From bad to worse to the most miserable of times

By Jason McKeown

Two years ago, Nathaniel Knight-Percival was winning rave reviews for his performances for Bradford City. Signed in the summer of 2016 from the relative obscurity of a struggling Shrewsbury Town defence, Knight-Percival’s composed and stylish performances were the epitome of the bright new era that followed the departure of the successful-but-gritty Phil Parkinson days. And as new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp embedded a new transfer recruitment model which removed sole control from the manager, Knight-Percival was the poster boy of the merits of the collective-thinking transfer committee approach.

How times have changed. In October 2018, Knight-Percival has become a shadow of what he used to be. A calendar year blotted by countless poor games reached a new low at Accrington Stanley. He was given an absolutely torrid time by Stanley’s Congolese forward, Offrande Zanzala, which was a telling factor in this wretched defeat for the Bantams. A mistake-ridden afternoon for Knight-Percival hit a nadir moment early in the second half, when he weakly allowed Zanzala to charge through one-on-one and net a crucial second goal for the home side. It was poor, it was costly and it is indicative of months of inconsistency.

Knight-Percival was far from the only player to let the club down at the Wham stadium, but his fall from grace is the most striking. Good players do not become bad players overnight. The largely assured Knight-Percival displays of his first season are a measure of what he is capable of. So why can’t he, and pretty much all his team mates, perform that way now?

There is truly something rotten at Bradford City Football Club. It has completely destroyed the winning culture and pride that Phil Parkinson worked so hard to bring back to Valley Parade six years ago, and which Stuart McCall was able to build upon for 18 months. There have been all manner of scapegoats for the collapse: managers, coaches and, of course, players. But many of these suspects have been removed and the decline continues at a pace.

And this deterioration in standards has slumped so low that the Bantams went to a vibrant Accrington and half the team acted like passengers. Sporadic bursts of creativity are nowhere near good enough over a full 90 minutes. Too many players duck their responsibilities. They look for others to grasp the mantle, and hide into themselves. Unbelievably poor decision making. A lack of football intelligence. Certain players look out of their depth. Others just look bereft of confidence.

Clearly the issues runs deeper than a bad weekend in Yeovil. In the second half of last season, the squad were accused of downing tools and almost all were pushed out during the summer as punishment. Yet the problems have got worse, suggesting they were not the source of the problems that some accused them of being. The 2017/18 side that Knight-Percival was a part of were clearly worse the 2016/17 team, and now the 2018/19 squad is worse than the 2017/18 group. An astonishingly mis-managed football recruitment approach that leaves the club in an almighty mess. Clearly, Edin doesn’t know football.

At Accrington, it was painful to watch so many players go through the motions. Half-hearted tackles. Poorly thought out crosses and passes. Rash decisions. Sloppy standards. It could be evidenced in the second and third goals, but they were littered throughout the match. On occasions there is good play from City and signs of encouragement. Only for it all to unravel with far too much ease.

David Hopkin picked the wrong team for this one, which didn’t help. Eion Doyle was rushed back into the starting line up, but putting him alongside Kai Brunker was a mistake you hope is not repeated. The City head coach’s direct style demands a targetman, and you can understand – with no other options – why Brunker had to be considered at some stage. But the German forward just isn’t up to this level. He had a miserable afternoon where very little went right.

In midfield Joe Riley was also rushed back into the starting line up and only carried on where he left before his injury. He has a great pedigree with his Old Trafford background, but he just hasn’t shown it at Bradford City. Apart from one solitary menacing run on the right wing, Riley was poor on the ball and neglected any defensive responsibilities. Hopkin picked a midfield two of Lewis O’Brien and centre back Anthony O’Connor, who competed well in the tackle. But neither had sufficient quality on the ball.

Having two defenders in the midfield of a 4-4-2 meant City were more conservatively tilted, and though they had plenty of the ball they failed to create much in the first half. Accrington, more direct themselves in style compared to the John Coleman Stanley sides that City battled against during the League Two years, posed more questions, with Zanzala’s pace and strength their biggest threat.

The Bantams were unfortunate to go a goal behind just before half time. Zanzala chased a ball over the top that, thanks to Ryan McGowan’s shielding, was running through to Richard O’Donnell to collect. But then Zanzala nudged the Australian centre half, causing him to lose balance and at the same time touch the ball with his hand. The referee Kevin Johnson waved away Stanley appeals, only for his assistant, stood on the far side to the incident, to deem it a penalty. After huge protests, Billy Kee duly dispatched the spot kick.

City’s response was characteristically poor. They just don’t have the mental strength and character to handle adversity. Stanley could easily have taken advantage and netted a couple more goals before the break, but went in at half time a goal to the good.

It was also vindication for the home side choosing to switch the direction to play for the first half, after winning the toss. Traditionally, Accrington play towards their own fans in the second half, but swapped it around and kicked towards them for the opening 45 minutes. It was crucial, given heavy first half rain and strong winds blew in the direction of O’Donnell’s goal, giving Stanley an advantage. In the second half, the conditions improved meaning City didn’t get to benefit from them in the same way.

Although composure had been regained by City at the interval, they conceded that crucial second goal on 54 minutes and were left with a mountain to climb. They did actually start playing better and putting Accrington under serious pressure, with Eion Doyle’s well-taken volley from close range – his first goal from open play for the Bantams – reducing the arrears just after the hour mark. Jack Payne set up the chance with a header across the box. He and O’Brien at least deserve to come out of today with credit. Payne’s bravery and skill on the ball is an example others simply have to follow if City are to get out of relegation trouble. In the second half, much of the visitor’s improved attacking play stemmed from Payne.

But after a strong penalty appeal was waved away, City tripped over themselves again and conceded a third goal. Doyle had the ball out wide near Accrington’s penalty box and with bodies in the box, but opted to come inside and was easily tackled by the excellent Michael Ihiekwe. Accrington quickly broke with numbers, and Sean McConville netted emphatically.

Hopkin did try to chase the game to a point. Switching to a 4-3-3 and later a 3-4-3. The introduction of George Miller and David Ball – two players desperately unlucky to have been dropped in the first place – brought notable improvement, especially as Brunker and Riley were the players who made way. But when Josh Wright was brought on for Doyle late on, with Alex Jones another option on the bench, there was a suspicion of damage limitation too. Interestingly, wide players Jordan Gibson and Sherwin Seedorf were both left out the squad, denying Hopkin another potential team-altering option.

At the final whistle, the City players faced the angry wrath of disgruntled City fans. It is never nice to see such scenes of anger, but it is hard to muster any sympathy for the team. They have to give much, much more than this. The penalty incident was unfortunate, and the margins were small at times. But no one can deny that City deserved to lose this game.

Hopkin too was on the receiving end of supporter discontent as he trooped off to the dressing room. He proceeded to keep the players in the dressing room for a good half hour. As he emerged to speak to those of us in the media section, there was a huge sense of deflation in his body language. He chose his words carefully, and tried to be calm. Ultimately, he was badly let down by the players. He must now get a strong response from them. The team selection for next week’s visit of Rochdale will make very, very interesting reading.

Whilst criticism of Hopkin – whose nine games at the helm have seen six defeats – is merited here, there is a danger that comes with turning on him. The mess that the club finds itself in is not his doing. The under-performing players are not ones he would have chosen to sign. He is caught in the middle of the badly damaged relations between owners and supporters. Right now, he offers the calmest, measured and knowledgeable leadership available. As fans, we should stay right behind him.

Ultimately, the club is not just still paying the price for the collapse last January, but the utter shambles that was the summer. From the prolonged and ill-judged head coach recruitment search, to the badly run transfer activity that leaves the club with a collection of individuals but no cohesive team. And of course, the loss of James Mason. In the summer Rahic had a chance to undo many of his mistakes of last season. Sadly, it appears he’s only made them worse.

And what adds to the stark misery of this defeat, and Bradford City in 2018, were the cosy and happy surroundings of Accrington Stanley. A club that has made an unwelcome habit in the recent past of exacerbating the Bantams’ failings by embarrassing them on the pitch.

Accrington’s achievements over the last few years are amazing, loved by any football fan who cares about the soul of the game. And today we saw a football club united on and off the field. Succeeding through collective endevour and a close-knit relationship between fans and club – you know, what Bradford City used to be.

An hour and a half before kick off, the Wham Stadium was buzzing. The Accrington owner Andy Holt was a visible presence, walking around saying hello to everyone. The fanszone attracted early punters to have a beer, food and enjoy the live Sky game on a large TV. And next to the main stand, a band belted out cover songs with people singing along. After the game, the club bar was open to fans and another band got on stage. Hundreds of fans didn’t rush home at 4.45pm. They stayed and sat in the stand, or the bar, enjoying pints and chatting about the game with Holt and Tony Warner. And young kids had a kickabout on the Stanley pitch.

Accrington Stanley have successfully turned a trip to the football into a full afternoon’s entertainment. They don’t have the biggest fanbase of course, but actively encourage supporters to arrive early and stay late. Not only are such efforts increasing supporters’ engagement with the club, it’s undoubtedly boosting overall revenue. All of this is helping to foster a collective spirit. This felt like a community football club, where everyone is a part of the success.

(And it really is success too. The newly-promoted Accrington sit in sixth place – a play off spot – after this victory.)

A few years ago at WOAP, in the midst of the cup runs, promotion and general progress, we speculated over whether any set of fans in the country were having more fun than us. And we concluded with conviction that, no, there can’t possibly be anyone else experiencing quite the adventure we were. Well now of course, that mantle has been well and truly passed on to others, who are having all the fun. And that includes Stanley.

Meanwhile as Bradford City’s dreadful 2018 continues, it’s probably fair to speculate, now, that no other set of fans in the Premier League or Football League are having a worse time than we are. Football-wise, this feels as bad as it gets. The life and soul draining out of of us. We are all feeling like Nathaniel Knight-Percival.

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Categories: Match Reviews, Opinion

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30 replies

  1. The responsibility for this shambles is that of Edin Rahic whose leadership of the club is probably the most dysfunctional and ineffectual that there has been at Valley Parade. Bradford City AFC has not been a club blessed with success and there have been plenty of disappointments but even in the dark days it has had a degree of self-respect. History will not be kind to Rahic and if he hasn’t established for himself that his venture is doomed to failure then take it from those of us who can see it with our own eyes.

    • The suggestion on a message board elsewhere that the purchase was significantly leveraged potentially adds insult to injury.As does Rahic’s alleged remuneration.The Glazers/Manure in minature.

      • I’ve seen that forum post as well, but without actual evidence it’s just a rumour for now. When Rahic took control he promised ‘transparency’. We need that from him now, actual evidence that large sums of money aren’t leaving the club for this umbrella company. And the amount of money he’s paying both himself and his wife every month.

        Without some detailed explanation of what’s being spent and where, then I’m afraid lots of actual supporters will walk away from the club until he’s no longer in control. I also expect to see and hear supporters protesting about how Rahic has taken the club from the verge of the Championship to the relegation zone from now on. He’s been that disastrous in his 2 years in control that he couldn’t have caused so much disquiet and distrust if he set out to do so.

        RAHIC OUT!!!!!!!

      • I ,as well as i am sure john dewhirst will, look into the German based company.As Mr Rupp does not live in England my guess is that company is the vehicle for Mr Rupp (the man with the money)placing his money into for the investment in Bradford City Football Club Limited.One charge still shows in the Bradford City company secured on the Assets.Which are god knows what.A few fading plastic seats and poor players.Of course if Edin and his wife work there they are entitled to salary.Based on performance as rumoured players are now contracted (hatrick bonus etc) It may be he is marginally overpaying himself and his daily beloved.In for a pound out for a penny the reverse of what the delightful Mr Rahic may find coming when he hoped for a profit.Oh dear.Gambling with Mr Rupps money may cost him.Not sure they even knew each other that well.

  2. Words can’t say how I’m feeling right now.
    The quality of player we have at the club now is miles apart from the team that lost to millwall in the play-off final.
    DH must now realise the massive job he’s taken on … only massive injection of funds in January is going to help DH get us out of this relegation form.

  3. I,m sorry Edin but ypu have made a complete bollocks of running BCFC, do the honerable thing and disappear back to German, you are no longer welcome in Bradford. We are proud of our city and our football team and you and the elusive Mr Rupp have completely destroyed our team. I have been prepared to give you some latitude thinking you had a new way, but No. I have supported BCFC for over 50 years and now for the first time questioning whether i am interested to go to our next home game. I have gone with my father ( who converted the Edwardian club) and my sons for as long as i can remember and never felt so distant from the club. PLEASE IF SOMEONE OFFERS YOU A WAY TAKE IT. YOU COULDNT RUN A BATH. If you want to take this discussion further i am easy to find. I will gladly give you my membership no.

  4. Wow. What a depressing report that was. But unfortunately all true.
    We must however support Hopkin as much as we can I’m hoping he can turn things round

    • I’ve posted this before but am really unsure that we will have reinforcements in January.

      We have a massive squad with around 15 more players than Sunderland, don’t think any have a transfer value or in the case of Shay Mccartan a transfer value greater than we paid for him. However the biggest danger is the apathy and acceptance of defeat. Even last Tuesday after we lost 4-1 to a League 2 team the Pulse view was how many positives there were. Three seasons ago our group had 7 season tickets then 5 and now 2. It’s the “silent majority” walking away from VP that is my biggest worry.

  5. We need this nightmare to stop and stop now, no more hollow statements from the owners we need a vision backed up by investment,yes if the owners need to come out and show us a vision with how they intend to achieve and finance it , otherwise all I can see is a bleak future for the club, yes we will come out of this the club is bigger than any owner but it could put us back years .

  6. As it was Non-league Day today, I decided to go to Ingfield, to watch Ossett United in the FA Trophy against Colwyn Bay. I showed my Bradford City season ticket which saved me £3 on my admission fee. The newly formed club following the merger of Ossett Albion and Ossett Town in the summer has the feel good factor at the moment. They have only lost once in the league this season, their CEO Phil Smith can be seen mingling with supporters, they were holding a post match race night and most of the record attending 630 were happy at full time following a 6-0 victory.
    I walked back to my car knowing that we had lost 3-1 at Accrington Stanley. However, I still put Radio Leeds on and was interested to hear how Gary Jones was talking about Bradford City. It was depressing. The only chink of light was listening to how David Hopkin spoke. He was hurting and he wants to put things right. It will take time but I will be back at Valley Parade next Saturday supporting Bradford City.

  7. The only thing sadder than City’s current plight is the people now going to Steeton or Ossett to be cool.

    Yes it’s bad but you are nothing but deserters. Fair weather fans. I’ve noted your names for when the good times come back.

  8. Great summary again Jason.I was not there but feel the pain.Interesting focus on KP.In that first season I was raving about him with David Markham who was also equally impressed.Stuart got it right.First a great partnership with Vincelot then after Rory recovered with Rory.KP could bring the ball out quickly and at times was a midfielder too.I noticed at Wembley one hitch.He struggled on the turn to get back towards the end.He came full of enthusiasm and circumstances at the club generally may have knocked the stuffing out of his confidence.Is he partnered right?He could previously bring the ball out and find a midfielder who could also keep it.The full backs could keep the ball Meredith and Mc Mahon.Sideways Law kept us possesion.Marshall could keep the ball and create danger with almost every time he was fed.Now the ball looks like a hot potato and when things are so bad players hide.Gibson is about the only player who I think could excite us and create danger.Something not sure what not quite right there in successive “coaches” underusing the kid.Good full backs and wingers are still important.Who can get up down up down.Quickly.We have indeed replaced with grossly inferior quality with little regard to a team spirit.Get shut of them all was just plain stupid.All successful clubs replace just 2 to 3 or 4 every summer but things turned nasty this January and there appears to be still hangover.Mr Rahic is solely to blame.A toxic atmosphere that has obviously been within the camp is now spreading to the Terraces,social media and even SP is having subtle digs.If I were Rupp I would send his hoppo packing and find another investor to take Rahics small investment.I hear he is decent to speak to.From some.The majority who have all left leave with nothing good to say.Often through friends as Don Goodman Jamie Lawrence.This is bad.Lets make no bones about it very bad.A spirit of togetherness destroyed in 18 months.Stuart refused to even speak to Rahic long before his ridiculous bullying dismissal.We are in the hands of a meglomaniac who has all the wrong ideas in all the wrong notes.THe song he sings is constantly to pass the buck.We have gone through 4 bucks.The buck stops now with you Mr Ed.Go back to your stable.Sell up and buy a racehorse.That will probably turn to Beefburger in his hands.

  9. Sorry but I have always felt that NKP was overrated and flattered to deceive. His shortcomings in positional play were usually covered by Rory and also the fact that the results were going our way.

  10. I am afraid that I must agree with much of what has been said in previous comments. Jason is spot on in his assessment, but I do not see why the owner should so badly affect the players. Blackpool show that this is not necessarily the case.There is, as Jason says, something rotten.
    The old saying that a fish rots from the head certainly applies to City. The owners bought a reasonably successful club with a big and happy fanbase, a club on a seemingly upward curve, and in 28 months or so have turned it into a failing club, with a falling and unhappy fanbase, on a steeply downward curve.
    This failure is THEIR fault, and theirs alone.
    What to do about it? I have wasted my money on a season tickets, and can’t get my money back. I shall go to the next 2 games, then decide whether to cut my losses. I think, due to my advanced age, I shall simply fade away.
    Others are entitled to protest, and I think the louder the better.
    The only hope is a new owner, but that is solely up to the owners whether to sell or not. If they won’t sell, it will get worse.
    Maybe hundreds of letters to German newspapers and media would help to shame them.
    I have rarely felt so bad. It is a very bad time.

  11. Well said Jason and sadly I agree with everything you’ve said what has happened to our club since the start of this year , Yeovil, has been astounding. I can think of only one club that has suffered more than us and they are now in the National League, Chesterfield and if things carry on as they have we will be joining them. A fall like ours is never down to just one thing it’s due to many many things being wrong and that stems from the man at the top. The reason for our sad demise is Rahic, the man is a control freak that clearly does not understand anything about running a football club and until he goes I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel.

    • What concerns me more than anything is Rahic wont sell … he could take out his 3mill investment and leave the club in serious financial difficulties. I understand there’s no assets the club is shell, could he take the cash flow ?

      • Wayne I do not know what taking cash flow means but in any event he cannot do anything easily that would affect the solvency of the business operating through “Bradford City Football Club Limited”.That company is a seperate legal entity of which he has an interest in the share capital which is £3 million.He”s stimmied .

  12. The only way this could get any worse is if the relaid pitch at VP turns into a mud bath over the winter.
    That would really underline Edin’s legacy..

  13. Thank you Jason for such a quick and detailed analysis of yesterday’s game which I attended. I don’t know how many city fans read the Accrington ‘50 years’ special programme but one article about Accie striker Offrande Zanzala struck a cord with me. This young player (21) demonstrates what many of our current players lack…..hunger and desire to succeed! This young man was literally living in the Congolese jungle with his family after civil war broke out in the Congo when he was a boy. He arrived in England via Austria and is so happy and grateful to be a professional footballer. You could see that hunger and enthusiasm yesterday and he gave our lethargic central defenders a torrid time. Some of our players seem to give the impression they are doing our great club a favour by turning out for us. Accrington Stanley should be proud of their team and club which has risen from the ashes by everybody pulling together. Let’s hope we can rediscover the spirit and togetherness this small but successful Lancashire club clearly has.

  14. It is depressing the current state of affairs however I will reserve judgement on the quality of our current squad until January. With the players returning from injuries who have been previously hyped up, we will see if results start to turn. Rahic has made a complete mess of it. However, the takeover some fans are crying out for wouldn’t happen over night and if they sold up it wouldn’t go through till after the season.

    I have a genuine question though, can Omari Patrick and Shay Mccartan be recalled? Because frankly from what I’ve seen they are far better and more effective than Gibson and Seedorf. Gibson could turn out to be a good player for us in the future however he is ineffective currently. Scannell, Mccartan, Patrick are far better and more threatening than Scannell, Gibson and Seedorf. Patricks pace down the wing would compliment Scannell and Mccartan has been in good form in front of goal.

    As much as the lad tries his heart out, Bruenker is simply not good enough. It may seem that Hopkin sees something in him however to me it looks like the only reason he is selected is due to our other strikers not suiting the target man role.

    If they can, I would urge City to recall Patrick and Mccartan. Firstly to help the current injury issue and secondly and quite simply they’re better than what we’ve got.

  15. A well written article which describes exactly how I feel. The depressing feature is there is no solution on the horizon and division two beckons. If Rahic had any pride he would resign but let’s face it he’s unlikely to be offered a job elsewhere so he’s clinging onto his position.Rupp should realise right now he’s put the wrong man in charge and his investment is rapidly declining in value.I could see us losing 5000 more season ticket holders at the end of this season if Rahic stays in charge. It shows how easy it his to destroy a great club when the owners are totally out of touch with our values and our superb fans.

  16. Jason, not only are you an excellent journalist, but also a very good co-commentator. I usually swerve the Pulse commentary, given it’s hugely biased view of City games but, when I knew you were assisting with the commentary, I was confident you’d give an accurate view of the action.

    As we all know, the situation with the club is dire. Hopkin sounded very downbeat after the game and must be losing sleep over how he’s going to turn things round, given the lack of quality he has to work with. We are due another departure from VP and I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided his health was more important than the stress of working for Rahic. The fans turning on him may be the catalyst.

    Surely, Rupp must take action on acquiring Rahic’s shares and sending him packing. That’s the only short term solution.

  17. Great and honest assessment of yesterday’s match. The situation regarding Rahic is now toxic. There is a massive gap (and growing) between the supporters and the owners. The silent partner (holds a massive share of the club), needs to consider his vastly depreciating investment. Ignoring the problem will not improve the situation, it will make it worse. Supporters are haemorrhaging from the club and the momentum is growing. Rupp needs to take action! Rahic has a small investing in the club yet he yields a vast percentage of control. Rupp needs to buy out Rahic and appoint someone (like a paid director), who has a proven pedigree of running a football club successfully with a priority of understanding the needs of the team and its supporters.

    If this downward trend is allowed to continue the club will be worthless and rescue would be very difficult. PLEASE RUPP TAKE ACTION BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

    • I do understand this appeal to Rupp, but honestly I just can’t see it.

      Aside from a few promo appearances for the documentary film, Rupp seems very rarely engaged with life at VP. I’ve seen him a few times, but the man has the air of someone on a day trip rather than a serious leader of this particular business.

      Let’s remember, we are Rahic’s dream. Not Rupp’s, who we know is a motorsport enthusiast. Imagine Rahic’s original pitch to Rupp when sourcing the financing to buy City:

      “You allocate a small part of your investment portfolio, and if it works you’re rich; if it doesn’t, you can write it off as a small investment loss – but I promise you Stefan, whatever happens, I won’t pester you with actually running the business. This is my venture and I’ll leave you alone!”.

      I can totally imagine that was the original deal, and that is not any slight at all on Rupp – loads of investors operate like this.

      But it does mean that anyone considering a protest / retaliation need to direct it accordingly. Fans can voice their anger on the terraces. They can stage demonstrations and walk-outs, etc. But these are at arms-length from the main source of investment and will likely only damage our reputation as a club.

      If the above assessment is correct, perhaps it would be far more effective – as others have suggested for some time – to build a targeted campaign of letter writing to the German press? Considered, reasoned letters that provide evidence (did you see “The Graph” on Twitter this weekend?!)

      Anyone, a disinterested investor or otherwise, would surely start to take action if they started to see their name being associated with ruining a strong British football club in newspapers much closer to home.

  18. Does anyone know what’s happened to Ben Wilson, the goalkeeper signed in the summer? I assumed he was signed as backup to O’Donnell but can’t recall him ever being named in any squad so far. He’s never been mentioned in any injury list as far as I’m aware.

  19. Thank you for those wonderful words on the Accrington Stanley team and their club atmosphere. I shared the article with both the team and their supporters.

  20. Completey agree Jason..no more to be said.

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