departing 16 months ago was always going to prompt a mixed reception, but the lengths taken by those keen to register their dislike of a player who rose through the ranks – playing over 100 times in Claret and Amber – was nothing short of disgusting.

“Colbeck is a wanker!” chanted the Bradford End for most of the first half, and before long fans in all four stands were joining in the jeering. Jeering a 24-year-old lad who joined the club when he was 16, with his family and friends watching in the crowd.

It seemed as though the game itself was the sideshow, as such strong focus was placed on barracking the former City youngster. Every time he picked up possession he was booed; when he failed to stop straightaway following an offside flag there was outrage at his cockiness; when an inaccurate pass towards Joe caused him to stretch and fall over he was laughed at. Even after City scored the first subsequent chant was “Colbeck, Colbeck what’s the score?”

And after pausing from calling him a wanker, the Bradford End chanted “Greedy Bastard” and then “Judas”; and then a “City reject.” So hang on a minute, he’s a Judas for betraying us and we rejected him anyway – Judas the reject, an interesting concept.

Let me pause by saying that I appreciate not everyone likes Colbeck and those who have feelings of disapproval towards him will have valid reasons. In the group of people I go to watch City with, opinions on him were mixed and it was mentioned that his attitude during his final few weeks at the club was poor. Me, I’ve got a lot of time for a young lad I watched try to make it at City and who provided me with some happy memories, so I personally wanted to applaud him. But if others want to boo him, that’s fair enough.

Yet the chanting, the abuse and the negativity that perpetrated from the Bradford End and spread around the four sides was too much. If you were one of the people who thinks you have the right to call Joe Colbeck a wanker, please can you explain what he has done to justify this personal abuse. Yes, we know he had a contract dispute and that made him “greedy” in some people’s eyes. Though Colbeck’s reminder of what happened – which was confirmed by Stuart McCall at the time – is hardly up there with the great contract disputes we’ve seen over the years at City.

So what else? Oh yeah, he was crap. Apparently. Funny as I remember the fantastic performances he put in for City during the 2007/08 season, especially in away games, that was appreciated by enough City fans for him to be voted player of the season. The following year he started slow and then got injured for four months. As he returned to fitness, the holes in City’s promotion bid were getting larger and Colbeck was a scapegoat as the season collapsed.

Then came the contract dispute in the summer of 2009, and I remember going to the York pre-season friendly and hearing a group of fans boo his every touch and chant about how he is a “druggy” (no evidence was offered to back this up). Then at Bradford Park Avenue, where Oldham manager Dave Penny attended as he considered signing him and some fans were urging him to do so, telling Penny we didn’t want Joe. Then he left. Driven out the club. And don’t come back.

I can only assume those who wanted him gone were leading the abuse today, but the wanker chants were aired so loud it was like they were speaking for the rest of us too. And the messages they sent both on and off the field were disturbing. Looking through my old programmes from Joe’s time at City, it’s interesting how many of the ‘Today’s Mascot’s’ rated him as their favourite player. I also remember lots of kids with Colbeck on their shirts. And why not? Here was a young lad who’d made it to the first team, an inspiration to young supporters and juniors at the club.

What’s the message these kids are supposed to take from the actions of the boo-boys today? Don’t bother following that dream of one day playing for the club you love, because these lot will rip you apart. Just look at Leon Osborne.

The one saving grace of the whole affair was Hereford manager Jamie Pitman’s decision to sub Colbeck after an hour, so at least the rest of us who’d had our views drowned out could award Colbeck the warm applause we wanted to give him. And then when he’d been subbed perhaps we could concentrate on the game, trying to ignore the fact that a poor bit of play from the other Hereford winger soon after sparked a chant of “Are you Colbeck in disguise?”

By that stage City were beginning to be pegged back by a spirited Hereford side who looked short on quality but good enough to climb out of the bottom two before May. Syers’ early strike smashed any hopes the visitors had of sitting back and frustrating City. Instead it triggered a first half of numerous chances which should have seen City go in more than 1-0 up at the break.

The outstanding Luke O’Brien’s long-range pile driver was pushed away by the erratic Bulls keeper Adam Bartlett; Tom Adeyemi’s through ball to Omar Daley was just behind the Jamaican’s feet, spoiling a one-on-one chance; Adeyemi himself should have scored when played through with just the keeper to beat.

The one-touch attacking football from City was impressive, if conservative in its frequency. Tommy Doherty and Syers were running the show and masterful to watch. Lee Hendrie, this week’s captain, also played well.

Hereford had sporadic bursts of pressure and exposed some uncertain decision-making from Lenny Pidgley in claiming crosses. One flapped corner saw a powerful Hereford effort strike a City body and bounce over the bar, although later a brilliant cross by Colbeck saw the lively Guillem Bauza’s header superbly tipped over.

After James Hanson and Syers both had opportunities early in the second half, Hereford began to threaten more and Nicky Featherstone saw a shot come back off the post, while the veteran Kenny Lunt and striker Mathieu Manset looked busy and purposeful. For City, Daley’s long range effort deflected and looped onto the post; but as the minutes past the involvement of either keeper became less frequent.

For despite Hereford exerting strong pressure in the final 20 minutes, in truth they didn’t look like scoring and struggled to create clear-cut chances. City’s back four defended well with Rob Kiernan showing the form he’d displayed on his debut at Wycombe and Luke Oliver’s head a magnetic presence to high, dangerous balls. Kiernan had to go off injured and Peter Taylor, who rather foolishly had not even afforded Zesh Rehman a place on the bench, was forced to play Jason Price as emergency centre half.

The final whistle eventually came but the joy was limited and glum faces surrounded me on the journey out through the Midland Road concourse. That, as much as the Joe-bashing, was the downer of the day. In the final 20 minutes City were on the backfoot, but holding on – and the lack of support from fans was baffling. Moans and groans filled the air and every mistake and poor touch was met with anger and swearing.

Today simply wasn’t a nice day to be at Valley Parade, it wasn’t a nice day to be a Bradford City supporter. Because the want of some to be negative overshadowed others efforts to support the team. Yeah it wasn’t a great performance and we expect better, but surely it is occasions like this – rather than 5-0 up over Oxford – where we supporters should be giving our all.

Instead many of us focus on ridiculing a former player who most of us in the crowd are older than, on waiting for Adeyemi’s next mistake, on slating Hanson for daring to believe “he’s already made it”, on moaning about Taylor’s insistence on bringing all 11 players back to defend corners, and then on criticising his choice and timing of subs.

Valley Parade was today a cauldron of negativity, yet again. There’s so much crap going on in the world, there’s plenty of stress and difficulties in our own lives. Supporting your football team is supposed to be a release – a pleasure, not a chore. Days like this should at least leave a smile on the face.

Surely we can all be better than this?

What is a derby match as Leeds United argue they have no local rivals

In the Championship on Tuesday evening, a club recently promoted from League One entertained a side recently relegated from the Premier League. But while it might have appeared the home fans would be excited at such an occasion, it was largely the visiting supporters who considered it a big game.

Leeds United were entertaining Hull City in what appeared to be a Yorkshire derby, with 2,500 Tigers’ supporters travelling down the M62 on a cold Tuesday evening to back their team in a 2-2 draw. The overall attendance of 24,906 was higher than Leeds’ three previous home fixtures, but indifference towards their evening’s opponents was apparently the overriding emotion from a large section of United fans.

In an attempt to represent at least part of the overall mood, an article by a Leeds fan in the matchday programme declared that Leeds United don’t have any true derbies. In the piece, the writer revealed:

Given the proximity of Hull, it would be fair to say that our visitors probably consider this game as a derby…yet from our point of view…our games against them are not what you would call derbies.

At the end of the article the writer concludes:

So do we have a proper derby match? My view is no. We have some proper rivalries, but in terms of derby matches we just don’t seem to do ’em.

The comparison between derby and rivalry is at the heart of this issue and their own chosen outlook. Leeds is in a central position of probably the largest density of football clubs in the country, with numerous Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs comfortably within an hour’s drive, so they are not short of opponents who qualify as a derby. Nor are they shy of neighbours who look upon them as rivals. We Bradford City fans, of course, have a strong disliking for our nearest league club. We’re in good company with Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers supporters joining Hull in loathing the Elland Road outfit.

But to Leeds, none of us are truly worthy of the title ‘derby match’ because we’re not considered worthy of being their rivals. Leeds United unquestionably have the most successful history of any Yorkshire club, and during the glory days were able to build up huge derbies against Manchester United and big rivalries with Liverpool and Chelsea. They’ve fallen from their top flight perch during recent years, which has caused them to face the likes of Huddersfield on a regular basis. But even the three defeats and two draws from six games against the Terriers hasn’t resulted in any significant development of a reciprocal animosity towards Town.

Back to the article, talking about potential derbies:

There are a handful of teams nearer to us than them (Manchester United, their considered rivals). In no particular order: Huddersfield, Bradford, Oldham, Bury, Rochdale, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers all come in at less miles than a trip to Old Trafford.

Of those, we’ve never played Rochdale, barely played Bury, Oldham doesn’t have that feel and neither does Huddersfield, and the South Yorkshire clubs have each other.

The simple truth is that Leeds fans continue to believe their only rightful place is among the elite – a view that an increasing number of national media pundits seem happy to encourage too – and so victories over neighbours they are ‘temporarily’ forced to slum it with remain largely hollow. This is largely understandable, it’s not as though you can turn on the tap and start hating someone that for a long time you considered yourselves above, indeed we ourselves were a few years back intensely disliked by Hull when most of us couldn’t care less about them.

But perhaps it might be worth considering the relationship of Leeds United – and specifically its supporters – in the medium term history with the rest of the clubs in Yorkshire and beyond. The hooliganism problems of Leeds United have been detailed at length elsewhere but suffice to say that much of the antipathy towards Elland Road has a basis in the violence of the 1980s. City centres boarded up, riots at ground, the infamous scenes of Odsal. That the antipathy is not historically reciprocal is perhaps reflective of the fact that that violence was not, or at least was not to the same extent.

So what about us?

That leaves Bradford City as our only real derby candidates. Situated less than 10 miles away and knowing their fans dislike of everything connected with ourselves – their fanzine onece produced a “Super Leeds” special containing only blank pages – it would seem that our occasional games against the Bantams are the closest we come to a proper Yorkshire derby.

Yet, even still, that’s hard to grasp. Aside from a handful of meetings in the late ’80s and a couple in the Premiership, we have never played each other enough to generate a proper rivalry. I dare say that on that basis we could share the same “rivalry” with Guiseley or Farsley.

Hmm…consider ourselves well and truly put down.

Which leaves the Bradford City-Leeds rivalry looking extremely one-sided. Over the years I’ve had numerous Leeds-supporting friends tell me that City fans are petty and jealous-minded for disliking Leeds United, and how they couldn’t care less about the Bantams. Indeed many Leeds fans also have season tickets at Valley Parade, and City have a long-standing agreement that home games don’t clash with the days Leeds are at Elland Road. Throw in the lack of times the two clubs share a division, and you and I are often lectured to “get a life.”

But at the same time the behaviour of some Leeds supporters towards City suggests not all of them feel indifferent. Aside from the trouble at Odsal in 1988, witness the ugly scenes before, during and after the first ever Premier League meeting at Valley Parade between the two clubs in 2000; where at the height of the Lee Bowyer-Jonathan Woodgate trial, certain good citizens of Bradford were singled out for abuse and, allegedly, violence. Or what about the JPT tie at Elland Road in 2008, when a bus containing City fans was attacked by Leeds followers?

Elements of their support are also known to semi-reguarly chant about the Bradford Fire. A Leeds-supporting friend told me that, on the day City marked the 25th anniversary of the tragedy with a home game against Northampton that saw BBC Football Focus in attendance, the coach load of Leeds fans he travelled back from their game at Charlton with included renditions of that horrific song.

If any of these incidents were due to a derby rivalry they would still be emphatically wrong. But if these are the actions from a minority of a club’s supporters, let us be thankful their majority do not consider us serious derby rivals. It would only encourage such morons even more.

Football derbies can be an ugly and over the top thing, but in a sport that is all about beating others to triumph they can also add positivity and colour. As a football fan you want your team to be the best, and that especially includes getting one over teams who you know supporters of. Victories over Huddersfield will always mean more than wins over Watford, similarly the pain of losing to Burnley – round Skipton way at least – is more unbearable than a defeat to Nottingham Forest. Football supporting is all about enjoying the highs and coping with the lows, and if those highs cause lows to your mate or your uncle or your boss at work they are that bit sweeter.

Above all though, derby rivalries give more depth to football and something to aim for. Only three or four teams can be promoted from a division each season, only one team can win the FA Cup. Finishing 11th in a division might be disappointing, but if your neighbours finished 12th and you beat them on their own patch or in the cup there’s a significantly greater degree of pride to take. In 2005, for example, Premier League Blackburn’s FA Cup win over Championship Burnley was ranked by Rovers supporters as the highlight of the season.

In the world of Bradford City, Leeds United are an evil and obnoxious presence while we are the good guys. That may seem unfair and unjust, but it adds a greater level of purpose and provides us something to strive for – beating the dark side, eventually. Their failings offer light relief when we’re feeling blue over our own. It should never distract from the thing that ultimately matters – our own team. And in all my time supporting City I’ve never met a fellow fan who would consider Leeds losing to be anywhere near as important to City succeeding. There’s a sense of perspective at all times, but along with Huddersfield it’s still an important rivalry to us.

Jealousy? Not at who they are, and certainly not at what they want to become. I lived in Sunderland for three years and saw first-hand the intensity of the rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle – and I feel jealous that we don’t have a derby as passionate. Huddersfield for sure is a great rivalry and I hate them more than I dislike Leeds, but personally I don’t know a single Town fan so to me it isn’t quite the same. When I saw a Newcastle fan crying because his team had lost to Sunderland and everyone else in the work environment supported the Mackems, I was jealous. I’d love us to have that sort of rivalry with Leeds, but that’s probably never going to happen.

As for Leeds, they may consider themselves above forming a derby rivalry with any of their near neighbours, but deep down their fans must know that when it comes to rivals they actually have plenty to choose from. The rest of the football-supporting country appears to hate them.

Taylor enjoys the freedom of pragmatism

As decelerations of intent go, this was as loud as Bradford City have screamed all season. Recent victories over Barnet, Cheltenham and Oxford may have defused an alarming start to the season, but to triumph in the backyard of one of the early promotion front runners suggests the Bantams’ prospects for the campaign may be more in line with those heady pre-season expectations.

Bury came into tonight’s clash having won seven and drawn one of their last eight games – they hadn’t been beaten at Gigg Lane since an opening day 1-0 reverse to 2nd place Port Vale. Extreme downpours, which had the game in doubt even past kick off, left a soggy pitch not conducive to the passing brand of attacking football which is winning the Shakers’ rave reviews. But this was still some result for City.

Omar Daley’s 30th-minute spot kick ultimately won the contest – the Jamaican getting the opportunity from 12 yards which he’d been denied on Saturday when chasing a hat trick, as designated penalty taker Lee Hendrie, injured tonight, had been unwilling to step aside – after his superb run and through ball to strike partner Jason Price was illegally stopped by home keeper Owain Fon Williams. But this game was less won through individual brilliance, more collective endeavour.

Manager Peter Taylor had spoken pre-match of taking a more conservative approach, and while attacking intent remained the team was deployed deeper and the onus was on Bury to attempt to break them down. David Syers, brought in to replace Hendrie with Tom Adeyemi switched out wide, performed a central role that looked less sparkling than his previous thrusting style, but where he was simply sensational and the key man all evening in protecting the back four.

Syers’ return allowed Daley and Price to remain up the park and the willing runners of Leon Osborne and Adeyemi were encouraged to get forward when either forward had the ball. As such, the game plan of frustrating the visitors while posing questions on the counter attack was executed beautifully.

The quality that is evident in City’s ranks has truly emerged in recent weeks, and though this evening flair was reined back Tommy Doherty was again masterful in setting the tempo and spraying the ball around intelligently. Daley continued where he left off on Saturday in causing havoc. The theory with Daley is that his inconsistency sees him go missing on wet nights like this, but instead perhaps it’s worth contemplating whether previous tentativeness was in fact lack of confidence. Omar clearly looks a far more committed and happy player than the guy who missed sitters at Burton and in the first half on Saturday.

With Price enjoying easily his most productive game to date since signing on loan, City were a handful in the small bursts where they attacked. And while Bury can argue they were unfortunate to go in at half time 1-0 down having enjoyed 66% of the possession, the scars leftover from when City played them off the same park last January, only to lose to a penalty that never was, left sympathy in short supply.

The second half saw strong spells of Bury pressure; but other than Ryan Lowe’s shot that hit the post, a scramble off the line and a Lenny Pidgley save in the final minute, the prospects of that pressure leading to an equaliser seemed unlikely. This was largely down to a superb performance from the back five. Luke Oliver – so often maligned by supporters, including those of his former clubs, for his ungainly style – was outstanding and produced his best performance in a City shirt. Time and time again balls into the box met his head and were diverted out of harm’s way.

Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien continued their consistent form while Taylor would be wise to call off any search for an on-loan right back, such is the impressive manner Zesh Rehman has grown into the role. He may not be as effective as O’Brien when going forward, but Rehman’s positioning and reading of the game has come on in leaps and bounds from the panicky, dive-in-first-think-later form he was displaying for a great deal of last season.

The minutes ticked by ever slower. James Hanson replaced Daley, and within seconds embarked on a superb solo run and fired a sizzling long range effort which Williams did well to tip over. With Price also missing an easy headed chance back at 0-0, it can be argued City created the evening’s best chances even if they otherwise had to defend for long periods.

But best of all on nights like this was the incredible backing from us supporters. Bury’s sizeable away end was packed with City fans and the roof acoustics are favourable for creating a right old din. The chanting was kept up most of the evening, and in the second half every tackle and clearance from a City player was greeted by huge roars of encouragement. A major contrast to the emptiness of the three home stands, where vacant seats in two at least easily outnumbered those with bums on. A reminder, if it were needed, of what a huge club City are at this level.

Huge or otherwise though, it’s what’s on the field that counts; and as depressing as the dreadful start to the season was to go through it seems to have generated a spirit of togetherness between supporters and players that, frankly, has been lacking in recent years. Perhaps things got so bad that perspective and reason finally had to change. It’s no use believing we’re too big a club to be in League Two, if those expectations are too much for our League Two players to live up to.

Whatever the reason, the players and management are currently receiving vociferously-positive backing before they’ve done anything to deserve it, and such a revisionism seems to be allowing the pragmatic style of Taylor to flourish. Tonight City played like a team which knew it was probably the weaker side but which could triumph by accepting and dealing with such a truism, rather than acting like ‘big club Bradford’.

Like a number of visiting sides to Valley Parade in recent years City kept men behind the ball, made sure they controlled the tempo and that it was a tempo too slow for the home side to profit from. And unlike in recent times where pressure from fans meant this wasn’t possible – because we “should be beating little teams like Bury” – we supporters got behind them for doing it. This was like City at Sunderland in the first Premier League season; and just like that season deploying this strategy at the right times can help us to achieve our objectives.

Quite what is possible for this season now is unclear. City are three points off the play offs and eight from still third-placed Bury. Perhaps most symbolically of all, the league table now shows us as a respectable 10th. The corner seems to have been turned, and we have all played our part in making that happen.

Living the moment

There are few things in life as exhilarating as watching your team win away from home. The likelihood of victory is always far less on the road, and so the extra effort undertaken to attend and number of previous times that effort has gone unrewarded make days like Bradford City’s 2-0 win at Barnet all the more special.

Any win is fantastic of course, and filing out of Valley Parade having seen City collect three points provides a buzz that often lasts for days. But the collective thrill we feel from a home victory and the more exclusiveness of away wins are different types of joy.

Home wins are like being fans of huge bands such as The Beatles and Oasis – we share the music, occasionally in our snobbiness believing others don’t appreciate them in the same way (how can that moaner sat  in front really celebrate City’s last minute winner when they spent 89 minutes moaning how bad City are?) and there’s a great feeling when we come together (stadium gigs can be incredible).

Away wins are like following a band with a smaller fanbase which are unnoticed by the masses. It gives us more ownership of their songs, more room at their gigs and a slightly more rewarding feeling when they briefly appear on TV (Jools Holland and the Football League show?).

For those fortunate to be there for an away win, it becomes ours and reward for all those times we endured miserable defeats and a long journey home. In our last promotion year I was one of 200 City fans who attended West Brom away in September. We won 2-0 to get our season going, and for the first time performed like promotion contenders. A week later we beat Barnsley 2-1 with Gordon Watson’s injury time double, and as we celebrated promotion next May many fans pointed to the Barnsley win as the turning point. But those of us at the Hawthorns that day, we knew the truth.

On the Football League Show last night, a City fan texted in to declare they were still very unhappy despite the win. Well no offence to this fan, but you clearly weren’t at Underhill yesterday. It wasn’t that we saw a promotion-standard performance. It’s not as though any of the 424 of us present have extra reason to believe in the manager. But when your team hasn’t scored in four games and for 64 minutes of this must-win game you feel as though we’ll lose, the exuberant celebrations that greeted two goals in four minutes provided such a wonderful feeling that for the next week at least nothing else should matter.

Nothing else should matter – but building on the positives of City’s first away win of the season. In truth it wasn’t a sparkling display – who expected it to be? – and for sections of the first half and just after half time it seemed as though Barnet’s youthful exuberance would break through and score at any time. But if quality is still lacking in the Bantams, the work-rate and solidness which went missing against Morecambe last week had at least returned. It proved to be enough.

At the back City recovered from last week’s wobbles and looked the well-drilled unit that was so impressive at Rotherham 11 days ago. Oliver Gill was moved to centre back in the absence of Shane Duff and was excellent; Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien were their usual impressive selves. Special mention should go to Zesh Rehman, who not only put in a man-of-the-match-contender performance against a tricky winger, but notably led his younger defensive colleagues through the afternoon. How ironic it is that he has found the best form of his City career just as he’s unable to command a regular place. If only he’d been playing like this a year ago.

For the most part City still looked feeble going forwards – though Luke Oliver and Lee Hendrie both came close with headers. Confidence looks so short in some players, and there was a clear reluctance for any one other than Rehman, O’Brien, Williams and Tommy Doherty to take ownership during the first 45 minutes at least. Defender Oliver continued upfront, this time with winger Omar Daley as partner and four strikers sat on the bench. It wasn’t hard to see why fans are so frustrated at Taylor’s approach.

The debate about Oliver rages on, though it must be noted this was his most effective game up front to date. Today he looked like a target man off form, which is a major improvement from not looking like a target man at all. He had a good physical battle with the Barnet defenders, often penalised for fouls and occasionally winning free kicks.

Yet the low confidence in players and Oliver up front are connected, and to me where the frustration lies with Taylor. Yes we were having a poor start and there were loads of injuries, but we don’t have to play a big front man and there was no need to prematurely move to such desperate tactics. Taylor should have had more faith in the quality of his players to pull through. Instead it was too easy to launch it to Oliver and duck responsibility, something Leon Osborne and Daley were especially guilty of.

Taylor’s half-time words seemed to have some effect, and as City kicked up the famous Underhill slope in the second half they survived a couple of scares and began to take control over limited opposition. Still the frustration in the away section over the lack of subs began to grow, and a fierce debate raged over the merits of appointing Peter Jackson as our next manager. It was beginning to feel as though the effort of getting up early on a day off and making a 400 mile-round trip would carry no greater reward than a 0-0, and someone somewhere – Mark Lawn  perhaps – was probably drafting Taylor’s last rites.

But then City scored, twice. The frustration of the last few weeks was pushed out to be replaced by giddy excitement and joy. Both goals were remarkably similar, in that Barnet had a corner at the bottom of the slope and City broke up the pitch and netted. Each time Jon McLaughlin had claimed the ball and quickly threw the ball out to charging midfielders. Firstly Tom Adeyemi broke down the flank before cutting the ball back to Doherty. The pass lacked pace and should have been cut out, but the cultured midfielder was able to grab possession and fire a superb through ball to Osborne, who cut inside and finished expertly.

For a second there was silence. It happened right in front of us away fans, but we almost don’t quite believe it had. Then we celebrated wildly.

“Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army” bellowed fans behind me who’d been so vocally critical of him before. In front of me there were angry faces from other fans incredulous that these people could have the nerve to be so two-faced. Football. Fickle. End of.

The second goal, four minutes later, came after McLaughlin’s throw was collected by Daley, who scampered up the field and picked out the run of Adeyemi through the middle. The on-loan midfielder just had the keeper to beat, and coolly slotted the ball into the roof of the net to set up even more frenzied celebrations that for him included hugging the City fans in the seating section. At full time he went over to do it again, and it looked as though his dad was in the front row and that was why he’d raced over.

Tom Adeyemi hugs family members at full time

Tom Adeyemi hugs family members at full time (click to enlarge)

In those immediate seconds after Adeyemi’s finish, nothing else mattered and for our brain to allow ourselves to feel such unadulterated pleasure without logic or reason is what makes football such a wonderful sport. Back in Bradford I bet some fans felt disappointed, because Taylor would not be packing up his desk on Monday like we all expected. But it didn’t matter who was in the dugout – right now celebrating equally as wildly, and good on you Taylor. All that mattered – and should ever matter, really – was that City were winning.

The joy of the away goal continues as you began to calm down again – and you suddenly realise that, for the last few minutes, three sides of the ground have felt utterly miserable at what your team has just done to them and had little choice but to watch you leaping for joy, with huge envy. Intense pleasure in one corner of the ground, depression for the rest. In truth we’re rude guests, but then we’re usually too kind as hosts and let others behave this way on our own patch.

Not much else happened in truth. McLaughlin almost let a weak shot squeeze in; James Hanson was able to come on as sub, showing in just a few brief touches just how much he’d been missed and inadequate Oliver the striker really is; the Barnet left back made an idiot of himself. The win was never in doubt, we could even have scored again.

But to score twice having only managed four goals all season was beyond expectations, and to be able to drive home knowing this feeling of joy can’t be taken away until Saturday at least was just reward for seven hours in a car. Ultimately this win won’t mean much if City lose at home to 7th-placed Cheltenham next week, as Taylor will be sacked. Like at Torquay last season, it might have just prolonged the inevitable.

Whatever happens, it’s days like this which make enduring all the other crap worthwhile.

The end of the beginning, or still something much worse?

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. The bubble of optimism that was growing after the Gillingham win had been painfully burst at Northampton three days ago. And a trip to a third-placed Rotherham side who had scored 12 goals in their previous four home games suggested only one outcome – a heavy defeat. Yet Bradford City put in a performance far beyond expectations to earn a draw that could easily have been more.

For the second Bantams visit to the Don Valley Stadium in a row, home keeper Andy Warrington was named the sponsors’ man of the match. This said much about the quality of the visitors’ display. It was no backs to the wall defensive job, with Warrington making stunning saves to deny Omar Daley, Tom Adeyemi (twice) and Steve Williams from snatching a priceless winner. City were comfortably the better side, and despite having to settle for a point will have returned back up the M1 with renewed confidence.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. Following the Northampton defeat, word reached BfB that an unhappy City Board had told Peter Taylor anything less than four points from the next two games will see him sacked. Another source claimed the manager has been given a month to turn it around. Whether either rumour is true, the fear is that this situation can’t go on much longer without someone deciding on drastic action.

This could have been Taylor’s last game in charge, but if any of the Board were at the Don Valley tonight they would surely have taken great heart from the way the team performed which should carry beyond whatever happens on Saturday. City began on the front foot, with the returning Daley causing problems down the left flank and the midfield trio of Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Adeyemi quickly getting on top.

Daley was one of the chief scapegoats for the Southend debacle almost exactly a month ago; and although he has been away with Jamaica for a short period, he has found himself shunned from any first team action. Yet if City are going to climb up the table they must surely utilise their better-quality players. And whatever is said about Daley, when on form he is just that.

As ever, tonight we saw a mixed bag from Omar and his decision making was familiarly poor at times. But he provided a spark that helped the team claim greater territorial advantage than we’ve managed on the road all season, and the first half ended with his fizzing shot from an angle forcing the best out of Warrington.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. If Taylor was dismissed, where exactly would that leave the rest of the season? Sure we might bring in someone who can turn our under-achievers into world-beaters and climb the league, but City’s recent history shows such hopes are highly fanciful and never realised. Too often the answer to the problems has apparently lied in appointing another new manager, yet still the club’s decline continues.

More likely there would be a short-term boost from a new man, but in the longer-run the problems currently afflicting Taylor would remain. And as well as the cost of sacking a manager, there’d be a need to fund his replacement’s demands in the transfer market. All in all it’s a risk that could see the season written off with over three quarters of it to go. Is that really the best route to take?

But until tonight at least, there’s been a conflict of emotions inside pretty much every City supporter. Sure it’s a daft idea to sack a manager after 10 games…but what has Taylor done this season to deserve our support? There’s been very little for us to be impressed by regarding his performance since the season kicked off, and we’ve probably all scratched our heads wondering why the great things he was doing towards the end of last season suddenly aren’t coming off.

Tonight though Taylor got it right. Aside from a 20-minute spell before half time, Rotherham were completely neutralised by the 4-3-3 formation and strong levels of effort running throughout the team. At the back Steve Williams and Shane Duff were simply outstanding – the former so able in winning the ball from a forward’s feet, the latter never missing anything in the air.

On either side of them, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien were contributing at both ends of the pitch. O’Brien in particular having a storming game which included recovering from a slightly rocky five-minute period where he’d made one mistake. What a talent Luke has become.

A perfect display? Not by a long shot. In the final third City continue to struggle to find the fluency levels that Taylor’s side were able to regularly achieve last season. Luke Oliver again gave his all as an emergency striker and had more joy winning flick ons in the second half, but the sooner James Hanson returns or a target man is signed on loan the better City’s ‘goals for’ column will look. Gareth Evans still appears short of confidence and high on indecision, but we should not forget what a good player he can be if he can recapture his form.

Early in the second half, City really got on top and were seemingly camped out in the Rotherham half. Warrington made his collection of breathtaking saves and other efforts were blocked or flew narrowly over. Several corners were won and the backing from the 605 Bantams fans was impressive.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. On the message boards so many fans were saying they weren’t going to attend and, as me and my friend supped pints in a sparsely-populated empty away fans bar inside the ground with less than half an hour to kick off, it seemed as though we’d be short of company outside in the stand. Yet there was a good following in the end, and the noise levels were impressive too.

Midway through the first half a chant of Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army thundered across the empty Don Valley bowl. When Daley was subbed, which appeared unfair on the winger, there were no boos like in previous games. At Northampton there’d been reports of ‘Taylor out’ chants, but tonight not one word of dissent was aired his way – at least within my ear shot.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. That it’d be a heavy defeat; that would then cause another managerial change, that would then split supporters, that would then end the season prematurely, that would then lead to falling attendances, that would then lead to the club’s downward spiral continuing, that would then lead to oblivion.

Even by recent standards it’s been such a dark time for every Bradford City supporter, and we’ve had little cause to believe we should expect to feel anything but miserable.

But the worst didn’t happen. And although a home defeat to Morecambe on Saturday might bring about all that we fear, perhaps we should begin to believe the corner is being slowly turned. It’s now one defeat from four, and the Northampton debacle aside there has been a steady improvement to performances. The poor start has been a colossal under-achievement, but that huge capacity to do much better means it’s not yet time to give up – on the players, on Taylor, on that promotion dream.

The season is still only at the beginning, but now we’re praying for that beginning to end.

A timely reminder

Being a Bradford City fan has hardly been something to shout about over the last few years. Since the end of our Premiership dream a decade ago, we’ve suffered more than most supporters – administrations, relegations, dreadful football, questionable management and not even a decent cup run to speak of (unless we count last season’s assault on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, where a penalty shoot-out victory over the mighty Notts County sparked a farcical pitch invasion).

We’ve watched teams who are traditionally our equals, Burnley and Blackpool, reach the dizzy heights of the Premier League whilst we have tried to get ourselves enthused about trips to the likes of Accrington and Aldershot.

What many of us had believed would be a short stay in the basement division of English football has turned into a four-season nightmare, which has shown little sign of ending anytime soon. The realisation that we are now a ‘proper’ League 2 club isn’t easy to accept.

The opening weeks of this season haven’t given much cause for us to believe we will be popping the champagne corks come May – before Saturday our 6 league games had heralded a total of 4 points and 3 goals. The various City-related message boards have been a hotbed of negativity (some of which is difficult to argue against), Peter Taylor has already been forced to deny rumours of a boardroom rift and every move he makes – whether it be giving a short-term deal to Chib Chilaka or appearing as a pundit on Sky – seems to be scrutinised to the maximum.

The fact a section of our support booed a 1-0 victory on the second weekend of the season says it all – the phrase ‘doom and gloom’ could have been invented for our club.

At Saturday’s game versus Gillingham it felt as though some of our supporters had seen enough. Ian Ormondroyd remarked on The Pulse prior to the match that the stadium and surrounding areas had a quieter feel about them and the area in which I sit was significantly less populated than it had been for a while. Although the actual attendance of 10,722 was only slightly down on previous weeks, the general feeling of malaise within the stadium made it seem almost cavernous at times. Those that did attend saw little in the opening 45 minutes to suggest anything other than another disappointing afternoon was on the cards.

The introduction of Lee Hendrie and Leon Osborne at half time seemed to have a slight galvanising effect on the team, if not all of the supporters. For much of the second period a goalless draw looked to be the only possible outcome, despite some uncharacteristically positive play from City. Whilst the atmosphere in the stadium showed a marked improvement on that of the first half, it wasn’t anywhere near the intensity we all know it can be – it didn’t seem to feel as though we could actually win.

Last week I, like millions of others, watched Arsenal practically destroy Portuguese side Braga in the opening round of the Champions League. After the Gunners casually knocked in goal after goal, seemingly scoring with every attack, I half-jokingly remarked, “I wish I supported a team like Arsenal.”

I’ve followed City for over 20 years and there is no way that I would ever switch allegiance to another team, but I watched that Arsenal performance with a mixture of pleasure and envy. I very much doubt that Bradford City could ever turn in a display like that in my lifetime and we are unlikely to ever have players who can match the skill of Cesc Fabregas or Andrey Arshavin.

Yet as I watched, I noticed something. With 10 minutes to go the Emirates Stadium was emptying rapidly. By the final whistle it must have been half full at the most. This reminded me exactly why I don’t support a team like Arsenal – who wants to be in an environment where success is treated with such apathy?

On Saturday, Steve Williams’ 92nd minute header provided a timely reminder of what supporting Bradford City is all about. As followers of our team we endure countless hours of sub-standard football, primitive facilities at away grounds and diabolical refereeing decisions but the sheer euphoria of a late, late winner makes it all worthwhile.

The scenes of jubilation inside Valley Parade were fantastic to witness after so much recent disappointment and the positive atmosphere among our supporters leaving the stadium made a refreshing change.

The win may have only lifted City 3 places up the table but there are 39 games still to play, which we can maybe begin to look upon with (extremely) cautious optimism. Nobody can argue that there aren’t still problems for our manager to address, such as the lack of experience up front, but for now we should enjoy the fact that City are unbeaten in their last two outings.

Whilst walking back to my car after the game on Saturday I heard that well-worn footballing cliché ‘the season starts here’ more than once. Let’s hope it really does.

When there’s no end in sight…

Part unfortunate, part self-inflicted. Bradford City’s fourth consecutive defeat carried greater meaning and misery than a mere glance at the fledgling League Two table.

Commentating on The Pulse, Michael Flynn – oh how he is missed on the field – perceptively summed up the home crowd’s inevitable discontent at 2-0 down as more than just unrest over a fourth league defeat in five, but because it caused further prodding of the open scar that is ten years of dismal failure. A decade ago City were facing Manchester United and Arsenal in the space of a week; no one needs reminding of the subsequent bumpy fall, and there’s a lot of baggage that will only be released when overdue success eventually occurs.

But until then, that baggage weighs heavy on this current crop of players.

This was a much improved display by City, easily their best performance in the league to date. Yet the confident visitors ultimately deserved the three points after narrowly holding the edge in most areas of the pitch. Those who write off Port Vale as an average side arguably miss the point of what it takes to succeed at this level.

Sure they were ungainly and a succession of physical challenges perhaps deserved greater punishment – both Marc and Justin Richards deserved second yellow cards – but those who succeed in escaping this division upwards are invariably as good at battling as they are putting the ball in the net. Four years on from Stuart McCall noting City needed bigger players to better compete, the Bantams are still some way off possessing the resilience that grinds out regular victories.

Back in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, City made an excellent start and for once managed to set the tempo of the game; but the narrow way the midfield was lined up and lack of pace in the wide areas limited creativity. Peter Taylor does not seem to favour out and out wingers and, although left midfielder Luke O’Brien and right midfielder David Syers acquitted themselves well, no one seemed able or willing to run at people.

It was all a bit predictable.

The main battle was fought between the two Richards and Luke Oliver and Shane Duff. City’s centre backs stood up to the physical challenge for much of the game, but criminally the whole team switched off from a Port Vale corner on the half hour and Marc powerfully headed home to give Vale a crucial lead in a game where the first goal felt so vital.

City argued strongly that the corner shouldn’t have been awarded following a Vale handball in the box during the previous attack, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of marking. And the decision was evened out minutes later when O’Brien appeared to haul down Gary Roberts inside the area, only for a free kick on the edge of the box to be awarded. Referee David Coote and his assistants gave bizarre decisions against both sides all afternoon. This was his Football League debut and one questions whether appointing him to officiate in front of such a large crowd at this stage of his career was a sensible one.

Although Vale’s goal rocked City for a five-minute period, they regained composure and were unfortunate not to equalise before the break. Jake Speight, making his full debut, continued to impress and one jinxing run from the corner flag to penalty area saw home defender Gareth Owen hit his own bar. Seconds later Speight missed an open goal when he unnecessarily handled trying to control the ball – he just needed to poke it home. Any half time boos were drowned out by supportive applause from other fans for the effort.

But while the atmosphere was much improved following Southend, limited patience meant in the second half the crowd again turned on the team when it needed to stay positive. Listen to opposition managers talk before they bring their team to Valley Parade and without fail they mention City’s crowd. All appear to use it as part of their tactics – how can we get them to turn on their own players? We supporters are being used against our own, and it’s time we wised up to it. As attacks broke down, the groans got louder and when Taylor made a double substitution he was booed for taking O’Brien off.

It can’t be a coincidence that, having got the visitors on the back foot and unable to get out of their own half for a spell, the sloppiness and uncertainty to City’s play returned when frustration from the stands was allowed to fill the air. Though there was no excuse for the craziness of the second goal which killed the game and could have a major effect on City’s season.

It was a comedy of errors. All afternoon Jon McLaughlin and his centre backs had attempted to play the ball out from the back, but the high pressing of the Richards’ usually saw it abandoned. This time the keeper rolled it out and a risky ball was worked up to Doherty, who was quickly closed down. The cultured midfielder attempted a woeful chipped backpass that McLaughlin failed to control under pressure, presenting Justin with a tap in.

The boos understandably rang out, but as the game kicked off and Doherty’s every touch was also greeted with boos a line had been crossed. I’ve no time for people who think it was right to boo City’s number 8, no matter how heat of the moment it was. It was disgusting, it was moronic and frankly it’s time such people found something else to do on a Saturday afternoon.

We cannot allow a culture where mistakes are booed, because every player will simply retreat into their shell and only play safe passes – and City will not prosper.

As I walked back to the car at the end I had a lively debate with a guy I know from the pub who reckoned Taylor should be sacked and Doherty is a waste of space. The Doherty-bashing is growing and I don’t understand it. Our problem is not that we have a player like Doherty in the side – but that we don’t have enough players as good as him.

Some of his passing during the game was stunning, he picked out balls that no one was capable of spotting or producing so accurately. He misplaced some passes and his mistake for the goal – which McLaughlin was hardly blamelessly for -was bad, but City need to build the team around him rather than get rid.

And that’s where the main problem left over from the Southend defeat remained. If 4-4-2 is to be used, a ball winner has to be deployed in the middle of the park so Doherty can do what he does best. But his partner Tom Adeyemi is, at this moment, badly struggling to adapt to this level. He looked poor in possession and incapable of winning the ball back. Dropping Lee Bullock was highly questionable and, until Flynn is fit, he or the impressive Syers should be starting alongside Doherty as they can do the defensive work that then frees Doherty to hurt the opposition with his obvious ability.

City battled to the end, but over the course of the 90 minutes the amount of decent chances on goal was worryingly low. Omar Daley, away on international duty, was badly missed and Taylor must contemplate signing a winger this week to replace Neilson. Gareth Evans struggled to make an impact and James Hanson – officially, at least, injured. Though there’s a whisper his off-the-field behaviour has angered Taylor – was missed. If 4-4-2 is continued, a Hanson-Speight partnership looks the best option.

And as the final whistle blew and an impressive Vale following loudly celebrating a win that keeps them fourth – but only seven points above City – it was the greater team ethic that had won the game, and which City must replicate.  The uncompromising Jon McCombe and Owen at the back, the close tie up of full backs and wingers and the clever inter-change between the two Richards up front – Port Vale were a team of intuitive relationships, which City are not yet close to matching.

Right now the players look too unsure of what each other will do, and only when they begin to feel and look like a team will fortunes improve. It will take time.

But in the midst of louder calls for Taylor to go and criticism towards Chairmen Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn – the latter the subject of worrying rumours that he’s fallen out with Taylor, which he would be wise to publicly address this week – it has to be remembered this was an improvement. Good enough? No. But something to build on and take into next week’s game at Stockport.

The doom and gloom descends again, the pain of the last 10 years remains at the forefront of the mind. But the calmest people at Bradford City right now need to be Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn. As for us supporters, an atmosphere akin to Rochdale away last season has to be produced at Edgeley Park. It’s not just on the field where City need to become more of a team.

Everything looks bad right now

In the immediate minutes that followed Anthony Grant’s second half KO blow for Southend, the overriding mood in the air was not provided by the vocal anger of many apoplectic home fans – but the melancholy of everybody else.

This was all very miserably familiar. A game Bradford City ‘should’ win turning out to be a morale-denting defeat so formulated and repetitive over the past few years that it feels like we’re trapped in our own version of Last of the Summer Wine. Just like the world’s long-running sitcom, it ceased to be even mildly amusing a long, long time ago.

But as many supporters reacted with rage, unleashing levels of vociferous abuse that, even by Valley Parade standards, has not been reached for a good few seasons; it was the silent resignation of others which arguably represents the most concern. Worry not too much of those who text into Radio Leeds and log onto message boards to angrily point the finger, worry about those who may now be questioning their sanity in attending next time.

Prior to kick off I was buying my tickets for Stockport away and found a healthy queue of City fans handing over £20 to watch this evening’s game. With the first two league attendances of the season falling below the 11,000 mark, the hope that the shortfall of season ticket sales would be rectified by pay on the day supporters will be quickly dashed by evenings as wretched as this. Where three seasons ago a similarly woeful defeat to Accrington brought out a defiant spirit amongst supporters, tonight there was not even the slim consolation of an enjoyable atmosphere to keep the floating supporter interested.

Tonight Valley Parade was simply an ugly place to be. The boost of a commendable cup performance against higher division opposition was supposed to be act as the springboard that finally got the season going. When Tommy Doherty superbly played James Hanson through on goal after 10 minutes, we all prepared to celebrate the commencement of a promotion challenge after some false starts. Last season’s top scorer badly screwed his shot wide, and that was as good as it got for City.

Six minutes later Southend grabbed a lead that at the time seemed undeserved and slightly controversial – Barry Corr played through on goal but looking borderline offside, finishing impressively past Jon McLaughlin. But for the remaining 74 minutes the visitors made sure they were full value for the three points.

City’s formation and tactics were hard to fathom, but it appeared Peter Taylor had adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly popular at this year’s World Cup. Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty sat deep; Gareth Evans, Omar Daley and Louis Moult interchanged positions behind Hanson. But the three attacking midfielders/forwards were highly ineffective and left a hole that saw attacks quickly break down. All three were guilty of failing to utilise space and charging down blind alleys while in possession, when they needed greater awareness of what was around them. The uncompromising Southend defence easily lapped it up.

Home pressure was sporadic and little thought was paid to setting the tempo. Southend chased and harried the ball high up the park and hit City effectively on the counter attack by flooding players into the box. Josh Simpson and Craig Easton both squandered easy chances to double the advantage as a ponderous City defence panicked and continually lost sight of runners. Taylor headed to the dressing room at half time with the Bradford End chanting at him to sort it out.

Yet rather than address the trimmings, he uprooted the foundations. If there weren’t many bright spots to the first half, surely the performances of Doherty and Bullock should have been considered something to build on. While at times forced too deep, both showed composure while others hastily whacked the ball up the pitch. Doherty seemed to benefit from Bullock’s close support and everything good came through them. But the dismal performances of Evans, Daley and Moult just ahead left them hopelessly outnumbered and they needed an extra body to help. How Michael Flynn was missed.

But although Taylor made the right decision to bring on Flynn’s understudy David Syers at half time, he oddly took Bullock off in a straight swap. And while Luke O’Brien brought a bit more balance by being pushed to left midfield, with Robbie Threlfall replacing Louis Moult, the taking off of James Hanson – which may have been due to picking up a knock – for Jake Speight saw the problems largely remain. Speight played well, but he was the only one who could effectively hold up the ball.

City went 4-4-2, and a midfield which had played reasonably well but been outnumbered became even more out-gunned, Doherty struggling to exert any influence. Initially City at least carried more purpose and came close through Speight and Luke Oliver, but on 55 minutes Grant fired home from the edge of the area after a free kick was partially cleared and the mountain became even steeper.

There was an element of misfortune, however, as only seconds before the goal City had been attacking with some purpose. But when Syers’ ball to Doherty hit a bobble just before it reached the midfielder, Southend were able to break up the pitch, force a throw in and score. That’s how bad things went tonight, even that much-trumpeted new playing surface let us down.

The anger poured down from the stands, with Daley the obvious target and bizarrely told to “get off the pitch” by some fans in the Midland Road stand. We’ve used all three subs, so are we supposed to play with ten men? But while you can argue he and the rest deserved it, the fury reigning down does not present a productive atmosphere for the players to perform in. It is no surprise that certain players disappeared into their shells and left others to take responsibility. When O’Brien whacked an improbable crossfield ball over that Daley stood little chance of keeping in, it was the Jamaican and not the young defender who received the torrent of abuse.

With 13 minutes to go hope briefly flickered in the shape of the stupid sending off of right back Sean Clohessy, after he needlessly hacked O’Brien having already been booked for time wasting. But there was no way back despite pushing Oliver up front, with ideas long since run out. An awful evening was summed up by second half captain Steve Williams lashing a shot high into the Kop from a ridiculous distance, for no obvious reason than frustration.

Valley Parade emptied long before the end, sparing the players from volume 11 boos. But most will be back. And if City are to live up to the pre-season expectations there is a battle they must overcome – coping with this pressure. Half the people screaming abuse were livid for City launching long balls at the back, the other half were having a go for passing sideways and not getting it forwards quick enough. The players need to learn to ignore their frustrations and play in the right manner. The only people they need to obey are their team mates and management.

Taylor took full responsibility for the defeat afterwards, admitting his team selection had been wrong. And in this situation City have exactly the right man to cope with the pressure and get the players going again. He needs to find a system that works for the players and he has to stick with it, rather than constantly changing tactics and players. He needs to get the most out of the ability of Doherty by setting up the team so he can dictate the play. He needs to select a regular back four that are familiar with each other’s position on the field rather than having to look over their shoulders. He needs to address the worrying lack of chances and goals the forward line is delivering.

But as the sun went down during the second half, it will rise again on Saturday morning. There are eight days to work on the training ground and 42 games left to fulfill expectations. Paul Jewell was in the commentary box this evening, a reminder that, while everything looks bad now, a bad start to the season needn’t prove the end of it.

City act firmly to shape the atmosphere at Valley Parade

The final news of the close season before the start of the build up proper tidied up the end of last season and the scenes where some fans ran on the field and taunted the Northampton Town supporters who had taken a part in the clubs 25 year commemoration of the fire of 1985.

There are details aplenty about banning orders and good behaviour bonds but the message from City is that with the forty separate cases dealt with and an upgrade to the club’s CCTV in place that there has been firm action taken.

After a summer of players, prison and pitches it seems that City are to close the close season months with a firm step in the right direction and there is much credit to those at Valley Parade who have put the weight behind these steps.

Mark Lawn and VP safety officer David Dowse deserve a lot of credit. Lawn – fresh from his threat to wind the club up after his car with vandalised – has this time found a proportional response issuing four life bans, some season long suspensions and in doing so underlined the club’s stance on the yobbish element that had started to hang around the Bantams.

For the past four seasons curious stories have been filtering back that a group of City fans have been involved in scrapping – which is a more playful word for violence – but as most of these incidents were away from Valley Parade there was little the club could do other than assist Police and stewarding elsewhere. That and elect to park somewhere less conspicuous.

The first time this problem manifested – rather than hinted at – its presence where City could do something action was through and the club – and the fans who helped and supported – get credit.

Football is – by nature – adversarial and that has a tendency to lead to yobbishness in some and clubs have struggled with attempting to balance allowing the atmosphere of rivalry to survive the restrictions that control aggression.

As a side I enjoyed a summer Saturday in a pub in York – The Maltings if you know it – and was amused by a sign on the wall which detailed the policy on cussing and swearing. In that it was not allowed.

Amused turned to surprise when an especially no nonsense barmaid enforced that rule stridently. Put simply it was a pub which did not want you to swear in it, and so they stopped you and with my advancing years – we are all a summer older – I found that like the ale this was oddly refreshing.

It was a sea-change in atmosphere and one suited to a Saturday afternoon drink but probably something that would be impossible to attempt at football. They say that the family sections – where swearing is supposed to be prohibited – has worse language less often as if the Dad bottle up and then explode with much more vitriol than they would elsewhere.

Nevertheless as I took a beer I mused on how the efforts to tweak that atmosphere at The Maltings had been successful – “Bloody successful” I said testing the depth of the swearing waters and not being pulled up for any offence – and how rare it is for a football club to do the same.

Rare but not unprecedented. A trip to Lincoln City last season saw City fans greeted with messages that effing and jeffing was not on and The Dutch FA sanctioned Referees abandoning games if “personal chanting” were to be heard, a rule that seemed directly aimed at protecting Rafael van der Vaart’s wife Sylvie from abuse.

Elsewhere groups like the Accrington Stanley Ultras try – without the club – to change the atmosphere at their games and were very vocal while at Valley Parade last term.

Bradford City – in taking a stand against the aggressive element who followed City – are trying to change the atmosphere around the club and all credit to them for that. Firm action taken quickly finishes off the summer break on a strong note.

One wonders what else they – or fans – might seek to change if they had the chance.

The uncomfortable truth at the heart of football supporting

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

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

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

And the question asks: Does it matter?

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we think we know footballers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How well do you know John Terry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, to personal matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A happy ending of sorts

Who would have believed, as we trooped out of Valley Parade despondently on Easter Monday, that the 2-1 reverse to Macclesfield we’d just endured would turn out to be the last defeat of the season?

That evening anger and frustration were the overriding emotions as the season was seemingly petering out towards a worst league finish since 1966, with a squad decimated by injuries looking increasingly disinterested. But instead the final six games have produced the second-best results sequence of the campaign, offering genuine grounds to feel optimistic about the next one.

Of course we’ve been here before. Strong ends to the season, after promotion hopes were long since dashed, are far from unusual in recent years. And the praise directed at the players now is somewhat tempered by the fact that, when it really mattered earlier in the campaign, they failed to deliver the goods. But still, the way we felt after Macclesfield were clumsily allowed to record that Easter Monday victory is a reminder that players showing little pride in wearing your club’s shirt is one of the most unforgivable crimes they can inflict.

City were comfortable winners at Gresty Road today in an encounter which had nothing riding on it, but that’s not been the case during other impressive recent results. Various League Two clubs entering the closing stages of the campaign still biting their nails have received little but misery from a seemingly guaranteed three pointer with the mid-table Bantams. The good run has left City in a final position of 14th – still a bitterly disappointing under-performance for a club with the resources to do better, but it could have ended much worse than this.

Ryan Kendall – brought on as sub in the first half due to an injury to Gareth Evans – got the only goal of the game mid-way through the second half after a quickly-taken free kick from Michael Flynn afforded the on-loan Hull teenager time and space to fire a low shoot past on-rushing home keeper Adam Legzdins.

But it could easily have been a more comfortable away win. Flynn had forced an excellent first-half reaction stop out of Legzdins; Robbie Threlfall’s long-range effort was too straight to beat the Alex stopper; Adam Bolder’s header was deflected over shortly after half time; Flynn’s low shot from a well-worked corner was blocked soon after City had gone a goal up; Kendall twice should have hit the target with close range half-volleys which he fired over.

Crewe were not without their chances, a free kick just after half time was tipped onto the crossbar by Jon McLaughlin and, seconds after City scored, Calvin Zola had an effort disallowed; but the visitors carried the greater vigour and work rate throughout. The approach play from the Bantams was generally impressive, though a lack of players willing to support Evans/Kendall in the penalty area often meant good passing moves broke down. And with the back four in excellent form – Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams especially solid – a late equaliser never looked likely.

It was a performance similar in approach and overall standards to the previous four. The six-game unbeaten end to the season began unpromisingly with a poor performance at Burton Albion. The point picked up was almost entirely due to an inspired performance from McLaughlin, who was brought in for Glennon, and who kept up his form to the final whistle at Crewe.

No one has had a more purposeful end to the season than the former Harrogate Railway stopper. A year ago on the last day he started at Chesterfield almost as a token gesture. Despite largely playing second fiddle to unconvincing keepers from Huddersfield, he ends this season in pole position to be number one for the next campaign.

And another meaningful moment that day was what initially seemed disappointing news. On-loan Luke Oliver, scorer at the Perelli Stadium, was recalled by Wycombe as the team travelled home. But with the giant defender having been converted to giant striker due to injuries, his leaving turned out to be a blessing in disguise. No longer could City hit the ball directly to a tall frontman in a depressingly ugly style, suddenly they had to play football.

Against Morecambe a few days later Peter Taylor employed a 4-3-3 formation that relied on wide players Gavin Grant and Leon Osborne supporting Evans, and the subsequent success has been significant. All three have shown a great level of work-rate, and the movement has caused opposition defences problems. Evans has recaptured early season form, benefiting from increased faith in his striker prowess, instead of being asked to play as a wide midfielder, and might have equalled injured top scorer James Hanson’s haul but for that early injury today.

For Grant and Osborne, who had yet to convince supporters of their worth, it’s been an especially good period. Grant looks a promising proposition who Taylor will likely sign permanently this summer, while Osborne is showing potential and had arguably his best game yet for the Bantams at Gresty Road. Meanwhile the midfield has began to pass the ball around patiently on the deck again in recent weeks, with Bolder recapturing his form and Lee Bullock and Flynn enjoying strong ends to the season.

The scorer of the first goal against Morecambe was Rehman, who had his name booed when it was read out before kick off. City’s captain has also rediscovered his form and looked excellent over the last few weeks, including when asked to play the less comfortable role of right back. Back in the centre today with Matt Clarke gone, he barely put a foot wrong recovering from his only obvious mistake to retain possession when it appeared he’d overrun it. Taylor has arrived at City with a reputation for employing dour tactics, but the freedom Rehman and Williams have been afforded to play the ball out of defence is a long way removed from the row Z approach League Two is known for.

All of which has helped City end the season looking more of a cohesive unit than they have all season. And what’s really encouraging for the 2010/11 campaign is that most of the players appear to be staying. While there has been calls for a culling of the squad, the good work Stuart McCall had initiated is being continued and developed.

Sure, there are positions Taylor needs to strengthen this summer and the lack of depth has been shown to be a problem all season, but the nucleus of a good side is already here and the immediate priority has to be securing the signatures of Flynn, Simon Ramsden, Bullock and others to maintain it for the next campaign.

Is it a good enough squad to build from? The table shows a big improvement is needed next season, but the 62 points the Bantams ended with is only five less than last season. Not a bad return considering the playing budget was slashed by a third.

As the final whistle blew, the players, subs and management walked over to applaud the travelling fans with great gusto, and in return received a warm reception. There was a real bond between players and supporters, exemplified by Flynn’s example; and even though things haven’t worked out this year, the signs are the players genuinely do care about playing for Bradford City.

We’ve seen the opposite when seasons have tailed off badly, and we know how horrible it feels to know the players you’re cheering on couldn’t care less about your club. The last six games might not have involved anything to play for, but at least the current crop have shown playing for City still matters to them.

But the final word should go to the away support. Some 700+ City fans travelled to Crewefor a fourth division game with nothing riding on the result. The atmosphere, from the pre-match pub sing-along to applauding the players off the pitch at full time, was outstanding. On the day Mark Lawn publicly declared cheap season ticket deals are over and questioned whether the Bradford public had the appetite for watching affordable professional football, he and others should keep in mind the strong hardcore of support this club enjoys and ensure efforts are concentrated on maintaining and building it. Rather than solely worrying about floating supporters who cannot be relied upon when the chips are really down.

During the final 20 minutes, almost everyone joined in the continuous chanting of “We’ll always remember – the 56.” It was hugely moving, bringing tears to some supporters’ eyes and immense pride in everyone.There may not be a great deal to remember about this season, but at least we can be proud of the manner we’ve remembered our past.

Some of the crowd are on the pitch…

For football supporters of a certain age the pitch invasion is possibly the most unwelcome sight in the game of football. It brings back memories of bad days when fans would pile over fences onto field and the match would become a secondary event to young men indulging in territorial disputes on the field.

Football hooliganism was a lot about charging at one set of fans to get them to run in the opposite direction as much as it was about the actual punches and kicks and to that mind set – to me it seemed – the playing field offered the ultimate in territory. There are many books about football hooliganism, not one of them I want to read.

So for fans of a certain age the sight of people spilling onto the field reminds one of bad days and or worse days. Of Valley Parade’s fire of course and of Heysel and Hillsborough. Why did it take until six minutes past three to stop the game in Sheffield when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest? Many people will tell you many reasons but the heart of most explanations is that keeping people off the pitch was the prime concern of the age.

The sight of people coming onto the pitch means nothing good, to football supporters of a certain age.

Younger supporters – with no lasting memory of those days not only of disaster but of distaste – have no such associations. They see the end of season pitch invasion as a jolly, a chance to mess about and share the fun and why should it not be? After City retained Premiership status – beating Liverpool the supporters of whom have reason enough to condemn invaders – the sight of supporters on the pitch was a joyous sharing of the triumph.

English football is – as we shall no doubt hear once or twice in the next six weeks – summed up with the words “Theres some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over…

Kenneth Wolstenholme – BBC commentator on the day England won the World Cup and he who utter those immortal words – would not have comprehended the idea that people would invade the pitch to act aggressively nor to harm the supporters of another club – or in the case of Luton Town on Saturday – the players of York City. Such aggression was simply not correlated with football at the time.

So why is a pitch invasion in 2010 different to one in 1966 before the fences and Hillsborough or in 2000 after them as evidently it is, or was at Luton, at Sheffield Wednesday and at Valley Parade?

We look for answers around football, around the regulation of football, around the Zeitgeist events of football but perhaps we have to look much closer to home to find how the pitch invasion has changed from joy that can be shared by Liverpool supporters to Northampton Town fans throwing tribute t-shirts back at the City fans in the space of ten years.

On this website we have talked many times about the atmosphere at Valley Parade and it would be remiss not to say that Saturday had a touching memorial and one of impeccably observed silence but it also had – around my seat in the Kop – the continued screaming of abuse from grown men at kids on the field. Leon Osbourne puts the ball through someone’s legs but shoots rather than passes and his is a “fucking greedy idiot”, Adam Bolder opts to not cross the ball and he is a “useless git”, Gavin Grant’s ignoring of (a much better placed) Michael Flynn see him called a “greedy, greedy, greedy waste of space.”

Matthew Clarke manages to get through a game without conceding a goal despite being described as both “clumsy buffon” and “utterly useless” but Gareth Evans is cheered from the rafters for his goals which is a contrast to a month ago when he was invited to “fuck off to Halifax Town, or back to Macclesfield, or both!” In-between play results from other grounds are checked to see how Leeds United – or L***ds as many would dub them – are doing with the hope being that they are not doing well.

When Bradford City were promoted to the Premiership it was almost in disbelief – people to us said as we set off to Wolves that “they will blow it again” – but in the years of decline that have followed the support around the club seems to have gone past simple belief into an arrogant expectancy. “We are Bradford City,” the attitude often seems to be “we used to be Premiership so we should be beating everyone in this league.” Perhaps the obvious, bubbling anger comes from that feeling. Wherever the origins are maybe it was a tiny fulfilment of that over blown belief – that we can beat anyone – that prompted Saturday’s goading of the visitors.

The point is that the aggression of City fans did not start when they ran over to the Northampton Town supporters, not as I see it, and while banning people for invading the pitch could be a good idea the ramping up of aggression at Bradford City in the last ten years that makes Saturday different to the final day of the Premiership season is not restricted to the people on the grass in front of visitors.

Bradford City – in common with many clubs – is suffering a resurgence of aggressive and yobbish violence after utterly failing to address the problem of aggressive and yobbish supporting. The mentality that sees a grown man screaming obscene abuse until his face goes blue at a 20 year old Joe Colbeck is the same mentality that runs over to the Northampton Town fans.

You can find a history of talking about the rise of aggressive support here, here, here, here, here and here. To be honest it comes over in most conversations about following football these days. Manchester United hate Liverpool, Manchester City hate Arsenal, Spurs hate Sol Campbell, everyone hates Lee Hughes.

Back to Wolstenholme and his era of football and the idea of such reckless hate being spewed around would be alien. Talk to a City fan in his sixties or seventies and he will tell you about going to Park Avenue on odd weekends and supporting them, while favouring us. The idea that your football rivals are to be loathed is a modern conceit drawn from hooliganism and in many ways represents the lingering elements of those dark days.

Modern aggressive football support – be it the kind of external manifestations we see or the internal abuse of players described above – is a breeding ground for the scenes of the weekend at Luton, at Wednesday and in front of the Northampton supporters and while each fan involved is responsible for their own actions and should be punished as such the wider community around football clubs needs to address this tide of aggression.

Because if the 1980s tells us one thing is it that if we the fans cannot set our house in order then other people will try to put it in order for us be they the club, the police or the (perhaps same Conservative) Government. The last time that occurred results the results were, in very many ways, horrific.

Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying our goodbyes

The long bleak winter is over. The weather has been fantastic recently; and we’ve enjoyed continuous sunshine almost every day, getting us in the mood for a summer of barbeques, beer gardens and beaches.

Although the football season lasts only 10 months, there’s something full circle about the fact we usually begin and end it in short sleeves. The almost care-free days of pre-season last July seem a long time ago now having endured a winter of discontent that, at Valley Parade, was about more than appalling weather. But with the season long since ended, the pain of failure has already been dealt with and the focus has quickly shifted onto a more promising future. We’re not quite care-free, but it’s more than just the recent sunshine which has lifted the mood.

This weekend we say our goodbyes to the season. It’s not quite over of course – a few hundred of us will travel to Crewe a week Saturday and there’s even an attractive end of season benefit game at Valley Parade the day after, where legends return. But this weekend is the last where we all come together before the close season break, and we won’t properly see each other again until summer’s almost over.

In recent weeks many supporters have offered the opinion they can’t wait for this season to be over. I understand and agree with such sentiments to a point – who wants to prolong this desperately disappointing campaign any longer than we need to? But the close season can drag on very slowly, so there’s always something sad to me about its imminent arrival.

We may be glad of a break from it all now, but at some point over the next few weeks we’ll start to miss it again, badly. And typically when we again get the urge to watch Bradford City at the weekend, it will be an itch we cannot scratchwith so much as a pre-season friendly for weeks to come. Life just isn’t the same when there’s no active fixture list guiding us through it.

At least summers where there’s a major championship are much more bearable. This time we get the World Cup no less and, after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008, the prospect of the nation coming together to cheer on the team will likely prove doubly exciting and memorable. Beyond the inevitable penalty shoot out elimination, there’s a feast of football on TV to keep us going.

Fantastic…But…Well…It’s not the same as going to watch City, is it? At least the first pre-season friendly will quickly follow the World Cup final.

But before all that, this weekend we say our goodbyes. We say goodbye to the strangers which sit around us at games, who are so comfortingly familiar and provide the backdrop to Saturday afternoons. The bloke behind me who screams “FORWARDS!” at the merest suggestion of a sideways pass in City’s own half. The two miserable moaners nearby who select a different City player to slate every week.

The friendly old lady nearby who offers us sweets, and her grumpy husband who threatens every year never to come back but always does. “Thunder” at the back of the Midland Road stand, giving the linesman grief. The eccentric person who sets off balloons when games get dull. Charlie over in the Kop (what’s happened to him since the Dagenham game?). Some of you guys drive me mad and ruin my Saturdays by endlessly moaning, but I’ll miss it come June.

This weekend we say goodbye to a similar array of characters in the pub pre-match. Where are we going to get those little nuggets of City gossip from now?

This weekend we say goodbye to close friends. Me and Steve have been going to watch City together for years. Others were with us and gave up, and I also bring along the wife with me now; but for me and Steve it’s a valued and meaningful friendship built on charged emotions. When we spend time together we go through extreme highs and lows, each feeling the same way at the same time. We cheer and hug together, we sit in silence and sulk together. It’s a strange but fantastic way to bond, but outside of going to watch City every weekend we rarely hang out. We’re off to Crewe next week, but who knows when we’ll see each other after? A strange ending, when I’m used to dropping him off with the words “See you on Tuesday/next Saturday for the (insert team name) game, I’ll text what time I’ll pick you up.”

This weekend we say goodbye to the players. At this time of year debates are in full flow about which out of contract Bantams should be kept and who should be ditched. We rarely agree with each other, let alone the manager’s decisions, but no matter who’s goes they deserve our appreciation. Whatever the failings of this season, lack of effort cannot be accused of any player. They’ve exasperated and angered us at times over the last nine months, but this weekend we say goodbyes and wish those we don’t see again good luck for the future.

This weekend we don’t say goodbye – we remember those we never forget. 25 years since the fire, a milestone to reflect on and provide a fitting occasion to honour those who didn’t go home that night. Every supporter has been asked to buy a t-shirt in aid of the Burns Unit and wear it with pride at the game. It promises to be awesome sight, and for anyone who doesn’t join in words will fail me. Hopefully we’ll all get to sing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ too.

But aside from that, above all this weekend we say goodbye to Valley Parade and everything it gives us. The joy, the pain, the laughs, the anger, the cheers, the booing, the lukewarm beer, the long queues for the toilets. We go every other week for nine months, but then we spend three months away from our second home. I drive past it often in the summer – en route to the cinema or the M62 – and just wish I could go inside.

It is just being at Valley Parade, being at the football, that I miss most close season. Football is a way of life for us, and our lives have been filled by football for so many years that the summer pauses are unnerving and unnatural. Some animals hibernate in winter, we hibernate in summer.

We hibernate to shopping centres and DIY projects and catching up with friends we neglect and Saturday afternoon TV and so many other things that rarely come anywhere near to generating the excitement of sitting inside Valley Parade, on the edge of our seat, with City on the attack and looking like they might score.

This weekend we say goodbye to it all, until at least July. I’ll miss you, I really will.

Is Football Really a Results Based Business?

We have heard the phrase “Football is a results based business” a lot at Valley Parade in the last decade with it being brought up on Nicky Law exit, with Stuart McCall speaking the words as he left and Peter Taylor – who is enjoying mixed results on his fist half dozen games five of which were away from home – accepting the idea on arriving at the club. BfB starts The Barry Articles with the the question:

“Is Football Really a Results Based Business?”

Dave Pendleton Bantamspast Curator & Former City Gent Editor

During the heady days of Bradford City’s Premier League sojourn I remember thinking that hanging on for grim death in the lower reaches of the top flight was about the best a club of City’s stature could hope for in the unequal modern game. Even a fluky cup final appearance was off the agenda as the manager was likely to ignore the temptations of cup glory and commit all to remaining in the lucrative Premier League.

Although our expectations have been lowered quite dramatically during the last decade, the brutal truth is that success is likely to be just as fleeting in the lower reaches. The odd promotion, perhaps wild eyed we might dream of re-establishing ourselves in the Championship. Trophies? Think Johnstone’s Paint. So, in truth do the results really matter that much? Our support base, and TV income relevant to which ever division we find ourselves in, dictate that we can never compete with the majority of Premier League clubs and a fair number of Championship clubs.

If we accept that we have a level, then surely it is performances and entertainment that matter and not results? City do have a minor footballing tradition. Remember the chants of ‘we want football’ when John Docherty tried to introduce direct football to Valley Parade? Perhaps a certain style is the best we can achieve. But, I’ll guarantee that some of our fans would be enraged by neat passing, they would scream at the players to ‘get stuck in’ and ‘get it forward’. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, so yes results do matter, particularly if Mark Lawn continues to read the official message board.

Steve Baker Stalwart City fan and Bantams Bar regular

Yes of course it is. Any team, player, manager, chairman, fan or neutral wants to see football teams win football matches. Without that people wont watch games and the commercial aspect to the game falls flat. If this doesn’t exist then you would probably have 1 league in the country – what do all the non-league teams strive for? Existence yes, but you cant argue that they wouldn’t love to be in the 3rd round of the FA Cup at Old Trafford or Anfield. People will watch this, follow it with interest, drive commercial revenues which helps the club out – but all in all they are looking for a win.

We have seen in some circumstances in the last few seasons teams who don’t set-up to win, or who come for a 0-0. But that is the result they are looking for – Grimsby’s nil nil draw with City earlier in the season was a good example. That was the result they were after and its what they got. Result.

If your winning, then things seem easier. If your losing and your backs are against the wall, its tougher. Look at Rafa Bentiez’s current predicament.

Peter Taylor has done enough in my view to warrant a longer contract. He has got results that have seen us gain points, although in some circumstances, the players have let him down. I believe with a full pre-season and a few signings of his choice will make a world of difference. Winning football matches makes people (fans, players, commercial investors) interested in football.

So how can we argue its about anything else?

Jason Mckeown City Gent & BfB Writer

The result on a Saturday afternoon is the most important factor for any club – but it cannot become the be all and end all.

Club strategies have to be built on more solid foundations than the up-and-down nature of a league campaign. There are greater responsibilities and longer-term interests to be mindful of, which Bradford City clearly realise.

Financially sinking in 2002 and 2004, the Bantams fell to the point where it became difficult to feel upset about defeats. The club was on its knees, relying on the community and fanbase it represents to keep going. Was the club saved so every subsequent resource could be piled into buying players more able to win matches, or for the enjoyment fans shared in supporting a football team and the difference it makes to the area? After the rescue in 2004, we fans quickly turned back attention to the joy and despair of results – but we’ve never forgotten what we might have lost.

And in recent years, City has put longer-term interests ahead of short-term results. A season ticket initiative that puts more bums on seats than pennies in the bank; a manager in Stuart McCall who was given time and patience to develop, at the detriment of instant results; a youth set up which is costly to run and has provided only limited returns. These are not quick-fix approaches and may have cost City success, but they matter to its fanbase and community.

The result on a Saturday afternoon is the most important factor for any club – when everything else is competently managed.

David Markham T&A Reporting Legend

Results business has become a football cliché – repeated by directors as their reasons – or should that be excuses – for sacking managers. And not only managers, supporters abuse managers from the stands, write letters to the press or usually nowadays messages on websites to build up pressure and often directors capitulate.

It is true, of course, that managers live or die by results. Think of Stuart McCall, who resigned from City a month ago – another ten points and maybe he would still be at Valley Parade. If only City had converted their two penalties – Michael Flynn missed at home to Lincoln when the score was 0-0 and City went on to lose 2-0 while Gareth Evans missed two minutes from the end of the Accrington match – another two points were dropped. Think also of the needless penalty given away at home to Cheltenham and the last minute equaliser scored by Northampton to realise what a thin dividing line there is between success and failure in management.

Managerial changes are not always the solution to a club’s problems. Think of the managerial changes made in League Two this season – Peter Jackson sacked at Lincoln with the season barely a month old, replaced by a high profile ex-player Chris Sutton and yet the club are still hovering just above the relegation zone. Mike Newell, sacked by Grimsby in November, but the club are still threatened with relegation to the Blue Square Premier League.

Of course, directors would not be human if they were not tempted to make changes to obtain improved results – and it is easier to sack one man – the manager – than get rid of 11 players.

To go back to the original question, as financial pressures increase and media and fans become more and more impatient for success results become more important than ever. Lots of fans would rather see their side play badly and win rather than play well and lose.

Perhaps directors should take more care in choosing their managers and giving them contracts. And then give them more time to develop their plans instead of wielding the axe after two or three bad results or a bad start to the season. It was remarkable how managerial casualties there were in the first couple months of this season. As well as achieving good results at first team level, managers must also be given time to develop youth policies and scouting systems, which are crucial to the long term future of all clubs. Clubs yearn for stability. Few achieve it because of the ‘results business’ syndrome. Think of two of most successful English clubs – Manchester United and Arsenal – and think of how long Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been in their jobs. Is there a lesson to be learned there?

The football culture, Keith Alexander and Rotherham United

Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive – Brian Clough

Search Facebook on Wednesday afternoon and you would find the group We Hate Keith Alexander

Football did not come to a sobering halt with the news of the death at 53 of Macclesfield Town manager Keith Alexander and perhaps did not even skip a beat but rolled on to watching England beat Egypt with the players wearing black armbands and Clive Tyldesley waxing lyrical about a man who’s team one doubts he could place on a map.

The booing of John Terry went on regardless, clubs like Farsley Celtic – the very type of low level club that as a player and manager Alexander served so diligently – continued to struggle to keep going, the people at the “We Hate…” group carried on swearing and being obnoxious. For all the shock and sadness of the death of an iconoclast manager football did not miss a beat, and that is a shame.

Alexander is lauded in death, but hardly appreciated. Tyldesley called him the type of man who is so important to football at the lower levels but is part of the very machine that tries to grind out that level of the game. Alexander’s death is shocking, but his work in life was no doubt sadly frustrating.

A man who gave his life to a the levels of game which seems prepared to allow that level to wither and die. Hardly an appreciation.

Gareth Evans will show appreciation. Evans credits Alexander with helping turn his career around at Macclesfield following his release from Manchester United and indeed it is over a tackle by Evans that the “We Hate…” group emerged.

The group – started by those lovely Notts County supporters – is hardly unique indeed the very discussion of football seems to be conducted by a not insignificant section of fans in this kind of hateful, disturbing way. A search for “Stuart McCall” turns up groups like “stuart mccall’s a ****” and “I HAT (sic) BRADFORD CITY AND STUART MCCALL BUMS DAVID WETHERALL” alongside calls for the former City boss to be given the job of Prime Minister.

Why is it that a section of football is so ready to communicate in such hateful terms? Mark Lawn considers this so much of a problem on Bradford City’s official message board that he wants to take steps against it by removing the anonymity of that site although the Facebook experience suggests that that will not be a total remedy.

Indeed as tributes were pouring in about Alexander some England fans at Wembley were booing and jeering John Terry who has been the subject of shocking abuse as football continues the culture that allows abuse to sit alongside criticism as if the two are natural bedfellows, leading to a suggestion that the one will bleed into the other.

BfB was asked to not criticise Mark Lawn and – when the joint chairman’s car was vandalised after the Accrington Stanley game – there was a suggestion that (what I consider to be very valid) criticism by one person becomes abuse by another that becomes violence.

This week a reader asked that the site not “fall into the trap of criticising Taylor after two weeks” following a news story about Scott Neilson going out on loan while Gavin Grant comes in and in a welcome and friendly exchange I details how Taylor will be criticised when he does things that people do not like – such as bringing in too many loan players, a continued bugbear of mine – and praised when he does things that people consider right such as switching back to 442 or retaining Wayne Jacobs.

No one need create a “We Hate Peter Taylor Group” because of it and no one has to vandalise a car.

Football culture has a continued problem with the inability to separate criticism from abuse and perhaps if we want to pay tribute to the memory of Keith Alexander we might look at how servants of the game such as he are regularly the subject of abuse which is as disturbing when he was alive as it is now he has passed on and see what we can do to change that.

Should the FA want to pay tribute to Alexander they might also look at the state of lower league football and the finances that sees Sheffield Wednesday – no one’s idea of a small fry club – the latest team to be talking about administration. The gold rush of the Premier League seems to be coming to an end and the clubs involved seem to have frittered away that wealth and perhaps there needs to be redress in show the money is distributed that would give managers like Alexander more of an even hand. A wider discussion for another time.

The abuse of managers and the struggles of club’s to stay in business comes to the fore when Bradford City face a team managed by Ronnie Moore. Moore had wanted City to be thrown out of football for going into administration but has since, no doubt, revised a view that would have seen his current club Rotherham United bounced out of the game.

I think Moore’s view was out of touch, unsympathetic and needlessly harsh but I understand the frustrations he had in trying to sign players and being outbid by the Bantams and feel that football could have learnt from that. Indeed City were out-offered by The Millers for Paul Shaw,Pablo Mills and – later – Nicky Law Jnr which suggests that even the smaller points Moore made have been ignored.

Rotherham are smarting from a 4-0 defeat at Rochdale in the week and have slipped to fifth from the lofty position Mark Robbins took the club to at the start of the season. The Miller’s Don Valley Stadium has seen only seven wins this season – two or three fewer than their promotion rivals – and seems to be as unwelcoming for the “home” support as it is for the visitors. The place is bitterly cold and the pitch not good for playing football on.

Not that that will stop Peter Taylor’s strong men at the front with the Bantams playing an increasingly air based game. Mark McCammon – who turned down Rotherham to join City – and James Hanson can expect the ball to come direct and to look for wide men Gareth Evans and Luke O’Brien for lay-offs to allow for delivery. Goals from under five passes are the order of the day, especially on pitches like the Don Valley.

Scott Neilson’s loan move to Cambridge United is a strange one. His replacement – Gavin Grant, who made a debut at Aldershot and was himself subject to abuse from his new supporters – is a non-contract player and should he wish can leave Bradford City whenever he wants. Neilson cannot return to the club for a month regardless and one has to wonder why the experience that is given from playing for the Bantams should be given to Grant and not to Neilson.

Peter Taylor wants Neilson to get some first team games but leaves him out of our first team. As a player he is obviously capable and has shown us such. The instability the club has been put into is underlined by the idea that one of the squad could simply wander away at the drop of a hat.

Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock both had chances to get an equaliser against Aldershot in the week and were unlucky not to do so. The pair can point back to the 4-2 defeat at Valley Parade earlier this season as proof that they have been able to boss a midfield against the Millers – goals scored from wherever you want, or offside, are not proof of a good midfield – and should prepare for battle. For all Nicky Law’s abilities “getting stuck in” was not one of them.

At the back Luke Oliver – all six foot seven of him – is expected to make a debut in the place of Matthew Clarke with Steve Williams retaining his place. Robbie Threlfall and Simon Ramsden continue in front of Matt Glennon.

On the beaches, with growing confidence and growing strength

Gareth Evans has just been kicked in the head by Rochdale’s on-loan winger Temitope Obadeyi. The referee, typically useless all night, tries to let the game go on as Rochdale charge forwards, but as the linesman nearby waves his flag frantically for the foul, he belatedly blows the whistle. The City players nearby rush over to check Evans is okay and say a few things to Obadeyi. The City fans, housed in the lengthways stand and right next to of the incident, loudly call for the issuing of a red card. It’s only yellow, so attention turns to a woozy Evans, being helped off the pitch by the physio.

As Evans stands on the touchline in front of us, waiting for the referee to allow him back on, we chant his name loudly and continuously. City’s number nine turns round to us to show his appreciation by applauding, before emphatically waving his arms in the style of a conductor leading an orchestra, urging us to keep going. With the chanting from away fans having being kept up since well before kick off, it’s his nod of approval for the support and the difference we are making.

And in response, we roar even louder.

On an evening of so many positives for City – terrific Wayne Jacobs-influenced tactics, colossal individual performances and outstanding goals – it was the connectivity between the players and fans which stood out to me as the highlight. This was unconditional, positive backing for the players – the level of which has not been seen since the memorable night at Lincoln City in 2007. The singing didn’t stop until the players trooped off the pitch, having all come over to jubilantly thank the fans at the final whistle. There will have been some City fans with hoarse voices the following day, mine certainly was.

And the reward for such backing was a performance of incredible commitment and quality. This was no fluke result, achieved by sticking 10 men behind the ball and grabbing a goal on the break. This was no long ball hit and hope, duck and let someone else take responsibility approach from the team. They played some brilliant football, they ran their socks off closing down the opposition, they deserved the three points and the winning margin.

Who quite knows where it came from? But it felt so good. When Robbie Threlfall netted that stunning free kick to put City 2-1 up, the celebrations were wild. Strangers hugged me, my hat went flying off, my glasses fell to the floor, at one stage I fell to the floor. And it was only after the adrenaline starting to wear off as we headed back to the car that I realised I must have twisted my knee in the process. I was suddenly hobbling, with a grin that couldn’t be shifted.

And the singing. The singing was as beautiful as a group of football fans chanting mainly out of tune can be. There was no time for rest and catching breath. One chant over, the next one begins. A new range of songs to enjoy and keep repeating in future games, the usual numbers sung more heartfelt than we’ve being able to for months.

We were one team – the players, the management, the supporters. When Rochdale attacked we cheered every time a successful tackle was made. When City possession broke down we seemed to collectively mutter “unlucky” and urge them to keep going. When the referee gave a decision against us we snarled and barracked him angrily in the hope he’d not dare be so foolish next time. When Rochdale fans finally bothered to sing, we took the mick out of how many years it has been since they were last promoted.

At Spotland the fans and players felt closer than they’ve been for a long time. Let’s do it again soon, more often, please.

The next manager meets his boss

When Stuart McCall left Bradford City in February he walked away with a huge push he was given on his way from some supporters and from within the club. At the end of last season there was a will displayed by a majority of the supporters that McCall be given this season and almost from day one that will has been undermined in the stands and – if rumours are to be believed – within the club.

That is what the thoughts of the majority of the supporters are worth. Football supportting as a community at Bradford City simply does not exist.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes move on to looking for the next man and should do so with trepidation. The bar set for the new manager now excludes anything other than constant, unprecedented, relentless success.

Finding someone who can deliver that is impossible and by the yardsticks created in the aggressive pursuit of McCall are unattainable. The list of criticisms that McCall faced as brickbats preclude a manager changing his tactics, although he must have a “Plan B”. He must give players a chance, but should pick a consistent team. He must play attractive football, but results are all important. He will not have patience or time to build a squad, Mark Lawn’s talk of stability turned out to be just talk.

The next man cannot afford to have a season without promotion. Not only that he cannot afford to spend any time where a mass of supporters do not think that promotion can be achieved. Not only that but – as Stuart McCall found – even should the next manager be top of the league then he will still have critics working against him.

These critics may be amassed in the next few days as runners and riders appear for the vacant management chair. The next man will not be a unanimous choice and as a result a section of people who would vocally put forward the opinion that things would be better with someone else will appear.

Every defeat will start to amass critics, any selection decision which is not approved of will too, any transfer whim that is not acted on will be made into a case against. Should the next man take a chance on a player that chance has to work out, or he faces the criticisms McCall did for signing Simon Eastwood.

Some supporters will simply make things up about the next man twisting half truths and telling lies to mount attacks. They will no nothing about what make successful coaching but they will attack his backroom staff for not being good at it.

Stuart McCall was criticised for not trying to sign Lee Hughes at the start of the season and Scott Loach in the middle of it. These may seem flippant but they added to an increasing sound of discontent.

That sound of malcontent will be the metronome of the next man at Bradford City. It will be the creeping end of his time at the club starting from the moment he arrives. It will not be conducted with dignity or as debate. It will be swearing and abuse and it will attack every part of him from what he wears on a match day to where and how he stands near the dug out to the tone of voice he uses in interviews.

You may think that this can be stopped – this scenario of never ending malcontent – by victories and great football but this season saw the best unbeaten run in City’s post-war history and that did nothing to silence the constant grumbling.

You might think that it can be stopped by a gradual improvement but McCall is the first manager to show a season-on-season improvement and his time at the club has been abruptly ended in this swarm of bad feeling which prompted responses such as this.

The next man will not be protected from anyone who has any complaint with his management of the club and mounting a campaign to get rid of him for whatever trumped up, exaggerated reason they decide.

The community which used to hold a consensus at the club is gone, destroyed by those who decided they would ignore that community in order to get what they wanted and unseat McCall. Any influence supporters have on the boardroom for the next man will not come from support in the stands but from the snipe nameless people on message boards gossiping, rumouring, lying, agitating.

These people have what they want now, but the cost will prove too high. Stuart McCall enjoyed a massive respect at the club which allowed him thirty odd months to do his job, the next man will probably not have that and as Colin Todd found out the levels of abuse quickly ramp up to sickening levels.

The club’s voice is no longer that of the stands but the agitators on message boards and texting Lizzie on The Football League show and the club – in accepting McCall’s resignation which some would suggest they have forced the club have bowed to those people. If previous chairman had run the club at the behest of the loudest noise on the terraces the current chairmen do it at the whim of the malcontent and the faceless, nameless reactionary.

That person – the guy who will not say his name but knows all his sign on handles – is the next man’s new boss.

Stuart McCall is gone and when the people who rounded on him want patience for the next man will it be forthcoming? When next there is an appeal to a minority to respect the will of the majority will it be heard? Why should it be? Bradford City are just another club with no idea how to improve itself but dire need to do so.

The next man will be expected to win constantly and when he does not small groups of people will start trying to get him sacked and – eventually – they will succeed.

Smash and grab at Torquay

When the fixtures for the 2009/2010 season were published last June, myself and some fellow Bradford City supporters highlighted Torquay away on 30 January 2010 as a game that we’d go as Plainmoor was a ground that none of us had visited before. So the 30th January started at 7am with myself and three friends leaving West Yorkshire to travel south towards Devon. It was nice that one of the other three lads offered to drive as I’d driven us to Exeter last season. By 9.15am we were in a Tesco cafe, just off the M42, eating an eight item English breakfast with free toast. Our driver was happy as he was the only one with a Tesco Clubcard so he collected all of the points (which is was what we were hoping for come 4.55pm that afternoon).

After a relatively easy journey down the M5, we arrived in Torquay just after 12.30pm. After checking into our accommodation, the four of us met the fifth member of our group who had travelled by train from Maidenhead. We headed towards the town centre but after speaking with other City supporters and some of the locals, we decided to get a taxi to the ground. As we had to wait 20 minutes for a taxi, it was into The Clocktower pub for a swift pint. So, onto Plainmoor and after visiting their excellent social bar, Boots and Laces, we finally went through the turnstile at about 2.59pm. My initial estimation for the away following was about 300 although I’d not realised until the final whistle that there were some City supporters sat in a small section of the main stand.

So we all started to point out who was in the staring eleven and it soon came to light that McCall had decided to opt for a 4-5-1 formation with Michael Boulding as the lone striker. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before Torquay scored following a corner which was only half cleared to the Torquay defender Robertson who struck a neat right foot shot to the delight of the home supporters. The remainder of the first half seemed to go very quickly and we played far too many long balls which were the wrong tactics with such a small man playing upfront on his own.

Credit to McCall and Jacobs though as the ineffective Brandon was taken off along with the unsure looking Williams (I have to say that I thought that Williams was brilliant when he first came into the team and I hope that he can re-discover his early season form) at half time and they were replaced by Gareth Evans and Zesh Rehman. We reverted to a 4-4-2 formation and although Torquay started the second half brightly with captain for the day Ramsden clearing off the line, we slowly began to get a foothold in the game. Daley started to get more possession of the ball and as a team we started to realise that we had to get the ball into wide positions if we were going to cause the Torquay defence any problems. A point should be made about the referee, Mr East, who seemed to get numerous decisions wrong. An example for me was when he booked the Torquay striker Zebroski for time wasting when he infact passed the ball back to Luke O’Brien for a throw in.

With about 15 minutes remaining, McCall finally brought Thorne on who had been warming up for about 20 minutes. Off went Neilson so we now had Thorne, Evans, Boulding and Daley on the pitch. And about five minutes after Thorne coming on, we equalised when Evans scored his first goal since November following a corner taken by Ramsden. At this point in the match, I think that most City supporters would have settled for a point which was probably slightly harsh on Torquay. However, there was one final sting in the tale in the four minutes of added on time when Thorne flicked on a Ramsden free kick and there was Evans from about three yards out to score his second goal of the match and send the City supporters inside the ground into ecstasy!

When Mr East blew his whistle to indicate the end of the match myself and four friends were shell-shocked. I don’t think that any of us could believe that we had actually won the match having played so poorly in the first half and been outplayed for the first part of the second half. We just stood on the mini terrace applauding the players and then watched as the City supporters exited the ground. McLaughlan and a couple of the other subs were now on the otherwise empty pitch going through their exercises so I decided to chant “there’s only one John McLaughlan” much to the amusement of my four friends and I think to McLaughlan himself.

So, an evening was spent in Torquay consuming a curry in the rather good Maha-Bharat and talking about how we got three points over a pint or two of the excellent Otter beer in the recommended Hole in the Wall pub.

Back from the brink

Some 400 fans were at Torquay on Saturday to wildly celebrate Bradford City’s come-from-behind victory, but how did the rest of us follow the afternoon’s events?

Many would have planned to listen to radio coverage, others rely on updates online; plenty would keep their eyes glued to Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday and some would have already been roped into wandering around the shops with loved ones, trying not to think about it at all.

Me, I didn’t know what to do.

With my car in need of its heating fixing and a heavy drinking session with workmates planned for the night before, travelling 300+ miles to Plainmoor had already been ruled out. Normally when I don’t go, I tune into Radio Leeds to follow the game and keep one eye on other scores via the internet, but I couldn’t face the agony of listening to whether we could snatch a win or would painfully lose again.

I hadn’t given up on the team, or even the season. I was just struggling to face up to what seemed like the inevitable after defeat to Lincoln. I was convinced it was the end for manager Stuart McCall. His likely dismissal wasn’t one I agreed with – I made my views known via this site three weeks ago and two admittedly spirit-crushing defeats hadn’t altered my belief McCall should stay until the end of the season at least – but it seemed to have gone beyond the point where my opinion could make a difference.

In the closing stages of the defeat to Lincoln, a few fans began chanting McCall’s name and I joined in while most stood in silence. It seemed the number of supporters who wanted him gone had grown to a majority, and on the Monday after the defeat whispers reached me that those closer to Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn expected the joint chairmen to now pull the trigger. Chanting McCall’s name at Sincil Bank felt like my last act of defiance, the majority were about to have spoken.

I’d already begun to feel marginalised for still supporting McCall. Football fans are great at voicing opinions and, beyond just fellow City supporters telling me why he had to go, followers of other teams were increasingly lining up to state how surely the legend should be fired because sentiment doesn’t win football matches. And like in any situation in life where people argue against your opinion – that Avator is an amazing cinematic leap, that house music is a credible form of music, that your well-crafted proposal produced for your boss is flawless – you begin to question yourself.

Do I just not see enough good cinema? Has a student life wasted in nightclubs distorted my hearing? Am I only really still supporting McCall because it’s Stuart?

But even if I could still the logic in my own views, last week it was almost irrelevant because events had sprialled beyond the point where it seemed a debate could even be held, and where what I think should happen didn’t matter. Unless I win the lottery and invest millions into the club, my opinion holds no more or less weight than some guy hiding behind a username spouting angry abuse on the Telegraph and Argus website, no matter how much of a moron I think they are.

So the decision is apparently made, all I can do is feel bad for McCall. This article really struck a cord with me and helped me to remember that, as clear a decision sacking McCall appeared to be to others, his obvious affection and emotional attachment towards the club means that failing at Valley Parade is not going to be easy for him to take. It would mean the relationship he has with us supporters would never be the same again. No one could ever take away what he did for this club as a player, but it’s through sharing the triumphs and tragedy with us that would make failing as manager at City so much more difficult for him to take.

Whether your McCall’s biggest critic or biggest fan, no one could enjoy him exiting the club in this manner – could they?

But as news of his sacking failed to materialise, it became obvious there was one last chance for McCall at Torquay and, if I couldn’t be there to watch it, I just didn’t think I could handle the feeling of helplessness. It was like a family pet, loved and cherished for years, having to be put down; you knew it would have to be done, but you didn’t want to see it actually happen. Go into another room to perform the act, come back in a while and tell me it’s done. Then we can slowly look to move onwards.

So as the weekend loomed large I didn’t know how to spend the hours between 3-5pm. I considered taking in a local non-league game, but then a friend invited me to watch him play for a Saturday team and I ended up shivering in an open field in Silsden despite the sun been in my eye.

The only problem was my friend’s game kicked off at 2pm which meant it’d be over by 4pm, and his manager’s long ball tactics meant the midfield position he was supposed to play in was largely bypassed. So uninvolved was he that at half time he was subbed, and so a largely dull game became even more unappealing and my fingers weren’t sufficiently frozen to prevent me regularly checking the internet, via my phone, for the latest at Torquay.

Four times I checked the score between 3 and 3.15pm, then on the fifth occasion I faced the dreaded news that City were 1-0 down. The Silsden game was soon over and we retreated to the club bar where Soccer Saturday was been shown. My eyes became fixed on the bottom of the screen for scoreflashes in the hope of a City equaliser. No updates from Plainmoor and, in this betting culture which has grown in recent years, I was instead left bemused when obscure goal updates were met by cheers from others in the bar, staring intently at their slips.

The second halves around the country kicked off and still 1-0 at Torquay, the rest of my friends wanted to leave and the prospect of staying on my own waiting to hear the groans of others when their accumulator failed to come through didn’t appeal.

Driving home, I had to put Radio Leeds to see if City could come back. The frustration of the Bantams trying but largely failing was clear in the voices of the commentary pair Gareth Jones and the City Gent’s Mike Harrison. The misery within me become even stronger, but having gone weak and turned the commentary on, I then couldn’t bring myself to stop listening; so rushed into the house and fired up Radio Leeds.

Just as hope was nearly over, Gareth Evans scored and I jumped up and down in the room in relief. Then, improbably, he scored again and my screams of delirium brought my confused wife rushing in from the room to check I wasn’t rolling around in pain. I felt so happy I wanted to cry. As the final whistle sounded I texted around 10 friends – City and non-City fans – to register my glee. By the end of the night many others had also text me to offer congratulations.

Is this the turning point in City’s season and McCall’s reign as manager, or does it merely prolong the inevitable? With two consecutive home games to come, we may know soon. As Saturday’s visit of Bury becomes something to look forward to rather than dread, I remain both excited and fearful for the immediate future. McCall may have pulled back from the brink of being pushed, but he remains precariously balanced on a very thin ledge.

Meanwhile I won’t miss another game until Aldershot away in March now; so, if McCall’s reign is ended between now and then, I’ll be watching on while probably feeling just as helpless. I hope you won’t mind if I end up covering my eyes.

The perception gap

There are twelve of them. Photographs of men involved in what the Police now euphemistically call “violent scenes” but we used to call football hooliganism. The Police are quick to point out that these are a tiny minority.

At Sincil Bank on Saturday reporters from the Lincolnshire Echo were bedded in with Police, covering the game between Lincoln City and the Bantams.

The fact that the Police are deployed in such huge numbers for lower league games is a matter of some controversy – the majority of the time they are tasked with little more than answering the odd question about which end might be the away end – but on Saturday they had work to do in the away end.

Early on in the game a section of City fans are abusing the linesman and the “banter” started over the top and got worse. I feel culpable – I worry that my criticism of linesman leads to someone else abusing which leads to someone else attacking – but I want no part of the homophobia which is being poured at the official who seems to get his own back keeping a flag down when Omar Daley is fouled and when Gareth Evans is shoved in the back leading to the home side’s first goal.

One wonders where the Police are, where the stewards are, in this situation. Were the abuse racial and not homophobic then without a doubt there would be more of an imperative for them to be involved – when was the last time a club put out a message about kicking homophobia out of football? – and would we want stewards and Police coming over and telling fans what they can and cannot say?

Eventually the stewards come to the men as they advance forward towards the side of the pitch with a message of calming down. The abuse simmers down which perhaps is credit to the softly softly approach of the stewards.

This is put to a test in the second half when a single fan starts an aggressive chant about T&A writer Simon Parker. He is allowed to continue to the bafflement of some and the amusement of others. What Parker must have thought about that one can only guess but for a moment it is worth contemplating that these two individuals – the linesman and the writer – are both the target of abuse that is treated differently in different contexts. Neither seems right, but for different reasons.

A third incident is more testing for the Police and the stewards. A young lad dressed in the traditional Chav uniform of Burberry scarf and cap is on the phone at the front and then ten minutes later is causing problems at the back, shouting at the home fans, turning heads in the crowd. Soon men in florescent jackets are running to the scene.

Incidents like this are difficult to report. Every view has a different take on events. BfB’s Jason McKeown gives one view as he looks down on events and details some, other fans see it and a patchwork of reports give an impression. Sincere apologies if it is factually incorrect, it is the recollections of a number of people.

The lad in Burberry is tackled by a half dozen stewards and is dragged across the front of the away fans – half way up the stand – to be ejected from the ground. Another lad has his legs outstretched and a steward trips over them. There is a flashpoint with the steward thinking he has been tripped and the innocent fan taking what is described as a punch. None of this can be seen by most of the crowd although the spill out afterwards can but before the day is done the version of events which is correlated here has done the rounds of City fan’s mobile phones. It is impossible to say if it is true or not but it is certainly what is being talked about.

The fan is innocent and as a result scuffling has broken out between stewards and supporters. It is a worrying flashpoint with six Stewards having inadvisedly got into the middle of a group of fans and seemingly – probably to regret – gone on the attack. The men at the front have turned attentions away from the lines man and one tugs his scarf over his face to cover his mouth and nose, the disguise favoured by the hooligan of old.

No one seems to know what has happened to the guy with his legs outstretched, or the Chav, but rumours in the following days have it afterwards he went to the Police to report the actions of the steward.

The incident calms down eventually but not before Radio Leeds have mistaken a “You don’t know what your doing” chant aimed at the steward as one aimed at McCall following a substitution. Attention turns back to the pitch and when the game ends and within minutes fans of Lincoln and Bradford City are walking next to each other away from the ground.

The point?

Take a look again at the photographs of men in Manchester. Image three, image four, image six, image eleven. Not the faces of young men yet there is a perception that the only problems at football are caused by people under a certain age. That football hooliganism is back in a younger generation having been purged from the old.

The veracity of this I’d question. As with the photographs from Manchester within the Bradford City fans who shouted abuse in these three incidents there is no age barrier in people involved in events that cause interest and perhaps the difference comes how the problems are handled by Police and Stewards.

Perhaps it is a perception that only the younger fans cause trouble worth addressing or perhaps they see it easier for Stewards to tackle young lads than it is people forty plus who are doing the same.

Another day, another message board discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Together Now

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

So why don’t we all sing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All together now.

Anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moment

In the cold light of day, this sport of football can often seem dispiriting.

Arriving back from Bradford City’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Quarter Final victory over Port Vale on Tuesday, I logged onto the club’s official message board hoping to read comments reflecting the excitement and glee of the evening’s events. The first thread I saw was from a supporter not at the game questioning why Stuart had taken off Michael Boulding, then I read another thread about how rubbish Luke Sharry had been, followed by another having a go at Stuart for playing Zesh Rehman as a central midfielder. Signs of positivity and enjoyment could be found by looking a bit deeper on the board, but why should it take such an effort to locate?

All these points raised were valid, worthy and relevant. Anyone who watched Boulding’s first half performance wouldn’t have disagreed with the decision to take him off. Sharry’s performance was disappointing, though the difficult circumstances will hopefully be remembered when it comes to considering him for selection again. Playing Rehman in the centre of midfield did seem bizarre, but then the lack of alternative options at Stuart McCall’s disposal and reasonable manner Rehman carried out the less familiar task made it understandable. So all fine to debate, though not a particularly satisfying experience when trying to maintain the feeling of elation which had been taken home from the game.

The following morning I’m walking to work with my voice slightly hoarse due to the amount of chanting I’d participated in from the Kop, thinking back over the game and the high points it produced. But something about the night remained stuck in the back of my mind, that of the reaction of the supporters sat just behind me. I was aware they were less than impressed with the first half performance, though they were in good company following a 45 minute effort which could be comfortably ranked worst at Valley Parade so far this season. As City got better in the second the level of chanting increased, and it was only as things went a bit quieter during the last 15 minutes that their negative mood began to encroach into my earshot.

After a five minute spell of decent City pressure I heard the words “I don’t understand what tactics these players are expected to follow.” Well mate, we’re shading this game and we’ve been on top for the last few minutes, so the players must understand them at least. A frantically-paced game took a quick breather when Simon Eastwood prepared to take a goal kick. “The tactics tonight are to play for penalties!” the other guy suddenly exclaimed, “You can see that’s what we’re trying to do, Stuart is gambling on us winning a penalty shootout!” The theory holds up in their eyes despite all evidence to the contrary, and I lament to myself that I must be the unluckiest City fan around because, wherever I stand or sit at games, I always seem to end up near a moaner determined to maintain a blinkered view.

But then again I can’t be that unlucky. My choice of aftershave isn’t one that attracts those with a half empty pint exterior, there are simply that many people who watch football with the main intention of moaning that it’s largely inevitable the air around me will be polluted by moaning and complaining. And as long as its content isn’t too strong and far-fetched, fair enough. I personally want to get behind the team and keep all doubts about formations and player abilities locked away until later, especially during a tight game in which the players are clearly benefiting from the strong encouragement other supporters are providing them. But it could be worse, at least they’re not repeatedly starting up moronic chants coupling Leeds United together with the IRA.

Now at my desk at work, I fire off an email to a Leeds-supporting friend about last night’s games and the increasing possibility of a City-Leeds meeting in the next round, or perhaps the round after. The reply is no fun whatsoever, my friend doesn’t care about the JPT and he worries it distracts the Leeds players from the main priority of promotion. He also doesn’t want to play the Bantams in the next round or one after because of all the moaning he endured from City fans following last season’s meeting – that’s moaning about the perceived injustice of Leeds taking the lead through a hotly disputed penalty and benefiting further from a City equaliser been incorrectly disallowed.

This disappointment at my friend’s reaction is not due to his indifference towards the prospect of a derby meeting, but the fact his team’s progress to the quarter finals of a cup competition is a cause to moan about rather than be excited by. Okay it’s not the Champions League and it’s considered slightly embarrassing a big club like Leeds is competing in a lower league knockout competition, but does football have to be taken this seriously?

And what does it say about City fans glee to have reached the same heights? Am I stupid for feeling enthused by the prospect of City two rounds away from Wembley? In all my City-supporting career, cup competitions have simply been a case of how long it will take for City to be knocked out, now suddenly the dream of lifting a cup and dancing around Wembley is a dream within our grasp. So what if it’s only the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, so what if it’s only Port Vale we’ve beaten, so what if it was only on penalties. Bring on the next round.

But as much as these little things are annoying and detracting to me, nothing can take away that feeling of The Moment. Luckily Tuesday night’s encounter contained a few little Moments, all leading up to The One at the end. When Michael Flynn equalised it was a brilliant Moment, when James Hanson put City in front it was a Moment that lead to excited talk between me and my friend about the prospect of the Bantams going all the way, a conversation only terminated when Vale equalised five minutes later. In the penalty shoot out there were many Moments and then, as the tension built with each run up from 12 yards, unbridled joy was belatedly released when The Moment finally arrived – Steve Williams slotting home the winning penalty.

The rollercoaster of emotions was over, the despair at half time and after Chris Brandon’s woeful penalty was a distant memory, the fear at seeing no one’s idea of penalty takers – Luke O’Brien and Rehman – tasked with keeping City in the tie was forgotten. The problems and troubles in our own lives and in the wider world were deferred for later on. I am jumping up and down and cheering loudly, I’m hugging my mate and glancing proudly down at the players who are celebrating in a similarly undignified manner. The Moment invokes incredibly personal feelings of joy, but it’s also a feeling communally shared by hundreds of people around me at the same time.

I’m just happy.

The elation remains as we file out of the Kop and prepare to go off in our separate ways into the Bradford night. We’re walking down the stairs singing about going to Wembley, arms are up in the air as a proud rendition of “City till I die” rings out. It’s only then The Moment begins to fade, and the little irritations of life begin to creep back in again. Why does the Radio Leeds presenter pronounce Stuart’s first name weirdly? I can’t believe that idiot driver has just cut me off by the traffic light. What time do I need to get up for work in the morning?

The Moment has gone and attempts to revive a little part of it, such as logging onto the message boards in the vain hope everyone is still jumping up and down and screaming in delight, are futile. Back to arguments about Stuart’s tactical ability, back to complaints about Simon Eastwood’s handling from corners, back to waiting for the next Moment.

The dispiriting thing about the sport of football is we often forget we’re supposed to enjoy it.

A defeat to be proud of?

I have never walked away from Valley Parade, having just witnessed a home defeat, with such pride and optimism for the future.

Crewe and City came into this game with starkly contrasting form. City unbeaten in ten games, league and cup, and Crewe having lost five games on the bounce. Nonetheless, the reinstatement of wiley old Dario Gradi ensured that a very different Crewe side would show up to Valley Parade compared with the team that had heavily unperformed so far this season following their relegation from League One.

The game began well for City – forcing a number of early corners. But it was Crewe who stuck first in devastating fashion. From an acute angle from a throw in, the live wire Calvin Zola produced an unbelievable strike that even some of the home fans applauded. It was the best goal produced at Valley Parade for some years – and was reminiscent of Luke Medley’s strike for City against Wrexham in 2007.

Zola, a real handful and danger every time he touched the ball, performed at a very high level in this game. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the best striker that has been on display at Valley Parade for many, many years. I guess that’s what £200,000 buys you at this level.

City fought back from the early set back with some more pressure, but were then let down by some naïve defending. Joel Grant almost doubled the Alex lead as he charged at Zesh Rehman with pace, who backed off and backed off even into his own penalty area without putting a challenge in, where Grant produced a couple of step overs, leaving Rehman on the seat of his pants. Grant drilled a low shot that cannoned off the left hand post. The warning signs of a 2nd Crewe goal were there for all to see.

And the Railwaymen did double their lead courtesy of Zola again. An uncharacteristic mistake by Steve Williams in possession at the back , left the loose ball to Zola, who quickly reacted and hit a fierce shot that stuck the post and curled into the back of the net. 2-0 inside 23 minutes. It was clear that City’s spirit was really going to be tested.

But they never gave up, and didn’t let the scoreline affect their performance. More City pressure ensued , and Micheal Boulding from six yards out was presented with a chance that was harder to miss that score. But he struck the bar, to the despair of the home fans. Boulding was being given some stick in the Midland Road stand right from the word ‘go’ from one fan in particular (“Thunder” as he was known in the days that we were in the Premiership, the predominant Voice of Midland Road) who slated Boulding for not chasing down a heavily mishit long ball from Rehman. Unbelievable.

And it came as a great relief to City and Boulding when a quality piece of attacking play reduced the scoreline to 2-1. Flynn sprayed the ball down the right for James O Brien ( who had an off day ) who produced a first time cross that Boulding headed into the back of the net on the stroke of half time. Game on.

City again pressed early in the 2nd half, but were dealt a killer blow as ex City Midfielder Steve Schumacher’s long range shot bounced awkwardly in from of Simon Eastwood and flew into the back of the net for 3-1. Previous City teams, even last year’s team, would have given up on this one.

But not this season. Scott Neilson was introduced for Chris Brandon and City reverted to a 4-3-3 which again seemed to work so much better than a standard 4-4-2. The absolute domination of periods of the 2nd half in this formation should surely convince McCall that 4-3-3 is the formation to start with home and away. And Micheal Boulding contributed to another City goal as he produced a quality cross that James Hanson volleyed in quite superbly. City continued to dominate, had shots that were cleared off the line, whistled wide, and a very strong penalty shout which was turned down in favour for a free kick just outside the box which was subsequently wasted.

But time ran out for City. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. And the home crowd showed their appreciation for City as the final whistle drew the game to a close.

McCall has assembled a squad that deliver the minimum requirements that the Valley Parade crowd demand. Effort, passion and determination. And we can even forgive the team for losing a game as long as every player has worked their socks off. It was very evident in this game that every player did. Simon Ramsden in particular had a solid game, but what really stood out was his appetite and commitment to get City back into the game even when they were facing adversity and 2 goals down. He had urgency in his play and even the simple things like making sure the ball was put back into play really quickly when it landed into the crowd was so good to watch.

Chris Brandon didn’t have his best game – but his work ethic and commitment could not be questioned. And McCall has got this from his players all over the pitch. There are no passengers or players not willing to put the work in, and that makes me as a City fan really proud. McCall’s ability to combine good seasoned Pro’s like Ramsden, Boulding and Flynn with non League talent like Williams, Neilson and Hanson who never stop working hard and are getting better by the game, has been the key to the recent unbeaten run and reason for optimism this season.

The key thing though, and only worry, is that we need to get into the playoff’s this year as a minimum as that is the only real sign of progression under McCall in this results driven business. Our home form this season has been too mixed – 2 wins, 2 draws, 2 defeats – and we really need to improve that sequence if we want to turn a fully committed team into a successful one.

The stats of the Crewe game (26 shots on goal, 15 on target, 16 corners) show that the players are giving their all to the cause. Whether they can match their effort with points on the board in League Two remains to be seen – and will be the key question come May.

But as far this team being a team who are enjoyable to watch and give their all to the cause, there is no question in my mind that it’s the best City side I have seen this decade. I just hope that success follows them as it is nothing less than they deserve.

Why can’t you do that every week?

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why can’t you do that every week?”

Anger, Management and Rotherham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moans, groans and negativity

It was a warm Tuesday evening in late September 2009 and as the City supporters trudged away from Valley Parade, there was much talk about whether the appointment of Dave Penney in the summer had been the right move by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn following Stuart McCall’s exit at the end of the 2008/2009 season. City had narrowly missed out of the final play off position after failing to win their final game at Chesterfield and thus as McCall had stated in April he quit the club that he loves as he felt that he had failed owing to the fact that Bradford City were still a Division 4 side. Now that Penney and City had suffered their third consecutive home defeat, this time to league newcomers Burton Albion which left them in the bottom half of Division 4, many City supporters were questioning Penney’s appointment.

Obviously, the above paragraph is made up but a similar scenario could occur later on this calendar year. City fail to make the play-offs, McCall is true to his word and departs from the Valley Parade hot-seat, another manager is appointed and City begin the 2009/2010 season in a poor fashion. What will the so-called City supporters be moaning and groaning about then?

The negativity inside Valley Parade on Easter Monday was disgusting. I’m sure that Joe Colbeck, last season’s Player of the Year, would be the first to admit that he had a shocker and when McCall went to a 4-3-3 formation bringing on Mullen for Boulding, many people near me were shouting “You don’t know what you’re doing” at McCall. Now whilst I’m not the greatest supporter of Mullen (I believe that he looks and plays like Conlon) and I would have kept Boulding on the pitch, I didn’t start hurling abuse at a person who has experienced promotion as a player, scored two goals in an FA Cup final, won numerous trophies with Rangers and scored in the World Cup Finals. I’m not saying that a great player makes a great manager as shown by Bryan Robson (in my eyes a superb player but a poor manager) but McCall is still learning the managerial role.

Calls for Mark Bower to return from his loan spell at Luton could be also heard on a day. This is the same player who has been abused in previous seasons. The negativity inside Valley Parade spreads like a cancer and it makes me sick! I for one kept shouting encouragement at our players and I still believe that we can make the play offs. And if we don’t I’ll be back at Valley Parade next season supporting the men in claret an amber. That’s what the difference is between a supporter and a fan. A supporters offers words of support during the difficult times which is what our team is experiencing at the moment as our winless run continues.

So to all you moaners and groaners out there, if you want to follow a successful club, go to Old Trafford and join the thousands of others who have no connection with Manchester but who want to follow a successful team. Or go to Stamford Bridge and watch loads of foreign players where local home grown talent has very very little chance of making it into the first team.

For me, it’s the delights of Division 4 at the moment, watching the likes of Colbeck and O’Brien, special home grown players. And who knows, it could be Colbeck scoring the winning goal at Chesterfield on 02 May. Now where’s that ticket for Saltergate…

A Chronic Illness

I’m really looking forward to the Dagenham game. I may not have the best of reasons for making that statement and I hope that BfB readers will at least understand my feelings, but the one reason for my anticipation is that I won’t be at Dagenham. It will be the first game I’ve missed, home or away, since Barnet back in February and I just feel the need to do something else.

In the run of eleven consecutive games since then, I’ve seen just two wins, both at home, and I’ve travelled more miles than I care to tot up. You have to bear in mind that I travel over 150 miles just to get to a home game. At least Chester brought some reduction in my mileage, although it hardly balanced out the trip to Exeter and Bournemouth.

For those of you who don’t drive any distance to get back home after a game, I should point out that the journey lengthens according to the result and the performance. The 70-odd mile trip back home was reduced to about 30 miles, or so it seemed, after the Aldershot game. On other days the same trip has felt like 200 miles.

It’s not just the travelling, though. I’m well used to that by now. I think I’m just generally worn out. Sometimes I think I’m not the only one showing signs of weariness. I think there are plenty of others more closely connected with Bradford City who display the same symptoms.

And it’s not just a question of being tired with the poor performances, although much centres on that issue. I’ve seen poor performances many, many times. I’ve watched years of fourth division football at Valley Parade and plenty of meaningless end-of-season games. If you go back to the end of the 1980-81 season, City finished 14th in the fourth division and played their last game at home to Hereford. Now there’s meaningless for you. And the crowd of 1249 remains a record low for a league game at Valley Parade. I could have reduced it to 1248 by staying at home.

I’ve seen City twice finish 23rd in the fourth division, a final placing that today would get you into the ‘non-league’ league. In one of those seasons they even managed to lose 7-1 at home (their second consecutive 7-1 defeat) to the team then bottom of the fourth division. I never felt quite as bad in those dark days. So it’s not just losing (or not winning) that brings on this malady.

I think I know what the cause is and, even if some fans don’t share my little delight about being given some brief respite care, I think plenty of the Valley Parade regulars will recognise my diagnosis. In a word, I’m disappointed.

In that team that played Hereford we had one or two decent players. There was a young kid at the back called Peter Jackson. There was a slightly older hand in defence by the name of Ces Podd. And up front there was a player in his first full season at Valley Parade. His name was Bobby Campbell. They all had character. OK, one or two of the rest of that team were hardly household names and fourteenth in the bottom division is no claim to fame. But I wasn’t as disappointed as I am now.

Disappointment in my case is a measure of outcome against ability. In real life, that is to say in places that are not Valley Parade, I have always tried to assess what I and others are capable of achieving and then to measure outcomes against that assessment. It’s no good expecting the youngster fresh from school to know how the business works. But the senior manager with twenty years in the job has greater expectations on his shoulders. Among many other factors, that’s why he’s paid more and why I expected more. The newcomer can hardly disappoint at first, but can do after a while if he shows no sign of progress. The senior man can disappoint a whole lot more quickly, simply by not living up to his capabilities.

And so it is in football. Nobody expected Bradford City in the 1960’s to win the league title or the F A Cup. We were a strictly fourth division outfit with, by and large, strictly fourth division players. (Yes, I saw the exceptions, like Bronco and young Hockey long before he could grow a beard.) Even that team of 1981 needed a few more, slightly better players to come into the side that would win promotion the following year. And if you want to see the other side of the expectation coin, there is no finer example than the team that one famous ex-player dubbed the worst team ever to play in the Premier League. (I wonder, how long did it take for his hair to grow back?) Exceeding expectations was what they did best.

You can’t be a Bradford City supporter for too long without being disappointed. Sometimes it’s just one or two games. Sometimes it’s a longer period, but maybe the disappointment is slight or moderate. But this time it’s over a very long period and, because the outcomes are measured against the proven capabilities, the disappointment is about as deep as it comes.

Back in January I wrote ‘At our best, we are truly better than this league. When we’re not at our best, we need to work hard just to match most of our opponents.’ To illustrate that point I cited two goals, one scored by Michael Boulding, the other by no less than Barry Conlon. Those goals had two things in common. They were both team goals, as opposed to examples of individual brilliance, and they resulted from open play of a quality several steps above this league. Indeed, I haven’t seen any opposition team match either of those goals this season.

I doubt very much if anyone at City regrets the fact that we scored those goals. The only reason for regret is that they set a standard that has not been attained for many weeks now. There were plenty of other moves earlier in the season that, while they weren’t finished off with goals, showed how good these players can be at this level. Again, the standard was set; the capabilities were revealed; the justified level of expectation was created.

At the start of the season City were among the bookmakers’ favourites for promotion. There was much hype and many column inches were spent on creating what I then saw as an unjustified expectation. This was, after all, a very new squad. We had not seen several of the signings, except as members of opposing teams, and we didn’t really know how good a team they might make. But by mid-season we knew what they were capable of and we also knew they would have occasional lapses.

As we near the end of the only 46 games that matter, those of us who have watched so many of those 46, in particular this one who has watched all of the last eleven, wonder where it has all disappeared to. If the pre-season expectations were mere words, the performances and the results soon showed what could be achieved. And therein lies the measure of the disappointment, that for so long now performances have fallen so far below what the players are clearly capable of achieving.

The inevitable question is ‘Why?’, but I’m far too tired to even attempt an answer to that one just yet. Let me have my respite, if you will. Let me stay away from Dagenham, if I promise to be back for Rotherham. And then let me try to think about ‘Why?’, even if it may all be a bit late by then.

Great game, Charlie

A raw wind blew into the faces of the thousand Bradford City supporters who made their way over to see a not-quite-must-win-game at the Deva Stadium. At the end of the game, although the wind had abated somewhat, the mood among the faithful had dropped several degrees.

But let me not put all the City fans into the same category. Let me give a special mention to one particular fan. I know him only as Charlie. At Valley Parade he is to be seen at the bottom of the Kop, having been asked not to sit just behind the dug-outs, I understand, where his vociferous support drew a few complaints.

Within the very limited confines of a stadium with a capacity of a little over 5,500, Charlie found himself, as just about everyone is in this ground, well within earshot of the officials and the players. And several ears were well and truly shot at throughout the afternoon. If it wasn’t the unfortunate assistant who spent the entire match on Charlie’s touchline, it was the fresh faced referee getting the benefit of Charlie’s expert knowledge of the rules of the game.

On the odd occasion that Charlie wasn’t holding a conversation with the officials, he had plenty to say to the City players. As far as I could tell, all of these comments were constructive, not to say even encouraging. I was quite sure that Luke O’Brien paused in the first half to take in Charlie’s instructions.

Now Charlie may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Some may even wish he would occasionally just sit down and watch the game. But there can be no one who would suggest that Charlie does not give his all for the team within the limitations he faces – the most serious of which is that he can’t actually get on the pitch.

Charlie gets in the faces of everyone who makes him feel aggrieved. He exhorts and cheers every half decent piece of play from his side. And his hand gestures and general body language give the most eloquent, silent expression to his moments of disappointment. There were many such occasions for Charlie to endure at Chester.

I mention Charlie at such length because he struck me as the very epitome from the fans perspective of so many of the qualities that the same fans look for from the players. Charlie is commitment personified, constantly pressurising the ‘opposition’ and never conceding an inch until that final whistle has been blown. I really would like to describe the team in the same words.

Paul McLaren came in for Keith Gillespie in the only change to the starting eleven after the home defeat to Port Vale. But McLaren is no tricky right winger and the midfield had to perform one of its many recent reshuffles to accommodate a player who used to demonstrate how far above this league he is. Dean Furman was the nearest to a left-sided midfielder for City, although most of the attacking down that wing in the first half came from Luke O’Brien, who looked much improved on one or two of his recent displays.

A Furman shot and a Lee header both gave some work for Danby in the Chester goal, with Rhys Evans being required to make a save at the second attempt from Kevin Ellison. The first half had a few goalmouth scrambles, especially at the end City were attacking, but neither goalkeeper was exactly overworked.

As the wind dropped for the second half, all the fans must have been hoping for some more cultured football. As any City follower knows, you can always hope, but must be prepared for your hopes to be dashed. Long range shots from O’Brien and Law went just over and wide before Evans dived full length low to his right to save from Lowe. The more notable features were the continuing tussle between Clarke and Ellison, which eventually earned the pair of them yellow cards, and the substitutions of Brandon and Bullock for Jones and McLaren.

By the last ten minutes City were playing with hardly any width and even less invention. Chester scrapped like a side fighting to stay in the league and having to make do with a small squad of players that hardly looked anything above their league position. Once again City did little to suggest they were much better than their opponents. Furman, as ever, covered every blade of grass and the front two never stopped running, despite rarely looking like taking any of the few half chances that slipped through the net of this drab game.

With only one goal and now one point in the last five games, that 5-0 win seems so long ago. With promotion rivals taking points off each other, the gap to the play offs is a lot less than recent form ought to have made it. But now that City’s target is apparently seventh spot and with Chesterfield edging ever closer, we have to be grateful for points deductions, without which we would already be tenth and looking at another season of mid-table mediocrity. It is all a far cry from that early optimism and, without Thorne and Daley, there are few occasions when you really believe City will score. Cue the league leaders and an unlikely home win.

Even the Big Issue man had a go at us!

The weekend had begun so well!

A good trip down with few motorway delays, we 4 checked in at the city centre hotel at 7 pm Friday. Just time for a quick shower and a bite to eat before going to sample a few of the Exeter centre hostelries. Then it was back for a quick nightcap before bed and a lovely night’s sleep.

Next morning a full English breakfast was followed by another look around, this time in daylight. The remains of the city wall and a visit to the castle were followed by a coffee in the square overlooking the cathedral. Then it was back to the hotel to meet the last of our 5 (who unlike us had travelled that morning) followed by a walk to the ground back through the city centre.

Just time for a quick pint at a pub in sight of the grounds away end for a bit of football chat with Exeter fans and a few other City fans.

it was when we got into the ground at 2-45 that the disquiet set in. the team selection didn’t meet with our approval! Comments ranged from “that’s not a team to win… it’s a team not to lose.” to “Stuart got the selection wrong at Rochdale… this is even more wrong.”

A couple of us chipped in with “why can’t he decide on his best 11 and let the opposition worry about us, that’s what we did in ’98/99, we all pretty much knew what the starting 11 would be week in week out.”
“Same in ’84/85” an older member of our group added.

After kick off, in the early part of the game our 5 across the middle didn’t particularly dominate the midfield and we persisted in hoofing the ball forward to our lone striker. Michael Boulding got no change against their big men at the back for Exeter.

Their goal was a fluke… simple as that; but, that apart Exeter were an eminently beatable side. City were toiling and the “not to win but not losing” strategy looked increasingly out of place. When the substitutions finally came, sadly there was precious little noticeable improvement. At the final whistle, as we made our way to the exit some City players ran across to the Bradford fans. As they did, from behind us we heard shouts of “F___ off” and “you’re a load of f___ing rubbish”.

I remember thinking “Stuart got a lot of unfair criticism on the message board when we were doing well. He’s gonna get slaughtered for this!”

As we walked back to the cars through the centre of Exeter, optimism was in short supply. After 2 defeats in a week against our nearest rivals, the dreaded play-offs looked to be looming. There was no talk of staying down south for the Bournemouth game.

The question was asked “Will winning our remaining home games be enough to secure a play-off place because, apart from at Chester I can’t see another away win this season if we play like that?”

Just then we reached a road junction between the city centre stores and a chap selling big issue looked at us with ill concealed amusement and said “Bradford? ha ha ha!”

Our misery was now complete!

CityCheerGate

Only nine days ago I was writing about my concerns after the game at Notts County. For those with very short memories, City lost 3-1 and a significant proportion of the 1200 ‘supporters’ began the booing and chanting of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ before half-time, when the home team had scored three goals from their only four shots (the fourth sailed miles over the bar).

Fast forward to the next away game and even more City fans turn up at Spotland. City lost 3-0; Rochdale had rather more than three shots on goal; and there was not a negative chant or a faint boo to be heard. Indeed, the fans who stayed to the final whistle – and those who left early to try to avoid the terrible traffic could almost be forgiven – carried on cheering and supporting the team and the manager in every possible way.

If a week is a long time in politics, how long is nine days in football? Don’t say ‘nine days’, please.

What has happened in that short space of time to produce a wholly different response? It couldn’t just be two home wins, could it? Not even when one of them was a 5-0 win. City’s lasst 5-0 win came under Colin Todd in the first round of the League Cup ironically at Rochdale.

My explanation for the change is three-fold. The first part is that the fans have taken to heart the words of the manager that we’re all in this together. If City are going to get promoted, the cause will not be helped by booing and the rest. I’d like to think that the fans took my words to heart from nine days ago, but I know better than that!

The second part of my explanation is that the 3,000 plus (or minus, if you’re giving the Rochdale version of the attendance) were united with the team in adversity. Most of us had suffered the ludicrous delays getting to the game that simply prove the accuracy, as well as the irony, of the chants of ‘what’s it like to see a crowd?’ I travelled from the ‘wrong’ end of the M62, but met the Bradfordians at the same motorway junction. Did you see that police traffic car undertaking us on the hard shoulder of the A627M? What contribution did he make to getting the traffic moving? I gather we may not have started the game too well – I rely on others for an account of the first few minutes – but for what I saw of the first half City were on top.

And then the team’s own adversity took over well and truly. From my seat over the assistant referee’s shoulder, neither of the penalties was a penalty. Being hit by the ball with your arms down is not within my definition of ‘deliberate’ and just because the forward falls over doesn’t necessarily mean it was a foul, ref. The assistant, who looked to have a much better view than the ref, flagged for neither. And Lee was obvious still so aggrieved after the final whistle about the elbow in his face that he showed the ref exactly how it had happened. So that’s the fans and the team – oh, and the management, since Jakes was sent to the stand – all suffering one injustice after another.

But the third part of my explanation for the absence of negativity is a reflection of something I’ve been saying all season. The boos at Notts County and the reaction at Bury followed what looked like a lack of response or effort from the players in those games. Too many times I have looked in vain for a spirited reply, of the type we always seemed to have in those glorious days when the coaching team were players. It was the spirit that kept us up one famous year. But I didn’t have to look too hard last night.

I wasn’t trying to find Radio Leeds as we battled back through the Greater Manchester traffic after the game, but I gather one articulate caller made out a case for a lack of effort. It’s a good job football (and BfB in particular) is all about opinions. It struck me that, even after the realisation that we’re all in this together and even allowing for the unity from adversity, a lack of spirit would still have been greeted unceremoniously last night. That so many disappointed fans still cheered the team off says it all for me.

So, whatever the reason or reasons may be, effort will rarely be booed, even in defeat. Every club wants to tell you how it has the best fans. At Notts County I would not have been convinced that City could make such a claim. After Rochdale, all that I’m looking for is the same support and the same effort (and a different ref). The next two away games won’t be easy, but they will be as important as Rochdale – especially if automatic promotion is to remain the prospect it should still be. I look forward to writing about two more games where the supporters have done their bit and maybe where the team’s efforts have produced a more fitting reward.

The Passionate Customer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More backing than barracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rubicon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was silence.

It was clapping the goals and nothing else.

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

It was horrific.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is that that left me sick in my stomach.

Good supporter/bad supporter debate part three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuart McCall and Plan Nine from Outer Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deal or no deal

They’re clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do enjoy listening to football phone in shows on the radio. There’s usually an entertaining array of views which build a picture of the current moods of various clubs and, while often the caller will be talking a load of rubbish, there’s a sense of satisfaction that at least they’re not spouting nonsense views about your own club.

One such emerging viewpoint which I don’t understand though is from those who want to see their manager sacked so badly they admit to wanting their team to lose. While often having good reasons for demanding a managerial change, hoping your team loses just so there’s a better chance of your wish being granted is a blinkered view.

Chelsea supporters have been the worst offenders with many of their followers recently blighting the airwaves to tell the world they want their side to lose, to hasten the departure of Avram Grant. One can understand their frustration at seeing the popular and successful Jose Mourinho given the chop to make way for the Israeli, who has done little to improve the dour style of football which is said to have cost ‘The Special One’ his job, but this season could yet go down as their most successful ever and no desire to see Grant booted out of Stamford Bridge should come before that.

Closer to home, similar thoughts of wanting City to fail have been raised by some supporters. Following the pathetic 2-1 reverse to Mansfield a month ago it seemed as though there’d be a large queue of players exiting the club this summer. With play off hopes all but over, some fans aired the viewpoint that they didn’t want City to enjoy a decent finish to the campaign in case Stuart McCall was fooled into offering any of the out of contract and underperforming players fresh deals. Such fears maybe realised because, after a month where City’s performances have greatly improved, deal or no deal decisions will be tougher to make for Stuart.

Is this a bad thing? There’s no disputing this season has failed to live up to expectations, but the picture isn’t as straight forward as it would seem. The old saying “the league table never lies” remains true, but the dreadful run of form last autumn, where City collected two out of a possible 24 points, has partially masked the improvement from the team since. By my rough calculations, City would currently be sitting in seventh, ahead of Wycombe on goal difference, had the season begun on November 6th. 29 games on from beating Chester that evening, City have lost only eight games. It leaves the question for Stuart to chew over, is the present squad as bad as it seems?

In the wake of the Mansfield defeat Stuart said he couldn’t wait for the season to finish. Clearly he felt let down by the players but they have responded brilliantly. Three wins, three draws and one unfortunate defeat may not be spectacular form, but the performances have been largely good. Some players like Barry Conlon, Tom Penford, Kyle Nix and Eddie Johnson must have feared their days were numbered; now it’s less certain. No one would argue significant strengthening is required to mount a stronger promotion challenge next season, but the near-total revamp of the squad some were hoping and demanding does not appear necessary.

The end of a season is a time where individual mistakes are less likely to be hammered by supporters and ambitions are lowered, unless you’re in for an exciting or worrying finale. It can be argued that those players who have impressed lately are only doing so with nothing at stake and that, when it really mattered, they choked; a couple of good games now does not mean they can do it for a season. This is where Stuart’s judgement will be so important in the coming weeks.

The question posed to the players after Mansfield was did they want to continue playing for this club, and at the very least their response should be applauded. There may be no prizes at stake, but their livelihood is and that undoubtedly leaves pressure on their shoulders in each remaining game. Everyone released will find a new club, albeit for some it will be in division below, but whoever among them is searching for new employment this summer, there’s little chance they’ll end up playing in front of bigger crowds or for someone with higher ambitions than The Bantams next season.

I’m not one who likes booing and was disappointed with the reaction of some fans at the Mansfield game, but if those players on the receiving end still want to play for this club we can only hope they learnt a valuable lesson that day in terms of the standards we expect them to maintain at this club and the consequences of dipping below it. If any of the players desperate for a new deal this summer are playing a big part in a promotion push this time next year, such booing will have been justified.

Before then an intriguing summer of deal or no deal will commence and no doubt a range of views will be expressed after decisions are made. Thank goodness there won’t be a special radio phone-in show about it.

Customer Disservice

I guess that it can be difficult to adjust to life in the fourth division when your team has had a brief spell, two seasons around the turn of the millennium, in the Premiership. The eight consecutive seasons spent in the top two divisions saw so many changes to Bradford City’s stadium in particular and professional football in general that for those who had become supporters only after the promotion of 1996 the surroundings of League Two must be quite a shock.

Some of us, of course, had spent most of our lives watching third and fourth division football at Valley Parade and at away grounds of similar standard. The 1985 fire may well have brought about the biggest structural changes to the old ground, but there have been plenty more since. When we had played for so very many years in a ground with only 4,000 wooden seats and plenty of vast open terracing, the development of an all-seater, 25,000 capacity stadium with modern facilities suggested to the old hands that football really was changing for the better.

For those of us who watched our football back in the sixties at decrepit grounds, where toilets were, shall we say, basic and corporate boxes were about as real as the Tardis, the changes throughout the eighties and nineties seemed to befit the new era. We wanted to be treated as ‘customers’, not just as turnstile fodder. We wanted to bring our children along, knowing that they would be safe and comfortable. The nostalgic days when the youngest spectators were lifted over the heads of the almost exclusively male adult fans, so that they could sit at the edge of the pitch and see what was going on, were dead long before Mr Justice Popplewell and Lord Taylor were publishing their reports into safety at football grounds.

Those of us who had been young supporters in the sixties and seventies had lived through the escalating violence at and around football. If we had thought so far ahead as to wonder whether we would allow our own children to come with us to games, we would surely have shuddered at the prospect of bringing them into such an atmosphere. Much as we wanted to encourage them to be the next generation of supporters for our local team, we could not have risked bringing them to Valley Parade or any other ground.

I hope my fellow-survivors of the fire will forgive me for saying that perhaps we were fortunate to be Bradford City supporters from the late eighties onwards. We had already paid in advance a very high price for the progress that came in the next twenty years and are still paying a rather different, purely financial price for the promotions of the nineties. Victories on the field were watched from ever-improving stands; from more and more seats; and even after three-course lunches from in-house caterers.

The outsider would probably argue that the lurch back to the bottom division was attributable to the way the club was managed after the Premiership years, to the previous chairman’s ‘six weeks of madness’, to the two spells in administration and, generally, to that familiar malaise of modern football, overspending. We deserved what we got and shouldn’t complain about watching fourth division football.

Most of us don’t complain, although we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t compare the facilities at Valley Parade with those at grounds we haven’t visited for a few years. Not all lower league grounds are still rooted in the 1980’s. Some clubs have excellent modern stadiums, even though their teams are playing in Leagues One and Two. Others have at least a partial excuse for poorer facilities, having just come up from The Conference and with very limited finances to develop their grounds.

But it’s not just about seats and prawn sandwiches. What has really changed for the better in professional football is the attitude towards spectators. Directors have realised that they have to run their clubs on commercial lines. They have to treat their supporters more as customers. Safety is still an issue, so visiting fans are kept apart from home supporters. Stewards are not there just to show people to the right seat. It isn’t quite like working in a theatre. But then the Romeo supporters at the Old Vic don’t hurl insults at the Juliet fans, do they?

Bradford City supporters should be the last people to argue that other clubs should spend more on improving their grounds. Those who live in glass stadiums, etc. But attitude costs very little. I was quite getting the hang of being a ‘customer’. Some of the grounds where I have been spending my money of late have not had the facilities I had been accustomed to. But the clubs in question usually had genuine explanations and almost always gave advance warning. If I hadn’t been prepared to risk the uncovered terracing at Accrington, I needn’t have gone. They told us in advance, our club printed that warning in the programme and I went with my eyes open.

Other clubs have given me a choice of standing in the open or sitting under cover. Macclesfield, for example, told us in advance that there would be a limited number of seats available, so we got there in good time to make sure we were not left out in the open. They realise that not all visiting fans want to stand outside. Some do, but we less young ones have become accustomed to covered seating. So, within their understandably limited resources, well done to Macclesfield for giving us a choice.

And so it was that my travels around the fourth division had persuaded me that even the lower league teams had accepted the need to look after the fans, as far as finances permitted, and that they didn’t assume we were all teenage hooligans. But all that confidence in the better, more customer-friendly game came to an abrupt end at Edgeley Park, the home of Stockport County.

I’d been there as an away fan not that long ago. Three years back, on an early season sunny Saturday, we had had the ‘Macclesfield’ choice, except that the open area was seating, because Stockport had spent some time in what was then called the First Division, where all-seater stadiums were compulsory. This time around it was early March and the weather forecast was for strong winds and driving rain. So, once again I wanted to make sure I got a seat in the covered area. There’s nothing quite as bad as sitting in the pouring rain. If you are uncovered, somehow it feels better to stand up and get wet.

What a disappointment, then, to discover that, contrary to previous recent experience and in the absence of any pre-match advice, we were not allowed into the covered seats. They were to be kept empty. There wasn’t even the old explanation about keeping the fans apart. As I said, three seasons back we could sit in there, with the home fans much further down the touchline and well away from the visitors. But this time those covered seats were just empty, as if to taunt those of the visiting fans who really would have liked the opportunity to sit under cover.

A few tried to shelter from the driving rain by walking to the corner nearest to the empty seats, where the stand provided some protection from the strong wind and rain. The reports of the stewards’ reaction to that harmless and understandable movement do not make happy reading in the context of customer care. The situation was exacerbated for me by the news from a friend that he had been to the same ground earlier in the season and seen visiting supporters, admittedly in much lower numbers, in those same empty seats.

I thought all of football had long since cottoned on to the notion that for every young lad who was prepared to stand in the pouring rain with his shirt off there were three or four couples who wanted to bring their children into a comfortable environment. It’s called customer choice and, while football cannot safely give the fullest range of such choice, in most cases it costs very little and in all cases it encourages the very supporters professional sport needs to attract.

At the start of the week when 700 Bradford City fans turned up at Edgeley Park their club had just won a Football League award for a revolutionary ticket pricing scheme aimed entirely at making football affordable in one of the best appointed grounds in the lower leagues. Maybe we have got too accustomed to safety, comfort and affordability, all in one package. I know that if I’d been seeking to make a good impression and achieve a higher income for Stockport County, I would have taken heed of that weather forecast and given the visiting fans the option of paying the same price the Stockport fans paid at Valley Parade to sit in covered seats. Maybe the Football League could think about how it wants its clubs to treat their fans and advise on minimum standards (finance permitting) of customer care.

On what Bradford City need to do off the field

The Shipley Bantams were formed in the summer of 2004 to provide travel to away matches. They meet once a week in a pub and talk over all matter’s City as well as arranging trips and looking at which pubs to stop in on the way. They have rules and regulations about drinking on the coaches and stick to them with an ardent sense of responsibility as good members of a community should.

In a way the Shipley Bantams are nothing new. CTC73 was formed to answer the same problems in the 1970s and from that, owing to a lack of anything approaching reporting on City, The City Gent sprung. Former City Gent editor Dave Pendleton established a History of Bradford City exhibition to mark the centenary and accompanied it with a website. BfB came out of the lack of a Bradford City online presence back in 1998.

In short when the need arises Bradford City Supporters have a track record of being able to look after themselves. When the people of the Shipley Bantams first got together they did so to support the club by quiet literally turning up to support from the stands – we use the term supporter so casually – and back then it is almost impossible to think that within six months the Shipley Bantams would be in a loggerhead situation with Bradford City.

Nevertheless as an exit from administration came into view then the club started to ramp up activities like away travel and started to undercut the Shipley Bantams. The two met and an offer was made by the club to engulf the SBs and let them run the show within Bradford City.

The Shipley Bantams declined and rightly so.

One month later a summit was held in a Bradford pub – a pub from which the sharp eyed could see Valley Parade – but despite location no one from the club was called on to attend nor were they needed. The evening was organised by supporters and the outcome – an attempt to re-establish the local supporter’s clubs in the style of that which has the name Shipley – is based around the efforts of supporters around but not including or drawn from the club.

Across town the Bradford City Supporters’ Trust were meeting. A half year on from being the last bastion of hope when all had left the club the BCST faced something of an image problem with some City fans crying foul with fundamental disagreements over Trust policy on attempting to get board membership and angrily shouting that BCST does not represent them.

Chairman Mark Boocock opted for a meeting of members to approve policy giving him the ability to represent those members with a more clear mandate. In the end the Trust may or may not get a place in the Bradford City boardroom but should you subscribe to that aim and you have enough like minds around you then the Trust offers a path to fruition and does so at a good arm’s length from the club itself.

This website – www.boyfrombrazil.co.uk – exists with virtually no contact with Bradford City save the odd question about factual matters or seating arrangements for various games. We shun the phrase “unofficial” when talking about BfB because we do not believe that as a publication to be read by Bradford City fans that we need an “official” stamp of approval from anyone especially not Bradford City AFC (1983) Ltd or Bradford City Football Club Limited 2004.

Which is not to say that any of the organisations mentioned should be at loggerheads with the club or even be aloof from the work that goes on at Valley Parade but that the propensity to be at loggerheads should exist. Any community is stronger when it supports the ability to hold diverse opinion.

As we exit administration the club must learn the lessons of the last ten years when everything connected with it – be it away travel, supporters groups or publications – was taken in house. Bradford City football club tried to be at the centre of everything surrounding the supporter’s passion for football. The Richmond regime, as is common up and down the country, wanted to take your money to travel away from home, get your money from you for merchandise, get your lunch money off you with a café and to sign you up to various clubs all of which were operated from with VP. Once administration cut the will to do these things City fans like those who formed the Shipley Bantams took a look at what was left found that it was very little.

The new club, and one optimistically uses the phrase, needs to view supporter activities not as something to be privatised but rather as something which should be facilitated.

I hope that BfB that enriches the experience of being a Bradford City supporter in even a tenth of the way that our fellow publication The City Gent has done and continues to do so for over twenty years. I’m sure that the Shipley Bantams do for it’s members and I know that the Trust did in the summer and can do again. All these things make a stronger club but do so outside of the business that is Bradford City.

Previously Bradford City Limited has been at the top of a family tree – the grandfather – and everything which is established for City fans has been subservient to it. Grab a piece of scrap paper and draw a box with the words Bradford City in it and you could add the children of that box – the away travel and supporters clubs of the Richmond years – underneath it. Perhaps under those children there are grandchildren smaller subgroups but always Bradford City are at the top.

Next piece of paper.

Bradford City in the middle but The Shipley Bantams, BfB, City Gent, BCST, Bantams Past et al are not children of the club but surround it like planets circling the Sun reliant on the centre for focus and life – not much point in having a Shipley Bantams without a Bantams – but able to go about it’s day to day, month to month, year to year business with contact from the centre.

Now imagine not five or six or seven planets put twenty or thirty or sixty or seventy all giving every Bradford City supporter an outlet for whatever he or she has passions for. Naturally the mind turns to things connected to the game but it need not stop there. Bradford City is the heart of our community. Should it opt to be a facilitator of community rather than trying to be a provider then who is to say what resourceful City fans will dream up?

With the support of the club to give the oxygen of advertisement in programmes and on scoreboards then attempts to set up the kind of groups which make a richer Bradford City supporting experience will be enhanced. Today it’s website and magazines but tomorrow it could be five-a-side teams, it could be swimmers in our colour, it could even be the Bradford City knitting circle. As long as it is strengthening community bonds and enriching the supporting experience for fans then it is constructive. It might not add to the bottom line in the way that putting a pound on the cost of coaches did for the club’s away travel did but it will pay off in the longer term when the club becomes more than just a Saturday afternoon to more people.

The club has a chance to change – to forge a new path away from the failing business model of trying to get as much cash out of an ever decreasing band of supporters – into the Sun at the centre of a system of supporter communities which will keep interest in the Bantams buzzing long after the final whistle on a Saturday afternoon.

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