Carl McHugh and contextual positioning

The more I watch football the more I am convinced that the game is more about character than it is about positions.

That prefaces the following statement: that I do not know if positions are everything or nothing in football. I veer from one conclusion to the other.

When I was a younger man positions were simple. Goalie, right backs, left wingers and so on. It was easy to look at the teams of the 1970s and put a man in a hole.

Easy but wrong. Because there was an increasingly level of subtlety to those positions. You can blame Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley if you wish. In Mexico in 1986 they played up front together for England and by no means were they both just “strikers”.

And so terms like “drop off man”, “goalgetter” and “in the hole” started and those are functional but following them as a train of thought takes you to a conclusions which is that in describing the positions in which Lineker and Beardsley played one was actually describing the tasks they performed.

Which rendered the need to talk about positions obsolete. There was a task to do on a football field of getting the ball in the area between the defensive line and the midfield and that was what Beardsley did. That he did it from “attack” rather than “midfield” is largely irrelevant because on the whole he was spending his time in that position.

Add David Platt to the England team following Beardsley’s (premature) exit and you have a player in the same position who is titularly a midfielder not a forward. Have Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard Jnr in your team and it may say that one is a striker and one is a midfielder in the Panini sticker album but both are spending 90 minutes in the same square footage of the field. That is a problem that England never mastered.

And so these tasks became described as roles which and the notion of positions was refined with more granularity. Words like “holding midfielder” came into the lexicon of the modern football supporter and that was no bad thing.

But the more that tasks were named the less importance on the fact that those tasks needed to be carried out was obvious. Someone needs to win a ball back in midfield and that is described as a “holding job” and rapidly came to seem like an option rather than a necessity.

Which is where I veer. If described in enough granularity positions are everything in football. If thrown around they are meaningless and ignore the importance of the tasks that need to be performed.

Wayne Jacobs talks about Phil Parkinson’s use of Carl McHugh and Matthew Bates at left back and does so with an authority. “Matthew’s right-footed and that causes a problem when you try to link up and get down the left wing. He is obviously tempted to drive infield. I’ve been really impressed with Carl’s attitude… however he is a centre half and sometimes if you come up against a real out-and-out winger, agility and movement can be an issue when you’re playing in that role.”

Which was obvious when McHugh faced Jamie Murphy of Sheffield United who exposed those flaws in his game away at the Blades. At home to Port Vale and MK Dons had wide players who pressed less and were happy to contain. This let McHugh perform a different set of tasks, ones he was more comfortable with, and thus did better at. From that we might conclude that the statement “he can play left back” is – in some way – contextual.

The friends of Bradford City welcome back that rarest of thing

Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall will return to Valley Parade on Thursday 22nd September at 20:00 as the Friends of Bradford City host a forum with the former players and coaches of the club.

Both Wetherall and Jacobs put in sterling service for Bradford City with the pair of them clocking up around thirty years combined service. For Jacobs the service was on the way up the leagues starting as a free transfer from Rotherham United recovering from a season long injury and going on to be a Premier League player. For Wetherall – who scored the famous headed goal which kept City in the top flight – the only way was down and as City slipped down the leagues the former captain’s contribution was to slow that decline.

Jacobs put in 318 games for City, Wetherall 304 which dwarfs anyone in the current set up and leads one to wonder who – in ten years time – will be being invited back for functions such as this? Who are are heroes of the future when the current player with most appearances for the club – Luke O’Brien – is persona non grata at Valley Parade. Injury to Robbie Threlfall (21 apps) may see O’Brien add to his 122 appearances for City this weekend.

O’Brien and Lee Bullock (120 apps) are the only players at the club in triple figures – a long way behind Ces Podd‘s 502 – but neither seem to be set to add many to that list. Bullock was unwanted by Mark Lawn but kept by Peter Jackson while O’Brien is frozen out of the first team for reasons unknown, or at least unsaid.

Not that O’Brien has ever enjoyed great popularity at Valley Parade. As a player he is better regarded on the bench than he is on the pitch. On the bench he is the world beating Roberto Carlos ready to turn things around but, when on the field, one might wonder if one were hearing the same crowd describe the player where his efforts are met with grumbles and only quiet support.

Often the same can be said for third on the list James Hanson (79 appearances, 21 goals) who proves that he can score when given service but is subject to a level of criticism which would suggest he had picked selected members of the support and punched their dogs.

Hanson’s return is under a goal every 3.76 games – around the same strike rate as Robbie Blake (153, 40) – which puts him above a good few well respected Bantams of the past. Joe Cooke (3.99) played 271 time and scored 68 although he played central defence at times. Ask men of a certain age about Don Hutchins and they go weak at the knee and his return of a goal every 5.5 games (286 appearances, 52 goals) was a good return and secondary to his overall contribution. The lauded Paul Jewell (269 appearances, 56 goals) banged in one every 4.8 games although most of them were before Christmas.

To paraphrase the problem is not in the stars but with ourselves. A mentality has grasped most of football – having taken hold a good many years ago – which suggests that supporters are blissfully happy to be unaware of what they have until it is gone. Sean McCarthy banged in a goal every two games for City – more or less – but was nicknamed “Scud” as a reference to his perceived inaccuracy.

McCarthy won the hearts of City fans when he exited Valley Parade for Oldham on deadline day and turned up wearing a ludicrously high squad number on Match of the Day a few days later playing at Old Trafford. Players who leave the club are well regarded. Wetherall and Jacobs’ defensive team mate Andrew O’Brien was – according to one voice in earshot – “On his way to Halifax Town, if they will have him” following City’s promotion. Two years later and he was “being sold too cheap.”

An exit infers a kind of status on a player, a respect because someone else has recognised the ability, and without that status our own players are generally disregarded. No player racks up hundreds of appearances because they either are snapped up by someone higher or they are slapped down and leave of their own volition.

A Catch 22 situation then. If a player never leave it is – in the eyes of some – because he is not good enough for anyone including City so should not be suffered to be in the side. It is no coincidence that the greats of Bradford City history: Stuart McCall, Bobby Campbell, Peter Beagrie; left the club before coming back.

Not Jacobs or Wetherall though. Both stayed with the club as players and became part of the coaching set up at later Valley Parade. Wetherall left for a development job with the Football League while Jacobs was unceremoniously launched from the club after Peter Taylor’s sacking. There was a verbalised question mark over Jacobs coaching ability and the former number two probably has too much class to point at the current state at the club – the so called “worst team in Bradford City history” – and ask how his departure improved things at Valley Parade.

One wonders if Wetherall and Jacobs are a rare thing. Only fourteen players who topped three hundred games for City and to add to that list Luke O’Brien would have to play pretty much every game for the next four season for a club where he is the only player who has been here for more than four seasons.

Rare things, and worth see. The forum is free to Friends of Bradford City members or a single shiny pound for non-members.

Another search for a manager begins

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will be used to looking for a new manager and – after three appointments two of which lasted less than a year and a bit – they show no signs of having a grasp of the right criteria to make those appointments.

When Stuart McCall “resigned” from the club the question we asked was what the plan was for the recruitment of his replacement was. A lot of these questions have been answered with the move to new facilities at Woodhouse Grove and the appointment of Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Director of Football Development.

There is a plan at the club which Christie was brought in to implement to develop players for the first team – and to provide more players for the manager with a more extensive scouting network – which aims to take some of the onus of recruitment from the manager and have a retention of knowledge beyond the man in the dug out. Unlike the situation where Peter Taylor left and his backroom staff were sent away with him Jackson having left yesterday the players have familiar faces around them.

It is this type of system which saw an end to Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle United and – in a way – Alan Curbishley at West Ham but is increasingly common in football. Indeed on Jackson’s last day at Valley Parade Michael Flynn told Radio Leeds that Colin Cooper took the players through their paces while the manager spent the morning on the phone to football managers trying to find a striker on loan. The team and manager lunched and went over the plan for the Barnet game, then resigned.

(It should be noted, and as an aside, that Keegan’s contracted stated that he would have the final say over players brought into the club and when the club’s Director of Football Recruitment Dennis Wise signed Xisco – the issue which Keegan resigned over – Newcastle United were in breach of that contract and while Keegan resigned he later successfully sued the club for constructive dismissal. One wonders what the detail of Jackson’s contract was.)

The manager’s remit is the first team and the requirement is not for an holistic club builder but rather for a game winner, and someone who with coaching and deployment can edge a performance an inch or two better. There is a list of managers who were considered to replace Stuart McCall (now Motherwell): Peter Taylor (now Bahrain), Steve Cotterill (now Portsmouth), Russell Slade (now Leyton Orient), Peter Jackson, Lawrie Sanchez (now Barnet), Jim Magilton (now caretaker assistant manager Shamrock Rovers), Dean Windass (working for BSKYB), John Coleman (still Accrington), Iain Dowie (no club), Martin Allen (now Notts County) and Wayne Jacobs. Six months ago John Hughes (no club) declared an interest in joining City and John Still (still Dagenham) interviewed for the position.

How many of these fulfil the remit which Jackson was being asked to work within? Certainly John Still – the victorious Dagenham manager of last week – would do having worked with Christie before but one has to wonder how much of an appreciation of what skills the next manager needs to have, and how those skills are distinct from those which were required when looking for McCall or Taylor.

Having appointed a big personality in Jackson – and perhaps had personality clashes – Lawn and Rhodes may be tempted to opt to bring in a younger manager who is more malleable, less set in his ways of how to run a club, and able to work within the current structure. They would do well to avoid “Yes” men.

The aim of the club is to have an appointment before next week’s trip to Morecambe which suggests that there is someone in mind – probably someone who has talked to the club six or eighteen months ago – but that Lawn and Rhodes do not have the clarity to bring someone in immediately. Were John Still to be the choice then one imagines a call would be made, a resignation drafted, and the new man revealed on Monday. The fact that there is a week until appointment suggests that there are discussions to be had and a choice to be made. There is a suggestion that three interviews will be held this week. One has to wonder what Lawn and Rhodes think they will hear in those interviews which they had not heard in the last two rounds, and how they will be able to sift the answers to get the right man. We are to assume that Jackson and Taylor were both the most impressive people in interview.

The early runners

The link to John Still – who talked about how he would have joined City were it not for the uncertainty over the future of Valley Parade – is a strong one with the Dagenham manager being in the final two of the club’s thoughts when Jackson was appointed. The club would – not doubt – have to pay Dagenham to free Still from his contract.

Impressive in the last round of interviews was former Hibs and Falkirk manager John Hughes who is out of work at the moment and could come in without any compensation payable. Hughes is a strong candidate for the job but one might expect him to be appointed this morning rather than next week if he is the chosen one.

Former players Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass have their name’s mentioned often in connection with the job. Beagrie has shown no interest in moving into management thus far but Windass has made his desire to take over the club known – Terry Dolan as his assistant – and could fit in as the type of rookie manager who may appeal to the board who have had problems dealing with experienced number ones.

Former Barnsley manager and City man of the 1980s John Hendrie is also an option although one might wonder how many conversations Hendrie has had with Stuart McCall about the board at Bradford City and how that would colour his view of the job were it offered.

City have always been fond a bit of fashionability and so perhaps Jim Magilton – who is working as caretaker assistant at Shamrock Rovers who qualified for the Europa League with this superb strike last night may be an outside bet having talked to the club previously.

Other names work mentioning include Colin Cooper the current caretaker manager and former player and Farsley manager Lee Sinnott. Paul Ince has been mentioned – his promotion with MK Dons would impress the board almost as much as his collection of shiny medals but his track record is patchy.

Finally John Coleman has interested City in the past.

Luke O’Brien proves himself a worthy successor

While trooping out of Valley Parade following the Bolton friendly defeat yesterday, the loud moanings of one fan could be heard over the sea of relative contentment most people felt towards a very good Bradford City performance. The subject of this person’s ire was Luke O’Brien, and the fact he’d been caught in possession leading to Bolton’s undeserved fourth. And despite a decent performance otherwise, this fan could not stop slating him.

It’s not an unusual occurrence over the 18 months. Despite having his best season in his fledgling career last term, complaints and criticism over the left back’s ability were aired frequently. At some games people seemed determined to pounce on his every perceived mistake while constantly questioning his positioning. When he did things right, many attempted to still find fault. When he actually did make a genuine mistake, the level of abuse was astonishingly high. In some people’s eyes O’Brien is a poor player the club needs to be rid of, despite having made 136 appearances in claret and amber.

But as rumours began to surface last night – confirmed by the T&A this morning – that O’Brien’s position rival Robbie Threlfall has been told he can leave, it appears the former Bantam trainee has won the battle that really counts – convincing the manager he should be first choice left back. Many argue Threlfall is a better player, looking at purely technical ability he probably is; yet the former Liverpool youngster has failed to nudge O’Brien onto the sidelines, and has now been told where the door is.

All of which says a great deal about the mental toughness and desire of Luke. When Threlfall was signed on loan from the Reds one game into Peter Taylor’s ill-fated reign as manager in February 2010, it looked curtains for the previous player of the season who had struggled for form during Stuart McCall’s final weeks in charge. Threlfall netted a superb free kick on his debut at Rochdale, and became a steadfast fixture in the team before his move was made permanent during the summer. O’Brien was initially moved to left wing where he was steady if not spectacular, but by the end of the season he’d lost his place in the team.

Despite Threlfall beginning last year first choice left back, with O’Brien on the bench, he struggled to find his own form and eventually lost his place to Luke. A change of manager to Peter Jackson though, and come the end of the season Threlfall was back in favour and O’Brien on the sidelines. Perhaps now we can suggest this was Jackson using the last few games to put Threfall in the shop window, but from the outside it didn’t looked good for O’Brien – widely considered runner up in the player of the year award to David Syers.

Instead Threlfall is looking for a future elsewhere and O’Brien can look back with pride on the fact a player was signed to replace him and he stood up to the challenge with great character and dignity. And as the complaints from some fans will no doubt continue this season regarding his ability, there are further reasons to bestow a comparison on him with one of the club’s greatest modern day players.

Wayne Jacobs: a great club servant, hugely respected by most fans – constantly vilified by others during his 11 years playing at the club. Jacobs was considered the team’s weak link in Division Two (now League One), but despite many fans attempting to drive him out he kept pace with the club’s meteoric rise to the Premier League. When he made a mistake the reaction from many was over the top and deplorable, but he seemed unfazed and continued coming back.

Then there was all those replacements signed to take his place, who he managed to shake off: Lee Todd, Andy Myers, Ian Nolan and others. Only when he got older did Paul Heckingbottom finally wrestle the shirt from him. To have so many fans barrack you and to have managers try to replace you: that Jacobs stayed so long at City – making the best use of the ability he had – is a commendable lesson for anyone.

Including O’Brien, who from some he attracts similar types of criticism as Jacobs and who has now fully fought off his first major rival. It is sad that it has to be this way but – just like with Jacobs – it should not be overlooked how many supporters do rate him and are willing to fight his corner. Luke does have weaknesses to his game and can occasionally be caught out, like others he will make mistakes over the coming season. But his work rate and positive attitude makes up for other failings, and the defensive ability he does have means he can go further in his career than a League Two full back – with or without City.

Growing up watching City on the Kop, no doubt hearing the abuse directed at Jacobs over the years, Luke couldn’t have had a better role model. Those lessons probably helped him when his future looked uncertain at City more than once; now he has the chance to continue to build on a promising career with even more reason to feel confident.

Jamie Lawrence, the workaholic

Jamie Lawrence is approximately 60 metres away from me when he picks up possession inside his own half 67 minutes into an FA Cup tie with Grimsby. 10 seconds later, and I and dozens of people around me are hugging the Jamaican international following a sensational weaving run past numerous blue shirts than ended with the ball passed crisply into the back of the net.

It is a glorious solo goal and – in the days before football was breached by health & safety guidelines and players weren’t sent off for celebrating with fans – Jamie has chosen to run to the part of the Kop where I stand to celebrate with us supporters his special moment.

Lawrence only ever scored 14 times in his 170 appearances for the club, so this strike – which ultimately proves the winner in one of the last genuinely exciting FA Cup matches before the magic of the cup began to wane at all levels – can be viewed as a peak moment in his Bantams career. Certainly Jamie is fondly remembered for the occasional brilliant goal, such as against Norwich that same season, and West Ham and Tottenham in the Premiership a year later, but it wouldn’t be his first quality to come to our minds when we recall the Londoner’s time at Valley Parade.

Jamie was a battler, with a commendable work ethic that stood out even in a team featuring the likes of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. He would give everything he had to the cause, running up and down the right flank defending as equally effectively as he attacked. Most of us fans lapped it up – a rare real life example of the myth that we’ll always get behind a player who might not be the best, so long as they put 110% effort.

Not everyone agreed though, and in some ways there was almost a snobbish attitude displayed by Lawrence’s dissenters. Jamie was a poor player with limited ability, they argued, but he gets away with not being given a hard time because he hides behind his work rate. In the days when Peter Beagrie struggled to win over the crowd and was at one stage packed off on loan to Everton, some argued Lawrence should be criticised as widely too.

Yet Lawrence’s work rate and application levels stood out to me as inspiration rather than a disguise. Sure he wasn’t the greatest player in the world, but without working so hard on his game and displaying such passion, those skilful qualities he did possess would never have been seen either. Lawrence grafted to win our trust and respect, and once we supporters, team mates and management built up our faith in him we were rewarded by ever-improving levels of performances. While other members of the 1997-98 mid-table first division squad were left behind by the bar been risen the following season, Lawrence kept pace and became a key figure in the club’s promotion to the Premier League and successful survival in the top flight the year after.

The lessons we can take remain as relevant today as they were then. Without working hard, mastering the basics and showing the right attitude – none of us would progress so well in our own careers and even in life. I’ve personally learned from Jamie that demonstrating an aptitude for hard work can get you a long way in winning over people; and the greater responsibility and promotions you crave – offering you the chance to really show your worth – are the rewards. In contrast I’ve seen other friends go into a job believing they are above it and then failing to put in the effort or focus on improving, leading them to fall at the first hurdle.

Not all footballers can be as good at taking on players as Lawrence (I remember him selling Steven Gerrard a dummy once), nor are they capable of curling the ball into the top corner from 30 yards like he did at West Ham in 2000. But there’s no reason why any player can’t look to emulate him in the effort levels they put in on the pitch and at the training ground.

Sadly, players that came close to matching Lawrence’s work rate have been few and far between in recent years.

So I loved the fact I got to hug Lawrence at the front of the Kop that day. Because his stella goal was the result of him trying and succeeding to overcome personal failings and win over doubters; of recognising the need to improve and taking responsibility to do so; of building up confidence in yourself and in other people’s minds.

And of how anyone – if they work hard enough – can surprise themselves and those around them in what they are truly capable of.

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

In praise of Bradford City 1998/99

This article first appeared in the excellent football website The Two Unfortunates in February 2011.

The Crumbling Terrace: Pre-amble One
Towards the end of the 2008/9 season

There we are, on the crumbling terrace of Morecambe’s old Christie Park ground,, watching Bradford City and wondering how it all came to this.

It turns out in the game that City will be robbed a winning goal when Peter Thorne bundles in from close range and that a line’s flag twitch – the doubt going to Morecombe’s on loan Rene Howe – will bring defeat and more so bring to an end Stuart McCall’s expensively assembled side’s promotion push. Those things are for the future though because the more pressing problem is that the police are taping up a barrier in front of us telling us that we can’t lean on it because “a bit or pressure and it will be over.”

How did it come to this? Why did it come to this?

The Man Who Would Not Walk Again Takes Flight: Pre-amble Two
Late 1998

Ashley Ward has scored for Barnsley – recently of the Premier League – and they are going to sneak a 1-0 win at Valley Parade despite having only ten men but something in the Bantams psyche seems to struggle. Let us not kid ourselves, we have watched Bradford City team edged out of games, losing 1-0 and being a dash unlucky about it, for decades now.

There is something in Paul Jewell’s side which seems to denounce that idea. Jewell is a rookie, younger than his captain McCall at 32, but he seems to have built a team which has the character and desire that was sadly lacking from the man as a player.

Two goals were scored in injury time, both by Gordon Watson a player who 18 months early had almost lost his leg after a tackle described as “The worst I have ever seen in football” by Chris Waddle. This is his comeback game.

Watson had been taken from the pitch to hospital where he had almost lost his leg to a tackled six minutes into a local derby with Huddersfield Town. Kevin Grey’s “tackle” came when City were already one down and while an equaliser was scored the whole game was overshadowed by an horrific injury. Then manager Chris Kamara had burst onto the field in anger, his face turning sickly on seeing the wound. Everything was overshadowed.

Now he was back and in five minutes Gordon Watson scored two goals and turned a blank return into two points. Moreover though he maintained the belief that seemed to have dripped into the club under Paul Jewell. The manager from nowhere brought a belief from somewhere, and it had changed the club.

Two goals in five minutes. It seemed fated, everything seemed fated.

The Promise

May 1999

On the 9th of May at around 2:17 on a bright May afternoon Bradford City were promoted to the Premier Division of English football as runners up to Sunderland following a season which had threatened nothing at all.

The opening day – a defeat to Stockport – saw returning club legend Stuart McCall injured and was followed by two points in six games and suddenly it seemed that the team that cost a staggering £3.5m to build and included City’s first two £1m plus signings in Issiah Rankin and Lee Mills was going to achieve very little.

Hope came after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United where the Bantams looked more than capable and belief came from that, or so it seemed, and that belief was cemented by the return of skipper McCall and a gradual climb up the table that included Barnsley, 2-1, and Gordon Watson.

Watson’s story seemed to typify the playing squad who had all come back from some kind of injury or – in the case of McCall – exile. A key figure in the club’s failed push for promotion in 1988 McCall always had “unfinished business” with City and so as he anchored the side using the wealth of experience that comes from an FA Cup final, World Cup goals, multiple titles with Rangers he made good on that promise.

When City were promoted – a 3-2 win at Wolves on the final day of the season securing it – it was very much McCall’s promise manifest. Certainly a season of performances represents something precious to any football supporter. We know, as supporters, that players are more mercenary than we would like to admit and when a player seems to match us for how much he cares we cherish that player.

And that group of players, in this case. Players who seemed invested in the outcome of the season which offered a deliverance for many. Watson from injury and the ghost that haunted him, McCall from the previous failure.

Peter Beargie had arrived a summer before under allegations – and later convictions – to do with a sexual assault while he was at Manchester City. Beagrie faced prison when he arrived in his first, ineffectual, season but the change of manager from Kamara to Jewell seemed to have focused the mind. Everything Beagrie did seemed to have a point to it, every cross made to perfection, hanging impressively for Lee Mills to arrive onto. At the end of the season three quarters of the club’s goals came from Beagrie, Mills or fellow striker Robbie Blake.

If Beagrie had faced prison then fellow winger Jamie Lawrence had been there. A convicted bank robber Lawrence had been something of a novelty on his release signing for Sunderland and then Leicester City but that novelty had faded and Lawrence wound his way to Valley Parade which seemed to be another step in a career of wandering but once again Jewell seemed to focus the mind, tell the player that his achievements were limited only by his belief.

This became Jewell’s hallmark with Bradford City and was a trick he repeated at Wigan Athletic. His ability to take a player and make him perform seemed to border on the magical and no more was this true than with idling forward Robbie Blake.

Blake was a bit part player transfer listed for being pulled over for drink driving in the week Diana died and incapable of nailing down a place in the starting line up despite the odd impressive performance. He was a slow right winger, able to show tricks but without the traction to stick in the team, until Jewell’s intervention.

Jewell got under Blake’s skin – famously they used to have bust ups with Jewell offering him nowhere to hide and dubbing him a “sulker” – but whatever the means the ends were impressive. Direct, skilful and cunning Blake formed a partnership with Lee Mills which tormented the division.

Blake’s anticipation allowed him to feed off the £1m costing target man Mills and grow into the type of player the manager himself felt he could have been had he had the application. The man who used to lay out Kenny Dalglish’s shorts Jewell’s playing career was a cautionary tale used to motivate the strikers he managed.

As a signing Mills – sadly – turned out to be a one season wonder after problems with drink cost him his place in the Premier League but for that season he represented some canny business for the club. Chris Kamara had been keen on Mills while the player was at Port Vale but it took Jewell’s determination to put in the £1m bid and secure the player. Belief, it seemed, was the watchword.

Another player who suggested much for some season and was anointed by Jewell’s belief was midfielder Gareth Whalley. Whalley, a £650,000 recruit from Crewe, became a midfield partner for McCall adding a sly pass to the captains driving heart. Darren Moore seemed too big, too cumbersome, to be a Premiership player but Jewell made him the defensive rock partnering him with one of Jon Dreyer, Andy O’Brien or Ashley Westwood on the basis of the opposition.

Gary Walsh, veteran of the Manchester United bench was as sure as one could imagine between the posts. He had a calm confidence about him that seemed to exude throughout the team. Walsh had left Old Trafford after collecting a lot of medals while hardly getting his kit dirty and ended up at Middlesbrough where he had been a small part of Bryan Robson’s Teeside revolution but in Bradford City he seemed to have found a place where his achievements would be recognised on the merit they had.

As a keeper Walsh was something to behold. Possessed of an unerring sense of positioning Walsh was the type of goalkeeper who seemed to suck the ball into his hands. Not for Walsh the need for acrobatics but rather a calm sense of seeming to play the next few second of an attack out and conclude where the best place to be to gather the ball at the end of it would be. A belief, if you will.

Late on in the season £1m brought Dean Windass to the club – a perfect match or player and team – but Windass’s contribution was minor although not insignificant. One bank holiday Monday at Bury with the team running on empty it was Windass who – like Watson before him – pulled three points out of seemingly nowhere.

Not that every signing Jewell made worked well. Full back Lee Todd was signed to replace club man Wayne Jacobs but Jacobs – as he would do all his career – saw off the challenge to win back his place. More obvious though was the £1.3m spent on Arsenal’s young prospect Issiah Rankin – a player of whom Jim Jefferies remarked “could not finish a bowl of cornflakes”- which proved profligate in excess.

A player with lighting quickness Rankin struggled for goals and after a fruitless pair of games at Huddersfield and at home to QPR was dropped for Blake to shift from the right hand side and Lawrence to join the team. Rankin never looked forward again.

Belief, it seemed, was lacking.

And It Was About Belief, Of Course
May 1999 and onwards

All these things eclipsed: The players, the manager, the belief; and they eclipsed in a game at Wolves that lead to two seasons in the Premiership, Benito Carbone, Stan Collymore and the story which is too often told. The first season in the top flight continued much of what had been good about promotion but the sense of hunger that Jewell used to feed the belief had gone. Within a month Watson was gone, Blake and Moore on the transfer list, and slowly things fell apart.

Those years continue to define the club – the financial fallout ruins the club to this day, we are the footnote in discussions about a Paul Scholes wonder goal – but seldom is the making of those days, how we got to a point where we could throw it all away, considered.

So a crumbling terrace in Morecambe and the failing of a promotion campaign and everything seems so far away now. Much further than the positions in the league and the comparison of Christie Park to Old Trafford or Anfield.

The reality of football is that most Autumns turn into hard Winters and joyless Springs. Most players want to achieve but fall short, most teams lack collective belief. This is not the game’s tragedy, the tragedy are those years having seen such a thing, and the wanderer waiting for its return.

Jackson starts work at City

If Bradford City’s board had been accused of short-term thinking in the past then those accusations are set into a new light and a new context by the decision to appoint Peter Jackson as manager on a week by week basis.

Jackson started work at Valley Parade today with a remit to prepare the team for Saturday’s visit to Gillingham. He might expect to be in charge for the visit of Rotherham on Tuesday night following and the trip to Morecambe on the weekend after but his time at the club is dependent on the interview process for the next manager.

If – one assumes – a manager is found then Jackson is moved on and in that context it is difficult to see what he offers the club over and above allowing Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis to caretake. That Wetherall is to be assisting Jackson – away from his other roles at the club – while Jacobs is paid to stay at home is nothing short is disgraceful.

David Wetherall assists Jackson who manages with a style that contrasts predecessor Peter Taylor sharply. During the time he spent at Huddersfield Town with Terry Yorath Jackson would rarely be seen at the training ground allowing the former City manager Yorath to take near total control of that side of the club, a point noted when Jackson was replaced by the more tracksuited Steve Bruce.

If the 49 year old maintains that division of labour then the players will train under Wetherall and have their tactical approach set by Jackson. Also in contrast to Taylor Jackson’s teams operate under a flexible tactical approach with the manager matching approach and attitude to the game before him and players he has available. Practicality rather than pragmatism which is perhaps suited to the role of week to week manager.

The role of week to week manager though seem to simply confuse.

If the aim is to provide an experienced hand on the tiller until a new appointment is made then could Peter Taylor not have been asked to stay until his replacement is made? He would be no less of a lame duck manager than Jackson is with every game potentially his last and the players knowing that it is not the man in the dug out they have to impress.

If the aim is to make a more stable ship by having an experienced manager on a week to week basis then Jackson’s arrival added Lewis and Jacobs’ exit seems to be unnecessarily upsetting for the club and the squad. For sure Jackson could have provided the change of voice while Wetherall, Lewis and Jacobs did whatever it was that Yorath did at Huddersfield but from Monday morning the players will have entirely different faces to deal with.

One might make argument that that is no bad thing considering the season to date, but one would have weigh that against the worry that the change will work out like Mark Cooper’s time at Peterborough, Peter Withe at Wimbledon or any other dozen and a half spells that produced one or two wins and a quick sack.

No matter who the week to week manager was it would carry a risk and bring a good deal of confusion and perhaps the best City fans can hope for as Jackson starts work is that his tenure is short and a full time manager with a contract and a remit to build the club over a long period is appointed as soon as one can be found.

One wonders if Jackson will be that man. His last contact with City of any major note was to use his position as Lewis Emanuel’s agent to (seemingly) try encourage the player to move to a Huddersfield Town team which a few months later he was managing and during his time at Huddersfield Town the former City skipper seldom seemed to show any affection for the club he served well for some years and then very poorly for two others.

But the many lays a wreath every May in private, away from the official ceremonies. Nothing is simple.

Peter Jackson starts work at Bradford City and he will probably be the manager next week, but might not be, and perhaps his appointment should be seen in that context. It is but twelve months since City last interviewed a bunch of managers, one doubts that Martin Allen, Jim Magliton and the others have changed that much in a year so there is no need to think that the process will be protracted.

Hopefully as he has most of his career Jackson will put the club on the path to staying in the same division but with players out of contract and decisions to be made on them – and with the very real risk of another summer building for a rush season or hoping for promotion – the Bantams have a pressing need to think beyond the week to week.

Peter Jackson appointed interim manager

Bradford City have named former captain Peter Jackson as the club’s manager until the end of next week replacing Peter Taylor.

Jackson joins City on a week to week basis as caretakers pending the appointment of a manager as assistant manager Wayne Jacobs and first-team coach Junior Lewis “have been placed on gardening leave.” The club with no money having suddenly discovered enough cash to two people to stay at home. David Wetherall takes Jacobs’ place as assistant.

Jackson came through the ranks at Valley Parade in the early 1980s before leaving for Newcastle United only to return to his home town club for two years until 1990 when he was freed and joined Huddersfield Town, then manager John Docherty dismissing Jackson as “too handsome for a central defender.”

Jackson went on to play for Chester City and Halifax Town before going into management with Huddersfield Town when – in partnership with Terry Yorath – after steering the club away from relegation worries in his first season he took the Town to the brink of the Premier League.

“Brink of” meaning “not into”.

Jackson was somewhat unfairly dismissed as Huddersfield manager when new owner Barry Rubery opted to appoint Steve Bruce over him. He returned to Huddersfield Town in 2003 taking them out of the fourth tier following administration but. In the period between his spells at Huddersfield Jackson accepted Geoffrey Richmond’s offer to manage Bradford City on Christmas day 2000 only to give back word on Boxing Day.

Jackson left Town in March 2007 after failing to make the League One play-offs but returned to football at Lincoln City in the October. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in February 2008 and took time off, returning in January 2009 only to be fired in September 2009.

Jackson returns to City – where he made 330 appearance and led the team to the 1985 Third Division Championship – on a short term basis as the club look for a new manager.

Taylor gets a final chance to write his history

Peter Taylor exits Bradford City after Saturday’s game with Stockport County which is described by joint chairman Julian Rhodes as “possibly one of the biggest in the club’s history” but the judgement on his time at the club will not follow until the end of the season.

Taylor’s time at City has been marked with upset over negative play and managerial mistakes as well as the manager criticising supporters who he revealed today were the cause of his decision to leave but his position in City’s history will be written in May when he is either written off as an experiment gone wrong or written in stone as the man who had Bradford City relegated out of the Football League after 106.

An assessment which would be harsh for sure – you do not go from the Premiership to the Football Conference in just over a decade because of the guy who got the job twelve months ago – but one which will no doubt be made. Taylor’s only input into this writing of history is the tone he sets in his final game.

The final game with Stockport who – in something of a minor irony – have helped to seal the manager’s early exit. Mark Lawn and Rhodes talked about their requirements for the medium and long term when thinking about the next appointment but it cannot have escaped their notice that by changing manager Lincoln City and Saturday’s opponents have turned seemingly moribund seasons around with revivals.

There is something to be said for that approach too. It is football in the ludicrously short term – the financial position being what it is and relegation hovering City may only have a short term left – but increasingly it seemed as if the players had lost belief in Taylor and that they might benefit from another voice in the dressing room.

Be it David Syers and Tom Ademeyi being given the midfield roles against five Lincoln players, Scott Dobie being given the job of chasing high balls or Luke O’Brien and Lewis Hunt playing full back without anyone supporting them when they are doubled up on the players are coming under criticism for decisions made by Taylor, and on occasion that criticism comes from Taylor.

That they stop thinking that following the manager will lead to success is a problem addressed by Taylor’s exit, although after that one suspects the problems will begin and that chief amongst those problems will be finding a new manager who has the same effect on City which Steve Tilson has had on Lincoln to some degree or another.

If the benefit of Taylor’s exit is a change of voice in the dressing room then there seems little benefit in appointing Wayne Jacobs until the end of the season but the assistant manager has twice taken control of the club as caretaker in the past. The two week gap that follows the Stockport game suggests City will have time to bring in short-term appointment and that a caretaker taker will probably not be needed.

Names suggest themselves: Phil Parkinson and Brian Laws mentioned in one breath, Dean Windass and Terry Dolan in another. Martin Allen has previously impresses Mark Lawn and could get a chance to do again but those problems are for Monday. Saturday is more pressing.

The effect of Taylor’s departure on that game is hard to measure. The City players responded to Stuart McCall’s departure with a loathsome display at Accrington Stanley in Peter Taylor first game. In his last one might expect the squad to be equally nervous although perhaps they will feel they have something to prove to the outgoing manager. If they spot a trenchcoat in the main stand they may feel they have something to prove to the incoming manager too.

Taylor is likely to stand by the players who have figured in the majority of his squad although there is a sneaking feeling that he may employ a 235 1911 style in a final flash of “attacking football.”

Assuming he does not Lenny Pidgeley will keep goal behind Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver who more than most will be effected by Taylor’s departure one suspects and Luke O’Brien. A middle three of Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tom Adeyemi seems set to continue – one has to wonder why Jon Worthington was brought in – while the forward three could feature a return for James Hanson alongside one of Scott Dobie or Gareth Evans, and Kevin Ellison.

These players are tasked with winning the game – an everyone in for a pound offer which sadly was not extended to the visitors should see a few more bums on seats – and starting writing what could prove to the the last chapter in the 58 year old manager’s career.

A win and graceful retirement to Newcastle United’s backroom awaits, a defeat and he starts to become the man who killed a club.

Pressing the Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the next steps

As Peter Taylor substituted Louis Moult to widespread boos and groans two-thirds of the way into Bradford City’s eventual win over Gillingham last week, it was tempting to ponder just how long the City manager will be around to make such unpopular decisions.

This was the second home game in a row a substitution by Taylor was booed by some fans; and in the other two league home games there was the half time chant directed at him to “sort it out” against Southend, and booing the team off in victory against Stevenage.

Unlike his predecessor, Stuart McCall, Taylor is clearly not someone readily prepared to blame himself and believe those questioning him are right to do so, and one can speculate whether the reason his assistant Wayne Jacobs was sent out to face the media after the game was due to anger at having his decisions questioned once more.

A frosty relationship between manager and many supporters is beginning to develop.

The frustration last Saturday stemmed from the fact it was Moult rather than Luke Oliver taken off by Taylor. After a fairly anonymous start to his six-month loan stint at Valley Parade, the Stoke striker was finally beginning to show glimpses of his potential and was one of a handful of influential players helping City to get on top in the second half. Oliver meanwhile looked clumsy and awkward, the wrong man in the right place of City’s increasingly-frequent attacks. The sight of Gareth Evans ready to come on told us the hook was coming, but in many fans eyes Taylor was taking off the wrong man.

Football coaches often talk about the importance of going back-to-basics when things go wrong. If, for example, a midfielder produces a poor pass, he is encouraged to make sure he tries something much simpler the next time he receives possession, so he can quickly build up confidence again. When a team is on a run like City have been, it’s understandable Taylor would want to take a back-to-basics approach to selection and tactics. Start getting points on the board, then build up again from there.

Taylor’s approach against Gillingham strongly suggested going back-to-basics. Without James Hanson and after a loan striker turned down a move, the deployment of Oliver up front was all about better-retaining possession in the final third so the team as a whole could gain greater territorial advantage. Oliver was instructed to win and hold up the ball, thus bringing others into the game. Not fantastic to watch maybe, but effective. Basic you might say.

I personally believe Taylor got a better performance from his players than he’d dared hoped, particularly in the second half when Lee Hendrie’s introduction sparked more attacking impetuous and saw City gain a lot more joy from passing it through – rather than over – the visitors.

But this improvement suddenly made the tactic of Oliver up front far less effective, and what City really needed was a forward more comfortable in possession and who could make intelligent runs. The moment where Hendrie dribbled past a couple of players and produced a perfectly weighted through ball for Oliver, only for the tall defender to fail to control it with just the keeper to beat, summed up the sudden problem.

So like others I was willing Taylor to take off Oliver. And although I did not boo, I did groan and feel deflated when Moult was hauled off instead. This was surely a moment where Taylor could have been braver, shown more belief in the way his team was playing. But in the back of his mind perhaps was the risk of Gillingham scoring and City needed to go long ball in the final 10 minutes, where Oliver would have been needed.

But after so many times a City manager has been unjustly slated for his tactics when City have lost a game, Taylor ultimately deserves a lot of credit for the fact his tactics and substitutions ultimately delivered three valuable points.

As City head to Northampton this weekend, it will be interesting to see how much Taylor changes things around to build on the basics which have slowly started to come together since the season’s low point of the 2-0 loss to Southend. Both Hanson and Michael Flynn – another target man option – are not expected to be fit in time, so the chances of Oliver continuing up front would appear high.

But it should be recalled that arguably the best football City have played under Taylor so far, the final five games of last season, saw a 4-3-3 formation employed without a target man. This worked well because of the running and link up of Leon Osborne, Gareth Evans and Gavin Grant. It is that level of football City now aspire to reach again, and to which Taylor could consider evolving the back-to-basics approach from and look to employ at Sixfields.

Oliver’s move up the pitch enabled Steve Williams to return to the central defence against Gillingham, and the impressive display he and the fast-improving Shane Duff produced would suggest Oliver may have to join Zesh Rehman on the bench at some point in the near future. With Jon McLaughlin also looking more composed during the last two games, Taylor is moving closer towards a solid defence which has acted as the bedrock of his previous promotion-winning teams

At full backs, however, there are plenty of unresolved issues. Lewis Hunt and Robbie Threlfall have both attracted a lot of criticism for their efforts this season, but in many ways they are in excellent company as I struggle to recall many City full backs over the years who were not slated at some point.

In terms of Hunt, the criticism he’s receiving has to be balanced by the fact he is a second choice right back at a fourth division club. The wage allocated for this role isn’t going to be high, and so Taylor is limited in the options and ability he could bring in. Meanwhile Threlfall had a shocker at Shrewsbury on the opening day, and hasn’t recovered.

Luke O’Brien, who’s had his own dips of form, is arguably playing his best football of his career so far. The Gillingham half time switch around that saw Threlfall replaced and O’Brien moved to left back is surely likely to be continued while Threlfall rebuilds his confidence. But let’s not forget it is his form, rather than ability, which is the problem.

In midfield there are suddenly stronger options when a fortnight ago it looked a major problem area. Lee Bullock picked up the sponsors man of the match last week and his return to form benefited Tommy Doherty; while the arrival of Hendrie further brought the best out of both. For now Hendrie will probably remain on the bench, or start the game and be taken off, as he builds fitness. David Syers is beginning to look the part and should be fit to start; Omar Daley has been an unused sub for the last two games, and the Jamaican’s future is beginning to look bleak.

Up front there remains a troubling lack of goals, and the poor form of Evans and tentativeness of Moult leaves Taylor with some difficult decisions. Osborne’s first meaningful appearance of the season last week attracted derision, but his form at the end of last season showed promise and it would be worth getting behind the player – who has emerged through the ranks, remember – rather than writing him off so prematurely. For now at least Oliver classes as a forward option.

Northampton are fresh from incredible cup exploits over Liverpool, but in every other way will hopefully be stale. Taylor had joked about asking Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee to make sure the game went to extra time, and the fact Clobbers’ players were on the floor with cramp towards the end of their penalty shoot out win would suggest the Bantams will carry a fitness advantage from no midweek action.

City have so far lost two and drawn one on their travels, and though it is still early days the points return from the trips to Northampton on Saturday and Rotherham on Tuesday will say a lot about the team prospects for the rest of the season. A four-point haul would set City up nicely for upcoming easier-looking games and a climb up the table during autumn.

Achieve that and, come winter, it’s hoped the only frost we’ll be talking about is the stuff which forms on the ground, rather than the nature of the feelings heading towards and from the Valley Parade dugout.

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

Another season of despair

On The 2010/2011 Season

I met a traveller from an antique land.

The modern history of Bradford City – which is to say the everything from the return to Valley Parade onwards – shifts on a fulcrum moment which happened ten years ago this month that City kick of a fourth consecutive season in the bottom tier of English professional football.

August ten years ago and – with bare faced cheek and a brassneck – I went to my boss and asked him if I could leave half way through the day because I wanted to go to the press conference that unveiled Benito Carbone as a Bradford City player. Carbone – at a cost of just under £55,000 a week – was the pinnacle of something that rose at The Bantams and – in the last ten years – fell.

Much has happened in that last ten years – two administrations, three promotions, BfB has had 112 more writers doing about 3,500 articles, the hole in the ground, a riots, the boss in question now is chairman of Bradford Bulls – but nothing has matched that moment. Geoffrey Richmond sitting at the head of a room of supporters and journalist proudly proclaiming the promise that his new recruit represented.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.

Valley Parade played host to former tenants Bradford Park Avenue and – soberingly and as a result of that time ten years ago – its current tenant Bradford City and is a transformed arena. The main stand rises high and is most often half empty or half full (your point of view on that) ready to host Premier League football which is a distant memory now.

Rippling away from Valley Parade the effects of City’s rise and fall fade. Peter Taylor tried to prepare for this season in different training facilities but that proved impossible – for now at least – and Apperley Bridge continues to be the host for the club’s day to day activities. Carbone said of City on his arrival that “nothing resembled a football club” including Apperley Bridge in his swathe of comment.

Players have come and gone most notably Dean Windass who partnered Carbone up front in the Italians first game. Windass returned but left the club after death threats following a sending off.

Managers have come and gone most notably Stuart McCall who was the captain and assistant manager when Carbone was signed. He, along with other players of the day Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall have reputations tarnished not by the continued involvement with the club but by the club’s decline from that day onwards.

In the wider football world though that day – and Bradford City in the Premiership – is a footnote. The other team in Paul Scholes’s wonder goal, the prototype for the likes of Hull City and Blackpool and a step on the evolutionary ladder from Barnsley’s single season in the top flight. Not forgotten but hardly remembered and remembered as one of many teams who tried and failed.

An ebullient Geoffrey Richmond stood on the field – a dozen City fans around him – in a blazing eyeball to eyeball argument with a Daily Express journalist who questioned his motives and motivations. It was a rare sight. The Empire builder questioned, raging against the coming tide which he would not be able to keep back.

He resurfaced briefly at Notts County and Leeds United, and then he was gone.

And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

So ten years on Bradford City under Peter Taylor prepare for the new season and it is hard to imagine being further from that August press conference. The pitch – sun drenched on that day – has been improved at last but little else can be said to have.

Pre-season was low key to a point of hardly being considered during the tour of Essex which saw four games in seven days. The jailing of one former striker and one new one provided the news and perhaps there was a sense that nothing else from the club would match that so – other than the progress of the new grass – little emerged from the club. There is no good news, so there is no news.

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.

The best which can be said about Peter Taylor is that he has augmented what he found on arrival at the club rather than trying to rebuild salvaging some of the last two and a half years of work that Stuart McCall had put in. A look at Taylor’s assumed first eleven shows that the keeper Jon McLauglin, defender Steve Williams and striker James Hanson were all plucked from nowhere to be key members of this season’s side.

Indeed it is to Taylor’s great credit that one can skip through the team: Right back Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman at centreback, left back Robbie Threlfall was a target of McCall and co at left back, Lee Bullock was converted to a deep role by McCall, midfielder Michael Flynn and striker Gareth Evans brought in by the previous manager. Taylor has recruited Tommy Doherty for his three in midfield while Omar Daley – with 97 appearances for City – pre-dated the previous manager.

Rather than start again Taylor has taken what he found and added to it giving City a rare route to having some stability at the club. That he has only a one year contract is a matter of great worry – for every prediction which tells you City will be promoted you can find one which says we will end in mid-table which would result in the board not offering a new deal to the manager – with City highly unlikely to find as good a replacement for this manager as was found for the last.

His football is pragmatic to a point of unattractiveness at times but Taylor is perhaps the only reason for optimism at the club this season. A man who appreciates the value of building while standing in the bare, lone and level sands.

The long pre-season ends

As Lee Bullock turned a chance to get a fifth goal in City’s comprehensive 4-0 win over neighbours Bradford (Park Avenue) wide of the post following a powerful run by Tom Adeyemi the Bantams’ pre-season came to a merciful end with little learnt and little needed to be known.

Peter Taylor sent out a first half team assembled of players not expected to play on Saturday afternoon’s season opener against Shrewsbury Town with new face Seb Carole on trial and playing on the right with David Syers in the middle and suspended for Saturday Omar Daley on the left all ahead of – surprisingly – a first City appearance for Tom Doherty.

The bearded midfielder’s forty five minutes showed the glimpses of what Taylor sees in the player sitting deep and moving the ball around usefully finding the active running of forward pair Jake Speight – who dropped off well and showed a useful turn or two – and Louis Moult who is a strong looking, hard working striker who is instantly impressive in his play and attitude.

Moult scored his second goal for the club – and City’s second of the night – controlling a pass just outside the box and hitting a mid-height controlled shot past the visiting goalkeeper.

Moult’s goal added to a Steve Williams headed goal from an Omar Daley corner which saw the young defender jump unopposed in the box to head in. Williams and his defensive partner Shaun Duff started flat-footed allowing two chances in the first five minutes to test Lloyd Saxton in goal but that spell at the start and a pair of shots by Spencer Harris and David Heagrey at the end Avenue did little to threaten despite playing with spirit.

Spirit which City either lacked or controlled. Moult and former City man Tom Claisse both went in for a ball with studs showing and in League football both would have been punished the same but Claisse’s aggressive shove of Moult to the ground showed the difference in approach from the teams.

Which is not to say that City did not care – on the contrary, they do – but that Taylor’s side focus upset from incidents like that, stings from defeat, grumpiness from misplaced passes and pushes them into the performance. Avenue, seemingly, just push them into pushes.

Taylor watched the game from half way up the main stand trying to communicate with Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs on the bench with a series of hand signal and mimes which – in time – turned into a series of shouts. “Three subs?” Jacobs bellowed up to a nod, later before kids keeper Chris Elliott came on a head stuck itself over the dug out and was pointed at in a “am I coming on?” way. A couple of mobile phones maybe?

As technology failed City did not. A 433 after half time saw a team more resembling that which one might expect on Saturday with Gareth Evans being supported by James Hanson and Scott Neilson in the forward line which immediately looked lively. Hanson has grown as a player – in his play – and as a human – in his build – from his time last season looking a long way from the part timers he was playing against.

Evans moved well making himself an option always and held the ball when needed, bringing others into the game. Neilson charged up and down the right. Both got goals.

Evans’s reward for an inventive ball flipped over to Neilson was a return pass for the striker to accurately power in from the edge of the box to make the game 3-0. Ten minutes from time Neilson is given the ball and the freedom of the box to get a fourth.

The comprehensive nature of the win aside the game offered little for Taylor to learn. Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall combined well down the left in the second half as they did at the end of last season, Evans looks to have brought his fine end of last year to the start of this, Lee Bullock looked controlled and quality as he did last year. You can see the theme building.

This was City’s first game of pre-season at Valley Parade – a bedding in for the new turf of which it is said with justification that one could play a snooker game on it – but it was the last game of a pre-season which went back to the start of April when Taylor’s side ensured they would stay in League Two.

Four months of build up to a season which starts on Saturday.

The start of the most interesting season

This season will be fascinating. Every move will be analysed, every game mark a position, ever result considered as a proof of a concept about building slowly and in a determined fashioned. One can only guess at the outcome too – a team that takes change as part of progress, that sees development as a thing done over years, not over a summer.

It will be a very interesting League One season for Rochdale.

After the best part of four decades in the basement division Rochdale have gained an upward mobility which saw them promoted last season despite having sold – to a club who plead poverty for a figure they did not disclose – their best player in Adam Le Fondre but prospered because of the strength of the unit. Defender Craig Dawson is looking to move on this summer with the club waiting for someone to match the £1m valuation they put on him and – once again – Keith Hill will look to his side’s whole being able to withstand the withdrawal of one of the parts.

Rochdale are an object lesson in the idea of retention. Keith Hill has been at the club since his retirement being in charge of the youth side, then the assistant manager and finally as manager. The squad has long service – captain Gary Jones has played 229 games for the club – and with that has come a resilience.

One could take issue with other things about Spotland but on the field there is much to admire about Rochdale and their progress this term represents a test of their ideals.

Bradford City represent something of a contrast being a club that has firm and fast plans off the field which have seen the club be rightfully proud of being one of only two professional football clubs in the black as well as taking firm action against troublemakers. The commercial side of operations at Valley Parade come on a pace we are told and off the field – despite the legacy of huge debts ten years ago – the club are in rude health.

It just goes wrong when kicking a football come into the equation. It would not be true to say City do not have a plan on how to go forward – they have lots of plans – and they change on a regular basis.

Over the summer Peter Taylor has gone about augmenting what he inherited when he moved into Valley Parade while keeping some things in place. Wayne Jacobs, Michael Flynn, James Hanson, Steve Williams and Jon McLaughlin have all benefited from this as the manager recognises that all retention builds institutional knowledge. Nevertheless Hanson and Williams both arrived as part of the club’s plan of harvesting the lower leagues. That came after the club’s plan of spending £600,000 on talent. Remember City’s Mexican academy? City had a plan that included with Royal Racing FC Montegnee and the development of young players? A side note here is that the Bantams Belgian partners picked up Willy Topp on January three years after City took him from them RRFCM’s grasp.

While Rochdale have been pursuing a single approach, City have had many and perhaps they would have all failed in the long term but having not been given that time who could say?

Taylor’s one year contract evidences this – clearly the best man for the job – with the club hedging bets so that another plan can be sprung into place to replace the current one which at the moment is “the right thing.” If you buy enough lottery tickets then one day you will win, maybe.

Taylor has something of an injury crisis on his hands with James Hanson – who is expected to lead the line for the season – struggling to be fit for the first day with Gareth Evans and a new mystery striker who the manager hopes to sign today – replacing him in the forward one of a 433.

Evans would be deployed as a wider player alongside the likes of Scott Neilson, Jake Speight, Leon Osborne who is injured, Omar Daley who is suspended for the opening day of the season and perhaps Ryan Harrison and Norwich loanee Tom Adeyemi who are midfielders who may move forward.

For Speight the chance to play in front of his new fans and start to build bridges after a summer of sentences and suggestions will be welcome. If every a player needed a good start to his City career it is Speight.

City’s idea midfield three are Flynn, Lee Bullock and Tommy Doherty but the bearded maestro is injured suggesting that Adeyemi may be used in the middle although Luke O’Brien may slot onto the left hand side of a three as he did last year. With James O’Brien leaving this week City seem light in the midfield area with those three, the Norwich loan player and youngsters Luke Dean and Ryan Harrison and perhaps Taylor will be looking to replace the exiting Irishman.

At the back the Bantams have some strength and the names write themselves on a team sheet: Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, new recruit Shaun Duff and Robbie Threlfall; Luke Oliver may yet end up pressed into attack once more – that is a pudding that is only for the eating – and Zesh Rehman would seem to be marked to provide cover for Ramsden and the central players.

If Taylor has one aim this year it should be to get Rehman – who has a pedigree of playing Premiership football – to perform appropriately consistency. Rehman put in a half dozen excellent performances towards the end of the last season under Taylor and if the manager is the manager everyone (seemingly including Fabio Capello) thinks he is then it will be in getting performances out of the likes of Rehman which will evidence that.

In goal Jon McLaughlin is expected to get the number one shirt with Lloyd Saxton to wait for his chance as McLaughlin did.

City face Rochdale and then entertain Bradford Park Avenue at Valley Parade on Tuesday before starting the season on Saturday at Shrewsbury. At least that is the plan.

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.

When pre-season is not pre-season

If you missed Bradford City’s 4-0 win over Stambridge United last night then you are not alone. BfB did little to cover it and a straw poll of City fans responding to news of the opening goals on Facebook seemed to show that they knew that some games in Essex were coming, but they did not know when.

City won the game with goals from Leon Osborne, Scott Neilson, Omar Daley and James O’Brien – a second four goal win in as many days following the 5-1 victory over North Ferriby United – and word came from the South that City had been given a good game by the part-timers from Essex although many would debate how much of a game non-league footballers at the level of the club’s City gave played so far can give professionals.

Indeed there is a charge at Peter Taylor’s door that his pre-season preparations are weak and that is is no benefit to the players to have easy victories over poor opposition. Certainly Taylor’s aim is not to create an interesting and exciting set of games but is he creating a useful set?

Sadly – or perhaps not so sadly – no answer can be reached for some time. Since the days of Chris Kamara – if not before – every City manager has looked at pre-season as if it were non-competitive league matches to be treated as significantly as Johnstone’s Paint early rounds or end of season dead rubbers (which is to say as lightly as a professional club every takes a game, but still as if it were a “proper” match) but Taylor seems to take a new approach.

Taylor is doing everything he can to ensure that pre-season matches – at this stage – are not taken seriously by his players and that the games are re-contextualised as a part of training. A means to an end and not an end in itself.

Which is not to say that there is not a seriousness to the training that Taylor, Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs put the players through – quiet the opposite – but that Taylor is keen to ensure that his players know the difference between training time and the business time of the season.

Matches kick off at three in the afternoon, seven forty-five in the evening in proper games but Taylor breaks this association moving the kick off around an hour here, two there and ensures that games are presented to players and to fans in a different situation.

Eccleshill United aside the games – up to the race trim of the final week – are all far flung keeping the Bantams away from City fans who season on season extrapolate the entire league’s nine months or play on the basis of the first game they see in July. Rightly or wrongly players are judged in their rawest form. I never – and still don’t – think much of Michael Symes based on watching his first performance for City at Farsley Celtic. The likes of Stambridge might get a few extra people to have a look at the Bantams but in all likelihood two men and a dog will be watching City rather than the backing of an active travelling City support.

These things break the link between what happened at Stambridge and what will happen at Shrewsbury on the first day of the season. Breaking that link says to the players that they are in build up now suggesting that they are preparing for something in August not playing for the tiny glory of winning in a pre-season game.

Not that winning is in question. The teams are a distance below City’s standard but win, lose or draw one doubts Taylor would care any more than he would care if the Red Bibs beat the Yellow Bibs at Apperley Bridge. The aim is not to show how good – or poor – City are by winning games over the best opposition available it is to prepare the players.

Taylor believes this is best done by taking the pressure away from these games, making them more like a practice match than what we now know a pre-season games. It is building relationships between players, patterns of play on the field, understandings and partnerships. In a way Stambridge United, North Ferriby United and Eccleshill United are doing the job of human traffic cones to be trained against but not designed to challenge the City players in any way other than not allowing them to fail.

I mean that with no disrespect. Taylor approach presents City’s players with the opportunity to play against an opposition which as long as they approach the game in the correct way they will benefit from it. City played Didi Harmann and Joey Barton in a Manchester City midfield five years ago in pre-season and Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson spent the afternoon having passes picked off which – while purposeful practice – was unrewarding and represents a slight return. If Lee Bullock and James O’Brien play as they can then they spend games in possession, using the ball, building confidence.

The merits of Taylor’s approach will be evidenced in the season itself but – rarely in modern football – City have a manager who wants to approach pre-season as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Taylor retains Jacobs – Should he be sacked?

Wayne Jacobs has signed a new deal as a Bradford City coach after Peter Taylor secured the services of his two coaches on single year contracts but in doing so is bound to raise questions about his own future as Bantams manager.

Taylor has signed long time collaborator Junior Lewis and Jacobs to aid him next season and while his loyalty to Lewis is obvious – he has signed him eight times and let him marry his daughter – why he should keep Jacobs is bound to cause anger.

Wayne Jacobs – if we recall – is not even a real coach, just a friend of Stuart McCall’s and it was to the damnation of McCall that he was incapable of seeing the obvious failings of the left back turned assistant manager.

Jacobs could not coach the players in the training field. This was a commonly spoken view with one City fan who assured me he lived next to Appleley Bridge saying that he often watched training sessions and could assure me that all Jacobs did was “play headers and volleys” while another told me of the obvious crime of – when snow covered the ground – Jacobs allowed the players to indulge in a snow ball fight after a jog around the pitch.

Indeed not only were supporters who spent the mornings watching training keen to get rid of Jacobs but at one point Mark Lawn himself took Stuart aside and encouraged him to replace Jacobs.

Why did McCall not sack Jacobs for there heinous crimes against coaching? If not fr them for the way he stood in the dug out at Valley Parade which as we all remember – and as Peter Taylor must have seen already – is quite contrary to how a “proper” coach stands.

As we know this is because he is a Christian, thus “too nice”.

So should Peter Taylor be told of these failings? If he shows such an obvious lack of judgement in not knowing what a good coach is why are we employing him? Why are those supporters who can’t keep away from Appleley Bridge not trying to move Heaven and Earth as they did to unseat McCall doing the same to rid us of the flawed Taylor. A man who – in common with his predecessor – has such appalling judgement that he has not noticed that Wayne Jacobs is a proper coach.

Phrase d’jour: Get real.

Peter Taylor arrived at Bradford City and set about putting in place the things that a football club needs – better facilities, overnight stays – and he worked with Wayne Jacobs for three months and this contract deal is his validation of the man and his coaching abilities.

Not only that but it is a vindication of McCall’s decision to keep his man even under pressure from his chairman. If one takes Taylor’s approval of Jacobs to make liars/fools (delete as appropriate) out of those who claimed to have watched Jacobs’s methods and found them wanting then one has to ask what motivated the Bradford City fans who attacked McCall by banging around falsehoods about his number two? Why were people so keen to get rid of one club legend that they told lies about another? What sort of supporter does that? What sort of man?

At the very least Wayne Jacobs deserves a great many apologies.

Pleasing all the people, all of the time as City face Port Vale

While James Hanson was the object of a pile-on celebration and City fans were the subject of the attentions of Rotherham supporters with the five minutes overtime goal that gave The Bantams a 2-1 win over Ronnie Moore’s faltering Rotherham side on Saturday I can’t imagine many were watching Peter Taylor’s reaction to the goal.

Indeed of the sights at The Don Valley Stadium: The goalscorer submerged, the tauters dispirited and the oft Bantam critic distraught made for better viewing, but may not have been the more significant.

So we know not if Taylor circled the bench with arms out before grabbing Junior Lewis and Wayne Jacobs for bear hugs in joy or if he simply saw the goal and nodded sagely. While the outcome of a job well done was unknown, the practises of it was evident to all.

If last Tuesday night was about City being a team hard to beat then Saturday was Taylor’s side frustrating to victory. The lines of four – so often seen at Valley Parade as a rearguard action and a million miles away from the 433 City teams of Stuart McCall who seemed to see every minute of the game as a chance to break up the field – saw the Millers incapable of breaking down the Bantams on what was a bog of a pitch and the visitors in black using the space created by a home side’s pressing.

It might not have been the most pleasing thing on the eye – is League Two football ever going to be? – but the sight of City wheeling away in victory was a beautiful thing if only for it’s scarcity. By the time James Hanson had heading in concerns over loan players – too many for some, too few for others such as those who were incensed that Matthew Clarke was included over Luke Oliver – were far from the mind. Football is not a results business, but results are often the outcome of doing other things right.

Three weeks into his job at Valley Parade Taylor deserves credit for his use of the current squad; keeping the best parts of it and augmenting rather than the revolution suggested by the five new players. Excellent performances from Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Matthew Clarke all justify the new boys Taylor has brought in cooling heels on the bench. As City fans talked about how the team could be/should be flooded with loanees Taylor used what he wanted from the temporary transfer market and stabled the rest. McCammon’s benching in favour of our boy James Hanson was a welcome surprise and one which paid off.

His football is more direct, but gets better results. He signs up loan players to suggest huge changes, but uses those players sparingly. It seems that Peter Taylor has found a way of pleasing all of the people at City all of the time, at least for now.

Where City and Taylor go from here seems obvious. If the City manager feels he has a good player in Adam Bolder who he can use next season then Bolder could be offered a deal, but without Taylor having signed up for next term then such a deal being offered or signed seems highly unlikely. Likewise when the likes of Flynn and Bullock are putting in good performances and thinking about where their future might lay the assurance of having a gaffer who (as with the previous one) treated them with respect for their achievements would be a significant factor.

If the City players talk like the City fans in recent weeks then they will be talking once again about promotion next term but with the caveat that Taylor remains in charge. Aside from the traditional Bradford City supporting trait of setting a bar as high as possible – can’t we just hope that in Christmas 2010 we have enough point to not be relegated and take it from there? – the manager’s three month deal remains a worry and the spectre of Taylor’s time at the club being all too brief is a troubling one.

City will not find a better manager in the summer – only two candidates suggested themselves – and so a delay in offering the repeatedly successful Taylor a contract only continues to increase the level of uncertainty at the club and make that manager’s job harder.

On the field Taylor could hardly be expected to be doing better. When he arrives at Valley Parade on Saturday following this Tuesday night at Vale Park Taylor will have played five on his travels and one at home which we could expect eight points from on “promotion form” winning at home and drawing away but has at least nine. Not only that but Taylor has not been able to benefit from a new manager effect that comes at many clubs when a gaffer unpopular in the dressing room is swapped for another face. The City squad liked Stuart McCall in most cases – Chris Brandon, we are told, did not and Taylor was quick to ostracise him – and were obviously upset by his departure.

Off the field who knows how Taylor is settling into the culture at Valley Parade. Perhaps he has a way of dealing with “player signing suggestions” from his bosses, with being asked to join discussions on the merits of various squad members and why they should be leaving the club, with contracts being signed without his knowledge and so on. One hopes that these things do not prompt him to look elsewhere should a long term contract be offered.

There has been a lot of talk about Mark Lawn and his motivations and desire to be popular. One might suggest that the best way to do that is to announce on Saturday that a three or four year deal has been offered to Taylor and – should it be signed – to sit back and allow that manager to manage.

Port Vale sit three points above the Bantams but it would take a 5-0 swing in goals to have City move about the home side at the end of the evening. Taylor’s team at Port Vale – and his approach – is unlikely to go chasing goals. The 442 with Michael Flynn in the forward line is likely to continue with Hanson and his new strike partner both nabbing a goal on the road. Flynn’s ability to be dropped back to create a bolstered midfielder plugged any holes which Rotherham attempted to find on Saturday.

Bolder and Bullock showed steel in breaking up a Rotherham midfield but Nicky Law Jnr has never a player for midfield battling while Anthony Griffith of Vale does little other than tackle. Vale’s home form is similar to City’s and both teams have done better on their travels than they have at on their own turf. Gareth Evans and Luke O’Brien are unorthodox flank players but Taylor’s direct play requires not the dribbling and taking on men that Omar Daley provides. One wonders what the future of City’s winger is if Taylor remains.

It would seem that the back four of Simon Ramsden, Steve Williams, Matthew Clarke and Robbie Threlfall continue in front of Matt Glennon with Luke Oliver waiting for his chance to impress as other’s perform well. There was a time when City fans debated if Barry Conlon should be in the side with some saying that the now Chesterfield forward was never going to be good enough and others saying that while he was playing well, he should keep his place. Clarke very much fulfils that criteria with some – including, it is said, those in high places than Peter Taylor at Valley Parade opening voicing the opinion that he is simply not good enough and other’s pointing out that while the defender is putting in good performances he should very much be in the side.

It is hard to argue with that way of thinking and the spirit it engenders within a team. Players respect a manager who rewards good performances with a place in the side while the opposite destroys confidence and starts talk of manager’s having favourites.

In many of the things that he has done since arrival – playing Clarke, allowing Hanson to battle with loan signing McCammon for the starting line up, listening to Wayne Jacobs’s advice on Michael Flynn’s abilities to join the forward line – Taylor has shown a willingness to give a chance to what he has found at Valley Parade to work with. His abilities to appease those who he currently is working for may decide his longer term involvement at the club.

Pleasing all of the people, all of the time.

14 games to make a judgement on Peter Taylor

It was always a long shot, but Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat to Aldershot has probably closed the door on any distant hopes of Bradford City making a late play off charge this season.

The league table finds City lying in 16th position on 40 points – 14 points off seventh-placed Notts County, having played two more games. More comparably, City are 15 points off sixth-placed Shrewsbury with two games in hand. Still catch-able, but the kind of form required to overtake the Shrews looks well beyond this City team.

With 14 games to go, the remainder of the season has a somewhat hollow appeal. But with the managerial situation needing resolving before the planning for next season can truly begin and with so many players out of contract in May, there is still plenty to be play for. Defining what that is – and the subsequent expectations – is a matter for strong consideration from the returning-from-holiday Mark Lawn and his joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes.

Four games into his initial contract, the honeymoon period feelings of goodwill continue to be directed towards Peter Taylor. After the win over Darlington there were calls for interim manager to be handed a long-term contract straightaway, for fear of another club snapping him up. That will certainly remain a concern when the short-term deal moves towards its conclusion, but it’s foolish to award a contract on the basis of two wins – no matter how impressive defeating leaders Rochdale was.

I agree Taylor should be given a longer deal, but that should have happened when he was originally recruited. Instead the club has gone the route of assessing a short-term tenure, so judgement has to remain reserved. It’s surely impossible to evaluate him over the short period of time so far, and the danger with some of the praise he’s receiving is that it contains an air of falseness that undermines credibility.

Or to look at it another way, imagine if Stuart McCall had still been in charge for those four games and made the same decisions and same comments? After the Accrington defeat Taylor was asked about the 1,800-strong away support in a post-match interview. He was quoted saying we supporters were “too hard on the players”.

Barely a year ago McCall mentioned the huge travelling support for an away game at Rochdale might have caused the players to feel nervous, which attracted incredulity from some fans that was twisted into McCall “blaming the fans for defeat” – incredulity which was repeatedly brought up right up until his resignation. Taylor’s criticism of the Accrington away support – albeit a very valid one – has attracted no attention.

Stuart was also consistently derided for being too respectful and full of praise to opposition teams ahead of matches, which some ignorantly claimed de-motivated his own players. After the 3-0 defeat to Rochdale in December, there was anger ahead of McCall’s pre-match thoughts on a trip to Darlington with threats, “he’d better not go on about how good Darlington are.” Ahead of Saturday’s home match with the Quakers, Taylor was declaring the bottom club would provide a tough game, no supporter battered an eyelid.

The Darlo game itself was also a differing indicator of acceptability. It was remarkably similar to the 1-0 win achieved in the North East last December, right down to timing of the only goal (23rd minute in the away game, 26th minute last Saturday). In the first halves of both games, City were dominant and should have scored plenty, but the failure to score a second goal prompted nerves in the second halves on both occasions, and in the end City were relieved to hear the final whistles.

The general performance was better in the Valley Parade encounter, but the acceptability of the afternoon was a huge contrast to the disappointed reaction after winning narrowly at the doomed club before Christmas.

Expectations have clearly dropped.

Then there’s the tactics and line ups. Under the final few weeks of McCall, there was the usual annoyance all managers seem to receive for playing people ‘out of position’. Yet Taylor’s decision to move left back Luke O’Brien to left wing and striker Gareth Evans to right wing attracts no criticism – had McCall tried the same thing, there’s little doubt he’d have been slated.

At Rochdale midfielder Michael Flynn was played up front and the decision was applauded if not praised (well it was Wayne Jacobs’ idea and a section of fans want him gone), when McCall played Flynn up front against Bournemouth he was labelled tactically clueless.

Which is not to suggest Taylor isn’t doing a good job, but that the well-meaning praise in support of him lacks substance and the goodwill has yet to be tested by the inevitable occurrence of a run of bad results. Right now the manager can do little wrong and any failings are directed to the players, but this will not last and the question of whether we can objectively rule if Taylor is the man to take the club forwards – seen as we’ve decided to take the probationary approach – is one that cannot yet be answered.

Yet Taylor is clearly impressing so far in the quiet-but-determined manner he’s going about the role. After using only two loan players under McCall, there are now four short-term players on the books, as Taylor attempts to stamp his own shape on the team. Meanwhile rumours rage about the future of Chris Brandon, who it seems clear will be leaving the club soon, and Scott Neilson is set to go out on loan.

Having overseen a debut game in charge that saw an unconfident City knocking the ball too direct and having nothing to offer on the flanks, he’s pushed O’Brien and Evans into unfamiliar roles that is bringing a degree of success and greater overall balance. Despite having some excellent striking pedigree to call upon from the sidelines in Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding, Taylor has brought in Mark McCammon in the belief he’s a more effective worker to match James Hanson.

Perhaps under McCall life was too comfortable for some players, though this may be more to do with injuries and lack of depth than a manager giving them an easy ride, but there is suddenly greater competition for places and those in the starting eleven have every reason to look over their shoulders. Some players will have had their nose slightly put out of joint by Taylor’s approach and selections, but the experienced man has publicly offered only praise for everyone and done nothing to belittle the previous regime.

But what is the target for the rest of the season, by which a reasonable and fair judgement can be made over whether he should be given a longer deal? A top half finish would seem a realistic objective. The number of winter postponements gives the league table a distorted look, but the gap is bridgeable over the remaining 14 games. An improvement in position and results from what McCall had achieved would build Taylor a strong case for being handed a longer deal.

Perhaps looking more ambitiously though is matching the points total achieved last season – 67. In what was a more competitive season with a smaller gulf in quality between top and bottom, that tally took City just short of a play off spot. This season the same total wouldn’t take the club as close, but it would send a powerful message.

For Taylor would have been able to steer City to matching the points tally of the year before, from working with a squad that cost a third less. It would represent a hugely compelling case for what he could do over a full season, with what is sure to still be limited resources.

To achieve this City would need to gain 27 points from the remaining 42 available – nine wins from the last 14 games. It’s a huge ask, especially considering City have won only ten games this season; but the closer he can finish to it, the greater the optimism for the following season would be – with Taylor at the helm.

Ultimately the goodwill currently directed towards Taylor is a positive thing and it is within everyone’s interests the short term trial works out. The potential for the club to be rudderless with a managerial vacancy this summer is both real and worrying, where all Taylor would have achieved is sign some loan players that denied City youngsters a chance.

The parallels of McCall’s first season, which lacked preparation, is one which could be made if a new guy has to start from scratch with just six players to choose from. Taylor is in a position to fully evaluate the squad before doing things his way this summer, the hope is the trial goes well enough for him to get that chance.

For a club which has nothing to play for this season, there’s an awful lot riding on these last 14 games

Taylor keeps Jacobs to underline the importance of retention

Peter Taylor was quick to share praise with Wayne Jacobs are the 3-1 win over Rochdale on Tuesday night with the new City manager crediting his inherited number two with a couple of match winning nudges. Following that Taylor could not speak higher of the ten year Bantams left back saying:

He’s a very good professional and a really honourable man and hopefully he is as happy as I am with him.

Jacobs had faced near unprecedented criticism in his role a Stuart McCall’s assistant with some supporters suggesting that he was simply incapable of doing his job on the basis of training sessions watched, on the club’s warm up and warm down procedures, on the way he points during games. Mark Lawn has wanted “an experienced number two” brought in over Jacobs during McCall’s time at the club.

Peter Taylor – the man who has been brought in because of what he knows about football – knows enough to want to retain the services of Jacobs beyond the end of the season when the assistant’s contract expires and despite the arrival of Junior Lewis as a coach this week.

To Taylor Jacobs offers a link not just to the past of the club – he is a link back to the Premier League and back to Wembley and Chris Kamara – but to recent years under his and McCall’s stewardship. Jacobs is not just the other ginger legend – he is every coaching session in the last three years, every games played and the payers reaction to it. He is player that he and Stuart watched and he is all the knowledge that comes with working with the current squad for three years. He is knowing the name of Michael Flynn’s wife and he is being able to say from first hand experience just why City went from top to outside the play-offs this time last year.

That Taylor values all that knowledge says much about his approach as a manager which is one of augmentation and – that word again – stability rather than revolutions. His Hull City team that went up two divisions contained the likes of Ryan France and Ian Ashbee who ended up playing in every division for the Tigers and as he gets to grips with the City squad one might wonder how many of the Bantams squad could do the same and step up league after league. We can but hope.

Perhaps the effect of Taylor and Jacobs can be seen in Robbie Threfel’s arrival at City. Imagine Taylor turning to Jacobs and asking who takes change of the dead ball situations and Jacobs explaining how since Paul McLaren left no one had grasped the nettle. The Liverpool loanee’s delivery has added to City’s arsenal and had a significant part in every goal on Tuesday night.

Taylor made it clear from his interview – before, one assumes, he had met Jacobs – that he wanted to retain the staff already at the club. He is a manager who understands the merits of the knowledge at the club and the merits of carrying on with the things that Stuart McCall has brought, pruning the poor, adding to the good.

The shortlist begins to whittle down as City prepare to make a new appointment

By the end of this week we should know Bradford City’s new caretaker manager until at least the end of the season, but who is in contention? Here’s the who-what-why-when-where-how of the reported candidates.

Peter Taylor

Why might he be interested? Having guided Wycombe Wanderers to promotion from League Two last season, Taylor was surprisingly given the boot last October as the club struggled to come to terms with League One life. That his successor Gary Waddock has done little to improve the Chairboys survival hopes once again underlines the futility of changing managers. Taylor has also been linked with the vacant Notts County position.

What’s he achieved? A lot in a lengthy career which beginnings included non-league Dartford and Dover Athletic. He rose to fame after then-England manager Glenn Hoddle asked him to manage the England U21’s in 1996. He also took over at Gillingham in 1999, guiding the Kent club to promotion from Division Two, via the play offs.

Taylor had one game in charge of England as caretaker in 2000, a 1-0 defeat to Italy. It’s well documented he handed David Beckham the England captaincy, but he also helped to bring in the new generation of England players in place of the aging ones which had failed dismally at Euro 2000.

After guiding Brighton to the Division Two Championship in 2002, Taylor left for Hull and lifted the historically-underachieving Tigers from the bottom division to the Championship thanks to back-to-back promotions. He again managed the England U21s at the same time.

Where has it not gone so well? In between Taylor’s successes has been some notable failures. Following Martin O’Neill at Premiership Leicester in 2000 was always going to be a tough act. At Filbert Street he spent a whopping £23million in 18 months, and was sacked as they headed to relegation.

After the success at Hull, Taylor took charge of Crystal Palace but failed to lift the Championship club towards promotion and was sacked after 16 months, with the Eagles languishing in the bottom three.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? At Gillingham, Taylor’s side caused an FA Cup shock when they defeated Paul Jewell’s Premiership City 3-1 in 2000.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? City’s four ex-non-league players might welcome him here because of his non-league background.

How should message board users go about abusing him? Well Taylor has a similar persona to Colin Todd (four years younger). So you could try labelling him a miserable old man and claim his team talks must be very uninspiring.

 

Steve Cotterill

Why might he be interested? Cotterill has been without a club since leaving Burnley in 2007. He has been linked with the VP position, though BfB understands he wasn’t interviewed prior to the weekend. He may be one of at least two interviewees lined up for Tuesday, and has recently been linked with vacant positions at Preston and Sheffield Wednesday.

What’s he achieved? Cotterill is best known for his success at Cheltenham Town at the turn of the millennium. He guided the Robins from the Conference to Division Two. In 2002 he left to manage Stoke and then, after just 13 games in charge, went to Sunderland as assistant to Howard Wilkinson. Cotterill is Burnley’s longest serving manager and in his time took the Clarets to the FA Cup fifth round.

Where has it not gone so well? His decision to move to Sunderland in 2002 was a disaster, as he and Wilkinson oversaw a dismal relegation campaign and won just two games. Cotterill was clearly lined up to be Wilkinson’s long-term successor, but was sacked with the former Leeds boss before the season ended.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? One of his 13 games in charge of Stoke included a 2-1 success over City. A Gary Walsh miskick allowed future Bantams’ striker Andy Cooke to score a tap in, which sadly spelt the end of arguably City’s finest modern-day keeper.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? At Burnley, Cotterill earned the nickname “Cotterball” for his long ball tactics; so our centre backs, who seem to love hoofing the ball aimlessly forwards, would presumably welcome carrying this on.

How should message board users go about abusing him? His quick departure from Stoke and fact he left Cheltenham suggests he uses clubs as stepping stones, so you’ll be able to say he doesn’t care about City.

 

Russell Slade

Why might he be interested? Sacked as Brighton manager in November, Slade has managed several lower league clubs and will be attracted to the Bantams, as arguably the biggest club he’ll have managed.

What’s he achieved? Not a lot really. His arrival at clubs has often caused the short-term effect of strong winning runs and he’s guided Scarborough and Brighton away from relegation troubles. Slade has also reached two play off finals – with Grimsby and Yeovil – but lost both times.

Where has it not gone so well? Over a longer period Slade has been unable to significantly take any club forwards and has been known to walk away. He was sacked at Yeovil last season for ‘gross misconduct’.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? Just ask Gordon Gibb. In 2003 Slade had apparently all but agreed to become City’s youth team manager, but changed his mind to the clear annoyance of the former chairman.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? Simon Ramsden played under Slade at Grimsby.

How should message board users go about abusing him? Slade was said to be interested in returning to Grimsby when there was a vacancy at Blundell Park late last year. Fans didn’t want him, and that the man who got it instead hasn’t won a game yet means you can justifiably moan, “even bloody Grimsby didn’t want him!”

 

Peter Jackson

Why might he be interested? Sacked by Lincoln City last September, Jacko would apparently love to take over at his former club.

What’s he achieved? Became Town manager in 1997 with the Terriers bottom of the league, managed to pull it around so they beat the drop but, despite a flying start to the season after, he could only lead them to a midtable finish and was sacked the day after City were promoted to the Premiership. Returning in 2003 with Town languishing in the bottom division and just coming out of administration, Jackson guided Huddersfield to promotion via the play offs. He took over at Lincoln in 2007 when the Imps were in the relegation zone and lifted them up the league.

Where has it not gone so well? He was sacked twice by Huddersfield and at Lincoln, and his boastful nature can count against him in the long term. For me though, the usual style of football he plays – defensive-minded and all about the counter attack, time wasting and fouling – has limited his progress. Not pretty to watch.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? Jacko obviously has a long history with City and fans’ attitudes towards him generally differ by age. In recent years the dislike towards him has softened and, when Jacko was receiving treatment for throat cancer two years ago, he revealed he’d received more letters of support from City fans than any other club.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? Chris Brandon and Matt Glennon played under Jackson at Town and would presumably welcome him.

How should message board users go about abusing him? You don’t need my help on this one.

 

Lawrie Sanchez

Why might he be interested? Like Cotterill, Sanchez has been out the management game for a few years. He was last at Fulham.

What’s he achieved? Starting at Wycombe, he guided the club to the FA Cup semi finals in 2001 (beating Peter Taylor’s Leicester along the way). His achievements at Northern Ireland were highly impressive. Taking over with the country winless in three years, he guided them to famous wins over Spain and England as they climbed from 124th to 27th in the FIFA rankings.

Where has it not gone so well? Away from the cup exploits at Wycombe, league form wasn’t great and he was sacked. Sanchez must surely regret leaving Northern Ireland for Fulham, where he signed some of his star Irish players but couldn’t lift the club upwards. He earned the boot after just 24 games in charge (four wins).

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? Just before he became Northern Ireland manager, Sanchez expressed his interest in the managerial vacancy at City that was eventually filled by Bryan Robson, saying it was an attractive job as there would be “money to spend”. Hopefully Sanchez did his homework when applying this time.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? At Wycombe Sanchez was criticised for sticking with aging players, so any City player the wrong side of 30 might hope he persists with this approach.

How should message board users go about abusing him? The style of football he introduced at Fulham was widely derided, so expect similar moans about “hoof ball” if he got the job.

 

Jim Magilton

Why might he be interested? Sacked from QPR before Christmas due to an alleged bust up with a player, the Irishman will probably be hoping for a Championship job but might see a spell at City as an opportunity to be in the shop window.

What’s he achieved? A popular player at Ipswich, Magilton was handed the reins in 2006 after Joe Royle left. He twice came close to finishing in the play offs but after his second failure was sacked to make way for Roy Keane. In his second of three seasons at Ipswich, Magilton turned Portman Road into a fortress (they lost just once at home). Appointed QPR manager this summer, the club had started this season well.

Where has it not gone so well? At both Ipswich and QPR Magilton had sizable transfer funds, but he couldn’t take Ipswich up. How would he do on a shoestring budget?

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? As a player, Magilton greatly impressed City fans during a 0-0 draw with Ipswich in the 1998-99 promotion battle between the two clubs.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? Michael Flynn, Lee Bullock, Steve O’Leary and Luke Sharry would surely learn a few pointers from a brilliant midfielder. The attractive passing football he introduced at QPR would also see City’s midfield be given greater responsibility.

How should message board users go about abusing him? Unproven, fights with players (allegedly), only here until he gets a better job, etc.

 

Dean Windass

Why might he be interested? The former City striker hung up the boots earlier this season after a brief spell as player-assistant under Colin Todd at Darlington. He’s making an impression as pundit on Sky Sports, but is said to be desperate to become a manager.

What’s he achieved? With no previous managerial experience, nothing yet. However his exploits at City – 216 games, 76 goals – demand respect.

Where has it not gone so well? Both spells at City ended less happily with Deano typically shooting his mouth off. His second exit, on loan to Hull, was particularly unhappy with rumours I couldn’t repeat here.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? See above.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? Only Matt Clarke and Luke O’Brien were at the club when he departed. In his autobiography Windass praises Todd for allowing him to solely focus on getting on the end of chances rather than dropping deep to help the team, Peter Thorne may welcome a manager asking him to do something similar.

How should message board users go about abusing him? When playing for City message board users poured some frightful and at times disgusting abuse towards Deano, expect that to continue if he takes over and doesn’t do well.

 

John Coleman

Why might he be interested? Accrington manager, the third longest serving in the top four divisions. It seems unlikely he would give that up for a few months at City, but he has yet to sign a new contract at Stanley and keeps been linked. Perhaps he’s sick of people going on about the milk advert.

What’s he achieved? Since taking over at Stanley in 1999, Coleman has lifted the famous club back into the Football League via three promotions. Despite very low gates and financial worries, Coleman has kept Stanley away from the relegation trap door and, even with recent form dipping, they still retain an outside chance of the play offs.

Where has it not gone so well? Nowhere yet, perhaps he wants to keep it that way by staying put.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? The shock 3-0 success of Stanley at Valley Parade in October 2007 was described by Coleman at the time as the best performance of his time at Accrington.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? His career rejuvenated by Coleman, former City striker Michael Symes might relish following his boss to BD8 to show what we missed when he was here.

How should message board users go about abusing him? Coleman would quickly be labelled ‘out of his depth’. Those who pretend to be wiser would also go back to last season’s 3-2 City triumph at Stanley – where Accrington blew a 2-0 lead – as an example of his lack of tactical know-how in not seeing out the game. “I knew after that day he should never become our manager” you might claim.

 

Iain Dowie

Why might he be interested? Other than the odd appearance on BBC’s final score, Dowie was last seen assisting Alan Shearer at Newcastle United. After a very promising start to his managerial career, Dowie’s stock has fallen in recent years and he might see this as his route back.

What’s he achieved? After starting at Oldham, Dowie became Crystal Palace manager in December 2003 with the club 19th in Division One. His objective was to keep Palace up, he ended the season taking the Eagles to the Premiership via the play offs. Despite a good fight, Palace went down and the following season Dowie’s team lost in the play offs.

Where has it not gone so well? Everywhere since. He left Palace for Charlton and was sacked after 12 games, did little at Coventry and managed only 15 games at the trigger-happy QPR.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? Guided Palace to a 2-1 win at Valley Parade in January 2004, as the Eagles headed to promotion and City headed to relegation.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? Not Zesh Rehman, who was at Loftus Road when Dowie took over. Zesh was instantly loaned out to Blackpool.

How should message board users go about abusing him? Dowie’s usually had plenty of money to spend, but his record in the transfer market isn’t great. Expect him to make a couple of dodgy loan signings and be written off there and then.

 

Martin Allen

Why might he be interested? Having left Cheltenham under something of a cloud earlier this season, Allen is looking to restore a battered reputation.

What’s he achieved? Allen made his managerial name at Brentford where he saved the Bees from relegation from League One in his first season before steering them to successive play off semi finals. He also oversaw some memorable FA cup exploits, which included him swimming in the river solent ahead of a tie at Southampton.

After resigning due to lack of investment in the team, Allen helped to turn the MK Dons tide by taking the relegated League Two club to the play offs. The defeat to Shrewsbury was widely cheered given the MK Dons unethical emergence.

Where has it not gone so well? He left the Dons for Leicester and was sacked after just four games due to not getting on with chairman Milan Mandaric. He emerged at Cheltenham last season, but couldn’t save them from the drop to League Two.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? He was of course the opposition manager for City’s remarkable 5-4 win over Cheltenham earlier this season.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? The much-loved City supporter, ‘Charlie’. When Allen’s Brentford side were being well beaten by City in 2005, Allen left the dugout to sit and talk to Charlie in the stand. He later remarked on how Bradford City fans “know their football.”

How should message board users go about abusing him? Allen was a popular in The Game a few years ago when passionate managers screaming on the touchline was in fashion. Widely-viewed as nutters these days, Allen at City would be slated for getting worked up during games.

 

Wayne Jacobs

Why might he be interested? Just like McCall, Jacobs cares passionately about Bradford City and is said to not be able to imagine being anywhere else.

What’s he achieved? As assistant at Halifax, he helped Chris Wilder guide the club to the Conference play offs.

Where has it not gone so well? His caretaker record at City now reads P 2 W 0 D 1 L 1 F 0 A 1.

When has he previously crossed the Bantams’ path? No explanation needed, Jacobs proved himself a true City legend during his 11-year spell as left back.

Who might welcome them to Valley Parade? It’s been suggested the players are very disappointed McCall has left, so they may welcome Jacobs taking the step up.

How should message board users go about abusing him? Already some OMB users have threatened to chuck away their season tickets if Jakes is appointed, which is a shame. As assistant, some fans moaned he clapped too much; expect close scrutiny over his touchline routine which will of course be considered wrong.

Jacobs can’t shake off the staleness as City draw with struggling Grimsby

A  banner was unfurled over the edge of the Main Stand top tier as the players came out for kick off which seemed to be in support of Stuart McCall; but before we’d had chance to read what it said, it had been removed.

This didn’t appear to be an act of boardroom concealing, more concern from stewards that the banner was covering up advertising hoardings. Though it was a shame the supporter’s home-made effort wasn’t allowed to be draped over some of the thousands of empty seats.

It was not meant to be, and perhaps the same can be said of Wayne Jacobs as Bradford City manager. Having requested to Mark Lawn that he is interviewed for the vacant position during the week, this disappointing draw with second-bottom Grimsby was hardly the commendation he needed ahead of Monday’s meeting.  Already an outsider for the position, his chances seemingly reduced with each passing minute of goalless action.

Apart from Jacobs patrolling the dugout in suit rather tracksuit, it was difficult to recognise much different. For 90 minutes City huffed and puffed, but the well-organised visitors defended in numbers and carried a threat on the break. Oliver Lancashire and Joe Widdowson were outstanding at the back and, although the Bantams spent long spells camped out in the opposition half, clear cut chances were at a premium.

Robbed of injury to Omar Daley, Jacobs’ team selection could easily have been that of McCall’s. Though Gareth Evans was moved to the left instead of part of a front three, bringing more balance to the side than for last week’s defeat to Bury. Scott Neilson was recalled on the right and improved on a tentative start to produce an impressive second half display which was aided by Jacobs’ switching Simon Ramsden back to right back at half time, as City’s captain was more supportive going forward than Zesh Rehman in the first half.

But elsewhere confidence was obviously lacking. For much of this season City have been too desperate to get the ball forwards quickly instead of showing composure; and though midfield pair Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn impressed in patches, the middlemen were often cut out in favour of a long ball from the back towards James Hanson.

With Grimsby playing a higher backline in the first half, passes in behind the strikers from midfield was an effective option, but when Town dropped deeper it was back to route one. Initial panic was often caused from Hanson’s flick ons, but Town always seemed to have more numbers back to snuff out the danger.

Evans had the best chance of the first half when a good pass had set Hanson clear before he pulled the ball back to City’s number nine. But Evans’ confidence seems to have been unaffected by his double at Torquay two weeks ago and he fired over. It’s now three months since he scored at Valley Parade.

And it’s nine months since Peter Thorne – making his first start since going off injured against Rochdale in the JPT last September – scored anywhere. The top scorer of the past two seasons was effective in holding up the ball, but inside the area the sort of half chances he sniffs out seemed to allude him. Michael Boulding was introduced on 65 minutes and wasted a decent opportunity when shooting straight at Nick Colgan. Hanson and Neilson also fired over from promising positions, but the 0-0 looked inevitable long before the assistant referee signalled four minutes of injury time.

Matt Glennon was a virtual spectator, other than an important save from a well-worked Grimsby corner just after the break. Despite the visitors’ relegation worries, they seemed content with a point and made few efforts to push forwards in numbers during the final 20 minutes. It was an afternoon to forget.

Which quickly pushes the focus back onto the managerial situation and, with Martin Allen and Russell Slade watching from the stands, they and others would seem to be in a better position than Jacobs after he oversaw this mediocre display. Jacobs’ best hope of earning the job would surely have lied in truly differentiating himself from his former manager, given Lawn’s rather tactless hint McCall would have been pushed had he not jumped.

In time, Jacobs would surely stamp his own mark on the club. But his chance always lied in the short term and this City display was much of the same and therefore makes it more difficult for him to convince Lawn and Julian Rhodes he could do a better job than McCall.

But whoever does come in has a job to do in quickly building up confidence and belief in a team which has become too used to feeling hard done by. Not losing today means the spectre of falling into a relegation battle remains distant, but with two tricky trips to Lancashire to come before a visit from a Darlington side showing faint signs of improvement – however futile – the urgency for improved results is increasing.

Like this drab draw which was seemingly decided long before the end, City’s season seems to be drifting to an inevitable mundane mid-table conclusion. That Jacobs was unable to make an impact means it will surely now be an outsider entrusted with shaking things up.

The sightings of Manningham start today

Tell someone that you have seen the Yeti wandering around Thornton and they will not believe you. Talk about seeing Little Green Men wandering through Idle you will be looked at in a curious manner. Say you saw Spaceships over Shipley you will be considered wrong in the head.

Today – however – if you claim to have seen Sir Alex Ferguson wandering around Manningham you will be believed and you will have started a rumour.

For today is the day that – some days too late in the opinion of this writer – Bradford City step up the search for a replacement for Stuart McCall holding interviews for the position of Interim Manager.

The role is a curious one. It promises “pole position” for the job as it is appointed in the summer but is distinctly a fixed term contract. Achievement is touted as impossible in the role with joint chairman Mark Lawn making it clear that he believes that that club is not going up or down this season. Julian Rhodes – who thought similar when appointing David Wetherall three years ago as a prelude to the sink to League Two – could not have kept a straight face saying the same thing.

If the financial situation at the club did not then the nature of this interim position – as opposed to the caretaker role Wayne Jacobs has presently (he is taking care of the team, that is why they are called caretaker managers) – precludes the idea that one of today’s appointments will be with a manager who currently has a job ruling out swathes of names. Alan Knill, Keith Hill, Fabio Capello; these are just some of the people who despite no doubt frequent sightings in BD8 would almost exclude themselves from the process should they show poor enough judgement to leave one club for such a transient position.

The timing of the change also precludes the idea of bringing in a player manager unless the player with ambitions is currently without club in which case they are probably no longer to be considered player-managers but rather rookies which would not seem to be the type of person the club are looking for. The irony in this is that this would have excluded Roy McFarland, Trevor Cherry, Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell from the job who are the only City managers who have achieved promotion in my life time, and I ain’t as young as I was.

Nevertheless Mark Lawn has talked about bringing in an experience manager and some have suggested that this means Terry Dolan which perhaps is a definition of the word experience which might not be as expected but is accurate. In the same way that when fans talk about a team needing to be consistent they do not desire a side that always lose so when they talk about experience do they mean someone who has failed often and at many levels.

One recalls the words of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling: “I have learnt from my mistakes and I could repeat them exactly.”

Not that that is to suggest that Dolan is especially worth mentioning as being an poor candidate over and above the no doubt hundreds of names who have failed often at clubs similar to City. Expect Peter Jackson to be sighted around the club looking to bring some of the “magic” that he showed in his previous appointments to Valley Parade. He should be used to the journey by now having been interviewed and accepted the role of Bradford City manager in December 2000 only to decide that he would give backword a day later.

Not that every manager who has been sacked can automatically be assumed to have failed. Mark Cooper – son of Leeds’s Terry – was sacked from Peterborough by an increasingly mad chairman while Gary McAllister’s record at Leeds United of 25 wins in 50 games certainly does not suggest that he should have been put out of work.

Experience managers who are out of work are not uncommon and should they have every worn claret and amber in action then they will probably be mentioned as meandering around Bedlington Terrace sometime this afternoon.

The obsession clubs have with appointing managers who have played for the club is always a curious one. Chris Wilder – the manager of Oxford United who aside from going well in the Conference would also be able to reunite with Jacobs who was his assistant at Halifax Town – played for the club for months more than years but still this promotes his name above Graham Westley or Martin Foyle who manage the clubs above and below the Us.

One would hope – and it seems that these hopes are to be dashed – that Mark Lawn will have looked to low risk appointments of managers who can point to a repeated track record of success such as Peter Taylor or Paul Jewell but were that the decision then there would have been little reason not to appoint the man on Monday. Jewell – incidentally – is still being paid by Derby County as part of his severance from Pride Park a year ago. That contract expires in the summer when Jewell is looking for work.

Expect Jewell and Taylor to be sighted though, and hope that the sightings are true.

For while Lawn is confident that the season is done for the Bantams one cannot help but recall Wetherall’s fourteen games at the club and think that how a similar return of one point of every four from the next nineteen games would give City 14 more points to add the the current 33. The aforementioned Cooper got a single win and four draws in thirteen games at The Posh this season despite his being brought not from the dole queue but from a job he was excelling in at Kettering Town and City cannot afford that sort of performance and, as with Peterborough, would find it hard to predict it.

47 points is normally enough to avoid relegation but the whole endeavour seems to pile a level of risk onto the club for little return considering that in four months time the process, the sightings, the looking for a new manager will start all over again.

Only rather than having a manager who knows the players names we will be left hoping that the one sighting that turns out to be accurate can manage to quickly get to the level of being average and stay there for a few months.

Fans at the top risk belittling the ‘other’ Bradford City legend

So after months or rumours and speculation we now know. The Telegraph & Argus has said it, Stuart McCall tellingly said nothing; but the truth is out that the former manager and joint-chairmen Mark Lawn’s relationship was strained to the point they had “barely communicated in months”.

It seems incredible that a professional football club could operate with two key figures working on such fractured terms. It also raises legitimate concerns over the state of the partnership between Lawn and co-chairman Julian Rhodes, and the damage a clear difference of opinion might have caused in both the short and long term.

Rhodes and Gordon Gibb were widely-stated to have begun their painful fallout because of the decision to sack Nicky Law in 2003, will recent debates over the future of McCall cause history to repeat itself? It’s claimed Rhodes owns 51% of the club to Lawn’s 49%, was the latter willing to accept the former’s wishes to persist with McCall?

McCall’s lack of comment on Lawn, choosing instead only to praise Rhodes as he departed, speaks volumes. Lawn’s weekend quote on McCall’s expected departure that, “Obviously I’ve only heard this through the grapevine. Stuart hasn’t spoken to me,” does him no favours. The last few days has demonstrated just how many supporters still wanted McCall to be manager and, as they come to terms with the departure of a legend, Lawn is becoming an increasingly obvious target for their anger.

Lawn was probably not the only Board member keen for a change. I missed the Christmas games against Shrewsbury and Cheltenham so didn’t get to buy my usual copy of the matchday programme. When in the days after the Cheltenham game McCall publicly declared, “If anyone wants to pack up and clear off, then I don’t want them here. That goes for anybody connected with the club,” the target of the attack was unclear. The City Gent’s John Watmough, via the Official Message Board, suggested Stuart’s anger was aimed at director Roger Owen for comments in the Cheltenham programme. Intrigued, I had a look at the article when visiting the club shop on Saturday, and was as stunned as John by Owen’s words.

Talking about the JPT 3-0 defeat to League One Carlisle, he seemingly dismissed the sending off of Simon Ramsden as having no bearing on the game before bemoaning the so-called gulf in class which showed how far behind City are from their intended target of League One football. City were very unlucky to lose the game, giving everything with 10 men and coming very close to pulling back the tie at 1-0, so it’s understandable if McCall was fuming at reading these criticisms from a member of the Board. It was unfair for any manager to have his team so publicly attacked internally; it also suggests lifelong fan Owen sees things from Lawn’s point of view.

Perhaps this is the downside of the much trumpeted ‘fans running the club’ idea of a couple of seasons ago. No one doubts the huge work rate and commitment of those responsible for running the club, but come 3pm on a Saturday afternoon it seems they are no different to the rest of us in becoming fans, with conflicting views and ideals to others.

With access to bending the manager’s ear and a financial interest in how the club is run, they have greater opportunity to share those views, such as perhaps suggesting a lack of firepower could be rectified by some Chilean flair. But ultimately their views as fans are no more or less insightful than the rest of us, and were probably sometimes unwelcomed by a single-minded manager.

I can’t help but feel Lawn and Owen, like other fans, were of the opinion that the removal of the manager is all that is needed to catapult City up the leagues. A friend of mine used to work under Lawn many years ago, at his driver hire company, and regularly told me how his boss had a box at City and complained all the time about how bad we were. As a supporter, perhaps Lawn has allowed himself to take a regular fan’s view of blaming all faults on the manager, when it’s partly his job to help them find positive solutions.

There’s a sense of irony that, after so many fans moaned McCall had no plan B, we find that, after allowing him to leave, the City board don’t have one either.

But it is Telegraph & Argus’ reporting of the cause of the fall out between McCall and Lawn which troubles me the most – that of the apparent lack of experience in the coaching staff. It’s a well run and frankly boring debate which has been raging amongst City fans ever since Stuart appointed Wayne Jacobs as his assistant. That Jacobs had a few years experience as assistant at Halifax Town seemed to be ignored.

The whole thing never made sense to me, it was as if fans didn’t believe McCall knew what to do so had to have someone older telling him. Surely if people really believed he needed an assistant to make the decisions, he shouldn’t be the manager in the first place?

But it’s really more to do with the fact it’s Jacobs. He spent some 10 years as a player with City, raising from Division Two to the Premiership with the Bantams, yet for almost his whole Bantams career we had to endure supporters at games loudly screaming abuse at him.

Jacobs was the soft target to pick on, the obvious choice for those who like to inflict their football knowledge onto other people to highlight as the cause of all problems. How these people became excited when other left backs were signed to replace Jakes, how disappointed they were after he fought challengers off to keep his place. Jacobs, the worst left back in Division Two back in 1996, marking David Beckham in the Premier League in 2000 – how did that happen?

And as Lawn apparently argued with McCall that he should ditch his ginger friend and bring in someone like Terry Dolan, fairly or unfairly I can’t help but picture Lawn sat a few seats along from me at various games over the years, ready to jump on his feet and scream at Jacobs when he next lost the ball. The fans who were doing this were probably the same ones who shamefully tried to pin the blame for two-and-a-half years of League Two failure on Jacobs, and on McCall for employing him.

And if you believed McCall should have appointed a more experienced number two, but you say it’s nothing personal against Jacobs, please answer me this honestly – would you have been demanding a more experienced number two if McCall had instead recruited Peter Beagrie?

As we say goodbye to McCall, it seems the lesser celebrated legend that is Jacobs will also soon be departing. He seems to have no chance of earning the managers job, those who ridiculed him as assistant are already informing the rest of us on the message boards that they would hurl their season tickets on the floor in disgust if he were appointed.

Personally I think this is really sad, because there’s merit in enabling Stuart’s building work to be continued in the same manner Paul Jewell once continued Chris Kamara’s, rather than ripping everything up. Yet losing a manager is always coupled with an abandoning of the policy which led to their appointment. If Colin Todd was the cheese to the chalk of McCall, it’s likely his ultimate replacement will be the type of experienced man Lawn and others were apparently craving to be his assistant.

So unless the new guy has a need for Jacobs, he will be gone too. Ridiculed by fans and indirectly insulted by the Board, hopefully he’ll at least get to be in charge for Saturday’s game with Grimsby.

If that is the last time he’s employed by Bradford City, let’s make sure he too gets the reception he deserves.

Interviews to start on Thursday

Bradford City will begin to interview managers for the vacant role on Thursday ahead of the Grimsby Town game on Saturday.

Unless an appointment is made on the day it seems that the Bantams will be going into the game with Wayne Jacobs as caretaker manager before the interim manager is found.

Even should a new man be appointed as a result of these interviews then it would be odd for him not to allow someone who knows the players to pick the side and so it would seem Jacobs will get his a chance to manage the side in what is a crucial game.

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.

Wright signs for Brighton coming back from non-league

Jake Wright was supposed to be little more than a footnote in Bradford City history.

The left sided defender wore number 46 – the highest number the club has issued – in 2003 but was did not feature in the following years before he was released signing for Chris Wilder and Wayne Jacobs at a Halifax Town side where he served well enough that he secured a move to Crawley Town as Fax declined.

Crawley allowed the player to go Brighton on trial and Brighton were impressed enough to sign Jake Wright to the League One club.

The 23 year old battles for a place at the Withdean Stadium at left back or in the middle and has the tributes of Russell Slade – a man City once tried to recruit as youth team boss – ringing in his ears.

One wonders what turned Wright’s career around. Perhaps Wayne Jacobs critics will note that Wright had turned and City’s brightest prospect of last season Luke O’Brien also plays in the assistant manager’s position which might point to Jakes doing something right.

Coaching aside a man changes between 18 and 23 and Wright now is no doubt different from Wright then. More mature, more determined perhaps and that could be a result of release by City.

Nevertheless it is heartening to see a young player turn himself around following release from a league club and with City dipping into signing non-league players such as James Hanson and Steve Williams there is a hope that good players may be available from previously unused sourced.

The eighteen year olds released as kids five years ago become matured twenty three year olds the non-league system further sorted and returned the best.

Leaving his Mark

I remember Mark Bower’s debut for City.

Down at Carrow Road in April 1998, City had climbed into a seemingly unassailable 3-0 advantage thanks to quick-fire goals either side of half time. The first of those scorers, Wayne Jacobs, had to go off injured, so off the bench stepped an 18-year old to take the City skipper’s spot. Norwich, trying to avoid relegation from then-Division One, came back to 3-2, and we were too busy willing the referee to blow for full time to be pre-occupied with how the debut boy was getting on. He must have quietly got through it, never giving cause for a fuss.

And that’s what is both great and not so great about the long-serving defender, who today it was officially announced has been released. Bower’s City career has rarely featured controversial headlines or given managers cause for headaches, but it hasn’t included too many good times either. During his 11 years he’s generally looked solid and dependable, but when his understated presence was taken away, for manager Stuart McCall, it wasn’t missed enough.

That said there is great sadness in thinking of the Bradford-born defender out of work and facing an uncertain future right now. His presence at Valley Parade, for the past decade, was something we took for granted.

The next time I saw Bower was when we were beaten at home to Portsmouth at the end of a season his team mates had long since given up on. The following two campaigns were unforgettable, with promotion and then that exciting first season in the Premiership, but what Bower saw of it was from the sidelines or from afar while on loan at York City, near the bottom of the Football League.

He did at least get to play for City in Europe the following season, but was back at York for half a season as City sank miserably from the Premier League. A fleeting appearance here and there, including another game at Carrow Road during which he scored his first City goal, was all he had to show as City laboured to get going back in Division One. Eventually Nicky Law, already Bower’s fourth different manager, gave him a run in the side and he played a significant role in ensuring a second successive relegation was avoided, even scoring the winning goal at Wimbledon to confirm mathematical survival.

Typical of Bower’s luck, he became more part of the scene just as the bad times really begun. As the club fell into administration, Bower was one of only five players it did not attempt to sack. At times that summer City staying in existence was touch and go and, while the immediate concern for Bower the City fan would have been for the future of his club, it would equally have been on his own given he was the verge of making it. In the end City survived and Bower prospered in a reduced squad with reduced expectations the following season, playing 39 times.

The centenary that City celebrated during the 2003/04 season was marked by relegation and administration, with Bower not for the first time watching others underperform in his place. Jason Gavin was brought in and played ahead of Bower by first Nicky Law then Bryan Robson, and if there was one early thing to trumpet Colin Todd for after he took over that summer it was his decision to pick Bower ahead of the hapless Irishman.

And under the tutelage of the former England defender it seemed Bower had finally arrived. City, now in League One, bobbled about in mid table for two seasons with David Wetherall and Bower mainstays at the back. Bower picked up the 2004/05 Player of the Season award ahead of an undoubtedly aghast 28-goal Dean Windass. Yet a year later came further clues that Bower was not the kingpin to build a defence around, with Todd shifting him to left back for a time so the impressive Damion Stewart could partner Wetherall. Todd’s now-huge army of critics saw it as an opportunity to slam the City boss, while ignoring the fact Bower looked excellent charging forward down the left flank.

With the club seemingly on irreversible decline, it seemed to finally catch up with Bower a year later. Todd was sacked in February and Wetherall asked to assume a caretaker role, and the opportunity was there for Bower, newly appointed as skipper, to emerge from Wetherall’s shadow and become a rock to depend upon. He was hardly the only player to fail to reach the heights expected as the club crashed to a seemingly avoidable relegation, but the player who had never let anyone down failed to convincingly prove he could step things up and be a hero.

With two years of a four-year deal still to run, Bower stayed on for life in League Two but it has been far from kind. If asked to name regrets, Bower might just list his willingness to play in goal away at Grimsby, when an injury to keeper Evans left manager Stuart McCall without a specialist to take the role. Bower let no one down in goal, but his replacement at the back, Matt Clarke, impressed instantly alongside Wetherall and suddenly a worrying dip in form meant Bower was dropped two weeks later. There has been the occasional appearance since, but no one should be surprised that, with the club now needing to release high earners, the highest earner of the lot has being shown the door.

Much of this season has included a soundtrack of fans whining about Bower’s exclusion and Clarke’s inclusion, which is a testament to short memories and of absence making hearts grow fonder. Back in the autumn of 2007, Bower was crucified by some supporters but it’s almost been airbrushed from history as some openly questioned “what he ever did wrong?” and screamed abuse at Clarke. Bower did little to deserve the abuse he was getting back then, but he’s equally done nothing to prompt some fans to elevate him to to the status of saviour and, belatedly, chant his name at games.

Bower will be no fan of Stuart and no one can blame him. But Stuart is the manager of this club and is entitled to make what he believes to be the best decision. One can only speculate that, for how much Bower’s weekly wage was, Zesh Rehman’s contract at QPR would be comparable. Rehman has been offered a deal and I for one am delighted. Clarke has also received another contract offer and, though he’s never going to be able to win over a section of support, has largely looked strong this season.

As for Bower, he should have little trouble finding another club, maybe even one in League One. He will go onto to enjoy a decent career elsewhere because, like the last home-grown City defender to ‘make it’, Andy O’Brien, he has plenty of talent and a good attitude.

He will be missed back at Valley Parade, but perhaps not quite enough. A player who will always be guaranteed a good reception on his return, a player who may one day be welcomed back with open arms, but sadly also a player for whom it’s difficult to associate with too many happy times.

It’s time that both he and City enjoyed a turn of luck.

A bad time to change

Stuart McCall has to stay on for another season as manager, simple as that

It’s got nothing to do with whether you’re pro or anti McCall. Before some of you begin bellowing at your monitors, let me explain by outlining the alternative scenario and it’s timeline.

At 5-00pm on the 2nd of May Stuart seeks out Julian Rhodes amd Mark Lawn to confirm his resignation. the season’s just ended and we’re now managerless. Now I’ll make only one assumption that neither Wayne Jacobs nor David Wetherall is going to get the job. So we’re looking for a new man.

With any luck the chairmen already have someone in mind so an appointment is confirmed by mid May. If not, with newspaper adverts followed by sifting through replies and organising interviews, City would be lucky to have someone in place by the end of May.

Either way, we’re into the close season and the playing staff are on their (undeserved) holidays.

So the new manager is faced with a choice…bring in players “blind” or keep on most of the existing playing staff. Hardly an appealing choice.

Any experienced manager will tell you that the only time the boss begins to know what he has (or hasn’t) got at his disposal is when he sees actual competitive matches… at least
3 but preferably more. I agree. as a fan who’s watched countless pre-season friendlies over too many years, I know what they tell you which is nowt! We’ve had great friendlies followed by terrible seasons and vice versa.

Competitive matches only begin 2nd week in August. by the time three or four are played and the manager has some idea of the team’s needs we’re almost at the close of the signing window and looking
at the dreaded loan signings to make up the numbers till the turn of the year and the re-opening of the signing window. By then we’re all in “hoping” mode. hoping that what we want is available.

We could, if they’re not, be looking at another season of marking time and planning for 2010/2011.

Now football success is a young man’s pastime and I’m not getting any younger. I do not want another wasted season marking time.

Another bad repeat

Shortly after half time at Spotland, Bradford City’s players found themselves rueing missed opportunities and a two-goal burst from the home side which left them chasing a deficit. As symbolism goes it was a pretty fair analogy of City’s promotion challenge to date – and of the size of the task this defeat leaves them in achieving that goal.

Fortune certainly favoured Rochdale and the three-point advantage they now look down upon City from in 3rd place is less comfortable than this three-goal victory might suggest; but while manager Stuart McCall can point to a woeful refereeing display from Scott Mathieson contributing greatly to his side’s fourth away defeat in five, he will also know much of it was self-inflicted.

Quite how the evening went so wrong is something Stuart will be pondering for the next few days. Having spent the first 20 minutes under the cosh from a vibrant Dale side who passed the ball around with fluency and alternated attacks down both flanks, City were the better team for spells during the rest of the half and could easily have gone in at the interval one or two goals ahead.

Barry Conlon, recalled ahead of Michael Boulding, ably linked up with Peter Thorne and was effective in holding up the ball and allowing others to get forward. Steve Jones carried on where he left off Saturday with some teasing dribbles and dangerous crosses. Nicky Law and Dean Furman, while never able to dominate the middle of the park in the manner they’d succeeded in the last two home games, competed well against the industrious Gary Jones and Clark Keltie.

The best chances fell to Thorne, who twice saw one-on-one opportunities against on-loan Blackburn keeper Frank Fielding blocked. The first one stemmed from good play by Conlon which left City’s top scorer with time and space to do better than the scuffed effort straight at Fielding. The second was a more difficult chance but better attempt, which needed to be pushed wide of the post. Just after half time Graeme Lee’s header from a corner was superbly stopped again by Fielding and, with other half chances created, most of the goal action fell in Rochdale’s penalty area. Rhys Evans did see one headed effort flash wide of his post.

Yet shortly into the second half Rochdale scored after Joe Colbeck, who endured another tough evening, fouled the dangerous Will Buckley and the resultant free kick was nodded home by Rory McArdle. With new purpose to Rochale’s game the tide quickly turned, although it was the dubious help from the officials in adjudging that Conlon’s attempt to clear the ball from a corner included his arm which put them in a stronger position. Adam Le Fondre, twice scourge of City last season, dispatched the resultant spot kick despite Evans getting a hand to it. When an even softer penalty was awarded following Matt Clarke’s challenge in the box – which looked clean from my position – Le Fondre repeated the feat.

But whatever sense of injustice City felt, demonstrated by assistant manager Wayne Jacobs getting sent off from the dug out and Stuart holding a long conversation with Mathieson at full time, it should not disguise another poor response to adversity. A decent performance once again fell apart and the final 35 minutes did not make pretty viewing from a Claret and Amber perspective. Rochdale continued to attack with purpose while desperation became too quickly evident in City’s forward play. Having successfully harried home players into mistakes during the first half, it was now the away team who couldn’t get time on the ball.

A premature panic on the touchline didn’t help either. As soon as Le Fondre struck his first penalty a double substitution was made by Stuart which had little effect. I’ve been told all season that Stuart “never makes his subs early enough” – funny how Todd, Law, Jefferies, Jewell et all were just as bad at this – so maybe this action was applauded by some, but considering City hadn’t done a lot wrong up to then such drastic action seemed a bit much.

Certainly Conlon was unfortunate to be taken off and, though his replacement Boulding was a willing worker, the ball stopped sticking in the final third. Substituting Colbeck was probably the right decision, though some of the abuse he is getting from some fans right now is unfair. Somehow last season’s player of the year has become the “worst player ever” and jumping up to scream when he struggles to keep an attack going is hardly going to help him rediscover confidence that has been lost since returning from a first significant career injury.

Lee Bullock came on, with Law moved out wide and doing a decent job, but the likelihood of City coming back had diminished long before the second penalty. At that point change three had been made after Paul Arnison was rescued from the roasting Buckley was dishing him and Zesh Rehman brought on. With Lee’s form notably dipping, arguments for bringing Rehman into the centre or keeping him at right back and recalling Mark Bower from Luton are being aired. Stuart must be pondering how a defence which has looked so strong at home can be so feeble away.

Something which, with two important away games in Devon and Dorset this next week, urgently must be improved on. Results elsewhere still leave City in a decent position but the team’s failure to deliver extraordinary results rather than just good results may ultimately leave it facing an extended end to the season rather than a top three podium place. There’s been too many poor performances on the road and there was no evidence at Spotland to suggest this would be the last.

Stuart did an excellent job of ensuring his team responded positively to the Barnet and Notts County set backs and the immediate challenge is to do that again. But for City to achieve promotion this season – automatic or via Wembley – his ability to get to the bottom of why it keeps going wrong will need to come through.

Counting to ten…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting back on the bike – Bradford City vs Grimsby Town – League Two preview

Those of us at Kenilworth Road on Saturday and at Gigg Lane on Tuesday will fully appreciate the range of emotions which supporting a football team can inflict upon you.

We left Luton ecstatic after an action-packed afternoon of football – one of this writer’s best ever – which threw up the improbable plot twist of Barry Conlon’s late penalty that left us cheering wildly and hugging each other. Minutes earlier we were in despair as it appeared we were on the wrong end of football’s cruellest way of losing – the last minute winner. Barry made the journey home that little bit quicker and the manner of City’s second half performance left plenty of optimism for the rest of the season.

Then came Tuesday.

In recent years we’ve all had to become battled-hardened to the despair of defeat and the frustration when things go wrong – but consolations can be taken when the team was unlucky, the referee let us down or some players still gave us something to cheer. On Tuesday there was nothing as we suffered from the most galling way of watching your team lose – because they simply didn’t show desire, passion or commitment to the cause.

And that’s why Tuesday hurt so much.

It hurt to see players you’ve spent much of the season sticking up for when others have criticised appear unwilling to put their body on the line when the chips were down, such as Paul McLaren. It hurt to see players with unquestionable talent look disinterested, like Omar Daley. It hurt to see players you’d seen do a good job Saturday fail to repeat what was asked of them, like Steve Jones. It hurt, because other than Rhys Evans no-one should have walked off the Gigg Lane pitch with their head held high.

The arguments over what went wrong are wide-ranging and see many accused but unsurprisingly the guy in charge, Stuart McCall, is at the centre of the criticism. How could a man who would never have given anything but 100% when a City player, who if we cut open might just bleed claret and amber, allow such a shambles to happen? What about his coaching staff Wayne Jacobs and David Wetherall who, while not without their critics on occasions during their playing career, were never accused of lacking effort? 1,800 City fans packed the away end and backed the players ferociously for 90 minutes, and while that doesn’t mean we deserved to watch a winning team it should at least have been rewarded with a committed one.

But that was Tuesday and just as quickly as the mood turned from euphoria to exasperation it’s to be hoped it can be changed back tomorrow. There is nothing that Stuart and the players can do about what happened at Bury now, but they can at least begin to repair the damage. The recent good run of form of visitors Grimsby – unbeaten in three – may make this less of the home banker it looked a fortnight ago, but just like City’s one win in nine it ignores the bigger picture. This is a bunch of players which have lost 13 of their 26 league games so far, scoring fewer goals than anyone else in the division.

City simply must be targeting three points.

Team selection was a huge bone of contention on Tuesday night and the only thing which can be said with certainty about tomorrow’s team is that it will feature Evans in goal. Luke O’Brien missed Tuesday through illness and should reclaim his left back spot with loan defender Zesh Rehman eyeing up the place of either Graeme Lee, Matt Clarke or Paul Arnison but probably having to settle for a place on the bench for now.

In midfield Joe Colbeck is pushing for his first start since getting injured at Grimsby in October and looked more sharper when introduced on Tuesday than he did Saturday. That should mean Daley, outstanding in the second half at Luton, is switched back to the left and Law moved into the centre with either Dean Furman, McLaren or Lee Bullock alongside. My vote goes to Furman with a message sent to McLaren that one excellent performance should not be followed up by an average one.

Up front Stuart must play one of if not both Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding. Thorne was not great at Luton but is never going to recapture his form if he keeps been brought in then dropped again while Boulding, facing an old club, was unlucky to lose his place too. I’ve written several times over the last 18 months that Conlon’s biggest failing is his lack of consistency and relegation to the bench should be the only reward for such a sub-standard display at Bury. Many fans, and Stuart, have kept faith in the likeable Irishman and he has some making up to do. The fact Jones was hauled off at Bury adds doubts about his loan spell from Burnley been extended when it runs out on February 9, which few City fans would argue for.

Grimsby’s leading marksman only has four goals but we all remember Adam Proudlock’s hat trick at Valley Parade seven years ago. After a slow start to the season former City loanee Mike Newell took over as manager but his influence has been limited and the Mariners are one of a clutch of clubs grateful that Bournemouth and Newell’s former employers Luton aren’t making a better fist of overturning points deductions. A ‘real’ league table would show Grimsby propping up the rest.

In many ways 3pm Saturday cannot come quick enough as we get climb back on board the emotional rollercoaster. No one wants to feel as bad about their team as many of us City fans do right now and such hurt and anger needs heeling. It won’t automatically make everything right again in the world of Bradford City, but a home victory tomorrow would certainly be a good start.

We badly hope to experience that ultimate high of achieving promotion this season, it’s now down to the players to show they want it too.

The decision on City comes at Christmas – Bradford City vs Chester City Preview

Recall this time last year – dear reader – and remember the questions about Stuart McCall and his team which had broken out of a losing run that would put Paul Ince to shame but were a long way from impressing with a scrappy team culled together from free transfers and loan players showing few signs of becoming a capable side.

Peter Thorne was a malingerer, Willy Topp the great hope and Joe Colbeck a guy you send out on loan. How times have changed and how last year’s festive period changed them.

The Boxing Day 2-1 win over Lincoln City – Barry Conlon scuffing the winner in the last minute – built on a good performance in the rain at Chesterfield – and showed a City team with Omar Daley starting to find form and Colbeck energised that could compete with the spirited teams in the division.

A Referee cost City in the 3-1 defeat to Hereford but the impressive display cemented the feeling that City could now start a run for bigger and better things which has continued to this day. In the last 365 days the Bantams have not been as lowly as we were at the start of December 2007.

So a year on and the Bantams – unarguably in a better position – face similar questions and have a similar need for a thrust of improvement although while twelve months ago the impetuous was to move away from mid-table and relegation to flirtatious play-off lower reaches now it is impressed upon Stuart McCall and his charges that with more than the play-off team what is Bradford City will be a promotion side.

Such comments are – in the opinion of this writer – unduly harsh on a Bantams side that has suffered at the hands of footballing fatalism more than most this season. Not a team in the land could survive the loss of the entire midfield and two replacements: Chris Brandon, Paul McLaren, Lee Bullock, Dean Furman, Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck have been simultaneously out of action; without a dip in results and while some suggest that Stuart McCall’s inability to have his team hang into the top three places on a weekly basis is a criticism of the manager I would suggest that it is credit to him.

The injury situation at City should have crippled the team – Steve Jones, Nicky Law Jnr, Tom Clarke and Kyle Nix is no one’s dream midfield – but each week the Gaffer has sent out a team that while bettered was never battered and the kind of excuses that formed under the likes of Jim Jefferies were never allowed to take route. McCall’s nemesis spent much of the Premiership talking about injuries to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien yet Stuart’s red cross list has been worse and concentrated in an area of the field position but never been allowed to become a self-perpetuating reason for defeat.

The jury – one could say – is out on McCall but one suspects in modern football the jury never returns – or only does so retroactively as it did on Paul Jewell who like McCall build a side with character that competed but was criticised for being commensurate rather than dominant. I would suggest that the improvement of the last year suggests that McCall is performing well and that if someone were to try ascribe this to the injection of funds in the summer as a suggestion that anyone could perform as well give the cash I would point them to 17th place Manchester City. Resources are only useful once marshal and marshalling of resources are perhaps best seen in the fullness of a season – injuries and all.

The midfield of woe is returning to fitness with Lee Bullock and Dean Furman both playing forty five minutes in the reserves. Both are looking at this weekend’s game with Chester as a way back before the Christmas break and one may suspect that McCall will give them the same type of “a half each” run out for the first team as they received on Tuesday afternoon for the stiffs. Doing so would allow Paul McLaren to retain his place and let Nicky Law Jnr shift right to the flank which he delivered such a sweet ball to Michael Boulding from last time at Valley Parade. Omar Daley’s return on the left last week at Brentford shows how important he has become to the team – a contrast to fifteen months ago and a change he credits McCall with.

McCall though credits Daley, Colbeck and his attacking three of Peter Thorne, Michael Boulding and Barry Conlon as being his entertainers and driving his City team on this term. He looks for another forward in the transfer window – reports that he was interested in Chesterfield’s out of contract Jamie Ward would seem to be wishful now Jewell’s Derby are interested – and sees strong attacking as the way forward. Thorne and Boulding are expected to start against Chester.

With this Keegan-esque mindset the defence that causes problems to some would seem to be less of an issue to the manager. Paul Arnison’s long awaited return for TJ Moncur should see the more attacking – or at least better crossing – full back in opposite Luke O’Brien who continues to perform well at left back. Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke – along with keeper Rhys Evans – will look on the McCall’s philosophy with the attitude that they aim if not for clean sheets then for one fewer concession than the other team and while statistics suggest that they could improve the Dagenham game showed that while it conceded in a mistake the back line did not buckle under the pressure.

Pressure that is not expected to be as great against a Chester City side who have scored only nine on the road this season and will no doubt end the season thankful of the deductions other clubs have suffered. A win over Chester precedes another Boxing Day game with Lincoln, a home tie with Morecambe and the visit of Shrewsbury. All tough in their own ways but all winnable for the Bantams who recall players to fitness and look to the sturdy first half of the season to set up a run for promotion in the second.

The decision on City – and most probably on Stuart McCall the manager – comes this Christmas.

The mid-point report questions the defence

As we approach the mid point of our season and the turn of the year heralding the opening of the transfer window, it might be a good idea to look at the story so far…..

Things are beginning to sort themselves out just a little bit. The top 10 teams are, well, the top 10 teams.

Wycombe are clear with a game in hand but the chasing bunch are pretty fluid. City are established in the top seven, which is good, but not in the top 3, which is not so good.

Stuart’s determination to bring in a first team striker is great news. A replacement for Willy Topp who, even his biggest fans should admit, wasn’t going to be a regular first team frontman this season.

We should get a player who is not just competition for Thorne, Boulding and Conlon but could fit seamlessly into the side if one or more of them is injured.

The goals should then keep flowing.

In midfield we should finally have everybody fit. competition right across the park can only be a good thing and, when you throw Furman (and possibly Law) into the mix as well, it will be really intriguing to see who become the regulars. Each fan probably names a different midfield four.

Now to the back four. Their school report would read “must try harder” as, a quick look at the top seven’s goals against reveals. We’ve conceded quite few more than the rest and this has definitely cost us points… games drawn we should have won and defeats which should have been draws.

To me personally this is the most mystifying fact – that the defence isn’t as solid as it should be. Our assistant manager Wayne Jacobs is a former premiership experienced fullback and our chief coach David Wetherall a Premiership experienced central defender. Between them they should have been able to sort out the current back four or, if they thought any player/players weren’t up to the task we should have got someone else in by now probably on loan at first to have a look at them.

Just a quick word about the keeper Rhys Evans. He is solid if not spectacular he’s made few mistakes and pulled off some great stops. while I had my doubts when he came in he’s certainly got me convinced.

To sum up, I can’t do better than echo John Hendrie’s comment of a few weeks ago that City are currently a top seven side but if we can tighten up the defence on a permanent basis a top three berth is there for the taking.

Just a quick word to those few people I’ve already heard in their darker moments saying “Well, I’d settle for the playoffs”. What rubbish! No team in the top half should be settling for a playoff position now or any time soon!

Only if – perish the thought! – it eventually becomes mathematically impossible to finish in the top 3 should any fan be even talking about the playoffs and the lottery they entail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe your own eyes not a person on a message board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we learn from pre-season

It was once said of a group of young footballers who went on to big things that “you won’t win anything with kids” and perhaps as Stuart McCall prepares his team for the start of what is expected to be a promotion season this motto has been taken to heart with the City boss arriving at Farsley Celtic with a collection of major signings who were all aged around thirty. McCall is not going to stand accused of trying to make youngsters do men’s jobs.

However if they warn that inexperience will not beget results then lifelessness is an even bigger ailment and it was that which was Bradford City’s undoing tonight.

We should remember that one should not read too much into pre-season – City ended with game with David Wetherall, Wayne Jacobs and Physio Adam Cook on the field – but the approach to a game at Farsley Celtic could be a telling factor. Paul McLaren arrived at Valley Parade to gasps and delight but he and Lee Bullock at the heart of the Bantams first half midfield put in little application. Throstle’s Nest is not a million miles from Christie Park or many other League Two grounds and every game in claret and amber is important.

That the Bantams trailed 3-0 at half time was an indication as to how little McLaren and Bullock had got stuck in and the turnaround in the second half was entirely down to the hustle brought to the game by Kyle Nix and the impressive Luke Sharry. If one was to read anything into pre-season games then it would be that Craig Bentham and Tom Penford might be at Celtic because of the abilities of Sharry who is very much one to watch.

Certainly if City are to get anywhere they are going to need more application in winning the ball than McLaren or Bullock showed and one worries that that pairing could be another Steven Schmacher and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson.

Also a problem – in the first half at least – was defensive struggling by young pair Adrian Bellamy and Luke O’Brien who were at fault for a goal each as they dallied on the ball rather that putting the David Wetherall boot through it.

The other goal came from one of those offside decisions which drive you nuts. Paul Arnison had half a good debut having to do much to cover Bellamy next to him and Kory Nix – brother of Kyle – in front both missing. Kory Nix started well tucking in and taking the ball but after a half hour went missing up front although this came after a distressingly high kick to his chest from a defender that shook the new Australian.

Up front Peter Thorne hit the post with a header and Willy Topp looked lively until he was moved to the right wing second half although it was from the right that the cross that saw Barry Conlon fouled to win and score a penalty that got City’s goal came.

Conlon was partnered by Michael Boulding’s brother Rory who played the second half. Shoudl he sign then Michael Boulding, as with Graeme Lee and Chris Brandon, had to slot into this team and one can be sure that at no point did the eleven on the field resemble those who will start the season.

However regardless of the players on the field should anyone in claret and amber turn up without putting effort in then we will not win. It is pre-season and not much can be read into it but that much I know and can guarantee.

“You won’t win anything without effort.”

Every noticed how Darren Moore gets what he wants?

Darren Moore has just signed for Barnsley after City boss Stuart McCall told everyone that he wanted to bring the big man back to Valley Parade and for the second time I’m left feeling a bit used.

Moore is a good guy cause he is a Christian and knows Wayne Jacobs and everyone will tell you that he is a good bloke.  In fact footballers like him so much that they elect him to the PFA.  He sits around the table with Gordon Taylor when the footballer’s union make sure that no one get get anywhere when they suggest that players need salaries capped.

He is a good bloke and never made a noise after having his request for £15,000 a week from City turned down nine years ago.  He went to Portsmouth and on to a great career that we all followed and cheered with only a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth about the way it all ended.

Great guy but when City came in for Moore how come it got out to the media so quickly?  And what was the effect of it getting out.  To us it said that City had high ambitions but to the rest of the game it said two things.  First that Bruno was on the move and secondly that to get him you needed to compete with big spenders.

So the likes of Leicester City and Nottingham Forest all start to be interested and soon it looks like City’s hope if plucking Moore’s heartstring and pushing a bit of extra cash in his pocket to get him but when a club two divisions higher want to offer the chance of a fifth promotion to the Premiership of course he is interested.

So fast forward on the month and Bruno has got a move to the Championship probably on the money that City offered him and no one can blame him but for the second time City have figured in a deal that ended up with Darren Moore getting what he wanted and us being left with egg on our faces.

Graeme Lee is not Darren Moore in our hearts but neither was David Wetherall when he was signed the last time Moore decided he wanted to be somewhere else and maybe in nine years time we will look at Lee like we look at Weathers now.

The waiting or popping the question

We wait, us connected with Bradford City, and we wait.

We have been waiting for Luke Beckett and Michael Boulding to decide who they fancy joining next season and Stuart McCall begins to tire of waiting.  The move for Beckett is on hold but one of the player’s other options – Chester City – have been knocked out of the running for the player.  It says much about the power of footballers in the modern game that guys on the bench at third tier clubs can keep everyone waiting.  Nevertheless Beckett can.

McCall is growing tired of waiting for Michael Boulding but the former Tennis professional turned footballer who went out of the league with Mansfield last season seems awash with options for next season and the ball is very much in his court.  He has knocked back City before back in 2001 when he joined Aston Villa rather than opting for to sign with Nicky Law.  Within a week the Bantams were in administration and 19 players were redundant.  One wonders how much this plays on the players mind when he deals with Rotherham agianst the stability seemingly offered at Valley Parade these days.

We wait for Boulding who has his pick of Yorkshire sides near his home and we wait for Darren Moore who is to talk with Leicester City before deciding his future.  In essence The Foxes are offering the same deal as the Bantams – to end his career in promotion – but a division higher and nearer to his home.

This waiting is a good think for City and the people trying to bring Moore to the club.  Without McCall, Wayne Jacobs et al then there is little reason for Moore not to dismiss the club in a division below out of hand.  The waiting is tribute and shows that Moore is taking City’s approach seriously.

The waiting is hard.  The waiting is torture as scribbles on bits of paper with “PA” and “CB” joining “PT” and “JC” in positions in elevens crop up on the desks of City fans everywhere.  The waiting is hard.

We wait for Rob Burch the goalkeeper McCall has talked to and we long to do as he did and pop the question in public view to get a binding yes or no.  Do you, we would ask Darren Moore, take this hope and manifest it in promotion?

Is some Moore what Bradford City meed?

Darren Moore is – it is said – on the verge of returning to Bradford City.

The detail is skechy at the moment with talk from one side of a loan – highly unlikely considering his age – while other talk of two year deals and pay cuts. Regardless and rather ironically it seems that the man replaced by David Wetherall after falling out with the club over a contract is about to sign a contract to replace Wetherall.

Is the signing – should it happen – a good one? One can never be sure but aside from Stuart McCall’s return in 1998 it is hard to remember a deal that seemed so stacked in favour of success.

At thirty-four it is doubtful Moore has much pace but in April 1999 when he was cruelly exposed by Marcus Stewart of Huddersfield Town that problem became apparent and it has not stopped the player winning two promotions with West Brom and one with Derby since. Mark Bower is hardly the fastest to go alongside Moore but one plays naturally down the right and the other the left and a good partnership could be formed. A speedy right back – Ben Starosta perhaps – to provide sprinting cover would be no doubt be appreciated.

We fight in a league where smarts often count for less than brawn and possessing both – brawn in massive amounts – then the benefits of having Moore in McCall’s side are obvious. It is hard to imagine anyone in League Two bullying a partnership of Moore and Matthew Clarke should City want to combat the big fellas line up that they occasionally face in the fourth tier of English football.

Off the field – and assuming Moore does knock back the interested Championship and League One clubs to return – then one suspects that the main attraction of the move is Wayne Jacobs the Bantams number two who converted Moore to Christianity while the pair were at Bradford City and works with him in his Faith In Football charity. As a senior professional at the club one can only assume that this cultural difference is a positive influence – the experiences of Portsmouth suggest it is by no means a bad thing – and should the antics of younger footballers not be entirely to Moore’s tastes then he can always do as Reading’s 1980s winger Trevor Senior did and sit in the luggage racks of the team coach when the lads put on adult entertainment.

More seriously Moore was highlighted as one of the bright spots of a dire season for Derby and his figured in promotion success at almost every club he has been at. His return – should it happen – would bring with it the type of experience, the spine of the team and the physical presence needed to get out of League Two.

The tiresome sound of a stick in a bucket

Nine years and change ago I started this here boyfrombrazil.co.uk website about a club that was aspiring to be in the Premiership. It was lead by a dogmatic, bluff chairman and had a team of exciting players under the eye of new, young manager Paul Jewell and while everything around the club is utterly different there is one constant in the fact that from that day to this there has been a rumbling underbelly of a concept that Bradford City would be improved by a new manager.

The history books of this club never include the talk against Paul Jewell – he is airbrushed to perfection – but at the time there were plenty of voices suggesting that if City wanted to be a serious contender for a Premiership club the season after the anticipated play-off failure of 1998/1999 then they would have to appoint a “proper” manager. During his time in the Premiership Jewell did not enjoy the universal support he is credited with now.

Chris Hutchings enjoyed no support and a change of manager from him to anyone would be an improvement except – of course – it was not and Jim Jefferies quickly had the same murmurings which became a cacophony and on and on through Nicky Law who must be sacked or we would be relegated but Bryan Robson got us relegated and on to Colin Todd who would take us down so had to go but of course we went down…

At the moment there are people talking about the qualities of Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs. People saying “I know he is a legend but…” and drifting off into some discussion of if the gaffer “knows what he is doing” as if football management were a map and a route could be planned through it.

There is a definition of insanity that has it that repeating the same action and expecting different results is the mark of that condition. Honestly – after trying a rookie, an experienced manager, a young guy who had done well in the lower leagues, an England captain, an jobbing football man – does anyone still believe that the solution to all City’s problems is in sacking the manager and appointing the best CV that comes along? That train of logic is so feeble as to question the capabilities of anyone who would suggest it.

Experience of following this club has told us that the next manager is never the answer.

Move back to the days of Paul Jewell and Chris Kamara and we see a club strong on infrastructure and leadership with continuity at the heart of it. This is not to suggest that Geoffrey Richmond had everything or anything right just that when he did things well the club did well and when he started to misstep badly the management changes helped not one jot.

City’s next manager after McCall will be no better. Jose Mourinho is not waiting to take over and if he was – as Avram Grant shows – management changes are the stuff of tweaks and not sea change.

All of which gives unnecessary oxygen to the idea that McCall is somehow an inferior manager to those around him in the division or other managers who currently have the job at 91 other clubs. He is young and learning and he makes mistakes but he also has triumphs. Criticism of the manager is plentiful but for every mistake there is a credit unsaid. Stuart McCall brought in Peter Thorne, Kyle Nix, Scott Loach just as much as he signed up Alex Rhodes.

For every curious set of displays by Paul Heckingbottom – he has struggled since signing full time – there is a success story like McCall’s handling of Joe Colbeck who is started to show real quality and consistency.

Likewise understanding the season was dead sometime ago McCall allows Rhodes the chance to show what he can do – not much in this writer’s opinion – as he looks to offer contracts out for next season. To sack a manager at this point is like sacking him for losing pre-season friendlies.

Sacking managers is just a bad idea – experience shows us that – sacking this manager goes past bordering on ludicrous and calling for him to be sacked is akin to vandalism of this football club.

As with Kevin Keegan at Newcastle it seems that being a legend is not what it used to be and Keegan and McCall get a couple more games before the firing squads are assembled. Legend is a fan applied title and the respect they given is the behest of supporters. What does it say about our supporters as some try chop away the legs of our “legend” as he takes his first steps in management?

What would it say about the supporters if we let the louder agitators in our community be heard louder than any other voice? This is especially the case when that voice makes all the sense of a stick being hammered around an empty bucket of swill and is just as sensible. A case could have been made for sacking some of the managers of the last nine years but the majority of dismissals are mistakes compounding mistakes.

All the voices who called for Nicky Law to be sacked never comment on Bryan Robson’s failure to turn the club around. The people who said Colin Todd should go do not accept the blame for the relegation to League Two.

Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs should be in charge at this club. End of story.

Back the ginger two – you bet I do!

Back in November 2003 I made the trip to the Britannia Stadium to watch City’s away game with Stoke City. Coming just after Nicky Law had been sacked and with Bryan Robson about to be confirmed new manager, it was an interesting period. Arriving late at the ground, I missed the teams been announced and only noticed, five minutes in, that Dean Windass wasn’t on the pitch. No sooner had I uttered “Where’s Deano?” when I spotted him. Not sat among the substitutes, but three rows in front of me in the away end.

Assuming he was injured, it wasn’t until reading media reports of the 1-0 defeat that I discovered Windass has been dropped because it was felt he had “lost his focus” in the build up. Whether leaving out our best striker was a wise choice, though the public way he sulked among the away fans suggested it may have been, it was a brave decision by the caretaker manager. Who was in charge that day? Wayne Jacobs.

Back in the present day, Jacobs is assistant to Stuart McCall in a disappointing season which hasn’t gone to plan. Four defeats in six have punctured the growing optimism that the previous good form had generated. Saturday’s defeat at Stockport ruefully showed that, while inconsistency might be why we’re only in the bottom half of the table, we’re equally not good enough to be in the top seven. The pre-season hopes of promotion are not going to materialise and we’ll be playing League Two football next year.

It’s disappointing of course. We had such high expectations last summer and our new management team did nothing but encourage us further in believing this could be our year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a slight feeling on unrest amongst fans about whether Stuart and Wayne are good enough to move this club back up the leagues. There were mutterings of discontent as we filed out of Edgeley Park following one of the most disappointing performances of the season. All over the various City-related websites there are fans informing others of supposed managerial shortcomings.

Looking at the wider picture, there are many reasons why Stuart and Wayne have not been able to deliver the promotion challenge widely expected. Having been Assistant Manager at Sheffield United for three seasons and enjoying a 20+ year playing career before that, Stuart had never found the time to become too acquainted with League Two. He largely signed players based on recommendations last summer and too many have not proved good enough to take City forward. There are a handful of players who should be kept on for next season, but no one is in any doubt changes will be made.

Then there was the start to the season, or more specifically the dreadful run of form in early autumn. It left City lying in 21st place, or fourth bottom of the entire professional football pyramid, at the beginning of November. To be in such a poor position with a third of the season gone left City playing constant catch up. Thankfully we recovered and have had some decent runs of form. There may have been some careless defeats recently, but if City had been higher up the league with a better chance of promotion would as many have occurred?

The pressure on the team has also been a higher than it should because of chasing the rest. When City drew at Wrexham in January there was a hefty amount of criticism that wouldn’t have occurred had we not been so far from the play offs. Every point counted but there’s been too much to ground to make up.

Even in this age of message board culture, there are very few supporters stating they believe Stuart should now be sacked. Bizarrely, Jacobs is coming in for criticism from some fans, though reasonable arguments for why City’s failings are the Assistant Manager’s fault have yet to be aired. These people are calling for a more experienced assistant to be brought in. This is Jacobs’ third season as an assistant and the previous two at Halifax were certainly eventful, what level of experience are these people suggesting is acceptable? Perhaps we should bring back the ‘experienced’ Frank Barlow or Bobby Davidson?

One saying in football is the managers’ most important signing is his assistant and it’s surely about who Stuart feels most comfortable working with which matters. Let’s remember the efforts, and fee, the club put in to bring Jacobs back last summer. The episode at the Britannia Stadium four and a half years ago also showed Jakes is anything but a soft touch.

For how disappointed we supporters feel about the way this season has gone, we can be confident Stuart and Wayne feel just as horrible. In some ways the fact Stuart is a City legend counts against him when you hear fans criticise. Some claim that any other manager would have been sacked last November, untrue in my opinion, and that Stuart is receiving special treatment. I’ve heard the phrase “he might be a legend, but…” many times at recent games.

In many ways the summer can’t come soon enough now. One year on and a stronger and wiser Stuart will already have a good idea of who he needs to bring to Valley Parade next season. If rumours are to be believed at least one player has been signed (will be interesting to see if he lines up against us for his current club later this season) and no doubt other negotiations are in the pipeline. The likely disappearance to League One of MK Dons, Darlington and Peterborough will leave a more level playing field in terms of finances and, with the potential of playing in front of 20,000 crowds this season, Valley Parade will be an attractive proposition for any of Stuart’s targets.

And then, as Stuart honestly admits, is the time to judge him. Clearly some of us are losing their faith that he can succeed, but the majority still retain their backing of Stuart. Sure, a lot of this belief is due to the fact Stuart is a legend, but what’s wrong with that? Who will ever forget Stuart the player and what he did at this club? He was, and still is, a hero to us.

Not just because of his ability and commitment on the field, but the fact he cared so passionately for this club. I can’t think of another person I’d want to succeed as City manager more than him and, while the first season hasn’t worked out as we’d all hoped, he certainly warrants more time to get it right.

And get it right I believe he will. For the first time in years, City are on a steady financial footing and can afford to plan for the future with ambition. This club is no longer sinking and, wherever we finish this season, there’s a good chance it’ll be the lowest we’ll fall. We need to build up a club from this stability and scrapping the foundations at the first sign of difficulty is unlikely to be the answer. There’s every reason to remain optimistic in believing this management team will lead us to success.

It’s understandable we all feel hurt and disappointed right now, but we can be confident Stuart and Wayne can also see the current problems and have the ability to put things right next season. Who knows, in the short term they may even banish a few current players to join us in the stands. “Sorry, someone’s sitting there Omar.”

Fancy a Flutter with Stuart and Wayne?

It is now nearly four years since Bradford City went into administration for the second time in two years. Who could forget the turbulent times facing our football club during the summer of 2004? Supporters rallied round to help raise £250,000 to save the club by eating maggots, participating in sponsored walks, hopping between football grounds and children wearing their City shirts with pride at school. This excellent work was, in part, co-ordinated by Bradford City Supporters’ Trust (BCST).

BCST is still going strong after being formed in 2002 following our first period in administration. Indeed, they have recently been awarded a grant of £5,000 from the Co-operative Group following a successful application with Ian Ormondroyd’s Football in the Community.

This money is to be split equally in support of two projects: the annual Community Week held at Bradford City in May and the work of the Positive Lifestyle Centre at Valley Parade. This tremendous effort by BCST indicates that they still have a strong desire to help support both Bradford City and raise the club’s profile within the district of Bradford, despite the fact that City is supposedly now in a stable condition financially following Mark Lawn’s injection of money into the football club.

If you would like to do your bit to support the club, why not come to the John Hendrie suite at Valley Parade on Friday 15th February at 19:00 where BCST has organised a racing night with City Gent editor Mike Harrison will be presenting eight video races with eight horses in each race on which you can place your bets. This is going to be a great, fun evening, hosted by BBC Radio Leeds match commentator Derm Tanner, with guest appearances from Stuart McCall, Wayne Jacobs, John Hendrie, Ces Podd, Dean Richards and Des Hamilton. Admission is £5.

Remember it wasn’t too long ago that a collective effort by supporters helped to save our beloved football club. Although the club is now in a lot healthier position, there is still plenty of progress to make so why not have a flutter at the racing night? You never know, you might enjoy yourself and you might win a bob or two!

Heck Of A Good Signing

Paul Heckingbottom is a Bradford City player again, again and I couldn’t be happier.

Heckingbottom is exactly the sort of player I want City to have. For a start he is took good for this division even if he isn’t good enough for The Championship and I’m not sure that he isn’t to be honest. Second he fits right in at City being from near enough to almost be a home grown lad (Even his name conjures up Bantams of old – Ed.) and third he is the sort of honest footballer I love to watch.

I’ve never seen Hecky do anything other than put in 100% for City. I’ve never seen him drop to his knees to dive or point at team mates when he makes a mistake or any of that rubbish that you see all the time in football these days. I’ve never once looked at the left back this season and not thought that we had a guy who will give us everything.

Maybe it is the Wayne Jacobs effect because him and Heckingbottom are peas in a pod when it comes to attitude and credit goes to Stuart and Wayne for signing him up.

At this level footballers get lazy. It is dead easy for a player to decide that the other ten guys are the reason things aren’t going so good in League Two and it is dead easy for players to stroll out the end of contracts blaming everyone else for failing to get to the play-offs. Paul Heckingbottom would not do that.

He is not the first piece but he is an important on into a team that can go places.

View from the dugout

Cup football presents certain opportunities. A chance to see the Bantams face someone different from usual (although for City that’s largely not been the case recently), reading a match day programme filled with contributors’ sentiments of how “it’s about time City went on a good cup run” and, largely unnoticed, the prospect on an entertaining cup tie. The Tranmere 1st Round FA Cup tie two seasons ago was one of the better games of that season while the 4-0 thrashing of Crewe, which took place exactly a year ago, was probably City’s best performance of a forgettable campaign.

It’s also an opportunity to be there when so many others fail to bother and bask in the smug satisfaction of labelling yourself a ‘loyal supporter’ when the pitiful attendance, in this case less than 4,000 City fans, is announced. With even more empty seats than usual, there’s also an opportunity to watch the game from a different place.

If you include the live beamback of the Newcastle United FA Cup tie in 1999, I’ve watched City play from each side of Valley Parade. There’s one view point I’ve been especially interested in watching a game from and, with all seating up for grabs, I took the opportunity on Saturday. I wanted to watch the game from how the dug out sees it.

Arriving half hour before kick off, we made our way to the front row of the Main Stand and took a seat just behind the home dug out so that we could see and hear how Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs behave during matches – something I couldn’t possibly tell from where I usually sit, on the opposite side of the pitch.

Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

We were also able to witness a hilarious argument with Bobby Williamson and supporters. During the week the Chester manager had somewhat bizarrely made public comments that Bradford City don’t have any outstanding players, a view that surely fired up people in the home dressing room. As Williamson came to the away dugout, one supporter stood and began angrily barracking him for his comments. Williamson responded by turning away and laughing. The fan continued shouting, prompting a member of the Chester backroom team to tell him to shut up. Another City fan then shouted at this Chester coaching member, who replied by inviting the City fan to ‘take this outside’!

Attention soon turned to Stuart and Wayne walking down the touchline, both of whom received a round of applause from fans nearby. The game kicked off and both spent the whole 90 minutes stood on the touchline barking encouragement. It’s a cliché but true, they really did appear to kick every ball.

Both Stuart and Wayne were continuously giving instructions and demanding more from certain players. In particular they were shouting at Eddie Johnson and Omar Daley. They had clear ideas of where on the pitch they wanted Daley to be, going forward and defending. Eddie was called over to the bench for instructions on several occasions. At times Eddie’s face was that of someone fed up of being told what to do, but he always appeared to take on board the instructions and enjoyed another decent game in the hub of midfield.

He missed City’s best chance in the opening stages when he failed to connect to Paul Evans’ brilliant free kick. Soon after City were in front with an excellently worked goal. Daley was ordered to take up a good position from a throw in and he and Darren Williams worked the ball along to give Evans a chance to cross. His delivery was perfect for Peter Thorne who headed the ball into the far corner for his first City goal.

Viewers of Thursday’s Yorkshire TV Soccer Night will have seen a clip of Stuart and Wayne hugging when City’s second goal on Tuesday had gone in, a celebration perhaps wilder than usual. Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

Joy soon turned to anger at the referee’s inept performance. Just before half time Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu challenged for a loose ball which he appeared to win. At worst, he slightly tapped Chester’s Laurence Wilson in the process, but the full back collapsed as though he had been shot. The referee sent G off for two yellows. It was a moment strikingly similar to Steve Schumacher’s incorrect dismissal against Blackpool last season. Naturally Stuart was livid and ran over to the linesman and referee to tell them so. He later revealed, on radio, that the linesman had agreed with Stuart that it was wrong to send G off.

In the second half it was backs to the wall again as City sought to hang on. Like on Tuesday, Chester piled on the pressure forcing City deep but again the home side largely defended well. The substitutions, who I enjoyed getting to know about before everyone else by being able to hear Stuart tell them they were coming on, were also highly effective. Scott Phelan should be feeling especially pleased. He’s become somewhat forgotten since the Accrington debacle but he has some promise about him.

For all their pressure, Chester had only one real chance with Donovan Ricketts saving well. At one stage Ricketts’ came rushing out of his goal for no reason. Hearing Stuart mutter “what’s he doing now?” made me smile – proof that Stuart is thinking the same as the rest of us! It’s been a great week for our recalled keeper and a second clean sheet of the season will only increase his confidence.

At the final whistle Bobby Williamson turned to clap the fans in the main stand with a curious smile. You get the feeling he had enjoyed the banter he had experienced with City fans, but will probably be glad he doesn’t have to visit us again this season. I wonder if he still thinks we have no outstanding players?

As for Stuart and Wayne, it was hugely enjoyable to observe them from close quarters. Both spent the match barking instructions and Stuart clearly has belief in his assistant Wayne to allow him to shout out his own views. Occasionally they chatted to each other, but both seemed happy to watch and talk to the players on their own initiative. Stuart is clearly his own boss and he has already perfected those bizarre managerial finger movements and hand signals which don’t appear to mean anything.

It was also quite bemusing, midway through the second half with the game stopped due to injury, to observe Wayne call Paul Heckingbottom over and give him instructions for a few minutes. During his first spell at the club Heckingbottom won the left back spot over Jacobs. Clearly no lack of respect from Hecky, as he took the advice of a bloke he used to keep out of the team!

In the pub before the match I was asked that, if a non-legend had been in charge, do I think he would have been sacked for the results so far this season? If some people really believe that’s the case it shows what’s wrong with fans expectations sometimes. Legend or not, should any new manager be dismissed so quickly? It’s still very early days in Stuart’s managerial career and some of the criticism he has received in recent weeks has been undeserved. It’s going to take time to turn around a club which has been falling for so long. Hopefully these two victories over Chester point to an improvement which will continue.

As for the dug out view, it would be wrong for me to write that Stuart and Wayne showed themselves to be a great management team. I don’t know what’s good touchline behaviour, or what’s bad. What I did see and hear was how they wanted City to play and what certain players should be doing. I also saw a decent performance – not as good as elements of Tuesday’s, but also not as bad – where everyone in Claret and Amber contributed. I will return to my usual seat in the Midland Road stand for the Stockport game in two weeks continuing my backing for a management team who, legend or not, I believe can eventually turn round the flagging fortunes of this club.

Rock bottom?

During City’s post millennium slump from the riches of the Premier League to the slums of League Two, the club have always retained that special capacity to prove us wrong. Just when we don’t think they could possibly sink any lower, they go and surprise us yet again.

Ever since Southampton recorded a 1-0 Premiership win at Valley Parade in September 2000, we’ve had matches described as the ‘worst ever’ with increasing regularity. The worst City performance ever has since become an annual event – Southampton was followed by Stockport, then there was Sheffield United, Sunderland, Wimbledon, MK Dons, Oldham, Huddersfield and Chesterfield. All moments in recent times when it was felt, performance wise at least, that City had hit rock bottom.

On Tuesday the latest rock bottom moment occurred but the fall out and awful taste in mouth that this defeat left will take some time to forget. It’s all very well getting stuffed by Sheffield United or Sunderland – but Accrington Stanley? Let’s be honest, they played us off the park and the 3-0 scoreline probably flattered us. But with the greatest of respects we were playing Accrington Stanley, not a team of world beaters. And while the current crop of players wearing Claret and Amber wouldn’t get near those who lost to Southampton seven years ago, they should be far better than the school boy efforts they provided us on Tuesday.

There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.

Defensively we were a complete mess. Only two-and-a-half weeks ago City earned a clean sheet and defensive plaudits after a hard thought win over much fancied Peterborough. Since then eight goals have been conceded in just three games. Donovan Ricketts has taken most of the blame and our Jamaican keeper’s Valley Parade days appear numbered with Stuart McCall announcing a new keeper is being sought urgently.

Ricketts was undoubtedly at fault for the second goal when he came out and allowed a five foot striker to out jump him and head the ball into an empty net, but his back four must shoulder much of the blame too. Paul Heckingbottom was looking an assured player up until Hereford and his performance on Tuesday was dreadful. Time and time again he was caught out of position, continually beaten by wingers and cheaply giving the ball away. His free kicks were awful and, on one occasion during the second half, his feeble free kick effort almost turned a chance for City into a goal for Accrington.

In the centre the lack of pace was badly exposed. David Wetherall, the only survivor from that Southampton defeat, will always be loved by City fans, but doubts about his ability have been surfacing for a while. He is ageing fast and is simply not the force he was even two years ago. A tough decision over the captain’s place in the team may have to be made by Stuart and Jakes.

Wetherall has seen the whole sorry slump over the last seven years first hand. As he kicked the ball up pitch in frustration when the second goal was scored, I wondered how many times he has watched opposition put the ball into that net over the years and whether the psychological affect of been part of such an underperforming club has taken away some of his dogged determination. Mark Bower also had a poor night and some fans are calling for both to be dropped now, although I still believe that our longest serving player deserves a chance to redeem himself.

Midfield? What midfield? Eddie Johnson’s careless back pass that allowed Stanley to score after 90 seconds was the worst moment of a forgettable night from those in the middle of the park. Eddie continues to split opinion among fans with some believing he simply isn’t a midfielder. Scott Phelan has followed the Steven Schumacher path to City but has failed to make the immediate impact his predecessor managed. Some times Phelan has been excellent, but he too set the tone for an awful night by giving away a free kick five seconds into the game. To say we missed the injured Paul Evans is an understatement.

Omar Daley was awarded ‘Man of the Match’ by the sponsors. What game were they watching? The one I witnessed included a City number 7 who put in minimal effort and was wholly ineffective. No tracking back to help the often outnumbered defence, dribbles that led no where and no awareness or thought to pass the ball to a team mate. On the few occasions that he did look to pass, he played balls so ridiculously ambitious and risky that attack was turned into defence. I don’t know where Daley thought he was playing but his first half performance in particular was nothing short of disgraceful. Alex Rhodes at least started brightly but the front two were both starved of service all evening.

Ultimately, too many had an off night. What we were left was a displayed blighted by defensive howlers, woeful passing and players with heads down. Free kicks, corners and crosses were truly appalling. On a night full of frustration, the six minutes of first half stoppage time and final 20 minutes were perhaps the most telling. During these periods, the players had clearly given up, were shying away from touching the ball and were just waiting for the referee to blow his whistle. As supporters we can forgive players having an off night, they’re only human. But when we see players clearly not trying and giving up so feebly, it really hurts.

As for where it leaves the rest of the season, Stuart has plenty of work to do. A trip to the league leaders is arguably the last place we want to be heading and we travel to the MK Dons on Saturday as genuine underdogs for the first time this season. A fourth defeat in a row seems unthinkable but highly plausible. Yet perhaps facing opposition that has played such a significant part in City’s darker days (both as Wimbledon and MK Dons) can be the launch pad for brighter moments.

The players ears will have recovered from the boos, the anger of Stuart and Wayne will have had some form of impact. The players will surely have realised they have let a lot of people down. Through all the misery of such a horrible evening, the fantastic backing that many fans (Kop especially) still gave the team should act as a spur to get their act together. This level of support only reinforces the belief that Bradford City are too big for League Two. That doesn’t guarantee us promotion and it certainly doesn’t guarantee wins over Accrington, but playing for this club comes with responsibility that those in the dressing room need to face up to. There’s no where to hide, the pressure and expectation is not going to go away. The players need to learn to deal with all of this and will hopefully emerge from the Accrington debacle much stronger characters.

Is promotion a forlorn hope? Not yet. City may be 19th as it stands, but are only four points off the play offs. Now is the time for those being paid good money to represent Bradford City to show their mettle and prove their worth. Speaking on the radio after the match, Stuart sounded as devastated and miserable as the rest of us who suffered such a wretched display. He can drop half the time and try to bring in new faces, he can shout and rant that they are disgrace and haul them in for extra training. Ultimately it’s down to those players who continue to represent us to ensure that they don’t let down their club and its supporters down so badly again.

So surely this is what rock bottom feels like and hopefully this is the last time City prove us wrong. I don’t want to find out how we can possibly sink any lower.

The Wolves Feeling

There was always going to be some sort of angle on which to spin the first League Cup game for Stuart McCall – his first test against a big club – and so the first two names out of the hat gave us Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Bradford City and the memories flashed back to a day, a result, an image of the City number four with his arms aloft at the second of the final whistle.

McCall dragged City to that promotion. He was the heart of a team with capable legs and head. The next time he is in the dug out at Wolves he will be beating heart and pulsing brain.

His task at Bradford City will be brought into focus this week. His number two Wayne Jacobs will officially arrive from Halifax Town to be replaced at The Shay by Peter Atherton. Jacobs is a welcome appointment and does much to answer the once said – but now discredited – suggestion that McCall’s teams would be more about the morale of drinking buddies than modern footballing units. Communion wine aside Jacobs is not cut from that cloth.

By the time Jacobs arrives McCall will have a list of fixtures for the season – they come out on Thursday morning – with names like Barnet, like Accrington Stanley, like Morecambe which are a long way from the results of that Wolves win. Using the old Poker adage of looking around the table to see the sucker – if you can’t tell then it is you – one looks at League Two for the big name and then realise that we are, for better or for worse, the big name.

McCall will also have had his player budget ironed out with Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. Today’s exit of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson to Carlisle United, Dean Windass’s move to Hull and Steven Schumacher’s leaving for Crewe frees up the funds and the long list of recruits will get shorter.

At present McCall has ten players – pull his boots on himself and he has a team – but in three months time he needs to take out his team to the scene of City’s greatest triumph and begin to make his mark in management.

Joining the Bantams as a right back aged 17, spending months in the Everton reserves, going to the World Cup as a squad player, low key move to Rangers, free transfer return to City. McCall is a man who goes about his business in a quiet and determined way. Expect similar as City build to the first significant stop on the journey back.

The Waiting Game

At the moment we are waiting for Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs to be shown off as the new boss and assistant at City but they are at Valley Parade doing the jobs.

The jobs they have are pretty big. City went down last year after a pretty good start and if you look at the tables before and after Christmas City are not just edging out of League One are are kicked out with force. We haven’t done the business much in the last six months and we haven’t done the business at home for years.

Although for a time last term Colin Todd had City making hay at Valley Parade. Crewe got murdered 4-0 with JJ and Lee Holmes ripping in down the flanks. It seems that the best City teams have the two wingers in them. JJ and Holmes were like Peter Beagrie and Jamie Lawrence with one going at you and one getting the crosses in. I’ve heard people say that Holmes going back to Derby injured was the start of the reasons City got relegated and it does seem like it is the end of Dean Windass’s goal scoring at VP.

Omar Daley could be McCall’s new JJ just as he promised to be Todd’s but bet your bottom dollar that the new City boss is looking for a left winger to put in that play-making performance Beagers used to give. If he manages like he plays then McCall will want some tacklers in the midfield like Craig Bentham and he will want a ginge with fire in his belly like Joe Colbeck and he will want a good passer who can find a man like Gareth Whalley could that who he can have his McCall style player shove the ball leaving the play-making to the left wing.

But then again what is the point of having a good crosser of a ball when you do not have a striker to nod it home? The more you look at McCall’s team the more you think that he has got himself a jigsaw with about five bits missing. Sure the goalkeeper and the central defenders are in place but loads of other things are just waiting to be done.

The really important thing is that someone with some cash comes in and gets us some more pieces.

McCall To Reap The Rewards Of The Endeavours Of Julian Rhodes

Stuart McCall will be shown off as the new Bradford City manager on Monday morning and as he returns to Valley Parade for his third coming and after many years of silent mumbles from the club expect there to be there will be much talk about the two men flanking him.

One will be Wayne Jacobs – or we at BfB hear it will be – was McCall picks the steady hand of the former Bantams left back his number two. Jacobs is a serious man, a devout Christian whose commitment to the Bantams sits him alongside any to have worn the claret and amber. If the public face of Stuart McCall for some is the Scot falling off the top of a car then Jacobs is the signal of serious intent needed to put that ghost to rest. McCall is here to do business in his first job managing a football team and wants all to see it and that is why Jacobs and not the equally qualified but publicly less sombre such as Peter Beagrie stands alongside him.

Flanking McCall on the other side is a man who’s name we omit if only for clarity of spelling (Is it the stuff in the garden or the pork product?) A local businessman with seven figures to invest in his home town club he is going to join Julian Rhodes at the helm of Bradford City’s new dawn. He has been very significant in bringing Stuart McCall back to Bradford City and has put his money as well as his faith in the new manager. He does not have ginger – or strawberry blonde – hair as the men who are charged with taking the club forward do but his arrival is no less significant.

And in the background is Julian Rhodes. Never one to cling to the spotlight and uneasy in front of the media Rhodes has had Bradford City forced upon him after getting involved in a good idea nearly ten years ago only to end up keeping the club he follows together with re-mortages and hope.

Without him and the Herculean endeavours he has faced to maintain a business where there was no business hope this day would not have come.

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