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Will Bradford City do business before the transfer window closes?

28 Aug

IMG_8270

By Jason McKeown

As many people in Bradford work up on Thursday morning with a sore head, an unsettling question was pushed to one side in preference for re-living the stunning events of the night before. But as the warm glow of pride in the Bantams finally defeating local rivals Leeds United inevitably dims, that question will ultimately need to be faced: We don’t want a second round League Cup victory in August to be the high point of this season, do we?

Such was the unbridled joy that emanated around Valley Parade on Wednesday evening, there is every possibility that the season may in fact have already peaked, just six matches in. But that cannot be allowed to happen, and for the joint chairmen, and manager Phil Parkinson, the focus should be obvious – how to build on such a memorable evening, and to take from it a legacy more lasting than supporter bragging rights.

It has been suggested that the Bantams have earned £250,000 for the derby cup match, due to a combination of gate receipts and Sky TV appearance money. With the August transfer window set to close on Monday evening, speculation is inevitably growing about whether this windfall will be handed to Parkinson to strengthen what remains a worryingly thinbare squad. He may be interested in signing another striker (Morecambe’s Jack Redshaw – who recently rejected a move to Peterborough for family reasons – has been linked with City). Or, after failing to bring in wingers during the close season, the manager may turn his attention to adding a wide player that would offer greater squad versatility.

Then again, the club has once again committed to a playing budget that is higher than its balance sheet break even point. Chief Executive David Baldwin has told Width of a Post, on numerous occasions, about the variants the club has in place to recoup this deficit over the course of the season – with a cup run amongst them. The lack of a cup run last season had some influence over the January departure of Nahki Wells to Huddersfield Town. Perhaps holding back the windfall now would mean there would be no urgency to sell a key player, such as James Hanson, when the mid-season transfer window opens up.

Potentially changing the picture completely, however, are the events taking place down the M62 at Old Trafford. Angel De Maria’s British transfer record move to Manchester United might seemingly have unlikely connotations at Valley Parade, but the Argentine’s arrival looks increasingly likely to push Tom Cleverley out of the door – causing West Yorkshire ears to prick up.

And the Bradford City youth player’s departure from United would trigger a sell-on clause that his former club would benefit from. The exact details are unknown (all I know, from interviewing Mark Lawn in January 2011, is that the terms are not as lucrative as any future Liverpool sale of Andre Widsom would prove), but it gives extra reason for City fans to scan newspaper gossip columns and keenly watch Sky Sports News over the coming days, hoping the England international leaves. Aston Villa are in the driving seat to sign Cleverley, reportedly for a fee ranging from £7-£8 million.

Clearly it would benefit City to see Cleverley move to Villa Park, and the windfall would likely clear the season’s budget deficit and potentially provide Parkinson with a tidy sum of money to strengthen the squad. It might all come too late in this window should the move only go through at the eleventh hour; but ultimately it could boost the club’s longer-term prospects, after a summer of supporters feeling anxious about cost-cutting measures.

With the opening month of the campaign coming to a conclusion in the shape of Saturday’s trip to Rochdale, it is still unclear what to expect from Bradford City over the coming months. An encouraging start has certainly eased the pre-season pessimism that a season of struggle lies in store, and it seems as though the Bantams have a squad good enough to be competitive in this most competitive of divisions. But it remains to be seen how City will cope with a couple of further injuries or suspensions – right now, you suspect that lack of strength in depth will hinder promotion aspirations – and, with a number of non-contract players in reserve who could leave at any moment, there looks set to be a heavy reliance on the form and fitness of a small group of first-teamers.

This is where the Leeds windfall – and potential Tom Cleverley transfer – could prove vital, giving Parkinson a stronger hand to utilise in the coming months. The August transfer window clock is ticking, and over the next four days we will find out if City are going to make their move.

2014/15 previewed: An ageing Kate Moss or a fallen Madonna?

31 Jul

handshakes

Written by Richard Cowman (image by David Lawrence)

For the third time in a row my first love has chosen to summer on my doorstep.

The first time I saw her after all those years she had changed from the one I loved all those years ago living back home. The love though was instantly rekindled and I travelled over to see her in her glory a number of times that year, and then The Run started – besotted. Wembley, twice – the story has been told.

Then it happened again. There was little new about her this next season. I sat back and watched the pre season games in Athlone and Bohs. It was lovely, like old times, a cozy duvet on a hangover Sunday. Her curves and gait remained as I remembered. It was warm and cuddly.

As I watched my only two other games live that season, and the rest from afar, I never got sucked in and panicked. I knew the curvy model was resilient and could survive the rocky road in front  she had a lifetime of experience. So it proved. Mid table a safe haven for the newly promoted team of dreams.

Then this season I stepped out to watch her at UCD. Her waistline and curves receded, looking younger and trimmer but oddly out of sorts in her own skin. The bossman stands on the sidelines, arms folded, away from the dugout – has his vision been reshaped by external factors, is this still what he wants or is it a new way to view the game?

On the pitch there is a petulance of a teenager as things slide a little, the new clothes produce the right look at times but the curvy model is still in there and it’s going to be a while before the new denim fits snuggly.

Roll on Shelbourne and a lovely sunny day – time to flash the short skirt and the long legs. Unfortunately the opposition resemble a team of eager boy scouts chasing a flashy set of girl guides – but without a tad of know how.

The short skirt and long legs sit well on my first love but is it mutton dressed as lamb? This is no day to judge.

I worry about my first love. Will the pieces fall into place? Will the petulant streak remain or will she start to fit into her new clothes as Yeates, Dolan et al take control of each game and move the opposition around at will? Or will the new make-up streak and leave her looking like a drunk adolescent with no one to hold her hair as she struggles with the reality of her new direction in life?

To me watching her try the new clothes my biggest worry is her other lovers. Will there be the patience to allow her to try the new look.

Will she fade into the darkness ashamed of her new look, or will she stand proud and say this is the new me, love me, help me, support me.

A beautifully ageing Kate Moss or a fallen Madonna? 

Jon McLaughlin’s departure triggers mixed feelings

23 Jul
Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

By Jason McKeown

“We’ve come a long, long way together. Through the hard times and the good.” Praise You by Fatboy Slim

If there was one Bradford City player on the retained list who it would be assumed would re-sign with no problems, it was surely Jon McLaughlin, who has this week instead departed the club. As the longest-serving player, the Scottish keeper’s endurance was something to celebrate. He’d enjoyed a good season, where he’d finally proven himself the club’s number one. A new contract was offered to him in May, along with deals for Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and James Meredith. But whilst the others all eventually agreed terms to remain in West Yorkshire, McLaughlin has been stuck in limbo, unable to conclude a new deal.

Width of a Post understands that the player (or at least his agent) believed there would be a fair amount of interest from other clubs. So seemingly in a position of strength, he turned down City’s initial offer and apparently requested a substantial pay rise. If the rumours are true, McLaughlin was a relatively low paid player last season (and certainly a long, long way below the club’s highest earner, Aaron Mclean). However, his demands did not go down well with the club, who withdrew the original offer when it expired following the 30-day consultation period.

It meant that McLaughlin was left in a position of training with City in the hope of continuing negotiations; his hand further weakened by the signing of Jordan Pickford from Sunderland on a season’s loan. There was not the interest elsewhere that his agent perhaps originally suggested to him, although it is good to see him ultimately receive an acceptable offer from Burton Albion. As such, the player and club can shake hands on good terms, after going through so much together.

McLaughlin originally arrived at Valley Parade in 2008, awarded his big break by Stuart McCall. Over six seasons at Valley Parade, he has played his part in achievements big and small. But it didn’t translate into hero status, or even widespread appreciation. He was not unpopular with the crowd, but far from a favourite either. Whereas some of his predecessors in the Valley Parade goal have been big presences and demanding of the attention, McLaughlin always seemed something of a supporting character.

You didn’t always notice him, and sometimes it was hard to tell if that was a good or a bad thing.

You can certainly find plenty of detractors of McLaughlin. They will tell you he wasn’t good enough, that he has too many weaknesses and that his strengths are nothing special. Equally you will also find numerous supporters of the Scot. They will point to his overall ability, and his stats – which are undoubtedly commendable. But from the majority of City fans, there is a mixture of indifference and indecisiveness over his worth. The club’s longest-serving player, and yet many of us couldn’t make up our minds about him. Is he good enough? Could we do better? Could we do worse?

In 2013/14, McLaughlin was an ever-present in the league and can take pride in City ‘against’ column: they conceded the seventh-fewest goals in the division. McLaughlin kept 14 clean sheets – a record of almost one shut-out every three games – and only conceded more than two goals on five occasions.

That is impressive, but yet the credit for that solidity doesn’t seem to go to McLaughlin. Everyone agrees that Andrew Davies is the key figure in the back five, and the stats for a City side with Davies at the helm and a City side without him demonstrate his considerable value (just one clean sheet during his four-month absence). Stephen Darby won the 2013/14 player of the season award and is widely valued, Rory McArdle is generally rated. But what of McLaughlin? How influential was Jon McLaughlin in Jon McLaughlin keeping 14 clean sheets? And if the answer is ‘very’, why didn’t he get the credit?

The season before that, 2012/13, was a similar story. Parkinson interchanged between Matt Duke and McLaughlin, and the debate raged all season about who was the better player. I was a member of the #TeamDuke camp, yet the stats showed that Duke conceded twice as many goals as McLaughlin. Famously that season, a 4-1 thrashing to Exeter in March was a watershed moment that led to a late play off surge. Parkinson made two changes to the backline for the next game, against Wycombe, which began that run. Meredith was brought back in after injury and McLaughlin replaced Duke. Meredith received a great deal of credit for the subsequent upturn in the team’s form, whilst McLaughlin barely received a mention.

So what kept happening? Why does McLaughlin look such a good player on paper, but yet was unable to fully convince us when we were watching him live?

Like James Hanson, his background has both helped and counted against him. Signed from Harrogate Railway and a former University student. McLaughlin must have been initially grateful that a club like ours would give him an opportunity. He was fortunate to be here. And for that reason, there was always an element of looking down on Jon rather than looking up to him. He was around so long that he almost became first choice keeper by default.

It took Hanson, with his own non-league background, a long time to win over his critics and prove himself as a genuine star player of the team. McLaughlin failed to reach that same status. Part of my bias for Duke in 2012/13 derived from his greater pedigree that gave you the confidence to believe he was a ‘proper’ goalkeeper. If McLaughlin had similarly joined City from Hull, would we currently view and judge him differently? Certainly, Burton Albion’s fans will have a different perspective in how they welcome him, on account of his now-lengthy Football League experience.

What I’ve often felt is lacking in McLaughlin’s game were point-winning contributions. When you compare him to some of the best City keepers of the last two decades, there simply isn’t the same list of memorable McLaughlin performances and incredible saves. Yet on the other side of the coin, McLaughlin’s mistakes were not particularly frequent or dreadful enough to differentiate him from those who have kept the Bradford City goal before him. He is basically an ordinary goalkeeper. A good all round game, with nothing glaringly lacking from his range of abilities. Still, you sometimes wish that it was more evident just what a difference he makes.

In September, McLaughlin will turn 27 and, like his former goalkeeping coach Duke, could in theory be playing professional football into his late 30s. These next four or five years in particular should be amongst his best, and there must be some sadness that they won’t take place at Valley Parade.

For a lot of investment went into developing Jon. Four managers trusted in him, numerous goalkeeping coaches spent a great deal of time improving him. The lessons learned from the mistakes he made will now be to another club’s benefit. It will be very interesting to see how both he – and the keepers who follow him in the Valley Parade sticks – fare over the coming years.

Whatever the disagreements over recent weeks, no one can dispute that McLaughlin made a very positive contribution to Bradford City. We are all better off for what he did for the club.

What becomes of yesterday’s bright young things

21 Jul
Part of the scene: Morecambe away, April 2009

Part of the scene: Morecambe away, April 2009

By Jason McKeown

In consecutive years, each was voted player of the season by Bradford City supporters. A demonstration of their popularity, offering credibility to the argument of persisting with a youth set up even during times of austerity. Yet rather than fulfilling hopes and expectations of remaining on the Valley Parade scene for many years to come, this season the pair find themselves playing in the City of Bradford but not for Bradford City.

Joe Colbeck has this summer signed for Bradford (Park Avenue), whilst Luke O’Brien has joined Thackley. Joe is still only 27-years-old. Luke is two years younger. They should still have another 7-10 years playing professional football, even if it’s not for the club with whom they climbed up the youth ranks to make it as a professional. “I’m really looking forward to it,” Colbeck told the Grimsby Evening Telegraph, as he faced up to his release by the Mariners and the signing of a part-time contract to play at the Horsfall Stadium. As yet O’Brien has made no public comment about his move to Thackley. He was released in May, after a fruitless individual season playing for Conference Premier side Gateshead.

How did it come to this? How have such bright hopes faded so abruptly?

It would be wrong to romanticise the Bradford City careers of Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien. Their respective player of the season awards were terrific standout moments that reflected just how well they had performed in claret and amber, but you don’t need to speak to many Bradford City supporters to find someone who will dismiss at least one of the pair as “sh*t”.

The truth is that Joe, and to a lesser extent Luke, had an extremely difficult time trying to win over the Valley Parade crowd. They had their supporters for sure (I was certainly one of them, in Luke’s case); but when either made mistakes or the team was under-performing, the pair would come under a harsher spotlight than others. It is a familiar pattern that has affected previous City youth products, and it will no doubt happen in future with The Next Big Thing.

But sh*t or not, the longevity of both players at Valley Parade proved they had more substance than people give them credit for. Joe Colbeck played 116 times for City, making his debut in 2004 and leaving the club in 2009. He was awarded a debut by Colin Todd and – after initially bursting onto the scene in 2005/06, and in September 2006 impressing a watching Derby County scout enough for the Rams to make an enquiry – endured an up-and-down time under David Wetherall and initially Stuart McCall.

In 2007, McCall sent Colbeck to Darlington on loan and received back a completely different player. He was sensational during the second half of the 2007/08 campaign – on the road at least. So many match-winning performances that cemented his player of the year award. Tellingly, Colbeck was still less of a force at Valley Parade. If you only saw home games that season, you will still be wondering what the fuss was about.

Colbeck’s decline began at the home of his final professional club: Grimsby away in October 2008, and a bad injury to the winger in the closing stages rules him out for three months. He wasn’t the same player on his return, struggling to get into a team that had found a way to win games without him and then, by March, a team that had lost its way. Colbeck was asked to be saviour to City’s faltering play off bid, but couldn’t handle such responsibility. The crowd destroyed him. I still shudder thinking of the Easter Monday home draw with Lincoln, where Colbeck’s brittle confidence was ripped to shreds. McCall had no choice but to take him off.

By this time Luke O’Brien was the new darling of the crowd. He would ultimately make 149 appearances for the Bantams, becoming a regular in 2008/09 after Paul Heckingbottom picked up a bad injury. O’Brien was a revelation at left back, most memorably scoring the goal of the season in a 2-0 Don Valley victory over Rotherham. Steven Schumacher would later recall how much Luke stood out in the youth team even to the watching senior players. At the end of 2008/09, the rising star was crowned with the player of the season trophy that Colbeck had lifted 12 months earlier.

And he continued to be relevant even after McCall had fallen on his sword. Peter Taylor’s first signing as manager had been a left back to take O’Brien’s place, but he eventually won it back from Robbie Threlfall. Peter Jackson preferred Luke too, and going into the 2011/12 season declared that Threlfall could leave the club. It is rumoured that personal problems in O’Brien’s life caused a rethink on Threlfall’s future, and Phil Parkinson never looked like a fan of O’Brien. In January 2012 Luke was moved on; Parkinson preferring to use centre back Marcel Seip as his left back.

Yet the destinations of both Colbeck and O’Brien were not downwards initially: from Valley Parade, they moved up divisions. In the summer of 2009 Colbeck turned down a new contract under McCall, preferring to attempt to impress enough in pre-season to convince City to offer him better terms. In the end he was reunited with his Darlington saviour Dave Penny with League One Oldham (who described Colbeck as being in the “Stanley Matthews mould”). To put the £60k move into perspective, that summer Oldham was also the destination of City’s star loanee who we could never hope to keep: Dean Furman.

O’Brien also moved up a league, to St. James Park and Exeter. That neither player excelled in League One was no huge disgrace – we knew they had their limitations – but surely they could sustain careers in the basement league at least? Colbeck left Oldham soon after Penny was sacked, signing a two-year contract at Hereford United. He was, infamously, the subject of horrendous barracking on his first return to Valley Parade that 2010/11 season, but a year later came off the bench in the same fixture to some applause. At Edgar Street in 2011/12, Colbeck played more games in a season than he’d ever achieved before.

Yet the decline continued. O’Brien, released by Exeter after just three appearances, joined Oxford on a sh0rt-term basis in 2012 and played against the Bantams to warm appreciation from his former supporters. He played just 15 times for the Us, however, and spent last season at Gateshead. Meanwhile a relegated Hereford released Colbeck and he rocked up at non-league Grimsby. In two seasons at Blundell Park, Colbeck had a mixed time with some excellent performances (such as a hat trick of assists in a derby victory over Lincoln) offset by further injuries and an FA fine for improper comments on Twitter.

Which brings them back to the City of Bradford this summer and playing part time. There are former City youth team mates of the pair who barely got a chance at Valley Parade, yet who now feature higher up the league ladder. Their fall is staggering, and seems too much. Perhaps, just like another youth graduate Mark Bower, who moved to Guiseley in order to combine playing with setting up an estate agent business, it is their choice to sink so low. That there were better offers on the table, possibly to stay full time, that didn’t appeal. That the money on offer would be too low to live on, and that combining a part-time wage at BPA/Thackley with another job will prove more rewarding. Especially as they can continue to live in an area they grew up in. (O’Brien is still seen in and around the Valley Parade, and still attends the player of the season awards.)

But still, it is sad. No one was blind to either player’s faults, and the level City have now reached was clearly beyond their abilities, but four or five years of regularly playing at Valley Parade should have been cue to a long-term playing career in the Football League. Should have, but hasn’t been. An important lesson for every young player hoping to make it as a professional – it is unbelievably difficult to make a career of it.

Pre-season preview part one: the obscure world of trialists

9 Jul

Ireland 1

By Jason McKeown

It’s a good job that the Wi-Fi reception is good at Nethermoor, Guiseley – for Bradford City’s usual pre-season trip to their non-league neighbours, this Saturday, will no doubt provide reasons for us supporters to Google obscure football names who appear on trial.

Year after year, a number of trialists will take part in early pre-season friendlies in the hope of convincing the manager they are worth offering a permanent deal to. Although it seems most have no chance, a surprisingly high number are awarded a proper contract and some have gone on to make a huge impression. Witness the club’s most effective post-millennium strike partnership of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, or other ‘We Made History’ contributors, Zavon Hines and Carl McHugh.

Other notable trialist names over the years include Andy Gray, Mark Paston, Paul Henderson, Steven Schumacher, Steve Williams, Kyle Nix, David Syers, James O’Brien, Steve O’Leary and Scott Neilson. Last season’s 4-0 Guiseley romp featured four trialists – including Rafa De Vita, who ended up signing a one-year deal with the club. No wonder we all pay extra attention to these unknowns.

There are, however, many others who don’t impress enough to warrant a place in the upcoming season’s squad, and are cast off. Some names remain in the memory, others are long forgotten. Width of a Post recalls some of the failed trialists from the past seven seasons and what became of them.

Kyle Naughton

The pre-season: 2007/08

Background: Having emerged through the youth ranks at Sheffield United, a teenage Kyle Naughton was trialled by Stuart McCall but overlooked for a deal.

What happened next: A left winger at the time and with his Bramall Lane future in doubt, Naughton eventually established himself with the Blades thanks to manager Kevin Blackwell converting him to a full back. Naughton and team-mate Kyle Walker were eventually signed by Tottenham for a combined fee of £9 million. Although Naughton has struggled at White Hart Lane, he could certainly have done a job at Valley Parade!

Jevegeni Novikov

The pre-season: 2009/10

Background: As Stuart McCall managed the cost-cutting measures from a failed promotion bid the season before, several trialists were given an opportunity, including Hanson and Williams. Another interesting figure was Estonian international midfielder Jevegeni Novikov, who auditioned in a 2-0 friendly victory over York City and looked fairly impressive.

What happened next: With no deal offered, Novikov ultimately ended up at FC Okzhetpes who played in the Kazakhstan Premier League, before moves to FF Jaro (the top flight in Finland) and Estonian side FC Levadia Tallinn. His career ended in 2011 at just 31-years-old.

Alan Mannus

The pre-season: 2009/10

Background: Part of McCall’s 2009 trialist search that summer included finding a goalkeeper to replace the departed Rhys Evans. Long-established Linfield stopper Alan Mannus, born in Canada and raised in Northern Ireland, played a couple of friendlies but was unfortunate that the poor quality of opposition meant he didn’t have a save to make. He left, and McCall ended up bringing in Simon Eastwood to keep goal.

What happened next: Mannus returned to Northern Ireland and signed for Shamrock Rovers. In two years at the Tallaght Stadium, Mannus played in the Champions League and was runner up in the PFAI player of the year award. In 2011, Mannus joined St. Johnstone, and he has largely enjoyed an impressive three years in Scotland. More European football, a third-place finish in the SPL and, last season, a Scottish Cup winners’ medal.

Seb Carole

The pre-season: 2010/11

Background: French winger Seb Carole was trialled by Peter Taylor in the summer of 2010, but the former Monaco, West Ham, Brighton and Leeds man was not offered anything concrete.

What happened next: Carole made a return to Brighton on a week-to-week contract, but was only a bit-part player under Gus Poyet. After a brief spell back over the channel with OGC Nice, Carole played for Knaresborough Town, enjoyed a short cameo back in League One with Bury, and spent two months at Guiseley.

Jamie Green

The pre-season: 2011/12

Background: After foolishly allowing Omar Daley to leave Bradford City, Peter Jackson was left scrambling for wide players and trialled former Rotherham winger Jamie Green in several friendlies. Green was fairly impressive and it seemed likely he would be offered something, but in the end Jackson opted against it.

What happened next: Green signed for Grimsby Town on a non-contract basis, who had just been relegated from the Football League. He appeared at left back on six occasions but was eventually released, ending up in South Yorkshire’s non-league circles. Last season he was contracted to Buxton.

Jonny Brain

The pre-season: 2011/12

Background: Former Newcastle United youth product Jonny Brain was clearly highly rated during his four years at Macclesfield and linked with moves to bigger clubs – but to Bradford City fans, a succession of awful games against the Bantams meant he was a laughing stock. His most high-profile gaff was an air-shot that allowed pint-sized City striker David Brown to score on his debut, at Moss Rose in 2008. It was therefore a huge shock when Brain appeared as a City trialist under Jackson in a game at Silsden. He had little to do but conceded a late goal in a 7-1 win, and was promptly released.

What happened next: Brain was signed by non-league Nantwich Town and helped The Dabbers reach the FA Cup 1st Round for the first time in its history. He was voted player of the season and given a two-year contract in 2012, but was transfer-listed a year later as Nantwich needed to cut their costs. Brain played for Stafford Rangers last season but is currently without a club.

Michael Boateng

The pre-season: 2012/13

Background: Along with Anthony McNamee (ex-Wycombe), Michael Boateng was trialled by Phil Parkinson following a strong recommendation by Jamie Lawrence (the pair were part of his academy). The duo took part in City’s pre-season trip to Ireland but were not offered anything.

What happened next: Boateng – who had been on Bristol Rovers’ books – ended up moving into non-league with Bromley, Sutton United and Newport County (before they were promoted to the Football League), but hardly played for any club. After seemingly nailing down a first team spot at Whitehawk last season, Boateng was named in the match-fixing scandal and, last month, was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Javan Vidal

The pre-season: 2012/13

Background: Despite his exotic-sounding name, Javan Vidal was a Mancunian who came through Manchester City’s academy and undertook several loan spells at the likes of Aberdeen, Derby and Chesterfield, before signing for Greek club Pantolikios. After failing to make a single appearance for the Superleague Club, Vidal appeared on trial in City’s 7-1 thumping of Tadcaster United but was not offered a deal by Phil Parkinson.

What happened next: Left without a club for six months, Vidal eventually signed for Stockport County but left Edgley Park after they were relegated from the Conference. Amazingly, Vidal was given another professional opportunity and signed for Rochdale last summer. However, after making only three appearances at Spotland, he was released last January.

Gary Woods

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: After playing in all but four games of Doncaster Rovers’ 2012/13 League One title-winning season, Gary Woods was surprisingly released and ended up on trial at Valley Parade due to new goalkeeping coach Lee Butler’s South Yorkshire connections. Woods played in City’s tour of Ireland but no deal was agreed.

What happened next: Woods also went on trial to Championship club Watford and earned a one-year deal at Vicarage Road. Despite not figuring at all last season, Woods remains on the books at Watford.

Vincent Acapandie

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: The wonderfully-named Vincent Acapandie rocked up on trial last summer and played in the annual Guiesley friendly. The 23-year-old Frenchman had graduated through Auxerre’s academy but played only five times for the Ligue 1 club.

What happened next: After failing to impress Phil Parkinson, Acapandie is no longer playing football.

Brian Jensen

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: At 38-years-old and after 10 years at Turf Moor, Brian Jensen’s trial appearance for Bradford City last summer came as a huge surprise. ‘The beast’ looked solid enough in the 4-0 thumping over Guiseley, but surely City could do better?

What happened next: There was life in Jensen yet. He signed for Bury and enjoyed a strong season at Gigg Lane – sweeping up at the player of the season awards. Jensen wasn’t offered a new contract in the summer, and so has signed for City’s League One rivals Crawley Town.

Dimitrios Konstantopoulos

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: Yet another keeper trialled last summer (in the end Jon McLaughlin was the only permanent keeper Parkinson had on the books), Greek stopper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos had quite a pedigree. He’d made his name at Hartlepool during the period where United were knocking on the door to the Championship, and after 139 appearances at Victoria Park went on to play for Coventry, Swansea and Cardiff. After two years at AEK Athens as back up keeper, Konstantopoulos was looked at by Parkinson but not signed.

What happened next: Konstantopoulos had no trouble finding a club and signed for Championship side Middlesbrough on a short-term deal that was extended last January. He made his full league debut in March and impressed greatly, ending the season attracting interest from other clubs such as Nottingham Forest. In May, Konstantopoulos signed another new one-year deal at the Riverside.

Peter Horne’s abrupt departure

7 Jul

SAM_0353

By Jason McKeown

The football industry has long been filled with abrupt goodbyes that are lacking in appreciation – but to an outsider, there seems to be something especially cruel about the manner in which Peter Horne has departed Valley Parade after 16 years hard toil, largely behind the scenes.

Two lines of copy at the end of a Telegraph & Argus news story, and as yet no official announcement via the club website. There are rumours and counter-rumours as to what has happened to cause a parting of ways, ranging from he was sacked, resigned or is suffering from ill health. Whatever has taken place and whether his departure is viewed internally by the club as a good or a bad thing, nothing can change his list of achievements since he joined the club back in 1998.

Over a decade and a half, Horne rose up through the youth team coaching ranks to take full control of this area of the club in 2011. When Archie Christie joined the Bantams that summer, his first action was to offer Horne a four-year contract and hand him the additional responsibility of Head of Youth Development (“Peter Horne has done a stunning and magnificent job”). Whatever the front-of-house failings that had caused the club’s decade-long decline, the youth set-up was evidently doing its bit – and Horne was a key reason for that.

It hasn’t always been obvious to us supporters, simply because the club’s brightest youth prospects have been consistently sold on before they reached the age of challenging for first team football. The players discovered and developed by Horne and his team, only to be sold early, would have formed the bedrock for a mightily impressive Bradford City side.

Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley, Andre Wisdom and George Green. The money raised by selling these players has at times proven vital in supplementing first team budgets and keeping season ticket prices so low – and they have continued to pay. Delph’s 2010 move from Leeds to Aston Villa provided a sell-on windfall, Tom Cleverley’s loan moves to Watford and Leicester produced a five-figure sum of money, and Andre Wisdom’s first team outings for Liverpool generate appearance fees.

As supporters, there will always be a sense of sadness and what might have been, and in an ideal world all of these starlets would have been kept on and appeared in City’s first team. But you can understand the logic behind selling players of potential for what could ultimately prove to be lucrative deals – especially as there are no guarantees they will make it.

Witness Niall Heaton’s return to Valley Parade last summer after Liverpool released him, or goalkeeper Sam Filler, sold to Middlesbrough in 2008 but who ultimately never made it as a professional. In 2011 I interviewed Horne, who told me, “I get a lot of comments along the lines of ‘why aren’t we seeing any young players coming through?’ But it isn’t just about that. Our youth department is working in a different way. Yes we produce some players for the first team, but we’re helping to sustain things for the club.”

Horne and his team have also overseen the development of youth players who have made Bradford City’s first team, and he must have harboured his own personal frustrations that pretty much all of them did not go onto enjoy the sort of career they threatened. The passing of their care into the hands of a first team manager has often seen development stutter or reverse. The likes of Danny Forrest, Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien carried so much promise, yet none managed to sustain a career in the Football League.

Perhaps, with all the managerial changes over the years, it is to be expected that youth team graduates have stagnated. Whereas some managers like Stuart McCall showed a clear passion for the youth set up – he made sure he knew the name of every player across all ages ranges – others like Peter Taylor were said to care little. In his programme notes over the years, Horne would often convey his frustrations that previous managers had overlooked the youth team (Colin Todd and Taylor, take a bow), but in their defence they faced very different pressures that understandably caused them to look elsewhere for answers. (And besides, in Todd’s case he handed a lot of first team debuts to youth players.)

In Horne’s last season, 2013/14, the youth set up had never looked so strong. The under 18s won their league at a canter, and went all the way to the Youth Alliance national final before losing to an impressive Colchester United side. Oli McBurnie has become the latest flag-bearer for hopes of a youth team player making it, and his prospects look strong. The class of 2013/14 aren’t all going to make it at City (in fact some have already been released); but if one or two can complete that giant leap, Horne will deserve a share of the credit.

A Bradford lad and a City fan himself, it must have taken something extraordinary to prompt Horne’s sudden exit. But he leaves behind the commendable legacy of a much improved youth set up – and we can only hope that his fantastic work is continued by Alan Nevison and co.

A mid-table budget should reflect the season’s objectives

26 Jun

SAM_1706

By Jason McKeown

The Bradford City chairman, Mark Lawn, is rarely dull when he speaks out, and today’s comments urging supporters not to panic about next season, in the wake of concerns over the growing number of players leaving the club this summer, were certainly very revealing.

The budget reduction has become the talking point of the close season so far. When judged against a playing budget said to have been just over £2 million in 2012/13, the £500k cut represents a significant proportion of the resources manager Phil Parkinson was previously able to call upon. There has been talk that some of the players let go this summer were partially because of their high wages. It would be great to think that everyone who the club has chosen to release have departed entirely due to footballing reasons; but without clarification from the club, speculation has been allowed to grow.

Still, as Mark Lawn told the T&A, new signings will be made to strengthen the squad, “We’ve got a competitive budget so we’ll have a competitive squad – it’s as simple as that. I don’t understand why everyone is panicking over something which will be sorted out before the season gets underway. Obviously we are going to bring more players in because we’ve not got enough at present.”

Although no one likes the idea of the playing budget being slashed, the prudent approach of the club should be congratulated. It is almost 10 years to the day since the Bantams were hours away from going out of business forever; in the midst of a second spell in administration, less than 18 months since the first one. For the past decade, the club has undertaken and maintained a route of living with its means, taking what Chief Executive David Baldwin describes as “calculated risks”. Setting playing budgets higher than the business can afford, with variants in place to recoup these losses later, if needed.

Bradford City must continue to live within its means, and if that means a reduced budget for the upcoming season then so be it. There is a separate debate raging about whether the club should abandon its principled policy of cheap season tickets in order to give the manager more funds (for what it’s worth, I’m against pricing supporters out of buying season tickets), but in the immediate term that cannot be changed. This is what Bradford City can afford, so this is the budget Phil Parkinson must work with.

Which brings us to the most interesting aspect of Lawn’s T&A comments. “We have a competitive budget this year which is higher than at least ten other clubs in League One this coming season.” Accepting that the chairman is unlikely to have an accurate picture of every other League One club’s 2014/15 budget, by his reckoning City’s wage budget is going to be around the 14th highest in the division. In other words, Phil Parkinson has a mid-table budget to work from.

It can be easy to become overhung on budgets and assume they will dictate the divisional outcome – when in fact, year-on-year, there will be clubs with large budgets who don’t perform and others on low budgets who overachieve – but they are clearly important. And it must be a key point in the expectation levels set for next season. Can we, in the Boardroom and in the stands, justifiably expect Phil Parkinson to achieve promotion in 2014/15? Do we have a right to be disappointed if City are not in the top six? Is a mid-table finish considered acceptable?

Because the worry remains that, if City’s league position is judged against unreasonable expectations, it will prove to be a bumpy ride. Parkinson is tasked with making more from less, and improving a squad which, over the previous two years, had lifted the club 30 places up the ladder. It will not be easy and patience is going to be needed. As a club we cannot stand still and tread water, but slow progress shouldn’t be judged as failure against the true backdrop of the budget constraints.

Instead, it should be made loud and clear: Bradford City 2014/15, a mid-table budget, but a realistic objective to perform better. It might not set the pulses racing, but it is a sensible next step for a club that should have a sound, long-term plan to ultimately get back into the Championship.

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