By Damien Wilkinson
Up and down the country, football fans are currently thinking next season could be “our” year, and it is certainly no different at Bradford City. You may well think that optimism might be at a low given the consecutive 18th place League 2 finishes in the last couple of years, but we finally seem to be seeing some justifiably positive momentum to suggest that 2012/13 could indeed buck the constant decline of the last decade.
Such feelings stem from the transfer activity that we have seen over the recent weeks, with a sense that Phil Parkinson is finally starting to build a team with a good mix of youth and experience, with the tenacity to break out of League 2. This transfer activity is underpinned by a better than expected take up of season tickets of c8.5k (c7k full season tickets/ c1.5k “flexi” tickets) allowing the Board to set a reasonable sized budget for the coming season.
We are now also experiencing the fruits of the new marketing/press office at City, with valiant attempts to whip fans into a frenzy with snippets of news, and “coaxing” the Twitter/Facebook community to frantically log onto the official website at ungodly hours of the night for the latest “exclusive”.
In addition, the launch of the new hooped kit took on the mantle of being one of the biggest events in recent history, certainly according to the almost Churchillian grandeur of the accompanying announcement!
Whilst we haven’t yet been subject to random “teaser” shots of arms, legs etc of new players in the week leading up to their transfer being announced, once suspects this may not be outside the realms of possibility.
So dealing with the ins and outs, as of the time of writing….
When the season finished few would have given much weight to the chances of City signing Andrew Davies permanently given both his ability and previous wage levels. At 27, Davies is hitting the prime of his career, and it would have been no surprise to see him turning out for a Championship side next season.
That City somehow managed to tie him down for next year remains impressive, and not only breathed life into the season ticket sales campaign but essentially kick started the pre-season transfer activity that now seem to be gathering momentum, and must have helped with City’s credibility in attracting other signings.
Overall then, a massive signing that may very well turn out to be the catalyst of a new era of Bantam progressivism with Davies as its talisman.
Following the signing of Andrew Davies, the capture of Rory McArdle, from Aberdeen, reinforced City’s statement of intent for next season. The 25 year old, who has also played almost 150 games for Rochdale, can play at either centre back or full back, and looks a very solid acquisition.
At the time it looked like it might be a response to Luke Oliver moving on, but this was proved not to be the case, and further improves our backline.
If at first you don’t succeed try, try again seems to be the motto here, as City finally managed to lure the ex-Rochdale stalwart to Valley Parade, after a similar attempt at this stage last season.
It is hoped the 35 year old midfielder, who has played an impressive 150 games over the last 3 seasons, will dictate games and offer a valuable goal threat.
In a surprise to many York City fans, James Meredith made the switch to City on 29 June. Meredith, a 24 year old Australian, operates as a left back, and appears to have been very well regarded by York fans, playing 131 matches since 2009. Indeed, it was rumoured that City beat off interest from higher division clubs to capture his signing, perhaps explaining the surprise of the York fans and their Chairman.
At the back end of last season, rumours started to surface that Will Atkinson would make a permanent switch from Hull to City, and indeed this was proved to be the case – the player himself confirming this on Twitter a few days prior to the official announcement.
Interestingly, the announcement made reference to Atkinson, being signed as a squad player, offering cover on both wings. Furthermore it is clear that the player will need to improve on performances last season to win over a so far unconvinced public. However a full pre-season and hopefully the ability to play in a more settled and confident side may well suit Atkinson and let’s hope we then see the best of the 23 year old.
Another player who we have previously tried to sign (resulting in a public spat between Sammy McIllroy/ Morecambe and City back in 2008), Thompson is the latest recruit hoping to solve the issues on the right wing that we have experienced in the recent past. At 31, he played for Scunthorpe in League 1 over the last couple of seasons, and it is hoped that the drop to League 2 and a new challenge, will reinvigorate him and he could easily prove to be an astute signing.
The capture of right back Stephen Darby from Liverpool, was officially announced at midnight of 2nd July, albeit City’s thunder was somewhat stolen by the announcement of the capture by Sky Sports a few hours earlier.
Darby, who spent all last season on loan at Rochdale (yes, them again), has a good level of league experience for a 23 year old, spending other loan spells at Notts County and Swindon, and will add extra mobility to our attacking threat.
A somewhat ignominious end to David Syers career at City was signalled by the announcement in June that he had signed for Doncaster Rovers, turning down a contract offered to him by City in January this year. With a season decimated by the injury received in the Leeds cup match at the start of the season, Syers was never able/given the opportunity to rekindle the form which saw him crowned player of the year in 2010/11.
It will be interesting to see how his career progresses from here.
Despite his impressive form in the run in to last season, there was a certain degree of inevitability to the departure of Guy Branston to Aldershot last month. From the outset clearly not Phil Parkinson’s type of player, and despite endearing himself to the City faithful with his commitment and passion, Branston was never going to sit around and play second fiddle this season.
Whilst there still remains a possibility of him accepting the contract offered by City, which is allegedly a “pay as you play” contract, it is likely that Simon Ramsden will play elsewhere next season, and is currently on trial at Stuart McCall’s Motherwell. On his day an outstanding right back, his last few seasons have been dogged by injury and whether he can establish a long run of games in the side would still represent a gamble.
Another development squad departure, and well rated by those who saw him last pre-season. Scott Brown remains the last significant player of note from the development squad but it remains to be seen if his development matches initial expectations.
Remaining squad from last year
Phil Parkinson has spoken of his desire to reduce the size of the squad and have a leaner squad of c22 players.
Including the 7 new signings above, we currently have a squad of 21 players, suggesting an in/out policy may accompany any further substantial transfer activity.
With Jonny McLaughlin and Matt Duke competing for the goalkeeper’s jersey, this would not appear to be a priority area – perhaps the only change might follow a departure of Matt Duke.
In addition to the new signings, another great piece of news over the last few weeks was Luke Oliver finally signing a new contract. The defence now looks both robust and mobile, with good competition for places, and also the versatility of some players across different positions provides cover.
Whilst Steve Williams was asked to look for a new club at the end of last season, recent reports of a serious Achilles injury (4-6 month recovery), tie him to the club for longer than both parties anticipated, with an associated impact on available funds to maybe bring in one more defender (unless, perhaps, this transpires to be Simon Ramsden).
The engine room of Ritchie Jones and Ricky Ravenhill will now need to accommodate Gary Jones. From previous selections of Phil Parkinson, it might be expected that Ritchie Jones makes way in the centre, and that Gary Jones will be the fulcrum of the team.
Kyel Reid’s place on the left would appear to be assured, and with Garry Thompson on the right, Will Atkinson will act as cover for both along with younger players such as Dominic Rowe and Forrayah Bass.
It would seem likely that Phil Parkinson make additional signings to strengthen his midfield options.
Whilst the absence of any further news regarding Nahki Wells signing a new extended contract remains a lingering concern, it would seem logical to assume his pairing with James Hanson would be our first choice starting formation.
Despite Ross Hannah and rookie Adam Baker offering cover, it still seems likely that Phil Parkinson will look to bolster his options up front, particularly with the need for another target man being a priority – albeit perhaps not the much heralded Andy Gray, and also to mitigate against Wells suffering from “second season” syndrome. It will also be an important season for Ross Hannah as to whether he can establish himself in the side.
The signings made so far show that Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin have a clear idea of what type of player they are after, and are placing a strong emphasis on players they have worked with before. This would appear a key difference from past seasons where the much lauded flagship signings have underperformed or the team hasn’t operated as a unit. In addition there is more of a backbone of a team to build onto this year.
Phil Parkinson has gone on record today saying that the squad building is not complete and that further improvements will be made. He has quite rightly kept his cards close to his chest and acted patiently regarding targets, but I’m sure we will see some interesting developments over the coming weeks.
Hopefully the positivity established so far can be maintained and we can all then strap ourselves in for the obligatory roller coaster ride, starting with the Capital One cup fixture at Notts County on 14th August, followed by the opening league match at Gillingham on 18th August.