By Jason McKeown
As news coming out of Valley Parade seemingly grinds to a standstill, two professionals who have spent several years reporting on Bradford City rocked up at the latest Skipton and Craven Bantams Supporters Club meeting, on Wednesday, to instigate a good old chit chat about all things City.
Simon Parker (Telegraph & Argus Bradford City reporter) and Derm Tanner (former head of sport at BBC Radio Leeds) spent a near 90 minutes fielding questions from around 30 supporters; ranging from their favourite and not so favourite memories of covering the club, through to who Phil Parkinson might be signing this summer.
The pair started off firmly in reminiscing mode, asked about the most difficult players and managers they have had to deal with from their time reporting on City. Simon opted for Michael Branch as his player, “He didn’t like me…and when he left for Chester, he made a pop about how at least he was moving onto something better now. Didn’t quite work out that way!”
“There aren’t too many (difficult players), even in the Premier League they were very approachable” said Derm, before opting for Tommy Doherty. “Never ever spoke to me. I was determined to interview him, but he would always keep his head down and never speak to me. The best I could ever get out of him were grunts. The worst interviewee had to be Lewis Emmanuel. I asked him nine questions once, and I only ended up with about 20 seconds I could use.”
Simon added: “The hardest interview for me was Jaunjo. Especially as I had to interview on his mobile which kept breaking up. In the end I had to make it up!”
On managers, Derm again was polite in not criticising anyone, but did opt for Lennie Lawrence as the strangest, “When the microphone was on he was fantastic, and we would be bubbly and you could have a chat and laugh with him. But once the tape finished – because we used tapes in those days – that was your lot. If you tried to have any banter with him before or after, you’d just get one word answers. He wasn’t unpleasant though.”
That led Simon to talk about Taylor. “There wasn’t any manager that was particularly nasty. Peter Taylor could be very awkward, but he gave you great answers. Again there was not much chat before or after, but he was in the zone when you spoke to him. If you asked him a good question, he would give you a proper answer. He would give you some cracking stuff, but you had to ring him at a certain time. If you rang him at 9.05am on a Monday instead of 9am, he would demand to know why you were late!
“If you caught him when he was down in Essex, which was quite a lot, and he was walking his dogs, he would talk to you for 25 minutes and give you cracking answers to five questions. From the Jamaican FA, substitutions the previous week, the referee, Ronnie Moore – and you’d have all your stories for an entire week. He was brilliant, though he always kept you on your toes and was very wary of what you were saying to him.”
Derm added, “I got on really well with Taylor. But the slightly alarming thing was that he would listen to what you had to say on the radio. Normally a manager wouldn’t bother, but he would quiz me about it and say things like ‘I’m not happy about what you had to say last night’. And the colour would drain from my face!”
Derm was also asked who would be replacing him on Radio Leeds as the Bradford City commentator, after it was announced last April that he was leaving the station. David Fletcher was the reply, a newspaper journalist and radio commentator of Halifax Town for many years (he also helped to cover Leeds United games last season). “I was talking to him on Friday night, and he is really excited.”
Matters turned to current affairs and the quest for gossip and transfer news. On Andy Gray, Simon explained, “He’s currently on his second holiday. As I understand it, Bradford are still very hopeful. But the only reason he hasn’t put pen to paper yet is he is waiting to see if any Championship clubs come in. I don’t think that if a League One club came in, he would take that over City. If he comes it will be for the right reasons.”
On the signing of Rory McArdle and future of Luke Oliver, Simon offered the opinion, “I think it means that Luke Oliver will be third choice centre half. I think it will be Davies and McArdle. Parkinson has certainly been after McArdle for a while. Apparently he did a very good job at Aberdeen and did very well at this level at Rochdale. I think Parkinson wants to re-sign Luke Oliver, but McArdle will play ahead of him.”
“I want Luke Oliver to stay,” added Derm. “I think he’s a hell of a player, and if you’d asked me that this time last year I probably wouldn’t have said that. I think we all thought ‘blimey what has happened to this guy, he looks a completely different player’. And he rightly got every award under the sun last season. He was so consistent. I don’t remember him having even close to a bad game. Whether he will want to stay, after seeing McArdle come in, I’m not sure.”
What about Guy Branston? “I think Parkinson doesn’t think he is good enough, but it’s nothing personal,” said Simon. “He did very well at the end of last season”, chipped in Derm. “But now he’s seen another centre half come in. That must be really difficult for him, when you consider that he arrived last summer as Jackson’s marque signing. He was the skipper, and talked eloquently at a fans forum at the start of the season. I thought it was a great choice. But of course it starts horribly wrong, and Jacko goes. And then Parkinson comes in, has a look at Branston and clearly thinks ‘not for me’”.
David Syers, who left the club last week, was also a hot topic. “Phil Parkinson said he rated him, but he had a price,” stated Derm. “I don’t think I’m giving much away when I say that Syers’ original deal was peanuts. And when Parkinson arrived he looked at it and thought ‘that’s a bit vulnerable’. Although when Parkinson arrived Syers was long-term injured, it was Parkinson who tried to sort a deal out and improve his contract considerably. But Syers didn’t have to sign a deal in January, and he chose not to do so at the time. What happened in-between then and the end of the season, I’m not sure.”
“There was a suggestion, and it’s nothing more than that, that Syers was thought to have been promised a more lucrative contract at the start of the season by a certain person no longer at the club,” added Simon. “It didn’t get as far as the Board, but the player himself took it as more of a factual offer than perhaps it was.”
Everyone in the room knew that the certain person was Archie Christie, which led to questions about the former Chief Scout. Simon said, “He was a very charismatic character, larger than life, you could hear him coming from about a mile away. Him and Jacko didn’t get on from minute one, which was obvious to everyone. It was always going to go bang and disappear very quickly.
“The idea of a youth development squad was very good on paper, but when you’re near the bottom of the fourth division you can’t really take as long as you want to bring players through.”
Derm also said, “Archie Christie was an excellent salesman, and he said to the Board that the problem you have at this club is you don’t sell players, and if you can harvest young players you can eventually sell them on for profit. And who in the Board would disagree with that idea? But the problem you have, which is how Parkinson saw it when he came in, was that you had all these players. Who’s looking after them? Who’s coaching them? Who’s being the physio for them? Who’s paying for their accommodation? None of this was factored in. So all that cash that the Development Squad was costing was money that couldn’t be put to the first team. So it wasn’t a case that the Development Squad was a bad idea, just that it wasn’t quite rounded as a circle. That’s why I think Phil wanted to try and put the brakes on it a bit.
“But that’s not to say that Archie didn’t have a great idea, and in two or three years we might have been sat here thinking ‘and that’s another £900k we’ve made from selling a player, and that’s more money we can put in the first team budget’. Nice idea, probably just a bit too early for the club to be able to fund it properly.”
On the Crawley brawl, which clearly presented some challenges for the reporters, Simon revealed, “Claude Davis was mouthing off to Andrew Davies throughout the match, allegedly about Davies’ family and what Davis’ mates were going to do to them. And it got nastier and nastier during the game, and it got to the point where Davies had had enough. Davis apparently has previous for this sort of thing.
“Covering the match, you got the feeling that something would have happened in the dressing room after and that someone would have been sent off. So we waited in the press box, and eventually a City official came scurrying up to tell us ‘there’s been a couple of sendings off’. I asked ‘how many?’ and he replied ‘five’! So I got on the phone to the office and said ‘I need to change a bit of my match report’ and they replied ‘how much?’ and I said ‘most of it!’”
Derm added, “Phil Parkinson didn’t arrive for interviews that night until gone 10.30pm. And he just looked completely bewildered by what he had seen.”
The pair were also asked about the club’s finances, and both admitted they were not fully sure but believe them to be okay. They also talked about the Valley Parade situation, revealing that Jack Tordoff’s talks with Gordon Gibb last year broke down because of Gibb’s high asking price for the ground, while also suggesting Tordoff might have been able to buy the stadium for the club if it had been more reasonably priced. Simon also defended the two chairmen, while drawing parallels with his own club, Portsmouth, and the dodgy owners they’ve gone through. “Anyone who wants to criticise the chairmen should be careful what they wish for.”
Talk turned to wider City matters – Dean Windass, breaking the story of when City went into administration and the challenges of finding stories to write about during the summer. Simon said, “It’s horrible. You ring everyone you know, and some people you don’t know, until you get an answer, because most people are on holiday. It’s a challenge. When you publish something people will say ‘that’s a dull story’, and they’re right it is a dull story. But that’s the most interesting story happening today. Unfortunately, the manager is chasing players and he doesn’t want people to know who those players are, for obvious reasons.”
In no time at all, it seemed, it was time to wrap it up. Simon and Derm were asked to name their favourite City player of all time, with both opting for strikers. Simon picked Peter Thorne, “He was only here for a couple of years, but a record of a goal every two games, he was superb. He was such a great pro too. You saw him behind the scenes; he was brilliant with the young players, doing a lot of coaching, and very popular with everyone.”
Derm opted for Robbie Blake. “I really loved watching him play. He was so clever in the box.”