By Jason McKeown
Back in October 2002, Terry Yorath was coming under increasing pressure in the Hillsborough hotseat, after one victory in 10 games. And as his Sheffield Wednesday side were five minutes away from going down to yet another defeat – at home to Millwall – the former Bradford City manager was approached in the dugout by a female supporter who said, “Terry, you are a nice fellow but do the best thing for this club and quit.”
The following morning, Yorath resigned.
Without wishing to generalise all female footballer supporters as nicer than us male counterparts – although that would be my experience – there is something about this lady’s choice of words which suggests that she was a more-than-reasonable person, far removed from the more angry abuse that Yorath was been subjected to from other Wednesday supporters. Yorath admitted that “her words haunted me throughout the night”. Probably due to the realisation that her comment meant the manager had not simply lost the backing of those quick to turn on any manager, but the quiet and sensible majority also.
After another defeat on Saturday, Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson has been the subject of some supporter calls to be sacked. “One win in 19 games” is the matter-of-fact reason, plus “terrible signings” from last summer. These people are full of panic about the Bantams’ slide towards what could be a relegation battle, and have concluded that the answer is to remove the man who got the club into League One in the first place.
I despair about these comments – and other similar views aired following a decent draw against Preston midweek – because they just seem so utterly ludicrous. The idea that we ignore three seasons of clear progress by the manager and focus merely on 19 matches is no way of making a fair evaluation. And with every single player at the club either signed or retained by the manager, it is over-simplified to state that Parkinson has not recruited well.
In my view, we should be expecting Parkinson to deliver season-upon-season improvement within the constraints of the playing budget he operates under. The 13th-place position that we currently occupy might be slightly below some expectations, but it is still progress on last season and it comes during a time of transition. The number one target this season – one yet to be achieved – is to avoid relegation. After so many years struggling to get out of League Two, an instant return to the basement division would hugely damage morale and be difficult to recover from.
This season is about setting up camp, and then going from there.
We can talk about the slide of one win in 19, but that is only part of the picture and in no way can be used to make as big a call as swapping managers. And if we do widen the outlook much further and delve into the club’s inglorious recent history, the number of times that changing a manager was attempted and failed beggars belief as to why anyone would propose it as the solution right now.
We have gone through a lot of managers – some poor it must be said, others treated harshly – to find success in Parkinson. Indeed, only two months into his reign there were strong calls for him to be sacked – where we would be now if the club had listened then? We must hang onto Parkinson and remember what an asset he is, rather than gambling in the hope we could do better.
Last summer, the club handed Parkinson and his coaching staff three-year contracts as reward for the considerable progress the club had made in two years under their stewardship. It was, in my eyes, completely the right thing to do and a rather big statement of intent. That the folly of short-term thinking, which too often has blighted Valley Parade, was a thing of the past. That we were going to give the manager breathing space to continue building, with the security of knowing that club strategy was not going to be dictated by the form guide.
Economic expert Stephanie Flanders recently said about the improved UK outlook. “In the lead-up to recessions, we always make the mistake of thinking the good times will last forever. And then, when things turn nasty, we usually make the same mistake all over again – thinking the bad times will last forever as well.” For me, that sentiment can readily apply to football supporters and particularly the situation at Valley Parade over the past 12 months.
When this season began so well, we did believe that the good times were going to last forever. And now, some people are making the same mistake all over again. Believing that City will fail to win another match this season or that they are doomed to relegation or that they will in two years go out of business or whatever. All because of the here and now.
If Parkinson has proven one thing time and time again as manager of this football club, it is that he can turn around difficult situations. You think back to his first season where our Football League status was under serious threat. Or recall the late, late play off surge of last season that began long after many of us had given up. Parkinson has found the answers to the slumps – albeit not always as quickly as we would like – and there is no reason to believe he isn’t capable of doing so this time.
Sack Parkinson now and goodness knows what it would cost to pay up his and Steve Parkin’s two-and-a-half years left on their contracts. And for what reason? To win a couple of matches? To make sure of League One status? Both these things can, and I believe will, happen under the manager.
We need to stop limiting the outlook to only the next few weeks. We have a manager who has proven himself capable of delivering long-term improvement, which has taken City up the Football League ladder. That three-year contract is, in my view, a timeframe to get the Bantams knocking on the door of the Championship. Giving up on that three-year plan on the basis of a 19-game run of poor form makes absolutely no sense to me.
But it doesn’t really matter, because as Terry Yorath would no doubt testify to, the views of a tiny minority deserve to be treated in that context. Just because some people can shout louder than others, it does not mean their opinion holds more sway or merit.
The fact is the vast majority of City fans – whilst understandably unhappy with recent results – are still firmly in support of Parkinson. There’s an appreciation for the great things he has done for us, and memories of the unhappier times, before his arrival, offer perspective. There’s a sensible understanding, from many, that there have been mitigating factors behind recent results. That performances have in the main being okay, and that the changes Parkinson needs to make will take time to completely implement – a summer squad rebuilding is inevitable.
Most importantly, there is an acceptance that we are currently largely where we expected to be last summer. The way in which we have got to this point might not be desirable, and there is disappointment that what appeared to be genuine top six hopes have evaporated. But the overall picture – judged against a three-year plan – offers plenty of reasons to feel encouraged.
Undoubtedly there are issues for Parkinson to grapple with and all is far from perfect, but that shouldn’t translate to the extreme of putting his job under pressure – and shame on anyone who thinks that is the best way forwards. We’ve waited too long to get to where we are today, and Parkinson is absolutely the right man to trust in continuing that journey forwards.