By Jason McKeown
When Phil Parkinson lines up against Arsene Wenger in the Valley Parade dug outs next month, he might choose to take a moment to reflect on the symbolism of the occasion and how far the City manager’s career has turned around.
For it was only 18 months ago that Parkinson was working as a scout for Wenger, with his managerial stock seemingly having fallen to such a level that he might never get another job. He was, apparently, interviewed for a vacancy at Valley Parade (after Peter Taylor left), but was unsuccessful. Parkinson was hardly a stranger to Valley Parade, occasionally cajoled into summarising action for BBC Radio Leeds by his friend Derm Tanner. But after enjoying success as manager at Colchester, less successful spells at Hull and Charlton (the latter featuring accusations of dour football) left him with something of a tarnished reputation.
At Wigan last week, ‘Parkinson’s Bradford Army’ echoed around the DW Stadium and his popularity in the City hotseat had reached a new peak. We can, with some degree of safety now, describe Parkinson as a successful managerial appointment. With the club worryingly on the slide following the incorrect decision to drive Stuart McCall away, it was a bloody good job too. Taylor and Peter Jackson struggled to keep us away from being sucked into the black hole of non-league. Now we are looking upwards.
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride under Parkinson. But with the Bantams ship having seemingly been turned around, at last it seems to have been worth the short-term pain. What was evidently clear from day one about Parkinson was a driven, single-minded vision on how he wanted to shape the football club and the type of personnel who would deliver it. So the long-term planning that had been instigated the previous summer by Peter Jackson and Archie Christie was in some cases ripped up and in others was evolved. Some good people left Valley Parade without necessarily doing much wrong, because they didn’t fit in with Parkinson’s grand scheme.
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride under Parkinson. Last season relegation was just avoided and a phoney PR war of sorts instigated by Julian Rhodes that pinned the finger of blame solely on Jackson for the difficult campaign. Parkinson had more in the building – and the financial resources – to perform better than the 18th place finish he ultimately delivered. But it has become increasingly clear that he had one eye on this season and making sure his vision was truly up and running.
And the results, so far, speak for themselves. Incredible success in the cup competitions and a strong league positioning that leaves the Bantams in contention for a play off finish – if not better. The squad has been built in a way that fulfils his beliefs on how to be successful at this level. Last season we saw City experiment with different styles of football – the beautiful to the ugly – and this season’s squad, when fit and in form, is a match for anyone in the division. We are direct for sure, but with an energetic central midfield and with craft on the wings – it is hard to pigeon hole the Bantams under any one playing style.
All of which has helped Parkinson build up a high standing amongst supporters. And no one – at this stage of their time in the hotseat – has been as popular since the halcyon days of Paul Jewell. “In Parky We Trust” is the mantra, and complaints about the manager have become few and far between. After so many years where a lot of our time, as supporters, was spent debating the failings of the present manager, it’s almost noteworthy how little we actually speak of Parkinson.
For my part, I feel a level of confidence in the manager which I have not held towards a City boss for some time (Colin Todd if you’re asking, but he of course split opinion). Sure, Parkinson will get it wrong on occasions and he can frustrate you, but I really believe that, overall, he knows what he is doing and has the ability to implement his ideals (the biggest failing of Taylor, who talked a good game but failed to imprint his ideals on the club). On a number of occasions this season, the team has been struggling and Parkinson’s tactical changes have turned that position around.
A year ago, I had the pleasure of five minutes talking to Parkinson on the training ground as part of a day shadowing Christie. He talked about the importance of character and bringing in the right personalities, not just the right abilities. The Bradford City of 2012/13 oozes character. From the backline of Andrew Davies, Luke Oliver (I know, but still), Rory McArdle and James Meredith, to the engine room of Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones and a forward line of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, who possess great mental strength. Character and strong levels of determination are evident all over the park – and in reserve.
In Parkinson We Trust. But what next? His contract expires at the end of the season, and this uncertainty casts a shadow that may increasingly block out the light over the coming months. City are vulnerable to losing him, and the real worry should be where this would leave us. Rightly or wrongly, the Board has placed all of its trust into Parkinson and let him go about rebuilding this football club. Without Parkinson, we would have a huge hole to fill.
It’s not unrealistic either to suggest he could leave. Let’s say Blackpool in the Championship were to make an approach for Parkinson, now they need a manager. I’m not saying that this would happen, but the more Parkinson impresses at Valley Parade the more he will appear in the shop window. Imagine if City defeated Arsenal next month, but also imagine some Northern club, fed up with their own manager, seeing that result and eyeing up Parkinson. Without the security of a longer contract at Valley Parade, he might be tempted to move on.
The question for the Board to ponder is do they award him a contract now, or wait until the end of the season and see what he delivers? In February 2009 McCall, in the same contract position as Parkinson now, signed a new deal – with the club preaching the values of stability and keeping faith. But when McCall didn’t deliver promotion, it led to all manner of problems and less than a year later the manager was, apparently, no longer on speaking terms with Mark Lawn.
On the flip side, in October 1998 – a matter of months after installing him as manager permanently – Geoffrey Richmond offered Jewell a new contract. Richmond quickly recognised the qualities Jewell emanated, plus the promising early season signs that a promotion push was in the offing. So he set about rewarding that promise by providing Jewell with extra job security and removing any personal doubt and worry. We know how well that turned out.
So can the club commit to Parkinson now, or in the next few weeks or months, by offering him a new contract, effectively saying this is not a promotion or bust season? Or do they risk not renewing his contract until, or if, he achieves promotion? It is very easy to do the former and vow to back him next season even if we don’t have a glorious end to this one (many City fans are saying that they would still support him if we don’t go up), but less easy in practice if a failure to win promotion this year and a slow start to the season after would place him under pressure.
In my eyes, Parkinson has done enough for us to back up the mantra “In Parky We Trust” with firm actions. We might not go up this season; but as long as we’ve not overspent and don’t have to make huge cut backs ala McCall, he deserves the chance to continue the club’s upwards trajectory. And even if he doesn’t quite succeed the year after, so long as we are not moving backwards he will still deserve our trust. Stability is so important, and has been lacking in recent years.
Because the fact is Bradford City has spent well over a decade scrambling around to make the right managerial appointment, and quickly losing faith in the latest choice. We have constantly held the view that the answers to today’s problems lie in the next manager. We have struggled to stick with any manager who loses a few matches, pining most if not all of the problems on to their shoulders.
But now, finally, we seem to have the right man. And we should move heaven and earth to keep him in charge and let him continue to build his vision for a stronger, successful football club. Parkinson has proven himself over the past year and a bit, and we can have every confidence in his ability to deliver those belated rewards of success. We don’t want to risk all of his solid work going to waste, and so we should be making sure he continues to be happy in the job as our leader by seriously looking into a new contract offer.