By Phil Abbott
Not even six months have passed since one of League One’s prize midfield assets publicly stated his hopes of seeing out his current deal, and possibly his career, at his longtime club, Rochdale. Record appearance holder Gary Jones, the midfield dynamo, was in the process of racking up what turned out to be a finite, 473 games for the Lancashire club. Nobody was speculating that the contracted club captain would even consider a move away from Dale, or that it would ever be sanctioned by either of his biggest fans, his hugely complimentary manager John Coleman or former boss Keith Hill.
Yet, into October of this ‘new’ season, Jones finds himself in League Two, with perennial underachievers, Bradford City. A league below (although of course Rochdale were relegated at the end of the season), a probable pay cut negotiated, a team whose recent form and history is less than impressive and no doubt a longer drive to work are his scant reward.
Football has its critics, especially those who decry the lack of loyalty to a club, players scooping overinflated wages and committing crass social ‘faux pas’ both on and off the field, with their antics far flung from the reality of everyday supporters’ lives. Gary Jones would likely be one of the last men you could throw those accusations at and, even in a short space of time, he is slowly becoming a new cult hero in the City engine room. Whilst ultimately, only time and results will tell whether Jones and his current teammates reach the oxygen-sparse status heights of Windass, McCall and Co, he’s certainly started off at the top of his game.
Any casual or first time observers on Saturday witnessing the footballing bombardment of Port Vale and the subsequently miraculous City loss would be forgiven for thinking that ‘Jonesy’ had been somewhat overrated in their friends’ pre match briefings. In some respects, on the back of a number of magnificent, commanding performances, Jones’ performance against the Valiants was just a little off the pace for the normally high quality maestro. Said casual observer may have alluded to his sometimes misplaced passes or his relatively few attacking cameos, but even in the face of this, Gary Jones still weighed in with a notable 7/10 performance.
In endearing themselves to fans, City players past and present have displayed a number of likeable characteristics. The tenacious and free scoring playing days of Dean Windass, or the legendary commitment and effort of Stuart McCall span decades at the club, but the Nouveau-City squad hosts energy-induced Nahki Wells, the uncompromising Andrew Davies or Luke Oliver, and the flamboyant, if sometimes frustrating Kyel Reid. But Gary Jones, whilst some way off the legendary status of Messurs Windass and McCall, seems to be moulding a level of his own in the hearts of the current City faithful.
So what are Gary’s endearing features? Strangely enough, he’s already on a winner – he’s Mr Loyalty, if you like; certainly many Bradford City supporters rank loyalty high on their wish list. Only 9 league games into his City career, it seems bizarre to point at his loyalty to the Bradford City cause, but on the back of his Rochdale appearances and numerous public statements to the Dale fans about the difficult decision to leave their club after years of loyal service, it’s clear that the Bantams are major winners in this deal.
Of further delight to the Claret and Amber Army is Jones’ no surrender attitude – he gets stuck in, grabbing the midfield battle by the scruff of the neck, leading by example. It’s not dissimilar to Stuart McCall in some ways is it? City fans love seeing his rousing passion; there’s nothing like a fist pump or an impassioned battle cry to stir the Kopites into a raucous Saturday song-cycle.
Gary Jones also brings a part of his game to Valley Parade that has been seriously lacking in recent years – quality delivery at set pieces. A significant percentage of the Bantams goals have come from this area and it is no surprise to see Jones heavily influential in this department. Add that to his undoubted leadership capabilities and his presence simply cannot be ignored on the pitch. ‘He was absolutely everywhere’, is often the phrase emanating from City fans’ lips. What that often comes down to is not necessarily that he has done more work than any other player, but his beautifully timed tackles, chasing down of loose balls and rapid, incisive distribution breed greater rewards for his team.
All in all, it’s fair to say that City have a gem in Gary Jones and one who is going to be a hugely significant engine to power Bradford City to the dizzy heights of League Two, and hopefully beyond. He brings the attributes of a player very much fit for purpose in helping the team achieve their season’s ambition. The only questions in my mind (following his absence in the Rochdale blank) are whether he can stay fit enough to steer the club to glory, and whether there are enough quality players to latch onto his superb midfield play and bang in the goals for City.
For my money – I live in expectation, not hope.