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A very Good Friday

20 Apr

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By Philip Jackson

Andrew Davies is harder than I am, much harder.

I’ve had a bit of a sore knee recently, ooh it’s been achy, lots of driving and that heavy clutch pedal has set it off alright, got a bit of a hobble on. I did stretch to chasing the kids (my kids) around the park, but you can’t push these things can you. An hour in and our blonde talismanic defender snuffs out another potential Peterborough attack with a beautifully timed slide to dispossess Brit Assombalonga, who then brings down his size 15’s on his knee right in front of us.

Aaaarrrrgggghh, look at him, I can’t look at him, it’s Davva, its knees, not again, there he is writhing on the floor, face red, arms flailing. This is BAD. I imagined him imagining months of rehab and physio, on comes Matt Barrass, a few leg stretches later and he’s getting him to his feet, don’t do that Matt, his leg is likely to fall off! OK he’s walking off, fine, no probs have a seat Andrew get Carlo on. The only thing that is going on, however, is a knee support onto Davies’ knee.

Ah yes the old knee support, I did that, my knee feels much better. But then I’m not about to go and carry on a professional football match after a large fully grown man has performed an impromptu tattooing on my knee using his football studs, I’ll just be able to get up the stairs more quickly.

No, this man is back and he’s fired up! Now if I’d been clobbered at footy and I got annoyed, I generally just run around faster and feel more inclined to kick people in the ankles, which seems to work for me.

This incident goes a long way to secure our victory. The 10 men of Peterborough have had us under pressure during the opening of the 2nd half, but we’ve been holding them back. Now Davies just goes ‘Not today, we’re having this’ and the rest of the team feed off that. It felt like he just willed us to victory.

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Stephen Darby likes practising judo at throw ins.

The man is like a slippery eel, arm holds, throws, blocks, his opponents seem to think, ’he looks a bit lightweight, I’ll push him out of the way’. You’d probably have said that about Bruce Lee if you saw him (I know Bruce Lee didn’t do judo, although I bet he was alright at it), Darbs looks skinny but he knows what he’s doing, reading your mind, that’s what he’s doing, predicting every move then moving in for the kill.

Now I tried judo for a bit, up at Richard Dunn back in the 80’s, but wasn’t very good. My best move was to lose but simultaneously give my opponent chicken pox (true story), I went back to football at Parkside sports centre, while Mr Darby would probably get a black belt if he didn’t spend so much time, clearing balls off the line, galloping up the right wing, shepherding wingers towards corner flags (if he was a dog, would he be a greyhound or a collie?), gliding in from nowhere to steal a ball he has no right in winning and generally being awesome all the time.

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Adam Reach can strike a ball.

I was just saying how I’d love us to do something different at free kicks, decoys, lay it off, slip a diagonal ball in to an unmarked man at an angle, but let’s not just predictably blast it into the stand or into the wall as that’s what always happ…. Ooh he’s pinged it into the top corner!!! Yeeeessss!! Wonderful goal, saw Bobby Petta do something similar (honest, I actually did).

In fact most of the team are having a pop today, most do get it on target or close, but Reach knows he’s got it today so he’s having another crack, no son you’re not meant to hit the Bradford End roof! His mazy dribbling won us the free kick for the goal, although probably not a foul, and got their defender sent off, but he does need to try passing a bit more rather than ending up down a blind alley thinking he can do it all.

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Away fans are good.

Peterborough have supporters, I have to say they did well with the noise level, and it certainly helped the atmosphere, they became their 11th man at the start of the 2nd half, although it did peter out, a bit like their team.

There is something special about two noisy sets of supporters that add a new dimension to a football match; you feel you are more involved, and I believe that intensity translated to the pitch as the action didn’t seem to dip at any point. It was a pretty clean match, good sportsmanship on both sides and the referee let the game flow, so allowing the energy to build and build.

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Young girls may well prefer fairy stories.

The young lass just in front of us was thoroughly engrossed, not in the game, but with the Disney Princess comic she was reading. I read her match report, apparently Snow White worked hard for her team, providing a much needed aerial presence, but then choked. And when Cinderella got the ball, she played a blinder, but had a problem with her boots in extra time.

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Jonny Mac is a socialist.

Whilst being employed full time by Bradford City, Comrade McLaughlin cannot forget his brothers around the Football League and has taken up the role of Shop Steward for The Goalkeepers Union.

This was very much in evidence during the closing stages of the match, when the hot headed firebrand that is Joe Day, the stand-in Peterborough custodian, chose to race up for the last two corners of the game.

On retrieving the ball our Jonny’s mind drifted back 12 months when up for a last minute corner against the tsarist forces of Rotherham he was caught out for their 2nd, and he couldn’t bring himself to inflict a similar misfortune on young Joe.

Run free young man, run and enjoy life, I cannot left a fellow goalie suffer in that way, said he (possibly). Gentleman Jon held on to the ball, safe in the knowledge one goal was enough for us before playing it out. Actions, which no doubt he will be recognised for by the Gordon Banks and Peter Downsboroughs of this world.

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‘Some of us Made History’.

One of the themes of this ‘transition’ season has been the break-up of last season’s team, this game felt as if this spirit has not been distinguished and a new spirit may well be growing. They were defending higher up the pitch, both sides of the pitch covered and closed down well, I was impressed with the work rate of all, especially seeing ‘skill’ players who are sometimes seen as lazy doing this also, glad to see De Vita, Stead and Reach all join in with this ethos.

Peterborough slid the ball left and right but were covered at most points, tackles, blocks and interceptions (many involving sliding) were made and our harrying led to some good openings, two of which got their man a red card.

If that can become the norm, the basic level this team works at, then a little more adventure up front could reap the rewards which would turn those 600 draws this season into a few more wins next.

I’ve already said I thought it was a clean and fair game, although there were plenty of ‘proper’ tackles, going in, Drury, Stead De Vita etc. all joined in with this and I hope that the post 2012/13 players see what we had last year and that that came about for a reason, and I hope are buying into the same ethos.

The end of the game saw the players exultant, truly pumped, loving the atmosphere and the camaraderie, it’s what you want to see in the team and I hope that I can see it blooming. Maybe Parky’s new baby is starting to develop?

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Its games like this that just feed that drug a bit “You’ll never escape me boy, I’ve got what you need, feels good doesn’t it?” Yes it does, the bright sun, followed the bright floodlights and the glorious claret and amber everywhere to be seen.

What a sport, great company, great club, bit of banter and that warm glow of three vital points in your pocket, it puts a new spring in your step, that knee feels as good as new.

Who should stay and who should go?

14 Apr

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Written by Gareth Walker (all images: Mike Holdsworth)

It’s that time of year again where thoughts are turning to which names will be on the retained list and, conversely, which players Bradford City fans will be waving goodbye to during the summer. Whilst City aren’t yet mathematically safe in League One, Phil Parkinson will privately be considering the make up of his squad for next year, depending on which division we are in.

Here I get to play manager: discussing each current member of Parkinson’s squad and what decision I would make over their future if I was the in the hot seat.

The players who will be out of contract:

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Jon McLaughlin: KEEP

He probably splits opinion more than any other player currently on City’s books. My own opinion is that he is a very good shot stopper, but the other areas of his game – in particular his distribution and the communication with his defence – are below average.

This means that on the occasions when the standard of his shot stopping drops, such as the games against Huddersfield (away), Wolves (home) and Walsall (home) this season, he looks to be a poor goalkeeper. Personally, I think he is a decent League Two keeper, but that if we have aspirations of getting promoted to the Championship then we need a better number one.

I’d offer him a contract as our back up. Whether he would accept that role is another question.

Stephen Darby: KEEP

He should comfortably win the player of the year award this season, and I doubt that any City fan would want him to leave the club. When considering all the players whose contracts are up, Darby is the only one who I would be really desperate to keep. Let’s hope that he feels the same way about staying at City.

James Meredith: KEEP

For the second year in a row, Meredith has been missing through injury for a large part of the season. Prior to this his form was average to say the least, when compared to his performances last season.

Personally I feel that he has suffered from not having any out and out competition for his place at left back. This has been highlighted by how much we’ve struggled to fill the role in his absence. When he is fit, he knows that he is a guaranteed starter and this cannot be good for any player. I think that it’s imperative that we sign some competition next season, to push him all the way.

Rory McArdle: KEEP

This is a really tough call for me. I think that last year’s ‘Marathon Man’ has struggled with the step up to League One. I’d keep him, but he would no longer be my first choice partner for Andrew Davies. I’d bring in a new right-sided centre back to succeed where Matt Taylor failed, and at the very least by competing with McArdle for a starting role. However, if the under-contract-Taylor can’t be moved on, the out-of-contract-McArdle might have to make way for an upgrade.

Carl McHugh: KEEP

‘Carlo’ is arguably my favourite player at City at the moment. Parkinson has gone on record as saying that the Donegal-born centre back would run through brick walls for the manager and the team. He is a vastly talented defender, who never lets us down.

He suffers because his main position is as a left hand sided centre back, and as such he is in direct competition with Davies for a place in the team. He is not a left back, although has often had to fill in there due to the lack of options to cover Meredith’s absence.

Considering Davies’ injury record and up and down form since returning to the side, I’d keep McHugh; possibly even fazing him into the side as Davies’ long-term replacement. The problem we may have is that if McHugh knows that he is only being kept as an understudy, he might think it better for his own career that he moves on.

Matthew Bates: RELEASE

Brought in as a utility player who can be used in a variety of positions, Bates has suffered by mainly being employed as the stand-in for Davies during the latter’s prolonged injury absence. As a former Middlesbrough captain and England U21 international, Bates certainly has the pedigree. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really impressed anyone.

Bates’ tendency to back off from attackers and bark orders at others, whilst seeming to do very little himself, has seen him targeted by supporters. I think it’d best for everyone if he moved on, and that his wages are freed up to use elsewhere.

Gary Jones: KEEP

‘Magic Man’ has bounced back from an indifferent start to the season – when many people were questioning his performances and writing him off – to re-establish himself as one of our most important players. Jason Kennedy’s failure to hit the ground running has meant Jones has played far more games than he or Parkinson would have expected. Being another year older, we really cannot afford to put off finding a suitable heir to his throne. However, he would still be a fantastic player to have in the squad and play half of the games, or to come off the bench to see matches out when needed.

Will the budget allow us to keep him in a diminished role? Maybe a player-coach type position would facilitate this move.

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Nathan Doyle: KEEP (just)

I really can’t make my mind up about Doyle. He is still one of my favourite players. He should be our best player. He is arguably the most talented player at the club. So why doesn’t he show it on a consistent basis?

Doyle came back from the summer rest in great shape and put in some of his best performances since he rejoined the club. However, similar to last year, his form dipped considerably and his influence on games diminished. I don’t know whether this was down to fatigue or the injury that he was said to be carrying. Whatever the case, he needs to be more consistent.

We certainly miss Doyle when he isn’t in the side, but he splits opinion amongst fans, with some seeing him as a favourite and others thinking that he doesn’t contribute enough. Parkinson is known to like his versatility, but he is rumoured to be one of the highest paid players at the club and, as such, it will be interesting to see if he is considered a luxury that we can no longer afford.

Kyel Reid: KEEP

I like Reid. Although he infuriates supporters sometimes with his erratic-ness and sometimes poor decision making, it is undeniable that he is a major threat to opposing teams, who are often so fearful of him that they double or triple mark him.

I feel Reid is an upgrade on our previous enigmatic wingers. When he is out of the team injured – as he has been for a long time this season – we carry much less of an attacking threat. He is still our main outlet, and I would like to keep him in our squad; albeit with players brought into provide him with better competition for his place.

The problem we may have is that Reid has a young family down in the London area and he may decide to move on for personal reasons.

Garry Thompson: RELEASE

Thompson’s City career has seen more highs and lows than most. His form has varied vastly, but who could ever forget his goal against Arsenal? His commitment to the cause has been questioned in the past, but this season we have seen him show commendable fight when he has come on as a substitute – desire that has put newer signings and younger players to shame.

He is a favourite of Parkinson’s because he facilitates the high diagonal ball to his wing. It will be a shame to lose him and it is a big call, because we need characters such as him with experience if we were to avoid another season of struggle. However, I feel that if we want to move forwards and progress as a club, we just need slightly younger legs and that little bit of extra quality.

Thanks for the memories Thommo!

Rafa De Vita: RELEASE

Barring a brilliant assist for James Hanson’s finish against Preston in October, and a goal at home to Wolves a few days later, De Vita has been totally anonymous in the few games that he has played. He has spent large parts of the season on the treatment table, but his limited contributions when he has been in the side have meant that we haven’t missed him.

De Vita has been a disappointment, because I was impressed with him in pre-season and Swindon supporters speak relatively highly of him.

Andy Gray: RELEASE

It’s difficult to argue that Parkinson has made a successful signing in the last three transfer windows, but Gray really does take the biscuit as the worst of the lot. A high wage earner, who simply hasn’t provided the competition to Hanson that he was supposed to – and the veteran has spent most of his time injured.

Gray’s second coming at Valley Parade has been a major failure.

Louis Swain: RELEASE

Has anyone seen Swain since last summer, when he was given his one year contract? Being farmed out on loan to non-league wasn’t really a surprise, but the lack of updates on his progress makes it look like he is surplus to requirements. 

The players who will still be under contract:

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Andrew Davies: KEEP

Signed a two year deal last summer and, despite his injury problems and up and down form since his return, Davies is still our best centre back by some distance. If he wasn’t under contract there may be a discussion to be had as to whether we are getting value for money – and whether someone who is, say, 75% as good as Davies but always fit would be a better signing. For next season, we have to hope that Davies’ injury problems are behind him, so we can build a team with him in it.

Matt Taylor: MOVE ON

We know so little about this player, partly because he has been injured for such a long time. However, when Taylor has been fit, Parkinson clearly hasn’t liked what he has seen.

A fleeting appearance in one league game, along with starts in cup competitions at Huddersfield and Hartlepool, are his own appearances, which made the decision to recall him early from a loan spell at Colchester – where he was getting game time – a strange one.

His signing was initially well received, because of his reputation and promotion history when he was captain at Charlton; but these all now point to the fact that his wages are likely to be high and unaffordable for someone who rarely plays. With one year left on his contract, hopefully we can find a club willing to take him off our hands.

Jason Kennedy: MOVE ON

A dazzling performance at Valley Parade whilst playing against for Rochdale last season convinced Parkinson that Kennedy was the long-term successor to Gary Jones. Unfortunately, it simply hasn’t worked out and Kennedy finds himself warming the bench back on loan at his old club.

This is one disappointing signing where the blame cannot be solely laid at Parkinson’s door. Some fans at Spotland regarded Kennedy to be a better player than Jones, and most of the Valley Parade faithful were delighted when he decided to finally make the journey down the M62 to West Yorkshire.

However, in claret and amber, Kennedy looks half the player that he did in black and blue. Hesitant on the ball and avoiding responsibility are just two of the criticisms levelled at him. Again, with one year left on his contract, I hope that we can find someone who wants to take him.

Mark Yeates: MOVE ON

The biggest disappointment of all of last summer’s signings. 12 months ago, Yeates was a regular player for Watford as they marched towards the Championship play off final. He started this season well, scoring a great goal at home to Carlisle, but that was as good as it got. Yeates soon lost his place to Reid, and found himself reduced to being a bit-part player.

Along with Doyle, he should be our best player. However, many supporters have questioned his attitude and commitment – and as one of our highest earners, with another season to run on his deal, I expect him to be moved on. That is unless he can show us some real form over the last few weeks of the season.

James Hanson: KEEP 

The fulcrum of our side, and arguably our most important player due to Parkinson’s Plan A. Hanson is getting better and better, and I am delighted that he has committed his long term future to the club. We do, however, need to find a way or a style of playing without Hanson, for the times when he is injured or ineffective.

Oli McBurnie: KEEP

The cream of the crop of our talented youth team, McBurnie is being handled with care and I expect to see him being continually drip fed into senior action next year. He has shown enough potential so far for me to think that he should have a bright future, and I’d like to see him as our fourth striking option next year.

Lewis Clarkson: KEEP

Another player who has suffered with injury since signing, we have so far seen very little of Clarkson. Brought in as one for the future by the current coaching staff, I see him as striker number five next year; possibly being loaned out for experience if the right opportunity arrives.

Aaron Mclean: KEEP

Having arrived to much fanfare as Nahki Wells’ replacement, Mclean has so far failed to live up to expectations. However, with another two years to run on his contract I refuse to write him off after just six months. The effort is clearly there in his play, I just feel that he looks a poor signing because he doesn’t fit in with Parkinson’s tactics. Mclean is the player who I feel would benefit the most if we manage to develop a Plan B.

The players who are on loan

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Arron Jameson: SEND BACK

A token signing if ever there was one. With hardly any senior games to his name, Jameson was not the player that supporters wanted to see brought in to challenge Jon McLaughlin for the number one jersey. We might as well have put the youth team goalkeeper on the bench, and that is in fact what Parkinson has done when faced with the task of balancing the allocated number of loanees in his match day squads.

Adam Drury: SEND BACK

We were crying out for a proper left back after James Meredith’s injury, and it was puzzling that it took so long to bring one in. Drury has been steady if not spectacular in the role, and there is a chance he could be offered a deal for next year. Personally, however, I would question whether he has done enough to earn it.

Adam Reach: SEND BACK

When Reach signed for us in January, I spoke to a Shrewsbury-supporting friend of mine who revealed that Reach had been brilliant for his first month on loan at New Meadow, earlier this season, but that his form then dropped off spectacularly.

Unfortunately that seems to have been the case during his stay in Yorkshire, too. Reach was so good at the start that we were worried about Middlesbrough recalling him. However, his inconsistency probably explains why they haven’t done. Another player who clearly has talent, but doesn’t show it enough and recently has appeared to be playing for himself rather than the team. I don’t think that we can afford another squad member of that ilk.

Kyle Bennett: KEEP

In contrast Reach, Bennett’s City career started slowly but has improved considerably. He had a poor performance against Oldham recently, but I think that was more to do with the bizarre tactical shifts from Parkinson during the game. Bennett put a good performance in at Rotherham on Friday.

At times he frustrates by playing very narrow, but I feel that is partly on the manager’s instruction. If he can continue to improve, I would like to see Bennett as one of four wide players in next season’s squad.

Matty Dolan: KEEP

One week, Dolan looks like the best player on the pitch. The next he has an absolute stinker. Contrast his performances against Gillingham (home) and Leyton Orient (away) with those against Shrewsbury (away) and Oldham (home). However, even in the Oldham game, Dolan managed to produce the only bit of quality in a Bradford shirt, when he set up Adam Reach’s goal.

As a relatively young player I think that Dolan will continue to improve and become more consistent. I believe it’s pretty much agreed that he will join us permanently in the summer, and I am quite comfortable with that.

Chris Atkinson: KEEP

This is one where Parkinson and I would no doubt disagree. Along with Jameson, Atkinson has been one of the unlucky ones who have missed out when we have been limited to just five loanees in a match day squad. It’s a shame because I feel that he could provide the attacking impetus that we sometimes lack from central midfield.

Atkinson did well in brief cameo appearances against Wolves (away) and MK Dons (home), and would likely be a relatively cheap signing as a fourth central midfield option. I hope that Parkinson leaving him out doesn’t indicate that he isn’t intending on keeping him.

Jon Stead: SEND BACK.

I was impressed with Stead at Leyton Orient (away) and even more so at Rotherham (away); but he definitely isn’t the man to be Hanson’s understudy, because he doesn’t win enough in the air. I’d rather see Parkinson sign a different type of striker, especially considering the wages that Stead is likely to be earning at Huddersfield.

However, much will depend on whether Parkinson intends to try new tactics next year. Stead is ideally suited to playing the lone striker role, as he proved at Rotherham, because he has experience of doing this in the Premier League with Sunderland and Blackburn. I wouldn’t totally rule out him signing permanently.

The players in the youth team

I’d expect youth team captain and dynamic midfielder Jack Stockdill to be offered a contract. Deals may also be awarded to central defender Niall Heaton, wide forward Nathan Curtis and winger Callum Chippendale.

New signings

If the above decisions were to come to fruition, there would be spaces in the squad to fill and a need for several new signings. As a priority, I’d be looking to sign a first choice goalkeeper, some competition for Meredith at left back, a right-sided centre back to replace Bates and Taylor, and a third senior striker to compete with Hanson and Mclean

There would also be a need to sign a couple of wingers or wide midfielders, to compete with Reid and Bennett.

Smells like Team Spirit?

7 Apr

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By Ron Beaumont

It has to be said and as is always the case, Jason has said it so well, but the phrase I picked out straight away was “there is a growing stench that is becoming difficult to avoid”.

It seems a strong statement and, unless you walk to the ground by a particular part of Canal Road as I do, I assume it to be metaphorical but it does sum up the effect of recent home performances.

A lot has been said on this site about glasses that are half-full or half-empty and, as I headed for the game, my glass was definitely half-full.

A win or even a point would surely see us safe, and reports from the last away games suggested we would be able to get something from the game. The half-empty part of my glass was only concerned about the reported inability to convert at least one of our chances against Coventry, but we had created them so there was no real worry.

Glass half-full, glass half-empty. What I was not prepared for was glass broken!

Nothing to be taken from this game. Nothing to be taken from this team!

Yet the glass is broken. Players look broken. No cohesion, no plan to see, no positive intervention from the manager. This was not the City I have supported for so long.

I know we have important parts missing. I know we have parts that don’t fit. I know we have spare parts that are for whatever reason just spare parts! The spirit that has helped us achieve so much has vanished – from Valley Parade at least – and has been replaced by on-field arguments and blaming team mates. Passing the buck, not passing the ball!

And watching on amongst all the rest of us is the man who could do something to change it. A man who seems to have lost confidence in the very thing he got us to believe in.

I have never seen any real argument for getting rid of Phil Parkinson and I do not want this to happen, but I am prepared to criticise his decisions in recent home games because it seems, to me at least, justifiable criticism. Motivation in the dressing room is his domain.

Motivation on the pitch should be a “given” for all players regardless of contract, loan or financial status – and it is the manager’s job to make sure that it is there.

We should be safe from relegation but we are not safe yet and, until we are, it is the players on the pitch and on the bench last Saturday that will have to do it. For too long comments seem to be addressing next season’s plan, but we must focus on what has to be done to reach the end of this season in this division.

We will have to hold our breath. We should not have to hold our noses as well.

Missing a trick?

3 Apr

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By Matt Birch

Throughout this season I have had this nagging feeling that scrapping the reserve team was a bad idea. I understand the reasoning behind the decision: for the management team to focus on the first team squad, to arrange their own reserve friendlies on their own terms and to save a little bit of the budget which would have been spent on a reserve team set up and administration.

One further argument was that it was detrimental to the younger players to be playing week in, week out against other team’s senior reserves. This, however, was a one-time thing, a freak occurrence. Last season saw Bradford City play the most domestic games in a season of any team from any division in the history of English football. And by a good distance. In a season like that, the whole first team squad would be featuring regularly and not be risked in reserve team games. But 2012/13 will never be repeated by any team ever again.

Take a good look at this season, however, and I believe the blame for our mid-season slide from play off contenders to relegation battlers can partly be put on the lack of a reserve team. Players out of the match day squad need to stay match fit and be ready to step seamlessly into the first team when called upon. This season that has not happened at all.

The fringe players have all had the odd glimpse of promise, but have been inconsistent to say the least. I am talking about the likes of Carl McHugh, Matt Taylor, Jason Kennedy, Andy Gray, Mark Yeates, Luke Oliver, Ricky Ravenhill, Alan Connell and Rafa De Vita. Add to this the likes of Lewis Clarkson, Oli McBurnie, Niall Heaton and Jack Stockdill: who would benefit from regular games against opponents stronger than the youth team in order to prepare them physically and mentally for senior football.

Is it a coincidence that we have had a particularly barren run when struggling to find fit and ready replacements for the core first teamers? Key injuries to Andrew Davies, James Meredith and Kyel Reid, international call-ups for McHugh and Rory McArdle, as well as the sickness bugs and niggling injuries you have over the course of any season, should not have such a marked impact on results if you have players ready to step in. Furthermore, there is a level of complacency that creeps into players when they know they are undroppable. With all this in mind, should we really be that surprised by the way this season has panned out?

If we look forward to next season, I think the board and management team really need to reassess the merits of a reserve team, or as they are now officially called U21 Development Team.

The club is making huge strides off the field with the training facilities, fitness regime and in particular with the youth team. The scouting network also seems to be broadening, as can be seen with the signing of Clarkson, the potential signing of Craig McGillivray and the noted interest in numerous other non-league players. There is also the anomaly of RIASA using the name Bradford City U21 Development Team for a number of exhibition friendlies this season. Half-baked is a term I would use to describe this part of our club.

There is no need to worry about our reserve team getting hammered every week and damaging morale. Get it right, and there will be a good blend of senior fringe players, new signings, first year pros, the most promising apprentices, and the odd RIASA player featuring. Other clubs are switching their focus more towards U21 development too, so the leagues should be fairly matched. I also put it to the board that we have the perfect reserve team coach in the building already. Who better to take charge than Captain Marvel himself, Gary Jones? Heading into the twilight of his playing career, he is a player trusted by the management team and one who leads by example and displays all the characteristics needed for the role.

Let us keep up the club progression on and off the pitch, and let us not miss this trick again.

On the outside looking in

27 Mar

 

Image by Alex Dodd

By Luke Lockwood

I’ll mention it straight away – I don’t get to as many City games as I would like because I play football on a Saturday and would always pick playing over watching. I go when I can and was a season ticket holder for the majority of the 10 year decline in league position. I have seen the worst times of Bradford City and also the best, and right now – despite the terrible relegation form we are enduring – this is nowhere near the worst.

Perhaps I am less angry than others as I do not have to put myself through the pain of enduring another 90 minutes every week; and agreement amongst all is that the last two performances in particular have been completely indefensible.

I have no issue with people complaining following abject performances, as I have done on many occasions over the years, including many match reports and opinion pieces either here or previously to Boy from Brazil. However, I think the current criticism of Phil Parkinson is over the top, despite a very disappointing end to our first stab at League One and we are entering a stage where any reason to question him is jumped upon.

Some criticisms he has been charged with this year are absurd, and I’ll begin with those just to get them out of the way. Most ironic of all is that he is criticised for not bedding in more young players and building for the future, with Oli McBurnie being the obvious candidate. It’s quite frankly laughable that as fans we expect Parkinson to build for the 2-3 years down the line when he is coming under pressure less than a year after delivering promotion and a League Cup final.

When McBurnie has been in the side he has proved that – although promising and technically gifted – he is not ready for the step up yet and Parkinson is right to protect him. After scoring goals for fun in the youths, the immediate pressure and expectation of the large City crowd may prove too much for a 17-year-old boy.

The same applies to the following recurring argument, “Why doesn’t he sign that Gregory lad at Halifax who’s scoring for fun” – Jake Speight or Ross Hannah anybody? Who’s to say we do not have people watching him, or have had people watching him and have decided he is not good enough for league level, or in fact that he may cost too much? Crawley Town had three bids turned down in January. If Parkinson signed Gregory he would still take time to adapt to League One football and would not be the quick fix that all City fans crave.

Parkinson definitely deserves his fair share of criticism for this season, but he doesn’t have a magic wand to guarantee success. Did we all think it would be plain sailing back to the Championship now? Surely we have experienced enough heartache over the years for any of us to be foolish enough to think that?

He has got it wrong at times. Perhaps he put too much faith in those players that got us promoted and to the League Cup final. These include players from the same crop that were unanimously agreed upon as the best squad since the Premier League, and nobody complained when their contracts were extended.

We currently can’t even decide amongst ourselves who is good and who isn’t, and the only players we seem to get wholehearted agreement on are Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies (when fit) and Gary Jones – who himself came in for criticism earlier in the season. It also seems like James Hanson has finally won over his doubters, as Aaron Mclean becomes their target for not scoring enough.

Depending on who you speak to, Rory McArdle is either a very good partner for Andrew Davies or a League Two player; Nathan Doyle is either easily a Championship player or a liability who will go missing for a third of a season; and Mclean is either a playmaking, assist machine who will eventually add goals or a past it 30-year-old looking for his final pay cheque.

Yes there are those who we have all identified as not good enough or surplus to requirements. Garry Thompson, Matt Taylor, Rafa De Vita, but Parkinson has most likely also come to this realisation and will either release them or try to move them on in the summer.

We can also look at his inability to plan for the inevitable departure of Nakhi Wells. Mclean could prove himself to be a top quality capture, but it obviously will take some adjusting either to fit him into our style of play or for us to build our game around his. Certainly, the slow progress being made does suggest Parkinson was inadequately prepared for how we would adapt to losing the focal point of our game.

However, it may be that Parkinson thought we had enough to maintain our League One status when Wells left, and was putting in preparations for next year. Mclean seems the player who is desperate for his midfield to get up in support or beyond him, as shown in how he created goals for Gary Jones at the start. Alas, Jones is no longer of an age where he has the legs to do so week in, week out. Parkinson looking at other options in the centre of the park would suggest he is planning for that.

On the other hand, Parkinson may have taken a gamble at the start of the season on Nakhi Wells, James Meredith, Andrew Davies, Kyel Reid and co being capable of mounting a better challenge this year than they have. Unfortunately gambling does involve an element of luck, which Parkinson has been without. Those four significant players have all missed a large chunk of the season – Nakhi Wells may have been on Bradford’s books until January, but he stopped playing for City in December.

We must remember that Parkinson was not in charge at this level last year, he wasn’t watching the quality and style required to be successful and it is a while since he was last managing in League One. He has had this year to assess what is required and make us upwardly mobile for next year.

We can all agree that his summer signings were not of the required quality, but this coming summer is when we should judge Parkinson on his signings. Remember this is the man who recruited Stephen Darby, Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle and James Meredith, following a less than convincing two-thirds of a season where he just about kept us in the Football League.

Indeed, if there is anything we can take from experience it is that Parkinson has shown us he is a manager who learns and adapts but not necessarily with immediate results. Look at the way he implemented tactics following the League Cup humiliation to produce the performance that steamrolled Northampton on the same Wembley pitch.

Then there is the most common comment of them all: “Phil Parkinson would be sacked if it wasn’t for last year”. But he did have last year. That is why we are fighting to maintain our position in League One status rather than potentially fighting to do the same in League Two. The ironic thing is had we stayed down we probably all would be much happier if we were competing for promotion from League Two and proclaiming what a great manager he is. I’m not saying anyone regrets getting promoted, but we wouldn’t have known any different and would still (hopefully) be experiencing that winning feeling.

It is much like Alan Pardew would have been sacked last season if it wasn’t for the season before that. The club stuck by him believing in his ability and look at his Newcastle side this year: back up the table in 8th place, behind only those sides who have invested millions upon millions and an extremely well-run Everton.

Everton, a side managed by a certain Roberto Martinez who was in charge of Wigan when they were relegated last year. Would Wigan have replaced him had he not been poached by a much bigger, more attractive club?

Further, look at the relegation fight this year in the Premier League and how much improvement a change in manager has provided these clubs

Position Team Change Manager?
11 Aston Villa No
12 Hull No
13 Norwich No
14 West Ham No
15 Swansea Yes
16 West Brom Yes
17 Crystal Palace Yes
18 Sunderland Yes
19 Cardiff Yes
20 Fulham Yes (Twice)

Apply the same logic to our experiences in recent years. Was replacing Nicky Law with Bryan Robson a success? Was replacing Colin Todd with David Wetherall a success? Was replacing Stuart McCall with Peter Taylor a success? Was even replacing Peter Taylor with Peter Jackson a success? Even more importantly still – did replacing Peter Jackson with Phil Parkinson produce immediate results?

Then the next question we need to ask is this: what would replacing Phil Parkinson with Mr.X – I can’t even think of a suitable replacement – achieve? Perhaps a short run of improved results, as players fight to prove themselves to their new manager, or perhaps not. Almost definitely a complete rebuild once more come the summer, as another new manager looks to implement his style on the team with no guaranteed success.

Besides, who do we want to replace him with? Another manager with some success and some failures on his CV; or an unproven, inexperienced manager desperate to prove himself. Because I believe we’ve tried both, and Dean Windass is waiting rather impatiently by the phone if not!

Then consider what keeping Phil Parkinson might achieve? Most probably maintaining our League One status – though perhaps not convincingly – and the opportunity for him to learn from his mistakes and experiences and build on his squad for next year. I know which scenario I would consider more likely to provide success next season.

Take a step back from the pain of the abject performances each week and look at a club: promoted last year under a manager who made them upwardly mobile for the first time in over a decade. A side that at this current time has a cushion between themselves and the relegation zone, in a division they worked so hard to get to. Fans that have experienced much worse in recent history than they are doing now and a manager who, given a bit more time, could prove he can progress them further still.

Those who care, because we care

25 Mar

By Jason McKeown

It was Saturday 1 November 1997 when I, a 16-year-old lad, returned home from my morning paper round feeling distracted. Whilst collecting the delivery bag from the shop, I had bumped into a couple of friends who had told me that later that day they would be going to watch Bradford City. I had never been before, but talked often of wanting to do so. Now they were going and I was not. I felt envious, I felt frustrated, and I spent the morning feeling down about not being invited.

At around lunchtime I mentioned it to my mum, who quick as a flash urged me to invite myself along and even went to the trouble of calling my friend’s mum to check they hadn’t set off. Within minutes I was leaving the house and rushing to join them. I would stand on the Kop terrace, and was blown away by the atmosphere and experience. The 0-0 draw City achieved with West Brom seeing me instantly fall in love with the Bantams.

Almost 17 years on and – after hundreds of Bradford City matches all over the country, thousands of pounds spent on tickets and countless hours writing about the club’s fortunes – I still come back to the fact it was my mum who made it all happen. Who gave a shy lad the confidence to push myself into a life-changing afternoon out at the football. Aside from three years studying at Sunderland University and 12 months when, just married, I couldn’t afford to go, I have missed just 15 home games (league and cup) during the other 13 years.

But tonight will be number 16.

It was a week last Monday, mid-morning, when my mum passed away. Without going into the details, her health had been in a bad way for a few months. Today is her funeral and there’s enough emotion to deal with without fretting over a home match vs Walsall. It has been a very tough week (and, in case you’re wondering, the two pieces I wrote for Width of a Post last week had been completed before it all happened).

My long-time – some would say long-suffering – fellow City-goer Stephen will also be absent tonight. Three days before my mum passed away, his gran unfortunately went the same way. Her role in Stephen’s affection for the Bantams was different but also very important to him. En route to home games, me and him would stop by her house to pick up his big brother David, who for a time was a season ticket holder also. She took a keen interest in City and would always bid us on our way to the match with the words “first goal’s for gran”. Her funeral was on Monday.

I write all this not to depress you, dear reader, but to celebrate the people we all have in our lives who so patiently and willingly provide the back up to our support for Bradford City. My mum not only inadvertently caused me to support Bradford City, but became an indirect supporter herself. When I was at Molinuex to see City promoted to the Premier League, she had gone to the local pub to watch the game on Sky. When I was running on the Valley Parade pitch celebrating survival against Liverpool, she had been nervously listening on the radio in a car; driving around the Yorkshire Dales with my dad, because the tension was too much for her to bear merely sitting at home. Steve’s gran also listened to matches on the radio every week.

My mum would always follow matches either via radio or online. I would be barely out of the ground after a game when she had text me about the result, and she would want to chat with me about the performance when I next saw her. She wasn’t a fan in the sense she knew who many of the players were, but could usually name the manager of the time and anyone who regularly scored goals.

On four occasions, she came to watch City too. The most memorable was on Boxing Day 2007, when City defeated Lincoln City 2-1 on an emotional afternoon at Valley Parade. She was blown away by the noise and the excitement when City scored. She loved the way that everyone cheered together. In December 2011, she attended two back-to-back Christmas home games against Crewe (3-0) and Shrewsbury (3-1) and was similarly enthralled. She watched City’s two Wembley appearances in my house on Sky, whilst we were at the game.

We all have people in our lives who don’t follow City through choice, but because of us. Who have learned to handle our mood swings depending on the result, know how to look up the league table and will regularly visit the club shop prior to Christmases and Birthdays. They know that they must never arrange a social or family function without first checking the fixture list with you.

They are our parents, our partner, our children. They care because we care. And they allow us to indulge in our sometimes over-the-top passion for the sport, which on some level adds to our enjoyment.

So tonight at the game, please may I ask you to pay thought to those such people in your life? They will be at home somewhere, watching score updates or remembering at 9.30pm to check the result. And when they do so, they will not think about whether City are still in relegation trouble or whether Aaron Mclean is a worthy replacement for Nahki Wells or whether Phil Parkinson is the right man for the job. They will think of you, and how you feel. And feel pleased for you if City have won, or sympathetic if we have lost.

These people are the backbone to our love for Bradford City, and we should always appreciate the sacrifices they so often make for us. Bradford City is a big part of their life, simply because Bradford City is such a big part of ours.

Fragmentation and imperfection

17 Mar

Mike (6)

By Jason McKeown

Some people say…that Bradford City Football Club is in its best position for at least a decade.

Some people say…the recent nosedive in form is proof that we are in decline.

Some people say…the club is in robust health now it has paid off Mark Lawn’s loan.

Some people say…the League Cup windfall has been wasted away.

Some people say…this group of players have done well to acclimatise to the higher division and are meeting overall expectations.

Some people say…the style of football is terrible, the players are not good enough and their weaknesses too obvious to our League One rivals.

Some people say…the struggles of Nahki Wells to adapt to life at a higher level suggest City did well to agree the deal it did with Huddersfield.

Some people say…Aaron Mclean is a poor replacement for Wells.

Some people say…Phil Parkinson has done a magnificent job as manager, when you reflect on his three seasons in charge.

Some people say…Phil Parkinson has blown it as manager, and must be sacked.

Valley Parade has become increasingly fragmented over recent months. There are major splits in opinions about the current situation and the future – and with it passions are running high. As editor of a Bradford City website, this overriding mood makes it particularly challenging to write about the club. Whatever personal views I and my fellow writers express, someone will disagree. Too positive, too negative, too much on the fence – we are either bang on right, or embarrassingly wrong. It’s all about your own view of the Bradford City world, and your interpretation of events.

Over 10 years of writing about Bradford City has long ago taught me that you can’t please everyone – nor should you try to. And over recent weeks, I have received bits of feedback here and there that this site needs to be more negative and to be criticising the club. That we should be leading the calls for Parkinson’s resignation, for example, or questioning the directors. It all goes with the territory of producing such a website, and in its own strange way is a sign of our success: that people care enough about what we write to be unhappy when we differ from them in our judgement.

This is not a platform to attempt to defend myself, as criticism comes with the territory. Some of the best feedback I’ve had for my writing efforts has occurred at times when others would be slating me on message boards. Criticism comes with the territory, and it is valued as much as the kind words other people bestow every now and then. Width of a Post has no editorial policy with the exception of one golden rule: analysis of players, management and chairmen must always be backed up with sound reasoning. Somewhere along the evolution of Width of a Post, it has become more club-friendly for sure, but that is largely because – in the main for the two and a bit years this site has existed – the club has got more right than it has wrong.

When it comes to writing about City, I have always tried to be 100% honest in how I feel: good or bad. Over recent months, I have written some deeply critical match reports, such as those against Rotherham, Notts County, Sheffield United and Wolves. I doubt any players read the site but, if they did, some would no doubt be unhappy at the stuff we have had to say about them. At other times, Width of a Post has been gushing with praise for performances, players and the manager, and encouraged by the overall progress of the club. Against a backdrop of an increasingly negative #bcafc Twitter hashtag, Facebook pages and message boards, this more positive outlook can go against the grain. But perhaps we offer a level of balance in such circumstances.

Whatever your view, this season is set to go down as one of fragmentation. Beyond the fact Stephen Darby is bloody amazing, there probably isn’t a single element of Bradford City’s 2013/14 performance that would find universal agreement. We have done well to be mid-table, or underachieved not to be in play off contention. This group of players has successfully adapted to a higher level, or needs wholesale changes. The manager has taken us forwards, or has run out of ideas. Football is such a reactive sport, full of passion and subjectivity – and Bradford City is certainly no different to the rest of the football world.

So what has Parkinson got wrong this season? Well, as mentioned so many times, his summer recruitment business has proven to be dismally unsuccessful. It was quickly apparent that even he has lacked faith in those he brought in during the summer, and when things have not gone so well it is these players who are invariably the first to fall on their sword.

I think that he got the balance wrong in his defensive planning. At one stage, Parkinson had six centre backs on the books, plus Nathan Doyle (who can cover successfully) and the promising Niall Heaton. Meanwhile, the squad featured just one recognised left back. The unreliability of Andrew Davies’ fitness, the uncertainty of Luke Oliver’s recovery from serious injury and the international commitments of Rory McArdle necessitated plenty of centre back cover, but the lack of game time for Matt Taylor suggests something has gone wrong.

I think that Parkinson has continued to struggle getting results on the road. Just 14 away victories in almost three seasons in charge is not a great record. I think that he has yet to bring in the personnel that can formulate a change of approach from the tried – some say tired – 4-4-2 formation. He has largely built a team around the strengths of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, but failed to quickly adapt to the breaking up of this prolific partnership. Wells’ replacement has a very different style, but at times the way City have played seems to assume Nahki is still wearing that number 21 shirt.

Yet I think that Parkinson has also got plenty right this season. Gary Jones has continued to defy his age by producing a number of inspirational displays. He is a true leader, who lifts the performances of those around him. Parkinson was right to put so much faith in James Hanson by awarding him a new contract mid-season, rather than risking it running down. Hanson is said to have been given a sizeable pay rise and has revelled in the added responsibility thrust upon him since Nahki left, playing that bit further up the park and scoring more regularly. A proven League One striker now, and you suspect James can still go higher.

Next in the contract line needs to be Stephen Darby please, Phil.

I think that Parkinson has ensured his team are tough to beat and can compete in this higher division. For all the poor form since October, only six teams have lost fewer matches than the Bantams all season (including Crawley, who have played four games less). It is too many draws that has hindered City’s progress. Only Scunthorpe United – out of the five national divisions in English football – have tied more matches than the Bantams. It really isn’t a major improvement needed to change those one-point returns into three. Just turning four of those 15 draws into victories would currently see the Bantams fighting for the play offs.

Adam Reach shows Parkinson can hunt out a good loan signing; Aaron Mclean is proof of the manager’s pulling power. For all the criticism Mclean’s distinctly average performances have received, there is a proven lower league striker in there who is capable of filling Nahki’s rather large shoes. If he can build on his excellent first goal for the Bantams and contribute more often to the goalscoring column, it will look a great piece of business by the manager. The future also looks bright, with Matty Dolan – expected to sign permanently during the summer – looking a capable heir to Jones’ throne. Oli McBurnie has enjoyed some game time and shows huge promise; Jack Stockdill looks a real gem with a bright, bright future.

Certain mitigating circumstances cannot be overlooked. Losing top scorer Nahki Wells was always going to be testing, particularly with his head seemingly turned during the run-up to the transfer window. Had Andrew Davies been fit all season, we would not have endured such a sustained slump in results over mid-season. Kyel Reid has been sorely missed also, albeit the form of Reach softening the blow to a point. Nevertheless, the loss of the club’s two quickest players – Wells and Reid – has been keenly felt at times. Pace must top the summer shopping requirement list.

The story of this season is one of fragmentation and imperfection. Some things have gone well, some things could have gone better. Certain obstacles have been successfully overcome, but other, greater challenges have either sprung up or heightened in their size. We’ve not looked so close to the holy grail of Championship football since 2006, but at times is has depressingly hit home just how far we still have to go.

The most important element, in the short-term, is that League One survival is comfortably within reach. Then the planning for next season, and the longer-term, can truly begin. The steps taken this season may not be vast, but they are at least forwards. The bruises picked up, the lessons taught, and the set-backs overcome will hopefully lead to a stronger and wiser football club.

In the summer we need to apply that experience. And in the meantime, fragmentation will continue to dominate.

Endure or enjoy?

10 Mar

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Written by Polly Penter (images by Mike Holdwsorth)

Before we all get too depressed, let’s look at where we were this time last year.

This time last year, we were in League Two; this time last year we were reflecting on an underwhelming draw against Aldershot, and that only after a stoppage time penalty; this time last year we were feeling bruised, having lost to struggling Wimbledon and drawn with Port Vale and Dagenham & Redbridge, with only a (great) win against York giving us a much-needed boost; this time last year we hoped for, but didn’t expect, promotion.

Before we all clamour for Phil Parkinson’s head (I’m currently avoiding Facebook, because the negative comments annoy me so much), let’s look at where we are right now: we’re half way down the table, but in League One; we just suffered a decisive defeat, yes, against a team 30 points ahead of us vying for automatic promotion and with a home form second only to Wolves; we’ve just watched an afternoon of lacklustre football from a side struggling with several key players out with injuries, yet which still held its own for the first half.

With this in mind, I am not about to join the sneering, grumbling hoards seemingly swamping the forums and Twitter feeds with their venom and vitriol, but instead reflect upon why, underwhelming football and hot dogs notwithstanding (sorry, Brentford, Crawley’s are by far the best), Saturday was a reminder of how this is one of the greatest hobbies you can have.

Being London-based, I try to see as many of the Southern away games as possible, venturing to such glamorous locations as Stevenage and Gillingham. Brentford doesn’t immediately sound alluring, but it’s actually one of my favourite football venues – it’s on my doorstep (relatively speaking), being a quick train journey from Waterloo, well inside the Oyster card zones. The ground is a mere amble from the station, and, of course, it famously has a pub on each corner.

London gently buzzes on match days. As you cross the city you’re aware of an array of different football strips and scarves from every direction, as their wearers head with that purposeful, pre-match stride towards Selhurst Park and Stamford Bridge, West Ham and Watford. As I travelled west, Euston bustled with late Arsenal fans en route to the FA cup match, and at Waterloo the occasional glimpse of claret and amber gave way to a virtual City takeover at platform 18.

Being a far-flung supporter, it’s amazing how many familiar faces you come across on such journeys, as other Bradford expats converge on the same little bit of London from across the Home Counties and beyond to watch their beloved Bantams in action. (I did once meet a rather dejected Bradford fan at Gatwick Airport after we played Crawley in 2011 – he’d flown over from Detroit for a 24-hour round trip as it was “the closest thing to a local fixture I’ll get this year”. We’d lost 3-1.)

The train ride from Waterloo to Brentford shows off London at its best, especially in Saturday’s glorious sunshine. Crossing the Thames at Barnes (we watched several rowing crews zipping under the bridge below us) and rattling through up-market Chiswick and Kew. Brentford is Kew’s less-fashionable neighbour, yet the short walk to Griffin Park takes in rows of pretty terraced cottages under the gaze of shiny new developments, an optimistic mish-mash of old and new a world away from some of the depressing locations I’ve been to this year (Crewe probably being the worst).

My dad (in his words a “football dinosaur”) did his best to dampen the air of positivity as we headed to our pub of choice, the New Inn, bemoaning “those daft pre-match warm-ups” (they didn’t have them in “his day”), “barmy goal celebrations” (they didn’t do that in “his day”) and “sports psychologists” (I don’t even need to say it). By the time we got to the pub he was complaining about drawstring teabags in polystyrene cups, so I left him with some friendly Brentford fans and went to get the first round.

Griffin Park is has a pub on each corner. We passed two on the way to the New Inn, both humming with a mix of fans from both clubs and clearly welcoming. I’ve been to some towns where the atmosphere has been actively hostile, and there are certain pubs you know you’d be foolish to enter. But here we were, sharing a corner with fellow City fans, Brentford fans, a rogue QPR fan there under duress with his young son (a part-time Brentford, part-time Chelsea fan), and several Irish rugby supporters.

There was no underlying menace, which seems to have been all too common this season.  As the match approached more and more City fans arrived, chatting and drinking and exchanging pre-match banter. The general view seemed to be that we would be lucky to get away with even a point, yet the mood was distinctly upbeat.

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I shouldn’t be surprised when I see the impressive turnout of City fans at distant away games, yet I always am. The chat forums would have you believe support is waning, but this was definitely not the case on Saturday – both the seats and terrace were rammed with City fans ready to make some noise. Conversely, the home stands, also packed, held a relatively sedate crowd. On the plus side this meant there was no nastiness (as far as I could tell) between the two sides, which I’ve sadly seen too often this year, but you did sometimes feel they’d headed out for an afternoon at the theatre and taken a wrong turning.

The atmosphere, though, was great, with City fans in good voice from beginning to end, and it was especially heartening to hear united shouts of “COME ON CITY” after the first Brentford goal, rather than the torrents of abuse which are all too common when things are going badly. The generally convivial mood seemed to transfer to the pitch too: there was only one booking all afternoon.

The game itself was ultimately disappointing. As one frustrated fan nearby yelled during the second half, “You’re playing football, not headball! Get it on the ground!” Brentford could have walked away with a 6-0 win and deserved it. They were the better side by far, whereas we looked a little hapless, lacking a plan B (we’d clearly set out to play defensively, and when this didn’t work it felt as though we’d run out of ideas) and ultimately uninspiring.

We now sit in a precarious position – probably safe, but not enough to relax just yet. Fans who expected us to whizz straight up to the Championship were always, I feel, unrealistic; but now we really could do with a couple of victories to calm the nerves and secure the safe, mid-table spot at the end of the season which I’ve been hoping for – perfectly respectable for a newly-promoted side.

Looking at the upcoming fixtures, with James Hanson and Andrew Davies back, this isn’t unreasonable. In the meantime, the camaraderie and atmosphere on Saturday has reminded me that I have the best hobby in the world, and support one of its truly great clubs. CTID.

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These things I believe

3 Mar

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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.

Playing through brick walls

20 Feb

Image by Alex Dodd

By Jason McKeown

It was nine months ago that I was in the McCall Suite of Valley Parade for the 2012/13 player of the year awards, thrilled to be sat next to Phil Parkinson. As he patiently put up with me quizzing him about anything and everything, the Bradford City manager’s views on Carl McHugh left a big impression on me. “He will do anything you ask of him for the good of the team,” Parkinson offered, before pointing over to a nearby wall. “If you ask him to run through that, for the good of the team, he will do it.”

There was something fitting about the Irishman proving to be Tuesday night’s match winner which saw the Bantams halt a difficult slide of poor results. McHugh was brought into the team late in place of the injured Matthew Bates, and was asked to play a left back role that – after a torrid first half at Bramall Lane in that position – he must still have nightmares about. McHugh has endured the “difficult second season” syndrome and barely featured before Christmas. Even in his more regular centre back position, his performances of late had been mixed.

Yet McHugh overcame any personal hesitation and damaged confidence to perform impressively at left back. Early jitters, when he and Andrew Davies contested the same ball, were brushed away, and he let no one down in what is evidently not his best position. There was a determination and assurance about his play that was mirrored by all the players in claret and amber – on the evidence of Tuesday’s performance, you would not have known this team was under pressure and winless in 13 matches.

That is to the players’ huge credit, and it also reflects fantastically on their manager Parkinson (who, for all the arguments of the last seven days and supporter calls to be sacked, received a fantastic ovation before kick off from a sizeable chunk of the crowd). There was a steeliness and a resolve about the side to not let this season sink any further. To turn around the poor results. Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones were magnificent in the centre; Adam Reach and Kyle Bennett both enjoyed their best games in a City shirt on the flanks; Rory McArdle recovered from his own disappointing form to once again be a rock at the back; James Hanson and Aaron Mclean proved industrious up front.

But eyes were still drawn to McHugh, even before his stoppage time contribution. Midway through the second half, Bennett was replaced by Garry Thompson and Reach was instructed to play narrower. The onus was on McHugh to overlap the on-loan Middlesbrough player and provide a wide threat. You could see Carl’s initial hesitancy to join the attacks, but from the dugout Parkinson kept urging him to get forward. A message that spoke volumes.

For McHugh, like everyone else in the team, had performed well on the night – but still, Parkinson wanted and demanded more. This was not going to be an evening of City reflecting on a good team performance but more dropped points. McHugh hardly looked comfortable as he ran up the pitch with the ball or made himself an option for others in possession, but he contributed positively nonetheless. He was out of his comfort zone but doing everything he could for the good of the team. How richly deserved that his effort and endeavour was to be rewarded in such memorable fashion. As fellow Width of a Post writer Mark Scully commented after the game, the young defender’s header and resultant wild stadium celebrations was a true I-was-there moment.

There is a contrast to be pondered between McHugh’s bravery and the man he replaced in the team. On the morning of the match, the Telegraph & Argus featured an interview with Matthew Bates that led on the angle he was unhappy filling in at left back. “It’s not a position I’ve played or particularly enjoy, if I’m being honest,” he admitted. The tone of the piece arguably not helped by the journalistic licence applied by Simon Parker (“Matthew Bates is no fan of his position”).

Whilst not doubting Bates has a right to feel disappointed at being shunted from his favourite position, his frustrations simply should not be relayed so publically and it sends out the wrong message. As a player who has yet to win over all supporters, to relay dissatisfaction at having to play out of position does little to aid his reputation. And besides, when everyone is fit, it is highly unlikely that Bates would be in the first XI. What is to be, Matthew: left back or left back on the bench?

Carl McHugh probably isn’t overly-thrilled to be playing at left back either, but the commitment and dedication he showed to fill an unfamiliar role was hugely admirable. He truly ran through that proverbial brick wall on behalf of his team, and his short and long-term prospects at Valley Parade have been considerably boosted as a result.

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