It has been one of the day’s quirky talking points. Making the BBC National news and international headlines; even Robbie Savage was asked to give his view. All day long at work, football and non-football fans alike have been keen to ask me for an eyewitness account of what happened.
But what is funny to everyone else is hugely serious to everyone connected with Bradford City football club.
Not since beating Liverpool 1-0 to survive in the Premier League all those years ago has there been such a heavy spotlight on the club. The dreadful brawl which took place at full time has quickly triggered the FA to launch an investigation. The club will not be appealing any of the red cards given to Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver and Jon McLaughlin – that they were even publically contemplating contesting those decisions was pretty embarrassing – and is left bracing itself for a heavy fine.
How do we move on? First and foremost, there has to be action taken against the shamed three City players. There is no doubt they badly over stepped the mark, and have badly let down the club in their actions. Calls from some that they should never play for City again should not be taken seriously – one can only imagine how awful they must feel about what happened – but if nothing more City have to send out a powerful message that they don’t condone this behaviour.
So fines all round then, and a public apology wouldn’t go amiss. Now is not the time to be pointing fingers of blame at the opposition – a route that would only further damage the club’s reputation. We, present at Valley Parade, know fully well the shocking events that triggered Davies, Oliver and McLaughlin to explode. But the watching world does not; they have seen only the retaliation. There should be no attempt to excuse what we did, instead a sensible and low key acceptance of blame.
Then the club has to close ranks and concentrate on the next game. Plymouth is massive, but there may be something good about the fact it is a game which takes place hundreds of miles away from the current spotlight. The squad will travel to Devon Friday in the company of only themselves and none of this pressure. That will help to foster team bonding in trying circumstances, and ensure a composure is quickly restored to the players which had gone so badly missing on Tuesday.
Parkinson has the options to cover for the loss of the three players, and integrating them quickly into the team is as big a priority. We are talking about the three positions in the team that you mess about with least of all. Understandings between the new players – and the regular team mates – need to be built quickly. This ain’t pre-season.
Getting something on Saturday could be crucial. Defeat, and the Easter weekend games look all the more daunting. The next City victory – assuming we win again this season – will be a huge step towards survival, given we realistically only need to acquire 7 more points from the 21 left to play for in order to stay up. If they can take that huge step against Plymouth – at the same time defeating a relegation rival – the pressure becomes a lot easier to cope with.
Phil Parkinson has been criticised for failing to control the players – which on the surface seems very unfair, but is a theme we will return to – and there is no doubt the next few days are a huge test of his management skills. Watch the rest of the players in that brawl on Tuesday and you will spot the likes of Michael Flynn and James Hanson trying to calm things down, but others like Craig Fagan looking just as angry. Parkinson has to harness the mixed emotions that will be felt over what happened – and how they feel about their dismissed team mates – into a positive manner.
Do City turn up at Plymouth sulking, or determined to put things right? On Saturday Parkinson revealed that, at 2-0 down, the players wanted to work doubly hard to make up for Simon Ramsden’s own goal. The best way they can help their no doubt devastated team mates now is to make sure their madness doesn’t hurt the club more.
So react in the right way this week, get focused on Plymouth and get the club to reach survival. But if and when the dust settles, there has to be serious thought paid towards how things came to this. It’s probably time to place a giant mirror and question how much a part we’ve all played in three players losing their heads.
City this season have become a club regularly seething with injustice. So many times we have been robbed by awful refereeing decisions, so many times have we not achieved the results that we should have. Referees have never had as difficult a time from us supporters, management and players as they have had over the last few months. We get on their backs, and there is a lot of anger headed their way. Many opposition teams and players have faced a similar barrage of anger.
In many ways Tuesday was just an extension of that. The status quo of City struggling to overcome opposition and us feeling a sense of injustice for the reasons why. I personally was livid and distraught at the way Crawley played, and left Valley Parade feeling very upset that a team would sink to such lows depths of thinking that it was acceptable, and also so obviously succeed from taking that approach. The referee wasn’t bad, but was also playing into their hands.
At full time we were all very angry by what we had seen, and perhaps there is a danger that all of us – supporters, chairmen, manager (Parkinson refused to shake Steve Evans’ hand) and players – have allowed ourselves to feel righteously angry too often this season. The red mist descended amongst the players, but we all felt the way they did.
Perhaps the lesson to take from it all is that we all need to take a step back and calm down. Putting pressure on referees is a good thing – we have a huge crowd, use it to our advantage – but not overstepping the mark. I must admit I was amused, like others, when well-known City fan Charlie attempted to deck the linesman against Gillingham on Saturday. He was stopped, but the players on Tuesday were not. Charlie may be an extreme, but if we are all allowing a chip on our shoulder to grow, we are in danger of losing sight of what really matters.
Because that sense of injustice has led to something truly awful happening, and the only damage it has caused is on ourselves. We have to rethink where this sense of injustice has taken us, and work out a way to rise above it.
The club’s very existence is threatened by what happened Tuesday. Now we have to move forwards in a humble but positive way to make sure that – a hefty fine apart – it only ever led to a day in the national news, and was not the catalyst for the end of this football club as we know it.