The 2019/20 Bradford City season preview

Imagine by John Dewhirst, copyright Bradford City

By Jason McKeown 

Optimism abounds. After such a desperate season, and the pain of relegation, a bleak summer was widely forecast. There were plenty of rumours that the club was struggling financially. But the gloomy outlook has been replaced by rising levels of positivity.

It’s been a close season of moving forwards. Many of the new signings are eye-catching, and would have been courted by teams in League One never mind the rest of City’s new division. There’s been a restoration of the bond between the club and supporters, with bridges mended through a deliberate re-establishment of City’s identity.

Rather than fearing a long spell in League Two purgatory, there is excitement about the season ahead. Piece by piece, it feels like the Bradford City we love is returning. That we’ve got Our City back.

In the darkness of the end of last season, it now seems evident that seeds were planted which are now turning into visible green shoots of recovery. There was little positive to take from being relegated before Easter, but the club took advantage of their fate. With Gary Bowyer’s future resolved, City could start to plan for this season earlier and with certainty.

Contrast the situation at Valley Parade to the three other clubs relegated from League One. Walsall, Scunthorpe and Plymouth only went down on the final day of the season. Once they recovered from last-gasp heartbreak, all three clubs had uncertainties over their managerial situations to resolve, before they could begin to start thinking about rebuilding their squads.

City were ahead of them all, knowing which out of contract players to keep. Bowyer could draw up his list of targets ahead of his rivals and made quick advances. The speed in which he has strengthened the squad underlines the clear, joined up focus.

There is no guarantee that an organised, methodical close season will deliver success. But a year ago we saw the consequences of failing to prepare. 2018 was a chaotic, befuddled summer dominated by a long and flawed search for a head coach, scattergun recruitment and a disorganised pre-season friendly programme. The catalogue of mistakes led to a feeble relegation. The panic, reactive approach of then is a complete contrast to this summer. It surely has to count for something.

City look ready to go, with a renewed confidence, self assurance and personality. The new-look squad has impressed in pre-season, and on paper looks promotion material. Supporters certainly believe, and a top seven push is surely a minimum expectation.

Stefan Rupp deserves credit for reapplying the glue. His mistakes of the past are well documented, and in many ways he must have ended last season full of regret about ever buying the club. A takeover offer was submitted but quickly rejected. And Rupp has continued to absorb the club’s losses. He could have remained distant, insisting that City is run on a shoestring. But he has continued to invest, ensuring Bowyer has a competitive budget.

Rupp has also seemingly taken on board lessons off the field and is determined to fix some of the damage. His comments in the Liverpool programme and in a letter to season ticket holders suggest a self-awareness of the issues of the past and a positive approach to righting wrongs. Whether in the long term he wants to be the Bradford City owner – or if, indeed, he is the right custodian of the club – remains to be seen. But for now, the signs are encouraging.

A successful season for Bradford City would be not talking about the chairman, especially after the noise and controversy of his former partner last season. The focus will hopefully be on Bowyer and the players only. That’s how it should be.

Bowyer has won a huge amount of admirers for the way he has conducted himself over the summer. His record after coming in last March was disappointing, although there were of course huge mitigating circumstances. This club cannot maintain its high managerial turnover and Bowyer simply had to be kept on.

The way Bowyer has gone about his business, and his engagement with fans, has demonstrated his considerable value. Bowyer has evidently spent time studying the history of the club and has brought the heritage to the fore, such as arranging new displays at the training ground. Inviting Stephen Darby and Gary Jones to address the players was another classy touch. Bowyer comes across as a genuinely nice man. He has charisma, but there’s a steel about him too. You desperately want him to succeed.

To do that, he will need a committed dressing room. Despite the notable summer signings, this remains the biggest question mark going into the season. Whilst there may still be outgoings before the transfer window closes, there hasn’t been as many departures as we fans had hoped. And that means Bowyer will still be relying on players who badly let down the club last season.

Some fans have talked about giving every player a clean slate. It’s admirable but I can’t agree. Last season’s squad only gained one solitary point from a losing position last season. They lost 27 of their 46 league matches. When the going got tough, they hid. You don’t forget that.

Hopefully, these players will recover their reputations and eventually prove to be useful signings for City. But we won’t know for sure until adversity strikes. The first time City go a goal behind this season, or lose a game, we’ll truly find out what this revamped squad is made of. Can it be like the celebrated Bradford City teams of recent, happier times – bouncing back and finding quick answers to tough situations? Or will it be a repeat of folding over like last season?

There will be scars still to heal from those who remain in the dressing room from last season, and this is where the new arrivals will be so vital. They can play without the baggage of what happened, and because of that they can lead from the front with positivity. Setting the example for others to follow. Many goals are expected from Clayton Donaldson and James Vaughan, but City need them to be true statesmen as well. Strong characters are absolutely essential.

It is of course a demanding Valley Parade crowd, and it also remains a big audience. Of all the milestones achieved since relegation, the fact 13,000 City fans renewed their season tickets is arguably the most significant. It was basically the exact same amount of season ticket holders who signed up for the 2018/19 nightmare. And whilst, yes, there has been a sizeable drop from the 18,000 of two years ago, to have such a high renewal rate, on the back of such a painful season, underlines the fact there’s a strong core of City supporters who truly will stick by the club during the lean times.

That huge show of faith can only have strengthened the morale and health of the club. It will have encouraged Rupp to provide adequate resources to rebuild. Helped persuade the likes of Vaughan, Donaldson and Paudie O’Connor to sign for the Bantams. Given the club the conviction to push forwards with the Bantams Heritage initiative, the classy away kit and several positive supporter functions.

The battles ahead might be tougher than we envisage. Go back to the last time we descended to League Two – the summer of 2007 – and the club was buoyed by the return of Stuart McCall, the fresh investment of Mark Lawn and the significant uptake of the first ever affordable season ticket offer. But City did not walk the league as expected, finishing 11th without threatening a serious play off push.

Then, like now, a sizeable part of the playing budget was taken up on players in contract, meaning other areas of the squad had to be strengthened on the cheap. Reality bit almost from day one. And for all the positivity of this summer, an opening day home defeat to Cambridge United would all too quickly burst a few balloons.

It also has to be recognised that history is against City. Last season was the 11th relegation the club has experienced. Not once have they bounced back to be promoted the season after. To go up will mean making new history.

Whatever happens on the field, the club seems to be moving in the right direction. I feel proud, once more, to be a Bradford City fan. And that’s because I believe in what they’re trying to do. It might not lead to instant success, but doing the right things will eventually bring its rewards.

The dark shadows of last season have been cast off. This is a fresh start. A new impetus and a collective spirit of fans backing the club. There is every reason to feel excited about the season ahead. Now is the time to truly turn the corner by closing the chapter on a wretched couple of years.

How will City fare this season? Share your views below.

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12 replies

  1. I had a sense that Gary Bowyer was a good appointment from the off, with the way he took to the job under the given circumstances. He then went up in my estimation at the first home game after relegation was confirmed at the away match the week before (Peterborough?), when he took the heat away from the players by coming out to face the supporters before the players came out – something I’ve not seen a manager do before. Now he seems to have handled pre-season well too, although I agree with your point that it would have been good/cathartic to see more of last season’s failures leave.

  2. Jason, a very balanced summary. There is a lot of well founded optimism going into the season and personally I think it is “show me” time.

  3. As normal a fantastic read and some very relivent points and truths.
    I personally feel confident we will do well this season and for the first time in nearly 2 seasons i feel reconnected to my club. I think we have the fire power up front and we look solid at the back my only concern is with the midfield in both attack and holding if GB can sort this and us as fans get behind the club we will have our club back.
    Come on you bantams

  4. Excellent article and I echo the the comments that Bowyer has been a class act. My main concern for the season is will we score enough goals? Can we keep Vaughan fit enough and on the pitch long enough to get 20-25 goals because I doubt Donaldson or Doyle will make a significant contribution. As always in pre season I am full of optimism and by the second week of October we will have a decent indication of whether this season will bear any fruit.

  5. I too would like to say that Gary Bowyer has been just the man for the job in the current sitution and has been very ‘Parky’-esque in his approach. Very throuigh and organised and he’s taken the history of the club on board as well. Definately been spot on in the way he is going about things.

    But my biggest fear is we cannot afford to loose that first home game on Sat. Yes its only the 1st game of the season and nothing is won in August and that we may only end up mid-table by the end of the season and nothing is guaranteed BUT having been on such a long run of loosing games stretching through to the Jan of the season bwefore and with the majority of that squad still being here it is IMPERATIVE we break that trend ASAP!

    Loose a couple in a row early doors and with the somewhat ‘fickle’ segments of fans we have could see that summer goodwill gone and negativity creep back in within the stands. At this delicate stage it won’t take much.

    We need some atmosphere in the stands generating from the off!

  6. I’m happy and relieved that we appear to be moving on and getting our club back. The feeling is so much more positive be than it has been over the last couple of years. It’s just a shame that a few issues are still hanging over us and seem to be preventing us from fully putting the past behind us:

    Ideally we would have moved O’Connor, Riley and Akpan on. They take up a disproportionate amount of the wage budget in correlation to the very little that they actually contribute on the pitch and their wages are preventing us from adding the two or three extra signings that could turn us into realistic automatic promotion contenders.

    The Jake Reeves and Tyrell Robinson scenarios seem no closer to a conclusion. It’s frustrating that we can’t move on from them.

    Luca Colvilles contract situation is baffling too. We need to resolve that and either get him to sign or tell him to leave. The fact that it’s dragging on isn’t doing anyone any good.

    Finally the pre season injury to Paudie O’Connor is worrying. He along with Shay McCartan and Zeli Ismail barring 45 minutes at BPA, havnt been seen yet this summer. All clubs will suffer injuries but Paudie is one of our impressive signings and to not see him at all as yet is deflating.

    Maybe I’m being padantic. The club is doing everything right at the moment. Most of the above issues are out of their control. It’s just frustrating that we’re not getting a helping hand from Lady Luck to help us to truly start with a clean slate.

    • Gaz, totally understand the comments you have made but think your last paragraph is the probably the crux of where we are. GB said at an early stage it would probably take 2 or 3 transfer windows to get to where he would want to be and I think we just need to cast our eyes back as recently as April to realise how far we have actually come in a short space of time. I still think things will happen before this window closes but for now its time to all pull together and to try to get back to enjoying following our team 🙂

  7. As always, a great read. Thank you Jason.

    I’m not getting carried away with how we will perform this season and I think that we will do very well to finish in a top 7 position.

    I know that there are many supporters who will disagree with my prediction, however I think that most away teams will raise their game when they play us at Valley Parade and a lot will depend on how our players cope with that pressure.

    Three players who I think could have key roles to play are Shay McCarten who experienced a positive environment at Lincoln City last season, Jordan Gibson who apparently did okay at Stevenage last season and Connor Wood who should have started more games last season.

    One thing is for certain, it won’t be dull supporting Bradford City this season.

  8. The main reason for heightened fan optimism is mainly down to the gaffer, who has totally bought in to the club and our dna (to quote a phrase)!
    An astute and intelligent manager, who together with a much improved media team has recognised the need to win over the support the fans. I like how he handles himself publicly and undoubtedly his persona and ambition have been huge factors influencing the summer recruitment.
    All the early signs are positive and we certainly look like potential promotion candidates but we won’t really know until we’ve played our first 10 league games.
    Roll on Saturday 👍🏻

  9. It seems very strange not having a glut of signings near the end. The boring part of pre season has been swapped. I think this was crucial to get optimism into the players from the start of pre season with the newcomers doing that

  10. Whilst I largely agree with you Jason, I think we need to give last seasons survivors that clean slate to redeem themselves this season.
    I understand the bitterness that exists. They let the fans, the club and themselves down. I’m not advocating forgiveness for past sins. Just the benefit of the doubt for the season ahead. Some may turn out to be decent players.
    I don’t see any benefit to the team if, like in the LFC game, we’re booing a player like AOC before he’s come on to the pitch.
    I understand the reasons why he was booed but it hardly creates the atmosphere of redemption nor a desire to play for the team.
    I hope if we fall behind on Saturday we’ll back the team with encouragement and not instantly hark back to last season by booing and labelling them ‘a disgrace’.
    Okay, if certain players don’t show any character this season then we have the right to show our collective ire. But to start with let’s encourage them and judge how they respond.

  11. I personally feel more positive about the coming season than I have done since the one before Parkinson resigned; but I am not overly optimistic about City succeeding.

    There has quite clearly been massive improvements in many areas that have been faulty or dysfunctional, and as long as were do not collapse in the coming season then we should be much stronger the season after, when Anthony O’Connor will be the only high wage Rahic signing left.

    My wariness about the playing side is due to a mix of things:

    The squad is the most changed in a long time and is untested. The pre-season has been better that last, but some of the games were odd (as pointed out on here) and some players haven’t played!

    We really don’t know exactly what to expect. Us being favourites is meaningless. Bookies don’t pick favourites, numb punters do. Salford are backed by the many Matalan Man U fans, and our big crowds are the reason for our short odds. You could argue that Northampton, Orient, and Plymouth are in a far better position than us or Salford. If they are, then top 3 will be much harder than many think.

    I am worried about injuries. Obviously if we do end up relying on Vaughn to win then we have a potential massive problem; but there are others areas without great cover, and players who seem vulnerable to injury.

    On top of that (as Gaz pointed out) the situation for Robison and Reeves is bizarre, and I can’t help feeling there are things not being said that should be. A total news blackout for over a year for Robinson (that’s longer than a complicated money laundering case would take to investigate) and almost the same for Reeves.

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