What to do about the Bradford City Official Message Board?

The shock resignation of Peter Jackson so close to last Saturday’s home game with Barnet meant parts of the matchday programme had become out of date – but somewhat by accident, director Roger Owen’s Boardroom notes appeared to be perfectly timed.

Owen began his column criticising the manner in which some supporters on Bradford City’s Official Message Board (OMB) had been attacking the club. This was connected with the Bantams’ slow start to the season but – with the OMB going into overdrive during the 48 hours before the Barnet game and many users queuing up to attack Mark Lawn over Jackson’s departure – Owen’s views seemed even more applicable. He said:

The inane and ill in formed (sic) comment s (sic) of a few on the Club’s message board do you no favours whatsoever and my clear advice to those who specialise in this type of comment is quite simply ‘find something better to do with your time’.

Everyone is entitled to pay their money and voice their opinion, but wild speculation, often attributed to ‘someone close to the club’ is wrong. If you have anything to say put your own name to it.

The fall out over Jackson almost deserved for the OMB to carry a parental warning, given how strong and nasty some of the personal attacks were towards Lawn especially. Without any explanation at that point offered by the Board or Jackson as to why the latter handed in his resignation, many quickly jumped to conclusions and instigated criticism. A week later and we still do not know the facts of that meeting. Any conclusions had to be half baked, and were often over-the-top.

While the Board could have been quicker in communicating and perhaps been more open and honest – and while Lawn probably shouldn’t be free of some blame for the situation – that so many were so quick to judge and spout anger without facts did not reflect brilliantly on City supporters.

Yet that’s life – and that’s the instant communication, social media-driven world that we live in today.  The club cannot stop criticism and, in such a unusual situation as Jackson’s walk out, they cannot avoid having to face some difficult questions.

What the club thinks of the OMB

As Lawn was openly attacked on the club’s own website last week, a reoccurring question once again came up – why does the club bother to have the OMB? Are the benefits it provides City – for example potential advertising revenue – an acceptable trade off for providing a platform for supporters to regularly criticise its own employees?

Because part of the programme article included an open invitation for supporters to email Owen, I contacted him to find out.

“The OMB is something Mark Lawn very much wanted to encourage and did so before my time on the Board which started in July 2009,” explained Owen. “The OMB was seen as a means of transparency for the fans in order that dealings could be made clear and I think in that respect Mark’s ambitions have been met. Since the OMB came into being and gained popularity, however, it was obvious that the club could not respond to each and every point and we have always said that if fans were to contact us individually, we would respond. My (programme) article confirms this point.

“Sadly, the OMB has been somewhat hijacked by posters not putting their own names to points they make and by threads almost instantly wandering off the original point into meaningless chat and personal fights between posters. This leads to irrelevant drivel often being the outcome. So when I suggested that if posters could not be better than inane, they should find something better to do with their time, that is what my comment was centred on.

“Despite all this, I do feel there are two benefits to the club. First, there is a conduit for feelings and opinion. I read the OMB most days as does David Baldwin and Alan Biggin. Julian Rhodes and Mark read it periodically, as does Graham Jones and Steve Longbottom and we do discuss the OMB at Board Meetings, from time to time. There are some sensible posters and being in the game of serving the public we should listen and take note and act where sensible things are raised, I spent most of my career doing the same at Morrisons.

“As far as revenue from the OMB is concerned, this is not our main or prime motivation. All revenue from all websites goes to a central pot for re-distribution. We do get a financial benefit but the drop in traffic at Valley Parade and elsewhere does underline the fact that our main and lasting reason for the continuance of the OMB is for you, the fans. I just wish that there was more sensible discussion.”

The insatiable appetite for all things Bradford City

All of which is fair comment and does show an understanding of the modern world and the challenges football clubs face in engaging their own fans.

Football support simply doesn’t begin and end on a Saturday afternoon when the team are in action. For most of us, the only thing preventing every one of the week’s 168 hours including thoughts about City is the need to sleep. From the minute we wake to the moment we go to bed, football and Bradford City is commonly on our minds and a topic of conversation. You just don’t switch off.

The world wide web offers numerous ways of feeding that habit. News websites like the Telegraph & Argus, BBC and City’s own provide updates on what’s happening at the club; the likes of BfB and other fans sites offer comment and in-depth analysis; while Facebook, Twitter and message boards enable greater interaction.

This interaction wouldn’t be stopped by removing the OMB – users would simply congregate elsewhere. So, as Owen states, the club acts as a willing host for sharing views, gossip and to debate – while at the same time having an invaluable way of tapping into the mood of fans and then responding to queries. Yet apart from appointing a handful of moderators, City have no control over the manner and tone users adopt to express themselves.

The appeal of the OMB

The OMB is not the only such place City fans can interact with each other in this manner – with the Claret and Banter website and the truly dreadful Telegraph & Argus message boards, which upset even the paper’s employees – yet it is clearly the most popular. Between midnight at the end of Tuesday and 5pm Wednesday, no less than 46 different topic threads had been commented on. There are 7,646 registered users, with many having posted comments thousands of times.

One such regular user is Steve Dresser – known as ‘Robert Robertson’. He kindly talked to BfB about the appeal of the OMB.

“We’ve had plenty of good things on the OMB; there is a FIFA league, Burns Unit bets and the like and a few of the lads know each other offline,” explained Steve. “The moderation is better now but still needs perfecting, there is a need for any libel to disappear overnight but some of the threads that were negative were deleted without explanation which riles users even more.

“Where there is a large group of people, a cloak of anonymity you will get idiots. Look at Tesco’s Facebook page, the place is full of idiots asking ridiculous questions but they get a polite answer or just batted off, you get that anywhere and football fans (some of us) are hardly known for being brains of Britain.

“You can’t police debate and it’s difficult to keep that on track, some people are blatantly unable to have a debate, recent criticism of Hanson was met with a comment to me that ‘you couldn’t do any better’. I mean where do you start with that? I doubt I could but the whole point of the argument was that we were trying to ascertain whether our striker was doing his bit.

“Whilst I’ve been a bit critical of Lawn, you can’t doubt his heart is in the right place and he’s a big fan of the OMB which is a reason we still see it today. It’s all about what they want from it, intellectual debate? There are pockets of it and overall you start to know who is worth listening to.

“I think criticism is a good thing, some are too sensitive but if we all want ego massaging then it won’t happen – I’d like to think the club were big enough to listen to areas of concern and not just dismiss it as ‘moaning’ or ‘negativity’ as it’s very easy to do so.

“It’s a lot better since we were moderated as libel and needless abuse now is dealt with and users banned who cause trouble – but it a very fine line between encouraging and facilitating debate and policing opinions.”

That said Steve believes that recent events show City could be much more proactive in using the OMB to engage with fans. “The Jackson story caught us all by surprise and there are bound to be conspiracy allegations and yet again the absence of a satisfactory statement to actually explain what went on meant the rumours gathered pace – another PR disaster by the club,” he argued. “Seemingly any PR foul up is the blame of the OMB rather than the club.”

“There’s a definite gap in communication since Jon Pollard (former club secretary) left; he always needed some help moderating but we don’t have ‘ask the club’ or indeed anyone providing an official line, just the moderators who are only fans themselves and can’t answer intricate questions about ticketing or whatever, more and more companies are becoming switched on to social media and City are missing out big style. Often rumours and the like could be nipped in the bud with an official line or a sticky post at the top regarding issues, but they miss that opportunity.”

The other side of the coin

If a message board is like going to a pub, the OMB can often seem to be like a decaying back street boozer with a loyal but seemingly declining clientele, glaring unwelcomingly at outsiders and angrily fighting each other. There is appeal to the OMB and I like a good read of it myself, but the gloomy negative outlook and way some people can dominate the conversation means numerous other City fans detest and have long since given up on it.

BfB spoke to a handful of supporters who don’t use the OMB, in order to understand what puts them off. Steve Baker declared, “I get nothing out of it. It serves no purpose whatsoever other than adding ridiculous rumours and commenting negatively on the players and whole club structure. I used to use it as thought it would give me an inside track as to whats going on at City but it does nothing of the sort.”

Leon Carroll added, “I find it to be everything I dislike about modern football, second only to the ‘comments’ on the T&A website. I rarely go on it other than when I wanted to find news about new kits each summer. Everything else is coloured by opinions I don’t care to read. It always feels very immature and I feel a bit old when I’m on there – I’ve never registered.”

Frank Wood concluded, “I no longer use it because I find it difficult to sign onto; find the layout and navigation slow and unhelpful; am fed up of some regular users slagging off players and management; and find it something of a closed shop, with newcomers not made particularly welcome.”

Such negative viewpoints represent a challenge of sorts to the club. If they want to maintain an environment where fans are encouraged to share their views so the Board can view opinions, what can they do to attract the people who refuse to go near it? Without them they are lacking the full picture of fans views which – if decisions are based upon – can lead to even more frustration.

In Stuart McCall’s final days as manager, for example, the OMB was awash with comments for him to go. Yet once he quit a sizeable angry backlash from other supporters was visible elsewhere whose views had never appeared on the OMB. Every fan has an equal right to have their view heard by the club, but right now a sizeable proportion do not feel welcomed in doing so.

Removing the anonymity?

The problems with the OMB are numerous, but perhaps all stem from the negative outlook that prevails on it. The level of usage is much lower when City win compared to when they lose, meaning a balanced picture of fans views is impossible to gauge. The user name approach – rather than using real names – provides users a mask to hide behind when attacking the Board, management and players. As Owen says, if different users disagree a constructive debate rarely occurs – instead it’s typically throwing insults and name calling back and forth.

Steve Dresser, however, disagrees that removing user names would make any difference. “Why the constant obsession with putting names to post?” he queried. “Should we expect the illumini coated gestapo to arrive at your seat to escort you to the lair on a matchday if you did tell them? I don’t see what knowing people’s names achieves, what does it matter?

“Surely if something is being said is worth a debate then whoever posted it has achieved their aim. Their name doesn’t come into it.”

“If they want to go down that route and add to the moderation (which was implemented haphazardly) and ironically saw us lose some of the really good balanced posters we had due to the tactics employed. Then they should do what a popular forum does and ask for work/uni/college email addresses if they want to police it properly – but is it down to policing or rather – a bit of mind control and shutting up those asking difficult questions?”

What next for the OMB?

If the club values the OMB as much as Owen claims, one hopes they are considering how they can make it more appealing to more fans without alienating those who currently enjoy using it. If they are fed up of users personally attacking them and spouting claims without facts, they need to find a way of enforcing greater responsibility (getting rid of user names is an obvious first step). Criticism towards the club and its employees can be healthy and shouldn’t be prevented, but there are much more constructive and inviting ways it could be expressed.

It is laudable the Board wants to continue offering fans this platform to engage with others about Bradford City away from matches. But right now too many people feel negatively towards it – at times this includes the club itself – and efforts surely need to be taken towards addressing the issues in order for the OMB to be more widely viewed as welcoming and worthwhile.

With special thanks to Roger Owen, Steve Dresser, Steve Baker, Leon Carroll and Frank Wood.

BfB & The OMB

There are questions about why BfB has asked the OMB to remove full articles from that website. These are the answers.

BfB has never been, and never tries to be, to everybody’s taste.

We understand that we present a view of Bradford City but never seek to portray this website as representing the views of all supporters. We go to great pains to point out that this site is the views of those who write it and nothing else. We like it that way and – judging by the readership which tops 1,000 a day most days – that is how you like it.

Our readers make a choice to come to this website and read what we have to say and over one hundred of them have chosen to write their own articles for us. BfB lets readers – and non-readers – decide how involved they want to be with our site.

Two months ago a series of articles written for this website appeared in full on the Bradford City Official Message site as forum posts and we got in touch with the club to ask them if it would be possible to remove those post and replace them with links back to the article.

There is no problem with the copyright on the article – copyright of BfB articles are owned by the authors anyway so it would be impossible to have a global possession on that – so the only issue over copyright is that someone else owns it. Nor was there a worry that we would be sued although our conversations with Mr Lawn would tell us that were the OMB to publish anything worthy of legal action then he would expect the club and not the author to be subject to that action.

There is no real benefit to people reading the articles here as the site has no advertising and the extra page views do not make us anything (rather, they cost us, but we are happy to have you here)

The important point was that readers make a choice to engage with BfB’s content and a choice not to.

I do not want BfB’s articles being shoved down the throats of people who did not want to come to this website. I respect those people’s right to not want to hear what we have to say to be able to go about their business without having BfB articles thrown at them as they try talk about City somewhere else.

Everyone knows where we are, everyone is welcome to read, every article has a link on it to point people at and people can decide if they want to read it, or if they don’t.

Nothing about getting sued, nothing about traffic, nothing about trying to stop people talking about the articles just a desire to make sure that people who do not want to read BfB do not have to read BfB.

As Taylor fumes about the OMB will Lawn and Rhodes take action?

A month ago Peter Taylor set himself at loggerheads with the joint chairmen of Bradford City in a demand to be given full throated backing but today the City manager has taken on the people who really decide if he has a job.

Peter Taylor told the users of City’s Official Message Board who started rumours that James Hanson had been left out of the City team for the game with Bury because he has been out drinking that they should “got to go and get a life” and branded them with the damning phrase of “Not Bradford City fans.”

In taking on a section of the club’s official message board Taylor takes on the people who – with systematic campaigns – were able to unseat the previous two Bradford City managers. With the club seemingly using the Official Message Board as a barometer of the mood of supporters in a very real way Taylor is taking on the decision makers of Bradford City.

Taylor denies that Hanson was dropped for going out drinking. The City manager said

I picked Jason Price and Omar Daley for that game because that’s what we wanted against two centre halves who don’t like playing against that type of player. I don’t go on these websites but somebody drew my attention to this one. Because I’ve had to look at it, I’ve read certain other things. I’m not convinced these people are Bradford City fans. They will just drive players away. They can’t be proper fans to talk about things like that. It’s unbelievable, really.

Unbelievable to Taylor perhaps but often believed and certainly given some regard by the club by virtue of the name. That the club run an “Official” message board is no bad thing, that it is so loosely policed is astonishing. When Rochdale FC took legal action against this website their complaint covered only one comment on the article and four in the comments which BfB was liable for publishing (Two from Rochdale supporters, incidentally). The club sits in a similar position and the laissez faire attitude towards moderation allows for some remarkable statements that emanate.

Indeed the club’s own moderator Jon Pollard was attacked with some horrible allegations on the Official Message Board and at the time one had to wonder how the club could maintain a system so often used against it. Taylor has brought attention to this problem once more, but no one at the club could say they are not aware of it.

So if one assumes that the club are aware of the problems of the Official Message Board – and it should be said that for all the ills of the OMB it played a key part in the attempts to save the club in 2004 and is most often used for what one would want it to be, fans talking football with fans – then perhaps they do not believe it has much impact other than being an indication of what supporters think. That one can take the temperature of the support from the OMB, but that the individual aliments are of no importance.

Peter Taylor, the man at the club who knows the most about football, disagrees and with the club returfing the pitch and looking for new facilities to keep the manager one wonders what they will do to follow the manager’s recommendation as to another way to improve the club.

In the short term now the man they pay to tell them how to make the best football club is telling them that some people on the OMB are harming that club will they take action or choose to ignore the manager? Tell him he can make do with the situation on the club’s own website like he as to make do with Apperley Bridge. The club dragged in The City Gent to talk about a preview they found too negative, yet the pay for the Official Messageboard.

Moreover though Taylor is saying that the club that they need to work on redefining being a Bradford City fan. There was an agitated argument in the Kop in the Oxford game when James Constable waved an imagined yellow card to suggest Luke Oliver should be booked – an action which is mandated as a caution in the Laws of the game – with one side being chastised for bias for demanding the official take action. The current definition of bias at Bradford City – for some fans – is to want City treated even handledly under the rules of the game.

The culture of the Bradford City Official Messageboard – with its anonymity and one user/multiple name – is often similarly negative as it the mood on a match day. Not a question of rose tinted glasses or optimism but rather allowing the negative – no, the destructive, to be unopposed.

Having taken on Lawn demanding backing and not blinked Taylor will hope for a similar result. In seven months the manager’s contract will be up or renewal. One doubts he will receive much backing from the people he has criticised today, should he not be unseated before, leaving Lawn and Rhodes to decide how much credence to give to the Official Message Board and how much they should listen to Taylor’s recommendations on how to take Bradford City forward.

Football viewed from afar

The thing about seeing City twice a year is that you spend the rest of the time trying to guess what the team are like.

You read match reports and watch highlights and your head makes up the rest of the game. You try to guess why the team does well or badly. You add the bits you read to the bits you see and you try see what makes the team good or bad from a long way away.

You get to see the odd game. Torquay is not that far from where we live and so you turn up all happy because you are getting to see the team you used to support week in week out but now you only see a couple of times and when you do you make sure you know all the names of the players and what people think of them, how they look on the Football League Show but seeing them play is different.

Wearing all white they look different to the claret team that kept me up watching Sky Sports News to see the winner against Forest or the one who had struggled to a win last week. I was expecting that kind of dour grinding out of a result. It didn’t take long to change.

I would have thought before today that John McLaughlin was a much more confident keeper than he looked when he stood stock still when tiny Gills winger Danny Stevens ran from the middle of the pitch and put the ball past him but he isn’t. He looked raw and not really the player who had demanded a chance for first team football like you’d believe from reading the talk about City.

Lots of supporting City from down here is about reading. You read the club’s website and you read the Telegraph and Argus. You read Fred Bloggs Bantams, BfB and Bantams Fan. You read Claret and Banter and The Official Message Board and you join in but you know you are cut off from it all because when you watch Zesh Rehman who you are led to believe is the worst sort of rubbish you think you must be watching a different player and when you see the so called bearded wonder Tommy Doherty you can’t see what people see in him at all.

I wanted to see Jake Speight today to see if you could see the horns and tail and I wanted to see more of Luke O’Brien because I liked his hustle last year. Louis Moult was supposed to be the great white hope. He hardly got noticed.

Rehman came on cause Robbie Threlfall was sent off after ten minutes for a handball that was caused by a lot of confusion and seemed a bit harsh but when you only see City a couple of times a year and they have already gone a goal down and conceded a penalty and had a red card then you think that everything is unfair. McLaughlin saved the penalty and then made a couple of other great stops. It is funny to see a footballer like McLaughlin who’s confidence lags behind his ability. Normally it is the other way around.

McLaughlin could have been at fault for the second goal when Chris Zebroski seemed to back the ball into the net but it was hard to tell in the melee. It seemed that the City keeper needed a drink of what they people who watch City drink. They assume that the Bantams are great and just need to play that way, McLaughlin can play great but doesn’t seem to know it.

City never looked like winning the game after the sending off although last year’s hero Gareth Evans looked good and James Hanson was good having two headers which could have been the first the home team conceded in the last fifty years or something. Three wins out of three for them so far. Taylor went to a wing backs formation taking off the disappointing beardeo and the fact that we were in the game as long as we were was something but I was glad for once to not have to be driving all the back to Bradford cause there was not very much to cheer you up.

Its funny but some of the City fans don’t want cheering up or the only way they do want cheering up is by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes taking what they call drastic action. Over a drink before there was talk about Steve Cotterill and how he should have been appointed rather than Peter Taylor and how much of a difference that would have made. After there were more grumbles but no one really knows what drastic action is including me.

At the game some people got aggressive and there were boos and jeers. This always upsets me cause when I left Bradford I thought that the thing about only going to away games from then on would be that you only got the great support that we had at Tranmere 5-4. Not like that now.

The joint chairmen are in a funny position now. They gave the fans who wanted a change of manager a change of manager when Taylor was appointed so how can they justify not doing it again? Lawn and Rhodes gave the decision making at City over the the people who moaned the most and if those people are moaning again why not do as they say? Apart from the fact that we are three games into the season and have got what almost everyone agrees good manager. You have to wonder how long it is before stories about how nice the suits City wear are not enough to stop the fans from looking at the City board after changing manager time and time again but never changing fortunes.

So I’ll go back to reading (and writing) and wonder what state the Bantams will be in the next time I see them. We used to say it couldn’t be much worse but it always can and even when down and struggling today it never seemed that Taylor could do much other than make sure his players kept their heads and hung in the game. Last year Evans got us a bit of luck in the last minute and today we were in with a chance of that for a long time. It wasn’t to be and it looked unlikely for most of the match.

On Tuesday perhaps Speight will be in the team to play Preston North End and I’ll be back to following City from afar. Funny it is easier to see what is going wrong from miles away or at least it seems to be.

Another day, another message board discussion

Bradford City director Roger Owen is not a happy man. The man who was rumoured to be the target of Stuart McCall’s We All Stand Together comments has reacted with some anger to criticism which suggested that the recent call off against Notts County was as much down to a fall in standards at Valley Parade as it was falling snow.

Owen – who has a rising profile at Valley Parade – addressed City fans saying

I have been prompted to speak in light of some really quite hurtful comments … relating to the capabilities of those at the Club who worked so hard to get Saturday’s game on.

His further comments make fascinating reading. City tried to get the game on because Notts County were in financial trouble but not because they thought the Meadow Lane club could do with the money but rather because should they get it – they might have signed someone by the time the reply is staged. One might have suspected that such unsporting – if as Owen says valid – reasons are applied to the staging of games but perhaps one would not have expected those things to be verbalised in a public forum and doing so seems a little crass.

The comment which have sparked Owen’s ire come from – of course – the club’s Official Message Board and Owen joins Mark Lawn in demanding a removal of anonymity from that place as a way to make people more accountable for what they say. One has to wonder who these calls are aimed at? When a decision was made to stop fake name and anonymous positing on this website we wrote some rules and got about our business. Lawn’s prompts came about a month ago and one wonders why they are no further toward fruition.

One also wonders what the effects of removing anonymity from the Official Message Board would be on those who would happily have their comments attributed to their correct name. If BantamHead89 writes something offensive or insulting about the manager, the players or the groundsmen what of the is the come back that he should expect if the club know that BantamHead89 is Jimmy Smith from Terrace Street in Idle? Would he be banned for matches? Have his season ticket removed? Will Jimmy face a visit from Matthew Clarke and James Hanson on a dark evening to “discuss his views.”

While one ponders that question is it worth considering the background of the problems the club has with the supporters it interfaces with through the Official Message Board which has always been troubled but never more or less so than any other club. When Lincoln City sacked Peter Jackson and his assistant Keith Alexander Iffy Onoura the number two used his FourFourTwo column to discuss how after returning home from a 14 hour day he had put in on behalf of the Imps he had read on a web forum how he “did nothing.”

The Bantams OMB says similar things about Wayne Jacobs and does so under the heading of the word “Official” and were that all there was to say about the web forum which once again is dragged into the fore of the conversation of Bradford City then it would be easy to say that the whole thing should be shut down. It is not.

Spin back six years and the OMB was the lifeblood of Bradford City as the club headed to oblivion of a second administration. The community around it was a significant factor is raising what was at the time the largest amount of money put together by football fans in defence of their club’s future. Community – with almost no exception – is a good thing and the community which has emerged around the Bradford City OMB is no different.

That that community comes under the banner of “Official” is a problem for the club – many have asked what any person would do were they to read that their own employer carried negative commentary about them – and one which Lawn is right to try address but his carrot and stick approach of removing the anonymity in exchanged for continued use addresses some of the problems the OMB might have in terms of the level of debate being brought down by brickbat attacks from faceless people but does not capitalise on what the OMB could be.

The OMB is a community – like it or not – and it is probably the biggest community of Bradford City fans assembled outside of VP on a match day. It puts City Gent and BfB into the shade in terms of numbers and impact. City are forever answering issues that arise from comments on the Official Message Board be it a negative as it was today or responding to questions obliquely asked on that forum but they have never commented on an article on this site, or on the other non-official sites.

As a community the OMB is significant but Bradford City do not get the most from that community – not by a long way – and they are not alone in that. Having played a significant role on projects for Premier League clubs trying to address the question of how best to leverage the community around the club into a workable web presence I would suggest that there is not a football club in this country that “get” the web and what to do with it.

Owen and Lawn are right to try remove anonymity from the Official Message Board – the instinct of having supporter be accountable for what they say is a good one – but the OMB is a problem for this club and other clubs on the whole because football clubs still have not decided what to do with the Internet and how they best can use it to further the idea of a football support for all that carries on all week long.

Raising the standard of debate

The reception was mostly mixed. The retort mainly indignant. The point largely missed.

Ahead of City’s home defeat to Rochdale a week ago, Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn used the match day programme to announce Bradford City is considering revamping its website’s official message board so users can only post comments after registering their full name and address, rather than hiding behind the anonymity of a username.

It is an acknowledgment of concern over the current status quo of the content on the board which the whole world can see, and Lawn’s attempt to impart greater responsibility so that, “those supporters who are intent on using them as a means to abuse players or generally use foul and abusive language can no longer hide behind their ‘computer names’.”

On the official message board, this unsurprisingly provoked plenty of comment, with some claiming the club is attempting to silence a growing debate about the reasons behind the Bantams perceived underachievement. Many have argued that they will still be happy to express their dissatisfaction at management and players regardless of if the club knows who they are. A fair point, but one which misses what Lawn is suggesting; in fact rather than look at Bradford City as Big Brother, these proposed new measures may allow users more voice than they currently enjoy.

Often a read of the official message board can be dispiriting and angering. When things are going well on the pitch, it can be a quiet place of limited debate. When things are going wrong, its popularity goes through the roof. Many register users clearly use it only as a place to unleash their anger, rather than treat it a place for balanced debate. This in turn prompts fury for others and very often the discussion is reduced to people insulting each other and their views.

Quite simply it can look embarrassing and for the club to house it is by association a perceived endorsement.  The dilemma is the message board will be the most popular section of the website, bringing in web traffic and, as a result, more advertising revenue. Yet the club cannot sit back and allow people to use their site to heap abuse on their employees, at least not without good reason.

All over the world wide web, such types of debates are now the norm. Every newspaper allows their readers to submit comments on its site, but more often than not they just attract the same dismal level of debate as any of City-related sites. Indeed Private Eye magazine now has a regular section entitled “From the message boards”, mocking the more ludicrous comments left on various websites by people hiding behind usernames.

These new sites are fueled by the dumbed down level of debate, with some people posting ill-thought out or deliberately fury-provoking comments that attract others to angrily log in and hastily have a go back – all the while advertising revenue increases. It shouldn’t be like this and often the people sharing their views are intelligent people capable of expressing themselves more coherently, but something about the hiding behind a username encourages them to lose a degree of sanity.

Perhaps a fair comparison is our attitude when driving. I like to think of myself as well-mannered, calm and collected person. Behind a wheel I’m an angry lunatic ready to swear irrationally at any other the motorist who has the nerve to drive badly or get in my way. I can see other drivers get mad at me when I have done nothing wrong (hey I’m a perfect driver who never makes mistakes!) and we all shake our fists and blast our horns if someone dares to cut us off.

In the real world, walking down the street, we would never dream of being so aggressive towards other people, even if they got in our way (compare walking behind a slow old man who you can’t get past to driving behind a tractor). Inside the metal box of our car, we are protected and allowed to act like an arsehole to others because no one can properly confront us and only the police are allowed to stop us and demand to know our address. Online usernames seem to have a similar affect.

At present it’s not clear if the club want to get rid of the public usernames as well as require addresses, I personally believe they should go the whole hog and make John Smith’s comment appear alongside the name John Smith rather than Bantam_57. It won’t stop users calling Stuart a rubbish manager, because if they really have conviction in their own beliefs it would be insulting to dismiss their views on the basis they have done so from behind a username. But what forcing people to express their views with their own name does is encourage them to better argue their reasons.

It would also allow more decorum. Right now, Stuart is receiving strong criticism and ridicule which is expressed in the most disgraceful of manners. Whatever his strengths and weaknesses, he simply does not deserve to receive abuse for the unquestionably high effort he puts in and the years of service he has given this club. By all means tell the rest of us why you think he is a bad manager, but that does not excuse cowardly attacking him a person.

Equally, the response to other people will be more favourable in tone. At the pub before games, in the ground and among City fans I know, there are some views I don’t agree with and dislike hearing, but I would never respond to them face-to-face by labelling the perpetrator a clueless muppet. If I was responding online to views published by someone using their real name, I would not get abusive towards them either.

But what’s in it for those who revel in calling Wayne Jacobs a clap-happy fool? What about those who are angered by the way the club is being run and are frustrated their voice isn’t heard? Well I personally believe that, if these new changes come into effect, the club then has a duty to publicly pay attention to the message board output.

Right now it’s easy for them to be dismissive of it, but they can use it to more confidently gauge opinion and even engage with supporters by asking for feedback on various matters. Suddenly there can be a more clear and obvious platform for fans to have a say in how the club is run, because the message board has greater credibility. It doesn’t mean the general view is always acted upon – there are often good reasons behind what appear to be “mystifying actions” and the message board will never be representative of all City supporters – but it does bring the club and its supporters closer together.

For the Bantams, in a business sense, are in a highly enviable position which organisations of other industries would love to be in. They have a fiercely loyal following. One that isn’t just willing to turn up every other week no matter how bad things are, but whom a proportion of happily spend the rest of the week talking about the club and sharing their views on it.

Other organisations spend millions a year trying to understand their own customers feedback and put products and services to market which fail because they didn’t fully understand their customers’ needs. Bradford City is different in that success and failure is determining by 11 men on a pitch, but greater consultation with supporters can make a difference to the all important revenues.

For this level of engagement could be used to shape future direction and help the club stay in tune with what their customers want – what people think of the matchday programme, the most popular type of pre-match entertainment, who pre-season friendlies should be against, what next season’s strip should be like and, of course, how popular the manager is.

Right now, this vision can’t be realised with anonymous user names arguing back and forth over who is this biggest muppet, with the club not knowing who the people uttering them really are. Raise the standard of debate, make people accountable for their own views and then listen to them – the club which pioneered making professional football affordable could break the mould again from getting control of the public discussion it facilitates and using it to make a difference.

BfB note: As ever comments are welcome. We always require people to submit their real name and email address and would like to think the standard of debate we house is all the better for it.

Counting to ten…

I hate these types of weeks after City have lost. The league table inevitably looks worse, there’s a moment where you get up each morning and the pain of defeat suddenly comes back, work colleagues mercilessly take the mick out of you.

What I really hate about these weeks though is the level of debate among City supporters, or should that be lack of. Any sensible discussions online are hidden in a flurry of anger and the blame culture which so often blights this country. From everything going well, the club is apparently verging on crisis. Everyone and everything is wrong – and it has been all along.

The decision of manager Stuart McCall to play Rhys Evans has been the subject of most of the discussion and, ignoring rationale reason or the fact Stuart says the City stopper was fit enough to play, another entry has been added to Stuart’s list of crimes.

You almost want to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the arguments some are making for why, even if Evans was fit enough to play, it was a suicidal decision of Stuart to do so. At one stage there was a good argument against Stuart for this, but it’s been lost in a sea of drivel.

Adding to the debate of course has been Barnet manager Ian Hendon who, according to one supporter, has shown Stuart up to be the novice we all know he is after the Bees manager declared hearing City had the nerve to play a half-fit keeper motivated his team to win.

That’ll be the same Hendon who was celebrating his first ever managerial win and who enjoyed a stunning playing career with Leyton Orient, Notts County and Northampton. One would have thought most people would argue Stuart knows what he was talking about more than a bloke clearly trying to make some headlines, but not some City fans it seems.

If I was a Barnet fan reading the comments made by my manager I’d be curious, why on earth has a team which has not won at home since October need such a dubious motivation to spur them into playing like Real Madrid? Haven’t they been cheated their supporters somewhere?

But fine, add this to the list of Stuart’s crimes along with the others because it’s not one which contains rationale arguments anyway. Reading online some of the reasons for why Stuart doesn’t have a clue almost gives you renewed faith in believing he is the man – because if these are the best arguments people can come up with no one, least of all Stuart, need pay any attention.

Wycombe away we didn’t have enough shots on goal, is one argument I read today, wow why have we just offered Stuart a new deal? Apparently he gives too much praise to opposition teams, whatever that means. To me it implies people are not clever enough to realise there’s a difference between what a manager says to a journalist and to his players, though I do like the idea that opposition players spend their Fridays scanning the T&A website to read what Stuart says and are more confident as a result. I wonder if our players do the same?

Another fan argues that it’s disgraceful he plays Matt Clarke ahead of Mark Bower. Come off it, are you serious? Are you going to games with your eyes fixed onto your shoelaces, determined not to notice, never mind acknowledge that Clarke has been in excellent form? “We played rubbish last October.” “We were lucky to win a few weeks ago.” “Can you believe the muppet signed Chris O’Grady?” “We’re struggling for goals, and he got rid of the prolific Willy Topp.” “He never makes his subs early enough.” “He needs a hair cut.”

Then of course is the persistent criticism of Wayne Jacobs which makes no sense. It’s been going on almost since the day he re-joined and to date I’ve still not heard a single valid reason for why he should be sacked. I’m also intrigued to know this magical ‘experienced’ coach is who is going to come in for Jakes, tell Stuart everything he’s doing wrong and inspire City to the Champions League in four seasons, or something similar.

The criticism of Wayne Jacobs is similar to the abuse many persistently threw at him when he played for this club and just as much as I had no idea why it was justified then I don’t have a clue now. No one can possibly know what sort of job he is doing because no one is seeing his conversations with Stuart, training the team or scouting opposition. It’s disgusting and unfair abuse towards a loyal club employee who has done nothing to deserve it. Some would even call it bullying.

Any attempt to argue back at supporters who are so determined to be negative is usually met with abuse and ridicule, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been accused of wearing rose-tinted spectacles in recent years. I genuinely don’t understand why people are so determined to see everything so negative and it scares me. Scares me because if this is the logic they can display to football how do they react to stuff in their own life?

What’s the answer for those of us who might be upset at what happened on Saturday but don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Stay off the message boards, do not pass the heading ‘Your say’ when reading the T&A website, resist the urge to call the person labelling Stuart a muppet something stronger back. Ultimately just like the management and players, we need to keep looking ahead.

All of this criticism will go away if City win at Notts County of course, but I’m worried about our chances to be honest because it looks like Chris Brandon could make the bench. Stuart isn’t really contemplating using a half-fit player is he? Didn’t the idiot learn anything from what happened last week?

What arrogance. Ian McPharland won’t even need to bother with his pre-match teamtalk…

You can be free only if I am free

And so, Barryboogate has morphed into Ashleyboogate. This allows the Football Association to describe as ‘crazy’ the section of England fans who made their feelings plain about who was to blame for the Kazakhstan goal. It also brings a comment from the Football Supporters’ Federation that ‘People have paid their money and have every right to express their opinion.’

Well, yes, it’s a free country, isn’t it? Well, up to a point, do I hear you say? OK, I’ll say it for you. It’s a free country up to a point. The question often gets asked ‘But when do we reach the point when we’re not free any more?’

Some answers are easier than others. I’m not free to assault you or steal your money. I’m not free to spread malicious lies about your character. I’m not free to make racist or homophobic comments about you. And that list of crimes or legally recognised civil wrongs could and does fill a very thick book or two.

But what happens if you want to express an otherwise permissible opinion, about the abilities of a professional footballer or a manager or even a work colleague, but you use intemperate language? By ‘intemperate’ in this context I mean abusive or threatening or simply foul-mouthed. The answer is, at least as far as Bradford City is concerned, you will not be allowed to use such language.

The club message board has been suspended since Wednesday. The club ‘always welcomes criticism’, it says, and has ‘resolved the problem with regards to racism and unacceptable language’. Well, maybe it hasn’t. Or maybe it is the subject matter rather than the language that counts. The message board has been suspended because it has ‘recently seen unwarranted verbal attacks on players, staff and supporters which [the club] will not tolerate’.

I don’t read the message board every day, so I’ve missed the ‘verbal attacks’ in question. It surely is no coincidence, however, that they follow within days of Barryboogate. The manager made his feelings perfectly plain in his after-match interview. I don’t always agree with him, but on this one I’m with him 100%. To me as a supporter of Bradford City it doesn’t matter what opinion you have of one of your own players, you are foolish if you boo him and expect him to perform better as a result. If you boo him before he has kicked a ball, then maybe you are ‘crazy’.

But being ‘crazy’ is no reason for shutting down such a well used channel of communication. Being insulting or abusive certainly is a justification. You could even argue that the club is under a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent such language being used. So, not only does the manager have my 100% backing on this one, but so does the moderator of the message board.

Football has always been about opinions. The vastly knowledgeable Jimmy Sirrel, who died recently, once told an after-match press conference ‘You know the score. You can read the league table. The rest is all opinion.’ It’s all down to how those opinions are expressed.

There are people in all walks of life, far beyond football, who believe that there are only their own opinions. Everything else is wrong. At least they won’t start a fight in an empty room, but they may find themselves in that empty room rather more often than those who are prepared to listen to other opinions.

Most people with strong opinions listen to the other side and may well rarely change their mind. But at least they recognise the other side exists and respect their right to exist. I guess that’s what Bradford City mean when they say they ‘always welcomed criticism’.

But when an opinion can be expressed or challenged only in abusive or threatening terms, especially in a medium open to all ages to read, maybe it is time to draw that line and say ‘You are not free to say that in this place’. No, there are no ‘maybes’ about it. It was time to end the opportunity to be abusive. The minority of those who misused the message board may not have caused the physical damage that the other minority (or is it the same minority?) did on the coaches to Leeds, but both sets damaged the name of Bradford City and of football supporters. They took us one step nearer to the atmosphere in and around football grounds back in the 1980’s, a time when fewer and fewer people came to watch games. The vast majority of us must say ‘No more steps in that direction’.

The clouds that form over us – Shrewsbury vs Bradford City – League Two Preview

Once again one could be forgiven for thinking that Bradford City were going into a weekend fixture with the heaviest of black clouds over the club rather than playing the team a place below in a game in which the winners end up in the promotion area.

Having heard from various sources that City’s manager was inept, that the assistant was ruining what the manager did and that some of the players were simply good good enough and need to be got rid of it would be interesting to see what reaction a good result at Shrewsbury would have.

By reaction of course I talk about supporters. Within the club Stuart McCall’s job is to minimise defeats and keep player grounded in wins. A reaction in the dressing room akin to that in the stadium and we really are in trouble.

As it is by five we could be top again. Rhys Evans keeps goal but his back four is changed with TJ Moncur coming in for the injured Paul Arnison. Matthew Clarke and Graeme Lee are in the middle with Paul Heckingbottom on the left.

Omar Daley continues in front of Heckingbottom as Chris Brandon recovers and Joe Colbeck will look to continue his impressive form on the right.

Dean Furman – rested from the reserves – may make a first start with one of Lee Bullock or Paul MaLaren stepping down, probably the former as McCall feels the need to add steel to his midfield for the visit to the other highly fancied club in League Two.

Shrewsbury have spent the money raised when Joe Hart made his England debut triggering a half million release clause in the deal that took him to Manchester City on Grant Holt who is am impressively troublesome striker but with the likes of Michael Symes and David Hibbert to pair him with the onus seems to fall on City to snuff out the expensive man in the way clubs would mark tight Dean Windass and not be troubled by whomever was alongside him – a role both Hibbert and Symes took.

Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding would both have been better partners for Windass – who is rumoured to be thinking over an offer to manage Grimsby Town – and both are in the same bracket as Holt entitled feared strikers.

Come five one of there teams will have laid down a marker for promotion. Come next season the bookies expect both to be in League One.

Good supporter/bad supporter debate part three

To the anger of some, Roland and Michael have stated their views on the message board culture and ‘Plan B’ argument on BfB this week; but if you don’t mind, I’ll add mine too.

Firstly I’ll say that I like message boards and their ideals. I’m a highly irregular poster myself, choosing only to chip in to respond to an opinion which particularly riles me or to join in with some banter (during the summer someone found a link to a porn film where the male star’s surname was Daley, and joked this was why our Omar was struggling for fitness – so I replied asking what the poster was doing to lead to him stumbling across this film). I do enjoy reading the boards though, and find the topics of conversation interesting and, sometimes, enlightening.

I can see why people participate in them, as talking about City as much as we’d like isn’t always possible with our loved ones; as we’d drive them round the bend and they are unlikely to say anything meaningful back. So I read threads from City’s Official Message Board a couple of times a week and enjoy some of the topics. Like being on your own on a train and listening to a group of friends nearby hold an interesting and funny conversation; I hope the participants continue speaking at a level I can hear and don’t notice I’m there.

But message boards do have their flaws too. I dislike the fact people don’t post under their real name. I appreciate it’s a culture that goes beyond Bradford City and to the wider world wide web, but it takes away accountability and gives the user licence to write statements they don’t have to back up with their own John Hancock. If you have conviction over your views, why hide behind an alias? Even though the people reading wouldn’t know who you are, it’s harder to write Stuart McCall is a muppet using your real name.

And yes, I should point out that I am no better. I have my own alias for the rare times I post. Once upon a time I did use my real name, but it had been recognised from appearing next to articles on here and I was soon receiving abusive responses and been asked where my mate Roland was.

The other problem I have, which Roland was getting at in his piece, is the lack of balance message boards have. There are many who’ll routinely post comments on them and make good points in victory or defeat, but when the latter occurs the amount of posts dramatically increases as several others join in, usually to criticise players and/or management. After the Bournemouth defeat I was glad I was straight out for the night with friends and wouldn’t have the opportunity to go online until Sunday evening, sure enough there was a higher number of posts than usual and a lot of it stinging criticism.

Look at the history of posts from a participant starting off the ‘McCall is useless’ thread, as you can do on the Official Message Board, and more often it’s their first post in weeks and months – probably since the last time they were angry with a City defeat. Where are these people when things go right and Stuart isn’t ‘useless’? This is where message boards lose perspective.

It’s a wider mentality though, if City win many of us will sit there content and go home in good spirits, lose and we’re moaning loudly and often booing and this kind of tone is continued in pub conversations after the game, to work mates on a Monday morning, oh and I’m still not satisfied that enough people have been told what went wrong, let’s go onto the message board…

My final irritation with message boards is the lack of argument those who criticise make. If you’re going to tell the rest of us Daley is rubbish and Paul Arnison isn’t up to it, at least explain why. It’s this last issue which has so riled Michael and Roland this week and, while no one disputes the right of others to hold a different opinion, failure to back it up with reasoning means it lacks credibility.

So we have some saying Stuart has no Plan B and that is why we lost, then when it’s argued by others that we did and it involved taking Graeme Lee off and bringing on Barry Conlon we’re then told it was a stupid plan and our manager is tactically naive.

My personal view is did we need a Plan B anyway? If we have conviction to play a certain way and players of sufficient ability to do so, why not stick to those principles to force our way back? I’m not saying don’t make substitutions or slight tweaks, but was there a need to launch long balls into the box with 20 minutes to go, instead of the passing game we favour in home games at least? Sure with five minutes to go launch the ball into the box, but for how disappointing Saturday’s defeat was we could easily have pulled a goal back minutes after Bournemouth had gone 3-1 up through playing the way we like, then it would have been game on.

That sort of conviction, to trust in your players and believe in the way you want to play, might not be something City can possess for sometime. I don’t know yet if our players are good enough, relative to this division, to beat most of others by playing better football – but I hope they can prove they are. Looking back to our last promotion 10 years ago I can recall only very occasions when manager Paul Jewell changed tactics in a game, even if we were trailing. Sure, players should be switched and if the opposition, like Bournemouth, are tactically beating you make alterations, but I hope that one day ‘Plan B’ will only be used in extreme circumstances.

Just over a year into the job, I still feel unsure about Stuart as our manager. Not in a sense that I don’t think he’s good enough – I can see with my own eyes the progress he’s made – but that, by being our manager, we have a legend who was and still is worshipped by most of us but with whom it is now acceptable to slag off and label ‘tactically naive’. I don’t think he’s above criticism and I think he’s made mistakes – though I fail to see why people are surprised and angry when he does given he’s managed a football team for barely 50 games – yet he’s a legend who’s given so much to this club and some of our supporters lack respect for it.

Win on Saturday and the arguments die down (until the next defeat) and those who’ve slagged off Stuart will say nothing. No offence to the people who run them, but I hope all City-related message boards stay relatively quiet between now and May because it will mean we’re having a good season.

Believe your own eyes not a person on a message board

If you go to enough places you can find some big idiots. Football is full of them.

Like at Watford at the weekend. You can bet your bottom dollar that some of the Watford fans were telling others to sit down and stop being so biased to say that that ball didn’t go in just like City fans can watch Omar Daley do the exact same trick that wins penalties off clumsy defenders week in week out and still moan that he wasn’t touched.

You can find people ready to forget what they see and say what the thought they should have seen everywhere. Sometimes I wonder why some people bother going to games when they ignore the evidence of their own eyes.

Last week is was morons booing totally ignoring that fact you could see City had played well. This week it is people taking a pop at McCall and Jacobs after we lost 3-1.

First the Jacobs factor. I’ve no respect for people who single out Wayne Jacobs. These people are cowards too scared to have a go at Stuart. They don’t want to comment on the hero so they act like they know the difference between what the manager and is assistant do and blame the softer target. Cowards.

I don’t have much respect for the things thrown at the manager either. Reading the monotony of tripe that is the Official Message Board I read people saying McCall has on Plan B two days after I’ve seen the skip replaced by Barry Conlon and City play a 343.

I read that McCall has lost the plot. I’m speechless! We went into the game top! Did he lose that plot between 3 and 3:45? If so it is probably on the touchline somewhere.

It is not that I think that Stuart should be above comment it is that I worry that people might take this idiot commentary seriously.

Have a go at anyone but make sure when you do it makes sense and isn’t just ignoring what you see so say something else. Say Stuart’s plan B was stupid but saying he doesn’t have one just means you were not paying attention.

This is the age of the Internet and and everyone gets their opinion listened (including me, which so I’m telling you mine now) to but I just hope that the when listening to the sort of people who make the kind of moronic comments aimed at Stuart and Jakes this week people remember what they saw with their own eyes and ignore the kind of voices that complain at anything.

These kind of people who want to be negative about everything are not the sort of people who deserve listening to. They are not the people who saved this club, they don’t represent the people who saved this club, they are not the people who the club was saved for.