Bradford City vs Hereford Town match preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 25 February, 2012
A solitary £1 coin is all you need to watch Bradford City play Hereford United tomorrow afternoon. It’s an important match for both sides, and the Bantams have thrown open the doors to the Bradford district in the hope of significantly boosting the attendance. It’s time to welcome the infrequent followers of Bradford City.
The relationship City have with more casual supporters has not been the most welcoming over the past few years. Bargain season tickets for those prepared to commit to 23 games a season, but a-not-insignificant £20 note is normally required for an adult to buy a ticket for just one match. That is off-putting, and it becomes difficult for City to attract new supporters beyond the instantly committed.
So one-off games with bargain ticket prices like tomorrow should matter a great deal. There is a school of thought which says we supporters shouldn’t care about those who won’t buy season tickets and choose to undertake different activities than watch City during their spare time. But I’ve never understand it myself and – looking around at how empty Valley Parade was during the Port Vale game – I personally don’t want to see this club die because of an ever-dwindling support. We need the floaters.
There is no doubt that year-on-year decline in season ticket sales make it harder for the club to keep them so cheap. And though you can sense a backlash is building if next year’s prices significantly go up, it’s hard to see how the club can spend so much money on players and keep season tickets so low if take up for the latter continues to fall. Tomorrow should be considered an interactive advert for buying a 2012/13 season ticket.
Exactly a year ago this weekend, a similar £1 offer contributed to 15,332 people watching the Bradford City vs Stockport County fixture – 4,205 more people than the average attendance for that season. Perhaps many of these additional supporters have been back once or twice since, or maybe it’s being a full year since they last set foot inside Valley Parade. The question is whether we could all be contributing more towards encouraging them to visit more often.
The first problem is the quality of the football – that is to say being stuck in League Two, rather than a criticism of Phil Parkinson. It’s not that long ago that a 15,332 attendance would have been considered disappointing, but the long fall down the leagues has undoubtedly put many people off becoming regular visitors to Valley Parade. Watched from afar, there’s little about the 19th place in League Two that City currently occupy which would excite.
Indeed look at the circumstances a year ago. The club was struggling badly after pre-season optimism of a promotion push. Stockport was a six-pointer to avoid falling out of the division, rather than climbing up and out of it. Peter Taylor had just resigned as manager and was taking charge of his final game. Whatever view we have of the job Taylor performed, that City go into this fixture only two league positions higher than a year ago is not exactly a great reflection of progress.
But still, when has City really being about the glory? The Stockport game might have being low on quality, but looking back it was certainly edge-of-the-seat excitement and took place in front of a passionate home crowd. The atmosphere was dreadful in the last home game against Port Vale, and one hopes the sight of a bigger crowd tomorrow will increase the frequency and volume of chanting. To our less regular visitors, we can remind them that there is nowhere in the world you’d rather want to be on a Saturday afternoon than a noisy Valley Parade.
That said there is good noise and bad. Hereford’s arrival brings back memories of the encounter last season where former Bantam Joe Colbeck – still a Hereford player – was booed and called horrible names by City supporters who used to sing his name. It was quite simply sickening to hear a young player who had been part of the club for many years – and who always gave his all – receiving such a reception. What was the message we were trying to convey by calling a former player of the year a w&^ker?
I cringe at the idea that floating supporters who attend tomorrow – perhaps bringing their family for a day out – might have to witness Colbeck being sworn at. And if they don’t understand why that is happening, to find out from others that he was a former youth team player who many people didn’t rate will hardly leave them feeling this is a welcoming environment to return to.
It’s inevitable that Colbeck will be booed tomorrow by some; but please, let’s at least not take it any further and turn it into vicious abuse again. It’s unjustified, it’s ugly and it is embarrassing. By and large Colbeck did his best while wearing claret and amber, and though he left under something of a clould with a dispute over a new contract (where he rejected what he felt was a low offer and wanted to try and impress enough to justify a better deal, before he was sold to Oldham), he still deserves to be recognised.
Beyond fostering a positive atmosphere, it falls on the players to win over the infrequent visitor. Saturday’s unexpected victory over Torquay United has significantly lifted the mood surrounding the club, and the challenge is to keep that going and build a winning streak similar to how 2011 ended.
The big question will be what formation Parkinson employs, after enjoying success from 4-4-1-1 at Torquay, with Michael Flynn playing just behind Craig Fagan. Traditionally there has been great resistance from City fans towards anything resembling a 4-5-1; but with a lack of options up front and an abundance of quality central midfielders to deploy, it makes sense to pick the best players and work a formation around it, especially in away games.
So hopefully Parkinson will go again with 4-4-1-1 – a formation that also enabled Kyel Reid and Deane Smalley to make stronger impressions from the flanks. Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones both appear more comfortable sitting deeper rather than charging into the box, so can provide a solid unit in the middle of the park that gives Reid, Smalley and Flynn greater freedom to support Fagan. Nahki Wells was unfortunate not to win a starting recall at Torquay after impressing as sub against Port Vale, but even if he again starts from the bench he could still play a key role.
In defence, there are unlikely to be changes as Parkinson picks as strong a back four as he can muster. Simon Ramsden’s starting return at Torquay was a big boost, while Marcel Seip continues to develop effectively in the role of left back (though Matt Fry may come back in). Suspensions and injuries allowing, there will be no budging Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver in the centre of defence.
Guy Branston is, however, back in contention after completing a practice match against Chesterfield midweek (and there was a superb interview with him on Bantams Banter podcast 13, check it out). The unassuming Jon McLaughlin makes an 18th consecutive appearance in goal.
Hereford arrive two places and four points behind a Bantams side unbeaten at home in three months. The Bulls are winless in seven games and have only managed one victory in 17. On paper at least, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect choice of opposition for City to impress a few extra thousand, £1-paying people by playing. Unlike last weekend, tomorrow let’s hope City aren’t involved in a result which goes completely against the formbook.