By Jason McKeown
One of my all-time favourite Bradford City away games was a trip to Rochdale in February 2010, through heavy snow, to watch an unexpected Bantams victory. Rochdale, the League Two leaders at the time, were heavy favourites to easily win, but on a night of non-stop chanting in the away stand, late goals from debutant Robbie Threlfall and Gareth Evans sealed a 3-1 win.
The celebrations, particularly for Evans’ wonderful volley, were manic, stirring and re-energising. As fans we had backed the team to the hilt, and the players had responded by giving everything to the cause. Upsetting the form book and delivering a morale-transforming result.
It was the bounce.
What made that night so thrilling was it had come three weeks after Stuart McCall’s departure as manager, first time around; which just like the recent sacking was laced with sadness, regret and finger-pointing. City lost five of their last seven games under McCall, but after he stepped down they drew 0-0 at home to bottom club Grimsby, and dismally lost 2-0 to Accrington Stanley. Mark Lawn’s car was attacked as he left the ground early, and back on the pitch at full time, a packed out City crowd had booed the team off, with Michael Flynn singled out for abuse from a handful of fans.
Peter Taylor had just taken over as manager, but the future still seemed bleak. The trek to Rochdale was taken in trepidation rather than expectation. Which is partly why the win felt so special.
But more than anything it was special because it lifted the gloom of the previous few weeks. The bad taste over McCall’s exit, the disappointment over recent results and performances. It was a moment where, as fans, we came together again to jump and down and cheer and scream at the top of our voices and hug strangers and chant until our voices were horse and – above all – fall back in love with our football club again. To draw a line under weeks of arguments and frustration. To move forwards. Together.
The “bounce” victory happens quite often in City’s history, and is continually proven to lift sagging spirits and redefine the outlook, after a managerial change. Take Peter Jackson’s surprise exit in August 2011, with the team winless in five and looking like no hopers. The following game saw Barnet come to town, and when they took the lead early doors the knives were out. City won 4-2. Chris Mitchell excelled. James Hanson scored twice. A young lad named Nahki Wells scored his first goal for the club. Mood transformed again.
Go back a lot further to January 1998 – Chris Kamara’s highly contentious sacking. A surprise win at an in-form Stockport County under caretaker manager Paul Jewell followed, improving the atmosphere around the club. After Chris Hutchings’ dismissal in November 2000, Jim Jefferies’ first home game as manager ended in a come-from-behind, 2-1 Premier League win over Coventry. When Bryan Robson took charge in November 2003, he instigated a Hollywood-style 3-2 win over Millwall, after City were 2-0 down at half time. Even David Wetherall, who stepped in for Colin Todd in February 2007, picked up an unlikely 3-2 win over Bristol City that suggested the relegation-threatened Bantams could avoid the drop.
These bounce victories stand out because they change the complexion. They allow a line to be drawn under past frustrations. To bring debates to a halting point. To stop the bleeding. Whether they lead to success in the long-term is debatable – many of the examples in the last paragraph proved fleeting moments of joy before the darkness descended. But they were important in restoring a feel good factor.
Even false dawns shine bright for a time.
As City face another blank weekend before entertaining MK Dons on Saturday 10 March, it is an understatement to say that we need a bounce victory. The dark clouds that crept over Valley Parade in January have led to an almighty storm. Despite the best efforts of those at the club trying to pick up the pieces, the dispondency has been difficult to shift. We all need a moment to smile as one again.
Winning football matches is the only cure, and it needs to start sooner rather than later. Last weekend’s loss at Plymouth has extended City’s winless run to nine. The two draws and defeat that has followed McCall’s sacking has pushed the Bantams out of the top six, and down to a season-worst position of 9th. The stakes are high, but three points against the Dons – coupled with a good performance – can add colour to the greyness. And turn the focus away from the in-fighting.
There remain frustrations and disappointments about the way the club has operated this season. Mistakes were made last summer, and were compounded in January. The squad isn’t as good as last season, and now results reflect that. McCall shoulders some responsibility, but it simply isn’t right that he alone carries the can. Monday’s fans forum lacked certain aspects from Edin Rahic and Greg Abbott, particularly humility.
There is nothing more to say about the McCall dismissal, about the flawed January recruitment business and about the strategy of the club. Judging must now be reserved until the end of the season. No one at the club can afford to write off the rest of the campaign. The stated reason McCall was sacked – rather than be allowed to see out the last few months of his contract – was to give the club the best possible chance of finishing in the top six, so finish in the top six it must, or it will be emphatically proven to be the wrong call.
We all want that to happen, so for now we must wait to have the inquest. And firmly get behind the club.
Simon Grayson is a great replacement for Stuart McCall, but Peter Taylor was a great replacement for Stuart McCall in 2010. A great track record is no guarantee of future success. Grayson has been brought in to give the club a short-term bounce, and now we need to see it happen. I really want him to work out, and to be in the dugout next season, but normal protocol about giving the manager time is on hold for now. He has come in to take this squad into the top six. Initially, that is how he will be benchmarked. The long-term future can wait. He has at least 12 games to start delivering.
The good news is that Grayson has a strong track record for quickly producing winning football. After taking over at Leeds mid-season, he won 11 home games in a row. He also started well at Huddersfield and Preston. Time is also very much on City’s side. The famous play off promotions of 1996 and 2013 saw the club in worse league positions than the current one at this stage of the season, before late, late surges. Even without Charlie Wyke for three games, there is no reason to write off the season. We can still do this.
A bounce win against MK Dons next week can allow us all to come together. Enjoy a long overdue victory on home soil. Feel excited about the weeks ahead. Just like at Rochdale eight years ago, and those other bounce victories over the years, we supporters have a big part to play.
Valley Parade has been pathetically quiet for most of the season. The intense, bouncing environment of recent years – which made for one of the best home atmospheres in the country – needs to be restored. Whatever your thoughts on McCall, Rahic, Abbott, Vincelot, McMahon, Brünker and others, we all support the same club, share the same ambitions, want the same things. We need to turn up next week.
I don’t like much of what has happened over the last few weeks, but I’m tired of feeling this way. I support Bradford City because I deeply love the club. I want to get back to what really matters. Singing my heart out. Celebrating goals. Toasting victories.
It’s time to bounce back.