By Jason McKeown
It was a sunny yet deceptively cold day, and in the middle of Leeds University’s campus, inside a small but homely recording studio, the closing bars of Razorlight’s In the Morning played out. Excited chatter turned to nervous silence as myself, Katie Whyatt, Alex Scott and Tim Penfold donned headphones and edged closer to our microphones. The song finished, and Katie – the producer and presenter – pushed up the slider on the mixing desk in front of her.
Here we go.
“Welcome to the first Width of a Post show.”
As the oldest member of the group – and, to my horror, almost twice the age of the swarms of students outside – it all felt a bit surreal. I spent a few moments contemplating how I got to be here, sat in a room with three people who a few years ago I wouldn’t have known from Adam (or Eve). I reflected on how wonderful this moment was, that a website and name I clumsily devised back in December 2011 had become so popular we could try a podcast, with Katie spending hours planning it all.
Doing a podcast, with all of its rawness and lack of a long-term plan, fondly reminded me of what it had felt like to set up Width of a Post in the first place.
The Width of a Post
On 5 November 2011, I went to watch Bradford City play Cheltenham Town with the bizarre and deeply unsettling worry that my football club might sue me, and that when I reached my season ticket seat I might be well be escorted out of the ground or into a darkened room. Neither happened. On the day I sat their undisturbed, but deeply disengaged by events on the field. The pathetic 1-0 loss seemed fitting.
24 hours earlier the website that I had contributed to for eight years, boyfrombrazil.co.uk (BfB), had shut down following a fall out with the club. A story we had published was disputed, and the argument was somewhat ugly. There were threats made and anger expressed towards us. The dialogue calmed but it would rumble on for several weeks.
When the dust finally settled and hands were shaken, I was left with a hole in my spare time and a desire to fill it quickly. Writing for BfB had been wonderful. Writing about Bradford City was something I deeply loved. Writing about Bradford City was something I was desperate to continue.
And so Width of a Post was born.
The early days
I knew very little about websites – I still don’t – but co-editing BfB with Michael Wood had led to picking up some basic skills, and I spent much of Christmas 2011 filling in the blanks and building my own site.
I wanted to write about City’s fortunes and especially produce match reports of the games. There was no real motivation to match the amazingly high audiences that BfB had achieved over its final months. It was just about having an outlet for my ramblings, and a platform for anyone else who wanted to write about the club.
At the time Michael had not wanted to continue his own writing – though BfB would make a welcome return in January 2014 – and it was very strange to go it alone. We both had different styles of writing and I was conscious that my limited intellect meant that WOAP would not be as high-brow as BfB used to be. That the big words Michael knew that I did not would not see the light of day on WOAP, less I attempt to swallow a dictionary.
Struggling for a name, I one day leafed through a scrapbook and came across my much-cherished ticket stub from Wolves away in 1999, when Bradford City had sealed promotion to the Premier League. The image of Paul Simpson’s late free kick smashing the post always comes straight to my mind when I think of that day. “Wait a minute…” This was as close to a Eureka moment as I will probably ever experience. Width of a Post was registered as a domain name within seconds.
After an initial flurry of interest from City fans, when word got out there was a new site around, we spent the first few months struggling to attract 200 readers a day. The week of the Crawley game in March – when the two teams brawled at full time and five players were sent off in the dressing rooms, sparking worldwide headlines – saw WOAP become an outlet for people to read up more about what had taken place.
It helped the readership to double overnight, and it very quickly doubled again.
The moody editor
My main memories of the first six months of WOAP were of my own negativity and disillusionment. The 2011/12 season was just the latest campaign filled with underachievement and disappointment, but it seemed a particularly wasted 12 months. It had begun with Peter Jackson at the helm, Archie Christie’s development squad, and talk from the club of building more slowly and carefully for the future.
Jackson lasted five games, Christie five months.
I was fed up of the big pre-season talk and the club’s constant failure to stick to any plan. I had believed Stuart McCall should have been given longer, and the short-term thinking since his 2010 departure had only taken the club backwards. It was hard to see how this would change.
But writing in such a cynical manner was no fun, nor was it to read. After David Syers was allowed to leave in May 2012, and I had written a negative piece in response, I returned home from a night out in town to find that a very angry reader had emailed me. The gist was he was fed up of my stuff, and that after my latest club-bashing piece vowed never to read WOAP again.
It was a wake up call. Things couldn’t go on as they were.
Salvation came through new friendships. The Skipton Bantams supporters club is now all but defunct, but in 2011/12 it had just been set up and enthusiasm in the group was thriving. I went along to a few meetings, started to make friends, and found myself getting swept up in the genuine excitement felt by the group about the upcoming 2012/13 campaign.
This felt like a more rewarding path to choose. To be optimistic now at the risk of more disappointment later, rather than be pessimistic now and write “I told you so” down the line.
The tone of the site changed. For the better.
The History Makers season
The 2012/13 season began with a bang for WOAP – the threat of police action. I had attended the opening day League Cup victory over Notts County, during which Magpies striker Lee Hughes was booed by City supporters. In view of his background, I had written that this reception towards Hughes was valid. Someone disagreed, stating I was inciting trouble and that, if I didn’t retract my comments, he would make an official police complaint.
It was all sorted quickly and amicably – the reader had been sat in a different part of the away end to me, where Hughes was receiving much worse verbals than booing, and he thought I had been referring to that. But to my personal shame, all of this was taking place on the day I was the best man at a wedding.
While my best friend was feeling the nerves about the big day, I was trying to get his wifi to work so I could email the person back and argue my case. It is an example of how running a website like this can often eat into your personal life in ways that become borderline unacceptable. Martin, once again, I’m really sorry.
All of which threatened to overshadow a good day for City that quickly grew into a good start to the season over the coming weeks. You could instantly see that this newly assembled squad of players were made of sterner stuff than City sides of previous years.
To be editor of a Bradford City website in 2012/13 was a pleasure that I will treasure forever. Getting to see these major games and write about them for fun after, it fully justified why I had set up the site in the first place. Readership grew and grew, as did the base of writers. We were a larger group of people with many people contributing heavily. With 64 games ultimately played, it was a good job as there was a lot to cover.
I loved writing about Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa twice. The reports, I feel, still have a rawness that I’d like to think captures the excitement of the time. National newspapers were covering these games more professionally than I ever could, but I think WOAP still had its place.
It was a team effort, but Alex Scott very much became the star writer of that period. His reflection pieces on the games attracted amazing levels of praise from readers, and were even picked up by national journalists. Some argue that Alex’s articles on the Aston Villa and Swansea games are WOAP’s finest hour and I couldn’t disagree with that. He captured the mood and the spirit of the club beautifully.
Those Alex articles deserve to be preserved forever.
Wembley part one
Reaching a major cup final saw Bradford City grab the world’s attention like never before. The five weeks in-between the amazing night at Villa Park and the Wembley meeting with Swansea seem like a blur now, but the centre-of-the-world feeling I’m sure every City fan experienced was accentuated by running a website.
Thankfully, I will never be an A-List, well-known City fan like Mike Harrison and the Bantams Banter lads. Whilst they were interviewed for newspapers and TV stations around the world, I had smaller media requests that were both a novelty and not too taxing on my time.
It involved writing articles, being interviewed by Paul Hudson, going on local radio, plus appearing as a panelist at a Think Tank event about multiculturalism within Bradford. It was all good fun, and the best moment was appearing on BBC Newsnight complete with the TV caption ‘Jason McKeown, Width of a Post’.
But the writing was the real focus. On cup final week I set out with a plan of having two articles per day, building up to the final. Many people in the team helped by writing wonderful pieces, and then new people approached me with their offerings. We published something like 22 articles in 10 days. We got a lot of good feedback that week.
And from a personal point of view, it resulted in perhaps my two favourite WOAP articles I have personally written. The first was to ghost-write a piece from James Hanson’s dad, Michael, about what it meant to him to see his son prepare to play at Wembley. Thanks to Michael’s openness and honesty, the piece came out really well and gained a lot of praise.
Then there was the cup final match report. City were thrashed badly on the day, and from the 30,000+ City fans present two perspectives were taken home. The first, that we should be proud of the team for getting so far and shrug off the 5-0 loss, was one I understood but couldn’t fully share. I was a member of the second group, bitterly disappointed that we froze on the day and didn’t give Swansea a game. It meant the world to be there – a true dream come true – but we had not made the most of it on the field.
So my report reflected this; and though some disagreed, a lot of people thanked me for expressing how they felt. And I was proud, and it sticks in the memory because that is the sort of response I want WOAP to have. I don’t want to be mainstream and writing something that could have easily appeared on the club’s website, written by a paid employer. I wanted to tell it like it is, and for the praise we give out to be merited and the criticism justified.
This match report, more than any other I can remember writing, achieved that aim.
And then it was back to writing about Dagenham and York.
The clock was ticking on my time as a City fanatic. Between 2007-2013 I was a regular home and away, watching City in every part of the country. But early into the 2012/13, I knew those days were numbered and to enjoy one last season of being a fully committed supporter.
I was about to become a dad.
Our due date was May 29 – a little too close to the date of the play off final, which left me fearing that I might miss out on seeing promotion due to rushing to the labour ward. My wife was a season ticket holder too, and the final few games involved the logistical challenge of getting a very pregnant lady around. At Burton in the second leg of the play off semi finals, and at Wembley for the final against Northampton, we took along a just-in-case hospital bag.
There was no such drama – thankfully, it all took place on the field. City were promoted in stunningly impressive style, and WOAP captured it all and more. Three weeks after the Northampton win, Georgina was born. I carried on being a season ticket holder – the wife a flexi-card holder – but there was an instant cut down on my away trips.
So for WOAP it meant a greater reliance on others to write reports of away matches. We had a proud run of covering consecutive games to maintain, and I was so grateful to the likes of Mark Danylczuk, David Lawrence, Mike Holdsworth and Damien Wilkinson for making sure no game was missed.
In recent years Kieran Wilkinson and Tim Penfold really took on the away game match report mantle – both have barely missed a single game in years. Gareth Walker – who has become such an important friend to me – became social media editor of the site, to ease the workloads and to develop something I couldn’t.
I wasn’t sure I could successfully keep the site running at such a pace, with sleepless nights and the other responsibilities of raising a child to contend with. In truth it wouldn’t have happened but for a star in the making.
Katie Whyatt had been running her own blog, but had contributed one or two pieces for us too. The quality of her writing was outstanding, it jumped off the page. Friends of BCAFC had managed to persuade her to write match reports for their site, before someone inside the club felt it was not appropriate for the group to have public opinions and put a stop to it. I was proud to persuade Katie to defect to WOAP.
And over the last few years, Katie’s involvement both front of house and behind the scenes has grown and grown, the quality of her work reaching Alex Scott’s. I’m probably being overly kind on myself if I say I’m the third-best writer on WOAP – I’m probably more fourth or fifth. Alex and Katie especially have taken this site to another level. I’m very lucky to showcase them.
Katie ran WOAP single-handedly in August 2014, whilst I was away, and was again in charge over the most recent Christmas period. She’s now co-editor and the development of a WOAP podcast shows she’s not resting on her laurels. One day she’ll be a famous professional writer or broadcaster, and I’ll be proud to say I played a tiny role in her development.
I love the reaction people have towards Katie, including if they meet her in and around City games. There is a massive warmth and appreciation towards what she does and how good she is at it – recognised by WOAP readers, City fans, people at the club, and media professionals. Tim is also a star on the rise, even getting his own media invites and rightly so. He is one of the nicest and most knowledgeable City fans I know.
In my day job I work as a content manager/copywriter, part of a busy and deadline-driven marketing team. Within our organisation and the businesses we work closely with, there is inevitable and regular debate about company values, brand and our overall business strategy.
I have never attempted to apply such an outlook to WOAP – but here goes. I guess what has driven me to run this site goes way beyond a personal passion for writing, and a desire to provide some form of service to others, specifically the Bradford City community.
I love how broadsheet newspapers cover football, and the thought and analysis they provide. The Telegraph & Argus’ Simon Parker does a grand job covering the club, but is understandably restricted in expressing his own opinions and in being overly critical. With no ties to City and my own livelihood not dependent over whether Phil Parkinson would talk to me, we could go in a different, in-depth direction.
And I like to think that we add real quality to the wider conversation, and enhance the way that people follow the club. And if all that sounds a bit pompous or egotistical, it is something I can benchmark in the shape of the Football Blogging Award we won in 2013: “Best established blog”.
It was such a special night, attending the ceremony with Luke Lockwood, Gareth Walker, Damien Wilkinson and Mahesh Johal. When our name was announced as the winners I was completely stunned and ever so proud. It was an award purely based on people’s votes, and the fact enough of our readers cared enough to vote meant the world. We were shortlisted for two awards that night and two again the year after. There was no follow up win, but it was still great to be there again.
Readership of the site continued to grow over 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Whatever has been happening at City, we have covered it extensively and become a part of how many people have followed these events.
- The Nahki Wells transfer saga of January 2014 was one where we claimed the odd scoop along the way, and the article I wrote about the fallout over Wells’ choice of club resulted in us trending on Twitter.
- We were there for Chelsea and Sunderland and Millwall and Reading in the FA Cup 2015 adventure, with lots more positive feedback over the reports produced by the team.
- When Phil Parkinson was going through tough spots, like the one win in 21 of 2013/14, we wrote passionate pieces defending him that were appreciated by many and criticised by those who, crazily, wanted a change. When Parkinson was under a bit of pressure in February of this year, some people were digging up articles we wrote two years earlier and quoting them in their arguments on why he should stay on.
It comes back to that word – proud – that our ramblings are remembered and influential.
Along the way we have developed good relations with the club, certainly much more cordial than in 2011 when the site began. The likes of David Baldwin and James Mason have been fantastic in terms of giving up time to speak on and off the record, whilst myself and the team have managed to interview Julian Rhodes, Nick Allamby, Rory McArdle, Ben Williams and Parkinson.
Someone connected with the club told me a while back that internally there has been an appreciation and respect for what we do. Not because we are cheerleaders to the cause, always supportive of the club’s endevours, but because we are fair-minded with our criticism rather than the nastiness you can find elsewhere.
I’ll be honest, there are times we haven’t always hit that quality bar that we set ourselves, but greater experience of being an editor has taught me a lot along the way. At one point I would never have dared reject an article submission, but over the past year or so I’ve happily said no to pieces that simply weren’t right for the site.
Writing WOAP has been so much fun. The four-and-a-half years have been one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. We’ve published more than 1,300 articles, received more than 6,000 reader comments, and been grateful to receive more than 2.2 million hits. Over 4,000 people have signed up to receive every article by email, and daily readership is around 6,000-7,000, depending on how City are faring. More than 60 people have written an article for the site.
It’s something that we are all so ever grateful for, and though WOAP is going to be changed significantly next season, we hope to remain a relevant and engaging read.
Yet I’ve reached the point where it has to change. The day after the fun of doing a WOAP podcast, City were at home to Walsall and produced a stunning 4-0 victory. It was a joy to watch. It was fun to write a report about later, but it was also time-consuming and draining.
I didn’t finish the Walsall report until 10.15pm. That was my Saturday night gone, and it has been the same way about so many of my Saturdays over the past four-and-a-half years (and the eight years before that writing for BfB). And the workloads can creep into Sunday and most evenings during the week.
The balance needs to be addressed.
I’m looking to keeping the very best elements of WOAP – the in-depth articles, the honest opinions, and the praise or criticism – going with the continuing help of the team. But it will be less frequent, and hopefully with it more fresh. No more match reports on a Saturday night, and instead a few more days to chew over the latest performance, before a midweek piece. It will lead to a different style of article, but hopefully enjoyable to you, the reader, nonetheless.
So for now we will take the summer off. We’ll enjoy Euro 2016, the weather, the novelty of doing something different on a Saturday night. There probably won’t be any updates on the site. But for full disclosure, we are in talks with the club about interviewing Edin Rahic, and clearly if it comes off we will will publish it straight away. Katie is also looking to produce something that, if it works out, will be published over the summer months too.
Beyond that, batteries will be recharged, ideas will be floated between us and developed, and we’ll enjoy writing in some capacity about the club’s fortunes over 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and for years to come.
Thank you, as ever, for reading.