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Bradford City vs Leeds preview: A rivalry born from school days

27 Aug

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By Mahesh Johal

Woodhouse Grove is technically a Bradford-based school. However, when I attended it was a school rife with Leeds fans. In my core group of mates, I was the only Bantam. The rest (albeit a couple of Liverpool fans) all supported the team based in LS11. Living in Leeds, amongst United fans, my personal rivalry with the club is based on much more than the 11.3 miles that separates the two cities. I guess a lot of my dislike towards United has stemmed from my school days, and ironically spending time with my best mates has in turn made me really dislike their team and club.

Upon hearing the draw for tonight’s cup tie, memories from my school days came flooding back. On the commute to work the next day, I wrote down a couple of the stories which contributed to my dislike to Leeds. This is by no means a definitive list on why there is animosity from Bradford fans towards Leeds, but more of a personal account which some of you may be able to relate to.

Non Uniform Day, City vs Leeds

For a 10-year-old non uniform day was, and probably still is, one of the biggest events in school calendar. Whilst it was an opportunity for young fashionistas to show off their newest garments, it is was the one acceptable day at school for football fan across the nation to wear your team’s colours!

A running tradition on non uniform day was the annual match between City and Leeds fans. Played over both morning and lunch break (we had slightly disproportionate halves) 12 lads would go hammer and tong to prove their club was the best in the school. The peak of my footballing career, I captained the Bantam VI to a 4-2 victory. We even made a trophy based on the impressive Stanley Cup to mark the occasion; complete with orange and maroon ribbon nicked from the art department.

It was at this point in my life that my first acts of resentment towards the Elland Road club started. After winning the game, the “Leeds captain” refused to shake my hand. I could understand that, he’d just lost in his cup final. But it was his lack of respect during the trophy presentation that annoyed me. Whilst my classmates (still confused to what I was winning a trophy for) clapped politely, I could hear a chorus of boos from the back of the classroom. Orchestrated by Williams, both Josh and Si were violently giving me the V; whilst they started the original chant of “Bradford City are so sh*tty”.

A small incident I know, but the episode highlights one of the reasons why City supporters dislike their Leeds counterparts. Quite simply, they have no respect for us or our achievements. Regardless of what we have done, they’ll never give us credit because they see us as beneath them.

The move to the Grove and the villain

My move to secondary school saw me mingle with more Bradfordians but none of them were big City supporters. I met Tordy; he has ties to the club due to his granddad, and I know he was sat and drenched in the uncovered main stand the last time the two sides met at Valley Parade. There were the two Adams, Matthews and Turner. Bradford lads with a soft spot for City, both were staunch Kopites. Matthews’ had been to a few games with me, but give him a free ticket for any team and he’ll support them for the day. Turner also attended games with me, our last being a friendly at Eccleshill. On a complete side note, Turner had tickets for the 2005 European Cup Final and couldn’t go because we had our GCSE PE exam!

I also met more Leeds fans, Jose being one. Funnily enough I used to see him sometimes at Valley Parade with his uncle during the Premier League years. Still to this day he is a big advocate of Gareth Whalley. However, he is a Leeds man through and through and today his company sponsors both United and the Rhinos. Jose was on one end of the Leeds fan spectrum. He had seen City games and was sympathetic towards me, especially during our hard times. Yes, he would send the occasional text when we lost but all in all Jose was fair fan. He understood the trials and tribulations of being a football fan whether from Bradford or Leeds.

On the other side was Dave. Dave’s the villain of this piece and in my mind is epitomises why I dislike Leeds United. I’d like to as this point just clarify that he is one of my best mates, but there are times when I genuinely dislike him. Nearly 99% of those times involve him and Leeds United.

I think my biggest qualm with Dave and his fellow members of Hockaday’s Army is their brashness and arrogance. I’ll happily admit that Leeds are a huge club with one of the biggest followings in the country. But frankly, Dave was overly loud about it. Marcus was as well. During their Semi Final run in the Champions League, I would constantly hear “We are the champions, champions of Europe” in our locker room.

Then came the 6-1 defeat at their place. Already a wounded individual, Dave raced into the common area with a massive smirk. The look compounded my already fragile state but it was his self righteous and arrogance that made my blood boil. Already a relegated side, City were completely outplayed and outclassed that Sunday evening. However whenever I talked to others about the game, Dave would abruptly but in and shout “MOT”. I’d continue to my analysis of City performance when he would again but in with “LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS”.

This isn’t just classic Dave but also classic Leeds. There is always a sense of self-importance and lack of humility towards City. I always got the feeling that they like the last word on matters – and that last word had to be about Leeds.

Teenage years, falls from grace and the cup games at Elland Road

It was during our teenage years that City and Leeds footballing oblivion started. Both clubs suffered with financial, ownership, stadium and player problems. I thought our mirroring issues would see a change in attitude from Leeds fans around school, but I was wrong. Yes, they missed the big Champions Leagues nights, but now Leeds were the biggest of fish in (some of) the smallest of ponds – and it was something they loved.

To this day, Dave will have a random outburst of “we’re Leeds United, we don’t give a f**k”. The chant again epitomised Leeds fans (in my mind) as those who belittle and lack respect for others. It’s for this very reason that I really dislike it when City chant similar things. In my opinion, it reeks of no class.

Both the JPT and League Cup games against them over recent years were fun. From my point of view, being apart of vocal away crowds is always a good laugh and the near-City victory in the most recent tie added to the occasion. Prior to that game, Dave and I sat in adjacent stands at Elland Road, and in the warm up were able to wave to each other. He said that he could see my jubilation after Michael Flynn’s goal, but I dared not look to his position when Ramon Nunez scored the tie-winning goal. If there was ever a chance to beat Leeds I thought it was then.

And to tonight’s game…

The rivalry between Dave, Jose and the rest of the boys continues. On regular occasions we will send (friendly banter) messages…mainly me trying to wind Dave up in the way he did to me in our youth. The arrival of Ceilino and Hockaday has given me serious ammunition, whilst City’s performances over the last year have deprived him of any. The only thing he has is the League Cup Final result, but in end I had the real laugh. At least it was my team in that final; Dave, who has Club Wembley ticket, had paid to watch one of the coldest and one-sided Finals in recent memory.

Whilst I read on social media the mixed feelings about this rivalry from their side; the speed at which Leeds 3,600 tickets sold out shows that their are some who appreciate this contest as much as we do. It will be a white hot atmosphere and, in Kevin Keegan style, I would love it if we won tonight. Love it.

I’ll see the boys in the aftermath of the game, and look forward to our pint to deconstruct proceedings. No doubt we’ll have a laugh about our time at school and the way our friendly rivalry has built over the years. I just hope this time it is my pint that tastes the sweetest.

Bradford City vs Leeds preview: Confessions of a (former) obsessive Leeds hater

26 Aug
Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

By Jason McKeown

Many things change when you get older, but other things stay the same. Back in my adolescent years, I hated Leeds United like I’ve never hated anything before or since. I loathed everything about the Elland Road club, often in a manner that – looking back – seems unhealthy. An obsession, perhaps, and one that now seems trivial. There were far more important things in life that I should have been worrying about.

It was the late 90s, creeping up to the new millennium. Leeds United had become one of the top teams in the country once more. A member of the Big Four. David O’Leary the monotonous, dreary manager. Peter Risdale the pompous, look-at-me-I’m-a-real-fan chairman. Alan Smith, David Batty, Lee Bowyer, Jonathan Woodgate. Leeds United were media darlings – especially in Yorkshire – and I fretted too much over my longing to see them fail.

Why I hated Leeds United was both complex and depressingly simple. There was my Leeds-supporting brother, and the pair of us couldn’t help but wind each other up on an ongoing basis – football arguments remained very heated long after both of us were old enough to know much better. There was the fact that, at school, most football fans were Leeds supporters – yet many of the most obnoxious ones had never once set foot inside Elland Road. There was the general arrogance of the club led by O’Leary, Risdale and co. There was the abundantly nasty side of many of their supporters, too.

But above all of these reasons was one over-riding desire: to fit in as a Bradford City supporter. It is ingrained within the culture of this football club that we, as a community, are supposed to hate Leeds. When I first started watching the Bantams, there would be endless anti-Leeds chants in every game. Any opposition player with a Leeds connection – no matter how tedious – was booed. In every City supporter I spoke to, and everything supporter-related I read, such as the City Gent, a hatred for Leeds was evident. It was a powerful hatred. A historic dislike that went back decades.

In the 70s, a generation of Bradfordians choose to support the at-the-time all-conquering Whites ahead of the team from their own city. Back then, the Telegraph & Argus used to devote considerably more coverage to Leeds United than it did for City. Leeds were successful, but their ways of doing things was disliked up and down the country – Dirty Leeds and all that – so I guess it is understandable that their next door neighbours would particularly take note of and be offended by all of this.

Then there was the fallout over Leeds issuing City with a winding up petition in 1983 over an unpaid transfer fee, which almost saw the Bantams go out of existence. And then in 1986 – with City playing at Odsal whilst Valley Parade was rebuilt following the disaster a year earlier – a 2-0 Bantams derby victory was overshadowed by hooligan Leeds fans setting fire to a chip van inside the stadium. An appallingly insensitive thing to do. I have spoken to City fans present that day who told me how genuinely scared they were.

These stories and others have formed part of the fabric of Bradford City supporter culture. Our over-bearing, arrogant local rivals. Leeds became L**ds, or L666ds, or Leeds Scum. We all hate Leeds. Tie the bastards to the track. And go get your father’s gun. If you love Bradford City, you hate Leeds United. It was that simple.

Over a two-and-a-half-year period at the turn of the century, City and Leeds met each other five times and the rivalry grew in its relevance. These games were huge occasions on this side of Pudsey at least, and saw some of the most passionate atmospheres I had been part of. The first derby, a League Cup match at Elland Road in October 1998, saw over 5,000 City fans make an almighty racket and our team dominate for half an hour. But then a Harry Kewell shot took a deflection off Gareth Whalley’s backside and flew into the top corner, and Leeds had a one-goal advantage that they saw out with ease. It set the pattern for the next few meetings – City always battled hard, whilst Leeds benefited from outrageous fortune.

Game two – in the Premier League, 13 months on – saw disappointingly negative tactics from Paul Jewell, who set us up to play for a draw at Elland Road. Another deflected goal and a disputed penalty gave Leeds a 2-1 victory. In the reverse fixture the following March, City came in with the confidence boost of a five-month unbeaten home record. Yet the night before the game, keeper Matt Clarke fell down the stairs and City have no option but to field 41-year-old goalkeeping coach Neville Southall between the sticks. Once again, we lost 2-1.

The season after almost saw an overdue victory. The Stan Collymore goal, and his controversial celebration in front of the Leeds fans. We held on until the 80th minute, before Mark Viduka equalised. At least it wasn’t another defeat, but it should have been more. And then, at the end of that 2000/01 season, luck was not needed on the part of the Whites. Leeds United 6 Bradford City 1. Utter nightmare. That evening, my phone did not stop as seemingly every Leeds fan I knew – and many other football fans who knew just what this meant to me – revelled in the pain. I can’t blame them at all. Back then, I’d have done the same.

At the point of the 6-1 humiliation, City had already been relegated from the Premier League whilst Leeds United were in the semi finals of the Champions League. We were poles apart, and the gap was widening further and further. We were going back to the Football League, Leeds were on the road to European glory. My hatred had probably reached its peak.

Yet it all changed. And if, on that May 2001 evening, where I grew so fed up of the abusive text messages that I turned my mobile off, someone from the future had travelled back to tell me just what was going to happen next, I would have thought they were mixing up reality with my darkest fantasies.

That O’Leary would be harshly sacked. That Risdale would be exposed as running up unpayable debts. That he would leave under a cloud and the infamous “We lived the dream” press conference. That all the best players would be sold off one-by-one. That they would be relegated from the Premier League under the management of club legend Eddie Gray. That Alan Smith would be carried off the pitch a hero in his final appearance, only to quickly join their arch-rivals Manchester United. That after much financial upheaval, they would be lumbered with Ken Bates as chairman. That Dennis Wise would take over as manager and get them relegated to League One. That they’d be docked 15 points. That even when they eventually got promoted, they have done little but sit in Championship mid-table year-on-year since. That they’d get lousy owner after lousy owner. That they’d become Norwich City’s feeder club.

If someone had promised me all that back then, I’d have rubbed my hands in glee although in the back of mind would have felt that this was too much, even for me. And here’s the kicker: having watched, from a distance, Leeds endure all of these horrible developments and more, that hatred I once felt had all but seeped away from me. The truth is that, right now, I don’t care for, but most of all don’t care about, Leeds. That’s as far as I go.

I no longer follow their results anymore than I do of other Championship teams. I no longer cheer loudly if I have heard they lost. I no longer hate whoever is their manager. I no longer know anything about their players. I no longer wish bad things would happen to them. When I meet my Leeds-supporting friends I enjoy chatting about football with them, just as I enjoy chatting with Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United and York City and Burnley and Blackburn Rovers supporters. Perhaps it’s a growing older thing.

The simple fact is that the current Leeds United is not the evil, nasty outfit that I hated 15 or so years ago – and they probably never will be. They remain a huge club for sure, and will no doubt climb back into the Premier League eventually. But even when they do, they will not be amongst the top teams in the country. They won’t have ambitions beyond surviving as a Premier League outfit. Even if they finally get a sensible owner, the kind of investment needed to get back to where they were makes its highly improbable they will ever do a Chelsea or Man City. They are a shadow of what they used to be, and as time has gone on have become a different football club.

One that has too many similarities with ourselves. Laughing at the demise of Leeds United Football Club can only be undertaken by avoiding a mirror. All those miserable developments that have upset Leeds’ followers have more or less happened to Bradford City too, only we have sunk lower. For however bad things have been at Elland Road, we were always worse off. Their two relegation seasons occurred in the sames seasons that we dropped a division too. In April 2007, both clubs were even relegated on the same day. So yeah, let’s all laugh at Leeds United. But only for a brief second. To laugh anymore would be to lose all self-awareness.

The uncomfortable truth is that the two clubs have too much in common. No one knows better how the other feels, because we’ve both endured such similar things.

And the hatred has clearly faded around Valley Parade. Not completely of course, there remains a dislike for Leeds United amongst City supporters for sure; but up until this cup draw was made it had become a rarity to hear an anti-Leeds chant during a match, especially at home. The person in charge of the scoreboard rarely puts the Leeds result up for us to laugh about. Last season, we sung about how we don’t care about Huddersfield and Leeds. It might be stretching the truth a little, but it really is a sign of progress. Hate Leeds? Maybe a little. But the obsession with hating Leeds had gone. When I was a young teenager first discovering Bradford City, the overwhelming sense of needing to hate Leeds consumed me and every City supporter of my age. I seriously doubt that teenage supporters today will have had sufficient cause to take on board such anti-Leeds feelings to the same level. If anything, they will hate Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United more.

But then we stop and pause.

Valley Parade this Wednesday night, at around 7.40pm. The place is packed out, and two sets of fans are singing loudly back and forth prior to the first Valley Parade hosting of this derby since Collymore’s headline-grabbing Bradford City debut, 14 years ago. It will be an intoxicating experience, and hatred will undoubtedly return for one evening. Rationality and objectivity will go out of the window. How can it not?

Many things change when you get older, but other things stay the same. When I was 15-years-old, a life ambition was to see Bradford City defeat Leeds United. 17 years on, that ambition remains unfulfilled and though it doesn’t consume me, it would still be fantastic to finally tick it off the list. I don’t hate Leeds United – I’m now in my 30s, I’ve a wife and kid, I’ve a career, I don’t have time for such immaturity – but boy do I want City to beat them on Wednesday evening. I really do.

That Odsal victory – 28 years ago – was the last time that Bradford City defeated Leeds United. In fact, it has only ever happened on one other occasion – 28 March 1932. We can therefore assume that only a very small percentage of Wednesday’s home crowd have ever seen the Bantams triumph over the Whites. The majority of the rest will be like me in having a long-held ambition of witnessing a City victory, and be equally hoping to see it finally fulfilled.

This tie has captured the imagination of the Bradford City public, just at the point where Leeds-hating is the lowest I have seen it. And long-term, it remains to be seen how it will effect the culture and the fabric of supporting Bradford City. Perhaps this game will rekindle that passionate hatred in younger supporters at least, or perhaps it will cause it to fade away from the rest of us some more. If we were to finally win, we will lovingly treasure the evening for many years to come. But what else? Perhaps, for supporters like me who grew up hating Leeds a little too passionately, and who can no longer muster such negative enthusiasm, a long overdue victory would provide some closure. Perhaps, yet another Leeds victory would hurt much less than all the previous ones.

Ultimately, this is going to be a brilliant occasion and to see a full Valley Parade making an almighty racket is what we live for. That there is an edge to the game and bragging rights at stake guarantees a lively evening. It is exciting to play Leeds, that much is undeniable. And when I go through those turnstiles and take my seat in the Kop, I know that much of my adult sensibilities will wait patiently outside and allow the 15-year-old inside me to run riot for a couple of hours.

We all hate Leeds for one, unifying evening at least. Many things change when you get older, but other things stay the same.

Bradford City vs Leeds preview: Peacocks in the Bantams’ coop – A Leeds perspective on the fury

25 Aug

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By Graham Smeaton

I know what it is like to feel the fire and fury of rivalry. My father was a Manchester United fan, I didn’t hate him for that. On the Council estate I grew up on and scrabbled around in the mud and dust on, almost every street had some sort of rivalry going on; it was usually over ‘mibs’.

“Hey you’re not laikin’ right!” was often the herald to an argument over rules, a fall-out over superiority and then much stomping and huffing about whose Dad’s, mate’s, uncle’s friend who was in the Army was the biggest; then you went in for your banana sandwiches and sat down to watch $6 Million Man or Supergran. Then, it was never about football.

Now it is all about football.

I can’t help it, I’m a Leeds fan. You can have many girlfriends, many loves but, when it comes to football, your first love is your only love; no matter who you’ve watched first live. I actually used to go to Valley Parade to watch Bradford, happily trailing along behind my father in the rain to watch a Bantams’ side containing Ces Podd. I even went to Elland Road to watch one of the three games Braford played there after the tragic events of the 1985 fire at Valley Parade.

By then though, my love affair and eventual marriage to Leeds had set in and set in deep. Like a first sip of cider in the park – an older boy was to blame. However, unlike the cider my taste for Leeds United stuck with me.

Wednesday August 27th and one of the fiercest local rivalries fires up one more time – Leeds bring their circus to Valley Parade (even in my eyes it’ll never be T’Coral Windows Stadium) in a direct repeat of the game from August 9th 2011. Bradford will be hoping to continue their surging start to the 2014/15 League One campaign whilst Leeds, on the other hand, will be hoping that they play more like Roy of the Rovers and less like Roy Cropper from Coronation Street.

History, unfortunately my friends from the BD postcodes, isn’t on the side of the Bantams. There have been 23 competitive games between the two sides stretching back to 23rd September 1922 with Leeds winning 14, Bradford winning 2 and with 7 draws. In this time Leeds have scored 35 goals (1.52 per game) with Bradford scoring just 20 goals (0.87 per game). Put another way, Leeds have emerged victorious 61% OF THE TIME with Bradford claiming only 8.7% of the victories – the Leeds victories containing both League Cup games in the 1998/99 and 2011/12 seasons.

It’s an often-used cliché that playing at ‘home’ is like having a 12th man on the field; at Elland Road we would crawl through minefields of broken glass for that luxury at the moment! But a closer look at the games played in Bradford, where Leeds will be aiming for their 5th and Bradford their 3rd victories come Wednesday throws up one interesting nugget of a statistic. In the 10 games that have been played between the two teams there, both have scored 9 goals each (0.9 goals per game). This suggests the potential for a tight game, where chances are at a premium and composure in front of goal is key. That depends on which Leeds United team turns up and how Coach Whackaday (there are worse names bandied around) has prepared them.

Indulge me whilst I talk about Leeds for a moment. There is a degree of mixed feelings up in LS11 what with Cellino’s insistence on recruiting his very own legiona stranieri (Foreign Legion) to the club. His thinking behind this is one that will resonate with all football fans – irrespective of club allegiance. Quite simply, English footballers are a.) too greedy or b.) too expensive or c.) both. Take Kieran Agard, who had a stellar season at Rotherham last year scoring 26 goals across all competitions including two in an FA Cup tie. Leeds had a bid accepted but Agard’s agent marched in with a list of demands; after four minutes he was told to leave and that he wasn’t wanted. Now he has dropped back down into League One with Bristol City. Bearing that in mind, who will Leeds United roll up with come Wednesday 27th and how are they likely to play?

Looking at recent games, Bradford can only hope that Leeds play badly – something that I am sure we can easily accommodate. With the signing of Giuseppe Bellusci (from Catania), Leeds are buying in a player with five seasons (7,459 minutes) worth of Serie A experience to shore up what has been a decidedly suspect and cumbersome central defender pairing. Liam Cooper was signed from Chesterfield and he deposed Scott Wooton (ex-Manchester United) to play alongside club captain Jason Pearce. Harshly put, either Pearce or Cooper will be axed.

Midfield-wise, that’s where Leeds’ weakness lays; a unit that has carried over the ‘mediocre and mid-table’ tag from last season’s campaign. As it stands, the Leeds midfield isn’t very creative, has no real pace and no natural wide players; ‘wide’ as in wingers – not as in Neville Southall. Or Paddy Kenny for that matter. Rodolph Austin and Michael Tonge are the pick of the central four with Austin being ranked 15th midfield player for average passes per game (60 – 83% accurate – source: WhoScored.com) and who was the top-ranked defensive midfield player on the books at Leeds. Tommaso Bianchi (signed from Serie B Sassuolo) is a ball-playing central midfielder being played out of position on the right side of midfield by Coach Whackaday in his much-derided ‘4-4-2 Diamond’.

With this system, Whackaday has achieved at least one first; it apparently is possible to polish a diamond and get a turd! Leeds’ weak link, in a midfield that often resembles scene from Rorke’s Drift in the film ‘Zulu’, is Luke Murphy – a former £1 million signing from Crewe Alexandra. Over 260 minutes of 2014/15 Championship football Murphy has shown very little: 22 successful passes per game, less than one shot per game (0.67) but he does create chances for others (1.67 per game). There is also a distinct possibility that Coach Whackaday might give young Lewis Cook a run out in midfield and use recent AC Milan youngster Jen Benedicic at some point in the game.

Up front it is more straight-forward; Billy Sharp and recent signing Mirko Antenucci (19 goals – Serie B Ternera) are likely to pose the striking threat.

Rivalry-wise Leeds United are still entrenched in the ‘Everybody hates us, we don’t care’ attitude carried over from the 1970s to the present day. As a rational-thinking Leeds fan, well I like to think I am presented that way, I actually hate that dated ‘terrace mentality’; something that I find as a club we need to move away from. There are still chants about “Man Utd” and songs about “Chelsea hatred” sung on the terraces of Elland Road which, in all honesty, make us look like the pond-dwelling lowlife we are often accused of.

Terrace-wise, as a club, we need to climb out of the dinosaur era and embrace the modern world of a banter-led approach. There were encouraging signs of this in a 4-0 FA Cup defeat to Manchester City when Leeds’ fans responded to the 4th Man City goal with a rousing chant of “shoes off, if you hate Man Utd” – and the removal of many shoes that were waved in the air. No doubt though there will be chants about Bradford being a “town full of taxis” and the Neanderthal element of the Leeds’ support will show more nasty tendencies.

So, how does it feel as a Leeds fan, writing on a Bradford website, about a cup fixture upcoming in a City only 6 miles from where I live? It’s strange – weirdly strange. Chances-wise, I’d like to fall back on the clichéd phrases of “it’ll be a long hard game”, “Leeds will have too much class for Bradford” and “the difference in a division apart means Leeds’ superior class will tell in the end”…but I can’t. This game is a hard one to call; Bradford are confident and flying high in League One, whilst Leeds are scrabbling around looking for crumbs in the Championship. I suppose I will have to end by putting my neck on the line and come up with some kind of prediction and game synopsis.

I’m predicting a tight, close game with Leeds coming out 2-1 to the good; it would, for Leeds fans, be good to shut up the ‘noisy neighbours from down the M62’. Then again I am not that confident about that but, like the beggar I once encountered on the Madrid underground, one can only begin with ‘esperanza’ (hope) and eventually get off at ‘prosperidad’ (wealth). Whatever the result, I really do hope that we will be meeting each other in two guaranteed games next season, with Bradford making the step up to the Championship.

Good luck Ciddy fans on the 2014/15 League 1 campaign.

Graham Smeaton is an English teacher by trade and a self-confessed chic stats geek by nature. Graham has interests in many sports including, NFL and NCAA American Football, but he writes mainly about the trial and tribulations of his favourite football club, Leeds United, including for Bloomberg Sports.

Bradford City vs Leeds preview: The players have a chance to create a new legacy

25 Aug

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By Jason McKeown

Forget Manchester United, forget Newcastle. When it came to the League Cup second round draw, Bradford City were handed the best possible tie when they were pulled out of the hat to play Leeds United. It ensures a near-full house that will do wonders for the club’s financial strength, particularly in view of Sky’s decision to broadcast the derby encounter live. The Hand of Aaron at Morecambe has paid huge, huge dividends, and off the field at least this is a big victory for Bradford City.

For everyone connected with the club, the still-fresh memories of the League Cup miracle two years ago provides extra enthusiasm going into this clash. Those home games against Arsenal and Aston Villa have gone down in folklore for the achievements of slaying giants, and the superb attendances that produced incredible atmospheres. Until the day I die I will always treasure the memories of Valley Parade erupting to goals from Garry Thompson, Nahki Wells, Rory McArdle and Carl McHugh. We’d had year after year of watching City play in front of a half-full stadium, even with the commendable season ticket offer, and so it made you feel proud to take in the scene of a bulging ground, with all four stands packed out.

I always prefer it when Bradford City are the underdogs. It brings out the best in us supporters, ensuring the players are backed to the hilt without question, showing just what a passionate bunch of fans we really can be. The BBC 5Live commentator, Alan Green, stated that the experience of commentating on the City-Arsenal game was one of his favourite games of the 2012/13 season, remarking how he had rushed to the toilet at one point, only to hear a deafening roar that he believed must surely be a City goal. In fact, he would discover upon his quick return to the press box, we had merely won a corner.

Of all the things that appeals to me about playing Leeds United this week, it is the idea of recreating such an energetic and positively charged atmosphere that excites me the most. On Wednesday night, the Bradford City players can be guaranteed of being backed fervently from the first whistle to the last. Every tackle, every set piece won, every shot on goal.

And part of the reason for this is what are once again underdogs. The 2014 version of Leeds United may not be the formidable force that they once were, but make no mistake they are favourites to win this tie. The smart money will be placed on them squeezing through. In that sense, the pressure is off the home players. Simply because of who they are playing, the expectation level is lower. We do have every chance of triumphing on Wednesday night, but victory should not be assumed. This is, in many ways, a free hit for the players.

Yet equally, the rewards for winning are considerable, and how the players fare this week could go a long, long way to defining their Bradford City careers. You need only look at what those Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa victories did for the 2012/13 squad, and the high regard that they will be held in for decades to come. When bumps occurred during the promotion battle later that season, and when the one win in 21 was played out the year after, the past heroics of this group of players afforded them leeway and understanding from the crowd. This was a team deeply loved by its public, and the pay back for what they did, in reaching the League Cup Final, occurred through the majority of City supporters standing by them during sticky patches. And when many of these players were moved on during the summer, they were affectionately waved goodbye with the warmest of wishes, for what they had done for us.

Which is all fantastic to see, but does present a problem for the players who replace them – how do you follow that? Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates could certainly argue, with some justification, that their personal struggles last season were treated very differently to those of Garry Thompson and Nathan Doyle. If they had been part of nights like Arsenal and Aston Villa, would their poor performances in 2013/14 have been met with greater patience? They were lower league players signed to compete with, and replace, lower league players. Only the latter group were superheroes for what they had done the year before.

And it will be the same for this summer signings. Let’s just imagine, for a moment, that when City welcome Notts County on December 28, recent results are indifferent Garry Liddle and Billy Knott are struggling for form. Along come County with Gary Jones and Thompson, who are guaranteed to receive the warmest of welcomes. Inevitable comparisons would be made to the current, struggling players that would not do the latter group any favours. When Jones endured a run of poor games in December and January last season, he was largely supported through them. In similar circumstances, would Liddle be afforded the same backing if he was struggling?

The answer, of course, is no – but here is why the Leeds game offers such a big reward. It provides these players with the opportunity to become heroes very early into their City careers  – which will stand them well over the subsequent months. The confidence they would acquire from a victory on Wednesday night could take them a long, long way, just as it did with the 2012/13 squad. Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle became true warriors after the Wigan game. Thompson’s City career was transformed by his Arsenal goal. Carl McHugh, Matt Duke, Will Atkinson, Zavon Hines, James Hanson – all these and others were able to lift their overall performances following their achievements over the League Cup journey.

That is the prize on offer. The players can go down to defeat bravely, giving everything, and they will be appreciated for that. Or they can go further. Triumph against the odds. Give their supporters a night they will never forget. And then reap the rewards of what it will do their City careers.

As for six of the key figures from the 2012/13 season who are still at the club, what a chance to build their standing even further. Phil Parkinson, Darby, McArdle, James Meredith, Andrew Davies and Hanson are already guaranteed their Youtube tribute reel featuring numerous highlights when they eventually leave, and in this game they have the opportunity to further cement their status as some of the most celebrated players in the club’s history.

Imagine if Hanson could add to his famous goals against Aston Villa, Burton Albion and Northampton with a winner against Leeds? I doubt that he ever has to buy his own drinks when out in Bradford anyway; but if he could claim this cherry on top of his remarkable City career, he could probably look forward to the Freedom of Bradford.

This is what is at stake for the players. They can lose on Wednesday and no one would be upset at them for it, or be majorly surprised. But if they could win this match…We Made History Mark II. A place in the folklore would be assured. Their names forever recalled.

Hero status is on offer this week. They know what they need to do.

James Hanson is on the road to legend status as City welcome Peterborough

22 Aug
Picture by Thomas Gadd

Picture by Thomas Gadd

Bradford City vs Peterborough United preview

@Valley Parade on Saturday 23 August, 2014

By Andrew Baxter

James Hanson’s goal on Tuesday night at Crawley was a fine example of how far he has developed as a footballer in the last couple of years. A neat piece of footwork, some very good close control and a powerful, yet precise, finish, would have been a great goal for any winger, never mind City’s 6ft 4in targetman.

Would Hanson have showed that level of composure and technique three years ago? I doubt it. It just highlights the work Hanson has done to improve his technique, and quash those accusations that he is a “one-dimensional” player. Hanson’s technique opens up a number of attacking options for City. They can feed it to his feet, knowing he’ll hold it up, and give the ball to one of City’s creative players, such as Mark Yeates or Billy Knott. Hanson can control balls fired in towards his chest, bringing them down, and holding the play up once more. The McArdle to Hanson long diagonal ball is predictable, but Hanson’s aerial ability means that he can win the header, nodding it back to a City midfielder or flicking it on for someone like Mason Bennett to run onto.

It may be a cliché, but the phrase “good feet for a big man” rings true for Hanson. He has adapted to both life in League One, and the new formation, with ease, and scoring three goals in his first three league games is an example of how the team have utilised Hanson as an integral part of the new system.

The chant “He used to work at the Co-Op” is an indication of the change Hanson has made since arriving at the club back in 2009, and this could be the season he goes from being a club icon, to a club legend. Hanson has scored 66 goals in his City career so far, just two behind Joe Cooke, and is now 20 behind Dean Windass. Hanson averages just over one goal every three games, and with a contract that has nearly three years to run, there is every reason to suggest that Hanson will surpass Windass’ mark of 86 City goals, should he stay fit. Even by the end of the season, he could be fourth on City’s all-time leading scorers list, something which would mark him as a legend in my books.

The rest of the team, like Hanson, have enjoyed a consistent, and solid start to the season, with two clean sheets in four games a sign of this consistency, and City are yet to concede a goal from open play.

Barring any last-minute injuries, Jordan Pickford will start in net, with a back four of Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies and Alan Sheehan in front of him. Gary Liddle will continue his holding role in midfield, with Jason Kennedy and the impressive Billy Knott just in front of him. Mark Yeates should play just behind the two strikers, with Mason Bennett the most likely to partner Hanson. Saturday will probably come too soon for Billy Clarke, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.

As for City’s opponents, and mixed start to the season has seen two league wins coupled with a League Cup defeat at Portsmouth, and a defeat at home to Sheffield United last Tuesday.

Their transfer activity during the summer was much more high-profile than the Bantams, with last season’s top scorer Britt Assombalonga moving to Nottingham Forest, for a tidy £5.5 million. Defeat in the play offs last year was regarded as a failure by some, but manager Darren Ferguson has the backing of chairman Darragh MacAnthony, and Ferguson has recently signed a new three-year deal.

Peterborough will be without regular centre-backs Gabriel Zakuani and Jack Baldwin, who are both injured, but the signing of Christian Burgess will provide some cover.

Peterborough will line up in a 4-4-2 formation, with former City trialist Ben Alnwick in net. In front of him will be the back four of Michael Smith, Shaun Brisley, Christian Burgess and Kgosi Ntlhe (Ntlhe scored a fantastic goal when the two sides met at London Road last December). In midfield, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing will start on the right hand side, with captain Jack Payne and Jermaine Anderson in the middle. Jon Taylor will start on the left, and Darren Ferguson has a dilemma upfront. Kyle Vassell will start, with three goals so far, but the out-of-form Conor Washington and Tyrone Barnett will compete for the other starting berth.

City have had a great start to the season, but this week will be a test of how good this side is, starting with the visit of Peterborough to Valley Parade.

Phil Parkinson’s building blocks remain in place for his new-look team

19 Aug
Image by Ritchie Jervis

Image by Ritchie Jervis

Crawley Town vs Bradford City preview

@Broadfield Stadium on Tuesday 19 August, 2014

By James Storrie

Bradford City travel to hosts Crawley Town on Tuesday night and will be looking to improve on their poor record at the Broadfield Stadium.

After a summer of mass change and rebuilding, it has been a welcome relief to see the Bantams take positive strides forward, a week into the new campaign. This summer was quite an unusual one for both the club and the fans, one that we have not really seen since Phil Parkinson took over the reins from Peter Jackson/Colin Cooper. That ill-fated summer of 2011, where Jackson spent his time chasing unrealistic targets, shared small similarities with what Parkinson has gone through recently in terms of having a threadbare squad as the season kicked off. Yet the differences between the two summer proved vast from kick off, as the class of 2014 have put in three strong performances in a week.

Another impressive quality to go with Parkinson’s overall management of the club is just how little the fans learn of the incomings to the football club. The papers and message boards have scarcely contained a rumour concerning the football club all summer, and it is due to this quiet approach that the club have secured the likes of Billy Clarke, Gary Liddle and Alan Sheehan. The recruitment drive has not gone altogether swimmingly, however, and it is obvious that Parkinson hasn’t landed his first choice targets in certain areas and has had to settle for other names further down his list.

This is one of the frustrating scenarios that all managers face up and down the country and respective leagues, and it has been impressive how Parkinson has started building the foundations of a strong side even with the well-publicised budgetary constraints that shackled some of his recruitment plans.

There are certain qualities that come from the manager that he has installed in all three of his sides that he has created whilst at the club. These, without dismissing the other qualities that he has brought to the party, are a strong ethos in respect of hard work, discipline and organisation. This may sound like the obvious, but it’s the heartbeat and lifeblood of every good team. How many times do you see a Phil Parkinson side lose their cool? Run off their shape? Or become unprofessional when losing and concede heavily when chasing a game?

This stems from good coaching from Parkinson and his wider team, and it’s these qualities that have been evident in the opening three games. There are obvious weaknesses that are a concern, and there is clear room for improvement. However, there are a lot of positive aspects to take forward into the season also. A lot of the summer was spent highlighting the new diamond formation the club would start the season with, and it has enjoyed mixed results so far.

One of the early problems with the diamond has proven to be the lack of protection it offers to the full backs and, if the opposition quickly switches play, then it can lead to Stephen Darby and Sheehan/Meredith being exposed to a two on one from the opposition full back and winger. This was evidenced particularly for Coventry’s second equaliser last week. One of the various more positive aspects has been the emergence of Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates, who have both flourished so far with the greater flexibility and potential to roam that the system offers the midfielders.

The solidarity that Parkinson instialls in his team will be crucial in the upcoming months. It is clear that despite the nice football and interchanging of positions, City remain unlikely to be free-scoring this season. On the other hand, with two clean sheets and only one goal from open play conceded, it is hoped that the impressive defence we possess will help us to edge close encounters in what is set to be a very even and closely-contested division.

The need to stay strong on a cold Tuesday night is something Parkinson spoke about last week before Morecambe and, with Crawley unbeaten and yet to concede a goal, the Bantams resolve will be tested to the hilt.

Crawley have had a summer much like the Bantams with a sea of outgoings and incomings. They have made some notable signings. Two of which will be particularly of interest to City fans, one being experienced former trialist Brian Jensen and loanee Ryan Dickson. Izale McLeod is another to have joined and is a forward who always scores goals at this level.

It is likely that the Bantams will shuffle the proverbial pack for the game after three matches in a week coming so soon into the season. It is hard to foresee many changes in defence, bar the returning  Sheehan, however. In midfield the likes of Matty Dolan, Filipe Morais and Mo Shariff could all win starting spots in an area Steve Parkin described as ‘leggy’ after the weekends exhaustions in the draw with Walsall. It is likely that James Hanson will be partnered by eighteen year old Mason Bennett in attack again as the Derby youngster looks to get up to speed; with the returning Aaron McLean waiting in the wings to continue in his quest for match fitness.

Maintaining momentum as City travel to Walsall

15 Aug

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Walsall vs Bradford City preview

@Bescot Stadium on Saturday 16th August, 2014

 

By Katie Whyatt

Wednesday night’s Capital One draw threw up some interesting ties, but the highlight was undoubtedly Bradford City’s home clash with Leeds United. The game will mark the first time the two sides have met at Valley Parade for 14 years: back in 2000, Stan Collymore and Mark Viduka offered the goals as the spoils were shared.

Undoubtedly, City have always sought to match Leeds, but the current quality within the Bantams’ ranks, coupled with the malaise and uncertainty that has categorised the Whites’ tumultuous past year, means the divisional gulf is just a mere irrelevance. This tie promises to be one of the most closely fought and hotly fuelled of the entire season. For the first time in a long time, Leeds will stand before a Bradford team that will truly, truly grasp what this rivalry means to us. You close your eyes now and the silhouettes form in your mind’s eye: Jason Kennedy and Billy Knott swerving through the centre of the park; Mark Yeates dancing at the tip of the diamond; Sheehan and Darby doggedly fortifying the back line; Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies valiantly standing as the final bastions.

But that’s one for the future. Width of A Post will offer bumper coverage of the game when the time comes, but the focus now, both among the fans and within the club, rightfully turns to more imminent challenges. With three games to go before United’s team bus rumbles down Midland Road, the onus is on the team to make sure they enter that mouth-watering tie with the league position bolstered further and a hat-trick of promising performances locked under their belts. On the back of the Coventry win, it would be too costly to not maintain that momentum. To echo the doomed words of Steven Gerrard, this must not slip now. We go to Walsall exactly the same.

That said, with Sky snatching the TV rights for the derby, a much needed cash windfall, thought to be £100,000, suddenly comes into the picture. It’s difficult to say at this stage whether that money will go straight into the playing pot or instead towards recuperating this year’s overspend, but the noises from Parkinson suggest he is still trying to bring in new faces.

The picture isn’t complete yet, and we are just about entering the phase of the season where the planned loan signings will become available. Knott and Yeates are capable of playing wide, as is new recruit Mason Bennett, but perhaps one more out-and-out winger is on the shopping list. In the Telegraph and Argus today, Parkinson spoke about possibly loaning out Heaton, Clarkson and McBurnie over the course of the season. The squad looks thinned again without those bodies, but not as desperately bare as it was months ago. Either way, transfer activity is not done and dusted. Parkinson knows the picture can change in an instant. In football, a week is a long time, and five acquisitions at the eleventh hour last week illustrate this. Things can still, and will, fall into place.

Two wins from two – those wins a convincing home performance and decent away showing – have all but assuaged worries about the quality of the starting eleven and, to an extent, have started to condemn woes about the depth of the squad as a whole. Man for man, we stand looking at the most technically gifted and tactically astute side we’ve had in a long time – and they’re even stronger together. Clearly, early season enthusiasm needs to be reined in, but the versatility within the squad heralds a variety that can only serve the Bantams well throughout the campaign. Questions need to be answered still, but there is time – just. The constant question marks hovering over McLean need to be banished, but he is desperate to succeed. What’s been achieved thus far remains pleasing.

Turning to tomorrow, Parkinson has promised to keep shuffling his pack, breeding fitness and competitiveness within the squad so that everyone is up to speed when the heat is turned up towards the end of the month. The general adaptability of the squad means predicting the line-up feels fruitless anyway, but Parkinson’s promise to shake things up makes the guessing game even harder.

The City supremo said yesterday Mason Bennett could potentially be handed a start. A bright – and young – winger also adept at playing as a centre forward, Bennett is held in high regard at parent club Derby County, and adds another dimension to City’s build up play. As with any young player, though, he needs to be bedded carefully, and an outing so shortly after his arrival may come too soon for him. Alan Sheehan is most likely to miss Saturday’s game having flown back to Ireland in the wake of a family bereavement, meaning James Meredith will play at left back. Competition for this slot is rife, so the Australian will have to snatch this opportunity to assert his claim for a place in the side. Davies should partner McArdle at centre half and Darby will retain his place on the right flank. Pickford will start again in goal.

The midfield and forward line will probably to see the biggest areas of change. Gary Liddle is back in contention and should be selected, as should Billy Knott after resting for the most part of Tuesday’s game. If Bennett starts, it’s likely to be at Jason Kennedy’s expense, but perhaps Kennedy’s movement, conservatism, versatility and tidiness will be favoured if Knott is deployed as the wideman. Either Mark Yeates or Billy Clarke could feature in the in the hole – perhaps even Knott – but it will most likely be Yeates, with Clarke partnering Hanson up to ā la Saturday. Sadly, a full 90 minutes would probably again come too soon for McLean – expect him to come on for the final half hour or longer.

City go into the Walsall game on prime footing. The start to the season couldn’t have been better, really. The task now is to maintain this momentum, to walk away from this weekend with the diamond nestled further and the team working well together. The prospect of playing in front of a packed out Valley Parade later this month offers a tantalising incentive. If Parkinson uses that wisely, the tempo will be ramped up now.

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