The curious disillusionment

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

By Alex Scott

This has to be one of the least confident seventh place fan bases in the country. After a disappointing reverse and accompanying performance at Oakwell over the weekend, this uncomfortable disenchantment is explainable if not totally justifiable. There won’t be many top ten teams with as little positive momentum amongst its fans.

City are on course for 69 points this season, probably enough to just miss out on the play offs, but still a successful return. Despite this, confidence is waning. It isn’t like they’ve fallen off a cliff recently and all the arrows are pointing down, the form over the past five games, and ten games, has been broadly in line with the season as a whole, or in truth a little better.

I suppose the effect is a necessary consequence of a poor start at home. Forgetting that the three losses came against Peterborough and Swindon (second and third in the division respectively), and a recently-relegated, if inconsistent Yeovil team, it isn’t possible to avoid some disillusion when you are losing at home. Even when they managed beat a poor Crewe team, it did come across from the outside that they didn’t beat them well enough, or quickly enough in the eyes of some.

Up until Sunday’s defeat against also recently-relegated Barnsley, City had shown much more on the road than at Valley Parade, and this was reflected in the respective point totals, with only Bristol City and Peterborough better on their travels. It should be noted that had City managed a point at Oakwell, they would have the best record in the division away from home.

Being stronger on the road has its benefits for a team over a season: there will be no dead rubbers or lost causes. Being hard to beat, restricting chances on your goal, and taking yours when they arise is a much-travelled road to success; however, being able to pull off the same game plan in front of an expectant home crowd is another matter. In fact, at home, City are mostly being done at their own game.

The result of this divergence in performance is that the majority of the fans don’t get to see the team at their strongest. This inhibits the confidence in the team, and the resultant atmosphere at Valley Parade. The team don’t look comfortable, and part of this may be down to the expectation. They have to be proactive at home, and this doesn’t play to the strength of the team, which is more built around absorbing pressure and possession.

That probably the side’s best two league performances this year came at Crawley and Milton Keynes, in front of probably no more than 500 City fans combined, isn’t ideal in terms of building momentum amongst the on looking home crowd.

Pointing any of this out is admittedly easy to say as someone who mostly attends away games, and has that level of detachment. I imagine I would have a different impression of this team if I had only seen home games this season. I’m not suggesting I’m right and others are wrong to feel what they feel, I’m just considering that from the outside the negativity does appear a little unwarranted, given the team is seventh in the league after all.

This isn’t going to be a long, adamant defence of the team, with me chanting how well they are playing. Given my experiences this year, I think this team has a looooooong way to go to be competitive towards the top of this division over an extended period. However, there are a number of considerations that could be extended to the team at the moment.

Firstly, it’s a brand new team! There was a necessary turnover in the summer as the previous team was decided to have run its course, and that there have been certain teething problems and inconsistencies is understandable. That the team have struggled to gel at times and have looked as awkward as they have but are still seventh should be an encouragement. It’s not like they’re going to get worse playing together as the season goes along.

In addition, the injuries to Andrew Davies and James Hanson have meant that the team has been missing clearly their two best players for months at a time (and counting for the latter…), mostly concurrently. But they are still winning games; they haven’t let their form tail off from the start of the season. They sit today in mid-October only five points off the automatic promotion places.

Davies is going to miss 20 games a year, it’s no one’s fault. It just is. And again, we’d never be able to afford him otherwise. But given the acquisition of the impressive Christopher Routis, and the flexibility of the rest of the back line, it wouldn’t be fair to accuse Parkinson of not preparing for that absence this time around.

Hanson is a different point, and the absence of an adequate replacement for him has hurt the side considerably in quality of their performances over recent weeks. But given the balance of performances, Parkinson would be reasonable in expecting more from Billy Clarke, Aaron Mclean and Mason Bennett under the circumstances.

That no Hanson facsimile in the Jon Stead mould has been recruited is curious, but given the paucity of disposable income and the lack of available options this early in the season (before the managerial merry-go-round gets going in earnest), it’s probably explainable. But again, the team are still seventh. They have managed to gain points and wins in Hanson’s absence, and given they are clearly a better side when he is in the team that probably bodes well.

Finally, we have supported more than our fair share of unlikable City teams in the past; this clearly isn’t one of them. This is a good, likeable collection of players. They try hard, there’s a sense of unity there; there aren’t many players to dislike. They’ve gone through some adversity early in the year, and they’ve battled through and are still performing well. They also have ambition in how they carry themselves, which is an admirable characteristic, even though it may be counterproductive in expectation management amongst the fans.

Not to mention that they beat bloody Leeds six weeks ago.

If you’d have offered any of us seventh in mid-October back in August we’d have taken it. Not to mention that we’d be missing our best attacker and best defender for half the season to date. Being sat just outside the play offs is perfectly reasonable output.

But none of this really does change the fact a lot of fans are disillusioned, that a large section of fans do want more, that even the likes of our own Jason McKeown can feel as detached as he clearly did on Sunday. It isn’t really a question of whether any of this is merited, it just is. The merits of the justification don’t really matter.

Regardless of the performance in the league and cups, which on its face to outsiders, even those such as myself, looks reasonable, something clearly isn’t right at the club. Something is missing.

I went to see the last City team lose 4-1 in a rainstorm in Exeter two years ago and I wasn’t that demoralised. I also saw abysmal away defeats at Wimbledon and Barnet, and worse home defeats to Oxford and Exeter again during that season, and things seldom slipped into the numbing malaise and discontent of this season. That side finished seventh.

The disillusion across the fan base which does seem to be becoming more and more endemic, isn’t really coming from what’s on the field. It’s something else.

For the most part, they’ve been fine on the field. There have been inconsistencies in performance – this team does appear to have a particularly high variance – but for the most part they haven’t been often outclassed. This isn’t to say there aren’t structural issues to work through (not least that the side is built around a 6’4 centre forward hitherto incompatible with his highly-paid partner, and with precisely zero players in the squad capable of getting to the by-line), but to say purely from how the team has performed that there are huge reasons to be pessimistic isn’t fair.

If City showed up on Sunday and drew one all, this week may have been slightly more positive, being sat in the play off positions and all. But it wouldn’t have changed the overwhelming feeling of the season that, even though this team beat Leeds and are doing fine in the league, something still isn’t sitting right.

It’s fair to say there has been a severance in something over the past year or so between the fans and the club. Jason alluded to this briefly on Sunday. I am definitely less engaged than I was twelve months ago.

Maybe it’s because that the previous team played above themselves. Maybe it’s because they knew who they were, played to their strengths, and had courage in their convictions. Maybe it was because they got it in the bloody mix sometimes. Maybe it’s because they were successful. It could be any number of these things, or none of them, it may just be time.

Irrespective of the why, the team, and the fans do have an issue to tackle. The players need to find a way of being comfortable at Valley Parade. The lack of comfort, an hour against a 10-man Leeds team aside, has been noticeable all season long and this has corrupted the atmosphere. Whether this necessitates a change in formation – like against Crewe – or just a change in mind set, it something Parkinson needs to get to the bottom of, and quickly.

In all likelihood this will come in time, especially with the return of James Hanson, the inclusion of whom makes everything else seem easier. He also offers the club a clear route to scoring goals, which has been conspicuously absent over recent times. As the season moves on, it is probably fair to expect that this team will settle down somewhere in upper mid-table, in line with the prediction of most.

Whether they can carry the fans with them to this point is another question. A question we’ve not had to ask in a while.

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Categories: Opinion

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26 replies

  1. In terms of what’s “missing” I don’t think you have to look too much further than the captain. Jones was a captain. He rollocked players, he got the team going, he got the crowd going. He stood out on the pitch.

    We don’t have that now. We have what I consider to be a “quiet” team. Everyone’s too polite. There’s no-one really other than Davies that the crowd gets behind them because of a great challenge or two, week after week.

    The crowd are therefore less engaged with the players and so less enthused about the team.

    We need a proper leader on the pitch.

    • Completely agree, the fans want to see the sort of passion and leadership that Jones gave us. Without that crowd engagement many fans seem to be behaving as disgruntled spectators rather than committed supporters

    • Whilst reading the report I thought straight away that a major difference this season was the lack of a Gary Jones type player as captain so would agree 100% with you. It’s a shame Darby was given the job as not only does he appear to be the wrong choice but his own game has certainly suffered.

  2. We needed to change our playing style we are in transition but I am not convinced that we have got the changes correct. We are crying out for exciting attacking play at home yes keep the ball on the floor but please entertain to do this you need pace flair and to be able to get in behind teams to create plenty if opportunities with slick passing movement and flair.
    At home apart from Crewe we still have less possession we are not entertaining we still play hoof ball and we have no options to change our tactics to overcome the opposition. I feel the diamond is best suited away where we can frustrate defend have less possession and grab the odd goal( hopefully Barnsley was just an off day).
    If we can address the items I have raised at home I feel the team will be able to finish mid table and have the crowd accept a transitional season.

  3. Fab article Alex!

    I feel it’s all a result of both playing style and this ‘new era’ now that the History Makers have left. No one should live in the past but are we subconsciously comparing this team with the last? I’m glad for Jones that he now has a place at Notts County and is playing often but sometimes I wonder if getting rid of him was the right decision…

  4. I find this doom & gloom agmonst section of City fan’s very disappointing.
    If you look at how Mr Parkinson has had to cut the wage bill & bring in the same quality of player I believe he’s done very well.
    It was always going to be season of transition.
    We are very short on number’s in the squad & it’s clear we are lacking winger’s & at least one other quality striker.
    If there’s no money what can you do other than to work with what we have? .
    7th is fantastic at this stage of the season, I don’t feel we are promotion material this year.
    A nice steady mid – table finish for me.
    I’m also disappointed at the level of abuse young Oli Mcburnie seems to be getting!
    You show me how this helps young forward get better & scoring goals than I’ll start doing the same.

  5. it’s down to the fact that City fans seem to be split 50-50 between “Jam today” and “Jam tomorrow”.
    there are those like me who have always believed (whichever division of the Football league we’re in) that the best season to get promoted is always this season. we see no merit in delay just for it’s own sake. we see the signs already that we will struggle once again to reach a play-off berth. in midfield we have 4 followers but no leader. up front we haven’t even come close to replacing Wells.
    then there are the jam tomorrow fans who would be content with a finish just inside the top 12 with a “real promotion push” next season. the problem is, most of these fans said the same before last season began and will probably say the same prior to next season. there’ll always be difficulties to justify delaying for another season. that’s the problem with the jam tomorrow approach….tomorrow might never actually arrive in the form of promotion.

    • Just remember what Mr Parkinson has done & where we’ve come from.
      Year’s of league 2 football at time’s nearly relegated.
      We will get to the championship maybe not as quick as some want

      • I think most of us agree Parky deserves a lot of credit for what he has achieved and he is the sort of manager we want to see in charge of our team.

        The change in our style of play has cropped up in a number of recent pieces and I wrote a reply after Jasons report on the Barnsley game highlighting this and other points raised in Alex article above and the subsequent replies. On Sunday things did just not look right.

        One thing I have noticed with our diamond formation is the amount of time our passing goes round the diamond (and sometimes back again) but at the end of this we are still in the same area of the field and what ultimately happens is there are murmurings from the crowd to ‘get on with it’ or words to that effect. This lack of progress then results in both responsibility and the ball going back to the likes of McArdle who boots it forward, which happened so often in the Barnsley match, and Rory ends up being called a ‘hoofer’. But I would argue this really highlights the lack of a leader, the lack of pace and the’ sameness’ of our midfield. Surely it is the responsibility of the midfield, not a central defender, to be playing cute and positive passes into the strikeforce. I accept they are not currently being helped by the weakness of our front line and I really hope this is addressed now Bennett has gone back to Derby.

        As has been mentioned, at times it is hard to take in that we are in fact 7th in the table so it is far from doom and gloom, but there are signs of a fragility that needs sorting if we are to stay in the top half and out of trouble.

  6. In my mind it’s the meltdown from the euphoria of our excellent cup exploits and promotion from a couple of seasons ago. Fans were buoyant, lead by an inspirational skipper in Jones, not seen since the days of another hero in McCall. The atmosphere was the best it probably ever has been down at VP – everything
    seemed on the up and we all looked to a brighter future. After all, we’d all suffered plenty of dross and heartache for many years before.
    But gradually the ‘We Made History’ team was gradually dismantled and new parts of the jigsaw were brought in, with the promise of better players and a more attack minded team.
    As mentioned by others, we have no leaders, no fist pumping, no one to connect with the fans. The football in general is no better than the dismantled team. Fans can see no real further improvement. Together with an apparent lack of genuine team spirit and dare I say it, fitness, I for one is less enthusiastic on a Saturday afternoon. I want the whole package of passion and excitement to return to VP.

  7. I don’t believe there is a single silver bullet answer to the current gloom ( even tho the team are seventh) but for me I think 3 reasons are in the mix
    1) since promotion the home form of the team has been far too fragile , given such a large fan base the passion of the crowd does not appear to transmit to the players for some reason.
    2) people just don’t understand the budget reduction ? and compare the club to others who appear to do better with less
    3)people like to see attacking football and passion in key areas , we look a slow team unable to light up a game with slick movement
    Yes we are tidy …. But not so exciting

  8. I have never come across a more ungrateful set of supporters than our own; carping at evry turn and so quick to forget recent highs. Parky has been a marvel given the resources at his disposal and if we were sitting just above the relegation zone , that would be understandable. All teams need to transition and we need to be more patient; everyone in football does. Witness the record number of sackings and time and time again it is proved that premature sackings don’t get results.
    Have patience, we have a good manager, we have weaknesses in the team ( and I agree we need a Jones type) and our financial situation is not ideal but hey, I remember (and attended) the dark days of Aldershot and Barnet away and I also have spoken often about some of the nutters that follow us away and the damage they do to the club. Concentrate on our image that has been badly tarnished by events at Barnsley in the crowd, but leave the team to one of the best managers around. Given the hand he has been dealt, he is playing a blinder .
    All for open discussion but sometimes we need to be careful what we wish for😀
    Up the City!

    • Here Here Chris Herbert

    • I couldn’t agree more.

      People need to remember that the Championship is not our “natural level” – for the vast majority of the post-war years we have oscillated between Division 3 and Division 4. We are already at our “natural level”.

      Nor are we really a “big club at this level” – sure we get massive gates compared to most but only because our ticket prices are so low. When you charge about the same as most conference teams you’d hope to attract big gates. There’s nothing wrong with this – it is a function of the econiomically poor City we represent and I love there being so many people in the stadium – but it does mean we will never be a rich club.

      Someone above talked about “jam tomorrow” versus “jam today” – I think what most City fans fail to realise is that THIS is our “jam today”. Two trips to Wembley, promotion and establishment in the upper echelons of league 1 – I’m not sure how much more jam we could expect in our wildest dreams !

      • To be honest I don’t think because people see things slightly differently to you makes them ‘ungrateful’. The posters on WOTP are a pretty sound bunch and I am confident enough to believe they are all behind PP, the Board and are true fans of the club.

        The Board themselves have said the Championship is our goal and whilst League 1 maybe our ‘natural level’ over the years it is only right we should all have aims and ambitions. We have as much chance as most of the teams in this division and I think some of the concerns that have been raised are not unreasonable and have not been made in an unreasonable way.

        I have seen no comments on here even close to suggesting a change of manager; just natural and, in my view, justifiable concerns over the team we love. This is after all a discussion board and it is all the better for the fact we have different viewpoints and opinions, but we all have the same ultimate objective of wanting to see our team do as well as it possibly can – even if we may differ slightly on what this actual goal should be 🙂

      • Of course everyone has different opinions – life would be very dull otherwise – and everyone has the right to express those opinions. It is also true that only people who care about City find themselves to the comments section of WoaP (unlike some other comments sections). All of that is pretty much unarguable !

        I have no problem, of course, with us aiming for the Championship. You should always strive to better yourselves. My point though is that would be a signifcant “betterment” for our club given our history and financial position and that the general sense of disillusionment is borne of unrealistic expectations.

        Yes we have a chance of going up this year – but only 6 out of 24 teams will make it to the play-offs and so we shouldn’t declare the season a failure if that doesn’t happen – I’m not sure I can list 18 teams that are worse than us…

        This stuff does matter because players get replaced, tactics get changed and managers get sacked on the basis of these expectations.

        I also worry (with tongue slightly in cheek) that if our fans are disillusioned after the last couple of years then they are going to spend a lot of their football supporting lives in a state of pemanent depression !

  9. I wouldn’t describe it as disillusion, it feels more like an atmosphere of concern, certainly in the area where I sit. People around me seem to be worried that we can only play in one way – where’ve we heard that one before – and if it isn’t working then we don’t have the personnel to change things around, with a winger or someone with a bit of pace.

  10. I love Phil Parkinson. I wish he was my dad. (no offence dad)

  11. There are some well constructed points in the comments above and that’s one of the reasons why I love this website. I and my friends are worried about how we are playing this season. I really like it when we play with wingers (Showler, Wright, Daley, Johnson, Reid, Beagrie, Lawrence, Hendrie and others) and even though we beat Coventry City on the opening day of this season, myself and others walked away from Valley Parade saying that we’d struggle this season.
    I love Phil Parkinson to bits and credit to him for the superb progress that we’ve made whilst he’s been our manager (and long may he be our manager) but I’m struggling to get to grips with us playing the diamond formation in midfield. Maybe I need to persevere with it but I believe that we lack pace and flair in our current midfield. For me, the diamond formation seems to work best with Billy Clarke at the tip but whilst Hanson is injured Clarke has played upfront.
    As others have mentioned, Parkinson’s hands are slightly tied as the player budget has been reduced this season. We are all aware the McLean is one of the highest paid players at the club but I believe that he has received some unjust criticism as he hasn’t really had much good service from our midfield.
    Maybe I will be made to eat my words but I don’t think we’ll be anywhere near the top six places this season. Some would say I’m being pessimistic but I’d reply by saying with the current squad I’m being realistic. Either way, I will continue to support my beloved Bradford City.

  12. I’m glad that I’m not on my own.
    Jason’s Barnsley match report and Alex’s article here have really struck a chord with me.
    I find it strange how detached I have been feeling from City recently. I’ve been going to VP for over twenty years now and I can’t say that I’ve felt like this before, even when we were struggling at the foot of division four, and I’m really finding it difficult to put my finger on why.
    Is it because the history making team have moved on?
    Is it because I don’t see myself ever enjoying a season like 12-13 again?
    Is it because my friends and I now have other priorities – kids for example?
    Maybe its simple because I’m expecting a quiet season with neither promotion or relegation (hopefully) to get excited and anxious about.
    Is it because City have gone full circle during my time watching them and I can’t see us progressing much higher again? – I’ve almost lost hope that we will ever achieve the success of 99 again and even the championship looks a long way off at the moment with budget cuts and selling our best player to our nearest rivals.
    What is our aim as a club now? What can we realistically aspire too? The answer is that I don’t know anymore and therefore why am I still going? What am I hoping for from the club?
    Any clubs that succeed in today’s game seem to have huge cash reserves which for various reasons don’t seem to be forthcoming at City.

    Its tough because I dont know what more the club for me can do – they give us cheap tickets for example which is something I am hugely grateful for, but even the pioneer of that scheme Mr Baldwin is moving on and the fact he can’t see himself progressing with us even though he is an avid supporter is in itself depressing.

    I’ve been seriously considering dropping away games for a bit (I currently do about one a month), in the hope that absence will make the heart grow fonder again. The problem is that I like the social aspect of a saturday match day and spending time with friends discussing the team, the club and the matches.

    It would help in the short term like Alex says if we had a little more to get excited about when watching games. There’s nothing to get you on the edge of your seat with this team at the moment – very little attacking play and few chances created. An injection of pace into the squad would be a massive step in the right direction for me anyway (I hope).

  13. Sussex Bantam I know that we have spent the majority of our post war years in the bottom two divisions,but it shouldn’t be that we are always content with that. We are a totally different club to the City I started watching in the 60s. A gate of 4000 was the norm in those days and the ground was falling apart. Now we have a fantastic support base and a stadium to be proud of. It’s like saying that Wigan athletic really belong in non league because they spent the majority of post war years there. Since the ground rebuild after 85 we have spent 14 years in the top 2 divisions, and that is where we should be striving to be.

  14. I think you misunderstand my point. I DO think the club has moved on tremendously – I was a decade later getting to my first game than you were – but I agree things have moved on enormously.

    To be fair though many other teams have shiny new stadia now and whilst we do have lots of fans we only have them because we have very cheap tickets. I’m not sure we can claim to have a “fantastic support base” – I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have so many people in attendance if we charged the same as most other League 1 clubs and that has to be the comparator here. If you charge Conference prices for League 1 football in a major city like Bradford you’d hope to get an above average attendance.

    You can draw the line wherever you like with statistics of course – in the last 10 years we have spent precisely none outside the bottom 2 divisions for example. Going back to the time when the Div 3 North and South were established we have spent 44 of 57 seasons in the bottom 2 divisions.

    My point is this – we should strive to be better and I’d love to be a Championship club again – but many other teams can say that. There is nothing in our make-up that says we “deserve” it. There is nothing that makes us better than a Swindon or a Port Vale, a Preston or a Doncaster. We don’t have a history that suggests we should be there, we don’t have the money to suggest we should be there and yet somehow we seem to be disillusioned despite sitting in 7th in League One having been to Wembley twice .

    This is a great time to be a City fan – there have been very few 3 year periods as successful as the last 3 – and whilst we should continue to try to be better we should also recognise what we are watching. History would suggest it won’t last forever…

  15. No Sussex I do understand where you are coming from ,but to say that City are regular lower division fodder because of ancient history is taking stats from too far back. As I said earlier Wigans history is non league but I doubt they will return there. Not sure if current side make it a great time to be a City fan as I feel that the board with their budget cuts have dampened a lot of people’s enthusiasm this season but I shall be there
    tomorrow more in hope than expectation.

  16. For the record – I am also quite unexcited by this season, but for me it is very clearly the realisation that season 12-13 was the best season of football I am likely to ever see. It is hard to see how anything will ever compare to that again and with virtually all that team gone I’m facing up to the fact that everything else will seem a pale comparison to that amazing season…

  17. That is so true Sussex, that night at Villa was the greatest football experience in my life. When you look back to being in a crowd of 2500 at midweek games in the 60s and 70s,nights at Villa seemed liked a silly dream, but we did it and then to get to Wembley again later in the same season was unbelievable. The best season of being a City fan for me also.

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