By Jason McKeown
There surely isn’t another manager in modern Bradford City history who split opinion to the level of Colin Todd. Highly respected by a section of supporters for bringing stability and calm following a turbulent period, Todd was equally unpopular with others to the point there was chanting for him to leave. Even the aftermath of his departure is the source of contentious debate: were we relegated three months later because we hastily sacked him? Many refuse to award him such credit.
As Bradford City return to League One next season with a mood of excitement, the lessons of Todd’s two-and-a-half-year reign are likely to feel increasingly relevant. For as great as being in England’s third tier seems right now, the actual experience of it under Todd between 2004 and 2007 was anything but enjoyable. Stability was not a popular quality as we twitched feverously and grew restless at being mid-table in League One. “We’ll never go anywhere under Todd” was a regular complaint of the time. Yet when we did get rid of him, the resultant movement was not what anyone had in mind.
Todd’s Bradford City was functional if not exhilarating. Some very good players appeared under the former Bolton and Derby manager, suggesting he had a good eye for talent, but building a team that matched our ambitions proved beyond him. The debate of whether Todd was a good manager or bad depended on how much you believed the lack of resources available were a decisive factor. The sight of teams with lower budgets overachieving and taking the promotion spots we craved – teams like Phil Parkinson’s Colchester United – added some weight to the bad manager argument. If they could do it, why couldn’t Todd?
Nevertheless, the desperate state of the club when Todd took charge should not be forgotten. The club’s centenary season, 2003/04, had been a dismal affair, marked by relegation from Division One (now the Championship) and a second spell of administration in little over 18 months. In November Nicky Law paid for a 12-game winless streak with his job, prompting City to interview Bryan Robson, Chris Kamara and Todd to fill the vacancy. Kamara ruled himself out of a return to City in favour of his blossoming Sky Sports career, and at some stage it was suggested that Todd become Robson’s assistant. All parties agreed.
When after relegation to League One, and with the future looking bleak (City still in administration), Robson decided he did not wish to continue, Todd was the only candidate considered to replace him. It spoke volumes of the man that he did not join Robson in washing his hands of a bad job. City came out of administration with less than a team of professionals on the books. Todd used pre-season to blood trialists and quickly assemble a team. Everyone expected another relegation.
That Todd and City defied such pessimism to almost make the League One play offs during his first season (2004/05) was mightily impressive. He was, in some ways, fortunate to have been able to retain the leadership of David Wetherall and Dean Windass. Experienced pros who benefited greatly from City dropping a level. The pair excelled and – alongside the impressive summer arrival, Steven Schumacher – forged the team’s backbone for the duration of Todd’s reign.
Defensively the Bantams were always sound under Todd, with Mark Bower partnering Wetherall and behind them first Paul Henderson and then Donovan Ricketts performing heroics. Damion Stewart had an outstanding end to Todd’s second season before QPR snapped him up. The first coming of Nathan Doyle, during season three, was memorable.
The attacking side of City’s play was always weaker. Aside from Windass, who revelled being the main man, Todd was unable to find a striker who could chip in with a respectable goals tally. The team’s greater success came when deploying on-loan targetman Dele Adebola and Aaron Wilbraham alongside Windass, but permanent signings Michael Symes, Andy Cooke, Steve Claridge, Danny Cadamarteri and Eddie Johnson did not work out.
Then there were the wide players. Robson’s final act as manager had been to let the inconsistent Ben Muirhead leave. One of Todd’s first acts as manager was to invite him back. For a time Muirhead justified his second chance with some dazzling performances, but he could never sustain such form. Similar stories were to be found with Bobby Petta and Owen Morrison. The failure of the wingers to deliver week in week out especially hampered Todd, who rigidly stuck to a 4-4-2 formation that placed an emphasis on the widemen providing the creativity.
That was Todd’s reign in a nutshell. Pick your best XI from the two-and-a-half years of Todd and you’d have a side that was capable of promotion from League One during that era. But Todd’s problem was he did not have all his best players available at the same time. For the most part, he was able to field a team of 6-8 players excellent for this level, but the other 3-5 players arguably below that standard. The result was a solid Bradford City that could hold its own, but one that never looked likely to pull up too many trees.
I guess a limited playing budget can only go so far, and Todd would surely have preferred to find better quality signings than some of the fillers he had to bring in. When, midway through his second season in charge (2005/06), a play off push was lacking, patience began to wear thin. Some of the football was tedious, some of the victories unconvincing. The pressure was building.
Salvation came through the kids. With City well out of play off contention and safe from relegation, Todd blooded a number of youngsters who displayed greater workrate and application than many of the senior players. Enter Joe Colbeck, Craig Bentham, Jon Swift and Joe Brown – plus more game time for Lewis Emmanuel and Tom Penford – and with it came some strong end of season results. One loss in the last nine, look forward to the next season. Todd – who at one stage appeared a defeat away from getting the sack – regained some of his lost popularity.
2006/07 was always going to be his last chance to prove he could deliver more than stability. Peter Etherington was due to invest into the club, before an unfortunate misdemeanour meant he had to leave Valley Parade and the club’s cheerleaders were stopped (clue: they are said to be related). Todd spent the summer unable to sign players as he waited for the green light of this promised new money, and meanwhile began to lose pre-season friendlies disconcertingly spectacularly. A mad late scramble for loan signings papered over the cracks, but only temporarily.
For a bright start to the season – City fourth at the end of September, having finally found excellent widemen in Jermaine Johnson and Lee Holmes – quickly fizzled out and the pressure grow on Todd. By late November a 0-0 draw with Bournemouth saw many in the Kop chant “Todd out” during the closing stages. A Boxing Day loss to Doncaster saw his car attacked. Three days later City drew 2-2 with Cheltenham and a group of fans stayed behind to chant “Todd out” as he was interviewed on local radio.
He carried on another six weeks, thanks largely due to the off the field problems flaring up and a steady hand required. An unexpectedly low dividend payment from Julian Rhodes’ company – which he had planned to use to settle some of City’s bills – prompted a Plan B: the loaning out of Windass for a fee and the selling of star winger Jermaine Johnson. Doyle was also recalled – parent club Derby said to be deeply unhappy at a training ground injury fellow loanee Lee Holmes had picked up – and Todd had to desperately scramble for loan replacements.
It is here that the debate of City’s 2006/07 relegation hinders upon. Was the collapse in form mainly due to the loss of these three key players, or the decision to sack Todd in early February after a 1-0 defeat to Gillingham? Whatever your view, the handing of the management reins to Wetherall did not help matters. Not just because of his inexperience, but the fact it took another good player – Wetherall – out of the team. Results were dismal.
By the end of his tenure in charge, it was evident that Todd had grown fed up and disillusioned by the expectation levels and negative reaction from many supporters. The difficult economic picture behind the scenes hampered Todd’s ability to imprint his ideals. Rhodes talked about how he had surveyed his fellow League One chairman to compare budgets and found that City’s was about midtable. City were 16th when Todd was sacked, suggesting he had fallen slightly below his midtable budget. That is highly subjective, but one thing is clear – Todd did not have the top six budget to deliver a top six side that we supporters demanded of him.
You could understand the frustration, yet the behaviour of many supporters around that time left a lot to be desired. I planted my flag firmly into the good manager camp and defended Tood frequently and passionately. I was accused – amongst other things – of encouraging the death of Bradford City by accepting mediocrity. Having come so close to extinction, many of us were happy just to have a club to support. Such a viewpoint was held up by others to be a lack of ambition.
Yet it was not a case of being satisfied by mid-table finishes in tier three, but of believing the club was slowly turning around after a spectacular fall. Looking at the perspective of a full decade falling down the cliff from the Premier League to troubling the League Two relegation spots, Todd’s reign is akin to grabbing a ledge half way down the fall and holding on for a time, only for someone to start bemoaning the slowness in climbing back up whilst stamping on your hands. Todd let go, we fell some more.
History has been kind to Todd, and yet when I look back on his time I don’t feel too much warmth. It was an unhappy situation all round really. Adjusting to life in a lower division, realising we were never going to be the force we were, struggling to agree on the expectation levels. When Todd’s dismissal was announced I felt relief more than sadness – the civil war that had built up amongst supporters had at least being resolved, even if the outcome was not one I agreed with. Now let those who got their way be proven right.
Sadly that wasn’t the case. I personally think that sacking Todd when he did ranks amongst Rhodes’ worst decisions. Having steered the club through that tough January and at least signing replacements, Todd should have been given more time to turn around a poor run of form and guide us to mid-table. By all means part ways in the summer with the club on a stable footing, but sacking your manager and asking your captain to manage the team in no way made us stronger.
There are no guarantees that Todd would have kept us up, but no one can tell me that we didn’t stand a much stronger chance under him. Whatever your view, it has taken six seasons to recover and get back to this division. To get back to a level where we were previously deeply unhappy.
Categories: He managed Bradford City