Tranmere preview part one: feeling at home again

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By Jonathon Ellerton

A few days I was talking to my dad about the start to the season and how impressive we had been at Valley Parade in particular, and it got me thinking about Parkinson’s home record overall since he became manager two years ago. From that I can recall, he must have the best home record of any Bradford City manager I have seen.

In my time supporting the club, City have gone through nine permanent mangers – 10 including Parkinson. The first manger I remember really well was Paul Jewell, and his home record was certainly impressive. In our first Premier League season, we lost only five times at Valley Parade, which essentially kept us up. Since then as managers have come and gone, home form has not been great other than one good Valley Parade season under Stuart McCall (2008/09) – so what did Jewell and what does Parkinson get right that the other eight managers got wrong?

First of all, they both ensured fans were onside with the way their teams played. With Parkinson’s City there is a confidence and a front-foot feel, best exemplified by the way the manager has handled fans and the media. No comments that it’s scary for the players to perform at home, no making an issue that fans are/were on players’ backs or being too negative. Other mangers’ have complained about the boo-boys in the past (most notably Peter Taylor), but Parkinson was clear to his players about handling the crowd expectation problem when he first came in: show commitment, and these fans will back us.

I feel this outlook has been massive and it has helped rebuild the relationship that fans have with players – one that was very close to crumbling, in my eyes. It wasn’t so long ago the chant of ‘love the club, hate the team’ was heard on the final day of the 2010/11 season. Who can forget the miserable 5-1 hammering by Crewe that day? It was just embarrassing, with players already appearing to be on the beach.

Such a gutless surrender would not happen under Parkinson. Look at the way he reacts to those performances that were not up to his high standard – like Exeter away last season. The players lost a day off for their feeble performance. Parkinson also had a go in the press after Gillingham at home last February and after this season’s JPT humiliation to Hartlepool. When this team fall below what he demands of them, Parkinson cannot hide his anger.

When Parkinson first came in he was tasked with keeping City in the division. Although he achieved this objective, it wasn’t pretty to watch at times. I even had my doubts about if he was the right man for the job at the time (how wrong was I?), but even as we struggled to retain our Football League status we were solid at home, going five months unbeaten.

Parkinson proceeded to build on that home record last season, with the style of play changed to being more attack-minded. We also played a lot more passing football than we have for a number of years. The last City side I remember been really positive at home was the one Colin Todd assembled for what proved to be our last season in League One (2006/07) – but that positivity only lasted for two months.

What also re-emerged last season was a never-say-die team spirit of refusing to believe we are beaten. Such character has definitely not been seen so abundantly since the days of Jewell. In the interim years, how many times did we see our team go a couple of goals down and pretty much down tools for the rest of the match? The current players would simply not allow each other to let that happen.

This season Parkinson and the team have built on that tried and tested style and continue to start home games on the front-foot, getting into the visiting team’s faces and forcing mistakes. In response, they have been roared on by a passionate crowd that helps the team further. The atmosphere around the club is the best it has been for over a decade, and the home form is similarly the best since those heady days of Jewell.

Long may this continue: Valley Parade finally feels like home again.

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