By Phil Woodward
2013 will live long in the memory for all associated with Bradford City, due to two Wembley visits in a season and promotion from League Two. We currently sit in the top half of League One; and although many would say that is a success at this stage of the season, there are plenty that demand more than that. We know where we’ve been (stuck in League Two for years) and we know where we are now. But where should we be heading in the next few years?
We find ourselves in a tricky position at this moment in time. We are told we are £1 million over budget for the season, despite a League Cup Final appearance and a promotion. It looks like the crown jewels could be sold to the highest bidder come January to offset some of that deficit. Many will say you get nowhere selling your best players, but can a club like ours really afford to turn down any serious offers when we see the player’s value depreciating as the months pass by, due to soon being out of contract?
The alternative is to try and keep hold of our best player(s), but then they will be expecting better wages. Where is the extra money going to come from if we provide new contracts on better wages, and can we afford to do this or will we be living beyond our means? Some suggest raising season ticket prices, while others believe the club need to do more to attract corporate interest and sponsorship to the club. That is easier said than done when so many small businesses will have been hit hard with our previous administrations and lost faith.
A mid table finish this season would not be a disaster, as long as we recruit well in the summer. That has probably been the biggest problem we have faced this season. We seem to lack any strength in depth, and players brought in, such as Jason Kennedy, Rafa De Vita, Matt Taylor and Caleb Folan, have disappointed on the whole; whereas Mark Yeates seems to have the ability but questionably not the desire or attitude to go with it at times.
The feel-good factor and momentum of last season seemed to carry us into the early stages of life in League One, but it does seem like we have been found out and it is recent performances rather than just results that have some fans worried about the rest of the season and the halt to our progress. The most worrying, for me, was the lacklustre performance at Rotherham in the FA Cup; and comments that followed that suggested the happy dressing room was not as happy as might have seemed.
One thing we can’t afford to do is stand still. I don’t care about the promised land of the Premier League, as each season the gap between them and us grows like a chasm. The Championship is where we should be aiming and, in the next three to five years, I believe the aim should be to establish ourselves as a Championship side. The local derbies would surely sell out Valley Parade, and we could look forward to local rivalries with sides such as Burnley, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds.
Those sorts of games would bring the fans back to Valley Parade and would surely help the finances. I have the belief that those games would easily see between 20,000-25,000 fans at the stadium and also see an increase in season tickets sold. Promotion to that league would probably have a huge impact on finances, but then Championship players expect a Championship wage and the problems start all over again.
At a Skipton Bantams fans forum a while back, I asked Mark Lawn what the mid-term goal was for Bradford City FC. His answer was to get 3 points on Saturday, which kind of proves what I was thinking: that we don’t have a plan going forward. We seem to just throw money at a manager in the belief that a large wage bill will buy us success. How many years did we try this and get nowhere? We also found out that you can’t get promotion on the cheap or with third-rate Scottish players. Was it a large wage bill, pure luck or good management that got us to a League Cup Final and out of that god forsaken pit of a league last season?
I believe a decent wage budget helps, but a manager will be judged on his signings and working within the given budget. The signings that Parkinson has made this season have so far let him down. I am sure Kennedy was expected to take the baton from Gary Jones, but he hasn’t looked like the player we thought we were signing. We can’t write him off yet, but he needs to improve when given his chance and make his mark on the team.
If Reid were to move back down south to be with his family, then De Vita doesn’t really look like the man to fill his boots. He had a bright opening 10 minutes at Preston away and then faded out of the game and is another that hasn’t impressed when given a chance. Folan has had cameo appearances in the same mould as Alan Connell, and was unlikely to keep James Hanson out of the team; while Taylor seems like one of the most pointless signings of recent times, closely followed by Michael Nelson.
It would be interesting to hear what Lawn, Julian Rhodes, David Baldwin and Phil Parkinson now have to say about plans for the next three to five years. Establishing ourselves in League One might be the main aim, but for me the Championship has to be the objective. Surely teams like Barnsley, Huddersfield and Doncaster can’t have much bigger wage bills than us. I am sure some will point out that two of those mentioned are currently struggling at the bottom of that league, but it wasn’t that long ago we were competing with these teams.
A pessimist would say we are heading for a relegation fight and will find ourselves back in League Two within the next few years. An optimist would say we will be top half of the Championship, and a realist would probably say we will be mid table in League One. I hope those in charge of our club have the ambition to keep moving forward, and I would rather have them at the helm that some foreign sugar daddy that has no connection to the club and would want to bankroll us as a hobby and then drop us when they got bored.
The recent signing of Hanson on an improved contract was a huge plus for the club. The return of Andrew Davies will be like a new signing and will give some much-needed leadership to the defence. If we could sign Nahki on an improved contract it would be the icing on the cake. A change in personnel in the New Year could see us with another late run to the play offs similar to last season, but we must remember this is only our first season in this league and we have already shown we can compete with the best of them.
The failure to sign a creative, attacking midfielder has cost Parkinson, and it is no coincidence that teams like Rotherham and Peterborough are doing well when they have players like Tomlin and Pringle pulling the strings in the middle of the park. Maybe Yeates could fill that role, but that’s for the manager to consider. Other teams also seem to have players that will contribute to the scoring charts, whereas we have an over reliance on the front two and see Rory McArdle, on two goals, as our fourth highest scorer this season.
January will be a pivotal time for our season and possibly for the immediate future of the club. Will we be seen as a selling club that needs to cash in on our best assets to balance the books, or will be seen as serious promotion contenders that can fight off all the vultures circling round Wells as his contract runs down?
The management team have worked wonders with Hanson. I can remember times when he would mistime his jumps and fail to win headers regularly in a game. He would make straight runs towards a central defender and it wasn’t long ago that Michael Duberry had Hanson in his pocket in a game at Oxford. He now makes diagonal runs, leaps like a salmon and hardly misses a header, also getting direction on them and proving the perfect foil for Wells. This transformation has seen the former Co-op shelf stacker score in a League Cup Semi-Final and a Play Off Final.
If Steve Parkin and Parkinson can also do that with some of our other players, such as Kennedy and De Vita, then the future will be very bright. There will be players that are released and others that come in to replace them. If we can address the areas that seem most problematic and replace Wells if he does leave, we would have an outside chance of a play off spot this season.
If we don’t manage that, we still have to support the management team, the players and the chairmen to move forward and plan for next season.