By Alex Scott
Candles in the Dark
1. Peter Jackson stands sixth in the Bradford City all-time post-war appearance list.
‘Jacko’ is up on the pantheon of City heroes, not just for what he did for the club (a lot), but how, and when. He has managed to maintain the adoration of the City faithful despite culturing a comparable cult hero status at Huddersfield Town. 336 appearances is an awful amount of time to spend in the claret and amber, and whilst a discussion of his managerial tenure is pervaded by an unsettling awkwardness within which I am about to entangle myself, any mention of him as a player can be wonderfully straight forward: He’s a hero.
2. Peter Jackson holds the record for the shortest tenure of any permanent Bradford City manager.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this. Coming up through the club like he did, going through what he had to go through, he was always an obvious managerial candidate. City fans were quite happy at his appointment in general, especially succeeding someone as universally loathed as Peter Taylor. Jackson was as far toward the other end of the spectrum as you could get. A frustratingly common characteristic among the club’s recent succession of managers and their direct predecessors.
I always feel like I’m overly harsh on our owners, but I swear attempting to retrospectively elicit their long term strategy is like trying to decipher a broken optical illusion, the more you look at it, the more obtuse and random it appears. The dream and the strategy were never differentiated, the latter never seeming to be formulated at all.
3. He also holds the record for the lowest win percentage of any permanent City manager, a meagre 21%.
The team only amassed sixteen points from his nineteen games in charge, and six of them came in the first three matches, with now-impressive wins at home to Rotherham (The Tom Adeyemi Over-The-Line Game) and a 1-0 victory on the road at Morecambe. He took over at a tumultuous time for the club, with the spectre of Odsal, relegation, and disintegration hanging over his entire tenure. The squad of players were resented by the fans, and were the least successful of any in generations. But it remains that he earned ten points from his final thirteen games in charge. Safe to say that Jackson oversaw one of the more depressing periods in the oft-depressing history of the club.
4. He was, and remains, Bradford City’s youngest ever captain, and played amongst a couple of the City’s greatest ever sides.
Joining Bradford City club as a teenager, his hometown club, and his burgeoning talent led to a move to Newcastle before returning to Valley Parade for a second spell toward the end of the eighties. He spent the next four years at Huddersfield, becoming club captain, and that was where his managerial career started in earnest three years later. Speaking as someone who has never met him, Jackson’s pride in loyalty is apparent.
It was fitting that he would join Huddersfield as manager, because it was supposed to happen, but after his undeserved removal, it was also sort of fitting he wouldn’t manage again until Huddersfield came calling a second time. In the same way he was never really a careerist footballer, rather choosing to stay where he felt like he belonged, he never appeared a careerist manager. He was routinely mistreated for this loyalty and integrity, and his ill-fated spell back at Bradford City was no exception.
5. He lifted the trophy earlier that day.
It is hard to divorce any discussion of Peter Jackson from the events of May 11th 1985. Not that we would or should want to. I grew up after Jackson’s spells at City; in my eyes he was always the Huddersfield manager, ergo I had to root against him. But I’d had it instilled in me, like the rest of us, how important a figure he was in the history of the club, and just what he means. He was this side of Stuart McCall just about the most important man.
When he returned as manager, just over twenty years after leaving, everyone wanted him to succeed, probably too much. He couldn’t fail, because that wasn’t how it was supposed to go. It was a chance to rewrite the years spent down the A641. Even in spite of those years he remained a City legend, a member of the pantheon. I can’t ever spend enough time on this point, nor do enough justice to it. We all know it, and it has been written in many places far better than I can ever do. But we all know it.
6. 0.84 points per game.
Sixteen points. Nineteen games. I used a stat earlier which characterised Jackson as a quote permanent unquote manager, but that can only be true in the loosest of terms. He was initially appointed on a week-to-week contract (the club formally following through on its mantra du jour). After a dismal run and a deafening mutiny amongst the fans, Peter Taylor and his henchmen were placed on gardening leave to begin after a retrospectively critical 3-2 win over Stockport County.
Gareth Evans and Sliding Doors.
They couldn’t really afford to pay another manager in addition, so needed a man who was either desperate enough, or who cared enough, to work under such obviously ridiculous conditions. Jackson was potentially both, but especially the latter.
7. …against the face of the clock.
In a world and a club so laden in ego and subterfuge that it’s hard to know which way you’re facing, Peter Jackson is a beautifully transparent character. This is especially in stark contrast to how difficult it is to work out what the hell it is the ownership have been trying to do at any given point over recent years. It is almost naiveté.
After retiring, he managed Huddersfield, because that made sense. He was sacked in a historical travesty of justice for Steve Bruce. He then left football for three years. The Terriers paid their penance and fell to their lowest ebb, when Jackson returned as the White Knight. After what that club had done to him, he bloody well went back. Not because it was a good career move, I imagine he withstood a number of better offers in that interim, but because Huddersfield Town mattered to him.
After leaving for a second time, he joined Lincoln City, a club to whom he was eternally intertwined. He picked them up from the bottom of the leagues, performing well before falling ill, famously winning the Manager of the Month award the morning before he left to undergo treatment.
After leaving Sincil Bank, he did charity and care work, delivering meals to elderly citizens in the area, before the club he was always meant to manage came calling. And even though other men may not have come back again after all he’d been through, this club mattered. A lot of my profiling on this site has often devolved into quasi-fan fiction (a result of an active imagination and absolutely no access to anyone of note), but for someone like Jackson, I don’t even have to paint a picture of a man, he’s there for all to see.
8. Jackson took over the club in February 2011 and left it the following August.
If you’ll indulge me for a second whilst I dust of my patented Random Cliché Generator… Six Months Is A Long Time In Football. And this is no more pointed than the fact that only four players appeared in both his first and final squad in James Hanson, Luke Oliver, Robbie Threlfall and Michael Flynn. In six months, basically the entire playing staff had been recycled. And lest we forget that Oliver, Threlfall and Flynn were the members of the infamous “Silsden Three” who the club attempted in vain to force out that preseason.
So the only real intended carry over among the squad was Hanson who had scored over 20 goals in two seasons, and was under contract for another three years, forcing the club’s hand somewhat. Quick game, I mentioned Jackson was in charge of nineteen matches, how many players featured amongst those nineteen first team squads? (Hint: it’s like… a lot. Like, seriously loads. Take whatever you’re thinking now, and double it. I’ll get back to this later.)
To judge “success” by any measure during a period this turbulent can only be a fool’s errand. It must be said that Jackson would have been complicit in this instability, so using it as an excuse is admittedly bit rich, but how much control he had over the direction over the club during his time is a genuine question. And regardless of instability, this was a truly terrible spell.
9. Peter Jackson oversaw one of the worst teams I have ever seen.
I like Peter Jackson, that much is painfully clear at this point, but the elephant in the room can’t really be avoided much longer. In fact, technically, he oversaw two of the worst sides I have ever seen. That 5-1 reverse to Crewe on the final day of that season was the worst performance by a City team I have ever witnessed. Bar none. And although I’ve not been around as long as some, that isn’t an easy accolade to earn. Similarly, but in a different manner, that 2-1 defeat at home to Aldershot on the opening day of the following season was mind-blowingly abysmal. Any defence of Jackson’s managerial tenure plainly for what it was is completely without merit. You can apportion blame wherever you like, but those were a collection of truly miserable performances.
10. But it wasn’t all bad… (The Leeds away section)
Due to the cup exploits which followed last year, and especially in this, we tend to overlook that Tuesday night at Elland Road. This silver lining in many ways represented the beginning of the resurgence we are riding now. Leeds away. That was my favourite live post-Premiership City game until Villa away. They played them off the park! Not in a kick-and-rush way. Not in a blood-and-thunder local derby way, but genuinely outplayed a half-decent Championship team with a bunch of kids from the fourth tier.
Chris Mitchell keeping the ball as a deep-lying central midfielder. Steve Williams rock-steady at the back. Dave Syers as good as he ever was. Mark Stewart, Jack Compton and James Hanson running amok. They were absolutely fantastic that night, and that potential (and that Dave Syers injury) headlines this managerial career that never really was.
The fact they could never replicate that performance, or anything approaching it, probably reflects poorly on the management, but at the same time, the fact the team were blown up before they ever had a chance to become anything probably indicates something about that Jackson-Archie Christie regime that may not have been as bad as we remember. There may have been something there. And that night was the beginning of the hope which led us through the cups later that year and this. We shouldn’t forget that.
11. This gimmick is tired, and sixteen points is a deceptively difficult amount to reach.
12. The Summer of Jackson, was also the Summer of Odsal.
It’s easy for us to forget now, but that Bradford City would move to Odsal was a genuine threat for a while. My main memory from this spell was an alarming Radio Leeds appearance by the likeable and level-headed David Baldwin. (NB. I’ve briefly met him twice; he has been great both times, and he had, and will have, no idea who I am.) The fact someone like him was genuinely and frankly discussing the possibility, was a distressing prospect.
That Peter Jackson had to “manage” through that time was a difficult enough proposition as it was, forgetting everything else. But also that it was him. Someone as inextricably linked to Valley Parade as he, was to potentially be the man to lead the club away to God knows what. In hindsight, the owners were only posturing, and it was never really a threat, but it has never sat well all the same. The fans were used as pawns throughout that era and Jackson the same.
13. Peter Jackson’s authority was under question throughout his entire tenure.
He initially was on a week-to-week contract, with a group of players he couldn’t add to. After Jackson was appointed on a “permanent” basis in the close season, he immediately was superseded in decision-making authority by one Archie Christie, a de facto Director of Football Operations. As the story goes, Christie accompanied the front-runner for the managerial vacancy, his Dagenham and Redbridge compatriot John Still. Christie himself was so impressive in his presentation, the City brain trust decided he was the real talent of the operation rather than Still, hired him, and then went in search of a coach who would work beneath him on the cheap.
Smash-cut to Peter Jackson.
After a summer of optimism and development squad-building where illusions of power and grandiosity were painted around the club, the brain trust quickly decided they had out-thought themselves, blew everything up, and quickly appointed the man they in hindsight should have appointed the previous May when he interviewed for the job, one Phil Parkinson.
14. Despite their concurrent tenures, Archie Christie is remembered more fondly.
A belief amongst a selection of City fans is that Christie probably got a raw deal at the club. His mandate from above was never as unanimous as it was painted, and he got out-manoeuvred by an owner whose impatience was left to define the worth of a long term plan. Now, with these fans, there isn’t as much sympathy with Jackson (the manager, not the player), who in all honesty probably wasn’t as well suited to working under a man like Christie as others may have been. The go-to example for this is Nahki Wells.
Again, as the story goes, Jackson had Wells on trial, and didn’t fancy him. It was up to Christie to keep him at the club, and he brought the Bermudian into the development squad as just about the cheapest guy in the entire organisation. Wells was to become the only man to make it out of that development squad. So yeah, that decision from Jackson would probably be classed as a “mistake”.
The other example oft-cited was that along with recruiting Guy Branston on big money (“mistake”), Jackson wanted to break the bank for a then-veteran League One midfielder, one Gary Jones. A deal that was scuppered from above as it didn’t fit the identified strategy, and was a ‘waste of money’. Signing one of the best players in the division, the ninth-best team in the division above’s top scorer from the season before wasn’t in the strategy, but featuring forty players in nineteen games was. (*Seriously, FORTY! In nineteen games! FORTY! The long, tortuous, scarcely-believable list is available below. Warning: contains depressing levels of Scott Dobie.)
Now, I’m not being revisionist here, I’m not saying I was on Jackson’s side in the Jones case, or in much else, I wasn’t. Even when we did sign Gary Jones I was against it. But I’m an idiot. My only point is that when we look back at Jackson’s tenure, maybe we should look at what difference Jones actually did make for us a year later, and just “what if” it for a second. That path not travelled might have been interesting. Then again, the club would have probably just released Nahki Wells and been stuck with Hanson, Stewart and Ross Hannah up top all year so none of it would have made any difference anyway, but still.
15. An emotional Jackson left the club after another pitiful home defeat, this time to Dagenham and Redbridge.
But not just going down to the Daggers, but John Still, the man he ostensibly “beat” for the gig at Valley Parade. He felt that he wasn’t up to it, and wanted to give up the job, that job, to someone else. That a man with his history would relinquish the job he was always meant to take, his storybook finish, because he felt he couldn’t do it says a lot about the man. The atmosphere within the club had become untenable, with the relationship between Jackson and the board having completely broken down. Jackson was, and sort of always was, ideologically in conflict with Christie and his methods. Nothing was working. Something had to change.
The truth is, I was relieved. I really liked Peter Jackson, I still do, and I didn’t want to resent him. I never resented Stuart McCall when he was manager. I may have thought he was out of his depth at times, but then again the stakes were never really that high, we were never going out of existence. That really felt on the cards in this case. After a summer of Odsal sabre-rattling by our owners, mercilessly and recklessly attempting to secure themselves a better deal from Gordon Gibb’s Pension Fund, to have our club’s mortality thrust so vividly in our faces resulted in the stakes being raised far above sentiment alone.
Deep down I believe that in a better time, Peter Jackson could have been a great City manager. And now that future is left to one of our parallel universes and we are left with the damn shame that it’ll never happen. I didn’t want to have to force or root for a decision to remove Jackson, I’m not sure anyone did. Thankfully we had him to take our pain, and he did it himself. The easy response has been to leave that pain and heartache where it lay, repressed, as we now cheer our tremendous success. But that still isn’t fair to Jackson, the man who has spent his career taking and owning pain, as only great men can.
16. Peter Jackson was always the best manager we never had.
Now that is no longer true, he can forever stand as one of the best men we ever had. Just in case nobody ever says it, read this is as a thank you.
… It isn’t right that Peter Jackson isn’t a part of Bradford City Football Club any more. That a club like ours, so involved in meaning and history has left someone who means as much as Jackson on the side lines, airbrushing his managerial tenure out of the history, doesn’t sit well. Whilst in the mind of the owners he represents an error in judgement, a stark and haunting reflection of their own limitations, for the fans and the club itself he represents almost everything we hold important. Peter Jackson genuinely cares about this club, and this community, and some things are actually more important than football and points and ego. People like him are what make all of this worthwhile. Read this as an open letter.
*Deep breath… (in alphabetical order) (brace yourself): Tom Adeyemi, Guy Branston, Michael Bryan, Lee Bullock, Andrew Burns, Chib Chilaka, Jack Compton, Omar Daley, Luke Dean, Scott Dobie, Kevin Ellison, Gareth Evans, Alex Flett, Michael Flynn, Ross Hannah, Martin Hansen, James Hanson, Louis Horne, Lewis Hunt, Oscar Jansson, Ritchie Jones, Jon McLaughlin, Chris Mitchell, Liam Moore, Luke O’Brien, Luke Oliver, Leon Osborne, Lenny Pidgeley, Adam Robinson, Nialle Rodney, Dominic Rowe, Lloyd Saxton, Jake Speight, Darren Stephenson, Mark Stewart, Dave Syers, Robbie Threlfall, Nahki Wells, Steve Williams and Jon Worthington.