The debate that should never be



Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Katie Whyatt

Sport loves narrative. As if there weren’t already enough bends and leaps in this particular tale, as if you already *couldn’t write any of this* story brimming with symbolism, this narrative that lends itself so willingly and seamlessly to romance, City’s third all-time highest goalscorer leaves one day after the fourth anniversary of his most iconic moment.

22nd January, 2017 marks four years to the day since James Hanson’s looping header sealed Bradford City’s place at Wembley in the penultimate turn of the most improbable cup run any of us will ever see. 23rd January, 2017 marks the day Bradford City accepted an offer for James Hanson to officially become a Sheffield United player, and it ends, just like that, without a real bang or a whimper.

What can you write about James Hanson that hasn’t already written itself, conveniently and instinctively, at some point in the previous seven years? As snow swirled at a frigid Villa Park and Hanson wheeled away, index finger raised, the sky luminous with flashbulbs, the press had their human interest story. Even a lifetime of writing those Roy of the Rovers yarns synonymous with the cups couldn’t dim Hanson’s light. From the Co-op to taking his hometown team to Wembley on the biggest night in Bradford City, in cup, history. It had to be him.

Cohen Brammall has potential but the depth, duration and ruggedness of Hanson’s story – that a club bumbling so perilously close to the trap door less than a year previous had this man steering them to their finest hour – is unmatched. Hanson was there from beginning to end, the face who had felt what came before.

And over the past four years of magic, while the rest of the football world seemingly grows increasingly stratified, it has been the essential humanity of the men behind the miracles that has allowed everyone to buy into the events so forcefully, with such utter conviction. The players that time forgot. Rag-tag bunches of men searching for a do-over, for redemption, to re-write the lines and catch the shadows they’d always chased. The injury-plagued West Ham winger sapped of confidence. The Rochdale outcast. The banished Huddersfield striker, once touching distance from England, breaching the void to the other world, being what he always thought he could be, for one grey afternoon at Stamford Bridge. Alex Scott, in his breathtaking Andrew Davies piece from 2013, summed it up more eloquently than I ever could: “Proving to themselves they belonged. Together.”

It had to be James Hanson, time and again. He was at the centre of 101 big moments with a reliance and consistency that was eerily storybook; but there were moments of real quality that twinned a deadliness with the unavoidable romance and sentiment.

Burton away, the last act before their Wembley curtain call, saw Hanson and Nahki Wells as clinical as they ever were. Watching Wells leap, writhe and squirm into the area, squirreling the loose ball into Hanson’s vicinity, then Hanson gambling on the tumbling defenders to apply the finish having earlier corralled one into Wells’ path to level the tie on aggregate – a pair who’d been as prolific as they had that season blew the lid off everything they’d already been.

When you talk about the defining individual performances of this era – Jon Stead against Chelsea, Billy Clarke against Sunderland, James Meredith against Leeds – Hanson and Wells that day have to share the same pantheon. They reached their peak in a moment, for a moment, that mattered more than any had before.

Watching those back today, Wells exhibiting an instinct and a menace that, truthfully, hasn’t been matched since his departure, underlines how lucky you were to watch those two as a pair. The closest thing we’ve had to that first goal, in terms of pure nerve and opportunism, is probably Meredith’s finish from Saturday. That they managed to keep it up for five months in League One, and netted 21 goals between them before Nahki Wells spirited himself away, is unremarkable, in hindsight. A level higher, yet Hanson got six, Wells 15 – by January. And Hanson created at least five of those Wells goals.


Picture by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Maybe that runs the risk of being nostalgic, sentimental. But James Hanson is the fairytale that came true. He has an illustrated children’s book based on his life and his whole tale is so heartwarming and uplifting that any attempt at cynicism feels exhausting and pointless. The most unsettling thing about the discourse around Hanson has been that the line between valid criticism and malice has routinely become unnecessarily blurred.

The comments about Hanson, for whatever reason, always seem to take on a particular tone, mutate into something particularly vicious compared to anything any other player has to deal with. I’m struggling to think of a player who has been as divisive as he, despite the overwhelming scale of his contribution.

Criticism, where warranted, is fine; sycophantry isn’t the way to go here. But you can’t really skirt around the fact that some of the evaluations and tags that follow Hanson just don’t make sense. Apparently, this guy is clearly  ‘not good enough for us’, yet Chris Wilder, Neil Harris and who knows how many others clearly recognise his worth and are blind to such a glaring shortcoming.

The bottom line is that every single City manager Hanson has worked under has picked him for the team over and over again, and four of his seven years saw year-on-year improvement. His record, his highlights package, should speak for itself. It’s worth repeating that criticism is fine – but why does the bottom line of respect always go out of the window when it comes to Hanson? Why do things become so malicious, so quickly? On paper, he really shouldn’t be this provocative.

A League One player has a children’s book based on his life. It begins as he’s working at the Co-op and ends as he lifts the play off final trophy at Wembley, and every word of it is true. Can we just appreciate that, for one second, before anything else? Maybe that is soppy, or silly, or childish, but isn’t that what football is, really? It’s just 22 men kicking a ball, ultimately. What is it if you can’t imbue it with this kind of meaning, this kind of belonging? If you can’t relish this kind of story when it comes along once in a lifetime? Debate over Hanson’s worth, in the guise and to the extent it’s waged and dissected, is the debate that should never be.

To an extent, this might come across as living in the past. Then again, if you can’t do that when Bradford City’s longest-serving present player departs, will the opportunity ever arise? Moreover, you can’t really judge the wisdom of this decision until the window closes, when the lot City have for the remainder of the season is declared definitively and categorically.

Truthfully, would you construct a team around Hanson right now? There are persuasive arguments both ways. This season, Billy Clarke and Hanson established themselves as the most dangerous pairing out of the forwards currently on the books, and Hanson has proved his worth and place in a markedly changed style; but the pair have shared precious few games together, and, even in a side as good as this one, they probably form part of the ceiling, that, really, to seriously challenge, this team need to shatter. But it’s all semantics. ‘Construct a team around’ and ‘a role to play’ become one and the same, given the nature of this team and what’s just happened.

If you’re playing Blackjack here, from City’s point of view, do you stick or twist? Do you back yourself to find someone else, a more effective finisher, at the risk of ruining what you have? People claim Hanson’s powers are waning, and you could probably construct something about dwindling influence if you were so inclined, but those problems were never his alone. The whole forward line was struggling. And note that in that three-game autumnal league run where City managed to start Hanson and Clarke together – Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon, Sheffield United – the side bagged nine goals, Hanson three and Clarke two. They were painted as the solution, fending all the other competition.

There was a reader comment on here over the weekend, when news of Sheffield United’s interest first broke in earnest, that said, objectively, Hanson has clearly had some injury woes that curbed his involvement this season – and last.

You run down the clock until May, and Hanson leaves on a free transfer, when you’re aware in January that there’s interest worth listening to – it’s a big gamble to ask the board to take.

‘Leaving on a free’ and ‘leaving on a free with City in the Championship’ are two different scenarios. City could have done a ‘Jermaine Beckford at Leeds circa 2009/10’ and been reimbursed handsomely for their nerve; equally, City could have fallen short, Hanson could left for nothing, and everyone would be left ruing their recklessness with empty pockets.

Maybe that’s not the right way to write this particular case, and maybe Hanson doesn’t fit into this bind as obviously as Wells did, but you have to consider all the angles. This has the potential to be shrewd business, but perhaps the way history remembers this moment will be decided partly by to the club’s actions – or lack thereof – over the final eight days of the window.

Read more:

James Hanson was a massive figurehead in Bradford City’s resurgence; he’ll be fondly remembered for a long time, by Jason McKeown

My son used to work at the Co-op, by Michael Hanson

Chelsea: One Year On – The Dad, by Michael Hanson

Categories: Opinion

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21 replies

  1. Big, big, big mistake by our club in letting James go. So the chairmen dictate who Stuart has in his squad? What next? Cut out the middleman and just hand Stuart the team selection?

    • 200k … won’t buy us another top level lge 1 striker .. we knew what we were getting game by game … I’m very disappointed… we are in the play off pack and my belief is this transfer will make us weaker …
      It would have been worth keeping James Hanson till the summer and asked him to give us what he’s always done 100% .
      You cant buy league 2 striker for 200k …

  2. Good piece. I don’t really know why James stimulates such a divisive debate. I have never seen anything like it. For me he has been absolutely brilliant for City. This season he has suffered injuries, which may be down to playing during the last few seasons half fit. What bothers me is the sheer lack of respect and in some cases abuse on one side of the argument. This may be because he is one of our own; he is a good player, but has his limitations. Male fans who may have played amateur football, thinking he is not much better than them! Envy, might be coming into play, just a thought.

    I wish him well he deserves his chance at a higher level if Sheffield get promoted. I will miss him at VP. He wanted to go for personal reasons and the club wanted to keep him. I have no idea what kind of contract we could have offered, but he needed a good contract at this stage of his career. Just hope he doesn’t score against us when we go to Bramall Lane. No doubt it would be bitter sweet for him!

  3. No player who has contributed so much for such a sustained period should ever have to endure the level of abuse that Hanson has. They say we need a 10, 15, 20 goal per season striker to replace him. First of all, no one player is likely to replace all he has brought to our game week in, week out at our level, or for anything like the sort of money our precious club has at it’s disposal.

    Where are all these “Superstar strikers?” There are of course people (in the right team set up) who are certainly more prolific on goal, but as time has proven over and over again, remove them from their comfort zone and move them to a different team and set up, most of them never manage to perform. The exception being our other old golden boy, Nahki Wells, who to this day is still hitting the back of the net for fun.

    City do not need a 20 goal per season man and would be far better served with a host of 5 – 8 goal per season men from wing-backs, through midfield and up top. We need more people to step up and make their mark. We have seem fantastic contributions from all over the park with Stuart McCall’s free flowing, attacking style, but very little end product. Hanson is never going to be a prolific goal scorer, his game is about much more than that.

    But with him as an integral part of the team holding the ball up so superbly and skillfully, his passing game improving almost beyond recognition, his aerial ability and defending from the front, any team is enhanced. He’s surprising quick for a big man and has terrorised many a defence. Ask John Terry after the awesome display at Stamford Bridge as to his thoughts on “Big Jim.” Terry respects him and likes him as a “Good old fashioned centre forward” and said there were plenty of Chelsea players on the treatment table because of him!

    If we get promoted this season, it ill be DESPITE James Hanson’s departure and NOT BECAUSE of it!

  4. I am glad for James that he has shown the keyboard warriors that others rate him and wish him well.

    Whether this is a good deal for BCFC will depend who we are able to bring in! I see Rabiega has gone as well, so at least two strikers needed, one of whom should be a proven goalscorer and with a bit of physical presence.

  5. Gutted but pleased for James. Hope he really does well with the Blades. Feels as if the ‘heart’ of City has gone with his departure.

    • The signing of a third division German striker and a fourth division Cumbrian striker will be Big Jim’s legacy.

      • No gaurantee they’ll come in and score goals neither .
        If we don’t make play-off this will be one massive reason why .
        What are they thinking here ?.
        Stuart Mcall been quite not no reason why this as happened?.
        It’s these German Superstars… thinking there shrewd business men

  6. This is a dreadful piece of business that has been managed even worse than the Wells sale. It gives a clear message that Bradford City are Sheffield United poor neighbours, and that we can only afford to live hand to mouth. We could not compete with them for Hanson’s wages, so who can we compete with?

    If we do make the play-off’s then this sale may seem less of a stupid decision; and if we get promoted then it will seem like a good move; but for the first time in months I now think we are not good enough to make the play-off’s! That we have a feather weight team of fancy Dan’s that has been found out.

    I hope I am wrong, and that City recruit players that inspire more than indifference, but If we fail to get into the play-off’s, something much more likely without James Hanson, then the effect on ticket sales will be significant, perhaps dangerously so. We could end up with less money to spend than Rochdale, let alone the clubs coming down from the Championship.

  7. Simon Parker/Gary Neville had it right in my eyes. Twitter has just become one extreme view shouting down another and I think that the overly staunch defence of Hanson contributes to extreme view against him.

    I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. Hanson is a very good league 1 player, a great servant and will be greatly missed. However, I have been saying for a long time he is no guaranteed starter anymore and I don’t know if he will be for Sheffield United. He should be played when the opposition/situation suits. We weren’t doing badly before he was fit at the beginning of the season.

    I think the one thing that holds him back from being a complete star at this level and even the championship is attacking the ball in the box. He does squander an awful lot of chances by heading over/wide or tamely at the keeper. If he added that he’d be unplayable even in the championship.

    However his all round game is a long way off someone like Morison who is the best Hanson type player at this level.

    I’ll be gutted to see him go both from what he can offer and because of the memories but I think getting a decent fee for him when he’s out of contract and stated he wants to leave is the right decision. What I won’t miss is the back and forth between the ‘haters’ and the ‘lovers’.

    • And I suppose your career at that level of football you never missed header … all passes were immaculate?.
      Your all missing the point.
      Have done since James arrived 2008

      • No I think you’re missing the point. I’ve made a point of what a good player he is at this level and potentially could be in the Championship too being just the player he is now.

        I’ve said there is one thing that stops him being unplayable at even Championship level… high praise.

        It’s nothing to do with the level I play football I know why I am not a professional footballer. Hiwula’s finishing is poor and should be better but again that is why he is playing for us and not Huddersfield. I am merely giving an opinion on his pros and cons as I would any other player. I am highlighting that he is an important member of our squad. I haven’t got personal about James and he is a great hero of mine. The point I’m making is exactly that – the two extreme reactions are almost as bad as each other. I’m afraid he’s very good but he isn’t perfect

        What do you disagree with in my comment above? That he would be unplayable in the Championship now? That he is better than Morison, That he should be a guaranteed starter for us week in week out? That would be fine I wouldn’t tell you you were wrong but I’d disagree.

        I’d like Hanson to stay if he was willing to commit past this season but it seems like he has said he wants to leave which I don’t blame him for. You also have to consider how forcing him to stay would impact the team/him too.

      • Big Jim cost £7.5k. Enough said; certainly value for money. £150k to Sheffield United, will they get value in League 1?

      • Luke I apologise for my post to you .
        Wasn’t good hope you accept my genuine sincere apologies

  8. Talk about an overreaction. Good grief. Take the emotion out of it and you’re left with a player who’s contract is up in the summer and could walk for nothing. A player who is having less of an influence as the seasons go by. The club weren’t going to offer a wage comparable with what he is on now. He and his agent look elsewhere and a club see a place for him in their team and offer what is accepted as a good offer for both club and player.
    It fits in with our new owners ethos for the club, they said they would make difficult decisions and here’s one of the toughest.
    Hanson has done well out of this but so have City. The transfer fee and saving on wages can now go back into team strengthening in a position where, lets not kid ourselves, we have been lacking for a year or two.
    Lets back our new owners and their plans for the club, the time to question them is next season when they have had a chance to have a full summer transfer window.
    Oh and good luck to Jim, looks to finally have a chance of championship football. The lad deserves that for his attitude alone.

    • An excellent and sensible piece.

    • I think Don sums it up very well. I cannot see what the owners have done wrong, just as I couldn’t see what they did wrong over Wells, and just as they let us down all those years ago when they sold McCall.

      • and Peter Jackson and John Hendrie all those years ago. And Jimmy Quinn and David Layne and John McCole. The list is endless!

  9. The deal had to be done for both par ties, now let’s move on. Part of the answer to the replacement is under our noses, Jordy. He is bit raw but is our top scorer and will get better, that’s if Huddersfield will sell him, and maybe the chap from Carlisle, that would make a reasonable strike force if Jones can step up. Both Jordan and Jones are very mobile and with a bit of time could be very good.
    My only concern about the whole affair is Stuart’ seemed to be in the dark and left out of the decision, fromantic what he said on a radio interview

  10. This state of affairs came about because James wanted to leave. Whether that was because he wasn’t happy with any renewal deal on his contract, or for other reasons, we can only speculate. The club had to make their decision to sell in the light of the facts in front of them. If not sold now he could leave in the summer for nothing. Whether missing the goals he will never now score for us will dint our promotion hopes, we will never know. Based on where we are now we let a 20 plus goal a year player go last year, and his name is Josh Morris – who knew!
    James has given us some great memories, but I feel his presence and influence have reduced over the last couple of seasons. That doesn’t take away from what he has done for us. He should go with our good wishes. I suspect he’s gone for cold hard cash more than a regular starting position in that horrible red and white kit.

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