Morecambe vs Bradford City preview
@The Globe Arena on Tuesday 1 January, 2013
By Jason McKeown
Back when the National Lottery was launched in the mid-90s, it quickly became something of an on-running joke. Jackpot winners, who overnight were being transformed into millionaires, would appear in front of the nation’s media and fool no-one by claiming their new-found wealth “won’t change us”. People would queue up to mock such laughable attempts of sounding humble, with an air of bitterness when comparing the dream of a lottery win with their own challenges in life. As Jarvis Cocker once sang about rich types, “you’ll never watch your life slide out of view”.
After Bradford City won their own lottery jackpot – £1 million is set to be earned from their amazing achievement of reaching the League Cup semi finals – there is a similar sense of confused identity. After, all this is a football club which only 18 months earlier was talking of leaving its Valley Parade home because it couldn’t afford the rent; and which twice over the past decade has endured the hardship of administration, on the second occasion largely surviving because of supporters rushing out with the collection buckets. Relatively speaking, we have not been this well off since Geoffrey Richmond agreed to pay a wayward Italian striker £2 million a year.
Yet it sits uneasy, this new-found wealth; because if we don’t make the most of the opportunities it presents, we could miss the biggest of open goals in reviving Bradford City. But what is the best way to use this windfall? How can the club continue this upwards momentum? How should this money be spent?
For me it’s a matter of choosing an outlook – short or long-term. Both approaches have their merit, and as City move into 2013 in a fantastic position in the league, the temptation to focus on the short-term is obvious. This is the best chance Bradford City have had to be promoted since Stuart McCall’s 2008/09 charges, four years ago. Dare we fail because we scrimped on the pennies?
There are two famous examples from Bradford City’s history when it comes to the dilemma of strengthening a promotion-challenging side. In 1987/88, the Board refused to push the boat out and City were defeated in the play offs when they could have earned automatic promotion. Then in 1998/99, Richmond allowed Paul Jewell to strengthen, with the arrivals of Dean Windass and Lee Sharpe playing some part in winning promotion.
This time around, Phil Parkinson was very quick to make a claim for at least some of the League Cup windfall. He was on radio minutes after the final whistle of the Arsenal game, talking of the need to strengthen the squad in January. It’s not a question of the manager particularly lacking anything in his squad, just depth. The appointment of Russ Richardson is a statement of intent: January is not going to be a quiet month on the transfer front. Yet you can’t see Parkinson wanting or believe he needs to spend big – stellar signings could even risk disrupting the morale of his close-knit squad. After all, is it right that the players who have performed so well over the first half of the campaign be rewarded by the loss of their place?
The short-term outlook would favour going for it this January and emerging from the window with a stronger squad to get through this 60+ game season, so that nothing is left to chance in this promotion battle. And should we be celebrating achieving a place in League One come the end of April or, if play offs are needed, May, the momentum that has been built and the financial rewards of moving up a division would mean spending most of the League Cup windfall now could be looked back upon as justified.
That is, of course, assuming the happy ending is achieved. But what four years ago should have taught everyone at the club are the consequences of failure (that is, having to get rid of high-earning players and forcing non-playing staff to take pay cuts). The League Cup windfall has meant that the Board’s gamble on over-spending, last summer, has paid off. What’s more, to make up the £600k budget deficit, there was no requirement to resort to what David Baldwin described as variants three and four – negotiating settlements with the clubs we sold promising youth players to for sell on clauses, or selling players.
A fantastic result, but it does not change the fact that City have spent more money this season than their typical revenue streams covered (and League Cup runs as amazing as this one do not occur very often). Should City fail to go up, we need to be making sure we can still keep hold of this forwards momentum, rather than have to break the squad up and start again.
So far this season, the squad has cost £1.7 million – largely made up of player wages (the Daily Mail claims Andrew Davies is earning £4k a week). But the playing budget, after operation costs are deducted from overall income, was £1.1 million at break-even point. Assuming it’s a similar amount next season, then that £1.7 million squad would either have to be trimmed or another £600k overspend gamble be attempted again (only next time, we really might have to resort to variants three and four).
Or, the club could save some, or the majority, of the League Cup windfall for the budgets next season. And that way, maybe the likes of Davies, Gary Jones and Nathan Doyle – out of contract in the summer – can be retained no matter what division we play in 2013/14. It would seem from Parkinson’s comments in the T&A last Friday that he sees this as a priority too. Quite simply, the club cannot risk offering high-earning players new contracts now, if failure to go up leads to another round of belt-tightening.
Parkinson is clearly key to all the plans, and hopefully his own contract talks will commence sooner rather than later. You get the feeling that the one lesson really taken on board by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes four years ago was agreeing a contract with McCall mid-season (in February 2009), only for matters to start going wrong on the field just a few days later. Had they waited until the summer to address McCall’s contract, the failure to earn promotion would surely have seen any talks collapse. As popular as Parkinson is now, if the Board view this as a promotion or bust season they may not retain their confidence in the manager’s ability should he fail this time.
For me, Parkinson should be offered a contract and be told that promotion is not a pre-requisite for keeping his job. I think we have a fantastic chance to go up this season and I wouldn’t want to talk that down in anyway; but whatever happens between now and April, we have made great strides under Parkinson. That should not be jeopardised by allowing him to leave.
Let’s not re-sign Parkinson, Davies, Doyle, Gary Jones et all because we may or may not go up under them this season. Let’s re-sign them all to build our football club around and to continue a strategy that can guide this club for the next 5-10 years. The League Cup windfall allows us the opportunity to build those concrete blocks. I personally want to see it taken.
On to Morecambe
Back in the here and now, City travel to Morecambe on New Year’s Day for the first time since Parkinson’s first match in charge, at the start of September 2011. Only three from the starting XI that day started on Saturday (and two of those three, Matt Duke and Kyel Reid, were making their debuts against Morecambe after Parkinson quickly signed them). Eight of the 14 players used in the 1-1 draw that rainy afternoon have departed the club.
Following Saturday’s disappointing 4-2 defeat to Rochdale and ahead of a long trip to Barnet at the weekend, expect some changes as Parkinson seeks to bounce back. Will Atkinson’s ability to provide both width on the ball and tuck inside when City need to win it back will surely see him recalled, following the midfield problems against Dale. Doyle is likely to sit it out as he struggles to recover from a virus, paving the way for Ritchie Jones to start. Ricky Ravenhill is also an option, but if Parkinson elects to keep a fatigued-looking Gary Jones in the starting line up, the greater energy that Ritchie offers would provide the required balance.
In defence Curtis Good – if fit – could be brought in instead of Tom Naylor. There is a theory that Rory McArdle had such an out-of-character bad game on Saturday because he was asked to play on the left side of the two centre backs, due to Naylor. Certainly Carl McHugh gives the back four greater balance, and hopefully the Irish defender will return soon.
Going by the way Parkinson has managed his goalkeepers all season, the mistake Duke made in the Dale match will result in him being dropped for Jon McLaughlin. Of the two I personally prefer Jon, but it would be harsh on Duke if he were left out, as has played well in recent weeks. Nahki Wells is likely to start from the bench – it would be difficult to drop Alan Connell given his goal scoring form of late – and Reid will probably be rested with Blair Turgott or Zavon Hines brought in.