Part two of The Width of a Post’s ‘Midweek Player Focus – Close Season Special’ series sees Gareth Walker revisit 2007/08 and the year Joe became a Valley Parade favourite.
Joe Colbeck was another of City’s home-grown players to win the Player of the Year award and, just like Luke O’Brien, he received praise and criticism in equal measure.
Joe broke into the City first team towards the end of the 2005/06 season, when he was still a junior. Consequently, he earned his first professional contract for the following year, the 2006/07 campaign, and – in what was to be an ultimately disappointing season for City – he was one of the highlights.
However, the season had started in exactly the opposite way. City were flying high near the top of the league and had the flying Jamaican Jermaine Johnson playing in Colbeck’s position on the right wing. As the club’s fortunes began to take a downturn, Joe’s career took off in the other direction. He began to play more and more as the season went on and, when Julian Rhodes took the decision to sell Johnson and Dean Windass in January, it meant that he became a regular starter.
Towards the end of that season we saw the best and worst of the player as he was sent off in a home game against Oldham Athletic. Joe was often praised for his tireless workrate and will to win, but this had spilled over during the Oldham game when he was playing exceptionally well, but reacted badly to been “roughed up” one too many times and was shown his first career red card for kicking the ball away. He returned as City were relegated at Chesterfield on the final day. During this game there were rumours doing the rounds that’ JoeCo’ was being scouted by Championship sides including Derby County and Nottingham Forest and it was thought that relegation would see him leave for pastures new. This, however, never materialised.
Joe was a player that split opinion right down the middle amongst City supporters, and his career seemed to reflect this as it has so far taken in many “swings and roundabouts”. The season that best reflects this is arguably 2007/08, one which was Stuart McCall’s first in charge as manager and one in which Joe eventually won the Player of the Year award. The season started with Joe in and out of the side under the new manager and it wasn’t until he was loaned out to Dave Penney’s Darlington that we started to see the best of him. He was played in a less familiar central attacking role at his temporary employers and he excelled.
During his time with The Quakers, Colbeck scored twice in six games and Penney was extremely sad to see him go when his form eventually convinced McCall to recall him and put him straight into the City side. Colbeck looked a totally different player on his return. He scored at Accrington Stanley on New Year’s day and, with Omar Daley on the opposite wing, the two of them began to strike fear into League Two defences.
Joe was quick and his ability to knock the ball past an opposing full back and then outpace him was working dividends and making for an extremely exciting spectacle for supporters. Darlington’s attempts to sign him on a permanent basis in the January Transfer Window were rebuffed by City, and he subsequently scored against them in a 3-1 Bantams win at the Darlington Arena. He really never looked back that season and became the surprising winner of the POTY award. Colbeck himself expressed his surprise on winning, because he had been far from a regular starter in the side throughout the season. His victory was arguably helped by City’s upturn in form when he returned from his loan spell, as we climbed from a lower mid-table position to briefly threatening the play offs and ultimately finish in 10th position.
The following season, City, Daley and indeed Colbeck continued where they had left off at and, having spent a sizeable sum of money on wages for players including Paul McLaren and Michael Boulding, the club started the season at the top end of the league. Unfortunately the form didn’t last for either the side or Colbeck himself. A foot injury ruled Joe out for three months and, by the time he returned to the side, City were slipping away from play offs.
I personally remember his return to the team, including two away games against Luton Town and Bury. It seemed that, when he returned, he was expected to pick up where he left off even though he clearly wasn’t match fit. The situation was getting desperate for the club as the promotion favourites entered into a dreadful run of form that wasn’t helped by an injury to Daley that coincided with Joe’s return. Maybe he was rushed back because of the Daley injury, who knows? But ultimately he didn’t reach the same heights as he had before his layoff and City eventually didn’t finish in the top 7.
As mentioned previously, Joe split opinion amongst the City faithful and, as is often the case during a poor run of form, the “Negatrons” began to shout the loudest. In a way, Colbeck seemed to become a victim of his own previous success and became a scapegoat amongst supporters for City’s poor run. Nobody would claim that Colbeck was the greatest winger in the world – his crossing, for example, was always something that clearly needed work – but his other attributes began to become the focus of negative attention. His “knock it and run” technique saw him singled out rightly or wrongly as a “one trick pony” who really was nothing but fast.
Because City had missed out on an expected promotion, the whole club came in for an element of criticism and Colbeck was no different. I attended a fans forum at Valley Parade that summer and both McCall and Chairman Mark Lawn condemned the amount of criticism that Joe had been receiving from the stands. Also, at a recent Skipton Bantams meeting, Lawn expressed his opinion that the injury to Daley that season had been the crushing blow in costing us a play off place – it was an opinion that I can agree with, not least because we would have had both wingers in the same side at the business end of the season, similarly to when we had been riding high at the start of the campaign.
Nevertheless, that summer, Joe made the decision to leave Bradford. It was a decision that eventually probably back fired on him. His contract was up for renewal and City made him an offer that he was advised to reject by his agent. He ended up signing for Oldham, who were now managed by his previous loan manager Dave Penney. Because he had been offered a contract by City and because we had developed him from the youth team, we were entitled to compensation, rumoured to be as much as £100k. His detractors were overjoyed that we had received such a princely sum for his services and revelled in being able to “warn” Oldham supporters of his negative points.
Joe’s career since he left VP indicates that the ones who weren’t huge fans of his might have been correct in their opinions. Penney was soon sacked by Oldham and the new manager as well as the Athletic supporters were quick to bomb the player out of the club. He ended up back in League Two as part of a Hereford United side, who were of course relegated to the Conference at the end of the season just passed. However, the reception and boos that he received on his two returns to Valley Parade are something that didn’t quite sit well with me. He is a former City Player of the Year after all, and it would have been nicer if we could have remembered him for the good times that saw him voted into that position back in 2007/08.