Gary Bowyer is putting the pride back into Bradford City

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

At just after 12pm on Saturday, Gary Bowyer parked up in the Valley Parade car park by the main stand, ahead of Bradford City’s important home game against Swindon. Wearing a beaming smile, the Bantams manager stopped to talk to the smattering of supporters already outside the ground, high-fived the stewards managing the car park, and warmly shook the hands of security staff before going into the reception.

Bowyer gives off the vibe of a man who is very much enjoying himself. Relishing the task of managing a club of the stature of Bradford City. Revelling in the responsibility of being the club’s figurehead. And his enthusiasm is proving infectious, reflected in the rising number of happy faces that are evident on the pitch and in the stands on a City matchday.

It’s fair to say that Bowyer is not getting huge amounts of credit for the way he is turning around the club’s fortunes. And it’s really time that we start to redress that balance.

At WOAP, we’ve been as guilty as anyone else of being critical about aspects of City’s start to the season. And with it, Bowyer. We’ve published several negative match reports, and rightly so. Adapting to life in the basement league is tricky for all, and the high expectations of challenging for a swift return to League One mean that any performance that falls short is going to get poor reviews. Praise is hollow if you can’t provide criticism when it’s merited.

On my own part, I’ve deliberately held back from lauding Bowyer in the manner many supporters were rushing to do during the summer months. I was disappointed by the results under him at the end of last season, where it seemed he was given a free pass because of the issues that had gone on before him. I was also feeling jaded and disillusioned by the constant revolving door of managers at Valley Parade over the past 18 months. What was the point in getting behind Bowyer, if the usual suspects begin a campaign to drive him out after a couple of bad results?

The unconvincing start to this season only emphasised the need to wait and see with Bowyer. The football wasn’t great over August, and the tinkering of the system was questionable given it seemed the manager hadn’t really used the pre-season friendly schedule to brilliant effect. Having won many fans over during the summer for the way he spoke and the signings he made, watching others quickly turn on Bowyer early doors felt depressingly familiar. But I struggled to muster the energy to be the one to defend him.

It’s now becoming evident that Bowyer is building something positive, that can take City far this season. Recent weeks have seen a steady improvement in performances. Thankfully – as it was beginning to get worryingly turgid – the style of football is much better. Even after winning at Walsall, I remained deeply unconvinced. Strangely, the much better performance in defeat at Cheltenham gave me more heart. It felt like progress.

The last two home games against Carlisle and Swindon have really demonstrated the progression of City under Bowyer. Whilst Swindon’s promotion credentials have perhaps been over-played, Saturday was undoubtedly a major litmus test of City’s prospects, especially as they lined up without Ben Richards-Everton, Matt Palmer and James Vaughan. The Bantams passed with flying colours. They played with real flair. Producing a dominant display that fully merited the three points.

With just over a quarter of the season gone, City sit sixth in League Two and trail the leaders by just three points. Past history at Valley Parade warns us not to take anything for granted – we’ve seen many a City team suddenly collapse in form, without fully recovering – but everything we’ve seen so far suggests we’re set up for a season challenging for promotion. Winning far more often than losing. Finishing in the top three appears to be a realistic aim.

What’s so encouraging is to reflect on the curve of improvement. The swashbuckling, confident and determined manner in which City performed against Swindon is a world away from the tentative, nerve-ridden display against Cambridge on the opening day.

Unlike last season, the summer transfer business is looking as though it is a success. Ben Richards-Everton, Paudie O’Connor, Zeli Ismail, Matt Palmer, James Vaughan and Clayton Donaldson have especially fitted in well. Richards-Everton and Ismail in particular looked to be dubious signings, with patchy track records that suggested they would add little value. So far, they’ve greatly repaid Bowyer’s faith.

The transfer activity just as the window closed is proving even more inspired. Whilst Sean Scannell didn’t pull up any trees at Valley Parade, his higher league pedigree suggested swapping him for Harry Pritchard was a backwards step. Not a bit. Pritchard has been terrific for Bowyer, producing a string of excellent displays and giving everything he has.

Dylan Connolly, who looked an underwhelming piece of business, has also impressed greatly. It’s great to see a traditional winger who just loves to run at people. Finally, Callum Cooke has been arguably the most important signing of all. It’s no coincidence City’s performances have gone to another level since his integration. Cooke is a quality player at this level.

Whilst not all summer signings have hit the ground running – Adam Henley, Jackson Longridge, Tyler French, Sam Hornby and Aramide Oteh will need to bide their time – there’s no question the new arrivals have raised the standards at the club. And that improved culture is helping many of the underachieving players of last season too. Richard O’Donnell, Kelvin Mellor, Anthony O’Connor and Connor Wood are more than playing their part in the team’s rise up the table this season. And on the fringes, Hope Akpan, Danny Devine and Shay McCartan are also pushing hard. The rehabilitation of Akpan is a surprise to us all. Albeit there’s a long way to go for him.

Bowyer deserves appreciation for the way he has rebuilt the team. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s so gratifying to turn up and watch a team that’s giving their all. There’s also a genuine resilience that has seen the players overcome set backs and adverse situations on several occasions. It is night and day to last season, where players hid, went through the motions and had little stomach when the going got tough. It feels like the spirit is back.

It has been a bumpy ride at times, and there are still some issues to resolve, but 13 points from the last six games shows that City are hitting their stride. The rest of October features a favourable run of fixtures, giving the Bantams a chance to really rack up the points and climb higher up the table. It all sets us up for an exciting season. And as we begin to enjoy the warm feeling of winning football matches on a regular basis again, the traumas of last season are being pushed to the past. There are growing reasons to feel good about our club again.

I’ve really enjoyed the last three home games. Entertainment wise, they’ve been really good spectacles. The atmosphere at Valley Parade is returning to what it can be, and was truly something against Swindon especially. That broken relationship between the crowd and the players is being restored. You genuinely feeling excited about turning up to watch certain players. We’re enjoying our football again.

After the false dawn of last December, this time it truly is does feel that we are getting Our City back. And for his pivotal role in that, Gary Bowyer deserves our appreciation.

Categories: Opinion

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11 replies

  1. Completely agree, still early days and cant be getting too carried away with the situation as it is but undoubtedly GB is building some momentum with this squad.

    He has from day 1 gone out of his way to bridge that gap with the fans – you can hear if every time he speaks there is usually a reference to the help it gives the squad.

    Funny but when he was at Blackburn a few years back and we played them in a preseason I decided I didn’t like him for some reason – now I understand why, he is just very passionate about the club he manages which is great to see.

    But saturdays are far more happier these days for sure.

  2. Absolutely agree with the article

    Past three games have seen a major improvement in performances with a real positive attitude from players. If we lose games playing like that I don’t care as it was entertaining and always looked like more goals would come.

    Cooke in the deeper midfield role was outstanding and Pritchard Connolly and Ismail proved so much drive that I think playing only one striker is preferable if it means having these four midfielders on the pitch at the same time!

    BRE and the two O’Connors have all been really good and O’Donnell has found his way again that made him catch the eye when he was Northampton.

    Can’t wait for games now, which is a sad admission about how poor it was last year!

  3. For me GB is very much in the PP mould with a similar skill set and the ability to galvanise the whole club. Obviously a good man manager and pragmatic and competent coaching wise. Recruitment has been excellent. It is still early days and firm conclusions are still premature but the trajectory is positive and he is deserving of our support and patience.

  4. Spot on article. Momentum and team spirit is definately building. GB has settled on 2 wide players with Cooke holding the fort. It’s been good to watch the last 3 home games with players playing for the shirt and putting in a shift against some very negative opposition. Above all else the supporters can see this and are getting behind the team even when things aren’t going our way.

    Even Apkan has raised his game and all the players are 7 out 10 at the moment. O’Donnell has been very impressive between the sticks and looks composed, confident, calm and made some fine saves.

    There’s plenty to do in terms of ball retention and better quality and composure in the last third especially from wide positions but this will come as confidence builds with solid performances and further wins.

    The hardest thing about playing at this level is competing with well drilled teams coming to VP happy to employ spoiling tactics and settle for a point. This is going to be the norm this season. If we score first then it can open the game up for this team to exploit a change in tactics from the opposition having to chase the game through our pacy wingers. If there’s no early break through then patience will be the key.

    I would like to see this team go to Morcambe on Saturday and take all 3 points with a solid performance. There’s lots of work to be done with this team in terms consistency and fluidity but there has been a wind change that GB and the players have to be given praise for and at last the confidence between players and fans is slowly beging tobe restored.

    If the team can stay relatively injury free and continue to play with confidence and determination then we can easily match and better all teams at this level. We dont want to get tok carried away but there are some good signs that this team can achieve some great things and restore some faith and pride back into the football club.

  5. I intend to remain low keyed about City’s prospects for this season. Being a City fan for over sixty years and experiencing many false dawns, I’ve learned to moderate my expectations. My first false dawn was the 1956/57 season with City on top of the league at the end of December. After 20 years in Division Three North, City fans we’re hungry for promotion. I think City finished eighth. Since then I’ve seen many false starts, probably double figures.
    City have only beaten one team (Swindon) in the top half of the table and they are still a work in progress. I agree with Gary Bowyer’s comment that the league table is unlikely to firm up before late December.
    The season looks promising but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

  6. I full agree with this article & have been happy to support GB- I dislike the knee jerk sacking of managers after a handful of poor results. I’m hoping- and its FAR too early to make this a prediction- that he’s in the seat as long or longer than PP.

    My only small gripe is what I see as a poor-ish discipline record, which GB seems to shrug off- albeit when I looked back our share of cards haven’t been generally worse than the other side. But It’s not good to see good players sit out matches on bans. However, generally, he seems to be building the character of the squad, which is essential.

  7. Good comments Jason. Don’t let’s get carried away. It is better than I expected, but a long rocky road. I watched Bolton and Blackpool last night. It was so poor than you realise what a mess Rahic made getting us so low.
    Chicksen looked ok, Scannell not up to much.

  8. My thoughts echo pretty much everyone else who has posted on here. I think it’s been slow and steady progress in shaping the team since last May. I think expectation levels were set unrealistically high before the season started. We’d just gone through one of the worst seasons in living memory, so putting right all of the wrongs was not going to be an overnight job. GB has gone about the job well, helping to heal some very serious wounds inflicted over the previous 18 months of ERs reign of terror.
    I still think there’s a long way to go and that we need to remain patient. GB has said on more than one occasion that a manager can’t truly call a team his own until he’s had three transfer windows. That maybe true given the number of players signed by ER whose contracts don’t expire until next June.
    In the meantime, he’s turning some of those ugly ducklings into swans. Notably Hope Akpan. If GB can get the kind of performance we saw on Saturday out of him on a consistent basis it will really be like a new signing.
    Like others have already stated – there’ll be more bumps along the road this season. I just hope that GB gets the one thing managers across all four divisions so rarely get these days: time. He needs time to keep building and improving this team by instilling the confidence that was knocked out of us last season.

  9. Great summary of how things are Jason, we’re starting to see real progress both on the pitch and off it. Bowyer has grasped what Bradford City is all about and the players are coming with him, the sheer joy and excitement in Connoleys face after the game on Saturday was there for everyone to see. The Bantams are back

  10. Not just the players that GB as brought to the club but also the backroom staff he has brought to V P . We are much fitter and the goal keepers have inproved due to the staff GB as brought in he as also given Martin a chance to prove himself Welldone Mr Bowyer

  11. Simple explanation to succeed, get a manager who knows Football.

    Are you watching, are you watching, are you watching R A H I C.

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