Tag Archives: 2011/12

The Midweek Player Focus #52: Luke Oliver

5 Feb

The Width of a Post 2011/12 player of the season, Luke Oliver

By Jason McKeown

Some players are cruelly sentenced to never be remembered as fondly as they deserve to be. Not due to any personal failings or mistakes, but because the period during which they excelled was a more generally unhappy one. Luke Oliver is unquestionably a Valley Parade hero, yet his accomplishments occurred during a 15-month period where things were generally dismal at Valley Parade – an era we’d all rather forget.

In both 2010/11 and 2011/12, City finished 18th in League Two and along the way triggered very, very real concerns about the likelihood of retaining their Football League status. No one stepped up to the plate more than central defender Oliver, who put in some masterful performances that ensured City didn’t fall down the non-league trapdoor. During what represented a modern-day low ebb for the football club, Oliver led the rescue mission. He will always be thought of affectionately by City supporters for it.

Oliver departed Valley Parade last week on an ill-fitting low key note. That horrendous ruptured achilles injury, picked up at Burton Albion’s Perelli Stadium in October 2012, put Oliver out of action for nine months and saw him cruelly get left behind. On the evening that the extent of Oliver’s injury was made public, City knocked Premier League Wigan out of the League Cup.

Go through the many, many wonderful moments of the 2012/13 season, and Oliver’s name was absent from the story. It’s not easy for a six foot seven inch person to blend into the background, but that’s unfortunately what happened to Oliver. We Made History – largely without him.

But if it wasn’t for Oliver’s heroics before the 2012/13 season, City probably wouldn’t have even been a Football League club and gone through them. None of it would have happened, without him and others ensuring that the foundations remained in their place during some stormy times.


If – the day after Peter Taylor left Valley Parade following that nerve-jangling victory over nine-men Stockport County in February 2011 – you were asked to select members of the-then squad to step up and save the club from relegation, Oliver’s name would have appeared near the bottom of most people’s lists.

Oliver was signed 12 months earlier by Taylor, initially on loan from Wycombe, with warnings from supporters of his old clubs that he was a calamitous defender prone to making gaffes. Taylor had worked with Oliver at Stevenage and Wycombe, and you assumed that he would know how to get the best out of him. So when a permanent deal was agreed for Oliver to join the Bantams that summer, no one was too worried.

Yet Taylor’s first – and only – proper season in the Valley Parade hot seat was a huge disappointment. All but David Syers, of his summer signings, under-performed, and the manager’s attempts to patch up the many leaky holes with questionable loan signings clearly damaged squad morale. Oliver started slowly; and then when James Hanson was injured, was thrust up front as an emergency targetman for almost a month. It coincided with some of the most wretched football I have ever seen from a Bradford City side.

Oliver up front, City playing long ball football and with three strikers sat on the bench – it was a set of circumstances that understandably drew dismay from supporters. Especially as it all left City second bottom of the Football League by early October.

With Hanson back and Jason Price brought in on loan, Oliver was thankfully kept away from the forward line but still struggled on return to his centre back role. There was at least one mistake in him per match. He bumbled his way along in a team that just couldn’t get going. And when Taylor and club decided it was best to change manager, we all assumed that Luke would quickly follow him out the door. A modern day Jason Gavin.

Yet something happened immediately post-Taylor: Oliver started playing well. At first not many supporters – understandably fed up of a season’s worth of poor displays from him – noticed. But in crucial games during that relegation run-in, Oliver was a rock. A Tuesday night home game against relegation rivals Burton springs to mind. City weren’t great and should really have lost, but Oliver’s man of the match display helped ensure a valuable point was gained. He also performed exceptionally during a vital Easter Monday victory over Aldershot that all-but-ensured survival. The gentle giant had grown tall.

Nevertheless, his future seemed destined elsewhere. Interim manager Peter Jackson fed upon the mood of supporter discontent towards the squad by putting everyone up for sale. Oliver found himself relegated to playing in a Development Squad pre-season friendly at Silsden, alongside fellow outcasts Michael Flynn and Robbie Threlfall. Guy Branston had been brought in, Steve Williams’ career hadn’t yet stalled; so Oliver began the season as fourth choice centre back – even central midfielder Lee Bullock was favoured ahead of him on the opening day of the season.

But as injuries arose, Oliver was given a chance and carried on in the manner he ended the previous season: hugely impressive. While Branston struggled to live up to his and Peter Jackson’s hype, Phil Parkinson came in and quickly rebuilt the back four around Luke. Andrew Davies was signed on loan to partner him with Guy shipped out on loan, and the club’s struggles that season would be the result of other, weaker areas of the team.

For Oliver was simply outstanding – even being nominated for the December League Two Player of the Month. His new-found confidence best illustrated by his gradual comfortableness on the ball and in bringing it out of defence. Strong in the air but also agile on the deck, Oliver was tasked with attacking the ball when it came into City’s box, with Davies on hand to clear up anything he didn’t repel.

As the club made hard work of avoiding relegation, Oliver and Davies were more and more vital. The bad night against Crawley robbed Parkinson of his centre back pairing, but Oliver returned from suspension in the nick of time to be the lynchpin of back-to-back April victories over Northampton and Macclesfield which confirmed survival. He was the runaway winner of the Player of the Season awards, and could look forward to playing a key role in future, happier times.

Alas, soon after injury struck. Oliver began 2012/13 in the side and, though perhaps not hitting the heights of the previous year, he was letting no one down. Ever-present in the league, until that fateful day in the East Midlands. One can only imagine how bittersweet it must have been for Oliver to see the club enjoy such spectacular success without him.

The worst thing was that Oliver was not missed. Rory McArdle looked superb in taking his place in the centre. Carl McHugh emerged from nowhere to impress in Davies’ absence. Nevertheless, there was hope that he would still have a future at Valley Parade, this season.

Starting off on the sidelines as he battled to prove his fitness, Parkinson talked of letting him go out on loan and then, a matter of days later, brought him in to start against Brentford due to McArdle being on international duty. City won 4-0 and Oliver was terrific. He filled in twice more for Rory, but the long-term absence of Davies in October did not open the door for him. In came Matthew Bates to partner Rory, instead. The fact both Oliver and McArdle are so right-sided ruled out any realistic prospect of forming a partnership.

Perhaps saddest aspect of all was that Oliver’s final appearance in claret and amber came in that old Taylor positon – up front. A Boxing Day home loss to Rotherham, with City badly missing Hanson through injury, saw him introduced from the bench to play targetman with three minutes to go. He barely touched the ball as City were deservedly beaten. It was no way for our hero to bow out.

Oliver does not reach his 30th birthday until this May, and I really hope that he has another five or six good years left in him to make up for the lost time of the past 18 months. It was the cruellest of twists of fate that a player who truly stood up when the chips were down didn’t subsequently get to enjoy the good times, but the mention of his name will always spark great affection.

He set the standards that others have followed. He raised the bar when it seemed no one else could or would stop it from falling further. He played a key role in applying the brakes and in turning around this club – and for that we will always be thankful.

Bradford City’s unsung hero – talking to Nick Allamby (1/2)

23 Jun
Nick Allamby (far left) joins in the promotion celebrations

Nick Allamby (far left) joins in the promotion celebrations

By Nick Beanland

Nick Allamby is Head of Sports Performance at Bradford City. He, along with Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin, signed a new three-year deal shortly after the epic 2012/13 season. Nick very kindly agreed to speak to me last week as he begins preparation for life in League One.

WOAP: Tell us about your background before coming into the world of professional football.

NA: I’ve been involved in sport for as long as I can remember. My main sport was athletics, running cross country in the winter and on the track in the summer, focusing on 400m and 800m. In terms of work, my family had their own business and I worked for them and through that I was educated to a certain level. With my athletics background and having one or two injury problems I became interested in training methods and the treatment and management of injuries.

A family friend was a masseur at Middlesbrough football club and I started to work with him occasionally, which led me to doing different courses, one of which was the FA’s medical educational programme. I was then taken on formally by Boro as a part-time masseur in 2000. A couple of years later a new physio joined Boro (Grant Downie – now Manchester City’s Head of Sports Medicine) – he became my mentor and completely changed my career path. He saw some potential in me and encouraged me to try different things, one of which was to go to university and educate myself to a higher level.

I did a degree in Medicine and then a Masters in Exercise Physiology and I then ended up with a niche role at Boro which Grant created for me. He realised I had a skill for keeping less fit players fit, particularly those with long term medical issues, who needed separate care. Being in the Premier League at this point meant we had the scope to staff things very well, with four physios and four sports scientists with me working in between the two departments.

When Gareth Southgate became manager he encouraged me to get involved with all of the players and at that point I moved completely on to the Performance side of things.

WOAP: Presumably, as Boro were in the Premier League at that point you were working without much financial restraint?

NA: There were three departments: Medical, Sports Science and Fitness. We had the best of everything: travelling, access to new technology, good links with Teesside University (something I still have now and they’ve done some work with me at Bradford), exceptional training facilities, so we didn’t want for anything.

When Boro were relegated (in 2009) the operation was streamlined and I ended up being made Head of Sports Science and Conditioning and, as staff numbers had been cut, my role became much bigger.

WOAP: Was your eventual departure from Boro down to cost cutting?

NA: No, my big breakthrough came as a result of numbers being cut as I ended up being given more responsibility, becoming head of a department at quite a young age (at that point Nick was 35).

The team started well but the board then decided to change the manager (Boro were fourth when Gareth Southgate was sacked in October 2009. His replacement was Gordon Strachan). The new manager had his own methods of training which didn’t quite fit with my philosophy, so the first few months were quite an uncomfortable time for me.

After that I came into favour a little more, but ultimately I wasn’t able to do the job I wanted to. I didn’t have enough control to make a difference so I wasn’t enjoying work anymore. At that point I got an offer to work privately with a player I’d worked with previously, so I set up my own business, working primarily with that player and eventually I ended up consulting for six or seven players who had suffered long term injuries and were still suffering as a result.

My job was to keep them playing as much as possible and I did that role for about a year and that led into the Bradford job in the summer of 2011.

I knew Colin Cooper from my time at Boro and he asked me to help him and Peter Jackson with pre-season, so I came in as a consultant. Initially the board were a little unsure as they’d never had sports science support before, so with a tight budget it was for a risk for them to take me on. I said I wouldn’t do it unless they took me on full time during pre-season as I had to do the full pre-season to make a real difference. The board agreed and that shows the foresight they have because it’s unusual to appoint somebody like me at that level.

I’d had no input into the players’ off season plan and they came back less fit than I would expect a team to be. I had to get them as fit as possible whilst also giving Peter and Colin as many players to choose from as possible. I could’ve delivered a pre-season to really hammer the players, but that leads to the strong players getting fitter and the weaker ones getting injured.

Once we were into the season I was working two days a week with the players and when the management changed and Phil came in we hit it off straight away. He told me the budget was tight but he wanted me in with the players as much as possible and so I started spending four days a week at the club.

Once we got to Christmas time we were picking up more points, especially at home, partly because they’d improved physically – at that point I was told I could work with the players as much as I liked. I put all my other work to one side and now I just consult occasionally with the University of Teesside’s elite athlete programme, which I do to allow me to work with different sorts of sportspeople.

WOAP: What did you make of the club when you arrived in 2011?

NA: It was a little disorganised and it’s very difficult to reorganise things quickly – it’s normally evolution rather than revolution. A lot of things are dictated by finances, but there was nothing set up from a sports science point of view.

Some of the things the team did surprised me, an example being eating the pre-match meal on the bus on the way to the game, which was something I’d never seen before. I very quickly changed the food the players were eating day to day and for overnight trips. We now do hydration testing and overall wellbeing testing – this wasn’t the case when I arrived.

My aim was to make things more professional and Phil helped massively with that because he backed me 100%. I would go to him and say ‘Gaffer, we need this but it’s going to cost £500′ and he’d get onto the Board and they’d do it, so they’ve been brilliant.

WOAP: When Colin Cooper left you must’ve been concerned for what your future would hold?

NA: I had other work I could’ve fallen back on but I was enjoying my time at Bradford and didn’t want to leave. For my job to be fulfilling and to make the maximum impact I need a manager who believes in me and it was pure luck for me that Phil came in.

WOAP: What level of autonomy do you have?

NA: Everything I do goes through the manager and Steve Parkin. Phil controls every aspect of the programme but he needs help so it’s my job and that of Matt Barrass (City’s head physio) to do that.

If it’s decision-making that requires his authority I’ll give my opinion and then ultimately it’s down to Phil. As we restructure I will get more responsibility – he has a good level of trust in me so I control quite a lot – but he still has the final say. It’s his job, his club and every decision I make has an impact on what he’s doing. He values my opinion which is a perfect scenario for me.

WOAP: What would you say are your strengths?

NA: Although you have to have the qualifications and the knowledge, you have to be able to implement it and I think one of my strengths is that I’m a practical person. I can adapt and improvise quite well so when you haven’t got the equipment you’d have at a higher level you have to find other ways of doing things.

Even if you don’t have those facilities it doesn’t mean you can’t set up a structure – the most important thing is to get the players fit and then maintain it. If we get the basics in place and do the basics very well then we’ve got a chance of doing well.

It’s a question of ‘What do we need to know?’ We then make sure we do know that. As we get better there are things we would like to know that we might be able to implement as the club develops and the finances start to improve.

WOAP: What are the major differences between working at City and working at Boro?

NA: The one thing that really surprised me is how well the club (City) does for hotels, as I thought we’d be staying in some awful joints. But the hotels are of a very good standard. I know this year’s been exceptional – our cup final hotel is one of the best hotels in the country – but even on the normal trips we stay in nice, four star hotels. So in terms of accommodation there’s not much difference between ourselves and Boro.

The main difference is in how you travel to those places. The long journeys are done by coach as the budget won’t allow the squad to travel by train or plane. When Boro were in the Premier League the furthest we drove was Birmingham and anything further than that we’d fly.

As an example if we played at Southampton we’d be back on Teesside by 8pm and that has a huge impact on the players’ recovery times. If we (City) were playing at Exeter, Torquay or Plymouth we had to really plan carefully to maximise our chances in that game and the games that followed, because there’s no getting around a seven hour journey there and back.

WOAP: From your perspective how has the 2012/13 squad differed to the 2011/12 version?

NA: The starting point for the 2012/13 off season was that we’d managed to stay up and we knew there’d be new players coming in, but the players who stayed had a nine-week period between one season ending and the next beginning. We gave them two weeks of complete rest and the week after that they’d start doing very gentle exercise, maybe three half-hours of tennis as an example.

The week after that they’d start doing the planned programme that I gave them, but even then it’ll only be doing something every other day. It’s a graduated process where the intensity gradually increases, so the work gets harder and starts to involve strength and conditioning. That builds up to the week before they come back into the club where they do a full five-day week, so the bodies are well used to training before pre-season starts.

The players all had to come in for testing during the summer holidays and I put them through some running based tests to see where they were at. If they passed it they could continue with their holidays. If they didn’t they were coming in to do more fitness work. Luckily they all passed!

That was the biggest difference between 2012 and 2011. When they came back in 2012 I knew that all of them, new signings apart, were in good shape to start training properly five or six days a week.

In part two, Nick Allamby explains how pre-season training works and some of the fitness secrets behind the team’s promotion from League Two.

Andrew Davies extends Bradford City stay after finding stability

8 Jun


By Jason McKeown

For a long time it seemed as though the relationship between Andrew Davies and Bradford City was one of short-term convenience that could never last.

Signed on loan from Stoke City in September 2011, the 27-year-old was reportedly earning £15,000 a week yet had made just two appearances in three seasons for the Premier League outfit. With his lucrative Potteries’ contract due to expire at the end of the 2011/12 campaign, Davies rocked up at Valley Parade seemingly to place himself in the shop window for bigger and better things.

He quickly showed himself to be far, far too good for the humble surroundings of League Two. Not surprising given that reputed wage package that we could never hope to match. So we had a player we could not afford normally, looking to impress potential suitors by impressing with us. Very convenient.

Yet almost two years on, Davies remains a key part of City’s plans and – a year after agreeing a one-year permanent deal – has this week committed for a further two years. He will be 30-years-old by the time his freshly signed contract expires. These are the peak years of his professional career, and he is choosing to spend them in West Yorkshire.

The reasons for doing so are numerous. The struggling League Two outfit that Davies first joined has progressed into one that many are talking up as being capable of being promoted to the Championship next season. That appears to be Davies’ natural level and, although he has talked of receiving offers to move this summer, it is doubtful that he would have attracted interest beyond a League One outfit. Any transfer move now would probably have been sideways.

And, more importantly, Davies’ unsettled career may have emphasised the virtues of the stability offered at Bradford City. This is Davies’ 11th different club, after numerous short-term loan moves fizzled out and he struggled to make the first team of his two previous parent clubs – Middlesbrough and Stoke. When available, Davies has been Phil Parkinson’s first choice. The risk of moving on would be a discontinuation of that. He has spent far too much of his career sitting on various substitute benches.

So a short-term relationship of convenience has grown into one where both parties are willing to make a more serious commitment. And, perhaps for the first time, City can look at Davies as not someone far too good to be here, always destined to depart sooner than later, but as part of the furniture.

As such, there will now be even greater demands and responsibility entrusted upon him. Since signing on loan during the early days of Parkinson’s reign, Davies has appeared in only 63 of the 106 games City have subsequently played. Four red cards (three in his first season) have been a contributory factor to this lack of game time, as was a bad injury picked up at Burton Albion last October which ruled him out for three-and-a-half-months. This robbed Davies of any hope of being considered for player of the season, despite the fact he barely put a foot wrong when he did play.

Such lack of availability may have been unavoidable at times (two of the four red cards were highly questionable, in my view), but City need Davies’ appearance record to improve over the duration of his new contract. Evidently the best centre back City have had since David Wetherall, Davies is the next Bradford City captain in waiting. He will also be entrusted with helping to develop the promising young centre half Carl McHugh (who Parkinson is a big fan of).

In relationship terms, City and Davies have moved on from a few tentative dates and updating their Facebook statuses so they say ‘in a relationship’, to moving in together. A relationship of convenience could now develop into a full blown, happy marriage that lasts for many years.

Here’s hoping.

FIFA rules against Bradford City on Mark Stewart

7 Feb

By Jason McKeown

FIFA has today announced that Bradford City must pay Falkirk 250,000 euros compensation for the signing of Mark Stewart in the summer of 2011.

Stewart arrived at Valley Parade on a free transfer; but being only 22-years-old at the time, Falkirk claimed they were entitled to receive a transfer fee in view of their role in his development as a youth player. The Scottish club quickly announced it would be referring the matter to FIFA.

Having failed in attempts to sign Ashley Grimes and Clayton Donaldson, it is understood that then-manager Peter Jackson agreed to look at alternative players suggested by then-Chief Scout and Head of Football Development, Archie Christie. Stewart was one of the strikers put forward, but it would seem as though Jackson also knew about him anyway after stating shortly after the transfer was completed, “He has a lot of pace and can easily play down the middle or out wide on either side. I’ve seen him score goals with his left foot, right foot and his head.”

Jackson’s assessment was understandable, given Stewart had netted 17 goals for Falkirk the previous season and other clubs were also said to be chasing him. However, despite impressing in pre-season, Stewart was one of a number of players who struggled at the start of the season. Jackson left as manager four games in, Phil Parkinson arrived and shortly afterwards new signings took Stewart’s place. He now plays for Dundee.

Nevertheless, Falkirk did not abandon their claim for €330,000. Width of a Post understands that negotiations took place between the two clubs in the autumn of 2011 and that a fee of £76k was almost settled upon, but City decided that this was still too high and talks stalled. In December 2011, the Telegraph & Argus reported that, “City’s stance has never changed on the striker since they signed him in the summer. They have always maintained that Stewart was a free agent after his contract with the Bairns ran out the week before he arrived at Valley Parade.”

Now FIFA have ruled that City must pay within 30 days, although they have the right to appeal. It would seem there are two issues surrounding this debate: do City owe Falkirk money (they claim not to because Stewart was out of contract) and how much is Mark Stewart worth? On the latter, his performances both before, during and after would suggest not the €250,000 (£215,620) that FIFA have concluded.

I personally thought Stewart was an okay player and worked hard for the team, but his lack of goal threat was an obvious issue for a side that was struggling to find the back of the net.

Review of 2012 – part one

23 Dec


By Jason McKeown

There is a clear narrative to follow when it comes to reviewing the year of 2012 for Bradford City. It starts off by looking back at one of the low points from the second half of last season – Crawley, with the punch up, loss of three key players and genuine threat that we would be relegated, the most obvious example – and then reflects on how far we have come over the months that have followed.

From staring into the abyss and the potential end of Bradford City, to strong hopes of promotion and a place in the League Cup semi finals – the club has finally enjoyed a calendar year of stunning progress.

A great story. One for which Phil Parkinson and his players deserve huge applause. Yet it is a story that you know as well as I do, and you’ll probably find it told by local media over the next few days. So instead, I want to review the year from a personal experience of living through such interesting times. And how I have progressed myself.

In the glorious book Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby, there is a theory explored that your team’s fortunes reflect your own. They can become intertwined, and like the chicken and the egg debate it becomes hard to truly tell which comes first. Am I happy/sad because Bradford City are doing well/rubbish? Or was I happy/sad in the first place, and City have provided an appropriate backdrop so I can further indulge my mood?

I don’t know the answer. But what I do know is that my personal happiness has mirrored the Bantams’ improved fortunes over 2012. Life either feels great because Bradford City are great, or life feels great and Bradford City are great.

Width of a Post reflects that resurgence. We are days away from our first birthday (the site going live on 29 December 2011) and it feels like a successful first 12 months. As I write this we have just past 300,000 visits since we launched, which I’m proud of. We had a slow start, but seem to have built a strong following. Hits are especially up when City have had a good result. Fortunately this has happened on a regular basis during the past few months.

Not that hits matter so much. Width of a Post was set up with the premise that, even if no one wants to read the site, at least we are entertaining ourselves. But I do think we provide a service of sorts, and thanks to the sizeable team of writers we have built, we have been able to cover anything and pretty much everything.

With the site only just live and not quite fully up and running, I was unable to find anyone to cover City’s first game of 2012, a 3-0 loss to Rotherham. But since that day, I’m very proud of the fact we’ve published a match report of every City game. This even includes all the pre-season friendlies (meaning we’ve done a total of 65 match reports over the past 12 months, with two to go). In-between offering in-depth opinions on players, management and the club’s finances, along the way we’ve interviewed the likes of David Baldwin, Nathan Doyle and Guy Branston, plus celebrated former players Jamie Lawrence and Mark Bower.

All of which I talk about not to boast or to pat myself on the back, but to provide reasons for my improved outlook over 2012. I love writing. I love writing about Bradford City. And I love providing a website of writings about Bradford City matters that people like to read.

So a big thanks to my writing team, who have given up their own time on a regular basis, for no financial reward, and have produced some cracking content. And thank you, valued reader, for your support. We aim to cover every game of this momentous, 60+ game season. So far, so good on that front.

Beyond that, 2012 feels like a special year for me because of the City community. I’ve traditionally been the type of supporter who keeps himself to himself – and was very happy to do so. I go to games with my good friend Steve and my wife Rachel, and there were a handful of other City-supporting friends I might meet for a pint or have a 5 minute chat with if I bumped into them.

But that’s all changed this year. Thanks largely to the formation of the Skipton Bantams, I have become more engaged with the City community than I ever have before. The Easter Monday 1-0 loss to Shrewsbury would probably be long forgotten now were it not for Branston giving home fans the V sign, but it was a special day out because the Skipton Bantams ran a coach trip to the game that, for me, resulted in the beginnings of some new and valued friendships with a number of people.

That has grown and blossomed to regular meet ups, going to away games together and half time catch ups in the Kop concourse. And the other week some of us watched the League Cup semi final draw together. And we’re looking to buy Villa away tickets as a group.

If it all sounds a bit “so what?”, here’s the point I’m building towards: the power of feeling within that community seems to give football supporting another edge. If a year ago the closure of BfB offered me the opportunity to walk away from this community that I always felt more on the periphery of, without anyone knowing or caring, I now feel more central and a part of things than I have ever been. And I’m going to more City games than ever, not just because of the football but to be part of something.

It feels like a really special time to be a Bradford City supporter. And I’m grateful this special time has been enhanced by the new friendships I have made.

That’s off the field, and on it things have been incredibly memorable. I don’t fully buy the back story spin that everything was dreadful under Peter Jackson and Parkinson rescued the club last season. For me, there was a familiar sense of underachievement last year under Parkinson, and it’s worth remembering he was under some pressure to keep his job and Mark Lawn did not exactly provide his employee with a ringing endorsement at the time.

Nevertheless, the passage of time enables us to look back on 2011/12 as a season where relegation was avoided and Parkinson began to change the culture of the club. A huge turnover of players that have left him beginning this season with a squad packed full of strong ability, but also tremendous character. It’s obvious that Parkinson places just as much emphasis on the latter area and he has sought to build the right team spirit. No Paul McLarens, no Tommy Dohertys.

The results have been spectacular, when judged against our pre-season expectations. And yet you feel there is still more to come. That we have not yet peaked. That the upwards curve will continue.

So in 2012 we have come a long way. And for this supporter, it is difficult to imagine how things could have gone any better. There are no guarantees that success, in the shape of promotion, will occur in 2013. But my goodness, we have given ourselves a great chance.

And in the meantime, the journey is proving to be something special. Don’t stop anytime soon driver, because no one wants to get off.

Part two of our review of 2012 will appear after the Morecambe game in early January. On behalf of everyone at Width of a Post, Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.

2011/12 review: three managers, one season

23 May
Our final Width of a Post 2011/12 season review ‘essay’ sees Mark Scully look back at how the Bantams went through three managers.

With the Bradford City players away catching some sun before Parkinson gets them back for pre season training, ahead of what is hoped will be a far better season than the one that has just finished, I thought a reflection on the previous campaign from a managerial perspective was in order.

Throughout the course of the 2011/2012 season three managers took charge of the famous claret and amber. First up was Jacko; I was enthusiastic in the summer when he landed the job permanently following his interim spell towards the end of the previous campaign. The noises coming out of the corridors of power at Valley Parade were nothing put positive. The youth development squad with Archie Christie was set up and – between him and Jackson – signings were coming in and looking impressive. On the face of it, a successful season ahead was on the horizon.

Unfortunately though, as we are all aware, the Jackson era was hardly a vintage success. A poor start to the season meant both he and the players were under immediate pressure. Following what appeared to be a routine board meeting towards the end of August, Jackson resigned. Whatever happened in that meeting still remains cloudy, but it appears that the board felt (and rightly so) that the squad wasn’t good enough and it needed strengthening. Whether Jacko felt he wasn’t the right man to do that or if he felt undermined I’m not sure, but it was a statistic that City didn’t want as they became the first club of the season to start the search of a new manager.

Following the sudden departure of Jackson, his No.2 Colin Cooper took over the reins for a short period. Personally if Cooper had of landed the job permanently I wouldn’t of been too disappointed, sometimes it’s too easy to go for the same merry-go-round managers that get sacked from various clubs rather than taking a chance on a new up and coming manager. We’ve had the most success in many years by going down that route when Paul Jewell took us on the unbelievable journey to the Premier League, and many other clubs have had success following a similar managerial route.

During Cooper’s only game in charge he guided the side to a brilliant 4-2 win over Barnet, arguably one of the best performances witness by the City fans all season! As it turned out, Parkinson arrived shortly afterwards and, after that, Cooper left to re-join his home town club Middlesbrough in their coaching set up.

Finally, our third gaffer and our current one – Parky. I’m sure I’m not the only one saying that hopefully he will be in the role for a long time coming, because that would mean the good times are heading back to Valley Parade. Granted, it hasn’t been the best in terms of results under Parkinson’s tenure thus far; but it was a very difficult campaign that he had to oversee. Parky signed numerous players some struggled whilst others did well, as he essentially built a brand new side during the course of the season.

The home form from November onwards was impressive – only Crawley took all three points away after Rotherham beat us back in the dark winter months of 2011. The much needed clear out is well and truly underway, and I’m sure his recruitment drive is in full swing. Going forward into the next season, I do firmly believe that as a club we do have the right man in charge. Given the opportunity over this summer to bring in the right type of player, both mentally and ability wise, we will have a decent chance of doing well – being the biggest club in the league by a mile needs a certain type of player to enable to handle the pressure that comes with the ‘big team’ tag.

Once the squad is finalised, I’m confident that it will stack up against the other teams considered to be in line for a successful 2012/2013 season. I might even stick a few pound on us being successful – here’s hoping!

2011/12 review: the joy of cups

20 May
For the penultimate article of the Width of Post’s 2011/12 review ‘essay’ series, Jason McKeown looks back at the Bantams cup adventures.

There are three minutes of stoppage time left at Vicarage Road last January and – at the opposite end of the ground to us – Ross Hannah has headed the ball into the net to seemingly make it Watford 4 Bradford City 3. A linesman’s flag cuts short our celebrations and sudden hopes of an improbable comeback. And now it really is game over – all good things come must come to an end.

An end to the Bantams’ outstanding cup exploits, which during the first half of the season provided a very welcome distraction to the difficulties on everyday life in League Two. City acquitted themselves superbly in all three cup competitions, while we supporters seemed to relish shedding our uncomfortably held identity of ‘big fish in small pond’ to instead adopt the status of underdogs.

Here’s where probably three quarters of the club’s best moments of this season came about.

Living the moment

Elland Road in August personally provided two of my greatest moments supporting City for several years – the celebrations triggered by Jack Compton and Michael Flynn’s goals against Leeds United. By admitting this to non-City football fans at the time I was ridiculed, but I really didn’t care – to be in amongst the packed away following which was going absolutely mental each time we scored is something that will stay with me for a long time.

They were both out-of-body experiences, where for a few seconds the ecstasy is so great that you have no idea what you’re doing or who you are hugging. After Flynn’s magnificent strike that put City 2-1 up, I eventually ‘came to’ at the bottom of the stand – around 15 rows from my seat. This was truly special.

Leeds won the game in the end – they always do on these occasions – but it almost didn’t matter. Two divisions below our neighbours, we had turned up expecting little – only to witness an outstanding attacking display from the Bantams. We were so proud of our team, and so proud to be part of this special atmosphere.

Defeating those who could not be bothered

Half time in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game with Sheffield Wednesday, and I am in the concourse of the Valley Parade Main Stand watching the Sky coverage of our match on a nearby monitor. The main talking point from the first 45 minutes was the bizarre decisions of the Sheffield Wednesday manager, Gary Megson, substituting his goalkeeper after just 30 seconds and making his other two allowed changes on the quarter of an hour mark. As Sky pundit Peter Beagrie talks about it at half time, we see pictures of Megson’s smug grin and substituted players laughing on the bench.

Megson had got around the JPT rules of having to field six first team players, or be fined, by picking a sufficiently strong starting XI and then making these early substitutions. He had no respect for the Bantams, or the competition, and it set the tone for an evening where his team could not be bothered and allowed City to boss them.

Under caretaker manager Colin Cooper for the final time, the Bantams dominated the second half and were very unlucky not to win the match. Penalties ensued, and Oscar Jansson – incredibly in what turned out to be his last game for the club – was the shootout hero, saving two spot kicks. Jansson raced to the touchline in celebration, with his team mates piling on top. Meanwhile the Wednesday players walked off disinterested.

I guess it all worked out for Wednesday in the end, although not for Megson.

Beating the dog botherers – at last

If the Leeds game did not provide us with the right result, getting drawn to play Huddersfield in the next round of the JPT ultimately made up for it. Like Wednesday, Town probably didn’t take the game as seriously as they might have – though Phil Parkinson’s decision to play a number of fringe City players showed we had other priorities too. After a first half where we were second best, shortly after half time City took the lead through an own goal. We were pegged back, then Luke Oliver scored, then we were pegged back again.

The celebrations for the two City goals – Oliver’s especially – were not far off the experience at Leeds. As is usual when we play Town, the atmosphere inside the stadium had a nasty edge with home fans attempting to charge into the away section when we went 1-0 ahead. In the end we were hanging on for penalties, hoping for another memorable spot kick success.

We weren’t disappointed. This time Matt Duke was the hero, while Nialle Rodney netted the decisive penalty that put us through. Cue bedlam in the packed away end, with the obligatory hugging of strangers. We always seem to have such a poor record against Town, so this evening meant a lot.

The never-ending shoot out

Bramall Lane – like Elland Road and the Galpharm – holds miserable memories for City fans. But once again it was worth the Tuesday night trip, and once again the Sky cameras captured a thrilling City performance.

Sheffield United took the lead, but Flynn equalised on the stroke of half time with a long distance strike. We were giving as good as we got, and could easily have snatched the win. At the other end Jon McLaughlin – brought in for his first game of the season as Duke’s form got worse – made a crucial late save, to trigger penalties for the third round in a row.

Part of another huge City away following, I personally felt that we were surely due a shootout defeat after all the successes of this season and two years before; and when Flynn missed early on that seemed likely to be the case. But McLaughlin had made a great save from the first Blades’ spotkick and it eventually went to sudden death. It seemed to go on forever, but the City keeper made two more outstanding saves which set Chris Mitchell up to score the winning penalty. Bedlam again – this doesn’t mean as much as beating Huddersfield, perhaps, but it’s a great feeling nonetheless. Just two rounds from Wembley now.

The Boy from Bermuda

I love going to Rochdale, and I’m personally delighted one of the best away trips of the season is back on for 2012/13. Back in November, when the Valley Parade clock showed there were five minutes to go in this FA Cup 1st round tie and we were drawing 0-0, the prospect of a replay at Spotland held plenty of appeal to me.

Then up stepped Nahki Wells. Introduced from the bench as City recovered from a slow start to dominate the match, the Bermudian picked up the ball just inside his own half and drove forward with energy and poise. 40 yards out, Nahki looked up and decided to shoot early – the ball flew into the top corner at considerable pace.

What a moment. A star was truly born, with a goal that would be repeated on TV many times over the next few weeks. Wells’ goal won national attention, and the regard with which he was held at Valley Parade was on a steep, upwards curve. We did not get a night at Spotland, but a place in the 2nd round draw was a far greater prize.

Fagan’s rubbish penalty

Boundary Park has a reputation for always being cold, and it’s not hard to see why when one of the sides has been knocked down – inviting in the wind and the rain. It is a horrible wet December night for football, but with 2,500 City fans having made the trip over the Pennines for this JPT quarter final, it’s only place in the world you would want to be.

The atmosphere is fantastic, we give the players tremendous backing. Tonight, however, they finally fall short, with a mid-table League One Oldham side, clearly taking the competition more seriously than our previous conquests, deservedly 2-0 up by the midway point of the second half. We have our moments, but are second best. Such a shame.

Then in the final minute we earn a penalty for handball. Too little too late perhaps, but if Fagan scores we are set for an interesting final couple of minutes. He blazes the ball over the bar and into the away end. Time to go home, though it’s been a fun ride in this competition – again.

The (lack of) luck of the draw

I couldn’t make it to City’s FA Cup 2nd round match with Wimbledon; but after what sounded like a comfortable victory, the following day’s televised 3rd round draw holds huge excitement for us City fans. As the balls are drawn out, we are offered the possibility of our name following a huge one. Man City will play… (sigh, not us), Chelsea… (nope), Newcastle… (oh come on!), Liverpool… (will play Oldham! That’s not fair), Sunderland… (even that would do). We end up with Championship Watford. Away.

What a let down. But still, once the game comes around there are 1,200 of us who descend on Vicarage Road hoping for further cup heroics. We quickly go 1-0 down, but a minute later equalise through James Hanson right in front of us. We can do this!

Sadly Watford score right on half time, then get two more goals in the space of a minute early in the second half. With plenty of time to play, the game is already up, but the atmosphere is still incredible and we are having a good time. Wells nets late on for 4-2, then there is that Hannah moment where we think it’s 4-3. The conversations on the supporters coach home all seem to feature the comment “I’m not sure Hannah was offside, you know”. It is our way of keeping alive the cup dream by bigging up the what-might-have-beens. But it’s all over – back to the bread and butter of League Two.

Postscript – Macclesfield Town at home

City are 1-0 up against the division’s bottom club in April, with the three points we are set to claim guaranteeing survival. But there are no wild celebrations at full time, there are no hugging of strangers and there is no buzz which lasts into the following morning.

Instead we have a soundtrack of moaning during the game and after. Hanson is ridiculed non-stop for 90 minutes, Kyel Reid is criticised whenever his runs down the flank don’t end up with a pinpoint cross, and Fagan is screamed at for being lazy.

Back at Watford in January, a bloke two seats from me stood up and started yelling similar abuse at Fagan. He was quickly shouted down by everyone around him. “They’re two divisions above us, support your team” was the cry from more than one person, and the guy shut up. The positive chanting from everyone else recommenced.

That seems to be the difference between the joy of our cup exploits and the normality of League Two life. We don’t like where we are division-wise, and we don’t consider staying in the bottom division – even if the alternative is something far worse – to be something to celebrate. We don’t get behind Fagan when he is playing against mediocre footballers, but do cheer for him when he faces players better than him.

That makes sense of course – Fagan leaves City this summer with both player and club tagged as underachievers, and we want far more than we have seen from City in League Two this season. But there’s a lot of fun in getting behind your players and seeing them exceed your expectations, and this season the cup competitions provided numerous opportunities for both of these occurrences to happen.

2011/12 review: what the club got wrong

14 May
The second of Width of a Post’s end of season ‘essays’ sees Jason McKeown share his personal views on where things might have gone wrong for City.

“We develop players. We don’t have them growing in greenhouses out the back because we don’t have time for greenhouses. We’re more of a microwave sort of club.” Aidy Boothroyd, January 2007

The current Northampton Town manager, Aidy Boothroyd, has so far had nothing to do with the professional football club from his place of birth. But the above quote – made when he was managing Watford in the Premier League five years ago – suggests he would one day fit in very well at Bradford City.

Especially after the season just gone. It started with one set of plans, ended with another, and each one of them was given 100% long term backing at the time. It seems that in the space of twelve months Bradford City were able to illustrate the problems that have bedevilled the club for the last ten years. A season where any greenhouses installed at Valley Parade were hastily covered up in favour of a microwavable ready meal…

“The finances are still tight however, so we are taking a different approach this season rather than trying to ‘buy success’ as we have over the last four seasons in League Two. The playing budget has been reduced but we have increased our investment in developing young players for the future.” Julian Rhodes’ programme notes, Aldershot (home) Saturday 6 August 2011

This above quote, from the Bradford City joint chairman, was typical of the understated approach adopted by the club during last summer, on the back of a dreadfully disappointing 2010/11 campaign which had involved recruiting a top quality manager on a hefty wage and giving him a large playing budget. That manager – Peter Taylor – failed to come close to the target of promotion, and eventually quit. Peter Jackson guided City to safety, but only just. The club ended the season claiming it could no longer afford to keep playing at Valley Parade and even paid the players’ wages late at one point. Something had to change.

Dagenham & Redbridge’s John Still was interviewed for the job of long-term replacement to Taylor. At the meeting with the two Chairmen, he brought along his chief scout and a man who had worked for him for almost 20 years, dating back to Still’s Barnet days. Archie Christie had helped Still deliver success as manager by finding him find untapped talent which were eventually sold on for a large profit – Craig Mackail-Smith and Paul Benson, for example – and would also come to Valley Parade with Still.

However, the financial problems at City – eventually partly solved by the chairmen agreeing a deal to buy the Valley Parade office blocks which the club was previously renting at a considerable cost – saw Still rule himself out of the running. Jackson got the City job he probably deserved, but Rhodes and Mark Lawn asked Christie to write a plan of how the Bantams could reverse their continuous decline.

The results of that report were striking if not exactly earth shattering: the continuous approach of throwing all the club’s resources on ageing footballers – which for four years in a row had not worked for City – was not going to deliver sustainable success. It was time to stop ignoring those off-the-field problems and build a more solidly structured football club. So impressed were Rhodes and Lawn with the plan, they offered Archie the job of Chief Scout and Head of Football Development.

Christie turned down the salary that was offered to him, requesting this money instead be used to fund a Development Squad – a new tier to the youth set up, to give players aged 18-21 the extra support that football clubs often fail to provide. Christie dusted off Tom Cleverley’s contract from when City sold him to Manchester United, and found the then-Premier League Champions technically owed the club a lot of money. Having secured this cash from United for the club, the costs of operating a Development Squad for the season – which worked out slightly lower than the 12-month contract City had been forced to honour for Lewis Hunt last April – were covered.

Meanwhile Lawn and Rhodes partially addressed the training ground issues, and Christie set up a new scouting structure. The club spent pre-season talking of a building campaign centred upon ensuring we could challenge for promotion in 2012-13. As David Pendleton summed it up last week on this very site: “Here is the crux: if a football club cannot offer genuine hope, it must offer a vision and one that can be bought into.”

“We knew there were problems after the first game when we lost to Aldershot. Mark Lawn and I were talking afterwards and we said, ‘Hell, what are we going to do?’ We really were worried. We were honest with Peter and said, ‘We have to strengthen’. Peter decided he wanted to resign. That was his prerogative. It was our intention to help him but maybe after a few more games we would have had to act anyway.” Julian Rhodes, speaking to the Yorkshire Post in January 2012

So on the very same day that Rhodes’ matchday programme notes were published, he and Lawn began to panic and doubt the approach which they had chosen. Jackson would manage for only three more league matches (the last of which, Dagenham, saw home fans give the players a standing ovation for the performance), before resigning for reasons he has yet to make public. Width of a Post has heard very credible stories on why he left, from different sources, which all match up and suggest that – while Jackson had his own personal problems – the pressure from the Boardroom was greater than he considered to be fair or reasonable. I was also able to ask Christie straight if he had helped move Jackson out, and he made it clear that he had not always agreed with Jackson but had always supported him.

The Board acted quickly, with Rhodes, Lawn and Christie appointing Phil Parkinson barely three days after Jackson had walked out of Valley Parade. His brief was to keep City in the Football League – six weeks later, Lawn would go on record describing the squad Jackson had built over the summer as the worst in the division. Another wind of change was in the air.

It is remarkable to note that the only previous examples of genuine success at City over the last 20 years – promotion from Division Two via Wembley in 1996, avoiding relegation the year after, promotion to the Premier League in 1999 and top flight survival in 2000 – all featured slow starts to the first quarter of the season, where panic ensued in some quarters. Only this weekend, Rhodes has criticised a number of summer signings on the basis of their performances in just four games (the Leeds, Barnet and Sheffield Wednesday games, featuring these same players, conveniently ignored). All I can say is that it’s a good job Geoffrey Richmond had a calm head and strong leadership skills when sticking by Paul Jewell in September 1998, as the club languished second bottom.

“The point is that football clubs, prompted by media and fans, are always making financially irrational decisions in an instant. They would like to think long term, but because they are in the news every day they end up fixating on the short term.” Why England Lose, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

It is a surprisingly tropical Bradford morning in September, and I am sharing a breakfast table with Christie, Peter Horne, Andrew Burns, Scott Brown and Terry Dixon. In the privileged position to be interviewing the three young City players for an article, listening to their confidence about forging a successful career at the club is uplifting. I’d seen and been very impressed by Burns and Brown in pre-season, and all three were expected to be in the first team this season.

Indeed Brown was 45 minutes away from making his debut for City against AFC Wimbledon a week before (Michael Flynn passed a late fitness test in the end) – he would end the season frozen out of things, playing a practice match at Leeds United, where the Elland Road coaching staff would apparently state their surprise that he is not in the City first team and that “he could do a job for Leeds”.

Burns was supposed to be breaking into the first team in January as cover for Simon Ramsden, when Liam Moore’s loan spell from Leicester expired. Yet Parkinson opted for the short-term fix of signing Rob Kozluk for the rest of the campaign – having released Hunt in October at a sizable cost to the club. Burns has ended the season on loan at Harrogate Town, then told he can find a new club (Kozluk has been released).

City seemed to believe themselves to be embroiled in a relegation battle long before they ever really looked to be. Those of us who witnessed the outstanding, attacking football displayed in Parkinson’s first home game against Bristol Rovers in mid-September would have concluded that – with the help of a couple more signings – it was simply a matter of the team getting going results-wise. Three days later City lost 3-2 to Vale in heart-breaking style, with home manager Micky Adams saying he believed we would challenge for promotion that season (“I’d like to bet they will be there or thereabouts”). There seemed to be no need to panic, but we were doing so anyway.

Rhodes stated at the weekend that the whole season was hindered by Jackson’s summer signings – an attack presumably levelled at Martin Hansen, Moore, Guy Branston, Chris Mitchell, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart, Ross Hannah and Nialle Rodney. Under Parkinson, “The worst squad in the league” was been quickly replaced by new signings. The reduced budget Jackson had to work under significantly increased. Who can really blame Parkinson for spending money rather than trusting in what he had in-house, and the potential of the Development Squad? Hand me your money and a budget to buy a new sofa for my house, and I will happily spend it all to get the nicest one.

There is no disputing that Rhodes and Lawn were right when they spoke to Jackson just before he quit – the squad that started the season did need strengthening. However, there is a difference between fixing a few problem positions and overhauling everything. The long-term benefits appear to be slim – just three of 16 signings Parkinson has made since joining as manager are still contracted to the club.

“If the manager has not got the commitment to do it, it means nothing. A scout can scout them, bring them to the club. The youth coach can develop them and put them in the reserve team, and the reserve coach can help him on his way and recommend them to the first team. But if the manager won’t play them in the first team, it’s a waste of blinking time!” Sir Alex Ferguson on Manchester United’s youth system

Christie left City abruptly in November – the day before he officially became the new Chief Executive – for reasons yet to be shared in public. And with it the Development Squad idea was allowed to diminish quietly without anyone left in the building taking responsibility for the idea of bringing it in. This apparently included the Chairmen, yet the same September day that I chatted to Burns, Brown and Dixon was also the last time I spoke to Lawn; and he made it very clear how much he supported the Development Squad concept and how highly he valued Christie (two weeks before his “worst squad” comment). Rhodes was also known to be a big fan of the idea.

The Development Squad was criticised publically in October by none other than Michael Flynn; and in November its coach Wayne Allison departed for a new job – with Parkinson opting to spend the money this freed up on strengthening the first team, rather than recruiting a replacement to coach these players. Everything about the club became here and now, ‘building’ was suddenly an ugly word. The same month that Christie left ended with City lining up a six-figure transfer deal to sign Benson. It fell through on medical grounds, but a statement of intent was made. One wonders what Jackson made of the switching of the goal posts.

As Sir Alex Ferguson’s quote says, the Development Squad was only going to work if it was backed by the manager. Not by him throwing loads of these players into the first team – no one should have been expecting a 100% success ratio from these kids, the departure of Dixon was an inevitable side effect and others would/will follow – but through trusting and handing those who were progressing with opportunities when they came up because of injuries and suspensions. And in time this approach could really pay off: back in March, I watched City lose 1-0 to a Crewe side where 9 of its 11 had come through its ranks. They made the play offs.

Instead Parkinson has apparently spent a huge sum of money – multiple times the cost of the Development Squad – stock piling loan players. What was the benefit in signing Charlie Taylor, Andy Haworth and Will Atkinson, rather than giving Dominic Rowe – a home-grown winger who featured in all but one of the club’s pre-season friendlies, awarded a two-year contract last October and part of the Development Squad – an opportunity? Beyond the Development Squad, in March Hannah was shunted out to Halifax so City could sign Chris Dagnall on loan to the end of the season. Good player Dangall is, but the benefits were purely short-term. Then you consider that the likes of Luke O’Brien and Robbie Threlfall – players City have spent years developing – have also been let go.

And that’s the problem when you look back at this season. We stayed up, and so you could argue that Rhodes and Lawn’s decision to ditch long-term planning because our position looked desperate was the right one; but all we have done is repeated the strategy of the past four seasons in throwing a lot of money at players, again with only marginal success. This year’s League Two is unique in that the clubs with the highest budgets – Swindon, Shrewsbury and Crawley– have gone up. Rhodes says City’s budget ended up around the 5th highest: is 18th place therefore a fitting return for the level of money parted on short-term signings like Craig Fagan, Kozluk and Atkinson, with little gained for the future because it has been ignored? Again we come back to this stat – just three of Parkinson’s 16 signings as City manager are still at the club.

Because from my viewpoint – which has included the performances from quickly discarded players against Leeds, Huddersfield and Sheffield United – I’m not convinced we were doing much wrong at the start of the season. It was obvious we needed to give it time, not judge things on a couple of games – just as City’s promotion winning squad of 1998/99 was not judged on its poor start. As well as Parkinson has done (and he has), significant improvement on the pitch is not obvious. For Rhodes to attempt to blame all of this season’s problems solely on Jackson is extremely unfair.

In Why England Lose, Kuper and Szymanski wrote: “At most clubs the manager is treated as a sort of divinely inspired monarch who gets to decide everything until he is sacked. Then the next manager clears out his predecessor’s signings at a discount.” It is such an accurate reflection of the last few seasons at Valley Parade that it is painful. Can Parkinson break this cycle?

“Archie’s ideas and plans were excellent but they were what should have happened years ago and I remember me and Dave Wetherall highlighting this in a presentation to Julian and Peter Taylor a few years earlier. Development squads 18-21 are massive to any club and so many good footballers get neglected at these ages because their club (s) can’t afford to employ the necessary staff but if you do invest in one it must provide results. Between the ages 18-21 is a massive time for any player to develop in more ways than one and I firmly believe that we’ve let a lot of good players go that would have been good enough for us. Let’s just use Jake Wright who is captain of Oxford as a sample example although I could probably name 10.” Peter Horne’s programme notes, Swindon (home) Saturday 5 May 2012

With relegation successfully avoided in the end, over the last couple of weeks we have seen a return of the long-term thinking rhetoric. Nahki Wells – the first and so far only successful graduate of the Development Squad – has proven the value of the RIASA link up, after a series of outstanding performances and stunning goals. As a result, Mark Ellis has been appointed new youth coach for the 18-21 age group. The Development Squad is, apparently, back up and running.

Meanwhile the club has announced plans to further improve the training facilities at the request of Parkinson – an eerie familiar situation to what Taylor demanded but did not get two years ago – and a couple of City youngsters made the bench for the final game of the season.

This all sounds great, and one would like to believe that the club is finally getting to grips with issues that appear to have held it back for the past few years. But the actions witnessed over the course of season give little confidence that this will actually happen. A bad start to next season, and Parkinson will go – with him another ripping up of the strategy. Failure for the RAISA tie up to reap Nahki-level benefits next year and it will probably be dropped (remember the Belgium link-up?). When the chips are down and strong leadership is required to think not just of the here and now, but of long-term building plans, we revert to type and sign an ageing right back.

That, speaking personally, is the biggest damage of this season – I no longer have confidence that the two Chairmen know how to take this club forwards. Promotion to League One has never looked so far away than it seems right now. That Parkinson is still manager and obviously has a plan of action is the only comfort I can take from this season, but Jackson will happily be able to tell his predecessor how quickly Parkinson might lose the support he needs from Rhodes and Lawn.

“For a club’s whose only priority should be climbing out of the basement division, it looked a case of trying to run before they could walk. That’s how Parkinson saw it when he came in, and he wasn’t the only one. Michael Flynn, the skipper, soon publicly questioned the wisdom of putting money into something that might never bear fruit when it could have been diverted towards strengthening where it matters.” Simon Parker writing about the Development Squad, February 2012

The questions remain: was the club wrong to appoint Jackson in the first place? Was it wrong to ask Christie to write a blueprint for the future? Is the Development Squad a bad idea? If not, was it wrong to abandon it mid-season? Whatever your view, Rhodes and Lawn were behind these decisions and have to either accept they have made mistakes or back up past words with actions.

Just like previous years, the local media is now helping to fuel this constant message from the club that things are better than they were and we are moving forwards. Yet as supporters, no one has ever bothered to tell us why Jackson left the club. No one has either admitted the Development Squad was a mistake, or come out to back it, post-Christie. We deserve better than to be kept in the dark.

What we need is not a new vision – the Parkinson path is the one we are on now, and we need to continue it – but belief that any vision adopted will be backed by the club. That a month ago Lawn backed Parkinson in public is commendable only if he truly means it, but over the past three years the club has repeatedly lost sight of what it wants and – when it has changed direction – has often destroyed much of the good work that had gone on before it.

Parkinson’s plan of action has seen short-term pain for this club, and if that’s justified by rewards in long run then it’s well worth going through the season we have just had. But if we go into next season ready to chuck all of his good work away at the first sign of trouble, then we will probably repeat the same mistakes all over again.

And even less people will be willing to believe in the next vision the Board places in front of us.

2011/12 review: what the club got right

12 May
Like sitting an English Language GCSE exam, a number of Width of a Post writers were handed a topic heading relating to the 2011/12 season and asked to run with it; taking whatever direction they choose and writing as much or as little on it. The result is a series of ‘essays’ reviewing this season, which Width of a Post will present over the next fortnight. Kicking us off, Alex Scott answers the question of ‘What the club got right this season’.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Things that Bradford City got right this season? This is either going to descend into a joke column where I progressively come up with funnier ways to say ‘nothing’, or an in-depth review into the sensational array of kits the club featured this year. It’s neither I swear. (And before you start, that pink kit was fantastic.)

Detaching yourself from the emotion of a long (and depressing) season is almost impossible, but in the cold light of day, it wasn’t all bad. No, really.

At the beginning of the season were we sold an idea; we bought into the long-term. This was set to be a year of transition. Last season ended on a low note with a 5-1 home thrashing by Crewe. The squad was old, underperforming, not ours, or some futile combination of the three. There was little to build around. The arrow was pointing up on David Syers. That was about it. The first year midfielder was the only building block; morale around the club had bottomed out.

So the owners decided to rip it up. Blank slate. Archie Christie was installed as a Chief Scout and Head of Football Development with a remit to revamp the club’s squad and build towards a better future. This year was immaterial really. Just don’t get relegated.

We as fans were willing to accept this deal, we were sick of the status quo, and at least investing in youth afforded us the ability to grab hold of the potential. It was something at least.  Just don’t get relegated. If this season left us struggling, but with a core of five or six young starters to build around, that would be just fine and we would be better off for it next season.

Well here we are. Jon McLaughlin (24), Ritchie Jones (25), David Syers (24), Kyel Reid (24), James Hanson (24), Nahki Wells (21) all represent above-average starters at this level, who are all on the upswing. Not to mention the establishment of a new club captain in Ricky Ravenhill and a breakout star in Luke Oliver who has been universally anointed Player of the Year. We would have taken that at the beginning of the season. So why is the fan base so disgruntled?

It’s not him, it’s us.

Our expectations were raised with the perceived ‘substantial’ capital invested in the team after Parkinson’s arrival and the lofty projections emanating from within the club. But that is all in our minds. Expectations are in the eye of the beholder. For all we know, Phil Parkinson (who signed a two season contract) was under the same instruction as Jackson to ‘keep us safe for this year whilst building for next season.’ If the board decided that more money needed to be invested to achieve that end, and were more comfortable with Parkinson investing it rather than Jackson or Christie, then that is their prerogative. It is their money.

It has been a bumpy ride at times, and the club may have overspent, in capital with the fans as much as the banks, but the target has been achieved. If instead of the rhetoric of ‘Top Half by Christmas’, the club instead stuck to its early season target, only with a different triggerman, would we all be as pessimistic? (In a season of many mistakes, the mismanagement of expectations seems like a big one.)

We can argue on the merits of the identity of their chosen man, but frankly, they know more than we do. We can complain that the club has wasted money in achieving this end, but that’s their money to waste. There is no certainty the apocalyptic scenario foreseen by Lawn would have been realised, but who are we to criticise him paying for his own peace of mind?

The owners decided on a plan, and then quickly assessed it wasn’t working and changed it. Many times in football, fans complain of owners driven by their own ego, in fact that is a criticism readily levelled at the Bradford City ownership. But if you are going to do that, you must credit them in this case. They felt their decision was wrong, and changed it quickly before the damage was too deep. They owned up to their mistake. They knew they would look stupid, but had the courage in their conviction to do it. We can argue on the merits of that decision, but we have incomplete information. They know more than we do.

Furthermore, the owners have provided both regimes complete autonomy in their management. The curious aspect of George Galloway’s comments about the club is that finances aren’t the problem, and haven’t been for a while. We as fans are hyper-critical of the ownership, but you have to credit them with providing their managers with whatever they wanted.

Beyond the owners, the fan base has also been critical of Parkinson’s tendency to rely on loan players and short term contracts. Andrew Davies aside, they haven’t all been stars (I’ve never been sure why we expect them to be), but the majority of them represent potential permanent signings this off-season. If Parkinson knew he was building toward next season anyway, why not spend a section of his first-year budget on ‘advanced’ scouting?

He’s been able to spend six months looking at Deane Smalley, Will Atkinson and co, with almost no risk, and decide with certainty whether he wants them for next year. If they don’t perform (Haworth, Taylor), fine, strike them off the list. If they have obvious talent but negatively affect the dressing room (Devitt), isn’t it prudent management to establish that now, instead of signing them on multi-year deals in January or the summer? If the manager felt Mark Stewart wouldn’t be in his squad next year, but Chris Dagnall could be, wouldn’t it be logical to find that out now? We may not agree with his decisions, but at the same time we wouldn’t want a manager hamstrung by outside influences.

He must be his own man, and we must let him be so.

At times this year it seems the manager and fans have been on different wavelengths; we’ve been criticising him for something he’s not even trying to do. If you view every decision he has made as one for the betterment of next season, they take on an entirely different complexion. There are a lot of things that the club has got right.

I’m not arguing that the club hasn’t underachieved this season; I’m not arguing that Parkinson has done a great job. But, if we judge him by the same criteria as we were willing to judge Jackson and Christie, then he’s doing just fine.

On a slightly less controversial and divisive note, one facet of this season which has been an unqualified success has been the emergence of club captain-elect Ricky Ravenhill.

Fans are difficult beasts to please universally. Our demands on players are discrete and prejudiced. Even top scorers can be widely derided. Whilst each fan wants different things from their players, a common theme highlighted by Ken Dryden is that “We want them to prove beyond even unreasonable doubt that they’re not in this for the money, but for the love of their/our sport and their/our team, and demonstrate that at every moment by being willing to do whatever it takes.” This generalisation stands as a good jumping off point for every fan, and Ricky Ravenhill epitomises as much. People can criticise certain facets of his game, but they tend to pale in comparison to the overall package.

Next season’s presumptive captain, the tenacious midfielder flourished alongside Ritchie Jones down the stretch, and will be a fundamental component of next season’s team. For a player acquired initially on loan, then on a free transfer, this stands as a primary success story of the Parkinson administration. With two years to run on his contract, his manager will likely utilise Ravenhill as a tone setter, moulding the squad in his image. This can only be a good thing.

A cynic may wish to retort about broken clocks, but on the whole, the impact of Parkinson’s signings has been positive. Andrew Davies just about kept the club in the division. He was head and shoulders above every forward he faced, and infuriating suspensions aside, he must go down as a success story.

Kyel Reid is a star. Convincing him to sign a two-year deal with the club may go down as Parkinson’s crowning glory. For long spells of the season he was the club’s single attacking threat. A plethora of midfielders on the opposite flank headlined by Craig Fagan failed to generate any sort of impact offensively, and Reid spent the entire season being doubled-up upon by defences. Yet he starred. Week in, week out.

Before his injury, Marcel Seip played an integral role in the side’s defence, playing all three positions at one point or another. For a free transfer recruit, he far outperformed expectations. Ravenhill, Fagan and Smalley all played their roles. Even players we didn’t get to see all that much of in Dagnall, Devitt and Atkinson impressed in spells. Not all of the signings have paid out, but it would be inaccurate to portray Parkinson as a poor recruiter, batting .500 is accepted as a decent ratio on signings, and under that prism, he’s done pretty well.

The undoubted high point has been the discovery of Wellson. (Or Hanells, delete as appropriate) A legitimate strike partnership, Nahki Wells and James Hanson combined for 43% of the club’s goals this season. They have notched 13 goals in the 16 games they have started together whilst 16 of their 23 combined goals in the league have been with both on the pitch. Beyond their goal scoring impact, they look an actual partnership. Their strengths mesh well together. Whilst often seen reductive in the modern game, their little man-big man partnership has been a revelation. They have both shown a knack for scoring goals, and should go into next season as a focal point for the team.

Whilst the emergence of Wells has been something of an accident (Jackson didn’t want him, Parkinson showed a continued reticence to start him), the commitment to Hanson at the beginning of the season has proven a great decision. Regardless of your view on the target man, three respected managers have seen fit to make him a focal point at the club. (Granted, Parkinson has attempted to replace him, but he has only benched Hanson twice as a managerial decision, at Plymouth and at home to Rotherham, the club lost both those games.) Promoted to number nine, James Hanson has blossomed in his third season as a professional, again leading the goal scoring charts whilst playing with a drive and incisiveness not before seen from him. With an injury free off-season ahead of them, Wellson will be looking to hit the ground running next season, providing they are both still here.

Does the end justify the means? This season has met with the familiar oxymoronic incandescent malaise. ‘Twas ever thus. It has been an ordeal at times.  But looking at the component parts of the squad compared to last year (including the manager), the club are in a far stronger position going into next season. Wasn’t that all we were after this year. Has this not been a successful ‘transition’ year?

And that pink kit was great.

2011/12 review: Highlight/lowlight – part one

8 May

The Width of a Post writing team provide their personal highlights and lowlights of this season.

Mark Scully

Highlight – There haven’t been many high points throughout the course of the season but the few memorable moments came in the Johnstones Paint Trophy. I’d have to say the highlight was beating Sheffield United, a great night at Bramall Lane. Jonny Mac proved to be the hero with an excellent stop from Billy Clarke with the last kick of the game, before becoming the penalty saving king again. It looked like the run was coming to an end when Matty Phillips scored a superb first half goal for the Blades. However, just like at Leeds earlier in the season, Michael Flynn scored a stunner from outside the area which sent the away end barmy! In the second half both sides had decent chances before penalties decided it….McLaughlin saved three spot kicks in the shoot out, before Chris Mitchell calmly slotted home to send the Bantams into the next round.

Lowlight – It’s not a game, but more a situation that developed and became a problem – which stemmed from the departure of Jack Compton. I wasn’t personally a big fan of Compton, but he gave us good balance with him on one flank and Reid on the other. Following his departure he was never adequately replaced. Young Charlie Taylor from Leeds wasn’t up to much, neither were the likes of Deane Smalley and Will Atkinson – whilst Fagan was playing out of position. With all that in mind the pressure on Reid to create was too much. Teams got wise to our only threat and would nullify him. Hopefully the penny has dropped with Parkinson that we do need two out and out wingers, something which has been missing for a long time at Valley Parade.


Luke Lockwood

Highlight – the Huddersfield Town cup win. In all my visits to the Galpharm Stadium I have never seen us win, but all that changed with the dramatic penalty shoot out victory in the Johnstones Paint Trophy this season. After twice experiencing the heartbreak of a Town equaliser, a City side, which had been labelled the worst in League Two by our joint chairman, knocked out one of the finest sides from the division above! Liam Moore, Robbie Threlfall, Luke O’Brien, Chris Mitchell, Jack Compton, Mark Stewart, Nialle Rodney and even Guy Branston, Matt Duke and Ross Hannah wouldn’t feature much more over the course of the season, but they provided one memorable night for the travelling 2,500 Bantams. Thank you Rodney and co.!

Lowlight – the David Syers injury. Another memorable evening – Leeds away – which was 20 minutes away from being my personal high of the year. But then Syers was left in a heap by the touchline just yards away from me and would not play again until Boxing Day. The 2010/11 player of the season had put in his finest performance to date and in front of the Sky Cameras; how would we keep the vultures at bay now? But his night ended prematurely and with it so did City’s fight. I had dragged along a friend of mine who was a Huddersfield Town fan and a number of my other friends were in the opposite end supporting the Dark Forces. For the rest of the evening they would debate among themselves whether it would be Leeds or Huddersfield signing our superstar in January. Ten months on we are now playing hard ball over his contract – how fickle football can be.


Gareth Walker

Highlight – My highlight of this season takes me back to a fixture that I look forward to every year – Morecambe away. The fact that it was Parkinson’s first match in charge added a little bit extra to a fixture that was already bubbling nicely. When thinking back to the game, I don’t think that I have celebrated a goal like that of Ross Hannah’s for quite some time. I was grasped round the neck by the complete stranger stood next to me, while jumping up and down with my hands in the air. It was one of the mad celebratory moments that we all hope for when we attend a football match.

It is easy to remember why. City had bossed the second half, yet had still fallen behind to a 57th minute Morecambe goal. Jamie Devitt had come on to make his debut alongside Kyel Reid and Matt Duke and looked a real threat. Morecambe had brought everybody back as they desperately tried to keep City at bay and hold onto the three points. However, despite the avalanche of pressure, it just didn’t seem like it was going to be our day. The referee gave a goal kick in the 92nd minute when the whole ground knew it should have been a corner, and it seemed like City’s chance had passed.

As I slumped over the crash barrier in front of me, aghast at the referee failing to give the aforementioned corner, I just couldn’t help thinking that we were leaving the Globe Arena empty handed. That all changed in the blink of an eye as desperation turned to joy. We were stood right behind the goal and suddenly I looked up to see the ball being crossed in and falling at Hannah’s feet. He swivelled and he scored. Unbelievable! The feeling as we walked away from the ground in the pouring rain just moments later was definitely my season highlight.

Lowlight – Defeat away at AFC Wimbledon in March. When City began to fall foul of the winter weather, as well as having had a run to the 3rd round of the FA Cup, it became apparent that March was looking like a “make or break month” due to the backlog of rearranged fixtures. One of these postponed games was away at AFC Wimbledon. It was a match that many City fans, myself included, had been looking forward to for most of the season due to the links between the two clubs from the year 2000 and of course the romantic tale of Wimbledon’s climb back up the non-league. Having bought our tickets well in advance of the original fixture, my friends and I decided to attend the rearranged game.

We booked to stay over down in London and made a long day of it. When we got to the game, it seemed that we weren’t the only ones who had done the same thing and the turn out for a long Tuesday night trip from the City faithful was quite impressive. Throughout the early exchanges, City were well in the contest and it was only an extremely dubious penalty, given by Referee Mr Darren Deadman, that saw us fall behind. We all know what happened next. Craig Fagan who was captain on the evening kicked the ball into the crowd for a second booking and saw red, not long after we had equalised.

His actions on that night at Wimbledon were inexcusable and they cost us dear. It wasn’t entirely his fault, as we all know that the performance of Deadman was extremely questionable, not least in giving Wimbledon a second controversial penalty. The comments made by Parkinson afterwards showed that it wasn’t just the supporters who questioned the referee’s performance in what was ultimately a 3-1 defeat. Unfortunately, this did little to help lift my spirits that night as we walked back to our Travelodge. City were edging towards a relegation battle and it felt like we had lost not only to AFC Wimbledon, but also to Mr Craig Fagan and Mr Darren Deadman.


Ian Sheard

Highlight – Toss up between Huddersfield Town away or Southend away and home. In fact the Christmas period was excellent and I would have all those if I could.  However, I will go for Southend at home on Good Friday.

Lowlight – Away to Wimbledon: horrendous ref again, Mr Deadman. And then away to Plymouth, when relegation was a definite fear!


Tim Roche

Highlight – The back-to-back home wins vs Crewe and Shrewsbury over the Christmas period. Thanks to a shock win away at Southend, City entered the final stretch of 2011 brimming with confidence. The Boxing Day 3-0 drubbing of Crewe Alexandra was swiftly followed up on New Year’s Eve by a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Shrewsbury Town, which was especially memorable for a fine goal from Nahki Wells. Two of the finest Bradford City performances in many years were tinged with frustration that such excellent football hadn’t been displayed earlier in the campaign. ‘Normal’ service was resumed two days later as City crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Rotherham.

Lowlight – Hearing that Andrew Davies, Jon McLaughlin and Luke Oliver had all been red-carded for their part in the ‘Battle of Valley Parade’. To witness those scenes was shocking enough, however confirmation of the inevitable punishment left me seriously believing we were heading for non-league football. The antics of Crawley Town were disgusting that night; however, I was so disappointed and angry that our players had allowed themselves to be dragged down to their level at such a crucial time in the season. I honestly believed that losing our centre back pairing and goalkeeper for at least three games would be the final nail in our coffin. Thankfully the performances of their replacements, particularly Guy Branston, were generally fantastic and played a huge role in ensuring our survival.


Ron Beaumont

Highlight – The away win at Northampton. It secured our League status and listening to it on the radio made clearing out the garage bearable.

Lowlight – The brawl against Crawley; I always stay to the very end of games, but wish I hadn’t seen this.


Damien Wilkinson

Highlight – City 1 Torquay 0. For my money this was one of the best matches of the season. It had controversy with a straight red card in the first half for Andrew Davies for an alleged two-footed challenge, Craig Fagan’s first City goal, and a heroic and dogged determination from all of the City players, especially substitute Guy Branston, who showed immense leadership and the form that tempted City to acquire his services pre-season. City were simply not going to surrender the lead, and the atmosphere within the ground was electric. The crowd also fired up by the abject performance of referee Carl Boyeson, who made many questionable decisions throughout. So Parkinson’s first league win for City at the 7th time of asking led to genuine belief, at the time, that we could go on and climb the league.

Lowlight – Rotherham 3 City 0. The season’s lowest point for me is probably the away fixture at the Don Valley stadium. A truly wretched venue, freezing cold conditions and City managed to undo all the momentum from a season-best three match winning run established over the festive fixtures. Somehow it all felt too predictable for the large City following that made the trip, in a season marked by all too familiar disappointments. Jon McLaughlin particularly had an afternoon to forget, but no one came away with any credit, and despite some improvements in performances afterwards, including the subsequent FA Cup tie at Watford, it wasn’t until 18 February when City finally managed to win again, with an unexpected away win at Torquay. Perhaps this Millers defeat was the start of the spell that set the tone for the fruitless second half of the season, and our almost magnetic attraction to 18th place in the table.


Rob Craven

Highlight – Progress. There has been a general feeling for me this season that we have started to move in the right direction. Sure, if you look at the table we haven’t done marvellously this season and the turnover of players and managers is nowhere near desirable, but it has been a step forward from recent years.

We have looked better all over the park and have had players which have sparked more joy than they have frustration, which is a first for many seasons. That feeling of looking forward to the game and knowing we are a capable team, instead of watching through my fingers, is definitely the highlight of my season, and I can’t wait for the next. The spine of the team is there, they have the best part of a season under their belts and a full summer of stability and regeneration ahead before the next season. Fingers crossed we can continue to progress.

Lowlight – I could have chosen the high turnover of players and the changing of management. But in all honesty this is something we have become used to in recent years at City. I could have chosen our own fans flippancy and ability to jump from the feeling of joy about being “play off contenders” to instantly being doomed for relegation after a few bad results, but again we all know and feel frustrated by this.

The lowest point of my season came away from the pitch and I have to say that, although I am chuffed to bits that Jason has started TWoaP since, and long may it continue, losing Boy from Brazil was a terrible moment. The BfB website kept us fans in touch with the real going on at the club with honesty and integrity. We can all read the BBC and the T&A websites knowing what is going to be said before we have even clicked the link. It is a standardised format. BfB was an amazing website that served City fans worldwide with a real football fans passion and opinion of what was actually happening at our club from 60, 100, 1,000, or 10,000 miles away.

I was gutted the day it went down and would like to personally thank both Michael Wood and Jason McKeown for all of their hard work and dedication over BfB’s 12 year history, for keeping me and the many BfB followers closer to our club than the club itself could.


David Lawrence

The low point of the season for me came not on the field, but on the internet; though watching City lose again at Hereford came close.

As a City exile, the web is vital for feeding my enthusiasm for my hometown club. This was dealt a real blow when Boy from Brazil had a disagreement with the club and thought it best to close down. All parties lost out. In the void that was left following the closure of the widely read website I was staring at the very real possibility of having to rely on either the party-line website or several injudicious forums. To paraphrase JFK, too often those sites enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. However, there was a resurrection of thoughtful opinion out of the ashes of the Boys from Brazil in the form of the WoTP. This has been my high point. Thank you to all that have contributed, especially Jason for his efforts.


Jason McKeown

Highlight – A sunny afternoon in September, where myself and former writing partner Michael Wood were fortunate to be invited to spend a day behind the scenes at Bradford City by Archie Christie. Getting to experience first hand what happens on the training ground and in meetings was something I will never forget, as was getting to meet and chat openly to several players, Parkinson, chief scout Nigel Brown, Peter Horne and of course the larger-than-life Archie. As a writer, being able to produce articles on what we experienced – which were very well received by City fans, other football fans and even national newspaper football journalists – was a dream come true. We helped to change people’s minds on what the club was trying to do, and that felt good.

Lowlight – I saw 40 of City’s 54 matches this season, but only one of the four away league wins (Northampton, probably my highlight on the pitch this season). So I endured a lot of fruitless away trips, where occasionally you questioned your sanity in making such an effort. The nadir of this was the midweek defeat at Crewe in March, where an accident on the M6 lead to a very stressful journey down to Gresty Road and missing kick off; only to witness a tame display from City that was hindered by Parkinson picking an unbalanced midfield. A night where patience was in very short supply.


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