Phil Parkinson’s surprisingly poor legacy

Image by Thomas Gadd ( - copyright Bradford City

Image by Thomas Gadd ( – copyright Bradford City

By Jason McKeown

Phil Parkinson was in defiant mood in the minutes that followed Bradford City’s aggregate play off semi final defeat to Millwall, telling assembled reporters, “Now our challenge is to look to bridge the gap between the play offs and the top two. We can do it.” He said these words knowing privately that the club had been sold a few days earlier. With his track record of year-on-year progress there was no reason to doubt him.

Yet as the Bantams reach the summer landmark moment of beginning the pre-season friendlies, the strength of the club is in doubt and the future prospects far from certain. It took less than three weeks from the final whistle at the New Den for Parkinson to quit Valley Parade for Bolton, and the legacy he has left behind is a surprisingly weak one.

Any manager who looked with interest at the Bradford City vacancy that cropped up in June would have naturally assumed that the club’s remarkable progress over the previous four years would mean they’d be taking over a well-oiled machine, but Parkinson’s successor Stuart McCall will have found alarming gaps and a huge rebuilding job on and off the pitch. The target of automatic promotion looks out of the window. Steadying the ship is the first priority.

The first issue is the almost complete decamping of the Bradford City coaching staff to Bolton. In some ways it was no surprise to see Steve Parkin and Nick Allamby move across with Parkinson. Back in 2013 when the City boss was negotiating a new contract at Valley Parade, the talks moved slowly due to his insistence that Parkin and Allamby be offered their own deals at exactly the same time. It was Parkinson’s way of showing this was a team effort, and he made sure it was his team who switched with him to Bolton.

Only more coaching staff have moved with them than just Parkin and Allamby. The chief scout Tim Breacker, goalkeeping coach Lee Butler and physio Matt Barrass have defected to Bolton too. Only Chris Royston and Graham Duckworth – both City fans – have remained. It has left McCall with a considerable task of bringing in a brand new set of backroom staff, and losing a lot of vital background knowledge that could have caused a smoother transition back into the role.

And then there is the playing side. Parkinson did very well last season to build a successful, albeit deeply pragmatic, team that achieved 80 points and finished 5th in League One – a highest placing in 12 years. Yet the heavy reliance on loan players has really hit home, with McCall inheriting just a small band of senior players.

Of the 18 who started or were on the bench for the second leg play off game against Millwall, only nine are still on the books. Whilst Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and James Hanson offer long-term continuity and are players McCall can continue to build the club around, there are considerable gaps elsewhere and a real challenge to rebuild.

Ben Williams and Jamie Proctor were out of contract and opted not to stay, the latter rocking up at Bolton of course. Williams has criticised Parkinson over the contract offer he was given and rejected in favour of a longer deal at Bury.

The point is that McCall has not inherited the team that performed so well last season, making the play offs. His task is not so straightforward to build upon that success, but to begin from a few steps further back. After nearly five years in charge of the club and after all the impressive progress, we might have expected Parkinson to have left behind a stronger squad than he has. It demonstrated that his final season in particular featured a shift towards short-term thinking, which doesn’t exactly leave behind the strongest of foundations.

Parkinson built very successful teams at Bradford City, but he failed to build a football club.

With Parkinson pipping McCall in the race to sign Mark Beevers also – the out of contract Millwall defender had talks about a move to West Yorkshire – there is a growing sense of frustration amongst supporters. Yet as manager of a fellow League One club, ultimately Parkinson is operating in the same pool and is always going to be interested in similar standard of players and coaches. Still, it’s a good job his Bolton side don’t come to Valley Parade early season, as the reception he’d receive would not be as warm as his record at City deserves.

Adding to the problems for the Bantams is the change of ownership, with Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp tasked with getting to grips with English football and their new investment. Whilst Julian Rhodes continues to offer a steady hand behind the scenes for now, the loss of so much knowledge of Bradford City in the boardroom, amongst the coaching staff and on the field is worrying. Thank goodness, at least, the commercial staff – led by the increasingly vital James Mason – is still in place.

Nevertheless, Bradford City will start the 2016/17 season with new owners, a new manager, new coaching staff and a new team. There is so much change that it is going to be really difficult to find continuity and it will be a real achievement if the upwards progression can be continued, at least next season. A repeat of a play off finish would be an outstanding achievement in these circumstances.

This wasn’t the plan when Parkinson spoke with such resolve at the Den. Right now the club is plagued by uncertainty and the excitement over a new era is tempered by what we have lost. There was never going to be a good time for Parkinson to leave, but what is sad about the situation is he has departed with the club in a weaker position than we could ever have imagined.

All of which makes it even more important for us supporters to rally behind the club and the new regime. We’ve had such a good, mainly untroubled four years that it would be very difficult to take going backwards on the tantilisingly close dream of Championship football. But rather than allow negativity to reign or worse walk away from the club, this is a time when we really need to stick together and be supportive.

And that’s why, despite the reservations many hold, Stuart McCall is the right man for this moment. No one could unite the club post-Parkinson – indeed, Parkinson himself was not universally popular – but a Bradford City legend who is infinitely likeable, with a point to prove, is someone to root for. If he can get it right here, the success would feel even more special. It is hard to think of any reason why you wouldn’t want him to succeed.

In Parkinson we trusted, only for us to feel let down by the manner of his exit. In Stuart we must believe. Especially if the immediate road ahead is as bumpy as we fear it might prove.

Categories: Opinion

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19 replies

  1. The appointment of another true legend Greg Abbott is a welcome and vital appointment too. Stuart trusts him implicitly and he will take a lot of weight off Stuarts shoulders. A good conduit between Stuart & Edin & Stefan to let him concentrate solely on the playing side.

  2. Its going to be a long road but with the appointments and signings so far, things are looking up

  3. An interesting article Jason. One point however i’ve read and cannot agree with:

    “Parkinson built very successful teams at Bradford City, but he failed to build a football club.”

    My view is that between himself, the former owners and PP’s coaching team they were able to build a “New” Bradford City. The club moved forwards during Parkinson’s time at the club. Without doubt the most progress this club has had circa 1999 (17 years). Stuart’s comments when he arrived regading how the club is evolved since his first stint were revealing.

    But granted I agree my expectations have lowered for the forthcoming season. Another attempt to reach the play offs would be my target after so much change during the close season.

    • You’re right it’s a harsh comment and I don’t mean offence to Phil. It just seems everything was built for the here and now and it’s very unsettling how striped bare we were after he left.

  4. As usual Jason, an excellent assessment of the situation – brilliantly summed up in the final paragraph. For some reason I hoped we might buck the usual football trend, and loyalty play a part. But “let down” describes my feelings perfectly, although looking forward I can see the positives in Stuarts appointment.

  5. Following the rapid departure of Parkinson and his staff, yet prior to McCalls arrival, I was able to sit and reflect upon what we had, and what we have.
    Strangely – or perhaps not, one of the first thoughts to enter my mind was the immediate aftermath of Fergies departure from Old Trafford. A different level, and differing circumstances perhaps. Yet the resulting problems have a similar ‘feel’ to them. McCalls job is equally as hard as the one which faced Moyes, I only hope McCall is treated better by our hierarchy – success or otherwise.
    I would hope for a minimum top 10 placing this coming term……. not for me, but for Stuart. The majority would dearly love McCall to succeed, and any flirtation with the play offs would be a bonus in this transitional period. However, there are those who find McCalls appointment underwhelming – it wouldn’t take much for the knives to come out
    I don’t doubt McCalls ability on the training ground, and in Abbott he has a trusted foil and ally on the recruitment side. Yet this I feel is where McCalls greatest challenge is. McCalls experiences will be heavily challenged as he bids to sell the club and it’s ambitions to prospective quality targets in his negotiations. We already know Parkinson excelled in that area, and only finances really blocked any moves. Stuart McCall must now have faith in himself, and his beliefs, in what may be a struggle to bring the best available to Valley Parade. I’m sure we all wish him well.

  6. I love the entusiasm for the appointment of Greg Abbot as chief scout. Abbot who famously didn’t fancy Nakhi Wells (but was a fan of Francois Zoko)

    • Not entirely true after all he did sign him for Carlisle… Wells didn’t make the match day squad for their final and rumour has it spat his dummy out about that which led in part to his release. I believe this was also because at the time they were only allowed 5 subs as opposed to 7 so things may have turned out entirely different.

      Remember he didn’t come to City and light up the team straight away so (like City) Abbott obviously saw something in him to sign him in the first place.

  7. I find it quite bizarre to try and predict where we may finish when the squad as not been put together.
    Parky overall did a good job and ran a steady ship but the football we played at times was
    frustrating .
    I for one are quite excited about the potential and save judgement until we have played a few

    • I don’t think anyone is predicting. We have hopes, yes. I always do a points tally one week before kick off – I always get within 2 points, or it’s above (Last was 75 points !)
      I also review that after a 10 game period. Having supported City over 50 years, I have learned the 1st games count for little. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
      I too am hopeful of a good season, based on a steady ship – but moreover a sound futuristic game plan. The Gulf between Lge 1 and the Championship is ever growing, and although we may not have to get there next term, it will get harder year by year. As you suggest, ‘let’s play a few’.

  8. Another excellent article.
    One observation on Parkinson’s legacy: one thing he has left behind is the mind set of the fans. We have changed and I do so hope that this new found ‘positive realism’ can carry on. The lowering of expectation on the new seasons final position by most people is a sensible start.
    I do hope WoaP can gain an interview with our new owners soon, so many questions need answering.

  9. An enlightening article Jason but rather than allow Parkinson to shoulder the blame for Stuart’s rebuilding job I have to wonder how much of what was left behind was due to the financial position of the club? Maybe what we see now is the way the club was run on a day to day basis prior to the takeover and now the new owners are having to invest heavily to redress that?
    In my opinion while we attract a sizeable supporter base due to the season ticket price being low maybe as supporters we should accept we need to pay a higher ticket price to enable us to achieve success on the field?

  10. I’ve always liked PP and was proud of BCFC for the loyalty shown to him. Loyalty works both ways and PP had been loyal to us. The wholesale move of all coaching staff was worrying but that’s the way things seem to work; Proctor and Beevers signing too leaves a bad taste and a sad legacy and would appear to show that this was all planned by PP. Like Jason implies it would be sad if PP received a poor reception from the VP crowd but I doubt he will get it, because if Bolton start badly he’ll be out quickly there.

  11. We knew that City was all about the short term for a number of years now. Overspending and relying on cup runs/player sales and the budget for the year after would attributed on this basis. PP can’t be held accountable for this and worked with what he was given.

    It is a wider issue in football but if you were PP why would you blood youngsters who may not be ready now because they may be useful for the club in the future but if they don’t do it for you now then you’ll be out of a job.

    I don’t think the rebuilding job is anywhere near the size that people are making out… we have 3 out of 4 in the back 4 who have been mainstays of PP’s time at the club, we could have retained the keeper if we had so wished, a couple of great wingers and a top drawer centre forward. He left us in a position where we needed to fill about 4 maybe 5 first team positions of which we have already filled 2. PP would have been waiting like a lot of clubs at this level to fill 2/3 positions with loanees depending on whether their parent club wanted them too as he did last year very successfully.

    There seems to be a bitterness to PP because of the way he left but perhaps a bloke with one year left on his contract looked at a time of potential upheaval at the football club and thought if I go to Bolton and get sacked I’ll get a bigger payout than if I stay here and get sacked. I can’t blame him for that and as for coaching staff that is generally what a manager does when he goes somewhere new.

    I thank him for the memories and hope they finish 2nd this season.

  12. Great article Jason. Keep ’em coming. Strangely, I feel a lot better after reading this.

    Since PP’s departure and the takeover I’ve been in limbo land and not in a good place. Sure, I’ll renew my season ticket – it’s the one thing I can do to support our club but the enthusiasm of the new impending season which by now would be be fever pitch is completely absent.

    I think Stuart’s appointment is the right one to steady the ship over the next 2 years and quite frankly I’ll be happy if we stop up this season let alone flirt with the play-offs. Stuart is the right man at the right time.

    I’m really saddened in the manner of PP’s departure and I hope in time we find out what the real reasons were as somehow I feel there is much more than what meets the eye and what we’ve been told.

    So let’s see what the season brings – more in hope than expectation and hold onto your hats as the Bradford City roller coaster gets underway.

    ISIB. : )

  13. I have been fighting with my emotions and it was until I read this article that it puts it into context. Let’s get some quality in and make sure we are competitive

  14. Can’t argue with anything written in this article. Parkinson chose to leave after 5 years in charge and brough great success to the club whilst laying every ghost to rest since relegation from the premier league. Even if he and his back room staff had stayed there was a massive rebuilding job to be done to better a fifth place finish whilst replacing the key loan players who shone from the west ham loan set up. I feel Parkinson got the best out of the squad he assembled and after a slow start and a strong finish it was testement to his experience in the transfer market, mangerial nous and 100 percent backing drom the chairmen. I for one was bored to tears with the football that was served up last season and personally speaking I did not want to watch another season of the Parkinson mantra of grinding out unconvincing victories and negative football. I’m pleased Stuart McCall has been given the opportunity to rebuild the club after Parkinsin’s exit. Stuart has never let the club down in the past and although it will be a big ask to better a a top 5 finish after a massive change in personal from manager through to chairmen who better to take the club forward into a progressive entertaining new era.

    • Like you, I was bored stiff with Parkinson’s style of football last season. I didn’t like the manner of his leaving or the fact he emptied the cupboard of backroom staff. The one nagging question I have is, was he talking to Bolton during the play offs? If so, that is contemptible.

  15. Good article of course but is the legacy left behind solely due to Phil Parkinson I think not, It was Phil, Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn who rebuilt the club to where it is today. They all played a big role in the success we had and equally they are responsible for the state of the club now, we went down the road of quality loan signings rather than spending transfer fees so the present situation is no different from any other of the previous seasons under the stewardship of the three of them, and this I guess is the problem of loan signings its a short term plan that has to be repeated every season to succeed.

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