By Luke Lockwood
After another summer involving a high turnover of playing personnel, the opening weeks of the season have been rife with debate about how well the new recruits have settled in their claret and amber shirts. That is with the notable exception of one player in particular, new City left back James Meredith.
That should not be considered a criticism of the new arrival but just the opposite. Meredith has looked so comfortable in the City back four so far this season, it’s as if he’s always been there. He does of course have a lot of experience playing as a full back – a quick look at the ever reliable Wikipedia tells us he has played over 50 times in each of the past 3 seasons and 46 in the year before that. However, this is his first season playing regularly in the Football League and he has taken to the challenge like a duck to water.
The new recruits have dominated a lot of the early season discussions, whether it be about the brilliance of Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle, the frustrating inconsistency of the obviously talented Zavon Hines, the vastly improved Will Atkinson or whether Garry Thompson should be getting more of an opportunity. Even on the opposite side to Meredith, there has been a lot of discussion about who should get the nod between Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby. Although McArdle has performed consistently well at right back, there are still those who question whether Darby would be the better option.
This shows how well Meredith is fitting in to life at Valley Parade as no such questions are being raised about his own position. Bradford City fans have it in their nature to complain – over a decade of decline does that to fan – but Parkinson’s decision not to bring in any experienced competition for Meredith has yet to be questioned and his faith in the full back has been rewarded by a string of fine performances. The young Carl McHugh has been brought in as cover, but judging by Meredith’s fine start he may have a long wait for any prolonged game time. You feel that should he maintain such a level throughout the season he will surely be on a shortlist of candidates for the player of the season gong – although based on early season form there may be a number in contention.
With the relatively low amount of attention being given to City’s new left back a fantastic opportunity presented itself for us Skipton Bantams to put the spotlight firmly on James Meredith at out recent meeting on October 10. Skipton Bantams are Meredith’s sponsors for the 2012/13 season and the supporters’ club chairman introduces Meredith and – again quoting Wikipedia – gives a brief background on the player including the interesting fact that his father was ranked world number 3 in squash.
Initial experiences of life at Bradford City:
Suitably he is first asked about life at Valley Parade and the differences between his new club and old club. Speaking very articulately, with an Aussie twang, Meredith explains how he experienced a harsh early lesson to life with City in the Football League. He recalls his first pre season session, with a smile on his face, as he explains that while he was at York he would always be at the front in the pre season runs and sprint but he was ‘dead last’ on his first day at City and even the staff beat him. All those who remained from the season previously had been given fitness programmes over the off season, therefore he was initially behind the rest of the squad. However, when he was probed about how he fared now he was quick to point out he was comfortably up with the front of the pack.
His stamina has certainly showed in the highly congested early season fixture list as the left back has only been left on the bench for one game during the spell of Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday games while most of his team mates have been afforded more of a rest.
The manager and why he signed for the club:
Meredith feels the packed fixture list has had an impact on the squad’s preparation between games. He chatted about Phil Parkinson’s passion for the game and how he loves to plan meticulously and relentlessly studies videos of the opposition before preparing the side on the training field accordingly. The frequency of the fixtures does impact the amount of time the side have to prepare in this way.
Parkinson has obviously impressed Meredith even before he joined, and he referenced the manager as one of the factors when quizzed about why he chose to sign for City over the summer – despite York City stating their surprise at his decision when sides from higher up the league had shown interest.
We have all heard the frequent answer from new signings about how they’ve signed for a massive club, a sleeping giant that shouldn’t be playing in League Two and their excitement at playing in front of such a huge crowd. It has almost become a tiresome pre written press release that’s rolled out for all the new signings every summer. Meredith, however goes into great depth about why he chose to sign and is refreshingly honest in his answer.
During the summer Meredith attracted interest from a number of clubs at different levels in the Football League pyramid. Watford and Burnley both wanted to sign him, however he explained both club’s wanted to sign him as a development squad player and gradually tutor him over the prolonged period before he became a regular first team player. Having played the amount of games he has done over the past four seasons, it is obvious Meredith is a player who likes to be involved and on the pitch, so those offers just wouldn’t do.
He then received offers from Stevenage, Brentford and Bradford – as well as an offer from current club York City. These were the sides that he feels his final decision was ultimately between. He was offered better money to sign for Stevenage in League One but had a gut feeling that they had reached a peak and didn’t feel they were prepared to challenge for promotion. Whereas, when he came to Bradford he got a different feeling – like he did when signing for York – that the club were going somewhere and he had more chance of playing in the Championship with City than he did with those sides already in League One.
Following three appearances at Wembley and a promotion with York City, his gut feeling was certainly right in that case. Let’s hope he’s proved correct again.
I got the feeling from Meredith that he had a real belief in the squad, without even being pressed on the topic he was quick to tell the audience that he felt Parkinson had assembled a team of winners. In his opinion a play off position wouldn’t be satisfactory as the squad has everything it needs to achieve a place in the top three. Nut if they failed to make it automatically he is also confident of taking on the lottery that is the play offs and anything less would be unacceptable.
Unconcerned by one point from the previous nine (now two from 12) he feels Bradford will quickly bounce back and regain winning ways. He was asked about those that have really impressed him – ‘Davies, Doyle, Nakhi, Reid, Hans…’ he goes on and before you know it he has named pretty much the whole squad. However, he reserves special praise for Gary Jones, as everyone seems to have identified this season he is the key.
It’s no coincidence a drop in form has coincided with his injury and we need our inspirational leader on the pitch as soon as possible.
Afterwards he provides a more light hearted view on the squad, apparently Kyel Reid gets away with murder amongst the rest of the lads, and Davies – along with the physio – is the joker in the pack.
His style of play and thoughts on City fans:
Meredith explains that although he likes to attack this opportunity is more limited when Reid plays in front of him. I don’t think that this is because Parkinson doesn’t want him to get forward, but more because it restricts Reid’s style of play. Kyel is an old fashioned winger who likes to hug the touchline and Reid offering the overlap reduces the space that he can exploit, but this is not a concern to Meredith because it is clear he loves to defend.
With a smile on his face he says ‘he loves crunching tackles’ and when he explains that the players he admired growing up were Roy Keane and Paulo Maldini you begin to understand that it is genuinely his favourite part of the game.
He fondly recalls a defining moment when he realised he’d chosen the right club. During the match against Fleetwood earlier this season he made a fair crunching tackle and followed it up with a second, when the ball broke free Doyle then put in a third big tackle and as each tackle is made the roar from the crowd has been getting louder to the point that by the time Doyle has made the third challenge the City faithful are cheering louder than when we score the goal.
We as fans have made an impression on Meredith already, and it’s not just the big gates at home games that he refers to but the following away from home and the support we offer even in games where we have struggled. When a member of the audience explains to him that there will probably be more City fans at Wigan than home fans Meredith gets genuinely excited by the prospect.
Incidentally, if we beat Wigan, he wants Leeds at home in the next round rather than a Man United or Liverpool.
Meredith moved to England to pursue a career in football at the age of 16 and he has done it the hard way. After being released by Derby he has worked his way through the non leagues and is back in the (relatively) big time.
In Australia football just doesn’t get the same support as Aussie Rules, Rugby League and cricket and so he the majority of Australian footballers do aspire to make it England, although he also confesses he once almost signed for Melbourne Victory.
Despite having impressed in England he admits that he has not yet looked at pursuing an international career and remarks that he believes he would have to be playing consistently in the Championship before being considered.
His current goal is quite clearly promotion this season and then hopefully a quick promotion to the Championship not long after. He is quite realistic in his ambitions and says he would like to prove himself in the Championship and play there for a few seasons before returning to Australia in his early 30s and suggests, if he’s lucky, maybe even get a season to experience the Premier League.
He alludes to the fact he thinks he can achieve this with City without stating it blatantly, which is a refreshing change. He obviously doesn’t feel as though he is here to tell the fans what they want to think but what he believes. It is also obvious that these ambitions are important to him and should they not be attainable with City over the coming seasons he will look elsewhere to achieve them, which is also understandable.
Interestingly, when discussing the leaders in the side, Meredith’s friend who is sat amongst the audience put him on the spot and asks if the armband is something he aspires to. Meredith doesn’t need to say anything as a grin emerges across his face, but he takes the time to explain that it is something he would like to experience one day, however he doesn’t think he is quite ready for it yet. Interestingly – again on Wikipedia – a photo from his York City days shows him sporting the captain’s armband so someone has already identified Meredith to have the leadership qualities necessary.
Thank you James Meredith
On behalf of the Skipton Bantams I would like to thank Meredith for his time last week and for his refreshingly honest attitude on the evening. He provided those in attendance with a thoroughly entertaining evening and he points covered above are just a small selection of the topics he discussed throughout the night.
As for Meredith the footballer, it has been great to use Width of a Post as a platform to give him some of the recognition he has deserved for his fine early season form. Phil Parkinson deserves an immense amount of credit for this capture, without his efforts and enthusiasm Meredith may just have accepted one of those offers to play higher up the leagues.
However, he is obviously developing a fondness for the club and should we be able to match his ambition he gave the impression that he would more than happily build a successful career at Valley Parade. And who knows, he may well be a future Bradford City captain.