Trialists shine as Bradford City retain silverware

30 Jul

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Bradford (Park Avenue) 0

Bradford City XI 3

Campion 44, 45 + 59

Tuesday 29 July, 2014

Written by Adam Pickles (images by Kieran Wilkinson)

This was never going to be an easy game to report on. A hastily put together pre season friendly, only finalised a couple of days previously, with the already well known fact the majority of the squad was going to be made up of trialists. Groan. A reporter’s nightmare, even for the more established WOAP writers, never mind a last minute stand in like myself! After answering a call from the editor to write the report, I spent the afternoon researching the trialists and youth team in the hope to give myself a little more knowledge as to who would be playing. Turns out there was only one name I really needed to learn.

The Tom Banks memorial trophy was the prize at stake to the winner. Announced before the game, if the match remained a draw at 90 minutes, then penalties would be used to the settle the contest. Something to look forward to there anyway. It seemed strange to me that this fixture was not already previously arranged, with it being an annual event, but myself and 668 other fans headed to the Horsfall Stadium to watch the events unfold. This was in fact my first visit to the ground, despite them being our nearest neighbours, and I was looking forward to it.

Inside the ground, we took a seat in the Ronnie Bottomly memorial stand, which was a mixture of standing and seating, and also a mixture of Park Avenue and City fans. I had overheard on the way to the ground some BPA fans mentioning they did not feel there was a rivalry between the teams, a sentiment that after this game I must agree with. There was friendly banter and chatter throughout the game between both sets of fans and behaviour was impeccable all round.

The tannoy announcement before the game proved the press correct – with Jason Kennedy, Lewis Clarkson and, captain for the night, James Meredith the only “first teamers” part of the squad, with youth and trialists making up the rest of the City XI. As the BPA team was read out, I almost knew as many names in the opposition line up as in my own team, with one time City Player of the Year Joe Colbeck, and one time City “raw talent” Chib Chilaka both starting for BPA, alongside what I later learnt was also a team made up of trial players and youth squad members.

Interestingly, City only named three substitutes, who took their place alongside Steve Parkin in the view-restricting dugouts. With the running track around the pitch and these eyesore dugouts, it did make viewing in the front few rows quite difficult, and knowing I needed a keen eye on this game I moved further up the stand. Phil Parkinson was not present in the dugout, and I personally did not see him at the game – perhaps out watching games elsewhere and analysing potential transfer targets?

The first 40 minutes definitely had the air of a pre-season game, with both teams fairly open and both creating chances. City started brightly and the lively Mo Shariff burst down the right wing in the first minute whipping an excellent ball in, unfortunate not to find anyone on the end. Joe Colbeck, starting on the right wing, looked like he had a point to prove, and an early error from trial goalkeeper Matthew Urwin allowed him half a chance, which, as us City fans have seen before, he miscontrolled and wasted. Colbeck had a great first 10 minutes, and was causing Meredith trouble down the right flank. It seemed strange then that he was switched to the left wing, with Chilaka coming to the right, and it was on the left that he was anonymous for the next 80 minutes. Again, personally I remember such occurrences happening when he was playing in the claret and amber.

It was Chilaka who had the first real chance of the match, with a through ball finding him onside, and after taking a touch he proceeded to slice well wide of the target, much to the jeers/groans from the half full stand.

BPA began to grow into the game, controlling possession in the City half, however with no real threat. Giving the ball away whilst attacking led to City’s first real chance. Reggie Lambe, the Bermudan international trialist, intercepted a pass and played a lovely through ball to Achielle Campion, a fellow trialist, who in plenty of time and space somehow managed to smash the ball against the bar from close range. Not long after a square ball from the excellent Mo Shariff found Campion three yards out, with the Frenchman somehow managing to scuff his shot wide. It did not look like it was going to be his day.

Lewis Clarkson was substituted on the 20 minute mark, with another trialist, Danny Galbraith, replacing him. Clarkson had looked lively up to this point, linking up well with Lambe and Shariff, before what appeared to be a hamstring injury ended his evening. A shame, as his goal scoring and general play in preseason has been promising. Let’s hope it’s nothing too serious.

BPA created a couple of chances for themselves, with Christopher Routis slipping in defence, allowing a distance shot to be tipped acrobatically onto the post by Urwin, with Routis recovering and clearing the ball as it bounced in the box.

As it looked like the half was going to end stalemate, City, and Campion in particular, had other ideas. Kennedy – who looked confident and assured in the holding midfield “Nathan Doyle” role, played a superb through ball to Lambe, who beat the offside trap to square to an unmarked Campion, who this time made sure with a low finish to the keepers left. An easy goal, but they all count. This stirred something within City and Campion, and less than a minute later Meredith’s lobbed ball over the top, collected and delivered superbly by Lambe again, found the head of the again unmarked Campion who looped the ball over the helpless Avenue keeper.

What a difference a couple of minutes made. After the earlier misses, Campion had taken two chances, and his excellent position had left him perfectly poised to score twice. As the half time whistle blew, the sun went behind the clouds, probably mimicking the mood of the BPA fans and players. They had held their own for the first 44 minutes, but for the sucker punches right at the end.

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The running track at half time appeared to become a kid’s playground, and whilst I queued for my very reasonable half time pint, I listened to those around me. Despite my opinion that Chilaka had played a decent first half – his hold up play on occasion was excellent – it appears he was made the scapegoat by a section of supporters, blaming his weight and fitness for the lack of attacking opportunities created by Avenue in the first half.

The wind whipped round the stadium as the teams appeared for the second half, with both sides deciding not to make a change. Sirens wailed round Bradford as the referee blew his whistle, something which Avenue should may have taken note of. They never got going in the second half – presumably deflated by the two goal cushion City had opened up, and the half belonged to the visitors. Meredith and opposite full back, Coulson, were clearly encouraged to get forward more, and Meredith in particular showed glimpses of his attacking prowess, playing many through balls and lobbed balls over the top which cut the Avenue defence to pieces.

Shariff and Lambe interchanged throughout the half, with the former continuing where he left off from the first half, with quick feet and a good looking bag of tricks creating space for his colleagues as well as his excellent passing and movement again stretching the Avenue defence. He will have done himself no harm in his quest towards a contract for next season, with Corinne, my girlfriend and a self proclaimed “Kyel Reid fan” remarking how similar the two are in terms of their playing style. For me this is not a bad thing, and he would make an excellent squad player.

It was another through ball which created the third goal – this time by the impressive Kennedy, and a superbly timed run from Campion found him with only the goalie to beat. Although the keeper stood tall, and managed to get something onto the shot, it squirmed away from him and crossed the line, allowing Campion to complete his hat trick and get his hands on the match ball. From two earlier misses to a hat trick – I thought his all round game was good, with positioning and awareness the two traits which stood out. I would assume he will be looked at again in the friendly at the weekend, and depending on our other targets, could find himself as the backup striker we seem to be looking for.

The frustration set in from Park Avenue, with a few poorly timed challenges and ill discipline starting to creep into the game, so much so that when Shariff went down injured with 10 minutes to go, the BPA players noticed he was off the pitch and continued with the game, with one remarking “he’s off the pitch – get on with it!”. This was disappointing to see, and made even more disappointing that this would be the last we would see from Mo Shariff, with youth team striker Giovanni Landu coming on to replace him. This switch saw Galbraith move to the left wing, with Landu joining Campion up front. A further substitution saw Niall Heaton replace Kennedy, who received a good ovation when leaving the picture. The biggest cheer of the day, however, came when Chilaka was taken off the field – whether this was ironic or not, the jury is still out.

Galbraith found himself on the ball a lot more and improved in this wide left position – although he had been overshadowed slightly by his hatrick hero strike partner – and he picked up where Shariff had left off, twisting and turning defenders and knocking useful balls into the box. Another day and another striker (Hanson?) would have been on the end of these crosses and such play does look promising and is a far cry from the hoofing from the back.

The game came to a slightly strange conclusion when, with all substitutes made, captain Meredith left the field leaving City to contest the last six minutes with only 10 men. The official Bradford City site later reported this was a planned move to manage players’ match minutes. This did prove a good test for the remaining three defenders, with Park Avenue pressing forward, and despite one shaky moment where an Avenue player found himself alone in the box, he fluffed his shot and the defence cleared up all that was thrown at them.

All in all, a good game of football and a convincing win by City. Park Avenue provided a decent test, but the young City XI, defensively especially, stood firm and held on to retain the trophy. The standout players for me were Shariff and, obviously, Campion, but I would expect Parkinson and Parkin would like to keep hold of others and have a final look at them at Hartlepool on Saturday.

Achille Campion – remember the name?

City XI: Urwin, Coulson, Routis, Bryan, Meredith, Shariff (Landu 68), Kennedy (Heaton 78), Rodden, Lambe, Campion, Clarkson (Galbraith 20)

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2014/15 previewed: A busy summer for David Baldwin

28 Jul
Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

By Jason McKeown

David Baldwin used to be long retired, living a relaxing life in Spain. Yet whilst the West Yorkshire weather on the afternoon of Bradford City’s pre-season friendly with Blackburn Rovers would rival temperatures in Madrid or Marbella, for David there are no Sangrias by the beach to enjoy, and instead a meeting with Stephen Hawthorn-Emmott, the club’s Head of Marketing, inside one of the Valley Parade boxes, followed by a pile of paperwork to get through and a further meeting with a scout in half an hour’s time.

It is 2pm, and in the Valley Parade main stand outside, City fans are beginning to take their seats, but David is working up to the last minute, before he can take in the entertaining 0-0 draw – today’s task list including an interview for Width of a Post. The close season is a frantic and unrelenting period for the Bradford City Chief Executive – persuaded out of retirement by Mark Lawn in 2007 – who amongst the many plates to keep spinning has the small matter of helping Phil Parkinson to rebuild the squad.

During a summer of vast change in the playing staff, it is no small challenge. Two weeks before the big kick off, many of the holes have been filled but there still gaps to address. Those lazy retirement days must seem a lifetime ago.

The retained list

One of David’s initial summer duties included the negotiating of new deals for the out-of-contract players who Parkinson wanted to keep: namely Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and, initially at least, Jon McLaughlin. David explained how the process of offering new deals works.

“When you do an offer of re-engagement with a player, the player has one month from receiving the offer to make a decision,” stated David. “There are two conditions of the offer; firstly that it must be an improved offer or at least matching what they were earning. Secondly, we have to give them a month to decide on it. That is then their protection and, if they want, they can go and test the market to measure if it is a good deal for them.

“Rory McArdle was the first one back from holiday and we sat down with his agent to sort his deal quite quickly. Some amendments were made to the original offer, and he signed on those terms. Stephen Darby received his offer then went on holiday a couple of days later. So it was longer before he came back, but then he very quickly came into the building wanting to sign, which was good news.”

Yet whilst these two players re-signed relatively promptly, it proved to be less straightforward with James Meredith and Jon McLaughlin, who failed to sign the deals on offer before the 30-day deadline, meaning the club had the right to withdraw them. The bottom line being that the club have ultimately brought in replacements for these positions, with Meredith re-signing to take up what initially looks set to be a back-up role, and McLaughlin departing altogether.

Image by Mike Holdsworth

Image by Mike Holdsworth

“Jon McLaughlin’s offer had elapsed, because I don’t think he was happy with the offer we had made,” revealed David. “And that’s when the positioning with him changed. With James Meredith it was the same scenario; he didn’t come back to us in time, although later decided that he wanted to be here.”

On McLaughlin, Baldwin admitted that the decision not to make a further contract offer was due to finances and the manager’s choice to bring in Jordan Pickford as his new number one. “You are balancing the economics of a playing budget with the positions that you need to fill,” he stated. “And the dilemma for the manager was, who is he going to hang his hat on to be his first choice goalkeeper? He’s looking at all the permutations.

“What you have to consider is that, if you can’t afford two first team goalkeepers, it becomes an expensive thing to have one of them sitting on the bench. Now if the manager was in a position where he was making Jon McLaughlin his first choice, then the offer to him would be a first choice offer.

“From Jon’s perspective, his expectation will be that he would receive an offer as a first choice. And understandably so, he was an ever present last year. But the manager picks the team. From a Board perspective it is simple economics of saying to the manager ‘you can’t afford both’. So he had to make a choice. We don’t tell him which choice to make, it was a decision he had to make balanced against making sure there is money set aside for other parts of the team.

“We can’t afford to have a keeper on a first choice budget sitting on the bench.”

And what of James Meredith? “We made James an offer; obviously he was weighing up his options, like anybody would. It probably didn’t help that James was over in Australia, but once the offer period had elapsed, we then targeted Alan Sheehan, who we had been discussing as well.

“Alan obviously comes with a good pedigree and was being chased by a number of clubs, including clubs who are favourites to go up this year. We kept it very much under the radar and brought him in, which was very much a disappointment to James. He felt that whatever options he was considering elsewhere, they hadn’t come to fruition as he had wanted them to, so we sat down and re-negotiated a different deal with him. I think we now have good competition for that position.”

Another ‘We Made History’ player to leave, despite the club keeping the door open, was Kyel Reid, who has signed a two-year deal with League One rivals Preston North End. David confirmed that City were not in a position to offer Kyel a new contract as they were still evaluating his recovery from long-term injury.

“With Kyel Reid we hadn’t made an offer at that stage, because we were assessing what his fitness situation would be. But in the meantime, his agent got him a good deal elsewhere. We wish him well. But Omar Daley didn’t come back quite the player he was, and we can’t afford to be in a position of paying wages if a player isn’t going to play.

“Other clubs might see it differently and will take that risk, but it wasn’t a decision that we could make at that particular time.”

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Image by Kieran Wilkinson

The incomings

Beyond the futures of last season’s playing squad, David has also worked with Phil Parkinson in bringing in new faces, and he highlighted midfield as the key area of change. “The ethos was that the midfield needed more running power and a bit more craft, to play a different way when needed,” David said.

“The positive is that, of the players we have brought in, they have got good pedigree. You look at Gary Liddle. I spoke to the Hartlepool Chief Executive about him, and they could not speak more highly of him. We spoke to Notts County about him, and they obviously desperately wanted to keep him, but I think he was ready for a new challenge. He’s a player’s player and a fan’s favourite.

“Then there is Matty Dolan. He was only on loan with us because we missed the January transfer deadline by three minutes, because Middlesbrough were trying to sort out the international transfer of a goalkeeper at the same time. Matty came in last season and found his feet at the club. It takes time to adjust, as he is only a young lad and has only just turned 21. What he has done is listened very intently to the instruction of the close season fitness programme set by Nick Allamby. We’ve spoken with him at length about the benefits of the sport science side of things that we offer, and he has taken it on board and come back in fantastic shape.

“You look at the midfield now as having three fresh new players in: Gary Liddle, Billy Knott and Matty Dolan, who are all good footballers. There’s a decent amount of athleticism in there, and there’s a good amount of craft too.

“Depending on formations, we also now have the typeset of a typical number 10 in Billy Clarke. He can play up front, and he can play on the wings. He’s played at a higher level. I think he is a good addition to the squad. But midfield is certainly the biggest fundamental change.”

In contrast, the defence from last season has been largely retained, with the addition of Sheehan at left back and the replacing of McLaughlin with Pickford. “The seventh-best defence in the league, and we have retained the entire back four,” smiled David. “And we’ve added another quality player to it. And we’ve added a real up-and-coming young talented goalkeeper.”

On Pickford, David was keen to highlight the young shot-stopper’s glowing reputation within the game. “The people that we talked to – people with decent reputations as goalkeeping coaches and managers – have said that we have got a real starlet there.

“The bottom line with Jordan Pickford is that he is highly rated as the next young talent coming through. Sunderland have given him a long-term contract, and Sunderland want to see him playing. This is a good stage for him to demonstrate to them how good he can be.

“Is he motivated to deliver? Of course he is. People say he is a loan keeper, so how committed will he be? Well – with the four-year contract he has signed at Sunderland – he is committed to making sure that, a year down the line, he is knocking on the door for their first team. I think that is the reality of it, and it means we get a good player along the way.”

Despite the six arrivals, there are still other new signings needed and time is running out. So how is recruitment progressing? David explained, “The end of the transfer window is probably a more important measure than the start of the season, because you can rush people in, not quite getting the people you wanted, and they end up sitting on the bench. And then a week later the person who you really wanted becomes available, and there is nothing you can do.

“As we stand at the minute, I would expect three or four (new signings). Three at the absolute minimum, possibly four, maybe even five depending on the deals.

“No one is rushing into a panic and we are monitoring the situation carefully, these players and their availability. And some things are just worth waiting for.”

One of the key considerations behind the new arrivals is the planned change of playing style this season, which was first mentioned by Julian Rhodes in May. I have been intrigued all summer about how this new direction was agreed and whether this decision has been placed upon Parkinson, similarly to how the West Ham board have laid out certain demands of Sam Allardyce. David confirmed that the new approach was in fact a joint decision between the Board and manager.SAM_2083

“It’s a collaborative decision. We discuss it as a collective group. You digest what went well last season, what didn’t go so well, what things we need to improve and how we can go about it. Now I would highlight the Peterborough home game. We saw a change of system, and it was effective. Although ironically, in the Peterborough away game, the system change that day wasn’t as effective!

“We can still drop to the core 4-4-2 if needed. But the difference now is we have got players who can play both that and the diamond formation. Ultimately the one thing that came out of these discussions is that more mobility and versatility is needed in League One. And so, with the new players, what we are seeing is that coming to fruition. And it’s something we want to supplement further.

“There will be times when we want to go for pacy wingers, so that’s why we are looking for pacy wingers.”

The budget cuts

An ongoing talking point all summer has been the news that the playing budget has been cut to the tune of £500k – a considerable sum of money, with last season’s wage bill rumoured to be just over £2 million. David stressed that he believes the revised budget is nevertheless competitive, and highlighted a wide-ranging focus on delivering greater efficiency in how the club operates, which includes the playing staff.

“There has been a lot of talk about the budget being hacked back by half a million. The bottom line is that, over the last few years, we have had players in the building that have not come in on cheap wages, and yet their game contribution to the team has been sporadic to say the least.

I recently did an article in the T&A about efficiencies. This budget is not a hack-back, it is still a very strong budget. And as part of doing that, we are checking the efficiencies of each transfer so that we aren’t paying, for want of a better word, dead money.”

But does that mean there are going to be further outgoings? “Never say never. What’s very important is that we still need to add to this squad. If you have a player leave, you’ve either got to bring in a better player or you’ve got to be in a situation of being made an offer that is too good to turn down that can create funds to improve the team further.”

This leads us onto the future of James Hanson, who has been the subject of tabloid speculation about a £300k transfer offer from Millwall. David confirmed that no bid has been made for James or any player. “There have been no offers. As far as I am concerned, everyone who is here is here and staying, but the picture can always change.

“As far as we are concerned, James Hanson is a good asset to this football club. And we would not want to see him go. However, somebody might make an approach that is too good a deal for him and too good a deal for the club to turn down. That could happen tomorrow, or it could happen in two years’ time.

“From our point of view, we are conscious that we only have 17 professionals in the building. There is enough to start and on the bench, but we are conscious that we need more players to strengthen this team.”

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Off the field matters

With ‘efficiency’ the phrase of the moment, I asked David for examples of where else this has occurred within the club. “We’re in a process of outsourcing to a third party the corporate side of the catering. The company has a good reputation out there in the market place. That arrangement starts on Friday. On a match day, what they will be managing are the Hendrie and McCall suites, Boardroom, 2013 Lounge, Bantams Bar and the boxes. They will also be running events on non-match days.

“It’s a better return for us without all the associated costs of managing it ourselves. I think they will drive the business on, and we – like with the shop – will be rewarded through greater turnover. We get a minimum guarantee and a percentage of sales on top of it, which is the way that the shop deal is structured.

“There is also the closing of the 1911 Club during the week. We haven’t closed it down, it just wasn’t running efficiently on a Monday – Friday basis, and however many people we get in there, versus the labour costs, it’s not going to generate enough income. And it can also detract from the service we offer on midweek match days, which is something we don’t want to do. Unfortunately there have been some redundancies as a result.

“The maintenance of the training ground has also been looked at, and the recruitment of the match day stewards. It’s all about counting the pennies, and no one has been immune to it.”

Another off-the-field developed this summer was the news that long-serving head of youth development, Peter Horne, had left the club. David was guarded over the reasons for this parting of ways but did reveal, “The facts are quite straightforward. Peter offered his resignation, and we accepted that resignation. There is nothing more than that. The reasons why people give their resignations I think it is private to them.

“From a transitional point of view, we have had natural progression of internal staff being promoted, with Alan Nevison taking over the academy. And I think that is testament to the quality of the people we have in the building.”

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The season ahead

Over the previous two campaigns, the Board has set a playing budget higher than the club’s true break-even point, with variants that can be considered for making up the shortfall over the course of the season. David confirmed that the reduced playing budget has again been structured in this way, although added that the difference between the budget and break-even point is lower this time, making it easier to claw back.

“We have another speculative budget this year. The break-even point, and the level we set the manager – there is a difference between the two. You make those decisions based on calculated changes that could happen throughout the season, which I call extraordinary income. Extraordinary income includes cup runs, transfer fees of existing or youth players, add on fees in relation to players who have left who are playing – there are certain trigger points, such as when they play and when they score goals. The other aspect is sell on clauses from other players sold who are further down the line.

“You look at that combination, and our expectation is that we will claw back the overspend from this year to give ourselves, in 12 months’ time, a break-even budget. So we are not carrying debt into next year.”

Earlier in the conversation David had joked about the ongoing speculation over former youth player Tom Cleverley – with any transfer from Manchester United triggering revenue for City through a sell-on clause. “Those things that may exceed the break-even point, we will want to give them to the manager to give him an even more competitive playing budget, without undue risk,” confirmed David.

So with the new faces almost all added, and the new playing style showing promise during pre-season, it just leaves one big, so far unanswered question – what, exactly, are the expectations this season? David declined making any predictions, but concluded the interview his own thoughts.

“My personal view – and the proof will be in the pudding – is that it is a more adaptable and better football team this year compared to last year. I think we have more versatility. We are not reliant on one or two players to score the goals. We are not sitting on laurels as we are not finished yet with building the squad.

“It is a moving beast, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we have a better footballing team in place now. I’m conscious that we have gaps, but it would be nice to think that we could make improvements on last year.”

Diamond in the rough becomes glittering prospect as newest recruits shine

26 Jul

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Bradford City 0

Blackburn Rovers 0

Saturday 26 July, 2014

Written by Katie Wyhatt (images by Jason McKeown)

In what probably provides the most accurate barometer of the development of Phil Parkinson’s squad thus far, Bradford City convincingly held an efficient Blackburn Rovers side to one of the most closely fought and hotly contested pre-season clashes since, well, ever.

This was a friendly on paper, but one edged with all the competitiveness, desire and combativeness of the real thing. Once again, we are presented with a team greater than the sum of its parts: a unit of youth and longevity, but with well-placed experience in the likes of Gary Liddle, Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies and Rory McArdle.

These players, although many are new to the Bantams faithful, already look eager and determined to match the affection in which their predecessors were rightfully held. After losing possession, for example, Billy Clarke raced back to City’s 18-yard box to – successfully – hound the ball back; Liddle later sprinted a good four metres to deliver a ruthlessly crunching tackle. No one should ever read too much into pre-season, but these initial sightings will undoubtedly provide relief to those worrying about the heirs to Jones’ and Doyle’s midfield.

The Bantams initially fielded what one would perceive, bar the ongoing absence of Aaron Mclean, to be a full-strength side, with all of the new summer recruits making their Valley Parade debuts as Parkinson continued to polish his diamond formation. With Billy Knott at the helm in the hole, Rafa De Vita and Matty Dolan made up the flanks, Liddle anchoring while James Hanson and Clarke framed the forward line.

And the diamond worked well. Bradford were creatively playing between the lines, shifting as a unit, and it’s obvious Parkinson has the intelligent ball players required to make the system work. City were never outnumbered in midfield and valiantly held their own. Liddle probed and hounded and set up the play with a work ethic Gary Jones would be proud of, later moving into a more box-to-box role as he and Dolan seamlessly interchanged. Knott utilised the space well and played countless defence-splitting passes to Hanson and Clarke – it’s clear the former Sunderland prospect possesses not only the brain to play in the formation, but the pace and technical attributes to boot.

De Vita, though offering nothing too fancy, performed tidily before an injury forced him off, providing the link between Darby and Hanson to continue the attacks, even if, at first, he offered little defensively. The diamond’s lack of width meant there was often space out wide willing to be exploited, and there was a period where Darby was under prolonged siege before finding his feet, and Liddle and Dolan shifted to marshal the back four. Time will tell whether De Vita’s cumulative efforts are enough to warrant a new contract. He is undoubtedly composed enough to find a place, but the Italian lacked match sharpness and may struggle to break through amidst a plethora of alternatives.

This isn’t total revolution: directness, of course, is still evident, adding the unpredictability and balance City will need in the coming campaign, but it wasn’t Plan A, and having the energetic Knott to sweep up Hanson’s knockdowns brought a fluidity and ingenuity that just wasn’t there last season. Billy Clarke curled a free kick just over the crossbar from close range, while Hanson and Sheehan both directed shots just wide in efforts that had stemmed from hugely admirable build-up play.

At the other end of the pitch, Jordan Pickford looked secure and patrolled his area with a confidence that belies his tender years, catching the eye with a number of challenging and brave saves. Alan Sheehan’s tenacity and verve were also of note and the defender is a class, class act. In the second half especially, we were treated to a full showing of the Irishman’s enthralling attacking talents when he pressed forwards with a number of quick and considered passes, creating an overload on the left hand side to exploit the space.

As the second half loomed into view, Mark Yeates replaced De Vita and made an immediate impact, pinging a delightful ball to Hanson that Clarke ultimately saw saved. Knott later made way for Kennedy as Yeates slipped into the hole. Yeates, last season’s forgotten man, looked revitalised and relished the greater freedom the diamond affords. What, last season, was mistaken for a lack of positional discipline was very much the order of the day, with the wideman flourishing at the tip of the diamond as he timed his runs and deliveries perfectly. All the while, Sheehan was a bullet of blistering pace and trickery, and complemented his Athlone compatriot perfectly.

The positive tone was maintained for much of the second half, with Parkinson tinkering his charges periodically. Oli McBurnie and Lewis Clarkson replaced Clarke and Hanson in a double substitution, and both troubled the Blackburn goal with clever runs and tackles. James Meredith followed Liddle into the holding midfielder role and did well. Potential goalkeeper Matthew Urwin, an ex-Rovers prospect, had very little, if anything, to do, so was difficult to judge. Two other trialists – French defender Christopher Routis and midfielder Mo Shariff – filled in for Davies and Dolan respectively. Shariff looks a bright prospect, if raw, and delivered several cutting passes; Routis seems fierce and dependable.

The changes marked the end of an afternoon that had heralded many positives. What was clear from the outset today was that Parkinson has the players with the hunger and ability to make this diamond work well, and, whatever teething problems still need to be ironed out in the coming weeks as the new style is tweaked, there were hardly any glaringly obvious errors in his formation, other than the absence of Mclean. The stakes riding on the former Hull man are no secret, so it is frustrating to see the team gelling without him, especially as his return will disrupt the forward line so pivotal to the diamond’s success.

The De Vita conundrum also remains unresolved and the Italian will be hoping today has given Parkinson some positive food for thought – in any case, the noises suggest new arrivals are still impending – but the early signs are nonetheless so promising. The diamond is no longer a glint in someone’s eye, or even a diamond in the rough; it’s materialising here, right now, with these players, and convincingly enough to get you salivating for the opening day.

While the diamond may not yet be sparkling, it is most certainly shining.

City: Pickford (Urwin 46), Darby, McArdle, Davies (Routis 78), Sheehan (Heaton 88), Liddle (Meredith 73), Dolan (Shariff 84), Knott (Kennedy 59), De Vita (Yeates 44), Clarke (Clarkson 69), Hanson (McBurnie 69)

Not used: Campion, Lambe

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The birth of claret and amber

26 Jul
Picture by Kieran Wilkinson

Picture by Kieran Wilkinson

By John Dewhirst

Another season, another new kit. Thankfully the club’s colours remain unchanged and Bradford City maintains the distinction of being the only professional club in England to wear claret and amber.

How did claret and amber come about in the first place? The apparent coincidence that these were also the regimental colours of the West Yorkshire Regiment, based at the nearby Belle Vue barracks, has previously been identified. Manningham used the Belle Vue Hotel as its headquarters, so the military was literally on its doorstep. However, the reason for the change has never been explained. During the course of research for my forthcoming book, A HISTORY OF BCAFC IN OBJECTS, I believe that I have found the answer.

Changing the colours was discussed at the Manningham FC annual meeting at the end of April, 1884 and the club’s first recorded game in claret and amber was against Hull at Carlisle Road in September that year. From the middle of March, 1884 newspaper headlines (and local politics) had been dominated by stories about the Siege of Khartoum and the contentious issue of mobilising British troops.

At the time Gordon was facing the Isis of his day, besieged by a Muslim army whose leader – the Mahdi – sought to impose a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Sudan. This was an issue that would lead the Bradford MP, William Forster to initiate a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, William Gladstone (albeit for reasons somewhat different to the opinions of current serving political representatives in the city).

With the eventual despatch of soldiers from Yorkshire (among other places) to provide reinforcement, it seems a reasonable assumption that adoption of claret and amber represented an act of solidarity by Manningham FC with its own local regiment. However, the decision was considered sensitive such that it was left to the Manningham committee and not its membership to determine.

Manningham adopted claret and amber hoops – the original shirt design had narrow amber hoops – and these shirts were worn at the start of the 1903/04 season. Thereafter, the club reverted to stripes or plain claret shirts with amber facings. It was not until 2012/13 that hoops were restored…

A HISTORY OF BCAFC IN OBJECTS is released in early October and it is possible to subscribe for the book in advance to secure a £5 discount on the retail price and get your name recorded in it. The deadline for subscriber copies is 14th September. An order form can be downloaded here and further details from glorious1911 at paraders.co.uk

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The Bradford City Supporter of the Year – raise a glass to Steve!

25 Jul
Steve Gorringe presenting Gary Jones with the Shipley Bantams Player of the Year Award 2012/13. Photo courtesy of Shipley Bantams.

Steve Gorringe presenting Gary Jones with the Shipley Bantams Player of the Year Award 2012/13. Photo courtesy of Shipley Bantams.

By Phil Abbott

Congratulations to Steve Gorringe, announced today as BCAFC Supporters Board ‘Supporter of the Year 2013-14’. For many, Steve will need little introduction, given the nature of his support of Bradford City. For others, they will soon put a name to a regular face in the City crowd. For some, they will simply be content to read of his magnificent contribution to the life of Bradford City over a number of years.

Following their search for the winner of the reinstated competition, the Supporters Board were particularly impressed with one nomination from Phil Woodward, a friend of Steve. In that nomination, Phil wanted to share the terrific work Steve does for the Shipley Bantams in running coaches to away games for a huge number of individuals over the year.

“Steve has run coaches to every away game this season, including cup games. He has taken time off work to attend games, specifically long Tuesday night trips. He takes calls at all hours for people booking on the coaches. He has also arranged a bucket collection for McMillan Cancer charity on Boxing Day and helped to arrange a race night that made £600 for Prostate Cancer UK and also attended hospital to hand out gifts for sick children at Christmas.  

“He arranged all the members’ away priority cards for this season too. He plans pub stops in advance, puts together info on the pubs and the grounds for the travelling City fans and puts the money made back into the club. He also records a Bradford City broadcast on BCB radio, again giving up his own time for this. He is unselfish in his devotion to Bradford City and the work he does behind the scenes should be recognised, applauded and commended. He has taken over 250 supporters to away games this season, arranged the coaches, looked after our supporters young and old and arranged 3 tables for our supporters for the Player of the Year awards, discounted for our members.

“Steve does lots of work that benefits other supporters rather than doing things just for him. He is a loyal supporter that puts others first and spends lots of his own time doing things to benefit Bradford City. He is well organised and makes away trips an enjoyable experience despite the result and that along with his history of fundraising for charities, including the Burns Unit stands out for me. The criteria sums up Steve’s passion, enthusiasm and commitment for this club and it would be perfectly fitting for him to be recognised as Supporter of the Year.”

I know of Steve, and I have seen him on the away terraces many times, but I’ve never spoken to him. Recently, all that changed as I wanted to delve deeper into what appeared to be such a rousing and heartfelt nomination. I gave Steve a call for a ‘quick chat’. There are many times you put the phone down after an hour (particularly when you’ve not done much of the talking yourself) and you think ‘I’m never gonna get that part of my life back’, but far from it being so with Steve; I was both entertained and inspired.

During my hour with Steve, I wanted to probe a little more into what makes him such a great and worthy winner of the award.

How do you feel to have won the award?

“I’m shocked,” confirmed Steve. “I found myself asking why I had been chosen as there are, in my mind, many people who do good things around the club”.

Here were the first tones of a humble yet gratified gentleman.

“I feel a personal pride and satisfaction for achieving something”, he continued.

The undertones of lots of what Steve has to say are very much set around the auspice of it being all in a day’s work.

What motivates you to do what you do with the Shipley Bantams?

“I know I’ve done a good job when someone jumps off the bus at the end and says thanks. I know I’ve let them down if there are 10 of them having a moan!” says Steve. “But a lot of what I do is lived out in the memory of my close friend Stuart Hardy”.

With great affection, ascribing him as one of his closest friends, Steve went on to tell me about how Stuart, who sadly died in 2009, and himself seized the Shippers reins eight years ago when the diminishing committee had dropped to just two members. Incredibly, finding time to fundraise for a wealth of causes, the notion of a travel club was developed around the time that the football club was in administration and unable to provide official transport to away games.

What sort of challenges do you face in making the Shipley Bantams happen?

“I like to plan trips down to the minute”, said Steve, “And that has its challenges. If I’ve promised a particular stop-off or a particular arrival time, then I always make it happen.”

There’s no accounting for breakdowns, late cancellations of games or traffic jams, but Steve appears to leave very few stones unturned in his bid to ensure his military precision is rewarded each and every away game.

“I have boxes and boxes of stuff in my office”, he recalls. “Ground guides, notes on stopping points, pubs, things to remember for next time we visit a specific ground.”

But Steve knows first-hand that the QE2 Bridge over to Gillingham or a busy M62 can be the spanner in any well planned, well-oiled works.

Which is your most memorable game for which you have arranged a trip?

Steve sighed. There had been so many. But, some of the most recent voyages were right up there.

“The two trips to Wembley take some beating. We took 10 coaches!” recalled Steve. “But for pure drama, the Villa semi-final probably takes it. How on earth was it possible that we had won? How could Bradford City have made the cup final? We had a camera crew with us on the day too, and the emotion was something else.”

But memorable games for Steve are not just surrounding the great days out. He recalled an unfortunate midweek trip to Aldershot.

“During the week, a few people had pulled out, and then even more did at the last minute. We were down to 8 people, so I decided to hire a people carrier rather than let people down. It seemed a good idea at the time! As it happens, we broke down in Hemel Hempstead on the way and ended up shelling out £90 for a taxi to get to the game on time. It was great though as, having heard of our plight, Mark Lawn and the Aldershot chairman had left some complimentary tickets for us on the gate when we arrived.”

Have there been any games where you wished you hadn’t been there?

Steve sighed again, but this time, I could feel the pain that I’d just rekindled.

“Most of the bad games from years gone by have been forgotten through the troughs and peaks of following City, but two in particular come to mind,” recalled an uncomfortable Steve.

“The most recent was the 5-0 JPT defeat at Hartlepool. There was nothing to see on the pitch and very little to laugh about at all. It was dire.”

Even though this was a bad memory, Steve and his passengers always have something to laugh about on the bus and this tends to temper the emotions a little. He went on to describe the latter part of the Peter Taylor years, where poor away performance tested his resolve.

“We were at Cheltenham, post-Christmas, and the players’ body language was terrible. It suggested they were not interested and had accepted defeat. We’d taken time off work. I had a real blast at the players on the night, even on the old message board too. I went on about their lack of professionalism and what a privileged existence they had as professional footballers. It wasn’t a good time.”

Where are your favourite/least favourite grounds?

Steve was keen to make the distinction between ‘stadiums’ and ‘grounds’ as in his experience, there is a subtle difference.

“As far as stadiums go, it’s Wembley. But there are other stadiums that are soulless. My least favourite of these stadiums is MK Dons, for exactly that reason. It’s a beautiful stadium, just soulless.”

But there have been some dire ‘grounds’ in Steve’s experience too.

“Tuesday nights in Aldershot aren’t great! The access for away fans is miles around the back, up a park path. After the game there are no street lights and it feels like walking down ‘Ambush Alley’,” laughed Steve. “And then there’s Kenilworth Road. The place just stinks of pee and rust!”

But there is a place in Steve’s heart for many of the older grounds, each with many stories to tell. His favourite? Spotland.

“I love Spotland. Whenever we play Rochdale, we take a massive following. We’re all close together and the great acoustics in the stand mean that there is a great atmosphere.”

You mentioned others who you would say were worthy of the Supporter of the Year Award?

“There are lots of people who do a great deal for the club. In particular there are some great established or developing Supporters Groups where people do similar things. There’s Shelf, White Abbey, East Bierley and Skipton to mention a few and some great people doing amazing things for the Supporters Trust, Friends of Bradford City and Bradford Disability Team. I’m a particular fan of the likes of Mick Shackleton and Mark Neale, for example.”

(Editorial point – To maintain transparency, the Supporters Board agreed that they would not be able to nominate anyone or be nominated themselves for the award. Both these men serve currently on the board)

Finally, how do you see this season going?

“I’m looking for at least a top half finish,” fired Steve, “But I’d like to think we had a chance of the play offs. I think we’ve spent the lower budget better to ensure there is more quality throughout the squad. I think we have a bit more depth than before. It seems to me that Phil Parkinson is building a team who will work hard for each other. They might not be as skilful, but the sum total of their efforts might be better than before.”

Let’s face it, Steve has seen more than enough over his time as a City Supporter, so his views hold some credibility. Only time will tell just how much, but however you feel about the coming season, let’s take one more moment to look back at last year and raise a glass to a remarkable man – the one and only Mr Steve Gorringe, Supporter of the Year.

Jon McLaughlin’s departure triggers mixed feelings

23 Jul
Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

By Jason McKeown

“We’ve come a long, long way together. Through the hard times and the good.” Praise You by Fatboy Slim

If there was one Bradford City player on the retained list who it would be assumed would re-sign with no problems, it was surely Jon McLaughlin, who has this week instead departed the club. As the longest-serving player, the Scottish keeper’s endurance was something to celebrate. He’d enjoyed a good season, where he’d finally proven himself the club’s number one. A new contract was offered to him in May, along with deals for Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and James Meredith. But whilst the others all eventually agreed terms to remain in West Yorkshire, McLaughlin has been stuck in limbo, unable to conclude a new deal.

Width of a Post understands that the player (or at least his agent) believed there would be a fair amount of interest from other clubs. So seemingly in a position of strength, he turned down City’s initial offer and apparently requested a substantial pay rise. If the rumours are true, McLaughlin was a relatively low paid player last season (and certainly a long, long way below the club’s highest earner, Aaron Mclean). However, his demands did not go down well with the club, who withdrew the original offer when it expired following the 30-day consultation period.

It meant that McLaughlin was left in a position of training with City in the hope of continuing negotiations; his hand further weakened by the signing of Jordan Pickford from Sunderland on a season’s loan. There was not the interest elsewhere that his agent perhaps originally suggested to him, although it is good to see him ultimately receive an acceptable offer from Burton Albion. As such, the player and club can shake hands on good terms, after going through so much together.

McLaughlin originally arrived at Valley Parade in 2008, awarded his big break by Stuart McCall. Over six seasons at Valley Parade, he has played his part in achievements big and small. But it didn’t translate into hero status, or even widespread appreciation. He was not unpopular with the crowd, but far from a favourite either. Whereas some of his predecessors in the Valley Parade goal have been big presences and demanding of the attention, McLaughlin always seemed something of a supporting character.

You didn’t always notice him, and sometimes it was hard to tell if that was a good or a bad thing.

You can certainly find plenty of detractors of McLaughlin. They will tell you he wasn’t good enough, that he has too many weaknesses and that his strengths are nothing special. Equally you will also find numerous supporters of the Scot. They will point to his overall ability, and his stats – which are undoubtedly commendable. But from the majority of City fans, there is a mixture of indifference and indecisiveness over his worth. The club’s longest-serving player, and yet many of us couldn’t make up our minds about him. Is he good enough? Could we do better? Could we do worse?

In 2013/14, McLaughlin was an ever-present in the league and can take pride in City ‘against’ column: they conceded the seventh-fewest goals in the division. McLaughlin kept 14 clean sheets – a record of almost one shut-out every three games – and only conceded more than two goals on five occasions.

That is impressive, but yet the credit for that solidity doesn’t seem to go to McLaughlin. Everyone agrees that Andrew Davies is the key figure in the back five, and the stats for a City side with Davies at the helm and a City side without him demonstrate his considerable value (just one clean sheet during his four-month absence). Stephen Darby won the 2013/14 player of the season award and is widely valued, Rory McArdle is generally rated. But what of McLaughlin? How influential was Jon McLaughlin in Jon McLaughlin keeping 14 clean sheets? And if the answer is ‘very’, why didn’t he get the credit?

The season before that, 2012/13, was a similar story. Parkinson interchanged between Matt Duke and McLaughlin, and the debate raged all season about who was the better player. I was a member of the #TeamDuke camp, yet the stats showed that Duke conceded twice as many goals as McLaughlin. Famously that season, a 4-1 thrashing to Exeter in March was a watershed moment that led to a late play off surge. Parkinson made two changes to the backline for the next game, against Wycombe, which began that run. Meredith was brought back in after injury and McLaughlin replaced Duke. Meredith received a great deal of credit for the subsequent upturn in the team’s form, whilst McLaughlin barely received a mention.

So what kept happening? Why does McLaughlin look such a good player on paper, but yet was unable to fully convince us when we were watching him live?

Like James Hanson, his background has both helped and counted against him. Signed from Harrogate Railway and a former University student. McLaughlin must have been initially grateful that a club like ours would give him an opportunity. He was fortunate to be here. And for that reason, there was always an element of looking down on Jon rather than looking up to him. He was around so long that he almost became first choice keeper by default.

It took Hanson, with his own non-league background, a long time to win over his critics and prove himself as a genuine star player of the team. McLaughlin failed to reach that same status. Part of my bias for Duke in 2012/13 derived from his greater pedigree that gave you the confidence to believe he was a ‘proper’ goalkeeper. If McLaughlin had similarly joined City from Hull, would we currently view and judge him differently? Certainly, Burton Albion’s fans will have a different perspective in how they welcome him, on account of his now-lengthy Football League experience.

What I’ve often felt is lacking in McLaughlin’s game were point-winning contributions. When you compare him to some of the best City keepers of the last two decades, there simply isn’t the same list of memorable McLaughlin performances and incredible saves. Yet on the other side of the coin, McLaughlin’s mistakes were not particularly frequent or dreadful enough to differentiate him from those who have kept the Bradford City goal before him. He is basically an ordinary goalkeeper. A good all round game, with nothing glaringly lacking from his range of abilities. Still, you sometimes wish that it was more evident just what a difference he makes.

In September, McLaughlin will turn 27 and, like his former goalkeeping coach Duke, could in theory be playing professional football into his late 30s. These next four or five years in particular should be amongst his best, and there must be some sadness that they won’t take place at Valley Parade.

For a lot of investment went into developing Jon. Four managers trusted in him, numerous goalkeeping coaches spent a great deal of time improving him. The lessons learned from the mistakes he made will now be to another club’s benefit. It will be very interesting to see how both he – and the keepers who follow him in the Valley Parade sticks – fare over the coming years.

Whatever the disagreements over recent weeks, no one can dispute that McLaughlin made a very positive contribution to Bradford City. We are all better off for what he did for the club.

The brutalness of pre-season defeats

22 Jul

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Ossett Town 2

Boardman 65, Blackburn 81

Bradford City XI 0

Tuesday 23 July, 2014

Words and images by Jason McKeown

The sun-baked Ossett evening was the perfect setting for a few hundred Bradford City supporters to spend a relaxing, care-free couple of hours enjoying a football match. But this tranquil atmosphere undersold the heavy burden of pressure felt by the players tasked with representing the League One club. Upon such high stakes, the sport is at its most brutal.

A mixture of back-up first teamers, youth players and trialists were on a mission to impress Phil Parkinson. To demonstrate their value to the manager and, in many cases, secure a future at the club beyond the slow setting of the evening sun behind the main stand. Even for youth players who cannot realistically hope to get a first team call up any time soon, they may never get a chance as good as this. This was no meaningless friendly to the Bantams who participated in it: almost all had their future at stake.

It was a near-unrecognisable team, save for History Maker James Meredith – captain for the night – Jason Kennedy and Rafa De Vita. Even a 45-minute appearance from Matt Taylor felt like it should have been marked with the handing out of collector’s badges, given the majority of City supporters have still yet to see him in action. Jordan Pickford – who signed for the Bantams on a season-long loan the day before – was held back from making his debut. Instead, Parkinson ran the rule over two trialists in goal – Jay Lynch, a 21-year-old former Bolton keeper, and Matt Urwin, a 20-year-old ex-Blackburn Rovers stopper. In total, the starting XI featured five trialists, with two more introduced after the break.

Parkinson spent the entire 90 minutes stood behind one of the goals; ruling the roost over his team of lesser-knowns, whilst assistant Steve Parkin barked orders from the dugout. Of the trialists, Reginald Thompson-Lambe was arguably the most impressive performer; linking up reasonably well with Meredith on the left flank and showing some neat touches. A first team-ready player he certainly isn’t, but his nationality – Bermuda – will curry him plenty of favour at Valley Parade. The former Toronto man, who was once on Ipswich’s books, might be worth a development contract.SAM_2083

Other trialists included right back Stuart Bramley (ex-Dallas), French centre half Christophe Routis (ex-Servette), and – of course – Rafa De Vita.

What more can be said about the Italian? Had he rocked up on trial this summer without any previous connections, would he still be in the frame for a contract? In the two friendlies I have seen, De Vita has looked largely anonymous, and he continues to display a frustrating tendency to attempt ineffective fancy flick ons that only succeed in breaking down attacking moves. Playing just off a solo striker – youth product Joe Brennan – far more should be expected of De Vita. We know that he can be a decent player, yet he offers nothing that hasn’t already been recruited this summer. It’s time to put this one to bed.

Of the youth players on show, Sam Wright once again displayed glimpses of what he can do – this time in a central midfield role. He is a player of some promise but arguably needs toughening up. A month or two on loan at a local non-league club is a must if he is to progress to first team consideration. Niall Heaton was introduced in the second half and impressed with his confident runs forward. Another trialist – Richard Bryan (ex-Aston Villa) – was also given another opportunity after his outing at Guiseley. Between him and Nick Arnold, you would expect Parkinson to sign one to provide more right-sided defensive cover for the season ahead.

In truth it was difficult to come to any overly-positive conclusions about any of the players on show tonight. Ossett Town showed spirit and character throughout, never allowing their more illustrious opponents an easy ride. Throughout the rough and tumble, you want to see stand out City performers who can genuinely show they are on a different level. It might be harsh, but other than Meredith there was no one who looked above their semi-pro opponents. It might be harsh, but these opportunities cannot be passed up. Football is brutal, and it really was here.

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In a game of very few chances, Ossett Town eventually took the lead after Rob Boardman smashed a free kick past Urwin from some 30 yards out. It was a terrific strike, although not a moment Urwin could feel proud about. In the opposite corner of the ground, his trialist rival Lynch showed no emotion as he watched on keenly, whilst stood amongst regular supporters. Lynch might have kept a clean sheet during his first half outing, but hadn’t been tested and, therefore, had little opportunity to impress.

City attempted to respond to falling behind, and substitute Reece Webb-Forster – who last season scored the youth team’s winning goal in the Youth Alliance (Northern) cup final – was played through on goal. A delicate lob deceived the home keeper, but bounced agonisingly off the underside of the croosbar before being scrambled away. It was City’s best opening on the night by some distance. A minute later, Luke Blackburn tapped home a second Ossett goal after Urwin had done well to parry an initial shot from Joe O’Neil.

With almost all of the senior players and trialists replaced when the score was 0-0, it is perhaps understandable that a more youthful Bradford City struggled to cope with Ossett’s greater physicality and lost the game. But these are the standards they have to reach and reach very quickly. Football is brutal.

Defeat barely matters, not when the first XI for the opening fixture with Coventry City was never going to feature anyone on display this evening. But it nevertheless raises small levels of anxiety as the big kick off creeps closer and closer into view. Parkinson still has areas of his squad to fill, and tonight offered him very few answers – at least not in the short-term.

City: Lynch (Urwin), Bramley (Pollard), Meredith (Heaton), Taylor (Bryan), Routis (King), Kennedy (Divine), Wright, Lambe, De Vita (Jenkinson), Brennan (Webb-Forster), Chippendale

 

The 'ahem' first class press facilities.

The ‘ahem’ first class press facilities.

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