By Jason McKeown
The appalling state of Bradford City’s pitch is becoming a huge problem and not conducive to the quick-fire, short passing style of football the team is attempting to play. But that’s okay, because the board has “led on Energy reduction”.
The Valley Parade pitch has even become a national media talking point after Sunderland manager Gus Poyet ‘offered’ the Bantams the chance to switch their lucrative FA Cup fifth round home game against the Black Cats to the Stadium of Light. But that’s okay, because two directors have in the past “sourced funding for equipment”.
In the aftermath of last weekend’s home draw with Colchester United, Parkinson delivered striking interviews to all local media outlets, in which he hit out at the club’s board and specifically Roger Owen and Graham Jones, regarding the neglect of the playing surface. Parkinson stated he had warned the pair that something needed doing following the Gillingham game last November, but felt he wasn’t taken seriously and instead considered to be making excuses for more dropped points. The pitch has got far worse since, and Parkinson deemed it not fit for professional football. It is difficult to see how a quick fix can be applied.
But it was the fact that Parkinson spoke out against board members so publically that really shocked. To date, the relationship between management and board has seemed harmonious from the outside. There’s no doubt that, behind the scenes, arguments will have raged over the years – it’s part of the reality of football. To see it spill over into the public arena was either the result of a manager feeling he could speak out from a position of strength, following the Chelsea victory, or ill-judged and inappropriate.
The upshot is that Parkinson has apologised in public, accompanied by a rather strange statement from the board which praises the achievements of Owen and Jones (taking about energy reduction and the like). It doesn’t hit the right note, it doesn’t sit comfortably. To us supporters, the blame game is secondary to the topic of the fall out. What, exactly, is the board going to do about the playing surface?
One can imagine that Mark Lawn or Julian Rhodes will have observed the criticism directed by fans towards Owen and Jones and felt that they needed defending. That is fine, but the statement doesn’t do the pair any favours. It reads like an ego trip. It is not good PR. Thanks for all your unpaid work, but highlighting this should not be the priority. If they are not responsible for the problems with the pitch, clarify this by all means. But then get on with sorting out a growing issue, rather than tell us what great guys they really are.
As for Parkinson, the fear is that the whole episode has weakened his loyalty to the club. The fact he was so upset to hit out in the first place suggests he does not feel he is getting the full backing he expected to keep City in the play off hunt.
Did he want to apologise in public, or did the club insist that he must do so? And if it is the latter, will the episode affect his judgement should a higher league club sack their manager and come in for his services? Because the phenomenal job he has done at Valley Parade means it is surely only a matter of time before such opportunities come his way again.
Parkinson has been the best thing to happen to Bradford City in a decade. He has changed the culture of the club when others could not, and turned around the fortunes in memorable fashion. Through the cup exploits this season and two years ago, he has made the club millions of pounds to put it on a much sounder footing. He has City knocking on the door to the Championship, when just three years ago they were facing up to the prospect of non-league football.
To keep that upwards trend going, the club’s mindset has to change too. Width of a Post heard a whisper that the club made a £200k saving on the Valley Parade pitch during the summer. That might have seemed fair enough at a time when the playing budget was been slashed, but the effects on any under-spending are there for all to see.
There is a board mantra that every penny possible goes into the playing squad and it is a fine principle to have, but it must be balanced by making sure the club itself is more professional as it goes up the ladder, and that is has the tools needed to help the players succeed. And whilst no one would want to see us go too far the other way like the Peter Taylor days – an amazing playing surface, but an awful team – the balance could be better.
That is the past it cannot be undone. But with the Chelsea money clearing the deficit, and the Sunderland windfall to come, the club are back in a position of strength and have the resources to fix a few things that were neglected. If it is too late to do anything significant to repair the pitch now, then Parkinson and his players will have to make do. But let’s not make the same mistakes that appear to have been made next summer.
Let’s get the pitch sorted, and then the directors can crow about it all they like.