Remembering Wolves and promotion

I tell the story after a drink or two in the bars of Leeds to colleagues – everyone in Bradford has heard it I guess – or when I want to impress on people the relationship that I have with Stuart McCall.

It goes like this. Wolves, 1999 ten years ago today and the home side have hit the post but that was cleared and the Bantams clad in white come away with the ball – half way into the Wolves half – and Gareth Whalley is dribbling and I’m sure I can see Paul Jewell shouting at him to keep hold and run with the ball but I don’t see how I could have known that cause my eyes are fixed on Whalley and the ball.

In retrospect Wolves had probably considered the draw gone once the free kick came back form the post because Whalley did not seem to be under tight challenges but the skillful Irishman as he dribbles the ball away. Perhaps the Referee is the closest man to the midfielder because I seem to remember seeing both at the same time and I remember seeing the Referee blow his whistle.

Frantically my eyes are searching then – darting around from white shirt to white shirt in something of a panic. Matt Groening says that a good character can be recognised by his silhouette and mine are looking for the short man, the shoulder length hair, the gap between sock tops and shorts being unusually small, the black number four on his back.

Stuart McCall at Wolves

And they pick him out arms aloft at 135 degree angles to his body in a pose that would become famous.

Overwhelmingly that is my memory of the 9th of May 1999 at Wolves when Bradford City were promoted to the Premiership.

The club is now split into the years BC/AD. After that day everything changed at Valley Parade and the current slump ten years on marks a stark contrast to that year of rise to the top flight and retention of top flight status that followed rather than many years when finishing in the top half of the fourth division would have represented a good return.

Perhaps it is a feeling that having achieved on that day ten years ago nothing should be considered out of the club’s reach. On that day City had a Holy trinity of Stuart McCall on the field, Paul Jewell in the dug out and Geoffrey Richmond as chairman. Leadership and character which many would suggest that City lack at the moment. What would McCall the manager have done for a McCall the player on the field in 2008/2009?

Something to be considered some other time. Now Wolves and your memories – if you care to share them in the comments below – on that win at Wolves that happened exactly ten years and three, four, five spasms of the second hand ago.

Reboot, Reload, Rebuild? Should McCall take Championship Manager approach?

I’ve bemoaned to all the notion that Championship Manager is a blight on real football but Stuart McCall could do with learning the trick that used to save my seasons when I was a slave to the pixel hot seat.

When I was in a bad run – and that one “win in nine” talk has become McCall’s bad run – I’d be faced with three choices. The first was blindly tinkering with the team throwing in a player there and taking out someone here with the idea that the right combination would come.

This seems to be what Stuart McCall is doing now making ekes and tweaks to the eleven that finished the last game. Barry Conlon’s start on Tuesday recognised the need to win and hold the ball away from home and Steve Jones up next to the target man recognised the need for pace on the break that is so often the route to victory for away sides at Valley Parade.

Big man, little man. Brawn and speed. On paper it works until you look at the paper and realise you have just selected as your best two forwards Barry and a bloke out of Burnley reserves. The team becomes a version of a version of a version of what you started with.

Likewise the midfield becomes contorted around the players who were in it last week rather than the ones who were in it when you were doing well. Nicky Law Jnr or Dean Furman is the question but when City were winning games on a regular basis Lee Bullock and Paul McLaren were in the middle.

Which lead to McCall’s second option – and the one most often favoured after a re-load – which is to click down list of players in the side and pick the team again from scratch evaluating everyone again and ending up with what is your best eleven. In City’s case aside from a couple of options in the midfield this is obvious from results when they were in the side: Evans; Arnison, Lee, Clarke, O’Brien; Colbeck, McLaren, Bullock, Daley; M Boulding and Thorne;

One could argue about the two loan midfielders Law and Furman who both have been impressive but I have never believed in playing loanees over your own professionals. Certainly looking at the team who lost to Bury four of them – Zesh Rehman, Nicky Law Jnr, Dean Furman and Steve Jones – belong to other clubs and when the debate starts about why a team does not want it enough this factor cannot be ruled out.

I recall fondly that at Wolves on the day that City were promoted Paul Jewell entrusted the game to what was the definitive side of the season favouring Robbie Blake over Dean Windass, Jamie Lawrence over Lee Sharpe, John Dreyer over Andy O’Brien or Ashley Westwood. He favoured senior professionals with long term stake over new arrivals and young players and he was rewarded for it.

Which is the option that this writer would have McCall follow now. A couple of days on the training field and a decision as to who are the eleven players he would want to win a Wolves type game of which we have plenty if we want promotion at the end of this season.

That of he could go for option three. Turn off and go watch some TV.

The Wolves Feeling

There was always going to be some sort of angle on which to spin the first League Cup game for Stuart McCall – his first test against a big club – and so the first two names out of the hat gave us Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Bradford City and the memories flashed back to a day, a result, an image of the City number four with his arms aloft at the second of the final whistle.

McCall dragged City to that promotion. He was the heart of a team with capable legs and head. The next time he is in the dug out at Wolves he will be beating heart and pulsing brain.

His task at Bradford City will be brought into focus this week. His number two Wayne Jacobs will officially arrive from Halifax Town to be replaced at The Shay by Peter Atherton. Jacobs is a welcome appointment and does much to answer the once said – but now discredited – suggestion that McCall’s teams would be more about the morale of drinking buddies than modern footballing units. Communion wine aside Jacobs is not cut from that cloth.

By the time Jacobs arrives McCall will have a list of fixtures for the season – they come out on Thursday morning – with names like Barnet, like Accrington Stanley, like Morecambe which are a long way from the results of that Wolves win. Using the old Poker adage of looking around the table to see the sucker – if you can’t tell then it is you – one looks at League Two for the big name and then realise that we are, for better or for worse, the big name.

McCall will also have had his player budget ironed out with Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. Today’s exit of Marc Bridge-Wilkinson to Carlisle United, Dean Windass’s move to Hull and Steven Schumacher’s leaving for Crewe frees up the funds and the long list of recruits will get shorter.

At present McCall has ten players – pull his boots on himself and he has a team – but in three months time he needs to take out his team to the scene of City’s greatest triumph and begin to make his mark in management.

Joining the Bantams as a right back aged 17, spending months in the Everton reserves, going to the World Cup as a squad player, low key move to Rangers, free transfer return to City. McCall is a man who goes about his business in a quiet and determined way. Expect similar as City build to the first significant stop on the journey back.

Anticipation Has The Habit To Set You Up For Disappointment

There is something wonderful about the sense of anticipation before a big game. In a good two decades plus change of watching City I’ve seen bigger than Saturday’s relegation crunch against Leyton Orient but the stomach churning wait – the mixture of excitement and dread – is the same this Friday as it was the weekend of the 9th of May, 1999.

Remember that weekend at Wolves I recall a sense of foreboding not at the idea that City might not win the game or might not be promoted but at the idea that a resolution was going to come at all. From the Sunday before when Birmingham beat Ipswich 1-0 to put City in the driving seat for promotion to the kick off at Molineux on Sunday we enjoyed a suspended animation of being on the brink. For seven days the mind buzzed with pleasure delaying thoughts which inexorably drew to a close once the first ball was kicked.

The ninety minutes at Wolves was pretty much Hell but everything up to that was a blast.

Which is how the mood for Saturday’s game is. Right now City are in good form going into a crucial game – we are potentially safe, wonderfully poised and waiting for the swing of genius that will make a crucial difference – but come 15:00 reality will set in and two hours later wonderful poise will be either realised or not. City will either be looking at a win or two from two games to stay up or look at League Two.

Not strictly true. A draw delays things. No one seems to have considered the possibility that City might draw the game despite the fact that Orient will most likely come to Valley Parade to get a point and keep City beneath them.

City go into the game minus Moses Ashikodi following his broken leg at Brighton but with Spencer Weir-Daley – SWD – ready to fill the gap. The striking change aside David Wetherall has picked a settled side in marked contrast to Colin Todd’s later tendency to tinker. That Wetherall has nailed down a best team – even if it is not the best team – has started to bring rewards of which the anticipation is one.