A dispiriting afternoon as City remain off the boil

Byline Claire Epton/Bradford City FC

Crewe Alexandra 0

Bradford City 0

Saturday 2 November, 2013

Written by Jason McKeown (image by Claire Epton, see note below)

I hate afternoons like this, where football supporting feels like such a joyless experience.

It’s not the spending of £20 to watch a non-event of a game that got me, but all the crap surrounding it that in differing ways will dominate the coming week. On the field there was a performance which triggered an unwelcome reminder of dark days of the not-too-distant past, but more depressing was the stuff taking place off the field that sparked highly charged emotions.

Shortly after the game commenced, a section of Crewe supporters began to chant distastefully about the Bradford Fire disaster of 1985. I wasn’t close enough myself to hear it, nor did I see the differing reactions from away fans closest to the chanting, but news of what was happening filtered down the packed out stand very quickly. Some say that a few of our fans attempted to kick off in retaliation, or complained to the stewards and police around. At the start of the second half a couple of City supporters came and sat with us having moved from being close to these Crewe fans. They looked a bit shook up and talked of wanting to get away from the situation. They told of some City fans being in tears about the chanting.

How utterly despicable that a few Crewe supporters could chant something so vile and disturbing. I’ve long since given up trying to get my head around the mentality of any football fans using a set of tragic events experienced by a fierce rival club as something to goad them about. There can never be any excuse for it. But Crewe fans, what the hell have you got against us? What could possibly cause this minority of fans to think it acceptable to chant about a horrific event in which 56 people died, and from which countless remain emotionally scarred to this day?

In the second half near us, a steward was asked by several City fans why no action had been taken against these Crewe fans. His response was they had been warned to stop. I mean, really, is that enough? When a few yards away people are in tears because of the hurt these mindless morons are causing? Why were people not ejected for the distress they were causing?

It’s suggested that the Crewe fans who joined in with the chant are too young to know any better. What is the age threshold below which we supposedly excuse people for their actions? No one is asking for any Crewe fan to understand what Bradford City and its community went through almost 30 years ago, but for me there should be a zero tolerance to any football supporter in the land taunting other people about a tragedy.

We at Bradford City are not perfect at all and the behaviour of some of our fans can leave a lot to be desired at times. At Christie Park October 2007, a group of our supporters disgracefully chanted about the Morecambe cockle-picking tragedy and deserved greater condemnation than they received for it. It shouldn’t have happened, just as today shouldn’t have happened and just as Leeds fans shouldn’t sing about the Munich disaster and Manchester United fans shouldn’t sing about Hillsborough. To Crewe Alexandra Football Club’s credit, they have apologised via Twitter and stated, “the club and police are investigating and any of the perpetrators will be identified and banning orders will be issued moving forward.”

All of which, frankly, overshadowed a game that will do little to ease the growing concerns that City’s season has gone off the boil. This was easily the worst league performance of the season so far, with a worrying drop of standards, confidence and – amazingly, for this team – spirit. That City at least went home with a point was as relief given the game was running away from the players and they were hanging on at the end. But we have come to expect better than this.

Too many players were below their best, but let’s at least start with the positives. Nathan Doyle was once again terrific in the centre of the park; he is slowly taking on a greater level of authority and leadership from the hands of the still-effective Gary Jones. Doyle’s reading of the game has always been excellent, and countless times today he won back possession and set the Bantams on their way.

Superb also was Rory McArdle, who is revelling in emerging from Andrew Davies’ considerable shadow to take the senior reins of the back four. He needed to be good today, as Matthew Bates struggled to hit the heights of his three previous appearances and James Meredith’s worryingly average form continued.

Bates and Meredith weren’t the only ones struggling. Kyel Reid’s bumpy fall back to earth from his Preston performance must be frustrating to his manager Phil Parkinson; but ultimately Reid’s inconsistency is why his career has took him to Bradford City rather than remaining at West Ham. Nahki Wells – who hadn’t looked at all rusty on his return against Wolves last week – looked, well, rusty. James Hanson couldn’t hit his previous heights, but credit should go to Crewe’s backline for marshalling City’s strikers so well.

Indeed the struggling Railwaymen began the game brightly and pushed City onto the backfoot early doors. Their central midfield pairing of Chuks Aneke and Anthony Grant was the best I have seen this season, offering great balance to their team. The highly rated Max Clayton shot wide after two minutes, although in general Stephen Darby won his battle with the Crewe winger.

City got better as the first half went on and might have taken the lead when Wells had a chance in the box, but blasted into the side netting. Midway through the first half, a superb tackle and quick through ball from Doyle sent Wells clear on goal at an angle, but his first time shot rolled agonisingly wide of the post.

The 15 minutes after half time belonged to the Bantams. Crewe were hemmed in, and should have fallen behind when a scramble in the box saw Hanson presented with a glorious opportunity that he mishit. When shortly afterwards the in-form targetman’s header from a corner forced Alan Martin into a good save, confidence grew that it was only a matter of time before City made the breakthrough.

But then it all began to unravel, and performance deteriorated by the minute. City players stopped passing the ball accurately to each other, stopped making off the ball runs to utilise the space, stopped working as hard to win back possession. And little arguments occurred between team-mates here and there. And certain players began to reveal their frustrations through their body language.

Crewe stepped it up and began to dominate the game, leaving City hanging on for a point. That is so unlike Bradford City under Phil Parkinson. We have had poor results over the past two years for sure, but in general we have always become stronger as games have gone on, not the opposite way around. As anger grew in the away end and the mistakes continued to be made, it felt like a return to the worst days of Stuart McCall and Colin Todd. All that was missing was that hammer-blow of an opposition winning goal. Had the match gone on another 10 minutes, Crewe – whose speedy substitute, Chuks Aneke, gave Darby a tough time – would have probably won the game.

That they didn’t and City dug in for a draw is a big positive, but it doesn’t cover up the disappointment of the poor performance. As we waited an age to get out the away end at full time – just one exit for 1,300 supporters is ridiculous on Crewe’s part – the phrase “two points from 15” was uttered on several occasions.

That was the other element of crap surrounding the afternoon – the over-the-top anger from some City fans that will no doubt be aired repeatedly during the next few days. Whilst disappointment at players like Reid and Wells was understandable, hearing people swearing and screaming abuse at them and others was almost heart-breaking. You’re going to turn on our promotion heroes, really? “Why doesn’t Parkinson make better subs?” A criticism directed at every other City manager in my time supporting the club.

It upsets me – not as much as people chanting disgusting songs about the Bradford Fire, of course, but it still jars – that we supporters seemingly have this default setting of being miserable and angry at our team which we revert back to far too quickly. These players and management deserve so much better.

Two points from 15; but the stat that really matters is 23 points from 45 since the season began, and that City remain sixth in the table. It is of course worrying that we are winless in five, but not something to panic about. Parkinson’s two years at the club has seen him faced with far worse situations than this and each and every time he successfully turned it around.

I have absolutely no doubt that he will do so again.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Bates, Meredith, De Vita (Thompson 71), Doyle, Jones, Reid (Yeates 86), Hanson, Wells (Folan 90)

Not used: Ripley, McHugh, Taylor, Kennedy

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Claire Epton for providing the image included in this report. Take a read of her superb site: capturedbyclaire.wordpress.com.


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13 replies

  1. Really well reasoned report. I just think people aren’t educated enough to understand the game as a whole. The objective throughout the season is to win your home games and draw the away ones. If in this slump you take into account the Tranmere game and Wolves game, we deserved a minimum of two points, but in my opinion 4 points in total. Discontent though is part of the game as a whole. Our next home game versus Coventry is very important as they are now only 3 points behind us. I’m sure we’ll get back on track.

    • Good to see some perspective after what was admittedly a disappointing performance.
      The inability to grab a first half goal was costly and had that been the case a win may have been an achievable outcome.
      However as the match progressed it bore the hallmarks of Crewe snatching a late winner so to gain a point maybe should not be frowned upon.
      Having said that it was surprising that City faded as the second half progressed and this seemed to subdue the fans with the inevitable frustrations surfacing.
      Doyle impressed but many others looked slightly off the pace and the creativity going forward suffered.
      Overall we got what we deserved, which, coupled with perhaps a less than deserved haul of points from the previous matches, makes the current run slightly more alarming, but hopefully still very much a blip.
      Bouncebackability has epitomised PP’s reign to date so the next couple of matches may prove to be very significant in that regard, and hopefully avoid compounding the knee jerk reactions surfacing. A return to full fitness for Nahki Wells won’t harm that aim and PP will be keen to remind the squad that there are no easy fixtures in League One and that standards can’t slip.

  2. A worrying trend in the (admittedly) small proportion of our away fans.Not only are some of them too ready to jump on Parkinson’s back (do they really not remember the dark days only just over a year ago when we were seriously contemplating non-league?) but some of their behaviour is getting close to some of the excesses of the bad old days in the 70’s and 80’s.I was at the Walsall game and some of their antics shed a poor light on our Football Club.Such a shame as the vast majority of our away fans are fantastic but I am worried that this moronic minority will one day bring the clubs name down into the mud.Completely agree with the view about equally moronic Crewe fans chanting such vile nonsense.Great article.

  3. Excellent report Jason as usual. I was not at the game but listened on the radio. It sounded like Crewe had changed their style to a more direct and physical one to match ours. Perhaps it should be taken as a compliment that teams are having to adapt and up their game when facing City. When the season started City were something of an unknown but word quickly spreads in football.
    I, like most City supporters, would have accepted our position and points tally with a third of the season gone.Consolidation was always the priority.
    The chanting from the Crewe fans was probably down to naivety, ignorance and lack of intelligence of a small minority and would be abhorred by the majority. The same traits are common to all walks of life.
    Footballers are human and will perform better on one day than the next, we all do, wingers in particular are always an enigma. The current dip in form is a concern but let’s see where we are at Christmas, always a good bench mark when you will have faced most of the teams at least once.
    Keep up the good work Jason.The articles on here and in the City Gent are always a good read.

  4. A balanced, reasoned and well thought out report. All the doom and gloom merchants need to read this and learn something. We’ve hit a slump. We will come back to form. We have the best manager in the League. This is football – these things happen. SUPPORT your team. CTID

    • I have lived near Crewe since 1986 and rarely get to see City. I was sat at the end near the Crewe ‘fans’ but didn’t realise what was going on. What was great was the level of City support compared with the home fans most of whom are in their big stand, opposite where we were sitting, which doesn’t generate much noise at Gresty Road. I thought Bates looked classy and Jones put himself about chasing down more than I expected. Steve Davis set Crewe up not to concede and was happy with a point which was a fair result. Several of the players had an off day but I have seen City play much worse than this, even when they were in a higher league. I think the play offs and the Championship are a step too far too soon and consolidation and building for a sustained future should be the aim for the next two years.

  5. I didn’t think it was the worst performance I’d seen this year (that would be Tranmere), though it was disappointing how we tailed off for the last 20 minutes or so. Bates and Meredith did improve after struggling early on.

    I completely agree about Doyle’s performance – he was my man of the match – with McArdle and Darby not far behind. McLaughlin also did well.

    It didn’t surprise me we played better first half than second (we had more than 50% first half posseion according to BBC stats at half time) – there was a gale blowing and I always think it is easier playing football with the wind in your face. In the second half the wind tended to blow the ball away from our players and meant we surrended possesion more easily (different from rugby where you can use the wind to help retain territory) – maybe some of our players thought the same as a lot of fans near me who thought it would be much easier in the second half with the wind at our backs.

  6. As always on this site, a well thought out, reasoned appraisal of a game which, admittedly, I couldn’t get to but seems to tally almost exactly with how I was guessing things were panning out based on the BBC and Official website text commentaries I was following.

    Two thoughts:

    1.Yes, we have, effectively, virtually the team which performed so heroically at the end of last season, but, the back-up is, largely, in transition. The bench from last year is no more. Duke, Hines, Ravenhill, Atkinson, Nelson, Connell, Gray are all either gone or, potentially, going out on loan. If you take Phil Parkinson’s point that this is a squad game (which I definitely do) even an unsettled bench must have a major impact on the dynamics of what happens to the ‘team’.

    2.In effectively 12 months of playing time (having had two Summer breaks) we are a league and a half higher than where we were, at the end of 2011-12 and we’ve been to a major Cup Final at Wembley.

    Crisis ! What Crisis ?

  7. You can call me a ‘new’ Bradford supporter from over the ocean in Canada. I’ve been reading Width of a Post since the start of this season and read the archives as well.

    Always had an interest in football (or soccer, as they call it here) since I’ve been young. Call me a black duck, everyone here prefers hockey.

    I’ve been following Bradford City since their recent Cup run last year. (love cheering for underdogs) Before this, I didn’t really follow a specific team before, just football in general.

    I must say that from my point of view, Bradford are doing exceptionally well. League 2 team making it to a League Cup final, beating a few Premier League sides to get there. and gaining promotion. And after 10 games, in 6th place in League One.

    A commenter in one of my FIFA game once said something along the lines of ‘the position in the table after 10 games or so is never too far from where a team ends up’.

    I think that if this is the case, baring any collapse, City will most likely finish in the top part of the table, possibly even fighting for promotion in playoffs.

    • Hi Matthieu

      Many thanks for your excellent comment, what a fantastic way to start supporting a football club! It’s great to see our football club capture people’s imagination outside the UK. Glad that you are reading Width of a Post and hope we continue to inform you. Who knows, maybe one day you will make it to Valley Parade?!

  8. There were warning signs from last season’s JPT encounter at which a group of nerdy teenagers saw fit to perform a mini pitch invasion at every available opportunity whilst being generally annoying. I would not use this site as a platform to promote violence but what these individuals need is some proper discipline.

    • Hi Michael,
      Until someone finds an effective way of limiting these “nerdy teenager’s” bad behaviour, the best solution is for the Club, the away club and the Police/Stewards to remove them from the Ground. I have lost count of how many times they use the C word near female supporters and other vile chants near children.When challenged on their behaviour they become violent and threatening (normally because they are completely drunk).Shame, because the vast majority of City’s away support is brilliant and really help the team.

      • This season I have had cause to complain to a steward (at a home match) due to the behaviour of an idiot behind me. The steward was incapable of grasping the offence that was being caused. I have since referred the matter to David Dowse. Whilst he asked me to report any future incidents, my ten year old son is left feeling scared and intimidated. Mr Dowse did say there has been an escalation in the number of difficult people the club is having to deal with at the moment. An unfortunate bi-product of relative succe4ss.

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