Tag Archives: Supporting

A very Good Friday

20 Apr

SAM_1710

By Philip Jackson

Andrew Davies is harder than I am, much harder.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~

Stephen Darby likes practising judo at throw ins.

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

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

~~~~~~~

Adam Reach can strike a ball.

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

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

~~~~~~~

Away fans are good.

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

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

~~~~~~~

Young girls may well prefer fairy stories.

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

~~~~~~~

Jonny Mac is a socialist.

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~

‘Some of us Made History’.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~~

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

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

Smells like Team Spirit?

7 Apr

SAM_2736

By Ron Beaumont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the outside looking in

27 Mar

 

Image by Alex Dodd

By Luke Lockwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who care, because we care

25 Mar

By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

But tonight will be number 16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fragmentation and imperfection

17 Mar

Mike (6)

By Jason McKeown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endure or enjoy?

10 Mar

SAM_2667

Written by Polly Penter (images by Mike Holdwsorth)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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These things I believe

3 Mar

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By Jason McKeown

Over the last 9-12 months, I’ve mellowed considerably in my emotions towards Bradford City. I don’t seem to feel the highs quite as much as I used to, but more importantly I don’t get caught up in the lows too badly either. Walking out of Valley Parade at full time on Saturday certainly carried a depressingly familiar sense of disappointment, but I couldn’t muster the outrage and anger that other people clearly seemed to.

Perhaps it’s due to becoming a dad for the first time and a change of perspective. Maybe it because of a significant health issue related to a family member that troubles the mind. There’s also the lingering sense of satisfaction gained from last season’s heroics that I refuse to let go of. It’s probably a bit of all three, but my old ways of screaming passionately in disgust at a poor referee, sulking all weekend following a defeat or raging at over-critical fellow supporters has faded inside of me.

I’m still deeply engaged by events at Valley Parade, just no longer as emotional.

I’ve no doubt that I’m in the minority on this one, as right now passions are clearly running very high amongst supporters. There is upset, outrage and hurt over recent form and about losing at home to the division’s bottom club. A panic from some that we at the beginnings of some sort of Bradford City apocalypse, one that will inevitably end with the club back in hell: League Two.

We don’t always have to be miserable

A few years ago, I wrote an article for BoyfromBrazil reflecting on where I saw the club in a decade’s time. My cynical answer was that I had no idea where we would be, but that I could guarantee one thing: we’d have something to moan about. As Bradford City sit in 11th position in League One and people are calling for the manager’s head – when on this weekend only two years ago I was watching us lose 1-0 at Dagenham & Redbridge, with City slumped near the bottom of League Two under the same manager – that answer seems so apt.

We will always have something to moan about: whether it be just, unfair or simply stupid. But I’m personally weary of joining in.

The simple truth is I enjoyed Saturday’s game for its entertainment. I wasn’t impressed at all with my team’s performance – we reacted badly to the situation, and the way the back four collapsed in Andrew Davies’ absence was alarming – but I admired the manner in which Stevenage approached what for them was a must-win game. I was impressed by the tactics of manager Graham Westley and the constant positional interchanging of the forward line, something the Bantams just couldn’t get to grips with. It was as though Jack Reynolds and Sam Alladyce had got together and created a new template for Total Football.

Stevenage were a team fighting for their lives and playing out of their skin, whilst we were a side which had arguably relaxed that little bit too much, losing with it some focus. Prior to the match Adam Reach talked on the radio of embarking on a late play off push, but relegation worries had not been fully extinguished by those previous back-to-back victories. We still needed to concentrate on ensuring our League One survival. Our goal prior to kick off should have been the same as Stevenage’s; but on and off the pitch we looked as though we believed ourselves to be above them.

Yet still, Stevenage were bottom for a reason and for all City’s complacency the players could and should have taken something from the game. Three quarters of a season in League One has shown that we belong here and that – if not amongst the best sides – we are not one of the worst. City had the chances to have won a match in which they didn’t play well, but perhaps the biggest lesson to take from the game is that we aren’t yet good enough to win games, at this level, when under-performing.

The mask has slipped, but Parkinson is still the man

The knives have been out for Parkinson since the Carlisle defeat. There are things that he has not got right this season, not least the summer transfer business which has proven to be wholly unsuccessful. The sight of Mark Yeates as a late substitute was a reminder that not one of the players that Parkinson brought in during the close season have impressed, and this has led to the team stagnating over the autumn and winter months. The January shake-up has had some impact, but mid-season is not a time for revolution. Parkinson has to largely make do with what he has, but I do believe there is enough quality in his charges to ensure relegation fears are put to bed before the final few matches. Then, he needs a successful summer in the transfer market – one similar to 2012.

The knives have been out for Parkinson – and the reality is that this is unlikely to change. The manager previously enjoyed widespread popularity, but now the mask has slipped. Too many people have publically made their feelings known. Disgruntlement was never going to be extinguished by back-to-back victories. There will be quietness in good times, but a loud lack of patience during the bad. That is going to be the soundtrack to the coming weeks and months, and it’s a well-versed tale at Valley Parade; one that, sadly, usually has a predictable ending.

The positive for Parkinson is that he clearly enjoys the backing of the majority of supporters. That much was obvious when he took to the dugout ahead of the Port Vale game and received a rapturous reception from the home crowd. He will need to count upon these fans to continue to rally behind him in order to succeed. I felt proud of the way that most supporters rationally reacted to the ‘one win in 21’. Parkinson’s considerable past achievements had afforded him – and continue to afford him – a level of patience and understanding.

I find myself dismayed by the reactions of those who want Parkinson to go; so much so I struggle to find the motivation to read or listen to their views. I’d love to hear constructive and thought-provoking arguments for why a change of manager is the answer, but I just don’t see any put forward. On Saturday night I logged onto Claret & Banter and the first comment I read was that Parkinson should “f**k off back down South” (erm, he was born in Chorley) and it was easier just to log off than read any further and become enraged. When I read Tweets like this (warning: bad language features) I utterly despair at the shocking lack of respect.

If Parkinson is chased out of the club with pitchforks then I might seriously consider joining him. Not because I’d be upset not to get my way, but because of the nature of the abuse that one of the club’s greatest managers is receiving leaves me feeling embarrassed.

He deserves better.

Greater perspective is needed

The back-to-back victories over Port Vale and MK Dons were vital. Just contemplate what the League One table would look like now without them: City would be 18th, but only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. Those two results really mattered, and two-and-a-half years of Parkinson at the helm have seen him repeatedly triumph in those must-win contests; grinding out victories when the chips are down. Not since Chris Kamara have City employed a manager who is so successful at achieving wins when they really, really matter.

For this reason and many others, I firmly back the manager. I’m proud to be pro-Parkinson (or #IPWT, if you will) and instances like a failure to deal with #StevenageTotalFootball don’t change my view. I believe he is capable of keeping us in League One, and – despite an unsuccessful record in the transfer market of late – am confident he can rebuild this team to take the club to the next level: challenging for the League One play off places.

Beyond the football, I also believe in what the club is trying to achieve. I have every faith that Julian Rhodes understands what it takes to run a successful football club, and that thanks to David Baldwin there has been considerable off-the-field progress which can be continued.

Before Saturday’s match, City’s Chief Executive spoke on local radio about the season ticket initiative and the continued development of the training facilities (City have moved forwards on the pitch considerably since those lingering training ground issues were finally addressed). Baldwin talked about the cheap season ticket prices as a ‘club ethos’ and an eighth consecutive season of low prices can indeed be certainly considered a long-term, established strategy.

We should be proud of that season ticket ethos, but in many ways it is now taken for granted and – inevitably – criticised by some. When (or if) you renew, please feel a sense of pride in what the club is trying to do. The increased crowds and wonderful atmosphere at most home games this season demonstrate the positive effects of people before profit.

We will be okay

I think that the club’s overall progression – if not reflected in the short-term form guide – is evident enough to avoid any temptation to rip things up right now. Sacking Parkinson, less than a year into his three-year contract, would cost a considerable sum of money and risk jeopardising the forwards momentum. As Rhodes told the T&A on Friday when reflecting on the patience most fans have afforded the manager, “Phil has earned that right for what he has done in the last two years. We always talk about honest, hard-working players. That’s exactly what he is as a manager and we all appreciate that….With a manager like that, people give him time and all the support he needs.”

It’s hard to determine if this season is going to be looked back upon as enjoyable or labourous, but I know one thing at least – 2013/14 sure beats the 12 years that preceded 2012/13’s heroics. Perhaps more accurately, this has become a season of transition (with all the good and bad things that come with that).

My own, mellow outlook is that the short-term noise of defeats like Saturday are something not to get too caught up about, and that the ups and downs of a football season need to be measured against the bigger picture. The issues of the day are just that – for the day. The long-term outlook is hugely promising. Accuse me of my head in the sand, of wearing rose-tinted spectacles or whatever; but I’m personally very happy with the way the club is operating, and believe that we will ultimately get to where we want to be.

And in the meantime, I’m going to try and enjoy the ride – and enjoy the fact it no longer seems to ruin my weekends.

League Cup miracle, one year on: Aston Villa part two

22 Jan

Width of a Post’s retrospective look back on last year’s astonishing League Cup run continues, as one year ago today Bradford City went to Villa Park and experienced one of the greatest nights in its history. Jason McKeown re-lives his evening.

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Two topics have dominated almost every conversation I have been part of since the League Cup semi final first leg, two weeks ago. The first – and most obvious – is whether we can we finish off the job at Villa Park. The other is the bloody weather.

Snow is covering up large parts of the country, especially down in the West Midlands. It presents hazardous driving conditions and prompts numerous warnings from TV weathermen to “only travel where absolutely necessary”. I’m spending a good chunk of my lunchtimes at work carefully monitoring the BBC weather 5-day forecasts. Will Villa Park be accessible? What sort of state is the M6 likely to be in on Tuesday 22 January, 2013?

Seven days before the big match we are halfway down the M6 – at Crewe – watching a 4-1 JPT defeat, with no one’s mind fully on the job. We are due to return to the same M6 junction on Saturday for a league meeting with Port Vale, but the game is called off on the Friday due to the weather. Good news for the players’ freshness for Tuesday, but more apprehension about getting to see it. The weather, the bloody weather. It could ruin everything.

The match itself won’t be in any doubt of course. Villa Park is a Premier League ground with undersoil, snow-destroying heating. And the fact that the game is live on Sky means the pressure of TV scheduling will be too great to worry about whether us ordinary supporters can actually make it. Keep watching the weather forecast, keep hoping. “Only travel where absolutely necessary.” A once-in-a-lifetime, major cup semi final, 100+ miles away obviously meets that requirement.

Distraction comes from planning. I’m driving to Villa Park – I drive to most away games – and with me will be my trusted friend and long-time City watching-partner, Steve. Then Luke, who sits next to me at work, asks if he can have a lift too. And then Kev – husband of our fellow work colleague Becky – is added to make it four. In the pub before the first leg against Villa, I’m introduced to a young lad named Sam. He will later find out that his Villa Park travel plans have fallen through, so gets in touch with me for help. Five of us in a car, this could be fun.

The planning is focused upon getting down there as quickly as possible, thereby allowing us a cushion to cope with any snow-caused travel delays. Some of my friends are setting off to Birmingham first thing, others are departing at 4pm. Me and Luke are on a half day at work so we agree to set off straightaway at 12.30pm. A military-precise schedule is devised for picking up Steve, Kev and Sam. We need to be firmly on our way by 1300 hours.

The distraction of snow and car pick ups is more welcome than I realise. It stops me thinking solely about the match itself. But as I wake up on the morning of the second leg semi final, fear and apprehension strikes heavily. Tonight, our emotions are laid on the line. It is all or nothing. A night of hedonism we can scarcely dream of, should City triumph, or a night of total and utter despair. There’s nothing in-between. I feel excited and concerned at different moments – but most of all I’m just utterly, utterly nervous.

The morning at work goes by slowly – painfully slowly – but finally it is 12.30pm. Close the lap top, quick change of clothes, get in the car with Luke. Get Sam, then Kev, then Steve. It all works perfectly and we are on our way to Villa Park. From Skipton through the traffic bottle-neck town of Colne and onto the M65, finally reaching the M6 junction. Weather conditions aren’t perfect but they’re more than passable. TalkSport keeps us company as the widely-felt nerves limit any great conversation.

Me and Kev are both due to become fathers for the first time during the summer, and as we whizz down the M6 talking about the realities of having a pregnant partner, I’m left secretly hoping that our children will grow up as friends, willing to one day be regaled by the tale of how the two dads once went to Villa Park together for a League Cup semi final.

By the time we reach Birmingham the late afternoon winter darkness has crept over and the snow on the ground is a lot deeper than it was in Yorkshire. We spot Villa Park’s floodlights and begin looking for somewhere to park. TalkSport’s Adrian Durham comes on air and does his best to quell our excitement with some rather unexpected views on our prospects of tonight’s game. For some reason deeply concerned about that widely unloved competition, the Europa League, he expresses hope that we lose tonight in case we accidently qualify to play in it. “For the good of English football, Bradford City must lose tonight.”

Ouch.

No matter, we are parked up and struggling to walk through the snow. A plan was in place to catch a train into Birmingham city centre to meet other friends for a beer, but it takes an age to find the nearby train station. When finally we do and are stood at the platform waiting for a train, my mobile rings. Change of plan, they’re coming to us. “Meet you in the Witton Arms”. We head out of the station; walk past Villa Park and find the said pub – where it seems most City fans are congregating.

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It is £2 to enter the Witton Arms, but there’s an unexpected bonus beyond the beer being reasonably cheap: you get to leave your fear at the gate outside. As we head around the corner of the building towards its main entrance, we are greeted by the sight of hundreds of City fans stood in the beer garden, loudly chanting about the team. Inside the pub it is a similar story – you can barely get through the door – and after we buy our pints, the five of us gather back outside to enjoy the mood. The rest of our friends are soon here to meet us, and the buzz is huge.

You leave your fear at the gate and revel in the moment. The beer garden is bulging with City fans and the chanting is non-stop. Rattle through the classics; stay warm through singing at the top of your voice. This is fantastic.

I feel electric. Forget the match, being here and part of these scenes ensures we will at least have some fond memories to take from tonight. The weather seems to be getting worse, but we’re here and we are parked up. Nothing is going to stop us from witnessing history.

Soon enough we decide to make the short, two-minute walk to the ground. At the gate where we paid £2, our fear is handed back to us like a coat stored in a nightclub cloakroom. This is it. This is it. Through the turnstiles, through the concourse and out into the away section. There’s half an hour to kick off and the ground feels very empty. The players warm up in front of us. The calm before the storm.

As is the way with all football stadiums, the home stands remain empty-looking until just before the match begins, but then suddenly become packed out. A fantastic sight. I’ve been here once before, back in the Premiership years, but wasn’t that impressed at the time. Tonight, Villa Park is imposing and feels rich with history. What a wonderful stadium, what a wonderful venue at which to complete the job.

The flags – where did they come from? Just before kick off, the 34,000 Villa fans present start waving claret flags and making an almighty racket. Gulp. The task at hand grows that bit larger in size. There are 6,500 of us City fans here, singing our hearts out too, but we are very much the little guys. They are the big bad wolves, now huffing and puffing at the door. There are three divisions between us, and all they need to do is beat us by three goals to smash our dream.

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The first half is horrible. I can barely look. Our players freeze, their players roar forwards and take the game to us. We are pinned back, barely able to touch the ball. The home fans are loud, so very loud. All of the worry and effort to be here tonight, and now I just want these 90 minutes to be over.

After we appeared to have weathered the early storm, Zavon Hines doesn’t get tight enough to the full back Matt Lawton and Christian Benteke menacingly volleys the resultant cross into the net. Feel the noise. The home fans are loud, so very loud. A few seconds later they score again, but it is disallowed for offside. Breathe. Soon after Benteke wastes a glorious chance to make it 2-0 and level the tie. Stephen Ireland is pulling the strings. I can’t look. This is torture. Our dream is being torn to shreds right in front of our eyes. The home fans are loud, so very loud.

Half time brings a huge relief. I look at my phone and amongst the numerous texts there is a delightfully sarcastic one from my boss, watching on TV at home. “Sky have sent home the cameraman covering the end you’re attacking,” he says. “There is nothing for them to film.”

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The second half begins better for us. We seem more of the ball, and Villa are knocking on the door less frequently. Still, it’s going to be a long 45. If only we could score. Ha! No chance. But then Hines wins a corner that is swung in and cleared for another. Gary Jones – stood a few yards in front of us – prepares to have another go. Prepares to take aim.

I’m sure there were a couple of seconds in-between James Hanson heading the ball into the net and the commencement of my celebrations. I had a clear view of the goal (and I can still picture my angle of it from inside Villa Park, one year on) but my mind simply refused to believe what I saw as Hanson’s header flew past Shay Given. I stood still and froze – did that really just happen?

Then, pandemonium.

We all completely lost the plot celebrating – one of my friends loses his glasses, twice. I’m hugging people next to me, in front of me, behind me. Jumping up and down for what seemed like half an hour. When I came to, everyone is still hugging each other and one of my friends even has to have a sit down, he is so shocked and overwhelmed. This just happened. This really did just happen.

And now, the Villa fans are so quiet, so very quiet.

The game completely changes. Villa don’t react well to the blow of conceding, they fall apart in front of our eyes. The singing is coming almost entirely from the 6,500 City fans, who are on cloud nine. The team more likely to score next – incredibly – is us. Hanson should really have a second but mis-directs a header. Then substitute Garry Thompson smacks a shot against the bar with his first touch. Villa are on the ropes. It would just take one more jab to finish them off. But no matter, time is running out and we are ready to score a points victory.

Minutes away from stoppage time, another sub, Blair Turgott, nearly throws it all away. He has the ball by Villa’s corner flag and just needs to keep it there. Inexplicably, he crosses it into a penalty area that is occupied by just one City player. Given easily catches the ball, boots it down the field and Andreas Wiemann runs around Matt Duke to score.

F~^k.

The game is back in the balance. One more Villa goal and they force extra time. Four minutes of stoppage time still to play. The Villa fans are loud, so very loud. They force a corner. I can’t watch. I have to watch. The corner is cleared. Villa win back to the ball. I can’t watch. I have to watch.

The fourth minute of stoppage time is over, and we are just about there. The realisation of what we are about to achieve begins to sink in, and I have tears rolling down my face. All my football-supporting life I have dreamed of going to a major cup final. I never thought it would ever actually happen, but here we are. The final whistle blows, and somewhere on the Sky TV gantry Martin Tyler immortalises the moment with the words “Bradford City go to Wembley, Bradford City go to Wembley”.

The League Two side has defeated the Premiership club. A bad thing for English football, apparently – but an incredible thing for us.

We’re cheering just as wildly as when Hanson scored 40 minutes earlier. The players are going potty in front of us, looking as disbelieving as ourselves. This sort of thing never happens. Never. We are going to Wembley stadium for a major cup final. The City fans are loud, so very loud.

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I don’t know how long we celebrate for, but before long Villa Park is empty apart from the 6,500 City fans. The lights are switched off, “We’ll sing in the dark” is the chant. But eventually we head out into the Birmingham night. In all the chaos me and Steve eventually find Luke, Kev and Sam so we can head towards the car. We’re hugging each other, talking like five-year-olds on Christmas day morning. Villa fans come up and wish us good luck for the final. I look at my mobile and I have dozens of congratulatory text messages and several missed calls.

We finally get back to the car and we’re back on the motorway surprisingly quickly. In the rear view mirror I take one last look at the floodlights – and realise I’ve not stopped smiling for the best part of an hour.

This feeling, this pride – you want to bottle it up forever. I was at Molinuex when City were promoted to the Premier League 14 years ago, but this somehow feels even more exhilarating. Hanson’s goal was one that I have celebrated like no other. Football supporting doesn’t get better than nights like these; where the sense of achievement is incalculable and the realisation of what’s still to come leaves you excited that this party is a long way from being over.

The conversation is not going to change for weeks yet.

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Read our look back on the League Cup miracle

Bradford City 3 Aston Villa 1

Bradford City 1 Arsenal 1 (City win 3-2 on pens)

Wigan Athletic 0 Bradford City 0 (City win 4-2 on pens) 

Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

The early rounds

Don’t die with the music in you

17 Jan

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Sheffield United vs Bradford City preview

@Bramall Lane on Saturday 16 January, 2014

By Phil Abbott

Every football club has potential. Every football player has potential. Every football fan has potential. We must now seize it collectively, as the degree of positivity or negativity in which these three facets are matched to each other (and ultimately played out) may be a sizeable indicator as to the imminent direction our team might expect to take.

Over the past year, there has been a lot to celebrate. We will always have our great memories. In equal measure, we will always feel some regret about how those memories have been archived in history, and more-so in recent days, stolen with such genuine pain. However, we need to move on, and quickly. In my mind, City as a club, the players and their fans, need to take a collective approach to navigate the coming months.

Now is the time that we need wise words and positive thoughts, not hysteria and negativity. I’m not the one to offer the latter, but quite possibly equipped to impart the former. I will try at least.

The need to turn in a rousing performance against Sheffield United is acute. This is not merely because they are historically perceived to be one of the bigger lower league clubs, or that they are a big draw for the crowds. Indeed, neither is it the case just because they are one of our fierce local rivals, but because at this point in time, we need to ensure that the wheels of the Bradford City Express which ploughed their way into the play-off scene in the early months of the season find the track once again.

To a man, everyone associated with the club has a will to turn around our recent poor form, but just wanting something to happen is in no way guaranteed to make it happen. To this end, there needs to be a plan; one that makes a difference, one where everyone plays their part. After an eventful seven days, now is as good a time as any to review our philosophy, whether player, director or fan.

At this stage, many teams might sit and lick their wounds, or lament the bitter loss of their ‘hero designate’. Others might succumb to the acceptance of mid-table mediocrity, as the comfort zone of an early season points haul shelters their season from the doom and gloom of a relegation scrap. This must not happen at Bradford City and we all have a role to play – continuing on Saturday.

I’d draw on the philosophy of one of Australia’s greatest, most widely respected and successful Rugby League coaches, Wayne Bennett, for some wise sound bites. I’ve done this before. It is his coaching mantra that always strikes a chord with me when I’m looking for inspiration to seize the moment. He simply says, ‘Don’t die with the music in you’

The Bristol City match aside, and following the exciting arrival of Aaron McLean, life after ‘he who should not be mentioned’ demands a slate wiped clean for the scribing of the next chapter of the turbulent, yet eventful life of Bradford City FC, which begins when we face a struggling Sheffield United team at Bramall Lane tomorrow.

Forget the injuries, the departures, the form guides, the disagreements, for when Saturday comes, we need to see the music, feel the music and hear the music. It needs to pour out of everyone who loves this club. It’s time for the players to stand up and be counted, pull their socks up, puff out their chests and play like they did over and over again last season. It’s time for the fans to stand united, unanimous in their unwavering support for our team.

If our last away day outing at Notts County is anything to go by, we need to improve dramatically to turn that depressing New Years Day ‘Pathetique’ into a glorious ‘Ode to Joy’.

Please – no more tight calf complaints, no more makeshift wingers, no more square pegs in round holes. We’ve spent too many Saturday evenings avoiding Goals Express and The Football League Show in recent weeks. Saturday’s fixture is a prime opportunity to settle the score. The South Yorkshire club are themselves low on morale, struggling to find any consistency, trudging in that listless depression and obscurity that us seasoned City fans became all too accustomed to in recent years. They are an injured beast, a point above the drop zone, and we must show no mercy.

Whilst our recent form and battered spirit has bottomed us out, the last couple of days might just have galvanised the City resolve enough to rediscover the positive vibes that so famously permeated the club only months ago. We have to believe. We have to meet our potential – all of us.

Our ‘best team’ is work in progress until the transfer window closes and will continue to be so until our injury list begins to subside, yet, ready or not, at kick-off time tomorrow, we can only hope that the club’s management have continued to cement the positive direction of our club by closing in on further permanent, resourceful signings. This club should not be prepared to accept playing second fiddle to anyone in this division.

We can only hope that the players can express their desire to sail this club into Championship waters, uncharted in a decade, with renewed vigour and energy, starting by giving a virtuosic performance on the Bramall Lane turf. We know the music is in them and if last year is anything to go by, it’s an unbelievably immense tune.

Finally readers, as fans, we need to realise our own potential. We can only hope that our terrific fans can sing their hearts out until their throats are sore, blunting the Blades faithful and rousing the passions of our own followers in a chorus that even the celestial choirs would struggle to emulate. Manager Parkinson – and many who have been there before – know the tangible value of this incredible vocal backing.

Whatever your role on Saturday, ‘don’t die with the music in you’, but let’s all sing from the same song-sheet and let’s do it long after the weekend too. I wonder if our next composition might be in glorious praise of Aaron Mclean, or young protégé Oli McBurnie?

League Cup miracle, one year on: Aston Villa part one

8 Jan

Continuing Width of a Post’s retrospective look back on last year’s astonishing League Cup run, one year ago today Aston Villa came to Valley Parade for the first leg of the semi finals. Alex Scott re-lives an unforgettable night.

“Ohhhh my goodness! It is McHugh!!! It is three one!!!”

Bradford City 3 Aston Villa 1

I’ve watched this game a bunch of times; more than any other. Even someone who vicariously lives through sports as much as me doesn’t really watch sports events back multiple times. I have a DVD of the last Ryder Cup, bought in an attempt of forced nostalgia, but I’ve only started it once, and skipped to the denouement right away. Looking through my computer, I’ve a video of the David Tyree Super Bowl from a few years back, and a replay of the epic NBA Finals Game 6 from last year. I’ve no idea why I have these.

Needless to say, I’ve never watched them back. I suppose it’s an adrenaline thing, sports. Without that ticking clock inside you, televised sports are just watching people run about. Watching sports when delayed from real time is awful, even when you haven’t had the result spoiled. Something happens when you become disconnected with the wider world’s timeline. That’s why the vast majority of TV I watch is live sport, even sport I don’t even care about, especially sports in the middle of the night. I see you Winter Olympics, I’ll be there don’t you worry.

The Aston Villa game is an exception.

I must have watched the 10-minute video highlights package on Bantams Player a 100 times. I know every beat, every moment of the game. All the ebbs and flows. I know what Martin Tyler is going to say even before he does. In the two weeks between this game and the second leg I reckon I watched that video at least once a day.

My Dad has each of televised games from last year saved on his TiVo, and every time I’m back in Yorkshire I normally wind up watching at least one. And regardless of the meaning of the Arsenal game, or the return leg yet to come, or the final, this is the game I normally pick. The act of clicking play is the ignition in the Delorean.

Each time I watch it my mind (and body) are instantly transported back to how they were that night, fraught and manic to within an inch of the extreme, not knowing which way to turn. Sitting in the front room, with Martin and Don Goodman alongside for the ride, my heart is pounding.

This game is a time machine. Emotions were that high, the pressure was that intense. A year ago, only a year ago. In many ways I can’t believe it actually was a year ago; in more I can’t believe it was only that.

————

Don’t look to the future, because you’ll break it somehow. You’re only allowed to think and hope in the present tense. From the final whistle against Arsenal until February. Never look forward. You’ll jinx it.

This feeling is so novel. I normally only look at the long-term, it’s a wonderful excuse for the underwhelming present. Not today. No distractions needed. I’m excited and I just want to enjoy it. Or I was anyway.

I think it must have happened sometime between my office in London and St James’ Park tube station, but I can’t really remember. There wasn’t a dawning moment in particular that sticks with me; just two senses of being: one of childlike excitement, and one of abject terror.

It’s definitely dawned now in King’s Cross, as the fiver I had earmarked for an extravagant McDonald’s just wound up going on four cans of lager from M&S, panicked. Now I’m in my seat on the 1605 to Leeds 10 minutes early, my knee jigging like I’m a getaway driver waiting for an accomplice. How did I get here?

I had been excited. Even in the office not 30 minutes ago I took my colleagues’ best wishes in my stride, nonchalantly batting them back with a smile like Alastair Cook, circa January 2013. I was no longer excited. An army of Mitchell Johnsons were careering down the carriage toward me, and I only had a willow and an England helmet to protect myself.

It feels like the barrier coming down over top of me at the start of a rollercoaster. My heart is racing. The anxiety, the mania is beginning. There is nowhere to go. No control. I can only live in this moment, and I’m too preoccupied to do anything. Don’t look down. Don’t look down.

The patchy Hertfordshire phone signal means that I can’t even take up the most millennial of distractions and “read” Twitter. Not that any actual reading takes place, just instinctive pulling down on a screen, eyes scattergunning anywhere and nowhere. Instead I’m just sat, staring out of the window, looking vacant. I hope I’m blinking.

I suppose this comes with every big game. This is normal, right? It’s normal. And quit asking yourself questions, that’s what crazy people do. This is definitely different from the Arsenal game, the last time I’d pulled the 17-hour office-to-office round trip. That was fun. I was carefree on that one.

Even my reflected eyes in the window pane look nervous. I’m just rolling into Leeds city centre, that was fast. Thankfully those beers, plus those I two I bought from the man somewhere around Grantham, had the desired effect: the edge has been taken off.

After the quick connection up to Forster Square, I’ve just got the jaunt up Manningham Lane to the ground, the same trip I’ve done a thousand times. This mundane walk, those bloody Forster Square stairs I always think I’m at the top of one flight before I actually am, the same route I’ve walked a thousand times before. Another dawning moment. The excitement is beginning to coming back. Everywhere, the people. Everywhere.

In the weeks leading up, and this afternoon in the office, tonight felt like a pipedream. Even though I knew it would be real at some point, it didn’t really feel like it. Once the journey up began, that awareness dawned on me I guess. This is real, and this is massive. Everywhere. Look. This is real! And this is massive! This is alien. People talk about electricity in the air, it always sounds like one of those silly things people say, but there is something. Excitement by osmosis perhaps?

Walking across Hamm Strasse, seeing the lights from the ground streaming up from beyond the houses, calling like a homing beacon. I’m on the upwards incline of the rollercoaster. The heart is picking up, the pace of everything is firing. But I’m calm. In control. The shirts everywhere, half-and-half scarf salesmen from somewhere and everywhere, the Villa fans spilling out of the pubs, making an unholy racket in a Tesco’s car park, it was all real.

YIPPEEIIIAAA!!! YIPPEEEIIIOOO!!! This was how the other half lived, and this was fantastic. That noise. That noise.

I

You couldn’t say it had been coming. The corner was just a vent if anything. I wasn’t even sure it was a corner, not from where I was looking. A moment to breathe, that’s all it was. A release of pressure which even at this stage felt like it was about to crush. They were coming for us, and they were on top of us. Every time they attacked it looked as if the hastily assembled force field behind the makeshift back four would be breached. Christian Benteke was towering above our back line; every ball forward inextricably caught within his gravitational pull. This wasn’t the Villa I signed up for. Where was the disarray? The angst?

I still think it was handball. That was my initial reaction: screaming penalty just as the balled rolled into the corner of the net, disorientated, not really knowing what just happened. To this day I watch Zavon Hines’ shot; the imperious Howard Webb’s booming arms swipe across his body to indicate no infraction, and still don’t really understand.

After seeing the ball nestle in the corner, as I imagine most did, my eyes shot down the right touchline to the linesman waiting for the inevitable. The drop was coming. Yet nothing materialised. I still didn’t understand.

The Yippeeiiiaaas from across the Valley fell silent for the first time in forever, and even from way back here you could see the whites in the opponents’ eyes. You could see it. You could feel it. They could see in ours that we felt it. That noise. It might not have been a standing eight, but they were rocking. They were rocking because they felt it. That noise.

————

This is top of the world I think. I could just peek out over the Midland Road stand into the illuminated Yorkshire night to illustrate the great heights of where I am, but I can’t look away from this, I can’t take a moment to breathe. I’ll just have to take my own word for it. We’ve had the first release of the ride, but this is white knuckle. I can’t look away, I can’t think about breathing, I can’t look away.

Every attack they look like scoring. I haven’t prepared myself for this. Why didn’t I prepare myself better for this? Brace! Wide. Saved. Saved. Saved. There are prolonged seconds, minutes it feels where I don’t dare breathe lest it distract them down there, lest Matt lose his balance from the weight of my angst and mania. The hysteria appears to be everywhere. Saved. My friends are speaking to me, I’m not registering what they`re saying. Just smile. Wide. I can’t hear myself think anymore. Am I even thinking? Our fans are as loud as can be; their fans are turning, they’re turning!

It feels like my eyes are one more direct run from Charles N’Zogbia away from falling out of their sockets completely. The insides of my body are bouncing back and forth from skin to skin. I wish I had some alcohol to calm me down and just numb everything. I can’t take it.

Just don’t say anything, don’t think anything, stay in the present tense, stay in the present tense. Don’t look away. Brace! Saved. Don’t look down.

II

Nahki Wells was on the run for our lives. Respite had been harder to find in recent times. We’d barely reached half past nine; still far too long on the clock to think of the end. Behind him a gaggle of compatriots desperate for air; in front an ocean of green.  He was on the run, and he had to move now. The Kop were pulling him forward towards their open grasps, screaming at the rope in front of them.

Seconds were ticking off the clock. We’d just managed to dodge the best chance they were ever going to get to kill us off; this was our chance. The ball spun away for a corner and it felt like everyone in attendance knew. We’ve all watched enough football to know. Tick.

They were exhausted after 75 minutes of firing at our shape shifting target; any defensive reorganisation we could draw may lead to slip, a momentary slip. Nathan Baker a little slow; Ciaran Clark a little late. Just once. And like that… he’s gone. “The busiest footballer in the land!!!…”

The five minutes from Bent’s miss, to that header was the key period in the tie. A different outcome there, and that was that.  I remember wanting to start a conversation before the corner to attempt to reverse jinx the moment by reemphasising its potential importance, because just if… but shhhhh. Don’t look down. I instinctively grabbed my Dad’s shoulder. “Holy shit he’s unmarked!”

The rest is noise.

————

Is… Is this happening? I mean, if we could ju… Shhhh! Nobody say anything! Nobody think! Don’t say anything. Don’t think. The mania is here. This is real, this is real this is happening this is happening is this happening? The noise I can’t think I can’t breathe I can’t the noise the noise don’t look down don’t look down don’t look.

CRACK.

III

That was it. That was the chance. The chance. It had to be. Villa were dazed and confused; the defenders playing with invisible blinkers covering their eyes. James Hanson had a similar chance in the first half where he’d got a step on Ciaran Clark and it was scrambled off the line. But there was no Fabian Delph to save them this time.

It was a great ball in from Blair Turgott; he couldn’t have placed it more perfectly within that twenty yard defensive vacuum around the Villa penalty spot. They were coming apart at the seams. The noise, the moment had overwhelmed them; the referee had eight fingers up and Ciaran Clark was blinking.

Crack.

That was it. The momentum that had been built up, the hysteria snapped in an instant as everyone in attendance breathed out in unison “that was it”. We were all back in the room. Still twelve minutes left. “Away goals count right? Damn.”

As Hanson lay prostrate in the penalty box, no salvation coming, embodying how we all felt. All the momentum evaporated into the ether, and Lady Luck, our lieutenant of so many weeks in a row stepped out for a fag.

Five minutes later and the hammer dropped. There were about three minutes in there between the McArdle bullet and the crossbar where we could have dreamt. Now it was gone. I must have looked down. Reality was now at the door. One split second of indecision from our teenage centre half, and that was it. All of this would end up being an inconsequential detour. I’d have taken that this afternoon; I’d have taken it on Hamm Strasse. But not now. Not after all this. The Football Gods are cruel but even for them, this is rough.

There are still probably ten minutes left to see off; and that just dawned on everyone. Tick. Tick.

YIPPEEEIIIAAA!!! YIPPEEEIIIOOO!!! 

————

Reality bites like a stomach punch. I didn’t prepare myself well enough to deal with this. Home plate was within sight and we’re going to be left stranded on third. That had to be it. The away goal. And they were coming again. Just don’t look. Don’t look Forget down, just close your eyes.

Maybe this is OK? I mean, what more could we have hoped for, really? It’s not like we were ever going to qualify over two legs. But we’ve given them a real go here. We’ve still got a chance of a lead, not enough to protect, but enough to valiantly go down in flames in triumphant defeat. In a world like this, isn’t that the best anyone can hope for?

This is the first time I’ve looked down in 80 minutes. This is truly remarkable. Like a hypnotist has brought me back into the room and I can see all the staring faces around me, smiling. The rollercoaster carriage has floated off into the dark nothing, the adrenaline has gone, and my mind has cleared.

I wonder if this feeling is the norm in the parallel universe. The romantic in me wants to think of it like the world on the other side of Geoffrey Richmond’s coin. If he decided to swallow his hubris that summer and realised that the manager was the most important thing, this is the world we could have been living in. Night games at a packed Valley Parade, Sky cameras abound, Aston Villa in town. “…Oh it must be! And it is!!!…”

Is this feeling normal over there, or is that manic excitement from before the norm? Would they feel that? Wouldn’t they want to? Maybe this had been a dream. Or maybe everything else in between that fateful summer and this had been.

Back in the room. Go on Blair son, get at him! One more chance? Here we go again. Free spin of the wheel, house money on the table. Quick glance at the scoreboard. Tick? Don’t look down.

IV

Every time I think of that moment; I relive it with Don. I flip back through my memory tapes, and see that corner curl away to the penalty spot from my vantage point high in the Co-op; eyes drawn to Carl McHugh running away from me, with a step. But even in this video in my mind, I hear that noise. That release of breath. A disbelieving squeal. Don. 

Just like the second goal, home and away fans, players and managers alike; everyone knew. There were no calls to keep the ball in the corner, despite the proximity to a famous victory. No whistles for the referee. This is the chance. This is the moment. We’ve all seen enough football to know. It had to be put on the penalty spot for someone to become a hero…  

“Ohhh!” That noise. Don.

That noise is my memory of it really. Of course I remember the goal from both angles, mine from high above in the Co-op and ours together from the other side through the lens. But my first instinct, like a hypnotist’s bell, is that noise, followed by the rapturous cacophony from behind the goal. In my head, Don was sat next to me, leaping into the air alongside. In that moment it felt like we were all Don Goodman.

That moment would last for two weeks. That euphoria lasted for two weeks, as if I was drunk the whole time. Every moment on the tube, every moment in a queue down the shop, every moment staring at but not really watching TV, was that moment. I didn’t need to fiddle with my phone anymore. I didn’t need to occupy my mind anymore. I didn’t need any more.

The prize wasn’t financial, it wasn’t hierarchical. Because at the end of the day, whatever right? The prize was that moment. That memory. That noise.  

“And all of a sudden, we’re dreaming again, Martin. We are dreaming… again.”

————

I don’t remember what else I did that night. I wake up at the same point every time. Those moments, and the subsequent two weeks are just a haze. I don’t remember what I did, when, or with whom. It feels like I just pressed the pause button in my mind for that fortnight. Refusing to look down. Never look down. I spent most of it with Don Goodman.

My cup of tea has gone cold on the table. Every time.

______________________________________________

Read our look back on the League Cup miracle

Bradford City 1 Arsenal 1 (City win 3-2 on pens)

Wigan Athletic 0 Bradford City 0 (City win 4-2 on pens) 

Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

The early rounds

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