A little less punctuation, a little more action please

The headline on the official website – McCall: “Not good enough” – certainly summed up a dismal display at Meadow Lane. But why was it so bad? Perhaps removing the punctuation from the headline would give an indication. I have yet to see anything in Stuart that suggests he is indeed good enough.

I am not anti-Stuart. In fact, I like and deeply respect everything that he stands for. As a man and a player, there are few, if any, in the game whom I respect more than Stuart. I would always want City to be successful, but to achieve success with Stuart at the helm would be all the sweeter as I know it would mean as much to him as it does to us. That’s what makes writing this article all the more difficult because I genuinely do not believe we will achieve success, however modest, with Stuart as manager. The mauling at the hands of Notts County was embarrassing in the extreme, not least because the 5-0 scoreline flattered us.

Yes, it could have been different had the referee – or his assistant who had an unobstructed view – given us a penalty for the blatant two-handed shove by Hoult on Thorne, but in truth I expected nothing less than a defeat prior to yesterday’s game. I thought perhaps that I was being a little negative, but consoled myself by thinking that at least I could not be disappointed. I wasn’t.

Yes, Stuart is a young(ish) manager. But young managers need to learn from their mistakes if they are to become successful. Stuart displays a worrying inability to learn from his mistakes, and even when he identifies mistakes, fails to put them into practice. Last season he talked at length about a need for leaders. Yesterday we did not have even one leader on the pitch, perhaps until the arrival of Steve Williams who despite not being faultless, at least looked capable of organising and motivating team-mates. As for the decision to make Thorne captain, that’s really the subject of another article. Suffice to say, other factors must have played a part because it’s certainly not down to Thorne’s leadership ability.

During the summer Stuart talked about the need to adopt a more realistic attitude away from home. Surely if there was one game where a more defensive, hard-to-beat approach was warranted, it was at the home of the title favourites. At the very minimum we needed to produce a performance full of grit, passion and desire – the lack of those attributes on display from those in claret would be laughable were it not so serious. Stuart the player would not have accepted such a performance from his team-mates, so I find it so difficult to accept, that as manager, he appears unable to instil this in his players.

Perhaps part of the reason that the players lack grit, passion and desire is that Bradford City is too nice a place to be a player. I have no evidence of this, it’s just a feeling I get. I get the feeling that if you’re an old pro, Valley Parade is your destination of choice – you won’t get worked too hard, you’re likely to play every week (if you want to) and you get to trot around in front of 12,000 supporters every other week. So that’s the old pros accounted for, what about the youngsters? Well, if you’ve come up through the youth system, you go to the bottom of the pile. If you’ve been brought in from elsewhere you’ll get a game in front of a BCFC youngster, but not if an old pro plays in your position. Just go through the first eleven and substitutes from yesterday and look at how true this is. I can’t imagine it’s great for morale. And if you’re a left-sided midfielder or left winger, don’t even think about getting your agent to phone Stuart, the position doesn’t exist at Bradford City. Bizarrely, in the position most people would advocate playing an experienced player, goalkeeper, Stuart signs a youngster on loan to push our own youngster down the pecking order.

I find it very hard writing this article and criticising Stuart the manager, because like many supporters, I have found it very difficult to separate Stuart the man from Stuart the manager. I could not and would not criticise Stuart the man and could never fault Stuart the man’s or Stuart the manager’s commitment to the cause. One incident in yesterday’s game, however, brought it home to me that he just hasn’t got it in him to be a manager. In the first half we received a throw in on the left, level with the edge of the Notts County box. After some confusion Michael Flynn trotted over to take it, and it became apparent that no-one knew (Stuart included, I suspect) that he has a long throw. I suspect it’s an indication that Stuart doesn’t really know what he’s signing. I may be doing Stuart a huge injustice. If one of the reasons he has signed Flynn is because he has a long throw, then I applaud him, but I suspect he didn’t know. If he did know, he certainly hadn’t communicated it to the players.

Yes, this was only the first game of the season and yes, we won’t play against teams like Notts County every week, but this was the chance for The New Stuart to make his mark. It saddens me more than I can say that I truly believe that Stuart is not the man for the job. I agree that stability at football clubs is key, but having the wrong man at the helm for an extended period of time is not stability; it is folly.

Editors note Comments are off on this article in favour of a retort, which will follow later.

Should we be worried that Stuart is just one of us?

Perhaps fortunately, I wasn’t able to get to Chester on Saturday. I gather that I didn’t miss a great deal. However, I did catch Stuart’s post match interviews and despite the relative positivity of halting the losing run, I noticed a disturbing tone in his voice.

Stuart sounded like one of us, and I find that worrying. As supporters, save for giving the team our full backing, we are impotent. Despite hours of tactical deliberation and conversation amongst ourselves, we do not pick the team and we cannot make decisions that directly impact the players. I understand that’s part of being a supporter and part of what makes football great. When we turn up on a Saturday or a Tuesday we are powerless to influence what unfolds before us, and as frustrating as that often is, it’s part of the thrill we seek.

Listening to Stuart on Saturday, he sounded just like one of us… as though he had been powerless to influence what he had just witnessed. I felt more dejected on Saturday than I have at any other this season, because Stuart sounded like a man who’d thrown in the towel. The usual rhetoric (“18 points to play for”) was there, but he didn’t give the impression that he believes we’ll make the play-offs any more than I believe we will.

As a supporter who is powerless to influence proceedings, I want to hear positivity from our leader. As the manager, Stuart is the person who, more than any other, has the ability to influence what happens to Bradford City. I want to hear a determination, a rallying cry, a sense of fight. Stuart verbally portrayed none of those. All I heard was dejection, disappointment and distress…exactly what I felt.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. I am coming to the conclusion that the reason I, and so many other supporters wanted Stuart as manager, is the root of the problem. Stuart is one of us. He mourns like us in tragedy, celebrates like us in triumph, and hurts deeply like us when we lose. I find that an incredibly attractive quality in our leader. However, like many of us, he appears not to truly believe that we can go up, and like all of us, appears unable to influence on-pitch matters sufficiently.

So, where do we go from here? Well, I don’t necessarily believe that the grass is greener on the other side. I would deeply love Stuart to succeed, but he needs to instil some fight back into his team and his supporters. Stuart needs to realise what a huge influence he is on us all, players and supporters alike. At the moment, I have no belief that we will go up, and if Stuart’s public rhetoric and body language are replicated in the dressing room, then neither will his players.

Thanks to Deano addiction now has a purpose

Being a supporter of a football team (and having read Paul Firth’s excellent article, I use the word ‘supporter’ very carefully) is a careless addiction. Little did I know when my Dad carried me through the Kop turnstile as a four year old, that the slippery slope towards addiction had begun.

As is often the case with addicts, I’m not entirely sure when the ‘want’ to go to matches became a ‘need’ to go, but perversely, I’m fairly sure it was around the time that I stopped actually enjoying games involving my beloved Bantams. As anyone who has read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, or indeed for anyone who follows City, will appreciate, football matches are not wholly enjoyable experiences.

It probably says quite a lot about our society that many of us persist in aligning ourselves with this painful ritual for forty weeks of every year. It’s the anticipation that I find so difficult to understand. The week prior to matches is spent in glorious anticipation of the weekend’s fixture; the previous weekend’s torture conveniently moved to another part of the brain.

After all this anticipation, the match itself should be a release. It isn’t. It’s a further build-up of tension and frustration, usually followed by disappointment, which reigns until the anticipation of yet another match kicks in. Victories are appreciated, but rarely enjoyed – the avoidance of the disappointment of defeat overriding the joy of victory… such is the strange and perverse world of the football supporter, or perhaps that’s just me.

But sometimes, just sometimes, one of those games comes along. A game that I enjoy. Strange as it may seem, I found yesterday’s victory over Macclesfield thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps expectations had dipped following the previous weeks’ debacles; perhaps the disappointment hadn’t given way to anticipation prior to kick-off; perhaps others felt just like me.

Or perhaps the answer is much simpler than that, and perhaps his name is Dean Furman. Here is a player who should be a crowd favourite for his effort alone. Yet Furman marries his endeavour with great skill and all the attributes of a complete midfield player. I thoroughly enjoy watching this guy play football. He clearly is too good for League Two but unlike other loan players who think they are too good for this level (and aren’t), playing for Bradford City seems to mean something to Furman.

I love the way he moves the ball, the way he passes, the way he tackles, the way he shoots. Common themes run through his play: a purpose, a determination, a grabbing the situation by the scruff of its neck and coming out on top. None more were his attributes displayed than two instances last night. Firstly, as City attacked the Bradford End, Macclesfield broke away with men over. As the ball was pushed past Furman he took down his man with no great subtlety and received a deserved booking. Not his greatest moment in many respects, but he did what was best for Bradford City in that situation and that’s just fine in my book.

Secondly, and more obviously brilliant, was his goal. Picking up the ball in midfield he drove with purpose at the blue wall in front of him, rolling the ball in to Boulding, who for once held off his man, before expertly playing the ball back into Furman’s path. The midfielder finished off expertly with his left foot to cap another brilliant performance. We look a really good team when we play with tempo and purpose. Dean Furman is the epitome of these attributes.

Last night’s performance was refreshing in the wake of a couple of horror-shows. I think (though I’m not entirely sure) that I may have still enjoyed last night’s performance had we not won, but I went away with a smile on my face following a great performance and a great victory. Another few smiles before May and we may be able to celebrate the avoidance of the disappointment of not gaining promotion!