A disengaging time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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