Bradford City prepare for life without James Hanson with battling draw

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Match review: Bradford City 1 (Meredith) Millwall 1

By Jason McKeown

The characters rotate but the plot remains the same. File this performance and result alongside Bury, Scunthorpe, Walsall, Charlton…all the way back to Port Vale on the opening day of the season. A fine attacking display that was pleasing on the eye, but second half dominance failed to yield more than a share of the points. Eat, Sleep, Draw, Repeat.

If this fast-paced encounter carried the weariness of feeling as though you were watching a TV repeat, attempts to concentrate on the game weren’t aided by the off-the-field shock that a mainstay character is on the brink of saying goodbye. News of James Hanson’s proposed move to Sheffield United began to circulate on Friday. Hanson spent the afternoon in Sheffield discussing personal terms, whilst Stuart McCall hastily worked on restructuring the team shape for the visit of Millwall.

WOAP understands the deal is not yet agreed between the two clubs, and that the proposed structure of paying the transfer fee may ultimately cause Bradford City to walk away.

When you’ve been struggling to keep pace at the top because of a shortage of goals, selling one of your best strikers to the league leaders certainly isn’t the obvious solution. The clinical, business rationale for why City are close to agreeing to sell Hanson is they can earn a decent fee for a player who, in a few months time, might walk away for nothing. And when everyone is fit and other January transfer business is done, Hanson might not be a guaranteed starter anyway.

But such arguments should surely be superseded by what one man thinks: the manager. WOAP understands Stuart McCall wants James Hanson to stay, and that he sees the club’s longest-serving player as part of his plans. However, not everyone may share his view. The owners – who, despite holding preliminary talks last autumn, have not offered Hanson a new contract – will make the final decision.

If there is a difference of opinion over keeping hold of Hanson, it sets a worrying precedent. Whatever your partisan thoughts on Hanson’s value, is it healthy for any manager to be denied final say on which players are kept? McCall will continue to be judged on results, but if the wrong players are brought in by the transfer committee – or others depart against his wishes – how fair on him is that? And with a whole heap of City players out of contract in the summer, disagreements could lie ahead.

At the moment Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp must weigh up deciding whether to sell an effective striker with just 10 days of the transfer window to go, without a replacement lined up. Not to mention the efforts to bring in a forward on top of this anyway. If City were sat in midtable, harbouring only faint promotion hopes, it might make complete sense to cash in. But if allowing Hanson to leave seriously risks undermining City’s play off hopes, the sum of money raised will be of slim comfort.

McCall did his best to sound upbeat when quizzed about Hanson after the match, but at one point stated, “You know as much as I do if I’m honest.” That is a worrying comment. Over the summer McCall, Rahic and Abbott presented a united front, all working on the same page; but now there are signs of gaps between them. McCall also revealed that a Championship club made an enquiry for Hanson a week ago, and suggested news of Sheffield United’s interest might trigger more bids.

That Hanson might be about to leave upwards demonstrates just how highly he really is valued. The supporter debate about his worth continues to rage on; but within football itself there is less doubt. Hanson will never be a great goalscorer, but he continues to be a match winner on his day – see Wimbledon away and Northampton home this season. It’s a lot to lose. The club needs to think very, very carefully about this one.

Certainly Neil Harris – who 18 months ago tried to sign Hanson – appreciates the striker’s worth. After the game he revealed how pleased he was when he found out Hanson would not be lining up against his Millwall team. In the first half at least, the visiting backline had a comfortable time of things. With Billy Clarke not yet fit, McCall had to pick a front two with plenty of pace but no physicality.

That duo included Mark Marshall, who was moved up the park for the second time this season. The longer the game went on, the better Marshall was. In the second half especially he ran the Millwall defence ragged. He was the focal point of all that was good about Bradford City. This was probably his best home display of the season, and his effectiveness in this role offers a useful alternative to McCall. “I’d offer him a 10-year contract,” the manager mused after.

Yet if Marshall thrived as a winger playing in a less natural striker position, what can be said about the natural forward who played alongside him? Alex Jones had a game to forget, and struggled to make any impression save from a decent run and shot midway through the first half. It is very early days in his City career, but Jones’ lack of senior experience actually playing up front is showing. It’s starting to become clearer why Port Vale used him as a winger.

City improved when Jones was replaced by Jordy Hiwula, who nearly settled a tight contest with a terrific charge from deep that saw him beat two defenders and fire a low shot that was blocked by Millwall keeper Jordan Archer. This came during a final half hour where City were camped out in Millwall’s half, but they couldn’t find a winner. In total the Bantams had 61% of the ball and 22 shots on goal to the visitors’ eight.

Not that the game was one-sided. Millwall arguably shaded the first half, as City – who in a Hanson-triggered reshuffle ended up playing three centre backs – were sloppy and slow to set the tempo. Colin Doyle made a couple of excellent saves, and the restored Rory McArdle and Matt Kilgallon were kept busy alongside Nathaniel Knight-Percival. Kilgallon was excellent, and it is desperately sad for the experienced centre half that a popped shoulder forced him to go off after only half an hour. An extended run in the team beckoned.

McCall had hoped to play 3-5-2 with James Meredith and Tony McMahon as wing backs, but Millwall winger Fred Onyedinma caused problems on the right, forcing Meredith back. It was curious that Neil Harris opted to take Onyedinma off midway through the second half, although perhaps it was punishment for the Nigerian failing to track Meredith when he was left free in the box to equalise and cancel out Lee Gregory’s opener.

With Josh Cullen, Nicky Law and latterly Timothee Dieng working well as a middle three – Law playing in the hole in-between midfield and forwards – there was much to commend about the formation. It will be interesting to see if McCall opts to use it again for next week’s trip to struggling to Oldham.

Before that on Tuesday, City go to Oxford in the Checkatrade Trophy on the same evening that Sheffield United host a rampant Fleetwood in League One. We wait with baited breath to see which game James Hanson will be at.

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36 replies

  1. Good performance with the same outcome another draw against a top team at home. 10 days left in the transfer window and I really cant understand the signing of jones an inexperienced wide player come striker and another reserve Newcastle forward.

    With Hanson set to leave i am wandering if the cracks are begining to appear between the owners and Mccall. Surely we need an expierenced forward and a midfielder who can actually make forward passes and put is foot through the ball and score which never looks like happening with Law or Cullen. We are in a strong position but without expierenced additions to the squad the season is in danger of just pitter out.

  2. I am a fully signed up member of the Hanson fan club and think today is a perfect example of you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone

    I think it says a lot that Sheffield United, a team with a much bigger budget than us, who sit on the cusp of promotion (and whose stated expectation is Championship football next year) are targeting Hanson. If Hanson represents a useful addition to a club of their resources, who do we genuinely think is within our range as a replacement, let alone improvement? If a player like that was about, available, willing to play at our level, and affordable, might we have heard about them? Might teams like Sheffield United also? And yet they chase Big Jim.

    We won’t know what we’ve got til it’s gone

  3. Try and replace James Hanson will be impossible… legend in my eyes.
    Dont forget James as options here .
    Go now and the club at least get small fee .
    Go summer as free agent and the club get nothing.
    We do not know if James Hanson as said I want to move ?
    He’s 29 now and maybe he himself wants fresh challenge and few quid extra ?.
    There’s been witch hunt from section of supporters regarding James Hanson that’s been raging on since he came to city .
    Thanks for the memories James if this is good bye, you walk out of VP with your head held high …

  4. Thiught we played really well in second half but we could still be playing now and not score. We worked the ball out wide very well but millwall wanted us to do this as we offered very little in the box in terms of attacking the ball. We have been found out we may look good going side to side but we offer very little in terms of chances and if we continue to approach games this way we will score less than we have at the beginning of the season. McCall going one way in terms of tactics and the board going another. We will fail to make play offs and will be a team of kids who are not physical enough – just my prediction

    • Exactly as i saw it,we were in complete control for most of the second half yet offered very little goal threat.The sideways movement, especially from Law, is easy to defend against. Millwall were happy for us to go out wide and defend the edge of the box. Shame it took us till the second half to work out Marshall would be the pivotal figure against a team of giants, he was fantastic yesterday. Its clear that a slow tempo game doesn’t help Jones at all, a couple of promising touches yesterday but no space to work with. McCall is going to have to work out how to get the best out of him because thats the best part of three games now and not a sniff of a goal.
      That being said i enjoyed the game yesterday, not sure on three centre backs but nice to hear a bit of atmosphere back at VP, sadly lacking this season. Listening to McCall’s interviews i do have a nagging doubt that all concerned aren’t singing off the same hymn sheet with the Hanson transfer saga. Interesting week or two ahead, certainly need a new striker or two.

  5. I’ll declare my interest – I’m a big James Hanson fan and really want him to break the City goal scoring record. BUT if Stuart wants him to leave because he does not figure in future plans so be it. I’ll be sad but can accept that.
    However, if Stuart wants to keep James but the owners don’t (hence no new contract) and he ends up leaving then this speaks volumes for the type of club we’ll have going forward. It will take more than buying a few burgers to make up for this. The new owners are not all that they seem to be. It also helps explain why Parky left.
    Even if this rumoured ‘transfer committee’ exists Stuart should always have the final say on who comes in or goes out. If he doesn’t then it is worrying times indeed and I can see the play-offs (probably) slipping through our fingers. Stuart is ultimately responsible for the results and our league position.
    Oh, to have had James playing today and terrorising their back four and snatching all 3 points for us…. (sigh).

  6. The first I learnt about James Hanson probably leaving us was yesterday evening when a friend of mine who’d been at the game said to me: “He’s gone.” My heart slumped to the floor. I have stated on this website my appreciation of James Hanson. I won’t say my final goodbye until he has left us as I foolishly hold on to that thin glimmer of hope that he might continue playing in a Bradford City shirt. No player is bigger than the club and as Jason states the bigger worry is if McCall wants Hanson to stay but our owners want a transfer fee for him before his contract expires. Nervous hours and days ahead.

  7. What will you do when he’s gone?????
    Will you be ok?
    Will you promise to give us regular updates on him at Sheff?

    Me I’ll party and laugh my arse off that someone was daft enough to part with cash for him

    • Hmmm…Chris Wilder, Stuart McCall, Neil Harris and (allegedly) Nigel Clough are full of praise for Hanson and/or want to sign him. Lots of “daft” people in football apparently.

      • So you are not behind our new owners plans then? Maybe their decision is based on a declining worth of the player and that James Hanson believes he is worth a better long term contract than will be offered. One of the biggest earners at the club who is having less and less of an impact on the field? Financially could be a good move for both parties involved. Nothing lasts forever.

      • I have already written earlier this week that I think the transfer committee is a good idea, but I’m not 100% sure if we are executing it quite right. Time will tell.

  8. I too am a big fan of what James Hanson brings to the team and, in an ideal world, I think we should be desperate to hang on to him because of his on-field influence. People who just expect him to be a ‘goalscorer’ might be looking at a rather simplistic view of what that means in modern football. Over the last few years of watching at VP I have been struck by the vastly improved technical and tactical quality of nearly all of our opponents compared to the standard I remember from watching Division 3 and 4 football in the 70’s and early 80’s. The interst from other sources, comment from Neil Harris, support from SM, etc. show he is a true asset.

    One other point to ponder: our owners come from a culture where SM’s role is more commonly ‘Head Coach’ – not ‘Manager’. In this country we are used to the idea of the manager having overall control of most things ‘football-related’. Abroad there is not the same total responsibility shoved on the shoulders of the manager as here, consequently they don’t have the managerial merry-go-round that we do. It could be that the relationship between board and coaching staff at VP is understood to be more on those lines, rather than seeing it as the’Manager versus Chairmen’ scenario we are more accustomed to.

  9. I too am a big James Hanson fan. Third highest scorer of all time. THOSE goals in BIG games. A genuine match winner. I don’t want him to go.

    But to balance out the “emerging rift” narrative, we should also consider Hanson’s injury record over the last two seasons. He could walk away for nothing in the summer (fresh challenge? a fan base who may appreciate him more?) and so moving on now – as mentioned – helps to secure a good transfer fee for the club who gave him his chance as a professional. Noble decision.

    Stuart may want him to stay, and no doubt values him personally as the manager who gave Hanson that chance, but viewed objectively Big Jim has had a niggle, a tear, a strain, across his calves, lower back, etc that has seen him miss large parts of two campaigns. His strength is his strength – and yes, how we missed him yesterday! – but because of the physical way he plays, he could be our player with no transfer speculation, and still be missing the game due to another injury.

    We need strikers. Losing a club legend (beyond doubt in my eyes) feels wrong. But with the real threat of no fee in the summer, a growing lack of availability through injury (i.e. the kind of fun of games that gets your scoring again), maybe the time is right for us to say goodbye.

    There is far more to this than Board vs. Manager. But if that is an “emerging rift”, maybe sometimes the greater objectivity of the Board is to the club’s ultimate benefit?

    • Difficult to argue against, the best assessment of the situation I’ve read, Mark!

    • I’ve picked up on two comments in particular from Stuart the past couple of weeks, “I’ve not seen him play live” – new signing, and “you’ve as much idea as me” – big Jim, (or words to that effect), which to me, indicates big decisions on the playing side are taken out of his hands.

      Stuart, being his usual honest self, by saying this, has perhaps let it slip and that this is not to his liking.

      Fractions starting to appear within??

      Maybe, that’s why Parky jumped ship as he could see what was coming?!

      • This is exactly why PP went. Bolton expressed I interest in him three months earlier but he was happy at VP. He met the new owners who basically outlined their plans and did not like it. A quick phone call to Bolton to see if they were still interested. Yes but not with £300k compensation. Fast forward a few hours and the compensation was reduced to £30k. That’s how it happened.

    • The point about Big Jim’s recurring fitness problems is well put.
      This season he’s only featured in 17 league games out of 28. A mere 60% appearance record from the leader of the front line can only hinder our promotion challenge. Stats show that most strikers – particularly ones like BJ who routinely get clattered from pillar to post for 90mins with little or no protection from the ref – are past their best by 30 years of age, mainly due to the punishment their bodies have taken for 10/12 years.
      He has become, in my opinion, more useful defending set pieces in our box of late than an effective striker. Maybe there’s a potential new role for him in defence…Joe Cooke springs to mind.

      • It is interesting that last year James Hanson’s dad said he thought he would end his career playing at the back.

  10. Jason, Hanson WAS good for us, no doubt about that. But this season and last he’s not offered much to be fair.

    It’s easy to hide behind the ‘he offers so much more than goals’ line but does he? I reckon this is a myth.

    Forget his past achievements, judge him on the here and now and he isn’t good enough. If he didn’t have the back story – local, co-op, decent (historic) goal record, cup goals – everyone would want rid.

    Leave your emotions to one side and admit he’s on the decline, good luck to him and Sheff Utd but I won’t shed any tears. He’ll have to step it up over there or their supporters will slaughter him.

    • If he is in decline why do league leaders Sheffield United want to sign him? They are a club with one eye on being in the Championship next season.

      No one has argued Hanson should be the first name on the team sheet compared to a few years ago, but he can still have a big role to play. We wait and see if he goes and if we can replace him.

  11. Footballers come and go – that’s the nature of the game. What concerns me more is, like others, I’ve detected some of Stuart’s recent comments indicate a rift growing with the owners. How can a manager be accountable if he doesn’t have the final say on who comes, or goes?

    For the record, I hope James stays, because I’m not aware of an affordable replacement, who would strengthen the squad. The delay in extending contracts for those players in their final year could seriously damage any play off hopes, especially if Mezza leaves.

  12. Whatever happens, it’s important not to fully judge the actions until the January window is closed and we have seen the full transfer business. A year ago Phil Parkinson was making some strange transfer decisions that in time proved to be inspired moves. Perhaps we’ll look back and say the same on this window.

    • That’s fair comment but you’ve already made your mind up judging by your posts. If by the end of the transfer window we haven’t strengthened to compensate for the loss of Hanson i will ask questions of the boards strategy for the club.

      • I think we already know the answer, Don.
        I will reserve my own judgement until the end of August.
        This was always going to be a season of ‘Frog kissing’, with some blind hope it will turn out great, promotion being the ‘Prince’.

  13. SO …….. Manager, or Coach ?
    A Manager hires and fires – a Coach will work with what they have.
    Smelling the coffee, yet ?

    The sooner the club, media and supporters drop the ‘Manager’ tag, the better.
    Parkinson (IMO) wants to Manage, not just coach – so perhaps WHY he left BCAFC. McCall likes to coach, but sees himself as a Manager …… I’m sure his position was duly explained back in June – McCall must now accept this, and work with it.
    McCall is in a daily position to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the squad, he can only suggest to the Board where the squad can be improved. Have you ever been ‘Head hunted’ ? You will not be working for the Hunter ….. That person is only there to seek you out.
    The season will not be defined by the players BCAFC sign, but McCall will be held accountable – for his ability to get 100% from the playing resources he has at his disposal.

  14. I have been amazed at the vitriol levelled at him on c&b. Not his best season this year, partly because of injuries, but he always gives 100% and is a threat.

  15. I’ll be absolutely gutted if Hanson does go, but it does sound like he’s on his way. I’d really hoped he’d go on to crack the 100-goal mark, or at least move into second in the all-time scorer’s list. We can argue all day long about his relative merits, but with what he’s done for our club, the huge goals he’s scored, the memories that he’s provided and been a part of, he’s unequivocally a City legend.

    Maybe Hanson wants to go – as McCall said on the radio yesterday at this stage in Hanson’s career it’s a great deal for him. If that’s the case, I wish him all the best. However, if he’s being forced out by the club not offering him a new contract despite the manager wanting him to stay, then that’s shameful. The same for the other history-makers and players like Marshall. I get the chairmen want younger players, but players like Meredith and Darby and Hanson have become part of the fabric of the club, personifying its best qualities. As long as the manager has them in his plans, and as long as they want to stay, we need to be showing we value their worth and keeping them as the backbone of the club and building a team of youthful players alongside them.

    And how any of this helps our current goal-scoring difficulties is beyond me!

    I hope beyond hope that Hanson stays and we give him a new contract. But if not, then sincerely thank you for the memories and good luck for the future.

  16. Well reading all its fair to say James Hanson will not pass medical at Sheffield United.. he’s finished… 8 years of staggering service for £7500 … he’s had issues with injuries this season no question but the way he plays and the thin based squads we’ve had at valley parade over the year’s maybe that’s had something to do with it.
    Let’s not forget the memories he’s given us … be respectful and let’s wish James Hanson all the best. I for one have one memory all ways makes me laugh but I shall keep it to myself

  17. A couple of points Id focus on:

    1) What’s right for Hanson? Coming towards the latter phase of his career (4yrs left maybe). If he can secure a decent 2 yr deal with a bigger club, he’d be mad to turn the offer down. I think a change will do him a world of good.

    2) Our club is not blessed with deep pockets. If a decent offer comes in for any player with only a few months left of their contract, then the board need to assess it on its merits.

    Hanson is one of my all time favourite players. His hat-trick against Walsall last year was one of the best all round performances I’ve seen from any City centre forward. However, sentiment aside, a change might benefit both parties.

    Pragmatism needs to rule over the nostalgia of past achievements. He always be one of our own.

  18. I feel a little sorry for everyone concerned here. People really are reading too much into a commercial transaction.

    James Hanson has been a terrific servant to this club. That is simply irrefutable. He has decided he wants to move on and at 29 he’s entitled to seek one or two last paydays after years of being a one club man. If he is sold for say £350,000 he will pocket a decent signing on fee. If the richer Sheffield United can pay him just £1000 more per week, and give him a 2 year contract then in 2 years time he will be approximately £120,000 richer than he would be staying.

    The chairmen have to accept that he is going to go. His mind has been made up. They can therefore either cash in now and receive a transfer fee or keep him for another 3-4 months and then receive nothing in recompense. It really is a no brainier. They think for the commercial good of the club.

    The manager obviously wants to keep a player he considers to be an asset to the team. He thinks only of the manpower he has at his disposal. He therefore doesn’t want to sell. But, as a mature and pragmatic footballing man he knows deep down commerce will win, as it always does. The Spurs manager didn’t want to lose Bale. The Liverpool manager didn’t want to lose Suarez. It happens from bottom to top.

    So just step back, look at everyone’s perspectives, and enjoy the memories of some very important goals.

    Life goes on, as will the club.

    • Totally agree life goes on, I remember when Peter Jackson was sold in 1986 ,supporters were up in arms and the Yorkshire post said that the policy of selling top players meant certain failure. Well the club blossomed and we had the fantastic 87/88 season . It’s alright saying Stuart must have the final say but he will just want all players to stay and some added but the days of Clough and Harry Redknapp signing players without the board daring to say anything are long gone. Stuart accepted the job knowing that a director of football was coming in and I’m sure he was delighted it was Abbott. The German owners will be less emotional than Stuart and look at the fact that Hanson walks away for nothing in the summer unless we give him a significant contract which is unlikely. Stuart’s job is now to coach and pick the team, assess what positions he needs to strengthen and get Abbott to find the players and the owners to then agree terms with said player or say no deal. I’m sure Stuart is part of the desicion making process but no point having director of football if Stuart can veto everything, it’s the continental way.

  19. First, yesterday’s game. I found it enjoyable–2 teams playing flat out, tough and hard, well refereed , and City fighting back well. But I do think that our build-up is too slow, and we have no one with the real ability to smash it in from 15 yards. We also looked a bit short of height and strength in the opposition penalty area.
    I am probably the longest-serving City fan to contribute to this debate, and I have seen City always sell their best players. The list is long, starting with Hawksworth, to McCole, then continually , including McCall himself.
    But this is different. A bit like Wells, we may have a player wanting a change, maybe wanting more money, a bit injury-prone, but a player who has been a wonderful servant, and who should be idolised by all fans. The directors look at this as a business transaction, they told us when they bought the club that they were not quick-fix merchants. They are German, so possibly like the Committee approach. Stuart must know this, but, because he is honest, he will never hide his true feelings.
    We, as fans, have a right to our opinions, but have to accept what is happening, and be pleased the Club is on an upward path.
    By the way, the report from Jason , and the comments are the best I have read on this site.

  20. After watching another game where we dominated the 2nd half I’m starting to think it must be really frustrating being a forward in this team.
    How can you time a run when the ball goes wide but the crosses never come in, it’s always stop and go backwards, we keep possesion but create very few real chances

    • Who was there to cross it to? Clearly not Jones’s game (not a criticism just a fact) at the best of times but against those Milwall defenders? Crossing was clearly not part of the game plan, which is why when they did come (especially from Mezza) they were drilled in low. Without a Hanson-esque player there’s not really much point crossing

  21. Whilst I’m a big fan of JH I believe this transfer is great for all parties involved.

    Regardless of JHs involvement on the pitch, over the last two seasons we’ve not scored nearly enough goals. That flaw has continued despite changes in formation and mixes of personnel up front. Prior to rumors about Hanson’s departure surfaced, most fans would agree we needed at least one other striker. Dependent on who that that striker would partner (my money would be on Billy Clark) could have seen JH become more of a squad player rather than first name on the team sheet. It’s been noticeable that when Clark and Hanson have been out injured this season, we’ve missed Clark more.

    And that leads on to Hanson’s fitness. He’s been in out of the team on a fairly regular basis over the last two season due to recurring injuries. The older he gets, the longer he takes to recover. That’s why it looks good business to me to let Hanson go; one whose not been prolific in front of goal, has been out injured at various points this season and is out of contract in the summer. I know Stuart is keen to keep him, but most managers want to keep players and sign more, whist owners need to balance the books and to do this they need to sell players.

    It’s also a good move for Hanson. SUFC are no doubt paying him more than he is currently on and at his age this may be the last opportunity to earn some decent money before his playing career ends. This is not a lad whose grown up cossetted in a PL youth team set up and then made the jump to professional. Hanson’s previous employment is well known and he knows what it’s like on the outside of football. The money could set him up in retirement.

    Chris Wilder has got a great signing (if JH stays fit) in Hanson. Wilder may well have signed Hanson primarily to ensure SUFC get over the line this season? The sudden return of a fringe player like McNulty shows that the wheels could come off if there is insufficient quality in your squad players. Especially with Scunny and Bolton breathing down United’s neck.

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