Solutions / Shifting / Easy

And then he said he had a solution to the problem, after outlining the problem. “Modern football”, he said, in the tone he used when he wanted to express something he thought I would not understand, “is about finding space in the vertical gaps between players.”

He continued. “The problem that Bradford City have, and will have until this problem is solved, is a lateral one.” I think he thought the phrasing was good, because he left it in the air, but eventually added. “To make space between players, you need the capacity to have space between players.”

“At 73 yards across, with four players and two touchlines you can maintain gaps or at most twelve yards between players, but probably less. Most League Two players can cover that ground.”

With the firmness of a man possessed with an idea he concluded “The aim of modern football is to make space between players to exploit, and there is no space to be had, and so there is only one solution.”


Valley Parade in 2023 has become a boring place to watch football. It has become imperative – according to some – that the manager Mark Hughes is replaced, but the reasons are unclear and uninteresting.

There is no manager who will arrive at the club bringing the 1990s, the ability to play a four at the back with two on each flank, and two up top, and the days when crossing worked more than one in every ninety attempts.

When Hughes removed Richie Smallwood he removed City’s capacity to convert possession from defence to attack. Other than punting the ball it seemed there was no idea of how the likes of Matty Platt and Sam Stubbs would get the ball to the line of many forward players. Hughes seemed to be underlining this point by taking off Smallwood, which was applauded for reasons which are largely beyond me, and illustrated the problem.

I’ve watched a half dozen games this week, from England internationals to a Latvian First Division match. I watched the top of the J League, and I watched football’s most exciting tactical innovator at Bayer Leverkusen. Nowhere, other than at Bradford City, did I see the idea that you might not need players in the midfield who could get the ball and pass the ball.


It was drawn on a napkin, in a bar with pretensions, but it would be made into CAD layouts. The solution was to move the front rows of the Midland Road stand away, and build up the land over the Holy Well and the smaller side of the ground. Build, seed, turf, stretch, grown, improve.

“A bigger pitch, and more space on the pitch, because modern football has left Valley Parade behind. It is too easy to defend, and so City are playing football without home advantage.”

The point was compelling, if not the solution, “Everyone else has home games which are a chance to get three points, but the way that football has changed in overloads, and covering space, City are trying to get three on a pitch that is so easy to defend.”

“The only solution, the only one” said with timber, “is to spend millions of pounds to redevelop Valley Parade to increase the size of the pitch, to make it easier to move the oppositions back four left and right and create space between players.”

“This must happen.”


Hughes has a set of problems exacerbated by a weakness in the midfield where Alex Gillead, who is playing well in September 2023, is struggling to be the creator which City tried to sign in the summer before they returned with Kevin McDonald.

McDonald himself is a capable blocking midfielder, and can play a pass over distance, but struggles with the ball in close quarters and only the aforementioned Smallwood is able to move the ball between defence and attack with any frequency, but most of the time he is used by his teammates to take a ball they do not want, and return it to them which they feel more comfortable.

None of these problems are solved if there is no Mark Hughes at Bradford City, but that seems to have long since stopped mattering to anyone. The aim of football support – as with much of the post-Brexit landscape of the country – is to impose your will.

That your will is, at its heart, illogical is no drawback. Rather, it is a proof of your fervency. Your ability to believe, even against logic and evidence, allows you to defeat any argument grounded in such argil concerns.


“I don’t care what you say, the only thing we can do is expand the size of the pitch, and if you had any ambition, you’d say it too.”

Given the scope of what was discussed, it seemed unfeasible, but what did I know? This pint, and this conversation, was dragging on, but it was as good as any other.