Bradford City vs Scunthorpe United preview
@Valley Parade on Saturday 20 December, 2014
By Jason McKeown
The Scunthorpe United manager Mark Robins already has his place in football folklore, as he is widely known as the man who saved Alex Ferguson’s job.
Way back before he became ‘Sir’, the Manchester United manager was struggling to turn around the club and was considered to be one game away from the sack. Had United lost to Nottingham Forest in a January 1990 FA Cup third round tie, the under-pressure Ferguson was to be relieved of his duties, so the story goes. Instead, his striker Robins netted the game’s only goal, and the Red Devils went on to win the FA Cup that season, before dominating English football for two decades.
Both Sir Alex and his then-Chairman, Martin Edwards, have denied that he was ever on the brink of the sack in January 1990. But as the saying goes: when faced with a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend. It is more compelling to believe that Manchester United’s trophy-laded modern history might have been completely different had they lost one football match at the City Ground.
Flash forward 24 years to another FA Cup tie, and at the Shay stadium – last month – Phil Parkinson trooped into the dressing room at half time with his Bradford City side a goal down to their part-time neighbours and facing a mightily important second 45 minutes. On Twitter, numerous City supporters declared that they believed Parkinson’s future was on the line and that, if Halifax Town held onto their advantage, it would prompt a change of manager at Valley Parade. City came roaring back in the second half to win a difficult tie 2-1. It has proven the beginnings of a run of five wins and a draw from six matches, which have tipped the season’s mood firmly into positive territory.
Similar to Ferguson in January 1990, the outcome of this FA Cup tie was highly unlikely to have determined Parkinson’s fate. He was not on the brink of the sack, given his three-year contract still had 18 months to run and the club are having to count the pennies. Even if his contract had only a week to go, I seriously doubt that getting rid of him would have been on the agenda had defeat occurred at the Shay.
Nevertheless, the second half at Halifax was evidently a big moment for Parkinson, and a big moment in City’s season. Being knocked out of the FA Cup by a non-league team would have damaged the manager’s standing, and turned the heat up on faint debates raging about whether he had “taken the club as far as he could”. It would have been a cup exit that followed four league defeats from five, and things wouldn’t have looked clever.
Yet the fact of the matter is that Parkinson was hardly under serious pressure going into that game. He is evidently popular amongst the majority of supporters, and they haven’t needed the team to go on a six-match unbeaten run to be convinced about a manager who time and time again has proved himself the right man for the job.
There is a perception in football than fans are fickle and this is true in some; but in general it is an over-simplified outlook to suggest that thousands of people, who follow the same team, feel and think exactly the same way.
A week after a handful of supporters booed Arsene Wenger as he prepared to embark on a train journey home from Stoke, thousands of other Arsenal fans chanted “There’s only one Arsene Wenger” as the team demolished Newcastle United. They were ridiculed for this, accused of fickleness, by the media – as though the 60,000+ fans within the Emirates stadium last week were all gathered on the Stoke train station platform. The idea that the booing of the manager at Stoke train station represented the outlook of all Arsenal fans was nonsense. The idea that those who booed the manager one week were the same people leading the pro-Wenger chants the next was nonsense. It was minority vs majority.
At Valley Parade, the majority of supporters have remained in general support of Parkinson. Even during difficult days in September and October, the manager was applauded by many within the three home sides of Valley Parade as he walked to the dugout prior to kick off. We may not have enjoyed losing at Barnsley and Oldham, or going down at home to Sheffield United and Doncaster; but from many of us there was an acceptance of the wider circumstances, and an understanding of the constraints he and the team were working under.
There was simply no need to go out of the way to defend Parkinson, because who were we defending him against? A few morons on the Bradford City Facebook page who can’t even spell ‘sack him’? A spur-of-the-moment Tweet from someone who in their next Tweet is going to tell Aaron Mclean to “f**k off”? Users of the T&A message board? (Good god.)
The fact of the matter is that the conversation around Bradford City has for too many years being dominated by the minority, that it gets to the point where you ignore them simply because of their lack of relevance. Most people stuck with Parkinson to the point the idea of his removal wasn’t even a talking point. As the Bantams Banter lads eloquently put it, those who called for him to go have mysteriously gone missing of late. Mainly because there was so few of them.
October, and early November, was not an easy period for Parkinson. The performances of the team were not terrible, but the results were poor – especially at Valley Parade. It has only taken a small improvement to turn it around, and there was never any reason to doubt that Parkinson was going to unearth that small improvement. After all, he has so often turned around difficult positions during his three years at the club.
But we don’t get carried away. We are on the brink of the play offs, which is above realistic expectations, and if we spend the second half of the season challenging for the top six, coming up short and finishing in the tenth spot we currently occupy, then it deserves to go down as a good season. Certainly one in line with the Board’s expectations.
Parkinson continues to do a fantastic job at Valley Parade, and most people can see that and value his work. There will always be some who don’t, but at the moment they are so much in the minority that they don’t deserve to influence the wider conversation.
“Taken the club as far as he can” was an unbelievably patronising and insulting put down for a manager who deserves far more respect, and who gets it from the majority of fans. The last six games have shown that he is capable of taking the club much, much further – but to most of us it was never really in doubt that he can.