Scunthorpe United 1
Bradford City 1
Tuesday 21 April, 2015
By Jason McKeown (images by Thomas Gadd, see note below)
14 years ago, the then-Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale proudly heralded the £9 million signing of Derby’s Seth Johnson to be proof that the Elland Road outfit had “moved on from the Molenaars and Wetheralls of this world”.
It was a crass statement by a crass man – one that Robert Molenaar and David Wetherall took great exception to – but the wider point Ridsdale was making was that Leeds United were now able to buy players on a much grander scale.
As Billy Clarke joyfully celebrated his Bradford City equaliser at Glanford Park on Tuesday evening, by charging up to the away end and leaping onto a wall, those words from Ridsdale suddenly popped into my head. And as the delirium of the goal faded, and comfort was taken from the vast improvement in the Bantams that followed, one can’t help but feel a little sad, fearful and sentimental for this current team.
By most measures, Clarke has been a resounding success at Valley Parade. His manager, Phil Parkinson, spent last summer dealing with budget cuts and hunting around for bargains. Clarke – unloved at Crawley to the point he couldn’t even get a game – was a gem of a find. A player who previously moved from club to club has looked very settled at Valley Parade, and his performances and level of influence on the team have grown and grown. This goal – a lovely low finish into the bottom corner – was his fifth in eight games. He is out in front as City’s top scorer.
Getting these performances from Clarke is very commendable of Parkinson. In fact, we can look back on last summer’s recruitment drive – where big questions were being asked of the manager – as a success. There will always be Alan Sheehans: every manager makes bad signings. But the good has more than outweighed the bad, and the 2014/15 side has largely built upon the History Makers team’s achievements, embodied their best qualities, and continued to take the club forwards.
They are ending the season knackered and far from their best, but they have given everything over these last nine months – and they are widely loved for it.
Yet now we are approaching an unexpected crossroads In Bradford City’s history. The Italian takeover is still said to be on course to going through, and with each little bit of inside info and gossip, the wealth of Gianni Paladini’s backers seems to grow and grow. It has been suggested that City will have a transfer budget of £10 million in the summer. That is a mind-blowing sum of money for this level. If it all goes through and that is the club’s financial position, instant success will be demanded and some notable players would be joining the club.
But where does all of this leave the current players? Parkinson claims that the recent dip in form has nothing to do with the players feeling unsettled by takeover rumours and that is undoubtedly true, but suddenly the future of each and every one of them is on the line. If City are going to fast track our way to promotion, many of the current players – contracted for next year or not – are probably going to lose their places in the team. Past achievements may count for little. We will be moving on from the Clarkes and Liddles of this world.
It reminds me of the classic Simpsons episode where Homer’s power plant baseball team have reached the championship game following an unbeaten season, only for the players to discover their owner Mr Burns has replaced every one of them with ringers from the professional game. There is a moment where the team are told the news, as the professional baseball players are introduced to the room, and they are left mortified that their efforts will count for nothing.
You can picture Billy Clarke as Homer Simpson, asking one of the glamorous Bradford City summer signings, “Well, are you better than me?” and receiving the reply “Well, I’ve never met you, but…yes”.
Of course, City have not just gone through a season unbeaten. They have not reached the championship game. They have not, even, reached the play offs. And the last few weeks have demonstrated that this set of players aren’t good enough yet to be a promotion team. But it seemed as though we were going to strengthen in one or two areas, and increase the depth of the squad. That these players and this team – who have not yet reached their expiry date – would be given an opportunity to go again.
We may never find out just how good this team could be. And though spending £10 million or whatever should lead to better players that we would quickly love if they succeed, it feels harsh on the current players, who might be about to receive a severe career setback.
It’s the heart vs the head moment. We want to get promoted. Logically spending lots of money will increase our chances of getting promoted. But in our hearts…some of us worry for the soul of the club.
At Scunthorpe, the players were woeful but then also excellent. Another game of two halves, where the half time words from Parkinson had a positive effect. In the opening 45 minutes the home side – still needing a point or two to guarantee their League One status – attacked with purpose and intent. James Meredith was given a torrid time on the left, Ben Williams inspired zero confidence as he flapped at crosses in the box.
Gary McSheffrey opened the scoring with a goal that had been coming. Neal Bishop should have made it 2-0, but smacked an effort against the crossbar.
It was disconcerting to see City revert back to their direct style of play from last season, with the ball pumped long to Jon Stead and James Hanson, who had no support around them. It was a sign of dipped confidence, of fatigue, but it was a drop in standards that doesn’t sit well. At half time City were facing up to a fifth defeat in seven games and the fallout would have been huge. There were no boos, but the atmosphere in the away end was strangely muted all evening.
It got better in the second half, which is where Clarke popped up with his gleefully celebrated equaliser. In the aftermath of their Saturday draw with Colchester, Scunthorpe boss Mark Robins accused his players of trying to get through games doing only the minimum. It was probably true again here, as they never got going after the break. City had chances, none more so than a stoppage time run and shot from Tony McMahon that flew over the bar. The highly impressive on-loan Blackpool man should have scored.
Still, a point was a fair reflection and there were several good performances. None more so than Christopher Routis, who was given an unexpected opportunity to exercise the Preston demons. In for Rory McArdle (and selected ahead of Gary MacKenzie), Routis was excellent here and arguably City’s best player. Perhaps it helped the Frenchman’s game to play alongside the calming presence of Andrew Davies for the first time, but this display was evidence that Routis can play as a centre back in League One.
Chris Routis is a bit like that bloody dress. When people view him, they come to vastly different conclusions. There are people who really do not rate him – someone tweeted me today saying they won’t renew their season ticket if he is offered another contract – and yet there are others who rave about him. I am definitely in the latter camp. Every time I praise him someone has a go at me for it, and I’m not blind to his short comings and the mistakes he has made, but there is so much potential to him. And he plays with such passion and heart.
I was really pleased that he had such a good evening here.
But Routis more than anyone is vulnerable to the summer takeover situation. After City spent last summer shopping in the £1 shops of Crawley, Stevenage and Hibs, Parkinson could be set to be handed a store card to Waitrose and Booths. If he has started to plan for summer signings – and sensibly he must begin to – Parkinson will probably have to draw up two separate lists. One for the original plan of spending the FA Cup windfall, the other for if an Italian is at the helm and millions of pounds are available.
Interesting times, but no matter who is playing for City next term, they will do well to match the passion of Billy Clarke’s celebration last night.
City: Williams, Darby, Routis, Davies, Meredith, Liddle, McMahon, Knott (Halliday 77), Clarke, Hanson, Stead (Dolan 77)
Not used: Urwin, MacKenzie, Webb-Foster, Mottley-Henry, Zoko
Categories: Match Reviews