How Bradford City lost the first game of the Qatar World Cup

Milla!

My worry for the World Cup in Qatar is that should – in 2022 – I carry on my personal tradition of taking the four weeks off work to watch the competition I might end up watching some really poor football matches.

Which is not to say I am not sympathetic to the problems of human rights – I am – or annoyed by the politics of FIFA – they annoy me – but the problems of football have always been weighed against the the enjoyment of football.

FIFA might be considered by many a bunch of crooks but watching Germany rip into Brazil was amazing as was watching Cameroon beat Argentina in 1990.

Cameroon beating Argentina might be the biggest shock result in World Cup history. For Cameroon everything went right and for Argentina – World Champions on the day – very little did.

Upset

All of which echo’s Phil Parkinson’s words after City lost 3-0 to Reading in the FA Cup this week.

In the days after the game Parkinson said “To achieve a cup upset, which ultimately we would have to do again (to beat Reading), you need everything to go in your way. A lot of things went in Reading’s favour, from completely resting their team on the Saturday, having a home fixture, being able to play their strongest side and then getting off to a terrific start.”

Parkinson has balanced his commitment to Bradford City with his love for Reading well this week but – perhaps – this is where the manager is a little selfish. Once the Berkshire press and national had taken the microphone away Parky concluded: “They got lucky, we could not even put up a fight.”

Which was not what the BBC wanted to hear and probably not what the Reading newspapers – who quickly announced that The Royals were in a cup final before adding a “semi” for good measure – were keen on hearing but it seemed to be the most honest assessment of the situation I had read.

Back to the future

The Qatar World Cup will be played in December rather than June or July which will cause all manner of problems for the Premier League but at least will allow football to be played. In December the temperature of Doha drops to twenty-six degrees rather than the upper thirties of June.

The logic is simple. Football cannot be played in in June in Qatar. It is too hot and while some players could have struggled to have a game the chances of good games were probably reduced. Even FIFA – an organisation who seem to have very little interest in actual football compared to organisation of football – could see that it faced a global humiliation of a month of watching teams West Germany/Austria through games.

The prospect of games were teams were concerned with saving energy, or just trying to get through games, because of the heat seems to have loomed large and the tournament was moved.

Even FIFA understand that to host a good football competition you have to give the teams a chance to play good football.

“Come Monday night we turn the telly off”

The Reading vs Bradford City game had been put on Monday night because of various TV deals between the FA and UEFA about showing Champions League matches.

Playing the third long away games in six days Bradford City were shoved onto BBC One for a live no-contest. Four minutes into the game it was obvious that City were not just going to lose that match but that they had been incapable of competing in a game.

The players were not able to play a competitive match.

And this is not to do with a level of fitness – City were not less fit than Reading – it is to do with understanding multi-polar handicaps.

City were not more able to play a third game in six days than England or Scotland would be able to play in the June heat of Qatar unless – of course – England were playing Scotland in which case both teams would be suffering the same handicap.

Reading knew that and that is why the gave their team six days off. To extend the point the game on Monday night was like a World Cup game in Qatar were City playing in June while Reading were in December.

Which is why the overwhelming feeling for me and seemingly for Phil Parkinson too from Monday is not that City got knocked out of the FA Cup – although that happened – but that City never got a chance to try progress. That The FA did what was best for the TV Deals they struck, and best for UEFA and their TV deals, but not what was best for teams wanting to play a good football match or fans wanting to watch a football match.

Which considering the FA’s stance on FIFA moving the World Cup leads one to conclude that the FA are less interested in allowing teams to play football than they should be.

I want you to hit me as hard as you can

Bradford City think that Kyle Bennett’s should not be banned for three games for hitting another footballer in the neck in Tuesday night’s game with Preston North End and the crazy thing is that the Football Association agree.

In the video of Bennett’s clash with Neil Kilkenny – the less said about his actions the better but nothing he doe impacts that Bennett has done – the Bradford City player very clearly strikes Kilkenny. If you can’t see it watch it again until you do and you will.

He does not strike him hard, he does not wound or injury him but he does strike him and that is the violent conduct that the player was dismissed for. This is as open and shut a case as you could expect to see in football and referee Stuart Attwell has rightly sent him off.

But the FA have decided that Bennett should serve only a one match and not a three match ban and the indication from the Bradford City website is that that is because he made “limited” contact or – if you will – he hit him that hard.

Consider that again for a moment.

Bennett hit Kilkenny (again, I’m not talking about Kilkenny’s antics) which was judged and rejudged as violent conduct and no one contests that yet the FA have decided that it is not the absolute of violent conduct that he is punished for but rather the effectiveness of it.

In April this year the same FA banned Liverpool striker Luis Suarez for 10 games for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. Ivanovic suffered no lasting effects from the nibble and I have deeper cuts on my arm from my kitten Leo but nevertheless that was judged on the violence of the action not the result.

Which is not to say I’m not glad that Bennett has only got a one game and not a three game ban but I would be incensed if this ruling went the other way and someone were allowed to get a lesser ban for hitting a City player softly.

In fact I recall Etienne Verveer playing for City at Huddersfield Town and taking a dive after Tom Cowan swung a fist at at him. The referee saw the dive but sent Cowan off because you are not allowed to throw punches even if they miss.

Both John Finnigan of Cheltenham and Ívar Ingimarsson of Reading were left complaining that Dean Windass had done something unspeakable to them that provoked red cards they got for hitting the City player but provocation is not a defence against a charge of violent conduct either.

Those were good decisions based on the clear statement in football that for all the wrongs you may perceive the game is a game and it is not for players to hand out justice with violence. We are not talking about questionable elbows or hard tackles. We are talking arms and hands striking above the shoulder. We are talking hitting someone else.

If – in football – you have to resort to throwing fists during a game then you get sent off and you get punished with severity. The action is punitive – not something I always like – and is their to tell the player not to start fighting while playing a game.

The FA have undermined what should be a clear statement but the FA’s approach to discipline is to underline strange and unusual punishments.

I’m glad Bennett will be back sooner but I cannot agree with the idea that obvious violent conduct can be downgraded for how poor it was carried out or how little damage was done.

Would Taylor go into the three lions den?

There is a level of speculation in the summer months of closed season which borders on the curious and the report that Peter Taylor is being touted as potentially a possible addition to the England coaching line up is perhaps as odd as it has got for Bradford City and the football rumour columns for sometime.

Taylor – who managed the national side in Italy – is said to be Italian Fabio Capello’s choice of an English man to add to his coaching set up nestled somewhere between Stuart Pearce and Franco Baldini on the increasingly lengthy technical areas which International sides have.

The report will probably – in time – be filed amongst the things that did not happen as most of these things are although it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the possibility of the Bradford City boss combining his duties at Valley Parade with those at England. Perhaps he would miss the odd match leaving Wayne Jacobs in charge of the Bantams but running both jobs at once would seem feasible.

Taylor was England u21 manager and Hull City boss at the same time and Kevin Keegan managed both Fulham and England at one point. It is hard to imagine many conflicts of interest. Should Wayne Rooney be moaning to some rag like tabloid that he does not think it is fair that he be dropped just because the coach knows new England striker James Hanson from working together at VP then perhaps a problem will have emerged. Failing that aside from divided attention there are few minuses and – as the England coaches probably have an in with a good few players – considerable pluses.

From City’s point of view should a request come for Taylor and a chance be there to work out some sharing agreement then why not. It would also give the Bantams a chance to give Jacobs a bit of on the job manager’s training, something few number twos ever get.

From England’s point of view though appointing Peter Taylor would – from a public relations point of view – be something of a nightmare.

One can almost read the articles now. “What can you say about the FA that – when faced with the post-South Africa malaise of the game – responds by bringing the manager of that well know success story Bradford City into the set up?” The criticism writes itself. “Taylor – an exciting prospect in FA coaching ten years ago – is a step backwards for the national game.”

It might not be true, but since when have the newspaper ever let the truth stand in the way of a viciously judgemental op-ed?

“What can you say about the FA when their idea of discipline is to employ the man who twice gave a job to footballer turned murder Gavin Grant?” These are the lions that devour the English game and while Taylor is a man of some confidence and standing Bradford City could probably do without its chosen one being mauled for the sake of sating the public’s appetite to read attacks on any and everything connected to the national side?

If Taylor is the outstanding man – the man who can make a difference between the choking of South Africa and the glory of qualification – then what a wonderful thing it would be to share him between our nation and our club.

Unless he does make that seismic difference though the men at Wembley would do him – and us – a better service by give Taylor a wide berth.

One plus one equals, erm, one?

The lawyer still inside me – I’ve been retired nearly four years now – can’t resist a quick look at Lee Bullock’s suspension. It’s not the rights and wrongs of whether he should have been given his two yellow cards against Hereford – Bullock himself is quoted as saying it was his own fault he was sent off. It’s not even the rights and wrongs of any of his earlier yellow cards, especially that one from Mr Attwell at Morecambe for an innocuous foul on the half-way line, when Mr A didn’t wave his piece of plastic after several more serious offences were committed in more dangerous areas of the pitch.

What gives me pause for lawyerly thought is the received assumption that Bullock will be serving just a one game suspension, despite having been sent off and, in the same game, having been given his fifth yellow card of the season to date. I pause further to wonder whether this ‘received’ assumption might yet be changed by a letter not yet received from the Football Association, perhaps one of the thirty million somewhere in a Royal Mail sorting office. More likely, these days, even the FA have access to e mail and fax machines. So there’s still the possibility of a different length of suspension.

But let me carry on with the one game assumed ban and quote a passage or two from the F A’s own disciplinary procedure. Paragraph 6(a) (i) of that procedure covers five recorded cautions – ‘suspended automatically for a period covering one first team match’. Nice and easy, then.

Although I shall need to come back to paragraph 6(a), let us move quickly on to 6(b), which deals with ‘players sent off under law 12(7)’ – two bookings in the same game, to me and you. The player ‘will be suspended automatically from FTCM commencing forthwith, until such time as his Club’s First Team has completed its next FTCM.’ (FTCM is a first team competitive match)

Now they may look identical provisions, but I assure you they are not. The reason they are not identical is back in paragraph 6(a) again. As far down as 6(a) (viii) the procedure says that ‘Any period of suspension arising from recording cautions will commence on the seventh day following the date of his last offence.’ (It says ‘recording’, but it must mean ‘recorded’. The lawyerly instinct for looking at individual words also survives, I fear.)

So, now let’s put the two pieces together and see what happens. The two-yellows-in-one-game suspension starts ‘immediately’ and the five-bookings suspension doesn’t start for seven days. No problem there, then, since our next game just happens to be seven days after the Hereford game that gave rise to both suspensions.

But just think how it might have been if the fixture list had been only a fraction different. Suppose we’d been playing Port Vale in the JPT during this midweek. If that had been the case, the two-yellows-in-one game suspension, starting immediately after the Hereford game, would have ruled Bullock out of the midweek fixture. But the five-bookings suspension, commencing on the seventh day following the date of his last offence, wouldn’t have kicked in until seven days after Hereford, i.e. at Macclesfield. The fixture list and the FA’s procedural rules would then have combined to ensure that Bullock served a two game suspension.

So, I ask myself, can it be right that the length of suspension is determined by a quirk in the fixture list? Well, to me the obvious answer is ‘No, that can’t be right.’ And that takes me and my judicial mind right back to where I started. I was used to dealing in what legally speaking are called concurrent and consecutive terms. In short, three months and three months concurrent still add up to three months; three months and three months consecutive add up to six months. I would only use concurrent sentences where the offences arose out of the same circumstances. By definition four of Lee Bullock’s cautions arose out of different circumstances in different matches.

Does one ‘first team game’ and ‘one first team game’ add up to one or two? If the answer is ‘It depends whether you have a first team game in less than seven days’, then the rules are pretty poor and, I would say, unjust. I doubt if the answer does depend on that, although I may be being kinder to the F A than they deserve. I believe the rules should mean that one plus one equals two, no matter when your next first team game is due to be played. I doubt if the F A deal in concurrent sentences. And that means that Lee Bullock should miss Macclesfield and Notts County. But the FA are the only people who really know the answer – unless, of course, Lee Bullock knew all along and deliberately got himself that second yellow a few minutes from the end!!

It won’t be long before the FA tell Bradford City either that their own rules are unfair or that Lee Bullock will miss two games. Anyone ready to place their bets now?

Weekend preview part two – I believe that Northampton vs Southampton is a local derby

Belief is a funny thing.

When I was a kid it was my belief that Northampton and Southampton was a local derby in the same way that Manchester City vs Chester City or West Ham vs West Brom was.

One former footballer – for example – believes that The Queen is secretly a lizard.

It is a curious view point but looking at how this ethereal thing that is belief rules footballers lives it is probably not hard how one could convince himself that what he decides is, is. The Bradford City team that lost 5-0 to Notts County trudged off the pitch believing they were going to struggle – one suspects they did – but that was the last home league reversal because the belief that courses through the veins has come from seven games without defeat.

The belief is now that Bradford City can go to somewhere like Northampton – as we do on Saturday – and win the match. Belief that is distinct from expectation levels. The players believe they are a good team, a team who deserved to win in the week against Morecambe in the week, thus they are a good team.

That is belief in football.

Disbelief in football was Tuesday night’s sending off of Gareth Evans which goes down as one of the poorest decisions in a Bradford City game ever. There are so many reasons why Stuart Attwell got the decisions wrong that to enumerate them is almost cruel – like pointing out the poor quality of a child’s painting compared to Mona Lisa – but while Attwell continues to foul up football matches his misunderstandings rather than his mistakes should be highlighted.

It is not that Attwell just saw the wrong thing – we could argue about what did or did not happen for eon – but it what he choice to do with the offence he perceived. Evans and Morecambe goalkeeper Barry Roche both contested a ball outside the penalty area. When dealing with goalkeepers the rules of football are based around exceptions so they do not state “A goalkeeper can handle the ball in the box” but rather “no player can handle the ball aside from the goalkeeper in the box”.

They are written this way to ensure that the goalkeeper – once he leaves his box – is not treated any differently from any other player. Watch the Evans/Roche again and imagine the Morecambe player is not a goalkeeper and try picture a situation where it would be a red card.

Evans goes in to the challenge from the front and with a single foot sliding along the floor. It is not violent conduct for sure – that covers punching and headbutting – and it is almost impossible to interpret it as serious foul play which covers things such as two footed tackles. Once again imagine the tackle between outfield players.

So either Stuart Attwell thinks that Evans’s slide was some serious foul play – and if he did then he missed many similar red cards in the game – or he saw that a goalkeeper was involved and decided to ignore the rules of football he is there to apply. Or he did it for some other reason tied into the fact that he is the sort of Referee that gives goals when the ball does not go in the net but he has a belief it did.

The Attwell’s rubbish – which is what the red card incident should be known as – means that Gareth Evans will not be eligible to play against Northampton, Notts County in the Cup or Crewe at home on the following Saturday and frankly the only reason I can see what the club is not screaming to the rafters to have the decision overturned is out of a fear of a Red Riding style corruption that haunts Refereeing.

Jim Gannon said that because his Stockport County side showed up a Referee they were victimised and City’s dealings with Joe Ross seemed to start a good few years of frankly bizarre Refereeing that included a five match ban for Dean Windass for being cheeky. Indeed The Owl and The Badger of the corrupt West Yorkshire Police of Peace’s novels would find it hard to justify that incident where accused was not allowed to speak in his defence and the only witness was the case for the prosecution.

I digress. Maybe appealing is City not making waves and maybe in the long run that is the right thing to do. Certainly I would not trust the FA, the Referees or the appeal process. That is my belief.

I have another belief though which may not be given much regard by most but as Evans sits out and Michael Boulding returns to the side I utter my belief that Boulding is – well – not that useful.

We are told he works tirelessly but Evans and Hanson’s graft put the signing from Mansfield Town to shame. We are told he is a goalscorer but the evidence of last season suggests that Boulding’s big goal tally for Mansfield came from attacking on the break which City seldom get to do with deep sitting defences. If the Bantams play a certain way Boulding will bang them in – or so I’m told – but players who force a single way of playing from the ten men around them always make me think of Ashley Ward and that is never a good thing.

None of which to say that Boulding is not a good player just that he is not as useful as Evans is and as he is paired with James Hanson in the forward line City lose the strength and effort they would have had and gain a forward who occasionally does something superb but often, well, does not. The current Bantams squad is made of consistent performers of which Evans is a leading light.

Also leading is Michael Flynn who with Lee Bullock and James O’Brien form a midfield that protects the defensive line which has not conceded in 180 minutes and as Scott Neilson beds into the side there is a bursting power out of the middle.

The backline sees Jonathan Bateson continue to deputise for Simon Ramsden – no goal past the defence in the 180 minutes Bateson has started says much about the unit Stuart McCall has assembled – while Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien seem to be shaping into the best Bantams defence in ten years.

Goalkeeper Simon Eastwood is improving too. That is belief again.

Respect – The new way of Refereeing

I’d heard about the new season’s ‘Respect’ campaign. I’d seen a few of the TV adverts. I especially liked the one where our Euro 2008 ref from Rotherham, Mr Webb, (Well, ‘Howard’ doesn’t seem sufficiently respectful, does it?) is seen as a player with a headlock on an opponent while they both wait for a set piece to be taken. It did strike me that if our refs actually penalised some of those wrestling matches with bookings, rather than just held up the play and lectured the wrestlers, then they might win more respect and we might return to more football.

But then I heard that one of the ‘Respect’ rules was to ban instant replays from the manager’s dugout. I’m still struggling to find what’s right about that ruling. First of all, if a manager really wants know what the replay shows, there’ll be a screen out of sight and an earpiece link. Remember Jose Morinho and the man with the woolly hat? Secondly, how is it ‘disrespectful’ when the manager sees instantly what he would have seen at the end of the game and what the watching millions have seen anyway? Oh, I know the answer or at least I can guess what the FA thinks. If the manager doesn’t see a screen, he can’t rant straight away. (Well, he can actually, because some wrong decisions don’t need a replay to show how bad they were.) So, you see, it’s not the access to technology that’s disrespectful, but the rant that follows. Of course, that there’s only a rant when what the technology shows is how bad the decision was must be regarded as irrelevant, mustn’t it?

My real grouse with the technology bit is that the FA shouldn’t be banning it from the dugout, but should be offering it to the refs or at least to the fourth official. I’ve just seen on TV the most blatant penalty not to be given from the first day of the season (and neither of the teams has any claim on my allegiance). I shall not reveal the details. This way I can be respectful to the referee in question. But I know which ref it was. Respect? I don’t think so. Not until he comes out and tells us why he waved play on.

But what I did see in person at Valley Parade was another ‘Respect’ idiocy, the ceremonial entry on to the field and shaking of hands. Come on, who is it that thinks this is going to make a scrap of difference? By the time the coin’s tossed, we’ve all forgotten about lining up and shaking hands. We’re playing in claret and amber and they’re not. It was ever thus and a summary handshake at 2.55 will change absolutely nothing.

And the 14000 of us who saw the Notts County throw-in near the end of the game know just how much respect there was by that time. The ref had clearly told Evans to throw the ball out of play so Daley could be treated. Evans had equally clearly thrown it into touch within a very few yards of the corner flag (lesson to learn, says Stuart McCall in his post-match interview, about hoofing it into touch on the half-way line), in the natural expectation that it would be thrown back to him once the injury was treated and Daley was off the field (another silly rule!). So why didn’t the ref give a free kick and book somebody for unsportsmanlike behaviour? Maybe the FA will have an answer for that one. Perhaps he didn’t know how many of them had been unsportsmanlike! Until they come up with an answer, I shall say it was disrespectful on the part of both Notts County and then the ref, who seemed to be less inclined to show respect to the spirit of the game and perhaps more inclined to demand respect for his own decisions.

Oh, and one last thing on that throw. If the keeper needs to be told on radio that it’s a lesson to be learnt about where he puts the ball out of play, maybe someone with more experience, coming on to the scene only after the final whistle, when we’ve won and tempers should have cooled, might learn not to go within a hundred yards of the player responsible for the unsportsmanlike behaviour. That way there’s no risk of a ‘clash’. Now that he doesn’t have Deano to ‘mind’, maybe Wethers can continue his old role once he’s allowed out of the dugout at the end of the game. And, for this ref only, Wethers, could you keep an eye on the car park for an hour or two after the match? Or is that disrespectful?

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