Changes In Institutional Memory

The optimistic nature of the football fan should never be forgotten and – in the case of Stuart McCall as he ends his first six months in charge at Bradford City – is a powerful agent in making the more important shifts in the culture that when crafted can generate success.

The recently deceased John Harvey Jones specialised in turning around companies but even he would be impressed with the way McCall’s men have gone from eight defects to play off dreams since Boxing Day.

It is business turn around at the speed of light and it works. Most clubs in football struggle not for the want of ability but rather organisation and motivation. A bit of positive thinking can do a power of good.

Take Newcastle United as a prime example. The Magpies are blessed with players as talented as any in the Premier League – Owen, Duff, Smith, Martins and Geremi would not be out of place in any squad in the top flight – but they flounder because as ill fated Big Sam found they are gripped by a culture of defeat.

Indeed so gripped is St James Park in the notion that the club will always under achieve that they see no irony in describing the big chair there as a poison chalice. Recast as ‘a job at a team that could compete’ – and there are precious few of those – then the role may be more appealing.

Appealing or not the problem Sam was beaten by at Newcastle and McCall addresses at City is one of institutional memory. Put simply just as a player learns patterns to be repeated in muscle memory so a club retains habits good and – in the majority of cases – bad.

At Bradford City since the fall from the Premier League defeat has become the default setting and while players, managers, chairmen and almost everything has changed the institutional memory clings onto the negative culture.

Ask one of the tea bar staff if City will win and they will say probably not. When new people come into the club at any level they are tacitly invited to join this way of thinking.

Shifting from negative to something more bright is difficult but not impossible and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes are attempting manfully. The most significant move was bringing in The Legend McCall whose presence has been the most significant change in the culture of the club in recent years. His presence alone has stopped much of the negative thinking.

Indeed should Newcastle United be looking for a sign of the effects of having an Alan Shearer or a Kevin Keegan at the helm then they would do well to look at Valley Parade and McCall. It is not just the patience with which the Bantams fans stuck with the manager through that long period of defeats but the ease in which the mood of the ground was turned around.

Put simply with the club’s legend at the helm the supporters want to believe. That is a significant shift at Valley Parade.

Persistent change in institutional memory – to get a club to forget the (footballing) past and look forward – is a more difficult thing to master but Stuart is doing better than anyone at City in the last ten years. He is the shock to the system to change the memory.

Bantams In Partnerships

Football teams play good football when partnerships work together. Teams may be made up of individuals but that’s no good if they’re not working together. In the past we have had the SAS (Sutton and Shearer), Cole and Yorke, Bruce and Pallister etc. These have all been great partnerships – and all for successful teams.

Even at City we have known a few good ones. Mills and Blake and Jacobs and Beagrie are ones that stand out for myself. We’ve had the odd great individual, such as Windass and Carbone but, without a partner for them, the team suffered. And this is what gives me great optimism for the current City side.

Watching us play this season has been frustrating. We have the players who have the ability to do well, they just haven’t delivered on the pitch. There are many reasons being given as to why, but I think the most obvious reason is “lack of partnerships”, and especially ones that work. Watching the City side on Saturday against a poor Notts County I saw a side that was littered with partnerships.

First of all, at the back you have the captain Wetherall and Matt Clarke. Wethers looked rusty at the beginning of the season and Clarke wasn’t even in the side, but now, Wethers is back to his best and Clarke has become one of the vital members of the side – who can imagine the defence without him? They are solid.

On the left side you have Heckingbottom and Daley. Heckingbottom has been on and off this season, although mainly on, and the last few matches have seen good performances from him. Daley is you’re Marmite – you either love him or hate him. He frustrates at times, but against County got forward, got back and the inter-play between the two was good.

On the right it’s much the same story. Colbeck, having come back from Darlington, looks like the player from two seasons ago. Things may not go right all the time, but some great runs and crosses have seen him become the right winger for us. Backing him up is Williams. A bit like Wethers he started slowly, but is getting better all the time. His link up play with Colbeck is good and gets forward to support Colbeck, just as Heckingbottom does with Daley.

Up front, after nearly 30 games, Stuart seems to have stumbled on what most fans have wanted to try for a while – Conlon and Thorne. Fans favourite Conlon may not be scoring, but does the “donkey” work to great effect. Make no mistake though, Conlon is no donkey. He has a great touch, good vision and puts 100% effort in. Just a bit more composure in front of the net and goals will come. Composure is something his strike partner Thorne has in abundance. Injury has meant a delayed start to his City career but, now he’s with someone who can hold the ball and take the hits, Thorne is reaping the rewards. His hat-trick on Saturday showed that if you set him up, he’ll take the chances. Together they are making defending hard work for the opposition.

You may now expect me to go on about the partnership in the middle, however, as we’re 17th in the league everything cannot be rosy and this is the case in the middle. Although the Bullock/Evans partnership is in its infancy (like the Thorne/Conlon), it hasn’t been as effective. Bullock comes across as a decent player. On Saturday he didn’t seem to be involved much, but when he was he did everything well – certainly good to have in the side and a much needed spoil for his partner in midfield. Evans, however, has a question mark over him. Yes, we all know he does have a good touch, good passing ability and a great shot – but that’s not much good if it isn’t working. If Evans can get it right then the partnership in midfield could prove to be the best of the lot. If it doesn’t, Kyle Nix – my favourite of the season so far – stands on the sidelines waiting. He may be a left winger, but has shown can cut it in midfield and is dangerous going forward.

So, all in all, the City side is nearly there. We have a great square of partnerships around the pitch, we just need the centre one. If that can be built on, then 2008 could be more than we hoped for than at the beginning of December.