The tiresome sound of a stick in a bucket

Nine years and change ago I started this here 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.”