By Luke Lockwood
Three years ago James Hanson was purchased from non-league Guiseley for the minimal sum of £7,500 – although to Bradford City no transfer fee is minimal. At that point he was viewed as one for the future. However, the creaky legs of wily old Peter Thorne finally gave up on him, we couldn’t decide if Gareth Evans was a winger or striker, the signing of Michael Boulding hadn’t been what we hoped and Boulding Junior was just a makeweight in tempting the prior.
Therefore, a lot of pressure was placed on the broad shoulders of a young James Hanson.
To his credit ‘Jimmy’ coped fantastically well and the Valley Parade faithful could not believe how well the young, local lad adjusted from stacking shelves in the Co-op just a few months earlier. The target man went on to score 12 goals in his 34 league games for the 2009/10 season; rumours were flying around that our neighbours down the road were ready to swoop, and the Board were encouraged by fans to tie ‘our Jimmy’ down for the longer-term. They duly obliged and a new four year contract followed his Player of the Season and Top Scorer accolades – it appeared, for once, almost every City fan was pleased.
Prior to 2010/11 there was a lot of talk about how Hanson still needed time to develop and may not be ready to be the focal point of Bradford’s attack. Thorne and the Bouldings had gone, so Peter Taylor had to find some strikers: Lewis Moult clearly wasn’t fancied, Chib Chilaka wasn’t ready, we were still trying to decide if Gareth Evans was a winger or a striker and Jake Speight was in prison! Then disaster struck, Hanson had been working too hard in the gym to beef up for the added pressure of his second season and injured himself in the process.
We were down to the bare bones in striking options and Luke Oliver was forced up front to try and accommodate Peter Taylor’s ‘hoof it’ tactic. At this point everyone – fans, manager and most of all Luke Oliver – were hoping Jimmy would return sooner rather than later and so he did; too soon! Hanson was rushed back into contention last season, clearly before being ready, with more expectation than ever. And, as further injuries followed and his form failed to reach the levels of the prior season, a few murmurs of “second season syndrome” turned into heated debates about Hanson’s ability.
Questions about his attitude were raised – including by his own manager – and he was rumoured to be seen frequently in local pubs. In fairness to James, he was probably trying to escape the pressure of 11,000 people waiting in expectation for him to become their beloved Bradford’s saviour. It appeared we fans had already forgotten he was only working in the Co-op 18 months before.
The criticism of Hanson astounded me all the more when compared to our previous target man, Barry Conlon; who became somewhat of a cult hero at Bradford. On goal scoring alone Jimmy’s worst season in the league last year was one short of Barry’s best – Barry also took penalties. Our big, tough, Irish centre forward would fall over and look at the referee every time a little full back came within 5 yards of him. As for attitude…well I can say from experience that Barry was great to have a pint with!
I realise the majority of fans would prefer to have Hanson lining up for Bradford on a Saturday, but it both confuses and irritates me why Barry would have his name sung across the ground when young James – in need of our support – is more likely to receive jeers and boos.
Taylor, to his credit, tried to help Hanson out by bringing in experienced strikers Jason Price, Scott Dobie and Kevin Ellison. But with the possible exception of Price, none really worked out and Hanson finished a disappointing season still as the club’s second top scorer on nine goals.
Many considered 2011/12 to be a make or break for season for Hanson. Some had already written him off. But after what appeared to be a mixed start, Hanson is beginning to win over even his most outspoken critics on the message boards – a difficult thing to do at City!
He has already reached double figures halfway into the season, and finds himself amongst the top 15 scorers in the division. This is even more impressive considering the majority of players in front of him are penalty takers at their club. Given the amount of penalties City have won this season – should he have taken them – he could quite easily be right up there.
He is also receiving plaudits for the way he is bullying opposition defences, including the stand out occasion for me against Shrewsbury and one of the most respected defenders at this level, Ian Sharps. As a commanding centre half, Sharps would take his place in any defence in League Two and a lot of defences in the division above; but when Shrewsbury came to Valley Parade he was made to look small, weak and out of his depth by a determined Hanson.
When considering the amount of work he puts in outside of the box, it makes his record in front of goal all the more impressive – because target men at this level aren’t often particularly prolific. For example, if we were to look at the top marksmen since we have been in the basement division they aren’t exactly giants; Jack Lester is 5’9, Adam Le Fondre 5’10, our very own Peter Thorne just reached the 6 foot barrier. The trend has continued this season: Izale Mcleod is 5’11, Billy Kee 5’9 and Matt Tubbs also 5’9.
It seems to be accepted at this level for one big striker to do all the donkey work while his little partner takes the glory, but Hanson seems able to do both. His own partnership with a little man in Nakhi Wells seems to be taking shape, and hopefully it can keep getting improving. But as he has managed five goals in the last six games, it doesn’t look as if Hanson will be content just to assist Wells.
Supposedly we are still looking out for a new striker too and, although I agree one is needed, I only hope the incoming forward will have to wait for his opportunity while our current little and large pairing continue their purple patch.
In his time here it has often been speculated what level Hanson could reach. During his first season many touted him as having the potential to be a Championship player. Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hanson appear at that level, I do think he would be slightly out of his depth. On the other hand I certainly do see him continuing to spearhead our attack and attempt to get us back up the divisions over the next few years. Hopefully, if that is the case, he will deserve a chance to prove himself at that level in claret and amber. That is, of course, unless he starts receiving interest from elsewhere once again.
Either way £7,500 looks to be a very modest now.
Categories: Midweek Player Focus