Tag Archives: Steve Parkin

A (magic) man for all ages

12 May

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By Jason McKeown

As Phil Parkinson drove into work last Friday, he would have been mentally preparing for one of the most difficult meetings of his managerial career. Telling any footballer you are effectively making them unemployed is never easy, but it’s part of the job and the accepted reality. This one is a bit different. This one is going to really, really hurt the player.

Parkinson would not have known that Friday 9 May 2014 also happened to be the 15th anniversary of Bradford City’s promotion to the Premier League, and the finest hour of the club’s greatest midfielder, Stuart McCall. But the unhappy coincidence would not be lost on others. It was some anniversary upon which to tell the club’s second-greatest modern day midfielder that his contract was not going to be renewed.

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As he rolled up at Valley Parade ahead of the summit meeting with his captain, perhaps Phil Parkinson allowed himself a few moments to reflect back on the circumstances and reasons for originally signing Gary Jones, two years prior. It was the close season, and the manager was tasked with revamping a playing squad that had endured back-to-back 18th-place finishes in the basement division. He was working through a list of targets that included Liverpool right back Stephen Darby, who had spent the previous season on loan at Rochdale.

Parkinson was watching DVDs of Darby’s performances at Spotland, when someone else increasingly caught his eye. A distinctive, bald midfielder, known to everyone in the lower leagues: Gary Jones. He was everywhere on the park, dominating the games that Parkinson was carefully studying. And, in a misguided development that summed up John Coleman’s doomed spell at Rochdale, Gary Jones had fallen out with his manager. He was available on a free transfer.

Parkinson picked up the phone and called his assistant Steve Parkin, a man who happened to know Gary Jones very, very well. “What are your thoughts on Gary Jones?” asked Parkinson. After a pause, Parkin replied, “The best thing I can tell you about Gary Jones is that the only time he is ever happy is at 5pm on Saturday when his team has won.”

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As Gary Jones drove to Valley Parade on Friday to meet with Phil Parkinson, he was evidently hoping that it would be to thrash out another contract to stay for another year. He was happy at City, that much was obvious to everyone. And though realistic about his age, he was nevertheless confident in his ability to continue playing a part in the club’s rise.

The workmanlike, all-action style of Gary Jones, which Phil Parkinson was so impressed by when watching those Rochdale DVDs two years ago, was simply who Gary Jones was. Born on the out-skirts of Liverpool, Jones was a youth trainee at Anfield but never came close to making it, instead finding a route into football through Caernarfon Town of the Welsh league. 18 at the time, he quickly impressed enough to earn a professional deal at Swansea City, who were then lumbering in the basement division.

Still only young, Jones was loaned out for experience at what must have then seemed an inconsequential destination – Rochdale. And so began the love affair that would result in him becoming the club’s record appearance holder. After making the deal permanent, a first spell at Spotland saw him play 138 times in three seasons. Firmly on his way to legendary status.

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Phil Parkinson himself was something of a one-club man, after spending 11 years at Reading in the centre of the Royals midfield. They say that a manager should know his own position best. Now in 2014 and faced with the decision over Jones’ future, he must have called upon his own playing experience to help him make such a difficult call.

It wasn’t that we supporters assumed Gary Jones would stay, but the smart money suggested he would remain a Bantam for another 12 months at least. He wouldn’t start another 46 games, but could still play an important role. Perhaps even becoming a member of the coaching staff.

After all, Gary Jones had ended the 2013/14 strongly. Most of his team mates did. The season had been a struggle at times, and March had seen some of its worst performances, but a promising ending had banished relegation fears and ensured a top half finish. Jones was excellent during the final few games, none more so than at Tranmere in what would prove to be his last game for City. By some distance the man of the match, he had dragged his team over the line to victory in typical influential fashion.

Just another day at the office for Gary Jones. You thought it could last forever, or at the very least that it wasn’t about to end.

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From the very first moment I saw Jones in a claret and amber shirt it was obvious that he possessed star quality. Guiseley, pre-season, and he ran the show. Gary Jones was the leader even though Ricky Ravenhill beside him was wearing the armband. Jones struck the opening goal of a 4-0 romp and ran past me as he celebrated. I had been unsure what to make of his summer arrival, but was immediately won over. A special player, who offered everything we needed.

He made a strong first impression on everyone connected with the club. So many new signings have needed time to ease their way into life at Valley Parade, but straight away Jones looked like he owned the place. Linking up with Nathan Doyle (Ravenhill on the sidelines injured), Jones was full of drive and energy, getting up and down the park. Every City fan you talked to in the opening weeks of the season steered the conversation towards Jones. He was our type of player, and we instantly took him to our hearts.

Gary Jones was never about scoring goals, yet his first for the club stuck in the mind. Morecambe, a Tuesday night in September, City are 2-1 up in the closing stages and trying to further strengthen their promotion push. A free kick on the edge of the box, Jones lifted it over the wall and into the corner. Cue massive celebrations for a massive three points. Jones raced to the front of the Kop, leapt up and punched the air in celebration. That goal meant a lot to him, and it meant a lot to us.

Phil Parkinson’s office overlooks the Valley Parade pitch that Jones had dominated for two years. As Gary Jones arrived for the Friday meeting, a rich tapestry of personal memories of this stadium might have been at the forefront of his mind. He was desperate for the opportunity to collect another 12 months’ worth.

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Just six months out of Gary Jones’ 17-year professional career were spent playing above the bottom two divisions. A month after jumping ship from Rochdale to Barnsley, Parkin raided his old club to bolster the midfield by bringing Jones to Oakwell. The pair couldn’t stop the slide, however, as Barnsley were relegated from Division One (now the Championship).

That, from a divisional point of view, was as good as it got for Jones. You wonder why he didn’t play more at a higher level. How could such a reliable lower league footballer not have been considered someone who could do a job in the Championship? There just aren’t that many Gary Jones’ around.

Perhaps the Barnsley move dented his reputation. Now in the third tier, the Tykes were saddled down by debts and would go into administration, resulting in Parkin being sacked to save money. Without his mentor, Jones increasingly struggled for game time. He was loaned back to Rochdale, where Parkin would shortly afterwards return as manager. There were no surprises when the move was made permanent, but it left Gary Jones back in the bottom tier, where he looked destined to spend the rest of his days.

A lifetime in the bottom division. As Jones sat down to hear the news from Phil Parkinson last Friday, he might have reflected on how hard he had worked to get to the position of captaining a club like Bradford City to 11th in League One.

If Phil Parkinson had bad news for him, it was back to square one. Looking for employment, and most likely a return to the basement.

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“His legs have gone” became a familiar and tedious criticism during the early months of 2014. Everyone is an expert, but when such bland and meaningless statements are uttered, you roll your eyes and politely try to change the subject. Football is more complex than this.

Gary Jones’ legs had not gone. Week in week out, the 36-year-old was still a key part of the midfield. If he couldn’t run around the park, as was suggested, Phil Parkinson wouldn’t be picking him every game. It wasn’t as though there weren’t other options. Jones was in the team on merit. He was wrongly blamed by some for wider team failings.

Post-Christmas, City’s style of play suffered from a range of injuries. From Nahki Wells’ head being turned. From opposition being more wise to the gameplan. After being an attack-minded team early doors, City were no longer creating enough opportunities. Blame the centre of midfield if you want, but as the January transfer window opened and players came in and out, no attempt was made to replace Gary Jones.

And why would Phil Parkinson have even considered it? Jones enjoyed some of his more famous games for City during this period, chiefly the Sheffield United and Crewe matches, where his leadership and drive were so important. I remember the Preston home game with everyone around muttering pre-match about how Jones would no doubt undeservedly get the man of the match award again. Yet Jones was outstanding that evening, and when it was announced that he was indeed man of the match, even his growing critics applauded.

Gary Jones’ performances weren’t flawless around that time, but nobody could claim that theirs were either. When the chips were down and character and courage were needed, Jones demonstrated it in spades. When the team was rebuilt in January, Jones remained a key figurehead and looked a better player for the fine tuning taking place around him.

He wasn’t going to let the season go down the toilet, not on his watch.

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The League Cup miracle produced so many heroic stories, but behind the headlines devoted to the exploits of Garry Thompson, Rory McArdle, Carl McHugh and James Hanson, there was one constant supporting act that featured in the stand out moments.

Jones helped to set up every goal that City scored against Premier League opposition. His set pieces were outstanding, as he planted superb balls over to team mates, who will go down in history for turning those crosses into goals. Jones was also a cool customer in the shoot out victories over Wigan and Arsenal.

As City lit up national TV, Jones’ striking appearance was a topic of conversation. “I love your captain” people would say to me, as he looked every inch the working class hero that personified the narrative of a Division Four team’s incredible adventure. Particularly, when in the midst of the Villa Park celebrations, he spotted first leg mascot and nine-year-old cancer survivor, Jake Turton in the away end and planted a kiss on his head. His father, Andy, was a survivor of the Valley Parade fire. The photographers caught the head kiss, and the most iconic moment of the League Cup adventure was assured.

Gary Jones was vital in those games. His lead-by-example, determined style of play had seeped into his team-mates, who matched his never-say-die attitude and tireless work rate. If the old man of the team is going to cover every blade of grass, everyone else had better do the same, too. Gary Jones’ experience was invaluable in getting City to Wembley, in getting past all those illustrious teams.

A lifetime as a lower league player, you wondered if Jones might have been daunted to play against some of the most famous footballers in the land. Yet he took it all in his stride, even finding time to truly put Arsenal in their place by declaring Torquay United had given City a tougher game than the Gunners.

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The day before Gary Jones and his team mates were dancing around Villa Park, Rochdale had sacked John Coleman. The Dale were stuttering in mid-table of League Two, and envious eyes were cast towards Bradford City and the incredible role that Gary Jones was playing. Coleman and his assistant Jimmy Bell were said to have had a bust up with Jones the season before, and they went into 2012/13 believing they no longer needed the veteran.

Yet Gary Jones was Mr. Rochdale. Over 530 appearances during two spells at Spotland that totalled 12 years. In 2010 he became only the second Rochdale captain in their history to lead the club to promotion, with a second place finish in League Two. Gary Jones excelled in League One the year after, netting 18 goals and finishing the club’s top scorer in 2010/11.

This was the first half of a golden period for the ageing Gary Jones. 2009-2014 were five years of amazing personal success – with that uncomfortable Coleman/Bell bump midway through. What a mistake it would prove for Coleman. Gary Jones was not some relic of the past, but the future hero of Valley Parade. How Dale – and Coleman – could have done with him in 2012/13. But he was elsewhere, performing heroics and having the time of his life.

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The pinnacle moment of Gary Jones’ playing career was promotion for Bradford City at Wembley in May 2014. He described it as the happiest moment of his life, beyond the birth of his children. Mr. Rochdale was now Mr. Bradford. He had become the first Bantams captain in 15 years to lead the club to promotion. The first captain, in fact, since Stuart McCall.

We loved him, how we loved him. The Bradford public hero-worshipped Gary Jones. Everywhere we went during 2012/13, his name was sung. In pubs before and after games, on concourses, and on the terraces. “He’s magic, ya know”. And we truly believed that he was.

No one can ever touch Stuart McCall in the eyes of most Bradford City fans, but Gary Jones runs him close. His two seasons at Valley Parade saw unprecedented success and highly commendable progress. The club that he joined two years ago is transformed. We can, this summer, look forwards from a position of great strength, but we would never have got here without Gary Jones.

He has been such a joy to watch. Such an inspiration to everyone connected with the club.

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Like all managers, Phil Parkinson should know his own position best. Gary Jones was his representative on the pitch, playing the game in the same wholehearted manner that Reading fans once loved Phil Parkinson for. Like all managers, Phil Parkinson should know his own position best – and he will also know just what will be going through Gary Jones’ mind as his career winds down.

Could Gary Jones have accepted the role of bit-part player at City next season? Would he have happily sat on the sidelines, playing 20 or so games, largely coming off the bench? If City were struggling for a result and he was not seen as the solution by Phil Parkinson, could Gary Jones have coped with that reality, or would his desperation to be more influential cause him to become a bad influence?

Which is not to suggest that Jones would ever be a disruptive character, but whole-hearted players of his ilk don’t cope too well at being handed half-hearted roles. Even Stuart McCall found it difficult and had clashes with managers such as Craig Brown, as he was phased out. Jim Jefferies was unbelievably stupid to once tell Stuart “your legs have gone”, but Stuart didn’t need to react so poorly to it.

Perhaps Jones deserves better than to spend his final couple of years on the sidelines; there is plenty of time for the coaching stuff, he still has a hell of a lot to offer on the field. If Parkinson doesn’t see Jones as a first team regular next season, maybe it is fairer on the player to offer him a clean break now. There will be a long queue of clubs willing to sign him this summer, clubs who will be able to provide the first team assurances that Parkinson clearly cannot.

Yet still, no one who has shared in the pride of watching Gary Jones play for Bradford City can feel anything but sadness to see him depart like this. The head might rule that it is for the best, but the heart feels the pain that Jones must now be experiencing. The numerous great memories we have of watching Jones reminds you what a huge loss he will be. The outpouring of devastation expressed by so many since Friday illustrates just how much he meant to people. Wherever he ends up, I’m rooting for him.

The heart of the 2012/13 team has just been ripped out. Clearly, Phil Parkinson is going to have to build a new side this summer. But whoever comes in and however they fare, Valley Parade won’t feel the same without the sight of magic man in the number 18 shirt.

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Majority rules

3 Feb

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By Jason McKeown

Back in October 2002, Terry Yorath was coming under increasing pressure in the Hillsborough hotseat, after one victory in 10 games. And as his Sheffield Wednesday side were five minutes away from going down to yet another defeat – at home to Millwall – the former Bradford City manager was approached in the dugout by a female supporter who said, “Terry, you are a nice fellow but do the best thing for this club and quit.”

The following morning, Yorath resigned.

Without wishing to generalise all female footballer supporters as nicer than us male counterparts – although that would be my experience – there is something about this lady’s choice of words which suggests that she was a more-than-reasonable person, far removed from the more angry abuse that Yorath was been subjected to from other Wednesday supporters. Yorath admitted that “her words haunted me throughout the night”. Probably due to the realisation that her comment meant the manager had not simply lost the backing of those quick to turn on any manager, but the quiet and sensible majority also.

After another defeat on Saturday, Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson has been the subject of some supporter calls to be sacked. “One win in 19 games” is the matter-of-fact reason, plus “terrible signings” from last summer. These people are full of panic about the Bantams’ slide towards what could be a relegation battle, and have concluded that the answer is to remove the man who got the club into League One in the first place.

I despair about these comments – and other similar views aired following a decent draw against Preston midweek – because they just seem so utterly ludicrous. The idea that we ignore three seasons of clear progress by the manager and focus merely on 19 matches is no way of making a fair evaluation. And with every single player at the club either signed or retained by the manager, it is over-simplified to state that Parkinson has not recruited well.

In my view, we should be expecting Parkinson to deliver season-upon-season improvement within the constraints of the playing budget he operates under. The 13th-place position that we currently occupy might be slightly below some expectations, but it is still progress on last season and it comes during a time of transition. The number one target this season – one yet to be achieved – is to avoid relegation. After so many years struggling to get out of League Two, an instant return to the basement division would hugely damage morale and be difficult to recover from.

This season is about setting up camp, and then going from there.

We can talk about the slide of one win in 19, but that is only part of the picture and in no way can be used to make as big a call as swapping managers. And if we do widen the outlook much further and delve into the club’s inglorious recent history, the number of times that changing a manager was attempted and failed beggars belief as to why anyone would propose it as the solution right now.

We have gone through a lot of managers – some poor it must be said, others treated harshly – to find success in Parkinson. Indeed, only two months into his reign there were strong calls for him to be sacked – where we would be now if the club had listened then? We must hang onto Parkinson and remember what an asset he is, rather than gambling in the hope we could do better.

Last summer, the club handed Parkinson and his coaching staff three-year contracts as reward for the considerable progress the club had made in two years under their stewardship. It was, in my eyes, completely the right thing to do and a rather big statement of intent. That the folly of short-term thinking, which too often has blighted Valley Parade, was a thing of the past. That we were going to give the manager breathing space to continue building, with the security of knowing that club strategy was not going to be dictated by the form guide.

Economic expert Stephanie Flanders recently said about the improved UK outlook. “In the lead-up to recessions, we always make the mistake of thinking the good times will last forever. And then, when things turn nasty, we usually make the same mistake all over again – thinking the bad times will last forever as well.” For me, that sentiment can readily apply to football supporters and particularly the situation at Valley Parade over the past 12 months.

When this season began so well, we did believe that the good times were going to last forever. And now, some people are making the same mistake all over again. Believing that City will fail to win another match this season or that they are doomed to relegation or that they will in two years go out of business or whatever. All because of the here and now.

If Parkinson has proven one thing time and time again as manager of this football club, it is that he can turn around difficult situations. You think back to his first season where our Football League status was under serious threat. Or recall the late, late play off surge of last season that began long after many of us had given up. Parkinson has found the answers to the slumps – albeit not always as quickly as we would like – and there is no reason to believe he isn’t capable of doing so this time.

Sack Parkinson now and goodness knows what it would cost to pay up his and Steve Parkin’s two-and-a-half years left on their contracts. And for what reason? To win a couple of matches? To make sure of League One status? Both these things can, and I believe will, happen under the manager.

We need to stop limiting the outlook to only the next few weeks. We have a manager who has proven himself capable of delivering long-term improvement, which has taken City up the Football League ladder. That three-year contract is, in my view, a timeframe to get the Bantams knocking on the door of the Championship. Giving up on that three-year plan on the basis of a 19-game run of poor form makes absolutely no sense to me.

But it doesn’t really matter, because as Terry Yorath would no doubt testify to, the views of a tiny minority deserve to be treated in that context. Just because some people can shout louder than others, it does not mean their opinion holds more sway or merit.

The fact is the vast majority of City fans – whilst understandably unhappy with recent results – are still firmly in support of Parkinson. There’s an appreciation for the great things he has done for us, and memories of the unhappier times, before his arrival, offer perspective. There’s a sensible understanding, from many, that there have been mitigating factors behind recent results. That performances have in the main being okay, and that the changes Parkinson needs to make will take time to completely implement – a summer squad rebuilding is inevitable.

Most importantly, there is an acceptance that we are currently largely where we expected to be last summer. The way in which we have got to this point might not be desirable, and there is disappointment that what appeared to be genuine top six hopes have evaporated. But the overall picture – judged against a three-year plan – offers plenty of reasons to feel encouraged.

Undoubtedly there are issues for Parkinson to grapple with and all is far from perfect, but that shouldn’t translate to the extreme of putting his job under pressure – and shame on anyone who thinks that is the best way forwards. We’ve waited too long to get to where we are today, and Parkinson is absolutely the right man to trust in continuing that journey forwards.

The Midweek Player Focus #41: Nahki Wells

24 Sep
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Picture by Alex Dodd

By Katie Whyatt

It wasn’t how it was supposed to be. At least, it wasn’t how he’d hoped it would be. It wasn’t how anyone had hoped it would be – especially the prodigious goalscorer who had been so influential in his side’s journey to that point.

His team were down by three. Just a minute later, it would be four. He had mustered only a handful of touches during those tortuous 56 minutes. And now, it was all over. He was pulled off, making way for the replacement goalkeeper. The end of his dream. The end of our dream.

But he vowed to return. He took one last, painful look over his shoulder as he wearily clambered the stairs to collect his medal, and promised himself he’d go back – and this time leave as a winner.

It was all so much better the second time round, thankfully, and he was as valuable as anyone was during a match that was effectively won before the break. Again, it had been goals from him that had helped to propel the club to that final, and he swooped in once more to add his name to the Wembley scoresheet. This time, he did it right. This time, he got the trophy. This time, he got the glory.

Nahki Wells came in as our exciting new prodigy. There he was, young, full of enthusiasm, our beacon of hope and promise amidst an underperforming and underwhelming City side. Adulation and adoration were in no short supply, and the loud fanfare that accompanied his every move on the pitch seemed to unequivocally confirm that the club had unearthed a gem in this player. Fans earmarked him as a bag of potential. Wait for next season, they said, and just watch him flourish.

It was the pure talent he’d been blessed with by which he raced onto loose balls and caused the catastrophic defensive efforts that constituted such a great percentage of his goal tally last season. Wells is a player with unique pace and finishing ability, complete with the work ethic to ensure his talents do not go to waste.

How many City goals have derived from Nahki hounding a seemingly futile ball? How many times have we seen him swoop in at the eleventh hour and slot home from the acutest of angles? How many James Hanson knockdowns has he tagged onto to open up the scoring? He was our hero, the poster boy for the Parkinson revolution, and, as he and Hanson blossomed together, it seemed the Bantams had finally found that notorious strike partnership that managers had, for so, so, so long, tried – and failed – to instate.

As Wells became more and more prolific in front of goal, word of his finesse spread. It was slow, at first – his name was not uttered beyond Bradford, his native Bermuda or, at a stretch, League Two grounds where opposing teams had been warned of his prowess.

Then, there was the cup run.

There was the Burton game – Nahki helping to instigate the revival.

There was the Arsenal match – Wells winning the free kick that opened up the scoring; 1/3 of an assist for Thompson’s goal.

There was Villa at home – that finish everyone feared was offside.

But he was a passenger for Wembley I. When Duke was dismissed, Parkinson had no other option than to take Nahki off. The League Cup miracle was over. No cup final winning goal for him.

And Wells stalled afterwards, as did the rest of the team. The goals that had seemed so effortless at the start of the season dried up. He was no longer a guaranteed starter. His confidence dipped. It wasn’t working. There was a worry Wells had taken the path of the doomed starlet, peaking too early. Was it all downhill from there? One could have been forgiven for thinking so.

But Parkinson sat him down. They had a chat, talked things over. Watched a DVD together: Nahki Wells, Series One – The Striker Who Blasted Them In From All Over The Park. It’s cracking viewing, by all accounts. Seriously inspiring stuff. Nahki decided he wasn’t going to let his personal season peeter out. He hoisted himself out the chasm of ill form, and, suddenly, the goals just wouldn’t stop coming. Northampton, Bristol, Burton, a cool finish at Wembley. The resurgence had come at the perfect time, and both Wells and City were better for it. Nahki came out stronger, and he’s most certainly not looked back since.

Yet, there’s one fundamental, major difference in Nahki’s style since last term, and it’s been evident right from the Bristol game: he’s thinking about it more. Even in these early stages, the change seems massive. Wells was always well endowed in the attributes department – he outpaced defenders for fun, forced blunders and had an impressive eye for a goal. The transition started partway through last season, but even that’s been built upon: here is a player who is beginning to pick out the perfect pass, whilst retaining that predatory, goal poaching instinct impossible to teach.

By looking at some of his movements, the runs he makes and where he knocks the ball, it’s immediately evident that his game is so much deeper. He’s now a well-crafted bundle of neatly worked flick-ons and clever balls forward, on top of everything he’s always been. Wells was never a one-trick pony in terms of his assets, but he’s now excellent in nearly every aspect of his play.

As we begin the ascent to new altitudes and illustriousness, Nahki moves along simultaneously, aiding us while presenting a compelling case for himself. It’s no coincidence that City’s form dipped last season as Wells struggled to ruffle the net. That’s not to say that other factors didn’t come into play (the cup run – ahem!), but it seems impossible to ignore the influence the Bermudan exerts.

And the thing with Wells is that he’s not yet the finished article. As revered as he is, which is a great deal, he becomes all the more exciting a prospect because he is just that – a prospect. There’s so much more someone can still do with him. We all raved about him last season, and he’s taken it up a notch from then. Keep doing that, and he’ll be incredible by the time he peaks.

Which might leave Nahki with a tough question. It’s purely hypothetical, but it’s worth asking – if his rich vein of form continues, he’s going to attract interest, and more than he did this summer.

Let’s say the offers come rolling in (it depends on more than just Wells’ form – in that way, he’s not in control of his own destiny). The striker has a choice to make – and one that will shape the rest of his entire career.

Nahki Wells could continue to develop with Bradford. He can rise with us. We are going places, and it would surely be better for him, as a player, to match the rise of the club, and to improve at a pace that ensures his every skill is honed well enough for him to be the best he can be. It was Parkinson, Parkin and Allamby who helped him to find form when goals eluded him, and it’s that trio, when combined with Nahki’s own hard work, that collaborate to maximise his effectiveness. Wells and Parkinson fit like a jigsaw. Ditto that for Wells and Hanson. It works. It all works. It all works here.

Make the leap upwards, and anything could happen. There’s every chance he could be a success story, that League Cup runs could become the norm. And it’s not as though no one else has made the jump to the top flight successfully before – you only need to look as far as Adam Le Fondre to find a footballer who’s managed that journey upwards.

But there’s every chance Wells could stumble, too. What if he signs for a club and is shunned in favour of some Spanish ace with a pedigree our Nahki cannot possibly rival? What if he struggles for form and becomes a target for the infamous boo boys? What if he ultimately dissipates into some mist of instantly forgettable protégées, who were tipped for greatness but who were drowned by circumstance? He might follow the well-worn path of similar aces, the one trodden by Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen and Michael Johnson. Sure, there was more to those tragic tales than the lack of a starting berth, but the point remains.

The difference between the Championship and Leagues One and Two is consistency – the test for Nahki this season is to reproduce that quality exhibited in his first eight games over the whole 46, which is a big ask for any player.

Will Wells achieve that? Will he be plucked from us, snatched by one of the bigger teams? Will he stay with us? Where will we be left if he goes? Add all those to the long list of City-related questions impossible to answer – hem it right between ‘Will we go up?’ and ‘How will Andy Gray do?’

But one thing’s for sure: it’s going to be amazing to watch Nahki develop further.

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2012/13 season review: The man behind promotion

30 May

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By Mark Scully

Phil Parkinson has probably never had it so good during his managerial career. On a personal level, his stock is the highest it has ever been and, in all honesty, he could probably have his pick of most available Football League management jobs at the moment. For the first time perhaps since his spell at Layer Road with Colchester United, Parkinson The Manager is firmly on the map.

Parkinson previously took unfashionable Colchester United into the Championship on a small budget in 2006; and that didn’t go unnoticed, as Hull City came calling for his signature. He resigned from Colchester at the start of June 2006, only to turn up at The KC Stadium later that month – which led to Hull having to pay Colchester the relevant compensation.

This was Parkinson’s first big managerial move and, sadly it didn’t work out. He succeeded Peter Taylor, who amazingly – in view of the suspect skills he showed during his time at Valley Parade – was a raving success on Humberside. Parkinson though only lasted a few months before leaving in December by ‘mutual consent’; clearly things hadn’t worked out as hoped.

Parkinson then had to wait until 2008 before getting back into the management, this time at Charlton Athletic. He had been assistant to Alan Pardew at The Valley, before taking over as No.1 following the current Newcastle boss’ departure. Sadly though, at the end of the campaign, The Addicks had been relegated into the third tier of English football.

Charlton stuck by Parkinson, giving him the opportunity to guide Charlton back up in his first full season in charge. At the first attempt he led Charlton into the League One play offs, only to be beaten on penalties by Danny Wilson’s Swindon Town. The following season Parkinson lasted until early January 2011 before being sacked and replaced by club legend Chris Powell.

This left Phil at a cross roads in his managerial career. He enjoyed early success at Colchester and subsequently went on to manage two much bigger clubs in comparison, but it simply didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. Fast forward to September 2011 and Parkinson followed Peter Jackson into the manager’s office at Valley Parade. In all honesty the 2011/12 season was a fire fighting mission for Parkinson – at his disposal was a relatively poor squad across the majority of the departments. That has been highlighted further by results this season.

Despite having slim pickings to choose from, Parkinson managed to bring in some of his own players such as Andrew Davies, Kyel Reid, Craig Fagan – and he unearthed the gem that is Nahki Wells. With these calibre players, I expected Parkinson to actually do better than he did. Results last season, in the majority, were poor, and we narrowly avoided relegation out of the Football League. However, given the summer to get his own team together, Bradford City Football Club has massively felt the rewards.

Parkinson, along with his assistant Steve Parkin – who I believe has been instrumental in the success which we have achieved – put together a superb squad over the course of last summer. The permanent signing of Davies was pivotal. Putting him alongside fellow new recruits Stephen Darby, James Meredith and Rory McArdle has given Bradford a very strong back four.

In midfield, skipper Gary Jones arrived, the closest thing to Stuart McCall we’ve ever had – a real leader of men. Alongside him Nathan Doyle returned to the club with additions on the wings with the likes of Zavon Hines and Garry Thompson – Bradford, over the course of the off season, had developed themselves from relegation League Two candidates to serious promotion contenders.

Fitness coach Nick Allamby, who along with Steve Parkin forms the third part of the managerial trio, has also been pivotal. Allamby began to build the players’ fitness throughout the summer, and his continuous hard work with those same players throughout the course of the season has been really impressive. The club has played 64 games in all competitions, and Allamby has largely kept the players fit.

Apart from the likes of Davies and Luke Oliver, no player has been out long term injured. James Meredith missed a chunk of the season, but that was down to illness rather than injury.

I personally expected a promotion challenge with the squad assembled, but I doubt anyone could have predicted the amazing season we have had. Parkinson has masterminded arguably the best ever campaign in Bradford City’s history – by far my best season following the Bantams, and I’ve witnessed promotion from the old Second Division, promotion to the Premier League and staying there. The class of 2012/13 have in my opinion surpassed them – ‘History Makers’.

The league form understandably suffered at the hands of the cup run. Looking back now, it’s difficult to imagine how the league form couldn’t have suffered. When you beat the likes of Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa, then to have to play Accrington, Dagenham, Rochdale etc, you are going from massive highs in front of sold out stadiums to half empty grounds against inferior opposition. As a player it must have been difficult to adjust back to the bread and butter of the league.

This is where Parkinson really earned his wage. He kept the players grounded and, whilst results were indifferent between January and March, we never fell away to a point where we couldn’t come back and mount a play off charge.

The late run we went on was hugely impressive. For a period of time, Parkinson kept rotating his squad with the likes of Doyle, Hines, Thompson and Wells all having periods out of the side – largely down to the vast number of games that they had played. This annoyed fans at the time, but Parkinson knew what he was doing and the squad had really bought into what he and the management staff wanted to achieve this season.

Parkinson had put together a small tight knit squad that was hungry for success. We achieved the play offs thanks in part to Exeter City bottling it and going on a shocking run, but we had to be in a position to jump on Exeter – and we were.

Once in the play offs, I always thought we’d go up. In the pub before Burton at home I fully expected to go to The Pirelli with a three-goal lead. I was so confident I told fellow WOAP writers Jason McKeown and Gareth Walker my thoughts. However, at half time at Valley Parade, I thought it was all over. Despite Garry Thompson’s strike, I still believed it would be too much to ask to overturn the deficit away from home.

The work Parkinson and his staff must have done on the training ground and pre-match worked a treat. The display at Burton in the second leg was one of the best of the season.

And at Wembley, we produced the performance of the season when it really mattered. That is full credit to Parkinson. He got the players in the exact frame of mind required to go out and do the job. We had learnt from the League Cup Final experience of being there and losing so heavily. In the long run, that hiding worked out to be the best thing for us. Thankfully we had that winning feeling against Northampton to cap off a sensational season for the club, for Parkinson, for the management staff and for the fans.

The club’s commitment to Parkinson in awarding him a three year contract shows how highly we as a football club think of the man. We firmly believe he can lead us back up the leagues, and in return he has bought firmly into Bradford City. You can see it in his passion after games. Between him and the fans is a strong bond. Parkinson had opportunities to leave, but he always wanted to stay at Valley Parade. He can see the potential and he wants to turn that potential into reality.

Time will tell if he does; but he has the 100% backing of the board and fans. As a collective unit, we are willing Phil Parkinson to succeed.

Parkinson signs up until 2016 as City find stability

22 May

SAM_1095

“Three years was the minimum we wanted. We’re aiming to go back up the divisions and we want Phil to be the man leading us.” Julian Rhodes

By Jason McKeown

Phil Parkinson has finally ended months of speculation by today pledging his future to Bradford City, with the signing of a three-year contract. Along with his assistant, Steve Parkin, and fitness guru, Nick Allamby, Parkinson is being tasked with completing City’s climb back to the Championship.

Even before Saturday, Parkinson had more than proved himself as the man to take City forwards. The job he has performed, since taking charge in September 2011, is nothing short of spectacular. Not only evidenced by the league table and remarkable cup run, but the way that he has transformed attitudes and standards on and off the field.

Parkinson is huge on character and told me that he ranks this quality even above a player’s ability. He has successfully blended together a talented squad of hungry and motivated players, who have delivered incredible results over a marathon season. Mark Lawn’s comments in the T&A that Parkinson turned down the chance to sign a striker mid-season, because of his potential to disrupt the dressing room, tells you everything about the man and his ethics. This group of players, to a man, have given everything to this club. Parkinson has instilled that culture and environment.

The contract negotiations have taken a while to conclude, with numerous rumours of clubs interested in Parkinson’s services. Width of a Post understands that the sticking points were the way in which the contract was originally drafted, and Parkinson’s insistence Parkin and Allamby’s contracts were sorted out at exactly the same time. In addition, the health issues with Parkinson’s agent and Julian Rhodes’ selling of his business have slowed progress. Yet what has been clear, since Parkinson arrived, is that the chairmen and City manager have a strong bond. Whatever doubts and fears us supporters, and even players, have carried over the last few weeks, crucially this was not the case between those at the sharp end of the negotiations.

That Parkinson has signed for three years is also notable. It is the longest managerial contract City have given out since Colin Todd signed for five years in 2005. It represents a clear statement of intent by the club – that they recognise the importance of the stability Parkinson has delivered. After Todd almost completed three years in the hotseat, his sacking, and replacement of David Wetherall as caretaker, saw mid-table City slump to relegation. Stability returned under Stuart McCall, before the Bantams quickly went through two managers and on the field went backwards. There’s a repeated lesson, which has thankfully being taken on board.

Parkinson has reversed City’s 12-year slump and delivered impressive success. He is the club’s biggest asset, and so tying him down for so long provides us with the best possible chance of continuing our upwards curve.

Undoubtedly the goal will be for Parkinson’s new deal to run out with City a Championship club. There is talk of back-to-back promotions, but that is a big ask. More realistically, Parkinson has three seasons to get us promoted out of League One or at least ensure that we are challenging at the top end of the table. There will inevitably be bumps in the road, but the Chairmen need to back their judgement and stay the course with him.

Today’s news suggests that they have every intention of doing so.

Team Claret and Amber finish the job

20 May

SAM_1129

Written by Mahesh Johal

(Images by Mike Holdsworth)

“The team ethic stands out; this is an XI greater than the sum of its parts.” Notts County 0, Bradford City 1 – the first game of the 2012/13 season.

I had the responsibility of producing the player ratings after the League Cup Final and I stand by my decision to give every player a 10 out of 10. My maximum rating was given not because of their performance on that day, but instead for their contributions along the journey.

As so poignantly summed up by Alex Scott, our previous visit to Wembley was an event. Just getting to the national stadium to face Swansea was a success, and regardless of the result we were the real winners. To return to Wembley just three months later is another unbelievable feat. Like that cup journey, ever single player has contributed to our success in the play offs.

Yes, some will get more praise and attention than others, but fundamentally, those stand out names would be nowhere without their team-mates. Saturday’s result epitomised the definition of a team performance. Furthermore, I think it was a club performance, in which every person in claret and amber contributed to the victory. Once again tasked with rating these players, again they all receive the maximum mark. Saturday’s result was truly special and the performance of each player to achieve the team goal was remarkable.

SAM_1059The two upfront were simply too good for their opponents and they deserve all the praise they get. Clarke Carlisle tweeted after the game that James Hanson ‘owned him’ and he really did. Hanson won every header and dominated the tall Northampton back four. We constantly hear that Hanson is the under-rated player in this team, but he is certainly not. Opponents fear him and Saturday proved why.

I was there to see Hanson score at the Horsfall Stadium during his trial with club, and so to see a local lad ignite the wild celebrations at Wembley is an image both he and I will never forget. Together with his partner in crime, Nahki Wells, they were simply unstoppable.

Wells’ goal and all round display was there for all to see, but if there is one defining moment of his game, for me, it was him losing the ball in the first half. Silly you may think, but seeing Wells then bust a gut to retrieve it highlighted how hard this team was willing to work for each other.

SAM_1033Both goal scorers will grab the headlines, but they were aided by the team’s wide men. The two wingers had a hand in all three goals, with Kyel Reid producing one of his best performances of this season. After missing out on an appearance in the League Cup Final, Reid appeared to really enjoy his moment. I remember specifically, at one point, hearing the roar of those fans on the half way line. I was initially unsure what generated this sudden noise, only to see Reid geeing up the crowd. It’s these little moments that really stand out in my mind.

Like Reid, Gary Thompson had the better of his marker all game. I’ve always rated his footballing ability, but on Saturday it was his awareness in the penalty area that was most impressive. Both goals he played a part in were situations that could have caused a player to panic, but Thompson was coolness personified to pick out both strikers.

Nathan Doyle also got in on the act as a provider, setting up the second goal. It was deft ball to find Rory McArdle and it highlighted the all-round class which he has. Northampton are a physical team and we needed someone to match them. I felt Doyle was that man. At times he was robust, chomping at opponents feet. On other occasions, he was spreading the ball effortlessly around midfield.

SAM_1100Doyle justified his selection and I thought his work in tandem with Gary Jones overawed the Cobblers. Jones was again simply awesome in all aspects of the game. To see him salute and bow down the crowd really emphasised the strong relationship that has formed between the skipper and the fans. Previous generations of City fans talk about the idol, Stuart McCall. For this generation, we now have Gary Jones.

Talking of leaders, the centre halves were again first class. Firstly, McArdle’s goal is potentially as iconic as his header again Villa. If anything it was nearly an exact replica. I have talked in depth before about my feelings when he scored that goal and it was a surreal experience to have the exact same emotions this time round. Going 2-0 up changed the mood from possibility to a reality.

McArdle again was on hand to battle Clive Platt and, later, Adebayo Akinfenwa with Andrew Davies. The pair were fantastic foils for each other, with Davies his usual classy self. His positioning, reading of the game and ability to win balls that he shouldn’t were all on show on Saturday. Davies’ strengths are well documented and when the team needed him the most he was at his best.

The defensive quartet had so much balance and this largely due to the full backs. Stephen Darby’s cult status among the fans is growing and his performance on Saturday showed why. I felt Northampton’s tricky winger, Ishmel Demontagnac, was a potential match winner; but Darby completely nullified him. First and foremost he is a defender, but Darby offers so much energy in attack. This is such an advantage and, at times, Northampton didn’t know how to handle our forward surges from both right and left flank.

Like Darby, James Meredith, was brilliant. I should probably describe his role in the build up for the first goal, but it’s not the first thing I think of from Meredith’s appearance on Saturday. Midway through the second half, he won the ball in a crunching tackle. Able to quickly get back to his feet, he bombed forward in his menacing style and, in tandem with Reid, was able to win us a corner.

It’s amazing how important Darby and Meredith are in both attack and defence. Full backs don’t grab the attention that, say, a striker does; but these two offer so much to the team and both set the tone.

SAM_1086Wembley is a wonderful venue and the fans have fabulous views from which ever seat they sit in. However, there was one person with the best view of all – goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to Jon, but his team-mates in front of him made it so difficult for Northampton to get near City’s keeper. McLaughlin played a whole game relatively untested. When they did, most notably with the long throw in, he was up to the task, confidently taking through the barrages.

If there is an image of Jon on Saturday that I will remember, it is the one of him and Matt Duke side by side, trophy in hands, celebrating promotion together. Being a goalkeeper must be a lonely and sometimes selfish position. Our two keepers have battled against each other all season, but there is obviously a kinship between the pair.

It is here where my main point of this article lies. All these players have driven each other on to bigger and better things. Yes we have our stars, but our achievement on Saturday was down to the squad. Ricky Ravenhill deserved his run out. Whilst he may not have started the showpiece event, he has contributed massively in getting there. The same can be said of Alan Connell, Zavon Hines, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh and Michael Nelson.

SAM_1125This team ethos runs through to the management as well. Phil Parkinson is our leader and rightly deserves all the praise he received. But can you find an assistant as liked by us fans than Steve Parkin, or a fitness coach like Nick Allamby? The fact that Parkinson wants the contracts of his backroom staff sorted out at the same time as his own sums up the unity both on and off the pitch.

Saturday was unreal and I am so proud of this team. Alex summed it perfectly when he wrote, The thing about this team which makes all of this so perfect is that the entire squad, each one of them, are so likeable. They give everything they have in every moment, they never know when they are beaten, and the morale, the atmosphere is fantastic.”

Well done, Team Claret and Amber.

SAM_1028

Rotherham set back tests City’s powers of recovery

16 Apr

Bradford City 0

Rotherham United 2

Frecklington 80 (pen), Agard 90

Tuesday 16 April, 2013

By Jason McKeown

The margin of error is squeezed even tighter, the tension racked up another notch. If Bradford City are going to hold on to the top seven spot that they have occupied since last week, they need to recover from this set back very quickly.

Beaten by Rotherham, but not bettered. Pride dented, but not deflated. The sight of the Millers manager Steve Evans racing on to the pitch to celebrate his side’s game-sealing goal from Kieran Agard may have being the realisation of every City supporter’s worst fears, but there is no need to feel too despondent over this defeat.

It was unjust, it was unfortunate, it was unnerving. But come 3pm on Saturday, Bradford City will once again take to the Valley Parade field with their fate in their own hands. And if they play as well as they did for an hour this evening, they will surely take a giant step towards sealing an extended end to the season.

For this was a good display from the Bantams, against what must be acknowledged was a good Rotherham side. The visitors packed the midfield and defended with admirable heart; standing up to everything City could throw at them. In the early parts of 2013, an opposition side putting five in midfield was a sure-fire way to outgun City’s counterparts. But with Ricky Ravenhill once again producing a composed display in front of the back four, a simply outstanding Gary Jones stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the park.

It seemed as though City were set for a victory that would have all but secured seventh position, when after just four minutes James Hanson headed home a Jones corner. Celebrations were cut short by a linesman flagging for a push by Hanson on Claude Davis. False hope remerged 30 minutes later, when Garry Thompson finished off another Jones pass but was flagged offside.

Probably the right call that time at least, but a frustratingly inconsistent referee Mark Haywood got more wrong than he did right over the course of the evening. The only benefit for City was his leniency in letting Nahki Wells off with a warning after the Bermudian kicked the ball away when already on a booking. By that stage he had sent City’s assistant manager Steve Parkin to the stand for something said to the fourth official, after complaints were raised about Michael O’Connor’s reaction to a robust tackle.

Haywood’s over-officiating – rather than letting the game flow – played right into Rotherham’s hands, as Evans’ side chased and harassed for every decision whilst falling to the deck following the slightest of contacts. We have being here before, of course, with Evans’ Crawley side of a year ago behaving in the exact same manner. But what impressed me tonight was how little City’s players allowed themselves to be affected by Rotherham’s gamesmanship attempts and over-physicality. They stood up and simply got on with it.

When Rotherham bothered to engage themselves in a game of football, City for the most part looked comfortable dealing with their attacks. This was despite the obvious set back of losing Andrew Davies to injury after 24 minutes. It had been touch and go whether Davies was to be fit enough to play tonight and – in truth – starting him was a call City got wrong. Even during the game’s opening minutes, Davies’ struggle to run was evident. Michael Nelson came on and slotted in where he left off on Saturday, letting no one down.

However, another loss through injury – James Meredith on 50 minutes – tipped the balance back into Rotherham’s favour. Meredith’s replacement, Carl McHugh, has impressed previously in the less familiar left back role, but tonight was not such an occasion. The young defender’s hesitancy coming forward impacted on the previously impressive Kyel Reid, who suddenly found that being double marked was too much of a hindrance without Meredith to back him up. The balance of the team began to suffer.

Rotherham grew stronger, even if Jon McLaughlin’s goal was not tested anywhere near as threateningly than a Alex Revell header in the first half, but it began to look as though City were out of ideas. Wells has enjoyed much better nights than this – he got little change out of Davis – and though Hanson toiled hard, he was not able to dominate the Rotherham backline in the manner he has of other defences this season.

Then came the sting in the tail. Goalkeeper Scott Shearer pumped a long ball forward to Revell just inside City’s box, only for the Millers’ striker to push Nelson backwards, which resulted in the unsighted defender handling the ball. Haywood pointed to the spot, and Lee Frecklington expertly fired the penalty past McLaughlin. A dreadful, dreadful decision from Haywood, which had Phil Parkinson livid.

City pushed hard for an equaliser, with Alan Connell quickly summoned from the bench as part of a switch to 3-4-3. Wells might have done better with a header that he placed wide of the goal. Jones glanced another effort over the bar. Then Connell somehow shot wide with just Shearer to beat following Hanson’s flick on. It was a gilt-edged chance, and Connell was the one player on the pitch you’d have wanted that chance to fall to.

With the five minutes of injury time all but completed, one last City corner saw McLaughlin race forward. The ball was cleared to Agard, who was able to sprint clear of the back-tracking goalkeeper and tap the ball into the empty net. It was at this point a previously restrained Evans raced onto the pitch, with the highly disappointing sight of an object being thrown from the main stand towards him. It seemed some City fan had decided to join the Rotherham boss in the gutter.

For his own safety, Evans was quickly rushed to the dressing room by four stewards at the full time whistle. He paused only to clench his fist at the Rotherham fans who were celebrating wildly in the Bradford End. There is a good chance he will be back at Valley Parade in just over a fortnight, for a play off semi final first leg.

For that to happen, City probably need four points from their final two league matches to complete the job. That we have to play fourth-placed Burton and fifth-placed Cheltenham underlines just how there are no guarantees this will happen. Chesterfield, beaten also tonight, can still catch City, but Exeter remain the biggest threat to that last play off spot. One ear will be on events at St. James Park on Saturday.

City: McLaughlin, Darby (Connell 80), Davies (Nelson 24), McArdle, Meredith (McHugh 50), Thompson, Ravenhill, Jones, Reid, Hanson, Wells

Not used: Duke, Atkinson, Doyle, Hines

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