By Luke Lockwood
Football is a fickle industry no more so than for football managers. Victory one day and you’re touted as a future England manager, but get beat the following week and you can be receiving the dreaded vote of confidence, swiftly followed by the sack.
Phil Parkinson is riding the crest of the wave after steering City to Wembley; and when journalists and bookmakers aren’t linking him with managerial vacancies, the pundits are calling him one England’s brightest young managers.
Bradford City is a fickle club, especially with their managers. Since Paul Jewell left in 2000 we have had 9 managers in 12 years – not including caretakers. We’ve tried young and hungry, old and experienced, meticulous planners and ‘motivating, man managers’. Even an ex-England manager and a fans’ favourite have tried and failed. It’s not simply due to having an impatient chairman who wants success quickly and thinks changing manager is the best way to achieve that because, in almost all cases, there has been a majority of fans calling for the manager’s head too.
When Peter Jackson left the club in 2011, many managers will have looked at the opportunity to manage Bradford City as a poisoned chalice, a position with a curse haunting it. Despite regularly providing competitive budgets a number of well regarded managers had tarnished their reputation by taking on a ‘sleeping giant with a massive amount of potential’. We were never at that point going to attract ‘England’s brightest young manager’ and instead we settled for Parkinson to a mixed reaction amongst supporters.
Now after producing nothing short of a miracle it appears – as if often the case in football – that everything that has gone before in his career has been forgotten and Bradford City is his first venture into the managerial hot seat. Obviously this isn’t the case and Parky has experienced a mixed bag of relative success in his previous roles.
Parky began his career at Colchester and after coming in to steady the ship and steer them clear of relegation in his first season, he built on the foundations in his second season. The ever reliable Wikipedia informs us that second season, despite looking like realistic play off candidates at one stage Colchester fell away, however, good cup runs generated optimism within the club. Sound familiar?
The following season he achieved promotion with Colchester before leaving for an unsuccessful short stint at Hull City. During a spell as assistant manager at Charlton he was very close to becoming Huddersfield Town boss, but decided to jilt them at the altar and opted to stay at Charlton where he eventually became manager. After a swift relegation to League One, Parkinson built a side to challenge for promotion the next year but missed out after defeat in the play offs. He put together another competitive side for the following season but a poor run of results saw him back in the job market
After building success at Colchester, perhaps Hull City were a little quick to get rid of Parkinson and Charlton a little impatient after the near miss. Either way, Parkinson saw an opportunity to rebuild his career at Bradford City.
After not so smoothly guiding City to safety last year, the board showed faith in Parkinson to lead them to glory this year backing him with the finances to build a very competitive squad but importantly not enough faith to offer him a long term contract.
It was certainly evident that the board had pushed the boat out and were once again expecting City to be pushing for a minimum top seven finish – Parkinson certainly needed a good start to avoid the pressure mounting. He got exactly that, as the outstanding side he put together quickly settled. Built on an Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver foundation, Parkinson’s City looked like genuine promotion contenders.
However the curse hanging over City managers’ was soon to strike again as that foundation was demolished in one game. Oliver was lost for the season and Davies a number of months. Kyel Reid – the focal point of many attacks – joined them on the casualty list and even his inspirational captain Jones suffered a niggle that forced him out for a short period. It was to be another real test of Parkinson’s capabilities.
Understandably form suffered but Parkinson found the answers to get the league campaign back on track and there was even the pleasant experience of for once having a successful cup run. Slightly surprisingly we dispatched of Notts County, Watford and Burton. What was most evident from the early stages of the cup run was the team spirit, unity and belief Parkinson had built in his squad. He has regularly talked about bringing the right member of the team rather than the most talented individual and, if they didn’t fit the mould, Parkinson wasn’t interested.
For all of those early cup games he made changes but the side didn’t appear any weaker. Those who came in played with the same attitude we were seeing from the first 11 week in, week out and one of the defining moments of the season, so far, was half time of the Burton game. We had played well but somehow gone two behind. However, during the interval there was a different atmosphere to previous seasons – a belief that we could still turn this round. In previous years the team and the crowd would have crumbled and everyone spend the second half feeling sorry for themselves but not in the squad Parkinson had built.
In the second half – spurred on by the crowd – the team lifted themselves into another gear and fought back to win in extra time. This was the game Parkinson’s ethos began hitting home. No Tommy Dohertys, Craig Fagans or Guy Branstons in sight, just 11 real professionals letting their actions on the pitch do the talking.
And then something remarkable happened – we beat Premier League Wigan. I didn’t make the game against the Latics, but it seemed that the Parkinson philosophy rang true once again and a dogged, determined performance saw us through on penalties. We now had ourselves a tie against the famous Arsenal at home. We were going to have a night to remember, in front of a full Valley Parade and hopefully not be embarrassed as Arsenal continued on to the semi final.
A packed out Valley Parade witnessed little Bradford City humiliate Arsenal of the Champions League! I don’t think many will forget the famous night. Everyone will have their own take on the events, but from my seat high in the Kop it was evident how tactically astute Parkinson was on that evening. I think it’s fair to say most League Two managers would have gone into the game with one up front and try and keep things as tight as possible. Parkinson bravely went with two up top, hitting Arsenal on the break and trying to force as many corners and free kicks in dangerous positions as possible.
Interestingly, during BBC Radio Five’s show live from Valley Parade this week, Parkinson said that during extra time of the Arsenal game was when he realised City were capable of going all the way – when the side had given him all they had for 90 minutes and he was asking them to raise it again, and they responded. Again the Parkinson philosophy rang true, these men were of the right sort.
I’m not sure how many fans shared Parkinson’s view that we could go all the way. 90 minutes of football is one thing but two legs against Premier League Aston Villa was surely asking too much? On two more occasions the squad Parkinson assembled played beyond their expected capabilities to perform the truly unbelievable and defy the odds once more.
Wembley is now just days away and Parkinson is on the verge of achieving a miracle. Managers can’t go on the pitch and kick the ball themselves; it’s the players that win these games. However, what managers can do is build a squad in their image, which they believe can be successful. After patching up Jackson’s squad last season, Parkinson has assembled a united team in his mould this year, but what about the future?
There is no doubting City’s league form has taken a hit, which is a direct impact of the cup run. Fans have fallen very separately into two camps. One side stressing the importance of the league and the other believing that Wembley more than makes up for it.
Parkinson has even received criticism from a few fans that he has prioritised the cup and some have said that, if it wasn’t for the cup, he would be under pressure. However, you can’t look at the two things in isolation. If we hadn’t done so well in the cup our league form would most likely not have faltered.
The key point for me is that we will eventually get out of this league – you’d have to be the most pessimistic of supporters not to think that. We are very unlikely to reach a major cup final at Wembley in any of our lifetime. The cup run has put Bradford back on the map and it’s great to see Claret and Amber images filling every bit of space in every form of media. Because of Phil Parkinson and the side that he has built, it’s no longer a case of “Bradford City? Didn’t they used to be in the Premier League?”
Let’s enjoy our moment and address the league after Sunday. After the dust has settled, it will prove another test for Parkinson to see how he raises his team for what will be 15 more, less glamorous cup finals. We are by no means out of the promotion race – all it takes is a good run of results, and we have players more than capable of doing that.
If we fail then hopefully the money raised from the cup run – that is largely responsible for our woeful league form – will hopefully allow to keep Parkinson’s squad together to try again next year.
The key to that is perhaps whether Parkinson himself will still be here because as the national media has made everyone well aware his contract is up in the summer. We have seen him turn down a confirmed offer from Blackpool, there has been rumoured interest elsewhere and Reading fans were even heard singing his name while their own manager was under pressure.
Parkinson and the board have confirmed that he has put forward his terms and the board have confirmed ‘negotiations’ will resume after the cup final. There is potential Parkinson now sees his value vastly higher than last year and as the board have always stated they like to keep as much of the budget on the field as possible. Perhaps Parkinson’s demands would mean we would have to sacrifice an Andrew Davies or Nathan Doyle? The decision then is where our priorities lie.
McArdle, McHugh, Nelson have proved that no matter how good Andrew Davies is – in my mind easily the best in the division – he is also replaceable. For 12 years we have tried replacing manager after manager. Parkinson and – not to be underestimated – the backroom staff have shown that they have the necessary balance to be successful.
There is also the question of what is going through Parkinson’s head. He could cash in his value as a ‘promising English manager’ and jump up a couple of league for more money. However, what if he finds another impatient Adam Pearson (Hull City chairman during Parkinson’s reign) and finds himself jobless in a short few months? He is unlikely to be considered hot property and may have to start all over again. What he has done at City is guarantee himself time and, with a foundation of a squad that he has built, would it be in his best interest to jump ship?
The Parkinson philosophy appears to be achieving results and it is difficult to criticise any player he has brought in – even Garry Thompson is beginning to look like the player we thought we’d signed. It is important to give him a chance to build on the positives of this season, take some key learns from where we have fallen down this term and take us up to the promised land next year.
Football is a fickle game and, for Phil Parkinson, it may be just as important that he thinks in the same way too.
Cup Final: Width of a Post build-up
- Wembley is not just about the devoted by Jason McKeown
- City aim to emulate legend Jamie Lawrence by Jason McKeown
- My son used to work at the Co-op by Michael Hanson
- Special magazine charts City and Swans stories by Mahesh Johal
- The last time we went to Wembley by Gareth Walker
- So long as a round ball is kicked…dreaming of immortality by David Pendleton
- A fan’s guide to Wembley by Mark Danylczuk
- The Swansea City perspective by Mark Scully
- Doing everything we can by Rob Craven