By Paul Marshall
28th August 2011, the day Phil Parkinson became the fourth City manager that calendar year. Parkinson joined the Bantams who were 17th with only four points from five games. On the back of an extremely poor season under Peter Taylor and Peter Jackson, he inherited a squad low on confidence, playing very negative football who were unable to score or defend.
But ultimately City survived relegation from League Two by five points. The football improved slightly, but the goals again were hard to come by. Parkinson brought in experienced heads like Andrew Davies, Ricky Ravenhill, Craig Fagan and later in the season Rob Kozluk to join current players Luke Oliver, Michael Flynn and Richie Jones. The team started to become difficult to break down and survival in League Two was secured for another season.
As well as a fantastic team work ethic, a solid backroom was installed with a focus on fitness and a way of playing, often belittled by opposition managers and certain sections of fans, that was solid at the back, diligent but creative in midfield. And in James Hanson and Nahki Wells, City had a partnership upfront that developed together and would become one of the best in the league.
The comparison between David Hopkin and Parkinson could very easily be similar, but at the moment seems poles apart. The new manager syndrome unfortunately hasn’t happened. Due to the haphazard summer, Hopkin was instantly faced with picking up the pieces that had been broken down piece by piece over the last six months. I’m not sure he realised the scale of the job.
The lift the players desperately needed didn’t seem to happen; and although performances and urgency within the team improved, the results didn’t. With only four points from a possible 33, the fiery Scotsman is still looking to implement his style of play on the under-performing, injury hit squad.
Due to the change in the loan system that Parkinson used so well, Hopkin has so far only been able to delve into the non-contract market, and quickly brought in fellow Scot Jim O’Brien. O’Brien instantly brought some steel and energy into a shambolic lightweight central midfield position, but unfortunately suffered a hamstring injury that has kept him out for around six weeks. No further players have been brought in. The experience that could have been brought in from the non contract market could have stabilised the team in certain key positions.
Similar to the 2011/12 season, goals are in short supply – 12 in 17 league games of which a quarter are from the penalty spot. The need for a target man, due to the direct nature of play, is obvious for all to see. A player akin to a James Hanson would be an obvious option, but the luxury of being able to pick and choose are extremely limited at the moment. Partnerships have not been formed, and whilst tinkering with various tactics and formations, the goals are few and far between – three of the 12 goals have come from defender and stand-in skipper Anthony O’Connor.
Despite various rallying cries from numerous players it has been two of the younger players that have brought a glimmer of hope to the squad. Left back Connor Wood has taken full advantage of Adam Chicksen getting injured. After a slow start Wood has improved week in week out and dramatically improved the left side of the defence. Another shining light has been on loan midfielder Lewis O’Brien. O’Brien is a full bloodied midfielder who gives his all, shows experience beyond his years and despite partnering various central midfielders in his time here seems to thrive on being the man that breaks up play, keeps the ball moving and protects the back four or five. It’s a shame that the pairing of the O’Briens was disrupted as this has looked by far the best central midfield partnership we have.
Richard O’Donnell, who despite conceding 31 goals, looks a very assured keeper; very vocal and commanding and seems to feel the same pain and frustration as the fans. Top scorer Jack Payne is another that can walk with his head held higher than most. Some see him as a luxury that in times of trouble when you need to dig deep. He may flirt on the edge of the game but his talent and ability cannot be questioned, especially at this level.
Injuries have definitely taken its toll on the squad and the options available. Long term absentees Alex Jones and Jake Reeves look no closer to a return to action than they did six months ago. Luca Colville was starting to look like a real find, scoring on his debut and impressing in the games he played. Kelvin Mellor, Joe Riley, Hope Akpan, Josh Wright, Jordan Gibson and Sean Scannell all picked up injuries and, along with Danny Devine, added to the already depleted squad – significantly reducing the options available, especially in midfield.
Thankfully the injury list is starting to reduce and players are returning to the training ground and the match day squad. With so many injuries, competition for places has been non-existent. With more players fighting for a shirt this should bring a competitive edge to the squad. Competition for places can only be a good thing.
Julian Rhodes’ return is a positive move by the club. The experience of running a football is massively needed. The gulf between fans and the chairmen is becoming wider by the week, with the proposed fly over planned now for the £1 Oxford home game, rectifying the disconnect between fans and the club has already been started by Rhodes.
Seemingly having a more hands on role rather than just a consultancy role, communication between with fans looks high on the list for Rhodes to improve, and working closely with Hopkin is really important. Whether the freshening up of the backroom staff was planned or whether Rhodes has had a role in pushing this forward it looks like a sports science coach and new goalkeeper coach is on the way in with Steve Banks leaving.
The problem with looking towards the January transfer window is that its eight league games off yet. And in those eight games we play Peterborough, Luton and Sunderland away, plus the return of Stuart McCall’s Scunthorpe to Valley Parade on Saturday 22 December.
Hopkin’s record doesn’t make pleasant reading now with just one win in 15 games. But belief that he can turn it round, for some bizarre reason, is still there. Maybe it’s the performances of Wood, O’Brien, O’Donnell and Payne or that the team looks like they have a direction and a level of fitness that wasn’t there at the beginning of the season under Michael Collins. Maybe it’s the return of Rhodes that has slightly lifted our spirits. Or maybe it’s just the blind faith that you have when your clinging on to the hope that we can get out of the relegation dog fight and somehow secure another year in League One.
During these tough times as football fan you sometimes get sucked into the murky world of social media and start to get drawn into the negativity that can go with it. I’m as guilty as any for falling into this trap. I began to forget my own opinion and beliefs. I also decided that dependent on the result, but more so the performance of the Portsmouth game, I was considering whether I still wanted and enjoyed going to match anymore. All week leading up to the game I was still contemplating going to game or not. But I did, and off I went – on my own.
It wasn’t until I was walking along Midland Road and heard the Pompey fans in full voice, waiting to get inside the ground, and listened to the chatter from fellow City fans, that I realised it would be me that would be losing out, and nobody else, by not going. I decided that this is what I love and this what I want to carry on doing on a Saturday afternoon. Plus I doubt the club would coming looking for me, as I’d not been scanned in through the turnstiles for half a season!
I’d watched worse, I’ve seen worse players in my 35 years as a City fan and we’ve also been lower. I remembered going to Highfield Road to watch us in Jim Jefferies last game, a truly horrendous manager albeit in tough times, I thought back to the terrible football under Peter Taylor and the safe but sure Colin Todd days. I had a quick look at some of our ex players – I don’t even remember certain names and I definitely can’t remember any of their games.
Happy clapper? No, I don’t think so, although I guess some will regard me as one. Am I happy with our current league position and events associated with the club off the field? Definitely not. But I live in hope that we can turn this round. It’s going to tough and it’s going to be very close, should we do it.
Happy clapper? No. Glass half full? Always.
Another excellent article,which sums up how I am feeling at the moment.We are hanging on by our finger nails yet I hope we can survive in League 1.Yes I have seen worse teams over the years but after the success/progress year on year ,with Parky and Stuart-it is bitterly disappointing to see what has happened to my beloved football club in 2018.Good to see Julian Rhodes back at the Club.Abbott had to go-now we just need to get rid of the 2 Germans to win back our fans and get the Club moving in the right direction.
Good piece, and I think you capture the dilemma of a football supporter well. Times like this you dig deep and realise supporting your club from the stands isn’t about the entertainment of wqtching a telly programme. Its about loyalty, and roots, an affinity with a key strand of this city, and being part of a family. Fall outs in family always happen, but blood is thicker than water.
Well done…seems like the penny has finally dropped at WOAP Towers and you’ve began to realise all the negativity and 8 million ‘we hate Rahic’ articles were getting us no where fast, other than encompassing everyone in a toxic bubble of constant negativity’ Guess it ‘sells papers’ though so I get it!
Its a difficult one. I agree that social media generally has become an echo chamber with the unremitting negativity fuelling the clubs decline but without the furore would Rahic have stepped back/been marginalised?. Doubt it.What is clear now is that the narrative has to change and we all need to pull together ..turn up to games and support the team. I have found it hard fathom why committed long term supporters have thrown in the towel and voted with their feet with such alacrity given what the club has been through over the years. Thankfully however it seems that Rahic is on his way and we can rebuild the sense of unity we had. It would be a considerable achievement now to get ourselves out of trouble. It would be great to be a small part of that.
No pennies have been dropped around here. And as we don’t sell papers or do anything for profit. There is no personal or financial gain from anything we write. All we ever do is state our honest opinions. There is no agenda. We just see things differently to other people sometimes (like yourself I assume).
Over the last few months we have indeed written lots of critical articles on Rahic. I make no apologises for that. I’m proud of the part we have played exposing the poor leadership of Rahic, which can now be seen by everybody to have caused the club to implode. There was a time when many people criticised us very aggressively for some of our articles, but ultimately our questions and uncovering of Rahic has been proven right.
I find it strange when readers get annoyed that we don’t just write positive articles. We are not the official site. I’m not paid to be the club’s PR officer. We are an independent website with no one to serve. When we praise the club we want it to be meaningful and merited. When we question or criticise we want it to be valid. We don’t get everything right, we make mistakes, but we are just fans like you writing about the club we love.
So why are you back in the hold of the clubs PR then Jason?
Since Rhodes came back, it’s positive article after positive article, despite the fact nothing’s changed.
It’s self serving stuff. The one and only thing Edin got right was plugging the leaks at City. You felt that. Lost your power. Now it’s been given back your slurping it up.
Independent. My fat arse.
Ah the old lets come up with a load of assumptions and use them as a line of attack.
Firstly, independent means independent of thought. It does not mean disagreeing with everything the club does, that’s contrarian. In the case of Julian’s return, my independent, personal view is that this is a positive development. I appreciate not all fans like him, but I look at his record over 19 years and I think he proved his ability to turn around the club and play a key role in its modern success. And the collapse under Edin Rahic, a massive failure of leadership, underlines Rhodes’ value. With him back at the helm, I believe there is reason to be more positive.
Does that mean we forgive Rahic? Hell no. Absolutely no chance. But like it or not, he owns 22% of the club. You cannot just get rid of him. It doesn’t work like that. I believe that he is basically finished at Bradford City. I don’t see a way back, but things don’t happen overnight.
In the meantime, my views of the possibility of relegation to League Two, aided by speaking to people with a greater understanding of the finances, is that going down would be a huge, huge blow for the club. One that could be felt for years to come. We are in all likelihood doomed, but there’s still 29 games to go. We wouldn’t accept the players giving up, and so I don’t think we should either.
I think we are absolutely in damage limitation mode as a club. If we can somehow stay up, we can rebuild in a much stronger position. I believe Rhodes’ return gives us a better chance of that.
Now let me be clear. We are not and never have been the club’s PR. I’ve never been paid a penny by the club or anyone to do WOAP. In fact, it costs me money to do it. I’ve never had any power to lose, and I don’t have any now. What special powers do you think I have? And why do you think they are something anyone would want to have? There is no magic door that I am getting through and you are not. I pay for my season ticket just like you. I sit in the stands just like you. I have a full time job that has nothing to do with Bradford City, as I assume you do.
WOAP has been going for 7 years now. Over most of that, City have been excellent and so the site has been positive in general. Not to be anyone’s PR machine, but because the club was getting more right than wrong. When it has gone on the decline, we have and continue to be very critical. I don’t apologise for being positive when I think it’s merited, and negative when I think it’s deserved.
Harry, if you don’t like what’s wrote on Jason’s blog, then don’t read it.
Alternately, you could always chance a blog of your own, giving your slant.
Look at the league table, Richard. Look at all the empty seats at home games Look at the total mess that Bradford City has become. Do you honestly think WOAP is responsible for the carnage at City? The articles on this site reflect a fair view of what and, more importantlly, who has caused the meltdown and are shared by the vast majority of fans. Hats off to WOAP for playing a leading part in getting Bradford City on track!
Look at the league table, Richard. Look at all the empty seats at home games Look at the total mess that Bradford City has become. Do you honestly think WOAP is responsible for the carnage at City? The articles on this site reflect a fair view of what and, more importantlly, who has caused the meltdown and are shared by the vast majority of fans. Hats off to WOAP for playing a leading part in getting Bradford City back on track!
On the whole, a good article. From the games that I have seen this season, the two O’Briens in central midfield were developing until Jim got injured. Wood deserves to start tomorrow against Peterborough United. Let’s hope that we can create the great escape.
Excellent article and reflects my own views of ‘sticking with it’ through thick and thin. After 20 years I have pretty much seen it all and I still enjoy match days, despite everything that has happened on the current leg of the journey The people that sit around me are all committed supporters and in dark times , we share some moments of gallows humour, but keep each other going in our hope for better times, which will come.
Get Hanson back, coming back Home to save us will give Him an extra 20% and the team.
Before any thumbs down, He would be there for one purpose to win headers, for the rest of the team to play of Him, proven history…..
Thank you to Jason for publishing my effort to try describe how I’m currently feeling at the moment as a City fan.
Thank you all for the positive comments too, I really appreciate that. I’ve never done anything like this before and found it a real challenge. It was like therapy!