By Jason McKeown
Over the last 9-12 months, I’ve mellowed considerably in my emotions towards Bradford City. I don’t seem to feel the highs quite as much as I used to, but more importantly I don’t get caught up in the lows too badly either. Walking out of Valley Parade at full time on Saturday certainly carried a depressingly familiar sense of disappointment, but I couldn’t muster the outrage and anger that other people clearly seemed to.
Perhaps it’s due to becoming a dad for the first time and a change of perspective. Maybe it because of a significant health issue related to a family member that troubles the mind. There’s also the lingering sense of satisfaction gained from last season’s heroics that I refuse to let go of. It’s probably a bit of all three, but my old ways of screaming passionately in disgust at a poor referee, sulking all weekend following a defeat or raging at over-critical fellow supporters has faded inside of me.
I’m still deeply engaged by events at Valley Parade, just no longer as emotional.
I’ve no doubt that I’m in the minority on this one, as right now passions are clearly running very high amongst supporters. There is upset, outrage and hurt over recent form and about losing at home to the division’s bottom club. A panic from some that we at the beginnings of some sort of Bradford City apocalypse, one that will inevitably end with the club back in hell: League Two.
We don’t always have to be miserable
A few years ago, I wrote an article for BoyfromBrazil reflecting on where I saw the club in a decade’s time. My cynical answer was that I had no idea where we would be, but that I could guarantee one thing: we’d have something to moan about. As Bradford City sit in 11th position in League One and people are calling for the manager’s head – when on this weekend only two years ago I was watching us lose 1-0 at Dagenham & Redbridge, with City slumped near the bottom of League Two under the same manager – that answer seems so apt.
We will always have something to moan about: whether it be just, unfair or simply stupid. But I’m personally weary of joining in.
The simple truth is I enjoyed Saturday’s game for its entertainment. I wasn’t impressed at all with my team’s performance – we reacted badly to the situation, and the way the back four collapsed in Andrew Davies’ absence was alarming – but I admired the manner in which Stevenage approached what for them was a must-win game. I was impressed by the tactics of manager Graham Westley and the constant positional interchanging of the forward line, something the Bantams just couldn’t get to grips with. It was as though Jack Reynolds and Sam Alladyce had got together and created a new template for Total Football.
Stevenage were a team fighting for their lives and playing out of their skin, whilst we were a side which had arguably relaxed that little bit too much, losing with it some focus. Prior to the match Adam Reach talked on the radio of embarking on a late play off push, but relegation worries had not been fully extinguished by those previous back-to-back victories. We still needed to concentrate on ensuring our League One survival. Our goal prior to kick off should have been the same as Stevenage’s; but on and off the pitch we looked as though we believed ourselves to be above them.
Yet still, Stevenage were bottom for a reason and for all City’s complacency the players could and should have taken something from the game. Three quarters of a season in League One has shown that we belong here and that – if not amongst the best sides – we are not one of the worst. City had the chances to have won a match in which they didn’t play well, but perhaps the biggest lesson to take from the game is that we aren’t yet good enough to win games, at this level, when under-performing.
The mask has slipped, but Parkinson is still the man
The knives have been out for Parkinson since the Carlisle defeat. There are things that he has not got right this season, not least the summer transfer business which has proven to be wholly unsuccessful. The sight of Mark Yeates as a late substitute was a reminder that not one of the players that Parkinson brought in during the close season have impressed, and this has led to the team stagnating over the autumn and winter months. The January shake-up has had some impact, but mid-season is not a time for revolution. Parkinson has to largely make do with what he has, but I do believe there is enough quality in his charges to ensure relegation fears are put to bed before the final few matches. Then, he needs a successful summer in the transfer market – one similar to 2012.
The knives have been out for Parkinson – and the reality is that this is unlikely to change. The manager previously enjoyed widespread popularity, but now the mask has slipped. Too many people have publically made their feelings known. Disgruntlement was never going to be extinguished by back-to-back victories. There will be quietness in good times, but a loud lack of patience during the bad. That is going to be the soundtrack to the coming weeks and months, and it’s a well-versed tale at Valley Parade; one that, sadly, usually has a predictable ending.
The positive for Parkinson is that he clearly enjoys the backing of the majority of supporters. That much was obvious when he took to the dugout ahead of the Port Vale game and received a rapturous reception from the home crowd. He will need to count upon these fans to continue to rally behind him in order to succeed. I felt proud of the way that most supporters rationally reacted to the ‘one win in 21’. Parkinson’s considerable past achievements had afforded him – and continue to afford him – a level of patience and understanding.
I find myself dismayed by the reactions of those who want Parkinson to go; so much so I struggle to find the motivation to read or listen to their views. I’d love to hear constructive and thought-provoking arguments for why a change of manager is the answer, but I just don’t see any put forward. On Saturday night I logged onto Claret & Banter and the first comment I read was that Parkinson should “f**k off back down South” (erm, he was born in Chorley) and it was easier just to log off than read any further and become enraged. When I read Tweets like this (warning: bad language features) I utterly despair at the shocking lack of respect.
If Parkinson is chased out of the club with pitchforks then I might seriously consider joining him. Not because I’d be upset not to get my way, but because of the nature of the abuse that one of the club’s greatest managers is receiving leaves me feeling embarrassed.
He deserves better.
Greater perspective is needed
The back-to-back victories over Port Vale and MK Dons were vital. Just contemplate what the League One table would look like now without them: City would be 18th, but only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. Those two results really mattered, and two-and-a-half years of Parkinson at the helm have seen him repeatedly triumph in those must-win contests; grinding out victories when the chips are down. Not since Chris Kamara have City employed a manager who is so successful at achieving wins when they really, really matter.
For this reason and many others, I firmly back the manager. I’m proud to be pro-Parkinson (or #IPWT, if you will) and instances like a failure to deal with #StevenageTotalFootball don’t change my view. I believe he is capable of keeping us in League One, and – despite an unsuccessful record in the transfer market of late – am confident he can rebuild this team to take the club to the next level: challenging for the League One play off places.
Beyond the football, I also believe in what the club is trying to achieve. I have every faith that Julian Rhodes understands what it takes to run a successful football club, and that thanks to David Baldwin there has been considerable off-the-field progress which can be continued.
Before Saturday’s match, City’s Chief Executive spoke on local radio about the season ticket initiative and the continued development of the training facilities (City have moved forwards on the pitch considerably since those lingering training ground issues were finally addressed). Baldwin talked about the cheap season ticket prices as a ‘club ethos’ and an eighth consecutive season of low prices can indeed be certainly considered a long-term, established strategy.
We should be proud of that season ticket ethos, but in many ways it is now taken for granted and – inevitably – criticised by some. When (or if) you renew, please feel a sense of pride in what the club is trying to do. The increased crowds and wonderful atmosphere at most home games this season demonstrate the positive effects of people before profit.
We will be okay
I think that the club’s overall progression – if not reflected in the short-term form guide – is evident enough to avoid any temptation to rip things up right now. Sacking Parkinson, less than a year into his three-year contract, would cost a considerable sum of money and risk jeopardising the forwards momentum. As Rhodes told the T&A on Friday when reflecting on the patience most fans have afforded the manager, “Phil has earned that right for what he has done in the last two years. We always talk about honest, hard-working players. That’s exactly what he is as a manager and we all appreciate that….With a manager like that, people give him time and all the support he needs.”
It’s hard to determine if this season is going to be looked back upon as enjoyable or labourous, but I know one thing at least – 2013/14 sure beats the 12 years that preceded 2012/13’s heroics. Perhaps more accurately, this has become a season of transition (with all the good and bad things that come with that).
My own, mellow outlook is that the short-term noise of defeats like Saturday are something not to get too caught up about, and that the ups and downs of a football season need to be measured against the bigger picture. The issues of the day are just that – for the day. The long-term outlook is hugely promising. Accuse me of my head in the sand, of wearing rose-tinted spectacles or whatever; but I’m personally very happy with the way the club is operating, and believe that we will ultimately get to where we want to be.
And in the meantime, I’m going to try and enjoy the ride – and enjoy the fact it no longer seems to ruin my weekends.