Stuart McCall is sacked as Bradford City manager

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

In February 2010, Stuart McCall shook hands with Bury manager Alan Knill knowing that the 1-0 home defeat he’d just overseen would be his last as Bradford City manager. Over a post match beer, Knill told McCall that he believed the City players were still running through brick walls for the manager, adding that when he was sacked at Rotherham his own squad had given up and contributed to his P45.

In February 2018, Stuart McCall walked into the Bradford City training ground the Monday after a 2-1 loss at Oldham, to be told by Edin Rahic he was sacked. McCall spent all day at the training ground, as a queue of players and non-playing staff waited their turn to say goodbye. A few days later, a large part of the squad took Stuart out for a meal. Resulting in the famous picture that an angry Rahic seemingly used as a hit list.

Twice before Stuart McCall had departed as Bradford City. Twice with a group of players giving everything they had and seemingly genuinely sorry to see him go. 

As McCall prepares to pack up his manager office for the third time, having being sacked as Bradford City manager today, perhaps the biggest illustration of where it has gone wrong is that he probably won’t have a queue of well wishers sad that he has gone. This is a group of players who did not appear to be giving everything they had for the cause. They weren’t running through brick walls for McCall. They were letting him down, time and time again.

And it has cost Stuart his job. Probably also ending his managerial career forever.

McCall is sacked – just like in February 2018 – in the aftermath of a defeat at Oldham that extended a losing run to six games. But everything else about the football club and overall situation seems utterly different. Back then, failure was deemed to be still sitting in the League One play offs. Now, City rank 90th out of the 92 and are in major danger of bowing out of the Football League for the first time in its 117-year history. 

Dropping into non-league could well kill off the club, given the huge rental commitments to play at Valley Parade. It is not a relegation that City can afford to go through. And so today the dice is rolled in the hope that a new manager will bring change.

McCall can ultimately have few complaints. Performances have been unconvincing all season. And results have tailed off badly. The loss at Oldham was a 10th in 13 matches. Victories in that run have only come at home to bottom club Southend and away at non-league Tonbridge Angels.

It is a huge, huge under-performance. And there are no immediate signs that it was about to change.

McCall has been unfortunate in some respects. The injury list has been devastatingly high, leaving him with a real shortage of options beyond a threadbare first XI. But he also failed to build a squad with the endurance and resilience to cope with injuries. It was too weak in quality, beyond a reasonable first 14 or so players, to cope with the grueling schedule of Saturday-Tuesday. 

McCall had the financial resources to have strengthened better during the summer. He wanted to go with a small squad to reduce the risk of unhappy players on the sidelines, and he would have expected to have had January to improve the situation if needed. But results have been far, far worse than expected. 

We know from his past record as manager that McCall struggles to turn around losing runs. Part of that is a principled approach of trying to win every game. Be attack-minded and play your way back into form. Other managers would be more pragmatic. Choosing instead to go back to basics. Become more horrible and tough to beat. Take a few 0-0s or even accept a narrow defeat as progress. Build up slowly from a low base. 

When City went more pragmatic at home to Cheltenham, there were signs that McCall was taking that more basic approach. The Bantams were unlucky to lose that night. But perhaps had a way forward. Unfortunately, against Carlisle and Oldham, McCall went for a more front-footed approach against teams bang in form. And he was once again let down by his players. 

That failure to be nasty and cynical, to stink the place out and accept smaller rewards, was probably McCall’s final undoing. Ultimately, the team does not look organised enough. And attempts to play good football continue to be undermined by terrible, terrible mistakes. We needed signs the ship was turning away from the approaching iceberg,

It is completely understandable that the club has taken this tough decision. Although the fact it comes just two weeks on from awarding McCall a contract extension does not look clever in hindsight. It’s clear that when Julian Rhodes was replaced by Ryan Sparks, the club tried to inject some stability. But results made such laudable attempts difficult to justify. Ultimately, it did nothing to give McCall more job security. It didn’t take away the pressure.

For McCall is brings an end to a third and unusual spell in the City dugout. He returned in February to a hero’s welcome, with the club stating he was brought back because of the excellent job he did 2016-2018, when City competed at the top of League One on a budget a fraction the size of their rivals. It was a chance to try and restore the soul of the club, after a difficult few years. But the 1-1 draw with Grimsby on McCall’s return – the Mariners snatching a stoppage time equaliser through Luke Hendrie of all people – underlined the scale of the task.

McCall was in charge for six games before the coronavirus brought everything to a halt. That included three away losses as poor as anything under the final few weeks of Gary Bowyer’s reign, but entertaining victories at home to Stevenage and Plymouth. City were slipping out of the play off picture, and the narrative was clearly mapped out that they would fall short had the season continued as normal.

Instead, we got months of limbo.

McCall tried to rebuild in the summer, but was hampered by the Covid-19 situation. Normally, a manager coming in at the end of the season would assess their squad and start scouting potential summer signings. But that period was taken away. There was criticism of McCall signing players through watching videos online, but with a national lockdown and no lower league football he wasn’t flush with options either. Despite letting most out of contract players leave, McCall was left with 15 players in contract that he couldn’t move on. He was over stocked in central defence and up front. 

The decision to let James Vaughan go was controversial but difficult to dispute the logic of. A player, on good money, who did not want to be around, for reasons McCall could not change. But not bringing in a replacement of the same quality was a huge issue that other strikers have not been able to mask. Austin Samuels might emerge into a top player eventually, but right now he is not James Vaughan.

The season began okay, but with expectations of promotion looking unlikely from the start. The top 10 turned to mid-table, then bottom eight, before finally bottom two. Some truly awful performances, with patience as supporters tested further by the fact we were all watching online rather than in the stadium. It is sad that McCall’s near 40-year association with Bradford City comes to an end inside empty stadiums. 

Sacking McCall now is the club’s biggest call they can make. And hopefully, it quickly leads to better days and improvement. However, there is no escaping the damage of short-termism at Valley Parade ever since McCall was last dismissed. The last few years simply do not inspire confidence that sacking McCall now will fix the reoccurring issues.

Sacking McCall in February 2018 didn’t improve the club. Waving goodbye to Simon Grayson that summer didn’t improve the club. Sacking Michael Collins didn’t improve the club. Letting David Hopkin depart didn’t improve the club. Sacking Gary Bowyer didn’t improve the club.

What do we have to go on to believe that this time it will be different?

Perhaps, when we’ve rolled a one so many times, there is nothing to be lost by rolling the dice yet again. But make no mistake, at some point we have to find a manager that we will stick with. We have to let someone rebuild. It doesn’t matter who that person is. We have to stop this recruitment mess where one manager signs a player that the next manager doesn’t like, and who the manager after doesn’t like either. Anthony O’Connor should be embarrassed that he is about to start playing for his fifth different manager in two-and-a-half-years. Richard O’Donnell and Connor Wood similarly get little credit. 

Ultimately, City need to be smarter from top to bottom. This is a huge, huge January transfer window. This is a huge managerial appointment. If the pattern that followed McCall’s February 2018 departure, and the exits of Grayson, Collins, Hopkin and Bowyer continues, Bradford City are going to be relegated. 

Some big, big decisions lie ahead. Get them wrong, and it might be the end of Bradford City. 

Categories: Opinion

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46 replies

  1. Very despondent about this. Like you, I’m not sure where the magic bullet is that will turn this round. January transfer windows are usually slim pickings, and we haven’t had a shortage of respectable managers in recent years. Who is going to do a better job?
    Right now, it seems the only answer is to cross our fingers that injuries ease, add SOME quality to the squad in January*, and hope an experienced manager can inject some backbone into the current squad & nurse us over the line for YET ANOTHER summer rebuild effort.

    Will be interesting to see who emerge as realistic runners & riders for the vacancy. Phil Parkinson, anyone…?

    *What has happened to the talk of a head of recruitment- surely that is a must?

  2. It was inevitable after such poor results. I am sad he’s gone but I believe continuing the way things were, would damage his health. He suggested in his post match interview that things were happening at the club that he could not disclose. This needs to come out. It cannot be ignored and any incombant would have this burden to work with. We need transparency now.
    Regarding the new manager, we need someone that can stand up to the background noise. He needs to have a solid experience of this league and a decent win ratio record. He should get a strong budget to work with and a background staff that can kick ass on the training field. Don’t want a stop gap manager. Maybe someone like Phil Parkinson will do.

    • As soon as he inferred that there were things going on.within the club that he could not detail. I knew he was on his way.
      No one can criticise their “bosses’ and expect to stay in the job
      I bet SM knew it too.
      The Radio Leeds presenter, whose skills lie im post match questioning rather than actual commentating alluded to it several times during the game.
      Perhaps he knew too.
      Perhaps we all knew but didnt want it to be true.

      • Mark, this is pure speculation on my part but maybe City are about to be sold?? Likely wishful thinking on my part but a change in ownership is required for renewal to start. At the moment, a new owner and going back to basics and operating within our economic means looks very attractive to me.

      • The two most important thinks on the next managers c.v is in my opinion one experience in getting teams out of trouble, two with contacts in the game he can draw on immediately.I would personally like to thank Stuart for his commitment to the club and supporters he really his Mr Bradford City and good luck to you in the future you will always get a warm welcome from the fans.

      • You have lost me there Mark. I have listened to the interview back and can find no inference from SM that he was unhappy with the support he got from above over the close season. Does that kind of speculation help the club bearing in mind you were advocating some sort fans campaign post match?

      • Paul have alluded to the content of SMs post match reaction. Even my partner who has no interest in the game or City.
        He almost went too far but obviously backtracked at the last minute however his frustration was obvious
        Have another listen.
        With reference post match suggestion following a post by Mboro Rich about some kind of demonstration
        This was intended to be aimed at Stefan Rupp rather than SM and you have to agree that his latent and passive interest in.owning us is to clubs detriment
        I dont know the guy, only ever having met Rahic, but he doesn’t want to and has no interest. I dont think he understands football in England at the lower league standard. Any way events soon.overtook the posts.

      • Do no want this disagreement to run and run but several other posters (on Facebook) have mentioned the part of the interview where to my eyes SM was almost tempted into going into some detail about the restrictions placed on the club regarding transfers during the summer, but then retracing his words at the last minute.#
        It may be down to personal interpretation but I read into it what I said in my post (Possibly knowing a little more about the situation than most) and so did others.
        You read what you read into it.
        Thats fine.
        We are all free to have our own opinion, and as you know I would never willingly hurt the club.
        I think SM had a good idea what was likely to happen and his frustration (Almost) bubbled over.

      • hi mark i do believe something about this club does not smell right i do not blame STUART MCCALL
        has a manager the players at this club are to blame the problem with city they have a bunch of
        players half are ok the other half are non league status has i have said think the owner is using this
        club has a tax write off he will sell or fold

    • Listened to it twice. I would not neccesarily place a negative connotation on it. Care needs to be taken. Folk on other forums will pick up and run with kind of conspiracy theories which is obviously does our cause no good. One which you care deeply for.

      • Ps It is very rare for a manager to make public comment on sacking particularly on the same day. Stuart explicitly thanks the club for the support. He is as honest and genuine as they come so I think we can put this to bed?

  3. I can only hope there is a clear successor to McCall to step in quickly before transfer window or else we are really going to struggle to bring in players if we have no long term mgr appointed. No one was happy with the results and performances but unless we have a good candidate who is interested this isn’t going to improve anything. Who is going to be caretaker? Drury? Really worried this will just tip the squad into even worse run of performances 0-5 at Portsmouth anyone?

  4. I think the writing is on the wall for the club in it’s current guise. After 5 years of improvement from 2012/13 to 2017/18 the sale of the club to the German’s has annihilated city and ripped its heart out. It’s a shell of club.

    The togetherness and feeling of following Bradford City has totally evaporated and it has become a mirror image of the city itself.

    To sack McCall which is the right decision comes hot off the heels of a 1 year extension to Stuart’s contract. Total embarrassment in terms of infrastructure and leadership from top to bottom.

    Even if the club survives this season where can go from here without a massive financial injection to take the club into the 21st century? I am really struggling as to why Rupp bought the club in the first place. We have all seen the wrong people buying clubs and running them into oblivion but that’s exactly what’s happend. Sad sad times to be fan of the club.

    • This is exactly how I feel.
      The club is now like the city. Left behind with no investment no strategy and no way to thrive in the future. Just terminal decline.
      It’s why the “success” of the Parkinson years was so poignant. We could truly be proud on a national scale. No Excuses no caveats no qualifications we were 100pc proud to be Bradford and not be a laughing stock but be really effing good on merit grit determination organisation and ultimately results. Very sad to be feeling like this today
      CTID still

  5. So sorry to see Stuart catch this as he loves the club deeply and he will be hurting a lot. He was handed a thankless task in a miserable year for us all, but his insistence on playing open football with players not equipped to do that was doomed.

    Inevitable that something had to change as its the worst position we could be in, and god help us if the season gets curtailed again when we get wave 3 covid after the New Year, because if we are in the bottom two it might stick as a final table. What a dreadful way that would be to end the club.

    So the need to act is indeed urgent and we need someone to hit the ground and grind out a couple of results in December, even before reinforcements (unless they can come next week from the available out of contract market). This has to come by going back to a solid system like 4-3-3- that he used ironically against Cheltenham when we looked a lot more solid and maybe merited a point (personally I’d look at eg 4-4-1-1 in this division with the players we have and the position we are in) and at least making ourselves hard to beat, maybe taking the odd point that we start each game with.

    Its dire and the sooner we are into the middle of the table the better, if that can be achieved. If we do go out of this league there is no recovery as we own nothing of value except our league status, and would be in immediate Administration.

    All I want for Christmas is some points, and maybe an odd win from somewhere, if you are reading this Santa.

  6. Judging by the fact that City are now asking for applications for the job, they don’t have any lined up at all. It looks to me like we will be going all-in with the new recruitment manager. Hopefully, we will manage to appoint someone before the January window to give the new guy some say in who we bring in, otherwise yet again we will have a manager who didn’t pick any of the players at the club.

    • Asking for applications is necessary to meet with certain employment obligations – I would be very surprised if we dont have one or two options already in the melting pot. I will predict a new manager will be in place to oversee a couple of games this year in readiness for the January window, and it would also not surprise me if whoever it is and the new recruitment manager are both aware of each other and discussions are already planned to take place – see what happens in the next few days.
      Putting the 2 youth team managers in charge for Tuesday makes a lot of sense in that they can purely focus on the Crawley match and the hierarchy can focus on getting the new management team in place – we are in an almighty mess and time is of the essence

  7. As sad as this is ,something had to be done. It was simple, keep Maccall as manager and trust him to bring in the players necessary to move us up the league , or pull the trigger, give a new man time to assess what is needed and fire up his contacts in the game to get the players needed. The mistakes made by Maccall are numerous, a number2 with no football league experience, a refusal to strengthen the squad at the beginning of the season despite knowing we were facing two game a week, stubborn reliance on a system that was patently no good for the players, Having Clayton Donaldson trying to run and harry like a 19 year old was ‘mistaken’ Anybody of an age will remember Cambell, compete for the ball on the centre circle, lay it off and amble into the penalty area , that is where Donaldson should be battling. And a refusal to look to short term out of contract players for bolstering the squad until January. It is sad that the sack was needed, We still remember Maccall as a playing legend, but, like many before him, as a manager sadly, he didn’t hack it.

  8. The new manager gets the next transfer window, so a lesson learned there from letting Gary Bowyer bring in the new recruits to then get sacked after. So whoever is in as the next manager ( my fingers are crossed who I hope it is ) can bring in his style of players to make an immediate change and hopefully a massive impact, and one thing is for sure all these teams in this league who we let roll us over and tickle our tummy, will not know the new set up and we should be able to grind results out, lets face it no one is outstanding in the league so not a massive task to bring in 5 or 6 to turn this around and stop talking of National League.

    I just hope we give them time to build, we once did have someone who did that before and it was not broke, let’s hope history repeats itself, patience is of the essence now, small steps to get safe and anything more is a bonus this season, Barnsley were bottom of the league once and got promoted via playoffs, but I will take safety thanks 🙏

  9. I guess stability just went out of the window. That 12 month contract extension on the back of quotes of stability now looks a foolish decision.

    • ‘I read that the half-life of a Manager in league 1 is just 10 months. How are you supposed to have long-term goals like that? You can’t’…………………………… and that’s what makes us stand out from the rest!

      Which owner of an English football Club said those words? Here is a clue: The average ‘half-life’ of those managers (6) at the Club he has owned over the last 4 1/2 years is (Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrum-roll): NINE MONTHS!

  10. With Stuart going i feel the walls that built valley parade are now shaking cracking and probably about to fall into dust, He had an enormous job with this squad of Selfish, uncaring, Braindead, Unprofessional never will be footballers and you the supporters in search of glory we end with Nothing not even a Club Megastar a Legend to pin our hopes on we have Nothing.
    so i hope you will keep shouting and screaming until we have rid of all the Crap dead wood players we have and also start a big enquiry into who comes in and stop papering over now very wide cracks in management procedures’
    Now is the time for the biggest clear out of all time All the Dross HAS to go and it had better HURT

    • All the dross can only go when their contracts run out. Not one player from last season was retained unless we had no choice. We have to suck it up and accept that BRE will be here till May. As Stuart said, he tried to get rid of him in the summer. Not surprisingly no-one was interested. Given our thin squad and injury woes he’s likely to wear the shirt again.
      So the new man still has the dross to play with.

  11. The king is dead….long live the king!?

    Who that will be is anyones guess.

    Does ANY City supporter have the confidence that those with the grand titles such as OWNER and CEO have it in them to make the right appointment???

    I Would love to know what experience for interviewing for ANY senior role, our CEO has?

    This club was a great and special club with strong links to the community.



    We are seen as a joke amongst most of our supporters

    Turn the light off on the way out someone.

  12. I find the sacking of Stuart really sad I feel the club has let him down from the top to the bottom if the players had 1/10 of Stuart’s heart we would be ok .The so called fans wanting to City to lose so could vent their anger on Stuart are total disgrace to all concerned with the club and be careful who they wish for as these are same fans who will want him out after 8-10 games , have watched city over 40 years and sadly today is the day i have had enough really have !

    • I feel for you, exactly the same.
      We are a joke, the club are mugging off any supporters they have left.
      I have been a City supporter for nearly 40 years.

      I then classed myself as a ” follower”.

      That too has now fallen by the wayside.

      I wonder how many feel the same?

      Until / if we actually get people back in charge who care and have the finance and actually know what they are doing to move us in the right direction.

      Then I see no point.

      Sad days and times ahead.

    • I’m with you on that one. I’ve seen McCall play in the 80s and 90s like no one else. I’ve seen him give his all as a manager on numerous occasions. Sacking him feels sickening, as we know the true issue is the owner and the off field decisions. I’m gutted and I’ve had enough.
      Shame on any fan who called for his head. He tried to play football the right way. He went to win every game. With so many injuries and a want away, disinterested, chairman they turned on our Legend instead. Shame on you. Disgraceful

      • What has this owner done wrong apart from chucking money down a bottomless pit only to to be squandered by people who he was entitled to trust. I would have cut my losses long ago and got the hell out of it all.

    • yep, there is one who frequents these pages (despite been banned once before and using various guises and names) who said he was “looking forward” to hearing the excuses of another loss. Some of the things said about McCall have been disgraceful and shameful tbh. Well now they can move onto their next target.

  13. Since sacking Paul Jewell over 20 years ago now, we’ve appointed SEVENTEEN new managers (McCall counted as three). That doesn’t include temporary managers.

    16 of them have left the club in a worse position than when they arrived. Just let that sink in…

    The only exception being Phil Parkinson.

    Many managers had records of success/promotions. Recently Hopkins, Bowyer and Grayson for example.

    So we’re either the unluckiest club on the planet or, the problems lie much deeper. This points to the running and lack of foundations within the club for the past two decades.

    The facts point emphatically to the latter.

    • Probably the best comment on the sacking that I will read.

    • Its an unbelievable stat everything considered. Made worse when you consider that Parky was in the top 5 longest reigning managers in all 4 divisions when he left. Ultimately it comes down to ownership and money. Imagine a true city fan with Rupps or Tordoffs wealth willing to invest. Even without that dream you have the likes of Accrington in a division above. Blaming managers for structural failings by owners just leads to no consistency or chance to build. We now appear to be allowing a manager just one transfer window to succeed. We eventually saw with Lawn and Rhodes that given time a formula can be achieved. Shame that the next step was a backwards one, cheers Edin.

    • Jewell’s appointment as manager was the last time that we have sacked a manager and then improved as a result. Hutchings, Jeffries, Law, Todd, Taylor, McCall2, Collins, Hopkin and Bowyer, all sacked with no improvement by their successor. The only time things ever got better was after Jacko quit and Parky came in.
      I’m not sure that this time will be any better.

  14. Just a small point.
    Could it be that the seemingly untimely decision to extend Stuart’s contract was taken in the knowledge that the end was imminent? Perhaps a magnanimous gesture by the club’s senior management to sugar the pill?
    Maybe there is still a heart at the centre of the club.

  15. Sorry to see Stuart go but it was inevitable. His poor recruiting and lack of team organisation was self evident. We need a Manager with experience and one who knows how to get teams to defend. In many ways we not bad going forward but we’re awful without the ball. Our midfield is so easy for teams to run through meaning we need a strong central midfielder plus a centre back for starters.

  16. I felt it was time for Stuart to step aside after the game, but then listened to the post match interview.

    You cannot question Stuart’s passion, and I don’t think you can question the fact the the club have let him down. Novak, Clarke and Evans fit for Crawley – maybe he should have been given another couple of games. Maybe the recruitment specialist would have given him the tools he needed.

    It’s all ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. A big decision has just been made. Let’s hope that someone, somewhere, knows what he’s doing!

    • Does make you wonder if the delaying of announcing the Head of Recruitment was based on the potential of Stuart been sacked. Indeed would it be surprising if the new manger is ‘connected’ in some way to the new head of recruitment?

      • I think you might be reading too much into this – after all it’s City we’re talking about!

        If it’s a choice between conspiracy and cock up I know what my money’s on.

        That final interview was interesting though. In many ways it raised more questions than it answered. I wonder if we’ll ever know the full story here. Somehow I doubt it.

  17. I get very envious when i look at how well run smaller clubs do at our level and above in terms of result’s and the running of there club’s. Peterborough are one club ill mention buy talent and sell on for bigger profit. The chairman said they have brought in nearly 24 million in transfer fees with there strategy and there scouting method’s. The new manager must be one tough no nonsense type of manager… I don’t care what the type of football we will watch so long has its winning football at our level. This next 6 months and the decisions made are so important because relegation will see the club fold

  18. The club had no choice other than to sack McCall. It wasn’t fantastic attacking football that stops McCall changing losing runs, it’s the fact the team look disorganised, clueless, totally lacking in fitness. The same defenders he inherited were capable of clean sheets under Bowyer but McCall couldn’t get a tune out of them. We were heading for the dreaded drop under McCall, we now half half a chance of staying up.

  19. I fail to see the logic in extending Stuart’s contract a fortnight ago when results had been so poor and unlikely to improve until squad strengthened in Jan along with the extra help promised for Stuart. Then to sack him two weeks later is unbelievable and doesn’t seem to make commercial sense either. Who is responsible for these decisions? I hope it’s not a question of new brooms … if so, I’ve now no confidence in the club going forward.

    • I hear Stuart hasn’t took a penny on what’s left on his contract

      • Where did you hear that?

      • You really couldn’t get a more decent and honest guy. I feel gutted for him. I’ve only just listened to
        His post match interview and felt incensed by the questions towards the end. He doesn’t deserve such criticism. He got us to Wembley in what must’ve been an extremely difficult year under Rahic and we were unlucky to lose.

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