Tag Archives: Supporting

The privileged

20 Jul

 

the warm up

Shelbourne 0 

Bradford City 4

Sheehan 21 (pen), Clarke 29 + 55, De Vita 78

Saturday 19 July, 2014

Images and words by David Lawrence

What a great privilege it is to be a Bradford City fan, particularly on trips like this. To be part of a band formed of all types of humanity sharing in a joint passion on foreign soil. What a treat.

Of course it didn’t seem that way as my friend and I wandered past some young kids having football instruction by an over zealous coach on some spare land outside a very old looking Tolka park. But it was early, and we were on our way to meet some Irish bantams for pre match drinks and the craic.

Inside Fagans, near the ground, we were greeted by the always reassuringly pleasant sight of smattering of City fans in various Bantams regalia. Outside on the patio there was an increasingly large crowd that included the Bingley Bantams and the Irish-based lads. The chat was of games gone by and how City might fair in the coming season. Views ranged from ‘nervously optimistic’ to ‘hope he knows what he’s doing’. Maybe folks were reading too much into the UCD game earlier in the week.bingle bantams

Today’s game would be a different affair, with City fielding a stronger team from the off and the opposition putting out a team of youngsters and trialists, due to having a game the day after.

Both these teams were out warming up as we arrived and we, like most of the following, headed for the ground’s tiny bar. Perhaps the team news had filtered through, or the beer had started to have an effect, as the there was a happy throng inside viewing the memorabilia on the walls (Real Madrid once played here; and the Shels also played a 3rd round qualifier for the Champions League here, narrowly missing out on going through), greeting fellow City fans and queuing to get a pint. The first chant of “City til I die”. It was a great atmosphere. Great to be a City fan.

Outside in the near sunlight it was quite a contrast. The game was about to begin and people were just about noticing.

City initially set up in a 4-4-2, with Billy Knott on the left and Mark Yeates on the right wings, and James Hanson and Billy Clarke in the middle. It very quickly became apparent, however, that this was not how they would play, as Clarke played a slightly wider right role and Yeates moved into the hole behind Hanson. The other two midfielders of a solid looking Matty Dolan and a rangy Gary Liddle stayed deeper, broke play up and set up football type play from the back trough the middle to the forwards. Yes that’s right ‘football’. The defence, with the excellent Alan Sheehan, were hardly troubled apart from an early effort from distance that Jon McLaughlin didn’t have to bother with. City didn’t really need a new,  reserve or indeed any keeper today.

handshakes

The opening period of the game had a very pre-season feel to it, with the tempo fairly steady, but it did feature a noticeable amount of clever passing play, particularly by Liddle, Knott and Dolan. The most noticeable moment being when an over excited Shels player went through on Knott causing one dry Bantam to state “he went down like a sack of sh*t” which brought some humour to the affair.

City were looking good, passing the ball crisply. The now wiry looking Yeates was at the centre of much of this, linking the play up effectively between midfield and attack. When he plays too far up the pitch or to deep in the middle, where he doesn’t get the time to play his game, he can often lose the ball,  much to his and the fans’ chagrin. However,  when he’s playing ‘in the hole’ and given the space and time he’s a very good footballer. Possibly the best in our division at this role.

It was through his clever link up play that City went close around the quarter of an hour mark.  Yeates played a lovely one-two with the lively Knott, then put in a great low cross that Clarke only just missed out on stretching for.

City were getting closer and the goal came soon after. Andrew Davies, showing he’s going to be okay with the new football style, played a fantastic long through ball to the on rushing Sheehan, who’s cross was handled by McDonagh. Sheehan stepped up to place a neat penalty to the left of the keeper. Polite applause and handshaking.the change over

Having broken their duck, City appeared to sense that there was only going to be one way traffic from here on and increasingly threatened the Shels goal.  Yeates again at the centre of things; first playing a neat one-two with Sheehan for him to put a long ball over for Clarke to try to head – he doesn’t look the strongest in the air – then putting in Stephen Darby, who had a good shot from the edge of the box that went wide left. Another goal came soon after, when Yeates played a good pass to Clarke who scored with a great drive low to the left of the keeper. 2-0 it was becoming so easy. Que chorus of “take me home Midland road”.

Lenny the City Gent took the opportunity of the slight pause in play to nip out; which was noticed by his fellow Bantams, who gave him a chant of “you’ve been replaced by a chicken, replaced by a chicken”. It was all good fun.

City’s centre backs and goalie were practically on deckchairs by this point. Strangely though, Hanson was not really in the game and only had one shot from long range.  It will be interesting to see how he adapts his game to suit the new style and what type of season he has.

Davies, clearly bored of having nothing to do, had a long sorte into the opposition’s half and down the wing but then fell over which brought a cheer and a chorus of “she fell over”.

The half drifted to a finish, with Sheehan and Liddle both going close, whilst the tempo dropped a bit. The whistle went and the teams traipsed off. McLean, who had been lounging with a couple of the younger players in the empty stand opposite, put another track on his ipod and was undisturbed. He could have been on a beach in Florida.

lenny

The break offered time to wrestle in the small bar for a pint or chat and reflect on the game this far. On this viewing, the team would get torn apart by an organised outfit and it may be a tough August if we come up against such teams. However,  they look like they have the ability to develop into a effective unit who will be great to watch, and would likely beat our recent ‘invincibles’. The future is bright, but it’s more on the horizon than shining down on us right now. Parkinsonism.

Soon enough the second half started with the same players going at the same, if not slower, pace. The game was clearly having the required effect of working on the lads fitness. Nothing of note really transpired, apart from the sound of Parkinson encouraging the players after joining the dugout rather than sitting high in the odd half stand as he did in the first half. Oh and we scored again. Clarke latched onto another good pass from Yeates and wholloped a lovely shot in giving the keeper no chance. He’s got a good shot and the ability to do something different.

By the time everyone had just about got settled back from their half time excesses the mass substitution occurred. This crew looked as young as their opposition, barring the older heads of Jason Kennedy, Matt Taylor and Rafa De Vita.  Joining Rye (Vita) up front was a trialist that had just arrived on the scene to be told he was playing, called Ben Smith. He played quite well, but would likely come in the category of ‘one for the future’ and with Clarkson going so well it would be hard to see him having a role.

De Vita was trying his best to shoot at every opportunity, going close several times and at one point forcing a good save from the keeper. He kept trying and was rewarded with a goal from a good strike from the edge of the area. 4-0.

The assist was by the tidy looking Nick Arnold, who was playing down the right. Earlier, he’d put a good searching ball to the far post that Angelo Balanta had headed home, only to be correctly ruled offside. As for the South American, his name appears more exotic than his game.  He, like some others, may not be around for much longer - particularly if the supposed loans come to fruition.dolan

Having picked up considerably with the substitutions, once again the pace fell off. I think I heard the full time whistle go, but by then the crowd were contentedly chatting amongst themselves and even the players that had come off. Rory McArdle and Knott were particularly friendly and engaging, allowing people to take selfies with them.

What a great bunch of lads. What great fans. What a great trip. Thanks to all involved. We are privileged.

City: McLaughlin (Barker 63), Darby (Arnold 63), McArdle (Taylor 63), Davies (King 63), Sheehan (Heaton 63), Liddle (Kennedy 63), Dolan (Meredith 63), Yeates (Balanta 63), Knott (Wright 63), Hanson (Smith or Brown 63), Clarke (De Vita 63).  

Two Dolans talking

Welcome to Leeds-Bradford Airport. Picture by Bee Calam

Welcome to Leeds-Bradford Airport. Picture by Bee Calam

the teamsheet

Do you wish to change your season ticket seat?

27 Jun

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By Jason McKeown

Bradford City Football Club has asked Width of a Post to relay the message that supporters who have bought a season ticket for 2014/15, and who would like to change their seat, will have a week to do so, free of charge, between 1-7 July.

If you wish to change seats, you will need to take your season ticket receipt to the Valley Parade ticket office during this week. Recognising that doing so between 9-5pm is not convenient for everyone, the ticket office will stay open until 7pm one evening. To state your preference on which evening you would prefer the ticket office stays open, please leave a reader comment below and the club will take this feedback into consideration.

After the 7 July deadline you will still be able to change your seat ticket seat; however there will be a charge for doing so, as the club will need to produce a replacement season ticket card. The details of this charge will be confirmed by the club prior to 7 July.

A potted history of Bradford City #1: The Intertoto Cup

30 May

SAM_1708

Part one of our summer series looking at less celebrated moments in Bradford City history (see the ‘about’ note here) sees Jason McKeown recall the story of the club’s one (and only) foray into European competition, in 2000.

“We’re disappointed not to qualify for Europe” quipped Paul Jewell to a Sky Sports interviewer, as he reflected on Bradford City’s three wins from the final four games which sealed Premier League survival. How the increasingly disgruntled manager must have wished that European football could have remained a punchline, instead of quickly becoming a shock reality that accelerated his resignation.

For just six weeks after the Bantams defeated Liverpool to avoid relegation on the final day of the 1999/00 season, the 2000/01 campaign was kicking off 916 miles away from Valley Parade in Klaipėda, Lithuania in the Intertoto Cup. Bradford City were surprise participants in the summer competition, which offered the winners the lucrative prize of a place in the upcoming season’s UEFA Cup (Europa League in new money).

You could understand Jewell’s horror, in view of how much of a joke the Intertoto Cup was considered to be. Although it has been in existence since 1961 for mid-size European clubs, in 1994 concerns about flagging interest prompted UEFA to revamp the competition and introduce its UEFA Cup incentive. Although the English FA agreed to enter three teams, no Premier League club wanted to forgo their summer break to take part in what still seemed a very dubious competition. But with a degree of arm twisting, Tottenham, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday eventually agreed to take part.

All three clubs refused to play at their own grounds (Spurs and Wimbledon relocating to Brighton’s Goldstone Ground and Sheffield Wednesday playing at Millmoor). Spurs and Wimbledon fielded weakened teams, which included signing lower league players on loan. They would earn a UEFA ban for their actions.

By 2000, Intertoto Cup participation was reduced to one, usually reluctant, English club. West Ham United ‘won’ the Intertoto Cup in 1999 (there were three winners rather than an outright one) and their sharper fitness levels, over other Premier League teams, saw them begin that domestic season well. Something that Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond must have observed with increased interest.

For the May 2000 Liverpool survival celebrations had barely died down when it was announced that City would be playing in the Intertoto Cup. Aston Villa – the highest-ranked team to request to play in the competition – were supposed to be English football’s sole representatives. But with the help of Arsenal chairman David Dein, the Bantams were accepted too after an Italian club pulled out of the competition.

The story goes that Richmond failed to consult with Jewell until after the decision was made. Already upset about the lack of recognition he’d received for Premier League survival from his chairman, Jewell promptly quit the club and rocked up at Hillsborough. On the Intertoto Cup argument, he later revealed, “It was one of the reasons why I left and I would have been on holiday for the first leg anyway.”

It meant that City’s first round tie, away to FK Atlantas of Lithuania, was also the first match in charge for Jewell’s former assistant, Chris Hutchings. Yet it wasn’t just the now-former manager who had been left surprised by Richmond’s European plan, the players – understandably taking a well-earned break – were caught on the hop too. Many had already made holiday plans that meant they would be unavailable for the revised start to pre-season training, or even the first match (seven first teamers would miss the FK Atlantas trip).

It made for a disjointed beginning to life as manager for Hutchings, who admitted, “The players would have liked a longer rest.” In his autobiography, Jamie Lawrence could not hide his frustration at the club entering the competition. “The Intertoto Cup is one of those pretty worthless ones and hardly registers as something to be proud of winning,” he wrote. “It must have been solely about the money.”intertoto 2

Richmond seemed to care little for what others thought, stating at the time, “Five years ago, I would have had someone committed if they’d said this would be happening to us. But if it was good enough for Juventus a couple of seasons ago, it is good enough for us.”

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For all the player and management controversy, Bradford City supporters themselves were largely enthusiastic by the prospect of European football. Richmond revealed, “Our supporters are excited by the fact we are in Europe and will want to travel to see the team play. Once we found out we were in Europe, the switchboard at the club lit up like a Christmas tree.”

The club laid on a special charter flight from Leeds-Bradford airport to the first tie in Lithuania, although problems with the plane led to the players and staff travelling separately ahead of the fans who, in addition to getting a full refund, were eventually flown over in a private jet. This video captures the excitement of such unexpectedly luxurious travel, with a young(ish) City supporter named Mark Lawn stating, “You can’t help the plane breaking down can you? And we’ve got our money back, so you can’t complain.”

City’s debut in Europe could not have gone better, as they recorded a 3-1 first leg victory against a hard-up FK Atlantas outfit who, according to a Sky Sports report, “Had seen their scoreboard, floodlights and most of the seats stolen in the close season.”

Former record signing Isaiah Rankin took a place in City’s history by becoming the Bantams first-ever scorer in Europe (it was his first goal in 20 months and would ultimately be his last for the club). Bantams Past’s David Pendleton, then City Gent editor, was one of 70 City fans to attend the game and wrote, “Izzy shot City one up to momentarily halt the racist abuse and whistling he’d been receiving from, not just the skinheads, but all parts of the ground.” Although FK Atlantas equalised, a Dean Windass free kick and a Robbie Blake penalty sealed the victory.

A look at the City line up for the match reveals just how short of first-teamers Hutchings was. No Stuart McCall, no Peter Beagrie, no Matt Clarke, no David Wetherall, no Lawrence. Third-choice keeper Aidan Davison kept goal, Lee Todd (who didn’t play a minute of City’s previous Premier League campaign) was at left back and a young defender called Mark Bower was also in the back four. In midfield was Scott Kerr. The six substitutes were all youth trainees.

In his autobiography, Windass recalled of the game, “It was a s**t hole of a place to play in but the fans loved it. Spending their time going into the local brothels where it was 50p a pint…we were trying to prepare for a serious game and they were all out getting blathered.”

The second leg, a week later, may have been a formality, but Valley Parade’s first-ever European match attracted a 10,000+ crowd. I was amongst them, hugely curious about the occasion and unsure what to expect. The pace of the match was more akin to a pre-season friendly, but the competitive element made it much more entertaining. City raced into a 4-0 lead, but the main memory of the match was the last-minute consolation goal from FK Atlantas’ Martynas Karalius. After bending a free kick around the wall and into the goal, Karalius ran up to the Kop with his finger over his lips, raced to the dugout to hug his manager and finally charged over the far corner of the Midland Road stand where he jumped into the jubilant away section. Valley Parade has probably never witnessed a goal celebrated so wildly.

Bradford City supporters took their FK Atlantas counterparts under their wing to ensure they enjoyed a memorable visit to West Yorkshire, yet on the morning they were due to fly back 22 visiting supporters ‘disappeared’. They turned up a month later in London, claiming to be sightseeing. As David Pendleton wrote, “Yet another first for the Richmond era – visiting fans claiming asylum after visiting Valley Parade!”

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Round three (the second round for City) saw the Bantams paired with Dutch club RKC Waalwijk – a minnow domestically in comparison to Ajax and Feyenoord. In the first leg of this contest – a 2-0 City home win with both goals coming from Windass – the Bantams’ newly acquired record signing, David Hopkin, came off the bench. A quiet start for the £2.5 million man, who looked tidy on the ball but was barely involved in anything of note – it would sum up his short City career.intertoto 1

The second leg saw City complete the job with a 1-0 victory in Holland, Lee Mills getting the game’s only goal, nine minutes from time. The Bantams were seemingly enjoying the adventure, and Richmond – in a quote that hinted of the club’s mistaken belief they were now an established Premier League club – stated, “The players are enjoying it, the supporters are loving it, and if we have an opportunity to enter the competition next season then we will most certainly take it.”

City were now into the semi finals; alas, opponents Zenit St. Petersberg (Europa League winners in 2008) were on a different level to City’s previous opponents. A 1-0 first leg defeat in Russia wasn’t so bad for the Bantams, who were backed by 12 Bradford City fans (including that Mark Lawn chap, whatever happened to him?) But back at Valley Parade they were brushed aside in comprehensive fashion, 3-0. A little-known Russian named Andrei Arshavin made his debut for St. Petersberg. In his match report for the Guardian, John Wardle wrote of City, “Worryingly for their new manager Chris Hutchings, they succumbed in a manner which indicates they will face another season of struggle.”

David Pendleton took a more positive view, writing in the City Gent, “It was a pleasure to watch the Russian side in action at Valley Parade – the way they counter-attacked at pace was breathtaking. Of course, they were in the middle of their season and fully match fit, but it was a joy to see such a magnificent side at Valley Parade.”

Out of the cup but with a few weeks until the Premiership season was to begin, City hurriedly arranged some pre-season friendlies to fill the unscheduled gap. Holland and Russia was swapped for Altrincham and Grimsby; although there was one final glamour moment as Italian giants Fiorentina came to town for a friendly that saw Benito Carbone make his City debut. The six weeks of madness were in full swing. City in Europe. Even now, that seems madness.

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As we all know, the aftermath for City was not a happy one. Perhaps the sharper fitness levels helped the players in the Premier League, as they began their Valley Parade season with an impressive win over Chelsea, before drawing with Leicester City and Arsenal. But a feeble relegation would follow. Cue the administrations and relegations. The Intertoto Cup itself fared even worse – scrapped in 2008, at which point there were 11 winners (qualifying for the UEFA Cup) per season.

Understandably, we all thought that such heady days of needing a passport to follow City were behind us forever. But then in 2012/13, City were one game away from a repeat – all they had to do was beat Swansea in the League Cup Final, to earn a place in Europe.

While Jamie Lawrence moaned that the 2000 adventure was to make money, this time around Mark Lawn revealed that the club would probably incur losses by taking part in the Europa League. As it happened, Swansea City crushed us at Wembley and won the honour of playing European football during the summer. Still, who needs such glamour when we get to visit Guiseley and Bradford Park Avenue every July?

2013/14 reviewed: On the road again

27 May

SAM_1785

By Jason McKeown

It is a useful barometer of Bradford City’s status. For the 2013/14 season, statistics by the72.co.uk show that the Bantams had the 17th best average away following in the Football League, positioned above the likes of Wigan, Reading, Ipswich and Blackpool. The 1,194 average City away support was the fourth best in League One, behind only Wolves (who should never have been here), Coventry (whose fans were boycotting home games and more inclined to go to away matches) and Sheffield United.

There are many different factors that will affect any club’s travelling support season-upon-season, not least how the team is doing on the pitch. For City, being in a new division and going into the campaign with the upturn of 2012/13’s heroics, the greater enthusiasm around the club meant that away attendances were arguably higher than what we would normally achieve. The 2013/14 fixture list featured trips to a whole range of grounds that City had not played at for several years. It led to some bumper followings at the likes of Preston, Sheffield United and Tranmere, although even more notable were the City crowds for less glamorous away fixtures.

For many years it has seemed that whilst City supporters would rival much bigger clubs in travelling en mass to certain away grounds, for other games there would be a disappointing following. Yet in 2013/14, visits to the likes of Crawley (746), MK Dons (1,004) and Peterborough (816, one week before Christmas) attracted high numbers. City’s two biggest away followings (3,130 at Sheffield United, and 2,910 at Preston) produced an aggregate total higher than the overall totals Crawley and Stevenage took away all season.

And it led to some cracking away atmospheres. Games like Bristol City and Preston were as memorable for the noise in the stands as the football in front of us. There are few things in life I enjoy more than being part of a huge away support making an almighty racket, and I felt proud of the number of occasions we packed out an away end and provided a soundtrack of non-stop chanting for the players. We might have a lovely stadium in Valley Parade, but it is ultimately too large for our needs. It is on the road, sat amongst a few thousand Bantams supporters and singing yourself horse, where Bradford City truly feels like a big club.

Yet there was undoubtedly a downside to our higher-than-expected away support in 2013/14 – the number of occasions where, it seemed, the host club were unprepared for the sheer numbers who travelled. At games like Walsall, Oldham and Tranmere, it seemed as though there wasn’t enough space for how many City fans showed up. Our safety was never an issue, but occasionally you doubted it and that in itself was a worry.

What didn’t help was the unreserved seating policies implemented on the day of games, which were not made abundantly clear both beforehand and even inside the ground. “Is it sit where you like today?” you would ask a steward when arriving, who would look confused and eventually confirm that it was (or, at Crewe, one steward told us to go to our reserved seat and another said sit where you like). Yet other fans would understandably assume you had to sit in the seat you had been allocated on your ticket stub, and tensions would rise when they found someone else was occupying it, rightly believing they were allowed to.

At Walsall, a flash point occurred where a group of late-arriving City fans at the front looked as though they were about to fight the stewards. They had nowhere to sit save for the first two rows of the away stand, which were covered in netting. The stewards told them they couldn’t sit there and tempers flared. Finally, with the game having already kicked off, Walsall opened up empty seating in another stand to accommodate these fans. At Oldham, the stewards initially tried to keep all City fans in one half of the big away end behind the goal, before the same thing happened again – no room for the last minute arrivals. Finally, after much arguing between fans and stewards, the other side of the stand was opened up.

Tranmere was the worst of the lot. People arriving just before kick off (with tickets) were admitted into the away stand but then blocked from leaving the concourse and entering the seating area, because there weren’t any spare seats. More arguments ensued, before these people were finally allowed to find empty seats dotted around the packed away end.

But it’s not just the home clubs who are making life difficult for us travelling supporters, we are doing it to each other. The issue of sitting or standing at away games has grown over the past 12 months and looks un-resolvable. Typically, many people want to stand during the 90 minutes whilst others do not, but the former group will block the view of the latter, to their understandable frustration. If you have paid £20 upwards for a seat, you are entitled to expect to both use it and see the pitch. Not being able to leads to arguments that sometimes look very heated. The fan who wants to stand is unhappy that he is expected to sit down, and the fan who wants to sit is unhappy that he is expected to stand up.

To nail my colours firmly to the mast, I am part of the stand up group. There’s something more nerve-wracking about an away game that compels me to want to stand throughout it. I would never block the view of the person behind me and will stay seated if that is the case. But then the person in front of me is stood up, and the person in front of them. And now I can’t see the game. So I’m going to stand. And then the person behind me angrily tells me to sit down, and I argue that I can’t see if I do so. And they tell me to tell the person in front to sit down, so I do that as politely as possible. And now they are annoyed at me, and I am annoyed at being in this ridiculous position. And though the person behind me is happy, the next time City have a corner or exciting moment there is every chance that the whole thing will happen again.

Inevitably in the away stand, there is an invisible line, towards the back, behind which it is considered acceptable for everyone to stand without any issues. It is if you are positioned in and around this line, between acceptable standing and being expected to stay sat down, where the problems inevitably lie. If I am sat near the front I will stay seated without any complaint. But if I’m a position where I can stand, I will choose to do so. I mean no harm and try not to cause any.

The way that away ticket sales are structured – you buy one from the Valley Parade ticket office, and they give you the next one on the roll of a batch of tickets – means it is pot luck where you are sat and who you are sat with. The fact that City away followings have grown to the point where it is close to being sold out has escalated the problem, as invariably there is less freedom to move to a different part of the stand if you want to stand or sit.

I had optimistically hoped that Tranmere on the final day would see these issues sort themselves out. The tickets were sold on an unreserved seating basis, so everyone attending was in no doubt they could stand or sit where they like. “Great” I thought, “The people who prefer to stand can go to the back, and the people who want to sit go to the front, problem solved.” And so we made our way to seats some eight rows from the back, and prepared to stand for the 90 minutes. But then the people behind us wanted to sit down – and started to complain. Why are you sat at the back? Surely this is not in the right spirit! And then a group of people at the front started to stand, blocking the view of the people behind them. And again, this wasn’t in the right spirit. And once more there was this dissatisfaction that people couldn’t enjoy the game in the position they would choose to.

(At half time Mark Lawn and his friends came and stood on the row behind us, having been positioned somewhere near the front in the first half due to arriving just before kick off and having no other choice. The fact that they moved to the back suggested they wanted to stand too.)

The worry about these issues are that they will drive people away from attending away games (more than likely, the people who want to sit). This shouldn’t be the case, and there should be room for everyone who wants to go. Throw in the inevitable rise in bad language and number of people drunk from making a day out of it, and sometimes away games feel like they should be the preserve of single people, or at least people without children or elderly relatives. I hope that my little girl grows up to be a Bradford City supporter, but I would worry about taking her to away games as they are at the moment.

The solution – if money and Government legislation weren’t an issue – would be away sections like the home ends of Accrington and Macclesfield, where the lower half is seating and the upper half terracing. But the other problem in football is that not too many clubs care about the facilities for away supporters to want to invest such time and effort on pleasing people who only rock up once a year at best. Brighton’s new stadium has special away facilities that are changed game to game to make them more welcoming, with the deliberate objective of impressing other clubs’ supporters enough that they prioritise a trip to Brighton over other away games; but they are the exception. Unless you are starting the stadium from scratch, upgrading the away supporter facilities is close to the bottom of any club’s priority list.

More realistically, why can’t the away club’s ticket office sell tickets to their supporters on a choose your seat basis? When I go to Valley Parade to purchase an away ticket next season, why not let me select where I want to sit? I can then choose somewhere near the back so I can stand, and then people who want to sit down can select a seat towards the front. This would require a bit more effort, but it would enhance the experience for travelling supporters. I would certainly be more prepared to take my girl to an away game (when she is old enough, in a few years time) if I knew that we would be likely to be sat near other families, down at the front.

That probably won’t happen for one simple reason – standing in seating areas is illegal and therefore clubs cannot be seen to be encouraging it. But football needs to be stronger than that. Work with authorities, government and whoever to relax these rules (if I went to a gig at Leeds Arena, I could stand up and dance in the seating section without being told to sit down). If they can’t change the regulations, enforce them by stopping people from standing. I and others who like to stand up may not like that happening, but it is surely fairer than those who want to sit down being made to suffer, because everyone around them is stood up and no one is stopping them.

With 2014/15’s League One having a distinctly Northern feel, expect City away attendances to continue to grow next season – and with it this issue will get worse. There is nothing like being part of a bumper away following making an almighty racket, but there needs to be more thought paid towards making sure that everyone who is part of that bumper away following has an enjoyable and safe day.

2013/14 reviewed: Stability and progress continues under Parkinson

21 May

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By Jason McKeown

Longevity has become a rare thing in English football management. Short-termism reigns even at the home of the country’s most successful football club. Where once upon a time Manchester United was the universal example used to illustrate the benefits of sticking with an under-pressure manager – Sir Alex Ferguson and his torrid first few years in charge – the Old Trafford outfit ditched his replacement after less than 10 months. Nothing out of the ordinary these days, it seems.

The ever-increasingly speed of the managerial merry-go-round leaves Phil Parkinson in a curious position – he is now the 13th longest serving manager out of the 92 Premier League and Football League clubs. He has not yet been in the Valley Parade dugout for three years, yet in that time 86% of the other 91 have changed their manager at least once. Above him in the list, the likes of Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, Paul Tisdale and Mark Yates ended the season under pressure. It probably won’t be long until Parkinson enters the top 10.

Even more notable is how Parkinson’s time in charge now compares to the 45 permanent managers who have preceded him at Valley Parade. This season, Parkinson overtook recent longish-term City bosses Colin Todd and Stuart McCall to become the seventh longest-serving manager in the club’s history. If he is still here 12 months from now, he will be sixth. If he sees out the remaining two years of his contract, he will be fifth.

161 games in charge; 52 victories, 54 draws and 55 defeats. More notably, Phil Parkinson has steered the Bantams away from relegation to non-league, taken them to a major cup final, masterminded promotion via the play offs and achieved a top half finish in a higher division. It is some list of accomplishments, and it leaves Bradford City in a state of relative rude health both on and off the pitch.

From the 18-place League Two finish City achieved in May 2012 to the final League One table of May 2014, Parkinson has engineered a rise of 30 places up the 92-club pyramid. No club in the 92 can match that improvement over the same period (only Rotherham, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth come close).

And this, for a football club that had endured 12 years of misery and failure. A football club that went through nine managers since Paul Jewell’s resignation in 2000, which triggered the 12-year curse. Parkinson, who was voted Bradford City’s greatest ever manager in a Football League survey, deserves every bit of the high esteem that the majority of supporters hold him in. He is a proven winner, who has revitalised the club.

2013/14 was not a perfect season for Parkinson by any means. Yet even the criticisms that can levelled towards him are ones that every other manager in the land has endured too – even the very best. Anyone outraged at Parkinson making poor signings, as though no other manager makes mistakes in the transfer market, is living in Djemba-Djemba Land. Every club experiences poor runs of form such as Parkinson’s ‘one win in…’ record between October and February. The difference between the managers who survive and prosper, and those who fall by the wayside, is the ability to react to difficult periods and to rectify mistakes.

And Parkinson’s transfer mistake, last summer, was to bring in squad players rather than people to displace the promotion heroes. Only Mark Yeates looked as though he had the manager’s backing to become a week-in, week-out starter – but even that trust faded less than a month into the season. When last summer Parkinson cut ties with squad players from the 2012/13 season, he unfortunately replaced their squad roles rather than those of the first teamers. It is not that there was anything wrong with retaining the ‘We Made History’ team, as they deserved their chance, but it meant the new faces only succeeded in making up the numbers.

Parkinson’s rectifying of those errors can be seen even now. There has been a more ruthless streak to this summer’s retained list that not only sees Gary Jones let go, but promising young talent like Jack Stockdill. Going with the 2012/13 heroes initially paid off early in 2013/14, but when form began to dip the fringe players failed to step up to the mark and provide adequate competition to reverse the slide.

The January window business provided that shake up, with loan players coming in and doing a good job. This was short-termism from the manager, but vital in securing the long-term platform of remaining a League One club. Mid-season was not a time for revolution, and so the calm manner in which Parkinson strengthened the team with temporary signings paid big dividends. If the 2013 summer transfer window was not a good performance from the manager, January was a different story.

And it meant that the slide of form was ultimately reversed without too much damage. For all the relegation panic engineered by some, it evidently wasn’t shared by those who were in a position to do something about the slump. The final third of the season saw some poor performances, but an overall sharp improvement in results. To finish in the top half of the division looked highly unlikely even with four games to go. To finish in the top half of the division, after all the disruption surrounding Andrew Davies, Nahki Wells, James Meredith, Kyel Reid, Nathan Doyle and James Hanson, represents a highly commendable season’s work.

A season of consolidation, behind which the underlying theme has been one of transition. The We Made History team are now being consigned to history. The great side that Parkinson built in 2012 is going to be firmly rebuilt. Unlike last summer, the manager is not hunting squad players but first teamers. That suspect record in the transfer market since 2012 means that his new signings will be under an intense spotlight to deliver and deliver quickly, but the fact Parkinson was so successful in constructing the 2012 team means there should be few doubts that he can do it again.

He will need to, because the next 12 months look tricky. For all the accolades Parkinson rightly receives for the three previous seasons, still being in the Valley Parade hotseat a year from now will represent an achievement. 2013/14 may have ended with goodwill, but it won’t be forgotten that in the difficult days of January and February a section of City supporters turned on Parkinson and demanded a change. We have a long history of managers in the position of being subject to volatile swings in supporter opinion. A bad start to the season or a few defeats next autumn will see the pressure crank up once again. Parkinson’s considerable past achievements will either be forgotten or talked down.

Perhaps the main issue facing the manager is one of expectations. Julian Rhodes has confirmed that Parkinson’s playing budget is to be cut by a sizeable £500k, yet there will be an assumption that he must still improve on 2013/14’s 11th position, otherwise the perception will be that City are going backwards. Rightly or wrongly, this football club has designs beyond being a League One outfit and patience will be in short supply. It might not be fair to expect a play off push next season, but it won’t stop some people from demanding it.

And in time, finishing 11th in League One could be a stick with which to beat Parkinson with. In a tight division, had Garry Thompson and Aaron Mclean not netted late winners in the final two matches of the season, the Bantams would have finished 15th. Yet if in a year’s time that is where Parkinson has taken the club to – reduced budget and all – he is likely to be facing serious disgruntlement from a growing section of supporters.

I firmly believe that the three-year contract handed to Parkinson a year ago should be a timeframe during which to be climbing out of League One. If in May 2016 – when that deal expires – City are still in League One mid-table and failing to challenge for the play offs, then it would be fair to assume that a change is needed to kick start the progression. But that doesn’t mean that a failure to mount a promotion push next season is indeed a failure. A stronger flirtation with the play offs would certainly be welcomed, but not assumed. The next step up in divisions is a big one, and we will need firm foundations to not only make that jump but stay there.

The three-year contract Parkinson signed should, in theory, afford him the time to build something even more sustainable than 2012. We are exactly where we would have wanted to be at this stage in the contract, when it was signed a year ago, but getting here hasn’t been a smooth ride and has seen the manager struggle to retain his previous vast popularity. Achieving what is expected is still viewed as disappointing to some. The longer that carries on, the more of a problem it may become.

Yet Parkinson’s impressive track record so far demonstrates the benefits of long-term thinking. It might be out of synch with the rest of English football, but let’s continue to stick with the plan rather than getting ahead of ourselves in where we should be. Let’s be positive about the changes that are coming, and give them the time they need to bear fruit. Let’s remember that when sticky times inevitably occur we have a manager who has repeatedly proven that he can find the solutions.

Let’s continue to believe in Parkinson, because believing in Parkinson has paid huge dividends over the past three seasons.

We Made History one year on: ending 12 years of hurt

17 May

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On this weekend one year ago, Bradford City were promoted to League One after defeating Northampton Town 3-0 at Wembley in the play off final. In the first of two articles looking back, Jason McKeown reflects on this unexpected achievement.

It seemed as though everybody had given up, I know that I had. Promotion from League Two just wasn’t going to happen. Too much ground to make up, too little time remaining. A seventh straight year in the basement division beckoned, it was time to come to terms with this frustrating reality.

My personal belief that we could do it was extinguished on a Tuesday evening at Plymouth, in the middle of March. Bradford City drew 0-0 with the then-basement club. And though the second half performance was good, the failure to turn late pressure into a winning goal seemed symbolic of what was surely to come in the final few weeks. I departed Home Park frustrated and deflated. There was plenty of consolation to take from the League Cup heroics that would ensure 2012/13 would go down as a good season, but in the league, it seemed, it was all over and all that was left was a nagging sense of what might have been.

When, a few days later, City were thrashed 4-1 at play off contenders Exeter, it appeared to be confirmation that my immediate Plymouth reaction had been right. I listened to the St. James Park capitulation at home on the radio, and began to think about next season. Defeat left the Bantams languishing in 11th place, 12 points behind the Grecians all be it with two games in hand. Too much ground to make up, too little time remaining. Year after year of watching failure suggested that a familiar tale was being played out in front of us again. Ah well, at least we had some fantastic memories to take away from this season. At least it wasn’t as bad a campaign as the last two.

The Exeter loss

The Exeter loss

Two months and two days after the Exeter debacle, Bradford City were celebrating promotion at Wembley stadium.

It was an incredible turn around in form. Started, it was said, the day after the Exeter defeat when Phil Parkinson held a summit meeting with his players. Whatever was said at the training ground that Sunday morning, it had a drastic effect. In the nine remaining games, City produced five wins, three draws and a defeat. Enough to secure the final play off place with a game to spare – a place they snatched from Exeter, for whom the 4-1 Bantams victory would be their final win of the season.

Initially it was difficult to tell that anything special was beginning. The next league match was Wycombe at Valley Parade on a Tuesday, with an early Garry Thompson goal enough to settle a contest between two sides seemingly with little to play for. Any hopes of rekindling play off ambitions seemed to quickly extinguish in the next match, at home to Southend, as City found themselves 2-0 down after just 11 minutes. A commendable comeback saw Zavon Hines and James Hanson make it 2-2 with a minute remaining, but when Kyel Reid had a stoppage time penalty appeal turned away you assumed that that really was it.

Easter Monday at Torquay was the true rebirth to the hopes. That City won 3-1 at Plainmoor wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but the realisation that every other result had gone our way suddenly made promotion seem a realistic hope once more. We were back in this.

Northampton were next at Valley Parade. Nahki Wells ended his personal goal drought with an early tap in, and it proved enough to secure back-to-back victories. Make that three in a row, after Bristol Rovers were swept aside in superb fashion three days later. 3-0 at half time through Wells (twice) and Andrew Davies; Thompson sealed a 4-1 win in the second half and, amazingly, City walked off the field at full time inside the play off places.

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Exciting, thrilling and unexpected times. Chesterfield away followed and the away end was bouncing. With the score 1-1, Ricky Ravenhill drilled home a lot shot from the edge of the box to spark wild celebrations. So good was City’s form and so indifferent those around them, that a top three finish was in grasp. A stoppage time equaliser by Chesterfield all but ruled that out, and the following Tuesday promotion rivals Rotherham punctured the mood with a smash and grab 2-0 Valley Parade victory. Forget automatic promotion; let’s just get over the play off line.

The final regular home game saw Burton Albion rock up. They looked ordinary, with Calvin Zola in the centre lifeless. Hanson scored a scrappy goal before half time, Lee Bell was sent off for the Brewers early in the second. City held on comfortably and, due to results elsewhere, were guaranteed a play off spot with a game to spare (a game that, at Cheltenham, was used to rest players). There were fantastic celebrations at full time. Finally, after five previous years where we only once came close, City were part of the end of season shootout.

Burton were back for the play off semi finals, and in the first leg at Valley Parade looked a different side. They were far from ordinary, with Calvin Zola full of life. He scored two brilliant goals, Jacques Maghoma tore Stephen Darby to pieces. Half time and City went in 3-1 behind and in big trouble. The second half of the first leg was crucial. Burton failed to press home the fact that we were on the ropes and sat back on their lead. Thompson reduced the arrears with a quality strike from distance. We left the ground feeling disappointed but also relieved – Burton had let us off the hook. Whether we could turn it around at their ground was unclear, but there was certainly no way we would play as badly.

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Sunday May 5 was such a memorable day. The sun was shining brightly, the away end sold out, and as we drove up to Burton the pubs were packed out with City fans full of confidence. I really believed we would do it, although as soon as the game kicked off I was filled with terror and nerves about just what was at stake. This means everything.

We started the game slowly, but then grew into it and – 27 minutes in – a mistake put Wells in to give City the lead and level the tie. Then, five minutes into the second half, Hanson struck a thunderbolt from the edge of the box that arrowed into the bottom corner. Pandemonium. Burton made it 2-1 straightaway to level the tie at 4-4, but then in another instant Wells had made it 3-1 and caused another outbreak of jubilant scenes behind the goal that he scored.

What an afternoon Burton was. The impressive way that City came back, the sheer determination to get to the play off final and the brilliance of Wells and Hanson. “We’re proud of you” was sung at full time and the on-pitch celebrations seemed to go on another hour. Me and my group of friends kept the party going all night when we got back to Yorkshire.

We’re off to Wembley, again.

Meeting Peter Beagrie

Meeting Peter Beagrie

Saturday 18 May, 2013 began for me at 4am. I was riding down on a bus with the Skipton Bantams supporters club, which was departing at the ungodly hour of 5am. We were parked up on the edge of London before 9am, already merry from alcohol. A fry-up in a pub, a short underground journey to Wembley, and more beers in the Hilton Hotel next to the ground. I even bumped into City legend and Sky pundit Peter Beagrie. His former team mate and another Bantams legend, Jamie Lawrence, was sat on the row behind me inside the stadium.

Unlike the sheer I-can’t-believe-we-are-here-wow joy of the Swansea cup final, this visit to Wembley was filled with nerves, panic and fear. Game 64, and a whole season rested on this. It didn’t bear think about, losing twice here in one season, yet there was every chance that this was how it was going to end.

The players clearly did not agree. They were so determined, so focused, so ruthless. They blew Northampton away in the first half. Hanson – goal! Everyone around me was hugging everyone. McArdle – goal! This is unbelievable. Wells – goal! 3-0 and only 28 minutes played. We celebrated in stunned disbelief. No one thought this would be easy, but that’s just what it was proving.

Some people say the second half was an anti-climax, but I didn’t agree. The worry that Northampton might score kept me nervous, and then, as time ticked by and you realised that the improbable was now impossible, excitement grew. We have done it! Promotion, at last. Let’s have that final whistle blown, let’s begin the party, let’s ‘ave it!

The moment of Gary Jones and Ravenhill jointly lifting the trophy will stay with me forever. It was the near-perfect day, and to have finally escaped the bottom division meant the world to us supporters. I attended the Centenary Square open top bus ride a few days later to revel in more public celebrations.

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Supporting a football team like Bradford City carries one undisputable guarantee – the bad days will outnumber the good ones. It means that, when something truly special occurs, like a promotion, a cup run or a thrilling late victory, you savour the occasion that bit more because of what it means.

Perhaps as Manchester City fans celebrated clinching the title last weekend, in a much more reserved fashion than when they won it two years earlier, they would reflect that the thrill of success dulls when it occurs more and more often. It was notable that when Man City fans talked of the bad times, they still referred to their brief flirtation with third tier football in 1998/99, rather than anything since their first Premier League title win. It might have been fun to support Man City this season, but it was probably even better in 2011/12, when it was all so new to them.

1998/99 was also the year of Bradford City’s last promotion. In between that day and the start of the 2012/13 season there had been an even greater ratio of bad days to good ones. Only defeating Liverpool to avoid Premier League relegation in 2000 counted as success over that period. The League Cup miracle was the first subsequent occasion of hedonistic times in 12 years, and it was continued with promotion in May.

Of the two Wembley games, you’d have picked the play off final as the one to win. It all worked out perfectly, and for that we are left with a treasure chest of memories from 2012/13 that we will store lovingly until the day we die.

For all we had been through in the 12 years prior, May 18, 2013 truly was one of the greatest days in the club’s history.

2013/14 reviewed: Just another manic Monday

7 May

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By Jason McKeown

Back in 1995, George Weah – then one of the world’s best players – brushed off a less-than-thrilling AC Milan performance with the immortal words, “Football matches are like days of the week. It can’t be Sunday every day. There are also Mondays and Tuesdays.” That analogy can stretch to football seasons, and is one that in many ways sums up Bradford City’s 2013/14 campaign.

There is no doubt that the club has progressed over the previous nine months. As newbies in the division, they have successfully established themselves as a League One club, albeit with some late doubts that kept supporters sweating up until the Easter period. Yet however laudable an achievement finishing 11th in a higher division can be considered, it was a matter of job done rather than cause for great excitement. We are where we hoped to be, and that is fantastic and highly commendable – but let’s keep the open top bus in its garage for another year.

The 2012/13 season – with its double Wembley visit, 64-game marathon and jubilant ending – represented a hedonistic weekend of incredible excitement that we will be talking about until the day we die. A Sunday, in Weah’s terms. And in contrast, 2013/14 was being back in the workplace, slightly hungover and keener to talk about the weekend just gone than the task in hand. It was a very productive day’s work, but ultimately something to get through rather than gleefully enjoy.

If we suppose that the rise of Bradford City in 2012/13 is continued over the next few years, then it is doubtful that 2013/14 will be remembered with great affection. It reminded me of the season I first started supporting City – 1997/98 – which was a quiet, mid-table lull during an exciting rise from the third tier to the top flight. There are many similarities between the positives and negatives of 1997/98 and this season, even in the pattern of results. 1997/98 was a necessary forwards step for the 1998/99 promotion season. And now, we can allow ourselves to aspire to believing that 2013/14 might one day be judged in similar terms.

Which is not to say that it has been a dull campaign, or that there haven’t been great moments to remember – there were plenty – it’s just that no one’s favourite days of the week are Mondays or Tuesdays.

“Great result is following great result. Superb performance is following superb performance. And we are running out of reasons to argue that it cannot last.” Walsall 0 Bradford City 2, October

Bradford City’s first 10 fixtures yielded 21 points. That represents an outstanding start in anyone’s book; and were it not for an even more incredible race out of the blocks by Leyton Orient and Wolves, such a point haul would have seen the Bantams within the automatic promotion spots. It did place City in fourth, and kept them in the top six until December – play off hopes were more than wishful thinking until Christmas at least.

We can, with the benefit of hindsight, argue a number of mitigating factors for such a fast start to the campaign. The momentum from the previous season’s promotion; the well-drilled nature of a team that was basically the same as the one that had triumphed at Wembley in the play off final; the surprise factor (it is common, up and down the leagues and season after season, for newly promoted clubs to make good starts and then fade).

The teams we faced during those 10 games were also, in retrospect, not as formidable as we believed at the time. Bristol City and Sheffield United never lived up to pre-season promotion contenders hype, Carlisle were a near-shambles all season, Gillingham and Brentford were going through difficult spells when we defeated them, Colchester and Walsall flattered to deceive. Throw in a bit of luck in certain games, and the fact everyone was fit, and it was no wonder that this proved to be the best spell of the season.

All of this is completely true, but…well…it doesn’t change one thing – how much bloody fun we had at the time.David Lawrence

I really enjoyed the opening day trip to Bristol City. The sun shined brightly, the atmosphere was fantastic and – after a scary half hour where the Robins threatened to humiliate us – we gained a very good point. Valley Parade’s first hosting of League One football since 2007 was equally memorable. Carlisle were completely humiliated – the 4-0 scoreline flattered them – and the non-stop chanting from home fans made for one of the best league atmospheres since the Premier League days.

The August bank holiday weekend victory over Sheffield United was the high point of the whole season. 18,000 inside Valley Parade, an absorbing derby played in front of a wall of noise from both sets of fans. A brilliantly balanced game settled by the individual excellence of Nahki Wells. This was everything we hoped League One would be and more.

No one was getting carried away back then; but as the good form continued throughout September there was a subtle raising of the expectation bar. The ‘We Made History’ team – already deeply loved – was flourishing as a higher level. One of my favourite memories of that period was walking to the club shop before the home game against Colchester, and seeing a crowd of fans waiting to welcome the players as they turned up for work – asking for autographs and to pose for photos. Brilliant. This lot are genuinely loved by their public. A day later the 1998/99 promotion heroes were in town for a charity match, but here was a group of players surely destined to be as fondly remembered.

Three consecutive victories at the end of September and early October really made us giddy. At the third of those wins, Walsall, Kyel Reid scored a screamer and James Hanson sealed a highly impressive scalp, achieved without the injured Wells. City were five points clear of the team in seventh position, and I walked out of the Bescot Stadium genuinely believing we were the real deal. That we were play off contenders.

No one expected us to be in this position; but just at the point it seemed possible, it would be taken away from us.

“Parkinson’s two years at the club has seen him faced with far worse situations than this and each and every time he successfully turned it around. I have absolutely no doubt that he will do so again.” Crewe 0 City 0, November

Tranmere bloody Rovers. Or, more accurately, Ronnie bloody Moore. The 1-0 October home defeat to Rovers, who were then bottom, put a curse on City’s season. The first of the ‘one win in…’ sequence. It haunted us for months.

But still, if the referee Darren Drysdale had only sent off Ian Goodison for his awful elbow on Reid, or awarded that blatant penalty for the tripping of Mark Yeates, or got a handle on the visitors’ over-the-top time-wasting efforts. If, if, if. I couldn’t stop thinking about this defeat for weeks, and I doubt that I was the only one. Haunted, we were.

That the season was about to decline to the tune of picking up just one win in almost half a season was not immediately obvious. 10 days later we went toe-to-toe with Preston in probably the most entertaining game of the season. Reid delivered the individual performance of the campaign. Rory McArdle’s dramatic late equaliser. A brilliant night.Oldham away

City were unfortunate to lose to Wolves in the next match – although the division’s eventual Champions had a 25-minute spell better than anything I saw all season – but after that there was a worrying decline in performances. Crewe a week later was woeful (the second of four games against sides at the time bottom of the league, and the only time we picked up a point) and the tame FA Cup exit to Rotherham did much to damage the goodwill afforded to the players.

Yet the performances up until Christmas weren’t dreadful. There was that crazy 3-3 with Coventry on Sky in which Wells netted a hat-trick, and an entertaining 1-1 draw at Oldham. A last minute Wells equaliser against Leyton Orient the week after was probably the last time you felt we were capable of challenging for a top six finish – the subsequent Christmas period resulted in one point from 12. Still, promotion was never the season’s objective. We can see it out in the comfort of mid-table, right?

“All the talk about him now moves to legacy, to how he is remembered. And unfortunately, the way he left will forever taint that.” Nahki departs, January

He was always going to leave in January, and City’s drop out of the promotion picture made it an easier sell to supporters. Ever since he netted the Bantams’ first goal of the season at Ashton Gate, Wells had looked more than comfortable at this higher level. He was a standout performer, and his price tag was arguably at its peak.

Watching Nahki during the first half of the season was a genuine pleasure. Between 10 April and 14 December 2013, the Bermudian striker netted 23 goals in 26 matches. I have never known a City forward so prolific over such a sustained period, and no matter what feelings we might have over the way he departed the club in January, I for one still hold him in high regard.

The club’s not-so-subtle attempts to talk up his value commenced in November when Mark Lawn spoke of the unlikeliness of keeping him. As it was, the club told Wells to name his price to stay but his agent stated that the 23-year-old had no interest in signing an extended contract. There are rumours and counter rumours of who else was bending the ear of player and agent that December, but whatever happened it resulted in Wells declaring he wanted to sign for Huddersfield and Huddersfield only.NV2G9509

Losing such a big player has inevitably impacted on the season. Even though Wells has endured a bumpy few months at the Terriers, his return of seven goals betters that of his Valley Parade successor. Comparing 2013/14 to 1997/98, Aaron Mclean still has the potential to do to Parkinson what John McGinlay did for Chris Kamara. As the former Hull striker took his time adapting to life in West Yorkshire (ending with a flourish), you can’t help but wonder how City’s 2013/14 might have turned out had Wells wanted to take up the club’s offer and kept his focus.

He wasn’t the only change to the side during a busy January transfer window. It was widely accepted that the time was ripe to begin replacing the 2012/13 heroes, with new faces coming into a starting line-up that had barely been changed all season. The dreadful injury to Reid at Bramall Lane was another big loss.

With the 2013 close season signings having failed to impress, there is a feeling that Parkinson’s midas touch in the transfer market had vanished since the summer before. There was a mixed bag in terms of the success of the January 2014 recruits – partly due to the fact the manager had to largely utilise the loan market – but it did succeed in steadying the ship, eventually.

We moved on, suddenly with sides almost 50% made up of loan signings. It has been less easy to identify with the revamped team compared to the old, but at least some previous heroes have moved into the background before they risked spoiling their legacies.

“A clear message from the players that they are not yet giving up on themselves; and neither should we give up on them.” Sheffield United 2 City 2, January

For all the talk of the ‘one win in 21’, things were never as bad as they seemed. There were only two results during that sequence where City were defeated by more than one goal – a 3-0 shocker at Notts County (with two goals in the final minutes) and a 2-0 loss at leaders Wolves where key players were rested. Which means that, in 19 of the 21 games of that run, there was only ever one goal in it.

As gloomy as things seemed at times, City were never out of their depth. As worrying as it became that the relegation zone crept into view, the Bantams never came close to dropping below the line. That said, it took an awful long time to get back on track.

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There were moments where you thought the tide had turned, and here the influence of Gary Jones instantly springs to mind. By early January, large sections of support were ready to write the skipper off. But when the chips were down and leadership was required, Jones’ influence was huge. The 2-2 draw at Sheffield United was a classic example. Like his team-mates, Jones had a poor first half and in truth didn’t play brilliantly after the break, but his sheer determination and passion shone through. He gave a McCall-esqe performance to drag his team off the canvas and claim a point they didn’t merit.

He was at it again at home to Crewe a few weeks later. 2-0 down to a struggling Alex side, the sky was about to fall in on City’s season. Jones netted a stunning equaliser and – after Crewe went 3-2 up – scored another crucial goal. There were other big performers around that period, such as James Hanson, Stephen Darby and Adam Reach, but Jones was pivotal. And though it took a long time to turn around the ship, collectively this group of players eventually managed it.

One win in 21. Luckily for City, the other 25 games delivered 13 victories.

“The Bantams are still moving through a natural period of calibration and consolidation, and Parkinson is learning this division along with us.” City 1 Gillingham 1, March

At the end of the 2013/14 season, it was announced that Phil Parkinson had been voted by City fans as the greatest manager in the club’s history. There are other names who it can be argued deserve that accolade above him, but no matter – it at the very least demonstrates the high regard in which Parkinson is held by many.

And that support was crucial when it mattered, in mid-February. After the last of the ‘one win in…’ sequence, a 1-0 loss at Carlisle, genuine pressure was heaped on the manager’s shoulders by a section of support who went completely over the top in their demands for a change.

Tuesday 18 February saw Port Vale in town for what had become a huge, huge match in City’s season. And as Parkinson walked down the touchline for the start of the match, an unexpected occurrence – he received a brilliant ovation from many supporters, who began chanting his name. A memorable show of support towards a man who has given the club so much. In his hour of need, a large part of the crowd demonstrated their support. I am unapologetically pro-Parkinson and felt a huge swell of pride at that moment. I’m sure the reception meant a great deal to him.

And his players showed that they were with him too. The Port Vale performance ranks as one of the best of the season, in view of the pressure the team was under going into it. There was an evident determination to put this poor run to bed once and for all. Parkinson had once again pulled out a result when it really mattered. Carl McHugh’s stoppage time winner was no more than City deserved. It triggered wild celebrations around Valley Parade. We badly needed that kind of moment.

And though form hasn’t been perfect since that night and the players have put in some of the worst performances of the whole season (Stevenage, Walsall and Oldham at home were woeful, as was the wretched display at Shrewsbury) they have continued to pick up points on a regular basis. Relegation was still a possibility up until Easter, but there was always a high number of clubs sandwiched between City and the bottom four. The league position has always looked healthier than the points distance to the dotted line. To finish 11th – 12 points clear of relegation and 15 shy of the play offs – demonstrates how comfortable it proved to be in the end.SAM_2784

For that, the manager and players deserve credit. Circumstances had deemed that pragmatism had to reign, meaning it wasn’t always pretty, but the final few weeks were all about confirming the maths rather than genuinely believing an instant return to League Two was on the cards. Comparisons were often cited with this season and the 2006/07 League One relegation, where in both City started really well before form collapsed from October. Well, history didn’t repeat itself this time around.

Relegation would have been a huge set back after six years of struggling to get out of League Two, so we should take pride in the fact it hasn’t.

On the final day of the season at Prenton Park, we got an up-close view of genuine relegation panic in the eyes of our hosts. It was nice to relax and watch them sweat it out, particularly after what they did to our season. ‘Bloody Tranmere’ we said in October. But it is they who for years will utter the words ‘Bloody Bradford’ with genuine pain.

As a team, they are probably going to have to be 30 goals better over a season than they are at the moment, without giving much up on the back end. And that is a hell of a lot of goals.” On next season, 23 April

Mid-table finishes are laced with imperfections and frustration. You don’t end up here by being consistent, by winning every match you are supposed to, and by always playing at the top of your game. We began the season full of goals and producing excited football, but by the winter the service to the strikeforce was non-existent and risks taken in getting forward were reduced.

Defensively we were good, especially during the latter months of the campaign. Only six teams conceded fewer goals than City’s 54, which is a notable achievement for a mid-table side. Yet at the other end, just 57 goals scored was a slight disappointment. Wells played only half a season yet remained our clear top scorer, Hanson was the only other player to hit double figures. Jones, with six, was our third highest scorer.

The areas of improvement for next season are obvious, and Parkinson faces a busy summer finding the solutions. Speaking after the Crawley victory, he expressed clear understanding that a mid-table finish in League One is only going to be tolerated for a short period, and that expectations around the club are only going to creep higher.

For now he can enjoy reflecting in the fact that 2013/14 was a case of job well done. Less thrilling than 2012/13, but more progressive than the 12 sorry years which preceded that truly amazing season. Parkinson’s next challenge is to make sure that 2013/14 is looked back upon as a stop-off point en route to bigger and better things for the club.

That the next weekend isn’t too far away from coming around.

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Always look on the bright side of life

3 May

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Tranmere Rovers 1

Pennington 7

Bradford City 2

Stead 81, Mclean 87

Saturday 3 May, 2014

Words and images by Jason McKeown

As I stood there in the Cowshed Stand, watching my beloved football club relegate another, it struck me just what a complex relationship each of us has with the team we support, and the incredible amount of emotional investment we have committed over many, many years.

Nothing in life – beyond my wife and child – has provided me with as much pleasure as Bradford City; and yet I also can’t think of anything that has consistently provided me with so much pain. All those hours spent not only attending matches, but fretting about results and performances. All the sacrifices I – and those around me – have to make. Compare the person that I am today to the one who first set foot inside Valley Parade and, beyond family and friends, there is not one aspect of what was important to me then that remains. Nothing, that is, apart from going to watch Bradford City.

And as another season of joy, frustration, delight, anger and excitement comes to end, we found ourselves laughing very loudly at the misfortune of others. Schadenfreude, as the Germans say. It is ludicrously cruel to react as we supporters did to Tranmere’s relegation – right in front of their fans, who were enduring arguably their darkest hour in decades. How they must surely hate us forever after this, and who can blame them?

But, well…so what? Excuse my language, but f*** it. This was a hilarious experience, and being part of some 2,000 City fans revelling in a party that had gone sour for the hosts will keep me chuckling throughout the summer. I have no axe to grind against Tranmere, really I don’t, and that’s kind of the point: it could have been anyone. If there’s any consolation, Rovers fans, it really wasn’t personal. Honest.

If this all sounds wrong to anyone who wasn’t part of the bouncing away support, I can only shrug my shoulders and weakly defend myself and others with the cop-out ‘you had to be there’. Or actually, you didn’t. Because relegation is something that every football fan in England, outside of the top Premier League clubs, has endured at some point. And it’s not so much the pain of relegation that blights the life of any football fan – it occurs only occasionally to most of us – but the greater amount of time spent fearing relegation. It dangles over so many of us so often, like a dagger from above ready to strike.

Following Bradford City for nearly two decades, I have been lucky enough to witness promotions and wonderful players and unbelievable goals and last minute winners and beating Liverpool and cup runs and going to Wembley twice. But more than anything else in my time following the club, I have feared relegation. Even in years of mid-table finishes, there has often been a moment where we got flustered over the league position and fretted over some unlikely collapse. In the midst of more serious relegation battles, I have genuinely lied awake at night feeling frightened. And of course, we have gone all the way and actually experienced relegation, several times.

So I – and no doubt most people around me in the Cowshed Stand – took a strange and perverse joy in watching someone else’s torture and pain. It really was enjoyable, partly because we knew what it felt like to be them. It will probably come back to haunt us on day – most things tend to in football – but on a lovely sunny May afternoon in Birkenhead, any long-term consequences of our glee failed to register. Sometimes, supporting a football club allows us to regress in our maturity and go back to laughing when people fart.

You’re going down? Ha ha!

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The cruelness of Tranmere’s harrowing afternoon was amplified by the fact much of it must have been spent believing they were going to get out of trouble. In a game they realistically had to win, Rovers took the lead after seven minutes and held onto it until there were less than 10 on the clock. And then, they managed to lose the match.

Matthew Pennington scored Tranmere’s precious early goal, although a huge slice of credit went to Jon McLaughlin, after his weak hand to a wayward shot completely changed the ball’s direction so that it bounced into the net. Ahead of a week where McLaughlin finds out if he is to be offered terms to remain at Valley Parade, this was a horror moment for the Scot that he must hope won’t affect Phil Parkinson’s decision. That McLaughlin subsequently made two brilliant saves may redeem him.

Nevertheless, as the home side found success in keeping the game’s tempo slow and expertly defending mostly disjointed visitor attacks, for a long time it looked as though McLaughlin’s mistake would win the match and, potentially, keep Tranmere in League One. They still needed results elsewhere to go their way, and on that front Crewe’s lead against Preston and Notts County still drawing at Oldham meant fate remained out of their hands.

Junior Brown is red-carded.

Junior Brown is red-carded.

The heavy tension saw an increasing edge, and tackles grew fiercer and fiercer as referee Graham Scott seemed reluctant to clamp down on the rising anger. It reached boiling point when Junior Brown went in late on Nathan Doyle. The on-loan Fleetwood winger was somewhat harshly red-carded and Tranmere faced up to playing for over an hour with 10 men.

That it took so long for City to make the numerical advantage count is something the home defence in particular deserves great credit for. Ian Goodison might have a questionable character in view of his horrendous elbow on Kyel Reid, in the reverse fixture, and the criminal charges against him – but the veteran defender was outstanding at the back. City pressure came largely from set pieces rather than through open play, and on another day – with a lot more at stake – these failings would have triggered greater frustration from the away end.

For a few brief minutes – seven in fact – Tranmere climbed out of the bottom four. A huge cheer rang out from the opposite side of the ground, as news emerged that Notts County had fallen behind at Oldham. Crewe were now 2-0 up but it didn’t matter to Rovers, so long as Oldham held out. Alan Sheehan’s 75th minute penalty equaliser for Notts County at Boundary Park also triggered loud cheering – this time from those of us in the Cowshed Stand. We were losing this game, but boy were we having a good time.

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A red card for Notts County suggested Tranmere could realistically hope for an Oldham winner, but the only team with 10-men to fold was their own. Finally, with nine minutes to play, Jon Stead equalised with a low finish that was deflected into the goal by, of all people, Goodison. It was ironic that the on-loan Stead finally broke his duck during his least effective performance for City. We went wild celebrating – Joint-Chairman Mark Lawn, stood on the row behind me, included. “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, you’re going to Shrewsbury, que sera sera.”

Tranmere folded at that point, as City pressed for a winner. In what was in truth an average Bantams’ performance, only Gary Jones really stood out and those around him struggled to make any impact. This included Aaron Mclean, but then – after a poor goal kick from James Mooney – the City striker was presented with a shooting opportunity and clinically drove the ball past the keeper and into the bottom corner. Cue pandemonium. Mclean’s last two performances have not been great, but a goal in each bodes well for next season. “Aaron Mclean, goal machine!” boomed out. Indeed.

Mclean might have made it 3-1 when another shot was well blocked by Mooney, but even an improbable two-goal swing for Tranmere would not have saved them. Notts County had secured the point they needed, and Crewe had defeated Preston despite the scare of a late North End goal. Home fans streamed out of the stadium before the end, as we continued to rub it in.

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The final whistle brought strange scenes, as a Tranmere player appeared to have an almighty bust-up with a home supporter, where he had to be dragged away, and teenage Rovers fans invaded the pitch for reasons unknown. The stewards ensured they couldn’t cross the halfway line, which meant the City players could come over and thank their supporters. All but Mclean gave away their shirts.

There was some sadness at seeing them eventually head to the dressing rooms, as it sunk in that many were saying their goodbyes and will be plying their trade elsewhere next season. Nine of today’s 18-man squad were part of the ‘We Made History’ team, and eight of them are now out of contract. We have come a long way together, these players and us supporters. It truly feels like the end of an era.

And a very joyful era at that, one of the greatest in the club’s history. Perhaps that partly explained the overriding mood of happiness that emanated across the entire Cowshed Stand all afternoon. Relegations, administrations and other, even darker times: we’ve had more than our fair share of pain, misery and upset following Bradford City, and we shouldn’t pass up on opportunities, such as this, to smile.

Through the never-ending narrative of football, what can often be overlooked is that supporting your team is supposed to be fun. There was no danger of forgetting that here.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Drury (Meredith 59), Thompson (Bennett 59), Jones, Doyle (De Vita 74), Yeates, Stead, Mclean

Not used: Jameson, McHugh, Dolan, McBurnie

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Bradford City FC Supporter of the Year 2013/14

3 May

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By Phil Abbott

The Supporters Board of Bradford City Football Club is pleased to open the nominations window for the Supporter of the Year Award which is to be reinstated for the 2013/14 season.

We’d like to celebrate some of the great support we receive as a club and know there are many people, both young and old, who have some great stories to tell about their experiences during the 2013/14 season.

The Supporters Board are asking people to nominate fans who might suitably fit the bill of ‘Supporter of the Year’, but whilst we’d be delighted to receive nominations, we are not just looking for the fan who has travelled the most miles during the season, or attended the most games (although we’d welcome nominations for people who have). This is because every fan has their own individual circumstances which dictate how they follow their beloved team. We’d love to hear about them.

So, as well as the ideas listed above, the story attached to the nomination might include one or more of the following factors:

  • Someone who arranges attending football matches for many people
  • A regular designated driver to a number of City games (home or away)
  • A person who has claret and amber running through their veins
  • A fan who has recruited a number of new supporters this season
  • A supporter who attends matches despite significant adversity (health, finance, location, transport etc)

Clearly there are many more examples that could apply and we’d love for you to let us know about each and every one of them. All we ask is that you use the official nomination form and gain the agreement of the nominee before proceeding.

Click here to download the Supporter of the Year nomination form. (It can be posted to: BCFC Supporters Board, Bradford City Football Club, The Coral Windows Stadium, Valley Parade, Bradford, BD8 7DY)

Nominations will be accepted by the Supporters Board until May 31st 2014 and then a shortlist of people will be decided upon by the Board*. The shortlisted nominees (and their nominator) will be invited as guests to a pre-match ceremony before the first home game of the 2014/15 season, and the winner will be presented with a trophy on the pitch at half-time.

Every nomination will be judged on its merits and the Supporters Board welcome as many people as possible to get in touch#. Good luck!

Terms and Conditions

* The decision of the Supporters Board is final.

# The award is not open to any paid employee of Bradford City FC, or member of the Supporters Board, nor are they able to make a nomination of another person

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part two

29 Apr

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Following part one of our in-depth season review with Bradford City’s Chief Executive, David Baldwin, we move onto discuss with David next season’s plans.

By Jason McKeown

WOAP: How is the playing budget looking for next season?

We have been pretty honest in saying that we have given the manager a bigger budget this year than was actually the break-even point. And what we were using was the carry-over of the surpluses from the Capital One cup run. So going into next year’s budget, it will again be greater than the break-even point of the trading position of the business. It will be supplemented by extraordinary income such as transfer fees.

The bottom line is that the amount that comes through the turnstiles, the amount that comes through the catering and the amount that comes through commercial – minus the running costs of the football club – the figure we give to the manager is greater than that. It is at this point where you count in extraordinary income. This includes cup run money and transfer fee money. The extra income forecasted to come through will supplement the manager’s wage budget beyond the break-even point.

We have got a reasonable figure in for gate receipts, and that’s why I keep hammering home the point about the season ticket campaign. We could just up the prices on season tickets and still achieve the same income number, but we genuinely want to make sure that the price can remain as competitive as possible. Next season will be three years on the bounce at the current price, and it’s going to be hard to put in what we have for the playing budget if we don’t get the numbers through the door. We are hoping that we will get close to the same numbers as this season.

This is where the 12th man comes in. I need people to put things into perspective and think ‘we are staying in League One, we are back in League One next season and we’ve still got the same prices for the season we were promoted from League Two’.

The club is trying to be as fair as possible to get as many bodies in here, and to get the best atmosphere at the ground – so there is a whole army going on a journey together. This is more preferable than saying ‘oh well we will put the prices up to normal prices – some League One clubs are charging £350-£395 – as we will only need half the numbers to earn half the money’. And actually, halving the numbers would reduce our operating costs substantially, so we would only need 40% of the current numbers. So instead of 10,000 season tickets, we could have 4,000.

But it would destroy the atmosphere and it would destroy the journey. We don’t want to do that.

WOAP: Season ticket sales are obviously vital…

This is where we need the fans to do their bit. We need them to continue coming in numbers. And to consider it value for money. And to appreciate that it isn’t always going to be perfect and it isn’t always going to be the best performance in the world.

This is a club with an endeavour to keep improving itself. And I think from 2007, when I first joined, to 2014 today – this is a much improved football club.

It is much improved with its community engagement. It is much improved with its social responsibility in terms of the geographical area. We are engaging with over 2,000 people per week in the community, in terms of some form of coaching and educational exercise activity. And that’s excluding the partnership with the (One in a Million) school.

You look at the community stand, there are a thousand people coming every home game thanks to the community programme: that’s the next generation fans that we are encouraging. We are not just giving tickets away, it is not based on that. It is ticket incentive schemes, for different schools and organisations across the district. It’s not the same thousand people every game, it’s potentially a different thousand people on 23 different occasions. It is many more people bought into the potential of becoming Bradford City supporters for life.

I’m very grateful that some of the contribution to this community scheme is being provided by a private benefactor, who wanted to encourage next generations. I won’t embarrass him by naming him because that wasn’t part of the agreement, but the bottom line is that it was a fantastic gesture by him. And as a result, I genuinely believe that we will have another generation of die-hard Bradford City supporters.

That is progressive improvements. There are only 12 people running this football club full time. 12 people have to look after 14,000. People are committed tirelessly to their jobs. That £199 is not just going towards putting 11 players out onto the pitch. It is going towards building up a football club that has a sustainable future.

WOAP: So how are season ticket sales going?

They are behind schedule, but I do think that people will wait as late as possible. I expect there will be a late rush, and it will be a bit of squeaky bum time to get to those numbers. The offer runs out on 31st May, and then all season ticket prices step up by £100. No decision has been made on the Flexi-Cards from that point.

In order to be guaranteed the cheap prices, buy before the 31st May – and I don’t mind making the sales platter! I want what is best for this football club, and I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with 10,000 people, cheering on this team and having a real go next year.

We are putting faith in the manager with the budget we are setting him; but we need the numbers in order for that to work, otherwise we would have to make adjustments later in the season. We don’t want to do that.

The easiest thing to do is to double the prices and go back to full market value. But that is not being progressive, that is not being socially inclusive, that is not being community-spirited.

WOAP: The Mark Stewart case has obviously hung over the club for over a year. What is the impact of its outcome?

We hoped that we would have it completely overturned. We were brave enough to go for it (with the appeal), because the fight was worth the fight.

Ultimately they wanted 330,000 euros under the compensation scheme, and they have ended up with 185,000 euros. So you would argue over the period between the start and the end, the saving in-between is significant.

It is frustrating, because you measure a player by his performance and we didn’t get a performance from Mark Stewart at Bradford City Football Club. So as a result of that, you think it’s a lot of money to spend for a low rate of return. Nobody likes to pay for something that they don’t feel they have had value of money from.

Ultimately the lessons have been learned. I do genuinely feel that we were treated unfairly, but you have to draw a line under it. It happened, but it will never happen again.

My role at the football club has migrated over the past seven years. My first responsibility was to revive the marketing and commercial side of the football club. Then it became operationally-driven. And then, over the last two years, my responsibility has increased to governance. Now, everything goes through me, and it has gone through me for the past two years.

When it comes to contractual situations and the budget control, that is now in my remit and I work very closely with the manager on that. I have been responsible for every single transfer in and out since 2012, and will continue to do so.

There was a time where we had to take stock of who did what at this football club – and the Mark Stewart case provided that moment. There are now very defined roles on who does what.

WOAP: A large proportion of the squad is out of contract in the summer. Have the Board and Phil started to plan who may be offered terms and who will go?

There are talks going on between the Board and the manager in terms of devising a plan. There are talks going on between myself and some of the players in the squad in terms of their activity for next season. We will reveal the outcome of those conversations in the fullness of time when they are dealt with and done properly. I won’t speculate on where we might be with them.

In addition to that there is a talent identification process going on, and a hit list of targets in all positions and throughout the whole squad. We are looking at who we have got in the building, who we have got in the building who is out of contract, and who is out there in the market place that could fit the Bradford City mould. We want the dynamics to be right in terms of if they would fit in with the team, ones that will wear the shirt with pride.

So we are having lots of meetings going on at the moment, and there is lots of tracking taking place. I was at the Guiseley vs Harrogate Town game the other day, and we are constantly reviewing players.

Other people speculate, and you see names on Claret and Banter with people saying ‘Why don’t we sign X? Why haven’t we looked at him’ Well I can assure you that they have not mentioned anybody who we don’t know about! And we know a lot about them all. We do our homework well.

WOAP: There are also a few players clearly not in Phil’s plans who have another year on their contracts to go, is this being looked at?

There is always a post-season review, and the manager will look into those players’ eyes and have a discussion with them about where they see themselves, and what they think they are going to bring to the table next year. Once you get that information you evaluate it and decide the best option for the club.

There is always a cost of moving out a player who is under contract, whichever club you are at. There’s also then a cost to bringing in a replacement. And so you’ve got to ask the question of what is the net effect of exiting a player and bringing in another one? With the budget, when it is gone it is gone, and you could end up making compromises elsewhere. If it costs you too dearly to take a player out, the danger is you weaken your starting point.

It is all up for discussion and no decisions have been made on any player. It has been difficult for the new players to break into the established squad, which had had a life-changing experience last season. But the one beauty about the end of the season is we turn that page and start with a blank canvas.

WOAP: A clear highlight this season has been the performances of the Bradford City youth set up…

For a lower league club, the youth set up offers the ability to realise the asset value of certain players at a younger age by selling them, and the funding of that contributes towards the first team running costs. The Fabian Delph sale to Aston Villa funded the Stuart season where we had a real go, for example. Without that money, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity and we wouldn’t have been in the top three until March.

The youth department is self-sustaining. It runs itself and it doesn’t lose money. It can also make a positive difference to the first team budget. You don’t plan for those youth sales, so once they arrive you can decide how this extra money will be used.

The youth team are all training at one site on Woodhouse Grove, and all of a sudden we are seeing 12, 13, 14-year-olds catching the eye of big clubs. We won’t necessarily see the benefits of these players, as people who step up to our first team, for three or four years; or we can instead sell them as assets earlier.

It is a healthy youth system, with a good crop of players throughout each age group. And good active opportunities for trailists to come in as well. There is no greater feeling than to see one of the stars of your youth team make the step up to the first team.

WOAP: And how is the RIASA link-up progressing?

There was recently a Bradford City friendly against Hull City – featuring several Hull first team players, who needed a game before their FA Cup Semi Final against Sheffield United – and eight of the City XI were RIASA players. We lost 3-0, which I would consider to be a moral victory!

The goalkeeper performed quite well, and Phil is keeping an eye on him. He is a North American, but he may have Swedish heritage which we are looking into at the moment. It is complicated, but we know what we are doing with overseas players.

WOAP: There has been a criticism that the failure of squad players to challenge first teamers for a place is due to the lack of a proper reserve team. Is this something the club would agree with?

I think that’s a big assumption. Whenever we have needed to have a game on we have set one up, and we haven’t always announced the games we have played. We can set them up quite easily, when we want them to take place rather than have a fixture list enforced upon us, and also control the level of football that you play against.

The danger you get with running the reserves is one week you can be playing an under 18s team who had a game the previous Saturday. And also sometimes, because of lack of first team players, we were doing the same with our youth team players. Now is that fair to their development?

I would say that our youth team has benefited substantially from not having the commitment to reserve team fixtures. It gives them an opportunity to grow and develop at their normal rate.

WOAP: Is there a vision for the club on where the Board expects to be over a certain timeframe?

It’s very dangerous to put a specific time on it, but we want to push to get to the Championship. We don’t want to be a yo-yo club that comes straight back down, we want to be sustainable there. People always ask the question ‘how are you going to be sustainable in the Championship if you can only just generate a budget for League One?’ Well the answer to that is you get an extra £6 million a year just for being in the Championship.

The beauty for us as a club is that our infrastructure is set up for the Championship. We have the training facilities, and the stadium is right, the fan numbers are right because the ticket prices are right. The corporate stuff we do is in place.

We have all the ingredients in place to be a successful Championship club, and we don’t have to make sweeping changes when we get there. And the extra funding required when we are there comes through the Football League’s distribution of money. It is such a massive jump up. 12% of the pot goes to League One clubs, and 8% goes to League Two. The other 80% goes to the Championship clubs. So that’s the golden goose to get.

And if we did get there, all of that money would be invested into the playing side of the club. It’s not going to go out in dividends, it’s not going to go to operational staff at the club – there isn’t that many of us. It would go onto increasing the playing budget.

WOAP: Finally, any plans for pre-season yet in place? Any tours to look forward to?

We haven’t decided on a tour as yet. We have two friendly games confirmed, but no dates yet. One of them is we will be going to Guiseley again. We have also arranged a game at home to a Championship club. It will be played somewhere between 26th July and 2nd August. Gate prices will be £10 adults and £5 concessions.

If you are planning your holidays, try and be back for the 26th!

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