Lawn, the business men and knowing which Devil you know

People want to buy Bradford City – Mark Lawn insists – but none of them have the money.

The City joint chairman reacted with a measured head to rumours around the future ownership of the club as the close season dragged on and rumours seemed to emerge for want to anything else to talk about between City fans. This rumour had it that Lawn and Rhodes were at negotiation stage with some business men about selling Bradford City and seems to be a half truth, if a truth at all. Three months ago the rumour was that City were going to be bought by SL Benfica as a feeder club, the portugese obviously having an eye on Andrew Villerman and Leon Osbourne.

Lawn is clear about his and Rhodes position at the club they both support and now own. They would leave without making a profit if someone came along and made them an offer but while there is plenty of talk no one ever comes to the club with enough money to buy The Bantams.

There has always been someone looking at Bradford City since I came here three years ago but none of them have come up with the money. I’ve always said, if it’s in the interests of both Julian (Rhodes) and myself to go, we will go without making a penny profit.

Lawn’s position at Valley Parade is an uneasy one with three years of stewardship resulted in plenty of talk but thus far no success. The club is in a rude state of health owing just a £1m but having an outstanding problem with the huge rent paid to The Gibb Pension fund on Valley Parade. The main issue with taking over the club and moving City forward seems to be – for many – the ownership of Valley Parade and the costs involved or the costs of relocation.

The club is in a strange position of being in good health but having relatively few assets having already been split form its major one. On a balance sheet Bradford City are the money that can brought in from good will of the support less the costs of running the business including the rent to Gibb.

This alone is probably is enough to attract “business men” and it is credit to Lawn and Rhodes that they are seemingly immune to the talk by potential suitors of how they could improve the club. David Moores spoke recently of his regret at selling Liverpool to squabbling American pair George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks who have loaded the club with the debt of purchase and seem set to spend the summer selling the family silver.

That Lawn would go back to “a pie and a pint” should someone come in who had the funds to take City further than he could illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the man. He is a firm hand on the tiller at Valley Parade but his imagination is limited. A lieutenant, not a leader, but a good lieutenant at that.

I have my issues with Lawn but bertainly he is a better option than is conjured by the words “business men” which is so often football’s catch all phrase for all that is wrong in the game. “Business men” – in football speak – are the opposition of “Proper Fans” and their arrival is hardly ever a good thing for the communities around clubs. It is a simplistic view that says that all to do with business is to the detriment of supporters but Lawn’s prudence in assuming that is good for Bradford City. “Business men” are too often the devilment of football.

If at one end of football Liverpool have problems with Americans than at the other Chester City had problems with Liverpudlians – specifically Stephen Vaughan – who violated the club out of existence. Vaughan is the warning for anyone who owns the club they support about selling to the next guy through the door and one can only hope that should the time come when Lawn and Rhodes do sell then we can only hope that it is not to a character this unsavoury. John Bachelor – who died recently to very few regrets in York where he was once chairman of the Minster Men – said of his attempts to buy another football club following his attempts to take Bootham Crescent from York City and into private (his own) hands to sell off the land for housing “This is what I do, I fuck businesses out of money.”

A Bachelor would find nothing to interest him at Valley Parade but a Vaughan – who managed to run up £650,000 in one year in cleaning costs for The Deva Stadium which were paid to (you guessed it) Vaughan Cleaning Ltd or some such – would find much to enjoy at Bradford City.

If Lawn is a Devil – hard talk on someone who while rubber stamping spending £600,000 in a year has managed to take a club that haemorrhaged money at an unprecedented level to a breakeven point – then he is at least the Devil we know with even the overnight administration he held like the Sword of Damocles over the club’s head following the car attack incident at Accrington being preferable to the slow death of Chester City.

The rumours continue about buying and selling Bradford City and typical of Lawn he reacts to them directly rather than inviting all to look around at massive cuts announced yesterday suggest that there is little money around and to draw their own conclusions.

A sad day for football, a good day for football fans?

Chester City were wound up in the high court bringing to an end a four year shame of an existence the 126 year club have gone through while Farsley Celtic were incapable of being accepted into administration and were liquidated.

For the better part of the last decade Chester City were struggling with financial problems partly caused by an underweaning lack of ambition but mostly by the actions of the owners of the club – The Vaughan family – who would make Richmond, Richardson and Risdale look like paragons of virtue and models of sturdy custodianship. I am no expert on the Vaughan family and so shall make no further comment on them other than to echo the comments discussed by Chester fans elsewhere. It was an horrifically drawn out demise, but it is not the end.

The 126 years of Chester City may have been pillaged by the Vaughan ownership but it is far from the end for the football club.

Chester City Fans United are already planning a new club – the popular AFC route as it is dubbed – and more power to their elbow. The rise of the AFC movement which started with the unloved and notoriously weakest fans in football who followed Wimbledon becoming the robust supporters of AFC Wimbledon dragging their clubs up from literally nothing.

The end of our neighbour Farsley Celtic is massively upsetting and to paraphrase “There, but for the Grace of God goes (John) Bradford (City)“. Trumpeted as the success story of local football three years ago the club that Stuart McCall signed for City from are no more.

Farsley are the first football club to have been refused administration because the possibility of a workable CVA paying more than liquidation would was too remote. Notts County – some speculate – would face the same situation.

Farsley Celtic‘s problems seem to have come from over-reaching to try grow a club to be bigger than would be sustained by the size of the current number of supporters but are not helped by the fact that the people who should have been looking out for a club founded in 1908 were – it is suggested – looking with envious eyes at the patch of prime Leeds land that Throstle’s Nest sits on.

Telford United and Halifax Town followed the AFC route and revivals for Bradford (Park Avenue) and Accrington Stanley while different in nature have drawn a new pattern of football. A map which separates the football club from the football business that operates it. The Farsley Celtic supporters who today look for something new to do with Saturday afternoon would do well to look at the AFC route which promises much reward.

The disgruntled Manchester United supporters who formed the ludicrously named FC United of Manchester – Newton Heath would have been so much better – have done similar and illustrate the practical successes of the supporter-centric approach. That FC United songs are now sung by clubs up and down the leagues says much about the impact that club is having and the growing protests of gold and green at Old Trafford shows a rising upset with the owners of the parent club.

The business of a football club can be owned by anyone who passes the much discussed fit and proper test – or in the case of Chester City and the Vaughan family people who do not – but the football club is not included in that business entity. The football club – being the historic traditions, the support, the icons, the status – is made up of the things around a club which cannot be bought and sold.

As Chester City Fans United look to follow a path trodden by AFC Wimbledon of taking over the history of the club despite being a different business it is worth reflecting that our football club has been run by the businesses of Bradford City AFC 1983 and Bradford City Football Club 2004 in the last decade. The switch of what is considered to be “Bradford City” from one business to another is done with the permission of the football club and in the case of Wimbledon/Milton Keynes that permission was not given.

So in almost welcomed demise and the instant rise of Chester City the owners of the businesses that run football clubs are given another example of this new pattern for ownership which gives them the power to run the clubs at the behest the supporters and with a remit to serve those supporters.

One can only imagine how horrific it has been to be a Chester City supporter over the last few years but the anticipated rise – and the lessons that illustrates to those people who own football businesses would seek to run clubs for their own benefit, and behave in ways that best suit them and not the supporters – are an example for all.

Football businesses can be owned by anyone, football clubs are always owned by the supporters and business owners would do well to remember this.

Great game, Charlie

A raw wind blew into the faces of the thousand Bradford City supporters who made their way over to see a not-quite-must-win-game at the Deva Stadium. At the end of the game, although the wind had abated somewhat, the mood among the faithful had dropped several degrees.

But let me not put all the City fans into the same category. Let me give a special mention to one particular fan. I know him only as Charlie. At Valley Parade he is to be seen at the bottom of the Kop, having been asked not to sit just behind the dug-outs, I understand, where his vociferous support drew a few complaints.

Within the very limited confines of a stadium with a capacity of a little over 5,500, Charlie found himself, as just about everyone is in this ground, well within earshot of the officials and the players. And several ears were well and truly shot at throughout the afternoon. If it wasn’t the unfortunate assistant who spent the entire match on Charlie’s touchline, it was the fresh faced referee getting the benefit of Charlie’s expert knowledge of the rules of the game.

On the odd occasion that Charlie wasn’t holding a conversation with the officials, he had plenty to say to the City players. As far as I could tell, all of these comments were constructive, not to say even encouraging. I was quite sure that Luke O’Brien paused in the first half to take in Charlie’s instructions.

Now Charlie may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Some may even wish he would occasionally just sit down and watch the game. But there can be no one who would suggest that Charlie does not give his all for the team within the limitations he faces – the most serious of which is that he can’t actually get on the pitch.

Charlie gets in the faces of everyone who makes him feel aggrieved. He exhorts and cheers every half decent piece of play from his side. And his hand gestures and general body language give the most eloquent, silent expression to his moments of disappointment. There were many such occasions for Charlie to endure at Chester.

I mention Charlie at such length because he struck me as the very epitome from the fans perspective of so many of the qualities that the same fans look for from the players. Charlie is commitment personified, constantly pressurising the ‘opposition’ and never conceding an inch until that final whistle has been blown. I really would like to describe the team in the same words.

Paul McLaren came in for Keith Gillespie in the only change to the starting eleven after the home defeat to Port Vale. But McLaren is no tricky right winger and the midfield had to perform one of its many recent reshuffles to accommodate a player who used to demonstrate how far above this league he is. Dean Furman was the nearest to a left-sided midfielder for City, although most of the attacking down that wing in the first half came from Luke O’Brien, who looked much improved on one or two of his recent displays.

A Furman shot and a Lee header both gave some work for Danby in the Chester goal, with Rhys Evans being required to make a save at the second attempt from Kevin Ellison. The first half had a few goalmouth scrambles, especially at the end City were attacking, but neither goalkeeper was exactly overworked.

As the wind dropped for the second half, all the fans must have been hoping for some more cultured football. As any City follower knows, you can always hope, but must be prepared for your hopes to be dashed. Long range shots from O’Brien and Law went just over and wide before Evans dived full length low to his right to save from Lowe. The more notable features were the continuing tussle between Clarke and Ellison, which eventually earned the pair of them yellow cards, and the substitutions of Brandon and Bullock for Jones and McLaren.

By the last ten minutes City were playing with hardly any width and even less invention. Chester scrapped like a side fighting to stay in the league and having to make do with a small squad of players that hardly looked anything above their league position. Once again City did little to suggest they were much better than their opponents. Furman, as ever, covered every blade of grass and the front two never stopped running, despite rarely looking like taking any of the few half chances that slipped through the net of this drab game.

With only one goal and now one point in the last five games, that 5-0 win seems so long ago. With promotion rivals taking points off each other, the gap to the play offs is a lot less than recent form ought to have made it. But now that City’s target is apparently seventh spot and with Chesterfield edging ever closer, we have to be grateful for points deductions, without which we would already be tenth and looking at another season of mid-table mediocrity. It is all a far cry from that early optimism and, without Thorne and Daley, there are few occasions when you really believe City will score. Cue the league leaders and an unlikely home win.

The end seems nigh for City at Chester City

The transfer deadline for loan players passed without incident at Valley Parade as the season’s true end game began. Lincoln City prepare for another season in League Two by cutting costs while Wembley is prepared for the end of season flurry of games.

End game, but not yet “must win”.

The words “must win” are used far too often in football and as such have lost relevance and once again City face a game that a win would do a power of good in but defeat while telling would not be fatal to the club’s play-off chances.

There will come a time in the next six, seven, eight, nine or ten games that the Bantams will face a game that if it is not won then League Two football is a certainty next season but it is not this day at Chester City.

It says much about the season that four defeats on the spin have not ruled City out of the chance of a play-off place – never look at the table and add twelve points, it is not good for the mind – but do spare a thought for those bookmakers who lined up two clubs as favourites for automatic promotion: Bradford City and Shrewsbury Town.

It it us and them, and Chesterfield if they win games in hand, who are bashing out for the bottom of the play-off places as things stand and whatever gut wrenching is being done at Valley Parade is probably also taking place at The New Meadow. Grant Holt does not come cheap.

However to restrict the talk to these clubs and this last play-off place is to undersell the essentially random nature of the top of League Two this term. We are time away from “must win”.

“Should win” has been a problem for City this season. Around Christmas time the players seemed to slip from the mindset of digging out victories to expecting better results than earned and I would argue that the turn away from “doing the right things” – the panacea of all things in football – came at Shrewsbury when TJ Moncur and Graeme Lee clashed heads and the home team scored.

Since then it will be better when the right backs are fit, when the midfielders are fit, when the form turns around. Players are excused in a variety of ways and Stuart McCall’s job make sure that City minimise defeats and move on and one suspects that if he had the season to do again he would do things differently. That, dear reader, is the beauty of institutional memory and retention of people.

My take on City at the moment is that the Bantams have a pool of players more than talented enough to be winning games but that those players are not taking responsibility for winning those games. The phrase “players standing around waiting for someone else to win the game” has featured far too often in my thinking and in my estimation this is a problem one gets in modern football where teams at this level boast four or five loanees and a few who have contracts that expire when the season is over.

Long term commitment, significant investment, institutional memory.

All of which undersells the superb form of Dean Furman who has shone out for City this season. Such is the problem at the heart of the debate over the future of City management. It is all in the balances, and it is hard.

Rhys Evans will keep goal but in front of him four of Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien will play. There are those who would not play Clarke but I am not one of those people and recall the brittle way the Bantams used to be bested before the big former Darlington player came into the side. Could Rehman do the same job? See above.

Up front McCall hopes to have Peter Thorne back to partner Michael Boulding but will use Paul Mullin if Thorne needs more rest. McCall’s thinking on rather having Thorne fully fit for six games rather than half fit for seven precludes the play-offs. It was said at the end of last season that keeping Thorne fit for this year was key to success and certainly when the striker started to struggle with injury so did City.

Midfield holds the problems. The embarrassment of riches seems to be a thin seem these days with the likes of Keith Gillespie and Steve Jones hardly inspiring on the flanks last week.

Chris Brandon, Lee Bullock and Joe Colbeck all got a run out for the reserves and with the addition of Dean Furman that could be the Bantams midfield for Saturday. I would throw in Paul McLaren for Bullock in that quartet and others would not think of leaving Nicky Law Jnr out. It is all in the balance, and it is hard.

Chester City is not “must win” and – blame a week off work – there are many permitations and calculations around the end of this season. If one assumes that the rest of the division will continue to score points at the same rate and that the Bantams picked up seven wins then City could expect second place. More realistically the Bantams have to do a couple of wins better than some of Shrewsbury Town, Bury, Exeter and Chesterfield to be in the play-offs.

This seems like a tough call for a team in a slump but with the division’s poorest travellers Shrewsbury heading to Wycombe the Bantams could expect the seventh place team to have 59 points even if we still had 58 at the end of play. In two weeks we play Brentford while they play Grimsby. When we play Morecambe they will be playing Bury.

Not must win. Not yet.

Why is the Refereeing that saw Adebayor sent off not applied at Valley Parade when Bradford City play Chester?

The inevitability of a stern defence when Arsenal get a man sent off is only matched by the unease at which Emmanuel Adebayor uses a topical reference to knife crime in his paper thin defence of the challange which strode in with a dangerous foot and followed with a reckless arm and saw him sent off on Sunday in the game against Liverpool.

The Togo forward suggests that the Liverpool player was play acting – he may not have been as hurt as he made out – but that is the jurisdiction of the Referee Howard Webb and not something that should influence the correct decision to send off for a challange which was at best reckless and at worst dangerous. One has to wonder if he would be happy to have the two dozen or so challenges a forward takes during the average game to be in the style he used.

However Adebayor’s defence – that his aggression should not be penalised by Referee Howard Webb – would be strengthened were he not to make light of fatalities but to point the media who were so quick to give him a platform to a video of Bradford City vs Chester City on Saturday.

In that game – which is played under the same rules of football that Adebayor was sent off under – Referee Andy Haines was able to turn a blind eye to a similarly reckless challenge by Damien Mozika which left Paul McLaren holding his face having been on the wrong end of an arm above the neck. Haines watched Mozika’s put in two footed lunges from distance as Chester – under the guidance of not the brightest manager in football – used what can only be described as rough-housing to grind out a scoreless draw at Valley Parade.

For the record I thought Chester were a loathsome team who would have to take sportsmanship lessons in order to qualify as a team of shits but my opinion is not important in this – Andy Haines’ is.

Haines saw nothing wrong in Mark Hughes, Anthony Barry and Mozika sliding in with two feet raised on defenders clearing the ball nor did he view the aggressive tackling of the visiting side in the same as Howard Webb viewed Adebayor’s tackle. Within twenty minutes of the start of the League Two game on Saturday Webb would have had no fewer than six occasions to pull out his yellow card judging by the standard he showed on Sunday and – one assumes – were Haines to be “trusted” with Arsenal vs Liverpool then Adebayor would not have been booked for his over the ball lunge with following arm and that sort of tackle would have been common place.

My point is not that Chester City were an overtly aggressive team or a dirty team but that one of Andy Haines and Howard Webb must have used a different set of rules to govern games in the same sport. Either one is allowed to tackle in the Adebayor/Mozika manner or you are not – the rules of football make no distinction on the type or level of game being played.

Arsenal vs Liverpool was an entertaining and flowing game while Bradford City vs Chester City a was muscle match where play was broken up frequently. Had Webb Refereed Saturday’s game then would it have been different? Had Hughes’s first two footed block been seen as dangerous play and got him a yellow or Mozika’s raised arm have received the same punishment as Adebayor’s then would we had a more flowing, better game of football? Considering that the visitors employed those tactics to avoid that it is hard to argue we would not.

Arsenal, Chester City, Liverpool, Bradford City. We all go into matches on the understanding that we are playing under the same set of rules yet clearly at the weekend that was not the case. What is a foul and a yellow card in the Premiership should also be in League Two – end of story.

When it is not you get dour, negative, aggressive sides like Mark Wright’s Chester City taking a lap of honour when they spoilt their way to a point.

A bad day at the office

Straight after witnessing Bradford City’s 1-1 draw with Dagenham a fortnight ago I watched Manchester United overcome Sunderland 1-0 on Setanta. After Nemanja Vidic struck a 94th minute winner for the Champions, the co-commentator described it as a “victory for football”. I thought it was perhaps a harsh statement to make after Sunderland had done its best to gain an unlikely point by setting out the stall to defend for it.

As the ball fell to Graeme Lee six yards out from goal in the 4th minute of stoppage time yesterday, I was ready to utter similar thoughts if the back of the net had been found. Instead Chester keeper Jon Darby was the unjustified hero by making a miracle block with his legs to keep the score 0-0. No one exemplified the visitors’ negative, time-wasting style more than a man who took an age pondering and taking his goal kicks. His save was less a victory for football, more one for pushing 12,000 supporters to the limit.

Of course Chester, like Sunderland, is entitled to take whatever approach it likes. The Bantams may not be Man United but is the biggest club in the division and currently sits joint second in it. For a side who’s start to the season was bad enough to prompt a managerial change and who will end it grateful that Football League punishments administered to others left it largely free of relegation troubles, this draw will be considered a bright spot. At the final whistle cheers could be heard from their hearty followers and some players punched the air in delight. Home fans booed off their team but if this was bad at least we’ve not stooped to such depths as considering a 0-0 away draw to be a proud achievement.

But after many of us have let out our frustrations to friends or online over the weekend and we begin to calm down, it should be agreed that booing our players off was grossly unfair. Yes, City did not play brilliantly. They lacked the guile and craftiness to break down a side who, it should be noted, defended extremely well. They didn’t make Darby work hard enough and, just occasionally, the level of desire from some was questionable. Yet they huffed and puffed and battled to the end and though it leaves some question marks over their ability to gain promotion this season, they are hardly major ones.

City began the match with a good tempo and took the game to the visitors. Paul McLaren and Nicky Law were busy in the middle, Steve Jones was a threat with his pace on the right. Luke O’Brien was again in confident mood, tackling well and effectively getting forward. City varied the approach between working the ball out wide for crossing opportunities and balls up to Barry Conlon – preferred to Peter Thorne – to flick onto others. With a new contract waiting to be signed, Conlon might consider he’s achieved much this season. However he endured a frustrating afternoon where his partnership with Michael Boulding didn’t quite click, to serve as a reminder why short-term deals are being offered instead of longer ones.

Omar Daley too was off the pace, though having only just returned from injury there is perhaps a degree of explanation. Twice in the opening 20 minutes he received the ball in excellent positions to set up attacks, but twice his pass was uncharacteristically poor and the move broke down. A familiar theme for the day.

As the first half progressed it became more obvious the visitors liked the fact it was 0-0. They took their time over every throw-in and goal kick and, on a few occasions, kicked the ball away when play was stopped to slow things down further. All of this was aimed at hindering City’s ability to build up attacking momentum and keep the game scrappy. Kevin Ellison went close three times, but two of them were wildly-ambitious long range efforts from just inside the Bantams’ half. It was notable that for both he was the furthest Chester player forward and, when City attacked, a sea of blue-and-white shirts stood between them and Danby.

Ellison did create one major scare when the ball was played through to him out wide with O’Brien caught up the pitch. The balding wideman had a clear route to goal and set off with great pace, but just as he was about to fire the ball past Rhys Evans he was superbly tackled by Matt Clarke. It was a brilliant recovery from the much-maligned defender and, for all the merits of dropping him for Mark Bower which others talk up, no other City defender has the pace to have got back like that. Clarke may have struggled with the conditions at times – he was not the only one – and still needs to watch his concentration, but this was a performance more like the Clarke of early season. Something to build on.

The second half continued much like the first with City probing but struggling to break down a spirited Chester rearguard. There are comparisons to be made to how Luton played at Valley Parade in October. Stuart again tried to combat it by getting Evans to take short goal kicks to the back four, who had plenty of space, in an effort to encourage Chester forwards to push out and close them down, resulting in space being created further up the park. It worked to a certain degree but was often wasted by long balls towards Conlon instead of passing into midfield. Predictable and, with the Irishman not at his best, defendable. However as the game progressed Chester forwards began to close down the defenders on goal kicks more often and the chance to take advantage was there.

But there lied City’s biggest failing of the afternoon. The ball was often worked well out wide to Jones and Law – Daley taking a more central attacking role in an effort to break the deadlock – but wasn’t crossed in quickly enough and they were quickly closed down. On occasions crosses were made there was a lack of City players in the penalty area to aim for. Perhaps understandable with the threat of a Chester break, but more of a gamble could have paid off especially as visitors’ clearances became more panicky in the closing stages. Late surges into the box are very much Lee Bullock’s game.

Stuart too could have gambled by throwing on another striker with top scorer Thorne sat in the dugout and fans chanting his name. However it’s worth noting that creating chances – not putting them away – was the issue and Thorne’s strength is the latter. Stuart McCall also revealed Thorne wasn’t fully fit and didn’t want to risk him.

Some chances were created, with shots by Jones and Daley blocked by Darnby. At the end there was a scramble in the penalty area, with City players stabbing the ball towards goal and Chester players desperately throwing themselves in front of it. Unkind it may be, but a comparison with a non-league club defending for their lives in an FA Cup tie could easily be drawn. They held out and City at least climb to 4th despite clearly dropping two points. Chester won’t be the last to take such a negative approach and it’s something which needs to be overcome.

On another day City could have easily won and, as Stuart said after the game, claims players didn’t try enough are “a load of tosh”. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was how much the frustration got the better of the crowd. What a contrast to Bury at home, who themselves played for a draw and kept men behind the ball. On that night everyone stayed behind the team and helped them overcome the Shakers’ resistance.

When reflecting on a disappointing performance, it’s perhaps worth questioning whether we should have been booing ourselves.

Do you remember, remember the 6th of November?

Eight games without a win and only 12 points picked up from the first 14 games – the 2-1 victory which Bradford City managed over Chester City a year ago today was certainly much needed. A season of incredible high hopes had begun disastrously and recently appointed manager Stuart McCall was struggling to turn things around. On the night Omar Daley and Alex Rhodes scored two memorable goals to kick-start the campaign.

12 months later and, while all isn’t quite well at Valley Parade, the picture is certainly different. The Bantams are 3rd in the league, rather than three points above the foot of it as they were on November 5th last year. Peter Thorne isn’t anxiously hoping to get off the mark in Claret and Amber, he’s on course to equal last season’s tally of goals before Christmas. City aren’t playing catch up, they’re out at the front – 15 points better off this time.

Yet it’s by looking at the last 12 months as a whole which really demonstrates how much City have progressed. Including the Chester win, the Bantams have acquired 78 points from 45 games – good enough to seal a play off spot, judging by last year’s final League Two table, with a game to spare. It’s certainly an improvement from the measly 37 points achieved from the 45 league games which preceded it.

Such stats show just how much that Chester victory a year ago was a turning point – not just for that season, but in the seemingly unstoppable decline in the club’s fortunes. There have been ups and downs since, and there will continue to be, but this last year has seen a continuing upwards curve of improvement in the direction the club is heading.

Much of the credit belongs to Stuart, who would have learnt much that night against Chester and plenty more since. It’s difficult to know what was going through his mind during that miserable autumn run last season, but he appeared unsure how to turn it around. Significant changes – with Paul Evans and Matt Clarke brought in– were made that night and both played a significant role in the victory. The former may be long gone and there are currently big questions centred on the latter, but their presence that night added some much needed grit to a team which looked too lightweight for the rough and tumble of League Two.

Many of the subsequent signings have added to the team’s physical strength and, while any one who has witnessed City’s better moments this season will know this is a team which can play good football, that extra steel has made a difference. Sometimes we groan at the more direct style City have adopted, particularly in away games, but its often proved an effective strategy over the last year. Those who believe Stuart wants to play football this way are only half right – it’s more about doing what’s needed to succeed at this level.

Stuart didn’t stumble on the magic formula that night against Chester, and it’s clear a lot of hard work has been carried out since and is still required for success to be achieved. Only seven of the fourteen players involved that night – which includes the recently-returned Nicky Law – are still on City’s books. Some fans have recently suggested Stuart’s summer signings have all been disappointing, but this harsh generalisation ignores the signings he’s made over the last year and the improvement he’s got from those players who were here already.

But most of all what Stuart has learned over the last year is how to be a better leader from the touchline. During last year’s autumn slump post-match interviews revealed the City manager to be taking defeats very badly. Famously, after losing at Morecambe, he said he “felt sick to the stomach” and almost contemplated walking away from football for good. At the time it was comforting to know the manager felt as hurt by defeat as us supporters, but in hindsight it’s dubious what his players would have gained from it.

When trooping in after a defeat they needed to hear their leader tell them what was wrong and how they can put it right, blast individuals who had let down others and then go outside and confidently tell the rest of the world where the club will go from here, defending the players if appropriate. Listen to the audio of Stuart after the Darlington defeat last month and there’s a world of difference in tone. No blind defending of the team, but fair reflections and a positive look ahead. Seven points from nine since suggests the players responded well to it.

Some of the results and performances during this year’s early autumn slump have tested the faith of many of us in regards to Stuart’s managerial abilities, but the bigger picture shows progress is being made. A few of us could certainly do with viewing our pints as half full and enjoy the typical ups and downs which life as a City fan continually presents.

The last time City were challenging near the top of a league was October 2004 – but by November 2004 hopes had quickly faded. City may not be promoted in May, but all the indications are they will be challenging for it all season. So can’t we enjoy the ride a bit more and not focus so much on the negatives? An up and down promotion challenge has to be more enjoyable than an up and down relegation battle, after all.

The top of League Two remains very tight – and the six league games between now and Christmas are likely to prove significant as larger gaps will begin to emerge. If City are still a point behind the leaders, or even better off, when they visit Lincoln on Boxing Day, the prospects of a successful season will be extremely good.

A one year anniversary to note, though it’s where City are come Stuart’s second anniversary as manager which will ultimately matter.

The rest of League Two – Preseason 2008/2009 [II]

The numerous season preview supplements produced at this time of year act as a reminder, if it were needed, that the hopes and expectations we City supporters have for the coming season are not dissimilar to the majority of League Two fans.

Much has been made locally about how last season’s promotion of the MK Dons and Peterborough has left a more levelled playing field, but we aren’t the only ones thinking such sentiments. Some clubs will look to Hereford’s unexpected promotion last season and be confident they can emulate it, others may be hoping it’s emerging young talent can push them forward in the manner of Stockport and Rochdale, while others are upping the wage budget in a bid to go for it. League Two may look weaker without the presence of the Dons and the Posh, but it’s likely to be just as competitive.

When considering who might be in the promotion shake up it’s typical to start with the clubs who have spent money, those who lost out in last year’s plays offs and those relegated into the division last season. The club record £170,000 that Shrewsbury Town has spent on Nottingham Forest striker Grant Holt stands out like a sore thumb compared to everyone else’s summer recruitment. Last season was one of underachievement for the 2007 Play Off Finalists but manager Paul Simpson will begin his first full season with expectations not much lower than at Valley Parade.

Holt made his name at last season’s play off finalists Rochdale, who are likelier to be up there come May. Keith Hill has worked wonders at Spotland and their counter attacking approach impressed last season. Arguably lacking a decent striker, the Dale will hope Halifax’s Jon Shaw can make the step up; especially as midfield playmaker David Perkins, twice the thorn in the side of City last season, has left.

Wycombe Wanderers parted company with manager Paul Lambert at the end of last season and welcome Peter Taylor – with more than a point to prove following a difficult couple of years. They will probably do better than the other semi-finalists of last season, Darlington, who have lost star players David Stockdale and, while not confirmed yet, Tommy Wright. Dave Penney spent big last summer but doesn’t appear to have significant funds this time around.

Elsewhere big things are expected of Lincoln City, who prospered last year under Peter Jackson before his time off through illness. New keeper Rob Burch was sought after by others, including City, while Frank Sinclair could prove a clever buy if he still has the legs. Chesterfield fans seem to dislike their manager Lee Richardson but have one of the best strikers in the division in Jack Lester, Alan Knill will be looking to continue his rejuvenation of Bury and they could be dark horses, while Grimsby has strengthened defensively and will hope young striker Danny North can fulfill his potential.

It’s a sad state of the continuing financial problems many clubs in the lower reaches of the Football League are suffering from that this year’s League Two relegation battle could be determined by point deductions. Three seasons ago Luton finished 10th in the Championship, but the odds are heavily stacked in favour of a third successive relegation and drop into non-league following the 30 points taken off them. Play off form will be needed just to stay up and, with the club still in a mess, that seems unrealistic.

Bournemouth and Rotherham’s hopes of merely beginning this season are still in the balance and respective 15 and 17 point deductions look like a best scenario. That may allow other clubs to breath easier but Chester City, another club with money problems, won’t be counting their chickens as they remember how last season’s dramatic collapse in form almost cost them their league status. Some of the division’s smaller clubs, such as Macclesfield, Accrington and Dagenham, will also be targeting the 50 point mark rather than any loftier ambitions.

Gillingham’s recent financial difficulties make it difficult to imagine they can achieve much beyond midtable but Port Vale, under former City defender Lee Sinnott, will be a better bet for an instant return to League One. The league’s new boys, Aldershot and Exeter, arrive with romantic stories of rebirth and should both be good enough for midtable, where they will surely be joined by Notts County, Barnet, Brentford and Morecambe.

The quality of League Two is derided by some, while others trumpet it as featuring real football and real fans. Last season many clubs enjoyed better form on the road but the ones who did make it to the division above were strong at home, too. This season’s League Two promises to be unpredictable, ugly and beautiful; and those successful in realising their pre-season expectations next Spring will probably be all three.

Start Making Sense

My Mum used to say to me that there was nothing worse than a bad loser and Stuart McCall proves her right.

Stuart McCall is a bad loser. He doesn’t get all childish though which is pretty much what Mrs Harris was on about but watching him react as City beat Chester 1-0 in some horrible conditions at The Deva Stadium you can see that the City boss does not want to get good at going home with no points.

He probably doesn’t want to get used to finding out that some morons (and I mean morons cause whatever it says next to the word moron in a dictionary it should not just say “person that wants your Legend manager sacked after five months for nothing”) are saying that he should be sacked. I’d love to say to everyone of those people that they should say the same to McCall’s face but I doubt they really care about City that much to back up their words with anything. I wouldn’t much care if those people took their £150 a year and did something else on a Saturday if that is what they call getting behind the boys.

There were not many to get behind the boys at Chester and it was not surprising considering the foul weather and some foul displays recently but those who did make up the City mob in this tiny crowd of a thousand and a half did us proud.

And so did the players.

Chester had lost seven home games on the bounce and Stuart saw this is a chance to bin the 451 formation we saw at Stockport on Saturday and go back for a 442. Joe Colbeck gets better and better on the right wing and the combination of Paul Evans and Eddie Johnson worked hard in the middle despite the sort of conditions that make football impossible. The wind took any ball over knee height and fired it around the grass that was skiddy and muddy. Kyle Nix controlled the ball well and that set the scene for the rest of the Bantams play. There was not a whole lot of football played but the best stuff came from the Bantams.

City took control of the game early on and a few times Peter Thorne was caught off side when a sharper eye on the defensive line could have had him adding to his goal tally. Barry Conlon never looks morelikely to score than Thorne but did eventually when Colbeck put the ball over to him for him to finish off well.

From then on City were defending but not defending much. Kevin Ellison looks like a player who deserves better than Chester and his chance five minutes from the end would have gone in if it were not for Scott Loach who was being watched by scouts from Liverpool FC tonight. Looks like we might need a new keeper next term.

Will we need new strikers? We all want Peter Thorne to stay and Barry has a lot of fans because he tries so hard. He could have had a second when he did some kind of windswept overhead kick that hit the bar but the one goal was enough to win.

And winning seemed good for Stuart. He punched the air with two fists and you could see his smile. Lets hope he never gets used to losing and lets hope that the proper Bradford City fans who think about the club rather than just like the sound of their own voices never get listened to when they talk such rubbish as they have this week.

Twenty-Twenty Vision

I watch a lot of football, live and on television. On Saturday I was at Valley Parade for the cup game and by Monday evening I was in front of the TV watching Coventry v West Brom. In little over 48 hours I saw the arguments for and against referees being assisted by technology – or at least by each other.

Let’s start with G’s sending-off. I was in the Midland Road, Block B, near the back. The sending off was for an ‘offence’ near the Main Stand touchline, about a third of the way into the other half of the pitch from my seat. I was, thus, the best part of 70 or 80 yards away. The referee, Mr Salisbury, was probably 15 or so yards away and his assistant not much more than 10 yards distant, with nothing between him and the incident. The fourth official was along the same touchline and perhaps 20 yards off.

The referee – and perhaps only the referee, for we will never know – decided almost instantly that whatever he thought G did amounted to a bookable offence, with the inevitable consequence for a player he had booked a few minutes earlier. The assistant, according to reports, and perhaps even the fourth official, didn’t think so. Indeed, even from the other side of the ground the first thing to be seen was City players and officials going to the assistant, clearly imploring him to speak to the referee and say what he saw. As far as I could tell, he stayed motionless and mute. By then, he must have thought, it was too late, such was the speed with which Mr Salisbury produced the card.

Next day, with the aid of those clever people who invented the Sky+ box, I saw the incident again, first in real time, then slowed down and several times over. The cameraman, at the back of the Midland Road stand and on the half-way line, did a good job and produced a reasonably close picture of the incident. I saw nothing to support the referee’s hastily-formed view and everything to support the equally quick opinion of Wayne Jacobs and others. Not for the first time, then, an injustice appears to have been done and one that cannot be challenged on appeal.

Move forward now to Monday evening. The referee was Mr Dowd, a Premiership official. (I hope he won’t take offence if I suggest he would look fitter with less round the middle.) A Coventry player, Michael Mifsud, ran toward a long, high, diagonal pass at the same time as a West Brom defender, Carl Hoefkens, came from a different direction. Because it was a long ball, the ref was never going to be on the spot and was probably 30 yards away when the two players came together in mid-air. He did, however, have an unobstructed view and blew immediately for a foul by Mifsud.

The foul took place some thirty yards into the half Coventry were attacking and near their left wing. The assistant on that touchline was on the other side of the half-way line, so further away than Mr Dowd. The assistant in that half of the pitch was inevitably on the opposite touchline, much further away than Mr Dowd. The fourth official, Mr Hall, (seen to do a good job at Valley Parade as recently as a Tuesday of the previous week) was also on the opposite side of the pitch and again much further away then the referee.

Mr Dowd did not reach for his pocket. A few West Brom players made their anger toward Mifsud fairly plain, suggesting that he had led with his elbow. Still Mr Dowd was not going to his pocket. Instead he was putting his hand to his ear. At this level the officials can all communicate with each other through earpieces and someone was clearly trying to communicate with Mr Dowd. He began a curious process of backing away from the incident and toward the fourth official. He continued this journey for most of the width of the pitch before he began checking his pockets. It was plain that he was making sure which card was in which pocket. He called Mifsud over to him and finally produced a red card.

I watched that incident a few times, as well. Mr Dowd’s decision was absolutely spot-on. Mifsud did indeed lead with his elbow and wasn’t even looking at the ball. If Mifsud had been Hoefken’s size (he’s about a foot shorter), there was a broken cheekbone waiting to happen. So, well done Mr Dowd and, perhaps, well done Mr Hall and/or one of the assistants.

Questions were asked in the half-time studio chat, not least about whether Mr Hall could have seen the Sky pictures – there was a screen not far from his position, but it seemed unlikely that he would have gone to it, given its particular location. The real question for the pundits, however, was what had happened to persuade Mr Dowd, after such a long pause and backward trot, that the correct decision was a red card. Somebody, somewhere had clearly been talking into his earpiece. Maybe he would have sent off Mifsud anyway. We shall never know.

Maybe, if he’d had some communication in his ear from either his assistant or the fourth official, Mr Salisbury wouldn’t have given G that second booking. He might even, as Mr Hall had done in the previous game and as Stuart McCall is now doing, have questioned whether a Chester player was being entirely honest. But maybe no amount of communication would have changed anything. Maybe Mr Salisbury was right all along – or at least believes that to be the case.

But this isn’t about good and bad refereeing decisions. If it was, picking one from your own team’s match would be a poor decision in itself. No, this is about how refereeing decisions are made. If, for example, Mr Dowd had had four assistants, one would have been very close to the Mifsud incident, almost as close as Mr Salisbury’s assistant was to the G incident. If Mr Salisbury had had Mr Dowd’s communication system (am I right in thinking that at our level some referees do have this system and others don’t?), might there have been a word in his ear or might it simply have been too late anyway?

Try to put to one side the actual circumstances from Saturday, especially that it was a City player involved. Then ask yourself as a football fan, which would you rather have – that the referee makes quick and sometimes wrong decisions that might change the course of the game; or that the referee takes a little time, gets better information and makes more correct decisions, using whatever technology is available.

I have a friend who works in Dutch television. Just a year ago I was with him in the press seats at the Amsterdam ArenA (and that really is the way to spell it) watching England play Holland. I saw how quickly the replays can be shown. Neither Saturday’s game nor Monday evening’s would have been slowed down in any way by resorting to a replay, if the screen had been made available to the fourth official. Of course, there are some cases where there should be enough eyes sufficiently near the incident to make any replay redundant. But that requires that referees don’t reach hasty conclusions, that their assistants really are allowed to assist, rather than just follow in silence, and that the fourth official, himself a qualified referee, does more than hold up the board for substitutions and stoppage time. It also requires that a referee is prepared to accept that he may not always be right, which in some cases may be a problem.

Well done, Mr Dowd, I say. And you can work out for yourself what advice I might give to Mr Salisbury.

View from the dugout

Cup football presents certain opportunities. A chance to see the Bantams face someone different from usual (although for City that’s largely not been the case recently), reading a match day programme filled with contributors’ sentiments of how “it’s about time City went on a good cup run” and, largely unnoticed, the prospect on an entertaining cup tie. The Tranmere 1st Round FA Cup tie two seasons ago was one of the better games of that season while the 4-0 thrashing of Crewe, which took place exactly a year ago, was probably City’s best performance of a forgettable campaign.

It’s also an opportunity to be there when so many others fail to bother and bask in the smug satisfaction of labelling yourself a ‘loyal supporter’ when the pitiful attendance, in this case less than 4,000 City fans, is announced. With even more empty seats than usual, there’s also an opportunity to watch the game from a different place.

If you include the live beamback of the Newcastle United FA Cup tie in 1999, I’ve watched City play from each side of Valley Parade. There’s one view point I’ve been especially interested in watching a game from and, with all seating up for grabs, I took the opportunity on Saturday. I wanted to watch the game from how the dug out sees it.

Arriving half hour before kick off, we made our way to the front row of the Main Stand and took a seat just behind the home dug out so that we could see and hear how Stuart McCall and Wayne Jacobs behave during matches – something I couldn’t possibly tell from where I usually sit, on the opposite side of the pitch.

Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

We were also able to witness a hilarious argument with Bobby Williamson and supporters. During the week the Chester manager had somewhat bizarrely made public comments that Bradford City don’t have any outstanding players, a view that surely fired up people in the home dressing room. As Williamson came to the away dugout, one supporter stood and began angrily barracking him for his comments. Williamson responded by turning away and laughing. The fan continued shouting, prompting a member of the Chester backroom team to tell him to shut up. Another City fan then shouted at this Chester coaching member, who replied by inviting the City fan to ‘take this outside’!

Attention soon turned to Stuart and Wayne walking down the touchline, both of whom received a round of applause from fans nearby. The game kicked off and both spent the whole 90 minutes stood on the touchline barking encouragement. It’s a cliché but true, they really did appear to kick every ball.

Both Stuart and Wayne were continuously giving instructions and demanding more from certain players. In particular they were shouting at Eddie Johnson and Omar Daley. They had clear ideas of where on the pitch they wanted Daley to be, going forward and defending. Eddie was called over to the bench for instructions on several occasions. At times Eddie’s face was that of someone fed up of being told what to do, but he always appeared to take on board the instructions and enjoyed another decent game in the hub of midfield.

He missed City’s best chance in the opening stages when he failed to connect to Paul Evans’ brilliant free kick. Soon after City were in front with an excellently worked goal. Daley was ordered to take up a good position from a throw in and he and Darren Williams worked the ball along to give Evans a chance to cross. His delivery was perfect for Peter Thorne who headed the ball into the far corner for his first City goal.

Viewers of Thursday’s Yorkshire TV Soccer Night will have seen a clip of Stuart and Wayne hugging when City’s second goal on Tuesday had gone in, a celebration perhaps wilder than usual. Wayne reacted to Thorne’s goal by running towards Stuart for another hug, but the City boss rejected his advances. Perhaps fearing he might have hurt his assistant’s feelings, Stuart then stuck out his hand so that the two could enjoy a more reserved, gentlemanly handshake.

Joy soon turned to anger at the referee’s inept performance. Just before half time Guylian Ndumbu-Nsungu challenged for a loose ball which he appeared to win. At worst, he slightly tapped Chester’s Laurence Wilson in the process, but the full back collapsed as though he had been shot. The referee sent G off for two yellows. It was a moment strikingly similar to Steve Schumacher’s incorrect dismissal against Blackpool last season. Naturally Stuart was livid and ran over to the linesman and referee to tell them so. He later revealed, on radio, that the linesman had agreed with Stuart that it was wrong to send G off.

In the second half it was backs to the wall again as City sought to hang on. Like on Tuesday, Chester piled on the pressure forcing City deep but again the home side largely defended well. The substitutions, who I enjoyed getting to know about before everyone else by being able to hear Stuart tell them they were coming on, were also highly effective. Scott Phelan should be feeling especially pleased. He’s become somewhat forgotten since the Accrington debacle but he has some promise about him.

For all their pressure, Chester had only one real chance with Donovan Ricketts saving well. At one stage Ricketts’ came rushing out of his goal for no reason. Hearing Stuart mutter “what’s he doing now?” made me smile – proof that Stuart is thinking the same as the rest of us! It’s been a great week for our recalled keeper and a second clean sheet of the season will only increase his confidence.

At the final whistle Bobby Williamson turned to clap the fans in the main stand with a curious smile. You get the feeling he had enjoyed the banter he had experienced with City fans, but will probably be glad he doesn’t have to visit us again this season. I wonder if he still thinks we have no outstanding players?

As for Stuart and Wayne, it was hugely enjoyable to observe them from close quarters. Both spent the match barking instructions and Stuart clearly has belief in his assistant Wayne to allow him to shout out his own views. Occasionally they chatted to each other, but both seemed happy to watch and talk to the players on their own initiative. Stuart is clearly his own boss and he has already perfected those bizarre managerial finger movements and hand signals which don’t appear to mean anything.

It was also quite bemusing, midway through the second half with the game stopped due to injury, to observe Wayne call Paul Heckingbottom over and give him instructions for a few minutes. During his first spell at the club Heckingbottom won the left back spot over Jacobs. Clearly no lack of respect from Hecky, as he took the advice of a bloke he used to keep out of the team!

In the pub before the match I was asked that, if a non-legend had been in charge, do I think he would have been sacked for the results so far this season? If some people really believe that’s the case it shows what’s wrong with fans expectations sometimes. Legend or not, should any new manager be dismissed so quickly? It’s still very early days in Stuart’s managerial career and some of the criticism he has received in recent weeks has been undeserved. It’s going to take time to turn around a club which has been falling for so long. Hopefully these two victories over Chester point to an improvement which will continue.

As for the dug out view, it would be wrong for me to write that Stuart and Wayne showed themselves to be a great management team. I don’t know what’s good touchline behaviour, or what’s bad. What I did see and hear was how they wanted City to play and what certain players should be doing. I also saw a decent performance – not as good as elements of Tuesday’s, but also not as bad – where everyone in Claret and Amber contributed. I will return to my usual seat in the Midland Road stand for the Stockport game in two weeks continuing my backing for a management team who, legend or not, I believe can eventually turn round the flagging fortunes of this club.

The Dogs of Winter

Managers should know their own position – at least that is the theory – and for sure Stuart McCall seems to have started to learn a lesson about his position holding the Bradford City midfield together.

As he wakes this morning McCall has his first win as Bradford City manager in eight games – a 2-1 victory over Chester City – and when pieces fall together one hopes the correlation between the return of Paul Evans and his pairing with the industrious Eddie Johnson and the spirited Nicky Law will not be lost. McCall put out a midfield with a remit to work hard and keep the ball and the desire to do both seldom flagged.

It is impossible to under estimate the impact that the return of Evans has had on the side. As an engine in the midfield he equals McCall in spirit if not ability and as an exemplar to the rest of the Bantams he should be lauded from the rooftops of Manningham. If every player in the side showed the effort that Evans puts in – playing every ball as if it were his last kick in the profession – then we would see more performances like Omar Daley’s best of the season last night.

With engines engaged the likes of Daley – shifted to a forward role for long periods last night to allow a tight midfield four of Johnson, Evans, Law and Nix to control the game – improved immeasurably. Daley’s opening goal – a screamer from distance – had been coming for some time and arrived with an implicit challenge for McCall to raise the levels of the winger’s performance that high on a weekly basis.

Confidence is the key – it normally is – and City seemed to bloom with the confidence of having the ball courtesy of the ball winning midfield. With some control of the game and the returning Peter Thorne intelligently holding the line confidence started to flow through the team. Passing movements – lost in recent months returned – and Paul Heckingbottom and Kyle Nix began to craft chances on the flank which built to a corner which resulted in a clumsy tackle by Mark Hughes on Eddie Johnson after the City man had stepped around him and a penalty that – curiously – Young Nicky Law decided to take and took weakly for keeper John Danby to save. I always admire a player who has the cahoonas to take a penalty but like David Batty circa 98 before him I’ll never understand why non-goal getting midfielders take the job on.

Law’s weak attempt was but a memory after Omar Daley gave City the lead that first half deserved – and let us not forget the context of the 19 of 21 points Chester City had picked up on the road – and even a curiously given second half penalty against Matthew Clarke for fouling Kevin Ellison on the edge of the box could not dent City’s gathering of a win.

The foul seemed a mirror of a free kick given against Chester for a foul on Thorne in the first half and one supposes the Ref Andy Hall saw a significant difference in the two but the sense that justice was done when Donovan Ricketts saved the spot kick was clear. Ricketts deserved it on his return.

A mention also for Matthew Clarke for whom Mark Bower was dropped and who provided the pace and power that allowed a more able display from David Wetherall with the older man’s pace problems less readily exposed and the younger man’s presence working well.

Nevertheless despite increasing second half pressure and a rather bizarre switch of Law and Johnson which seemed to nullify both Wetherall and Clarke will have more busy evenings.

Alex Rhodes made the result sure with a run that probably included a bit of the stands as well as the left wing so far out it seemed but that did not seem to matter when Rhodes finished off the move with a smart finish. Two minutes later Kevin Ellison made it interesting with a diving header that seemed a good way offside – League Two Referees have a way of levelling things out – but the final whistle came and McCall had that much awaited win.

From the win though come the lessons. The passion that Paul Evans brought to the team raised the games of many around him – as McCall did for City – and as with the ginger midfielder’s ball winning of old the more that the Bantams had the ball the more chances came. Perhaps the real lesson is that while Stuart could perform the role solo it takes two men to replace him.