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.

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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

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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

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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.

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