By Damien Wilkinson
Wednesday the 21st November saw a fans forum question and answer session with manager, Phil Parkinson and Club Chief Executive, David Baldwin, hosted by the Bradford City Supporters Trust, who had just conducted their annual general meeting.
On a day somewhat dominated by the mad goings on at Chelsea/Planet Abramovich, it was good to enjoy some much needed football sanity.
A crowd of around 50 gathered in the 1911 Suite at Valley Parade for the Q&A session, and with an emphasis on the football related matters discussed during the evening, the following hopefully captures the main topics discussed.
As probably expected, opening questions focused on the situation regarding John Egan, injured in the previous night’s match against Plymouth Argyle, and the injury position generally. Phil Parkinson confirmed earlier reports in the day, namely that Egan had suffered a break of his right fibula and tibia, and whilst obviously he would be out for the rest of the season, this was a serious issue and would involve a considerable degree of rehabilitation. The player had impressed him both on and off the field, and looked a very good prospect and the club wished him a speedy recovery.
Concerning other injuries, both Zavon Hines and Kyel Reid, were making good recoveries with both believed to be around 3 weeks away from a return. Both were showing great attitudes, and Reid in particular, was chomping at the bit to get back out there! The extent of Hines’ injury was initially not thought to be as bad as it turned out, and Parkinson is currently trying to bring someone in to cover this area.
A number of questions were asked concerning funds from the Arsenal cup tie and potential use for any further signings. It was noted that there was regular dialogue between the Board and Phil Parkinson, in particular given the exceptional nature of the recent injury situation, funds may be made available to at least for loan signings and/or permanent signings if the right players were available.
On the signings front, someone raised the potential re-signing of Rob Kozluk, which was greeted with a fairly firm rebuttal, Parkinson going on to explain how difficult it typically was to make good signings. In particular, he highlighted that the club usually had to fight hard to make good signings, and if a signing was straightforward/ easy, then more often than not, it was not one worth making!
Parkinson was quizzed on the subject of the cup runs and consequential impact upon the league form, and whether this was desirable. He noted that whilst it had been very tough both mentally and physically, it had helped breed confidence and positivity and he certainly wouldn’t swap this position. To a large extent the squad had got used to the regular Tuesday matches, and it had helped ensure there was a good amount of game time for the whole squad, which has been beneficial.
Whilst the priority was obviously the league, he then went on to say that it would be ‘good’ to beat Arsenal and go through to the next round of the cup!
Regarding the positive progress made this season, Parkinson was asked what he believed to be the secret to this success. His belief was that a key element of this was the hard work started last summer. When he joined the club during the previous season, he had been surprised by the poor mentality among the players, such that it was often difficult to get the desired response or reaction. It had been necessary to treat the players with respect, look them in the eye, and bring in signings who wanted to achieve and wanted to come to the club for the right reasons.
A particular example of this was James Meredith, who in the face of more financially lucrative offers from League 1 clubs, was shown around the stadium and was bowled over by the club’s potential and opportunity to play in front of big crowds. Parkinson compared this to the adverse position of attracting players to Colchester, given both its location and crowds of c2,500, when he managed there!
Given the positive start made so far during the season, Parkinson felt it was pleasing to see the fruits of the hard work begin to show at the opening Notts County fixture, but it was particularly brought home at the Fleetwood match, where he started to see some good signs and a decent side emerging. The emergence of better training facilities, together with the improvements to the VP playing surface, were discussed with Parkinson observing that this was also assisting the positive progress.
As regards League 2 and other clubs, Parkinson touched on the fact he thought that Rotherham would have been currently more closely amongst the front runners, given their pre-season spending, but was unsurprised by the inclusion of Fleetwood and Gillingham. The recent re-emergence of Rochdale, was also to be expected given their retention of much of their League 1 squad. Fleetwood in particular, could be encouraged to throw more money into things, given the opportunity afforded by the current position.
Questions were asked about a number of players. Parkinson noted that Ross Hannah’s loan spell ended in December, and he would have a good look at him when he returns. He has done well at Grimsby, has been regularly watched by City’s chief scout, Nigel Brown, and Parkinson was also impressed with Hannah’s 8 goals in 11 games, noting he could well be an asset in the second half of the campaign.
Given the rumoured reports of interest from other clubs in Nahki Wells, questions were asked about the current situation. Parkinson started by saying he doesn’t answer his phone when other managers ring (!), but went on to say that the only recent interest had been from a league 1 club, shortly after the Northampton match, which had not gone any further. He stressed that Nahki has still work to do and improvements to make, and he was doing his best to keep Nahki’s ‘feet on the ground’, whilst this happened. It was important to shield him as much as possible from the limelight/ Sun reporters!
Gary Jones was discussed with Parkinson conceding that his signing was certainly one that City had to fight for, to prise him from Rochdale, but the club kept plugging away. Jones is very much a winner, and hates losing as much as Parkinson!
It was queried where Parkinson felt Garry Thompson’s best position was in the team. He noted that he had given him opportunities in the centre forward position, but didn’t feel Thompson had so far done enough to justify this, and accordingly felt he offered more of a threat on the wing, putting angled balls into him utilising his ability in the air, and goal scoring pedigree. Whilst the goals had not flowed to date, he felt they would, as there is a better player there. Confidence is a key part of this happening, as has recently been illustrated by Will Atkinson.
On the subject of Will Atkinson’s progress this season, Parkinson had taken Atkinson to one side before the Notts County match, and they had discussed the need to get the crowd off his back through effort and hard work. The second phase of this was then to take this to the next level and introduce a goal scoring threat to his game, which we were now starting to see.
Parkinson observed, when questioned about Adam Baker, that he had given him a taste of first team action and thinks he has improved in each match he has featured in. He went on to note that he felt he may well benefit from a loan move in the new year, playing ‘mens’ football, at say conference level. It was often difficult to judge the readiness of young players as if they are not this can be very damaging, but evidence from training with the first team squad, as well as reserve matches helped inform this judgement.
As regards James Hanson, Parkinson noted frustration both on his and the player’s part. Whilst Hanson’s physical presence up front and defending set plays was excellent, the current goal drought of 16 matches was obviously a concern. It was mentioned that this had coincided to some extent with the loss of the supply line from Kyel Reid, following his injury, but Parkinson remained confident that the goals would return.
Indeed getting good strikers in remains difficult at best, and it is a debate as to whether we can get better in January without significant outlay. Trading may freshen things up, but with Wells, Hanson, Connell and possibly the returning Hannah, this may still be better than the alternative options.
A comment was made as to whether any consideration of covering the absence of Reid and Hines by perhaps pushing Nahki Wells onto the wing given his pace and trickery. Parkinson believed he had the ability to function there, but didn’t want to lose a key goal scoring threat by doing this – indeed he also felt opposing team’s managers would prefer to see him out there!
When asked about the Wigan match and whether the players were surprised by the level of support, Parkinson admitted it was a terrific night that would live long in the memories of both the players and the fans. He had used this to remind the players “this is why we have come to the club”. He also commented on Wigan ‘surprise’ during the evening, especially Roberto Martinez, who seemed shocked by the intensity of City’s play, in addition to the level of support from the City fans.
The Plymouth match of the previous night was returned to, with Parkinson agreeing with a comment that the return of Meredith and Darby had showed how much they were missed in the Exeter fixture. Parkinson went on to contrast this season to last, highlighting that last season the side seemed to have to go a goal down, and be playing towards the kop end, for any fight to be shown.
The performance of the Exeter officials, still fresh in the mind, was touched upon together with the role of the 4th official. Parkinson believed the 4th official had ‘copped out’ in the Exeter match, by saying his vision was blocked regarding the penalty incident. He also felt there was still insufficient communication between the officials, despite them being ‘miked up’. More often than not, the linesmen at League 2 matches tended to be inexperienced, young rookies who let the referee dictate matters.
It was mentioned that the current day had seen much activity in attempts to bring loan players to the club before the deadline on the following day, but had been a very difficult day. It had been expected that a League 1 defender had been secured on loan, and whilst the player remained keen, this had been blocked by their club, due to an injury to another of their players in the previous night’s match.
Generally it is a difficult time of year to bring players in, as clubs don’t want to lose cover, and furthermore many players are cup tied, and would therefore run the risk of missing a significant number of matches if they came to City. Despite this, renewed attempts would be made to sort out signings on the final day, prior to the closure of the deadline.
As regards the forthcoming Arsenal cup tie, Parkinson admitted that so far they had managed to keep the lid on the players being distracted by this and the senior players, in particular were helping in this regard. Parkinson had so far had limited contact from his ex-contacts at Arsenal, save for a few texts, but he spoke very favourably regarding his time as a scout for Arsenal, and how they had treated him.
The meeting finished off, after both Parkinson and Baldwin had been congratulated on their acting abilities, as demonstrated within the season ticket promotional video (www.bradfordcity.tv). Dave Baldwin noted a desire to do things a bit differently this year, whilst not taking themselves too seriously! All present were encouraged to spread the word, and it was hoped that targets of 6,000 season ticket sales prior to the end of the year could be achieved.
In overall terms, the Q&A session was an interesting night and insight into the latest goings on at City. Both Dave Baldwin and Phil Parkinson come across very well and show a good unity and common vision of City’s strategy. Whilst they are keen to stress they don’t always get things right, there is a great degree of transparency shown and a willingness to listen to feedback from fans, which is refreshing. It was also great of them to give up time from their hectic schedules to attend the evening and answer all the questions in an open, thoughtful and engaging manner.
Roman Abramovich please take note!