Taking Bradford forwards, not backwards

City Park. Photo courtesy of Dave Kaye

Plymouth Argyle vs Bradford City match preview

 @Home Park on Saturday 31 March, 2012

2pm last Saturday. Ahead of the home game with Gillingham, we were are at Bradford City Park, for the grand opening of the new £24 million attraction. It is a gloriously sunny day and – although the organisers’ decision to draw out the affair means we don’t have time to stick around to see the mirror pool and fountains filled – it is nice to be part of the excitement and buzz amongst a packed crowd.

As we all know, Bradford the city has had too many troubled times over the past decade. The 10-year hole in the city centre where a shopping centre was supposed to be up and running – and the endless debate about the beautiful but disused Odeon building – acting as prominent reminders of a decline that it seemed no one was capable or had the vision to reverse. But now the hole has at least been made into a park temporarily, while the shopping centre is finally going to be built (within the next seven years). And though the value of the City Park is fiercely debated, anything to make Bradford a nicer place surely has to have some merit.

Slowly but surely, the city of Bradford is making positive steps.

Sport means a great deal to a lot of the population, including the surrounding area, and this week the news surrounding the two professional sports clubs has not been good. Bradford Bulls requiring £500,000 by Easter in order to remain in existence, while the worldwide headlines Bradford City has generated were hugely embarrassing; masking an even darker problem that the club’s very existence is threatened by having three key players suspended in the crucial run-in.

And it all leads to a serious question – could Bradford lose both its major sporting clubs within the next six weeks?

The Bulls are making positive noises about securing the funding needed to continue beyond a Good Friday match with Leeds Rhinos, but despite raising £100k within the first two days of their announcement, there is some way to go and administration could be difficult to avoid.  City stand four points clear of the relegation zone with seven games to play. Matters in their own hands for sure, but losing three important players and a tough run-in means it could prove quite a battle.

The consequences of a City relegation have been mooted before. In February joint-Chairman Mark Lawn apparently told a Skipton Bantams meeting it would mean the club would have to leave Valley Parade, in order to survive.

As we saw 12 months ago when the idea of moving from Valley Parade was raised, leaving our home could trigger a period of administration, like the Bulls face, and the Conference has in recent years taken a dim view of teams entering their league in such a bad financial position. Maybe it’s a worse case scenario, but it’s not as unlikely to imagine a AFC Bradford City, starting down the pyramid, next season as it might have seemed a few months ago.

Meanwhile the Bulls’ financial woes have been the subject of knowing whispers for over a year now, despite their chairman Peter Hood stating that selling Odsal to the RFL in January did not mean the club was in any difficulties. Once the best Rugby League team in the world, the last few years have proven difficult for the Bulls on and off the field, and right now there is not much sympathy from people who don’t support the club.

I personally have no interest, or affiliation, for the Bulls; but to me it would be very sad for the city of Bradford if they were unable to survive this crisis. That Bradford has two professional sporting clubs which clearly mean a lot to different people is something to remain proud of, especially in view of the wider problems afflicting the city. Morale-wise, it would be a massive blow to lose either outfit, and certainly both.

Though, of course, you and I are far more concerned by the Bantams right now and making sure we at least see out the season with our Football League status in tact. And there is no doubt that tomorrow’s game with Plymouth Argyle is a pivotal moment in measuring up our chances.

Lose tomorrow, and you can only imagine the misery that will be felt by us all and how much worse our plight will seem. Whatever happens we won’t end the day in the bottom two, but the Easter games against 5th placed Southend and at 4th placed Shrewsbury – unbeaten at home for over a year – look daunting. Defeat tomorrow wouldn’t spell the end, but you do feel that returning from Devon with at least a point could prove crucial.

Matt Duke replaces Jon McLaughlin in goal tomorrow, after being recalled from Northampton this week where he had been playing well. As City’s woes have continued over the last few weeks – with the Cobblers and Duke lifting themselves off the bottom of the table to overtake us – the wisdom of loaning him to a relegation rival was beginning to look increasingly dubious anyway. Contracted to the club for another year, Duke has a big opportunity to re-take the number 1 jersey it seemed he had lost forever.

In defence we do not know who will play. Matt Fry will start if fit, despite some unconvincing recent displays. On the right Rob Kozluk was poor on Tuesday, but likely to keep his place if Simon Ramsden is fit enough to return and play centre back.

Then there are the options of Lee Bullock – excellent in midfield lately – and Guy Branston to come in. Whispers suggest Branston was a long way out of Phil Parkinson’s thinking, but events dictate that the summer signing has to now be considered. The T&A reporter Simon Parker tweeted that he thinks Branston will come in. Whatever Parkinson’s intentions, expect it to be kept heavily under wraps.

In midfield Bullock’s possible requirement in defence and an injury to Ricky Ravenhill – his departure through injury a crucial moment in why we lost on Tuesday – also presents some headaches. Michael Flynn did well in coming on once City were chasing the game, Ritchie Jones has to come back into Parkinson’s thinking after scandalously being overlooked over the past few weeks; David Syers is still recovering from injury problems, but performed well in the second half against Gillingham.

Kyel Reid – still on baby watch – will hopefully be able to play on the left. As much as Crawley’s tactics and style grated on Tuesday, you had to admire the approach they took in silencing City’s dangerman. The right back was clearly instructed to tackle Reid as soon as he picked up possession, so he wasn’t given any time to get the ball where he wanted and into his stride. Defenders are always taught to stay on their feet, and the Crawley player committing himself so early could have easily ended with Reid beating him for skill and then having a free run down the flank. But Reid firmly lost the battle, validating Crawley’s marking approach.

On the right, Craig Fagan took a lot of stick midweek – which seemed highly unfair – and Parkinson will want to see more. Or he could go with Chris Dagnall in the hole again, behind James Hanson and Nahki Wells. The latter is very unlucky not to be in the team right now, but it’s a difficult balance for Parkinson and the Bermudian is certainly an excellent impact sub.

Deane Smalley, Will Atkinson, Andy Haworth and Chris Mitchell will also be pushing to be included.

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1 reply

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