By Jason McKeown
Just shy of two years after first joining a struggling Bradford City on loan from a League One side, Ricky Ravenhill’s latest career move has mirrored his previous one in heading to the bottom of League Two, this time Northampton Town, on a month’s loan. At Valley Parade he has been written off before and come storming back, so for the time being Width of a Post will hold off declaring the last rites on Ravenhill’s time at City.
Nevertheless, Ravenhill’s temporary move to the side that the Bantams defeated at Wembley, to earn promotion, is another positive sign that the old curse has been broken. During the club’s post-millennium slump from the Premier League to the basement division, it was a common occurrence to see under-performing players be replaced by inferior footballers, who in time would be replaced with even worse ones. Financial struggles and dismal results contributing to an ever-falling of standards that saw the club go from Ashley Ward to Barry Conlon to Scott Dobbie. A pattern mirrored across the first XI. Even if a manager was able to bring in better, these players would either fade away or go onto better things, offering only a short-term boost.
Yet Ravenhill – along with Nahki Wells and Andrew Davies – represented the start of a reversal of that decline: players who were not only better than what else was in the building, but able to have a meaningful impact on the club’s long-term fortunes (and in Wells and Davies’ case, bringing out the best of their partners, James Hanson and Luke Oliver). When Ravenhill rocked up from Notts County in November 2011, Phil Parkinson had Michael Flynn, Ritchie Jones, Lee Bullock and Chris Mitchell at his disposal. The first three proven players at League Two level, but unable to provide the ball-winning element that, without, made City’s central midfield relatively easy to bypass.
In what had become a relegation scrap, Ravenhill was a vital signing. A poor debut against Rotherham quickly forgotten, the next five league games resulted in a season-changing three wins and two draws. The plaudits went to others – a feature of Ravenhill’s time at the club – but his influence was huge. It was a no-brainer to make the deal a permanent one that January.
It would be fair to say that Ravenhill’s City career has not gone in the way he would have wanted. An understated hero in the club’s successful 2011/12 relegation battle and appointed club captain during the summer, it all looked promising for 2012/13, as Ravenhill quickly formed a useful-looking pre-season partnership with summer arrival Gary Jones. But a bad injury at Guiseley saw him ruled out of the season’s start, and he eventually returned with two words on everyone’s lips: Nathan Doyle.
Would Doyle have been recruited had Ravenhill not been badly injured pre-season? Perhaps, but even if so, the two-way battle to partner Jones would have been a fairer fight had Ravenhill been fit, instead of Doyle getting such a big head start. When fit, the club captain was consigned to the sidelines most of the time. For Ravenhill, the joy of nights like Arsenal and Aston Villa will have been slightly dampened by the splinters in his backside from sitting on the bench.
Yet however he felt privately, in public his attitude appeared superb. A week after Swansea City tore through a static-looking Doyle and Jones at Wembley, Ravenhill got his chance against York City as an out-of-sorts Doyle lost his place. He took it with both hands.
The grit and determination needed to reverse a season drifting to mid-table mediocrity was found within many players, none more so than Ravenhill. He is no Doyle for sure, and cannot spray the ball around as majestically; but for grit and determination, Ravenhill became vital in winning the midfield battles that a fatigued Doyle had been losing for weeks. Sitting in front of the back four, Ravenhill’s positioning enabling the age-defying Jones to push forward even more. The result was a successful late surge to the play offs. Ravenhill was desperately unlucky to be dropped for the second leg against Burton (far from our worst performer in that wretched first leg). Given how well Doyle played at the Pirelli Stadium, it was certain that he would keep his place for the final at the expense of Ricky.
Two appearances at Wembley in one season for Bradford City, two bench-warming duties for Ravenhill.
Once the will-he-won’t-be saga of Doyle’s future was resolved during the summer, the writing on the wall was ultimately there for Ravenhill. There would be a place for Ravenhill in City’s squad for a good couple of years if he wanted it, but the role would not feature a great deal of first team action. You’re a long time retired from football, and so Ravenhill understandably wants to find first team action elsewhere before he permanently moves to the sidelines.
And the Valley Parade landscape around him, from joining, is so much changed from two years ago. Michael Flynn was an improvement on the technically proficient but underachieving Paul McLaren, but Ravenhill was a further improvement on the Welshman. As Ravenhill prospered, Flynn, Bullock, Mitchell and – last season – Ritchie Jones departed. City had improved on what they had – something repeated around the rest of the squad – and the club’s player turnover cycle of bad, woeful and then even more woeful was finally ended.
By continuing to make progress as a club, it means players who were once pivotal on the upwards journey eventually have to be left behind as better players come in. Ritchie – a big player in 2011/12 – was probably the first, and it appears as though Ravenhill is to be the second (you can already guess who number three and four will be, even if it’s not for a while yet). In the long-term, Ravenhill is a player who will probably be less fondly remembered than he deserves to be, but the fact he played a vital part in turning around the club’s fortunes guarantees him a place in Bantams’ folklore.
Good article. I’m a massive fan of Ricky. Like you say, he deserves to be remembered very fondly indeed. His attitude and ethos epitomised last seasons sqaud and we wouldn’t be where we are without him. The term “unsung hero comes to mind”.
He did everything he was brought in to do. An excellent player and I think one of those instrumental in changing the mood and mentality in the squad.
Another consideration, if we hadn’t achieved promotion, would be how many players had moved on. In League two again this season I think Ricky would have been one of our key players.
I hope Ravenhill does well at Northampton. He is a great trier, and, after what we did to them at Wembley, I hope he helps Northampton get out of trouble.
But your comment on Dobbie fascinates me. Apart from taking penalties and a headed flick-on against Bury (I think), Conlon was surely the worst player ever to play for City.
Or am I wrong?
On his day, Barry Conlon was a brilliant League Two player. I vividly remember some outstanding performances in a City shirt (almost all of them coming away from home) and he did some good stuff for us.
Consistency was Conlon’s issue, especially if given a run of games. For whatever reason, he could not sustain form for more than four or five games. I think that’s difficult for a manager, and I can understand why Stuart McCall got rid of him in the end.
Dobbie probably had a more impressive career, but at Valley Parade his lack of commitment and, frankly, interest was galling. He always sticks out to me for that. It was awful to watch him play in claret and amber.
Through claret and amber eyes, Conlon was a better player.
Totally wrong John. I have watched City since 1966 and Conlon was not even close to being the worst ever City player.
This is a fascinating discussion.
I know my idea of the best—-McCall, Beagrie, McCole, Waddle, Carbone.
Sorry Jason. I say with absolute confidence that Barry Conlon was rubbish. What a cart horse. Worse player ever though must be David Hopkins? Or Regtopp? I agree with Keith. Loads worse than Conlon but he was bad.
Barry Conlon played 72 times for Bradford City. The idea that his contribution over that time can be summarised as “rubbish” is over-simplified.
I was by no means his biggest fan and one of the few people not pining for his return when Stuart shipped him out on loan, but when on form Barry was a good player for us and scored some important goals. The issue with Barry – as I said before – was he couldn’t sustain his form. He’d be out of the team for a while, come in and have a stormer. The week after he’d be slightly less effective, then the week after slightly worse. Eventually he’d be dropped and we went through it again.
I agree Conlon is not going to be up there as one of the greatest strikers, but I think we have had worse since.
And while we are at it, Hopkin was not once our worst players either. He got injured a few games in and was sold soon after. Disappointing, waste of money…yes. But not rubbish.
Older supporters will remember some gems who would make Conlon seem like Robin Van Persie. In no particular order strikers John O Mara, Tony Buck ,defenders Darren Morgan, Alan Dowson . Jake Speight and Lewis Moult in the modern era were also inferior to Conlon. Not forgetting the infamous Mark Stewart from Falkirk who contributed far less than Conlon but suspect he will end up costing us a considerable sum when the tribunal delivers it’s verdict.
A squad of them mainly from my avid City watching era of 76-92: Billy Punton, Robert Zabica, Paul Reaney, David Ratcliffe, Nigel Beaumont, Mike Duxbury, Alan Dowson, Darren Morgan, Darren Treacy, Mick Bates, Ian McCall, Billy McGinley, David Jackson (late 70’s version), Peter Costello, Kevin Megson, Tibor Szabo. A heavy John Docherty influence with a smattering of ex Leeds & Man U rubbish
What a distasteful discussion the profile of RR has provoked. I don’t understand why some people feel the need – with often zero supporting evidence, like that should even matter – to ‘identify’ the ‘worst’ City players. I can sense an inevitability that some of you will be expressing similar sentiments about our current players in a year or two. I’ll be sorry to see RR leave, as he’s been an important player for us when he has been given run in the side, and his commitment has been faultless. I wish him and Northampton well.
Perhaps because they paid good money home and away over many years, are entitled to an opinion, have a sense of humour and found looking out of the kop up Wakefield Road more exciting that watching some of these men masquerading as professional footballers running around in our beloved Claret & Amber, some of them over the hill, some of them in the wrong profession, some of them set for the scrap heap. I forgot Gareth Grant. Clive MacFadzean – he was awful. I’ll stop now.
Glad you’ve stopped.
A friend of mine (a Bradford City fan) told me about how he went to watch a Man City away Champions League game last season. He was on a plane full of Man City supporters, and just as it was about to take off, they all broke out into a song about their ex-striker…Barry Conlon. He called it “surreal”.
I think that there is some wonderful humour there though. Conlon played for Man City when they were at their low ebb of falling down the divisions, and he’s almost a symbol of that decline which they can now chuckle about. It’s also a badge of loyalty during an era where I imagine that there are a lot of glory supporting Man City fans now. “Call yourself a Man City fan, tell me who Barry Conlon is?”
I think that kind of humour has its place at Valley Parade, especially if we continue to climb upwards. Yes, we shouldn’t belittle people, but this club has been through some difficult times and it would be nice to get to the point where we can have a sense of humour about it and laugh about some of our less talented former players.
One day we will all be on a plane going to watch the Bantams at Real Madrid in the Champions League, and when we do I’ll start up the Barry Conlon chant…
Mike and Jason are totally correct in that it’s just a bit of humour reminiscing about some of our classic players. It always amuses me when people say the likes of Conlon, Hopkin were our worst ever players. If they had been around in the 70s they would have seen some real contenders of which Mikes list brings back some great memories ,and a sense of humour was essential to watch City.
In my opinion, Conlon is the worst player I have seen regularly play for City. That’s not to say he had the least contribution.
Jason, for me, you’ve summed it up perfectly, when you say he epitomised what we had become. We had been watching Carbone and now he had Conlon – he emphasised the point we were a poor league two side.
I remember having this discussion on BfB and making the point that the old joke of his ‘second touch is a tackle’ is actually true in Conlon’s case and that watching him in the warm-up he was out of his depth.
However, he did have his uses and that was to throw him on with 5-10 mins to go. He caused mayhem (sadly sometimes at both ends) and the tiring opposition didn’t know what to do with him. It’s like facing a wayward fast bowler – how are you supposed to know where it’s going if he doesn’t himself!
I won’t forget Bury at VP when he chased in and scored a header that no one else would have got to win us the game. Wasn’t the Accrington 3-2 comeback down to his late arrival too (I wasn’t there)?
Getting back to the article – I agree RR has had a tremendous impact and wish him well. We will now be watching Northampton’s results as well as Dagenham’s and Southend’s. Those players from last year will not be forgotten.
I love this “holier than thou” argument which breaks out whenever the discussion of City’s worst ever player emerges.
It’s obvious that some players are better than others – Stuart was clearly better than Gary Locke for instance (everyone except Jim Jeffries must accept this !!).
This also applies on a global level. As much as we love Nakhi Wells he isn’t as good as Robin van Persie and I’d swop Kyle Reid for Christiano Ronaldo in a heartbeat !
Therefore the term “worst” just means at the bottom of the ranking of players who have played for City. You still have to be a very, very, very good footballer to get anywhere near being a professional and every single one of them is a million miles better than me. (I’m prepared for someone to use Darren Morgan as the exception which proves the rule here)
However some are not quite as good as others – and in the world of professional sport these small differences in ability can make a huge difference to the outcome of a game, a season and a career.
I’m prepared to accept that Locke is “worse” than McCall, Wells is “worse” than van Persie and Reid is “worse” than Ronaldo without feeling like I am somehow criticising those players as indiviudals or not supporting them in the Claret and Amber.
Oh – and good luck Ricky. I agree with everything the original article said about his contribution !
How can any discussion of worst players not include Jason Gavin?
More importantly, good luck Ricky! Always 100% and part of the turn-around squad that set us on our way back.
I don’t see how objecting to something I perceive as being unkind and unnecessary is ‘holier than thou’ just because you don’t agree with me, and neither do I see where the supposed humour lies in simply listing names of who you think is the worst City player. I also think that making such statements about certain individuals shows a complete lack of understanding of the entire footballing context in which most of those players mentioned were playing – put them in the current set-up and – who knows – perhaps they might appear differently. Give some of them the chance to develop their potential, such as has been the case with James Hanson, say (who according to some a year or two ago was the worst City forward ever), and they might have become something more. Perhaps playing for City at such a difficult time has had a damaging impact on their careers? Basically what has happened is that they have failed to some degree, in that they have not met your expectations, and perhaps their own too, in attempting to follow their chosen profession. That is probably hard enough for them to take already without this sort of public abuse. Finally, if people genuinely want to identify some of the worst City players, not that I like the idea, but rather than berate your least favourites of recent seasons, I suggest you start looking at the squads of the 1960s, when we had to apply for re-election to the football league (3 times I think).
spot on. Agree with every word
Agree with Dave. Dowson and Morgan were victims of the ‘Millwall’ era and their confidence crumbled as a result.