Continuing from part one, WOAP writers Nikhil Vekaria, Mark Danylczuk, Mesh Johal and Ian Sheard discuss the expectations for the remainder of Bradford City’s 2020/21 campaign, and how following the club remotely is contributing to their lockdown experience.
Have the off-the-field changes left you feeling more or less confident about the direction of the club?
Ian: Less. I’m sure a dissertation could be written about the off-field changes at Bradford City since 2000! Unfortunately, I think until we get an owner who likes football we are going to be stuck in this situation for a long time.
I don’t think Rupp wants to destroy the club or wants to see it disappear into obscurity. I think he knows the importance of the club and the need for it. On the other hand is he going to invest millions into the club? No. Is his rumoured estimation of £10m a long way off the mark? Maybe. Are we going to get an investor who will buy the club and rocket us through the leagues? I doubt it very much.
The trouble is once you’ve bought the club there’s still a number of issues that need addressing such as: the ownership of the ground, the need for recruitment, certain areas of the ground needing a facelift and also the ongoing issue of the pitch. On top of that making up what has been lost since March and keeping ticket prices affordable. It’s not an attractive football club to buy, but then which club is? No one buys a club to make a profit.
Having said all that we are not in the situation of some clubs who have been affected astronomically by COVID and risk going out of business. We know for a fact that as soon as we can we will be and the money will come back into the club.
I’ll change my answer to no, but grateful we have a club.
Nikhil: Less confident. I like Ryan Sparks and I strongly believe he has the best interests of Bradford City close to his heart. However, the decision to give Stuart McCall a new deal genuinely baffled me – I don’t think there’s another professional club in England who would have backed a manager that way in the situation we were in.
As I alluded to in part one, I’m also sceptical that the long-term plan after sacking McCall would be to appoint Trueman and Sellars as managers, although it remains to be seen how long their ‘interim’ charge lasts.
I think the appointment of Lee Turnbull to help with recruitment is a positive sign, especially considering our patchy (shall we just call it that…) record in recent January windows, although I will reserve final judgement until I’ve seen who we bring into the club.
I really hope that I’m proven wrong here and the club starts to change direction and look upwards, but after the last few years, I’m not overly confident or optimistic just yet.
Mark: Mixed opinion. I would say less confident due to the amount of personnel change at the club and the mixture of inexperience in key positions such as the first team managers and the CEO – but with new faces also comes a fresh outlook.
I am pleased though, that the club enforced change and a new direction by initially making the key decision to remove McCall when it became clear that his methods were not working and the players were not playing for him. Initially it seems the correct call based on the subsequent improved performances under Trueman and Sellars. I think the jury is out on Ryan Sparks as CEO, but I believe he should be given a chance.
Mesh: Undecided. The whole “Stuart contract extension/sacking episode” initially left me with little confidence in the new regime. Lee Turnbull’s arrival is a step in the right direction and should offer Sparks much needed support on the playing side, whilst also allowing him to concentrate on the commercial side of the club.
With the reality of little live football this year, it is going to be a huge task to persuade a fragmented and distant fan base into buying 9k+ seasons tickets again.
What should be the expectations for the second half of the season?
Mark: Top half finish. Based on the current mini-run and that with the current squad we can produce performances and victories, I think we should be aiming to finish in the top half however the play offs might just be a step too far.
It is important to note that we are far from out of the woods when you look at the current form of the teams below us in the table and how tight it is at the bottom. A bad result or two could have us looking back towards a relegation battle but hopefully we string together a much more consistent run of good results leading to a top half finish.
Mesh: Consolidation. This season is a write off in my opinion. Let’s ensure we stay up and use these next six months to properly plan a promotion assault. We need to learn from this summer and not repeat Stuart’s recruitment mistakes.
Ian: Safety. I mean this in terms of our position in the Football League and also financially. Sounds a bit Jim Davidson from Big Break but ‘pot as many balls as you can’ aka get as many points as you can! It doesn’t have to pretty, the sooner we get out this league the better.
Nikhil: Survive comfortably. After the shocking start we had, I’m not going to get ahead of myself and start talking up our chances of a late charge to the play-offs. I also think there will inevitably be some sort of drop-off after the superb early form under Trueman and Sellars.
It’ll be interesting to see how the recent break, enforced by a combination of Covid-19 and the weather, impacts the squad. I’m intrigued to see if it’ll have been a good opportunity to rest and work on things on the training ground, or whether it’ll have caused a loss of rhythm and general rustiness.
I mentioned earlier that I’m not convinced we’re totally safe yet and I do stand by that, especially considering the recent upturn at Southend (who I thought were long gone) and the appointment of Paul Hurst at Grimsby. However, I don’t think our squad is in the worst two in the division and I’d expect that over the season, we’ll pull away and find ourselves sat in relative comfort in lower mid table.
How have you found the experience of supporting City remotely?
Mesh: Soulless. I go to Valley Parade to hear the metal clanking of the turnstiles, the collective roar of “go on” when a player is through on goal, and of course that intake of breath and the release of emotion when you see the net ruffle. That electricity and buzz can not be replicated in your home.
Mark: Generally positive. From my own personal experience, I haven’t had many glitches in terms of using the iFollow platform so most of the games have run smoothly for me. I do enjoy the convenience of watching from home in not having to brave any inclement weather for one thing!
Of course I would love to be at Valley Parade watching in person as the live experience cannot be matched, but I fully appreciate the ability to be provided a service of watching every game for your convenience at home.
Ian: Certainly different. It has been nice to watch City from the comfort of my own home when iFollow works! But I do miss the whole matchday experience. And my mates. And the pre and post-match beers. Not the drum though! I also miss Derm Tanner!
It’s certainly different watching on the TV, especially when your mate texts you ‘get in’ and then 30 seconds later you see the goal. Hopefully, it’s not something we have to get used to long term and we can be back moaning about City in the ground!
Nikhil: Different. As someone who was very used to attending games, it’s been weird to simply switch on the laptop five minutes before kick-off and watch the match. I’ve quite enjoyed the experience of being able to see replays as I’m occasionally guilty of chatting to the blokes next to me and missing key moments at live games.
In a sad way, I think I’ve almost got used to it now and it feels very ‘normal’. However, you definitely can’t replicate that live experience and I’m looking forward to getting back into grounds when we can.
What way has Bradford City contributed to helping or hindering you during these challenging times?
Ian: Community We’ve got a club for one! Other than sorting out issues with iFollow I don’t know what else they can do. It’s a shame we haven’t been able to go in the ground but that’s out of the club’s hands. I have been pleased that they have taken up the initiative of helping out the community. I think that’s what the club should be about.
Mark: Helped, but more football as a whole. I think many sports fans would argue that keeping sport running during these times has given them some sense of ‘normality’, something to look forward to/discussing and been an assistance to mental health.
As an avid football fan keen on the Premier League and other divisions, the game as a whole (including watching City) has helped me pass many an evening, provide some enjoyment during these challenging times and given me and my friends something new to talk about!
Nikhil: I think the routine of having something to do in these difficult times has been a positive and tuning into games at 3pm on a Saturday has broken up the boredom of living under so many different restrictions. I’d also say that the football being on generally has helped to offer an escape and I’ve found myself watching more Premier League games than I usually would.
What do you miss most about not being able to go to Bradford City games?
Mesh: See How have you found the experience of supporting City remotely?
Nikhil: The people. I love City to bits, but we’ve hardly been going for the quality of football over the last few seasons, have we?
However, I love the matchday experience and the opportunity to connect with people I don’t usually see or speak to away from the football. I miss walking into the Latvian Club or walking down North Parade on a Saturday morning and having a few beers with people who I enjoy spending time with.
Mark: Pub/social/match atmosphere. A large part of the matchday experience for me is the social aspect which I do miss. A few pre match craft beers on North Parade, catching up with friends, the buzz and chatter in the pub – it very much enhances my enjoyment in the build up to the game.
And as for Valley Parade itself, you just can’t beat the crowd atmosphere particularly when celebrating a goal and even more so, if it’s a rousing comeback or a late winner.
What’s surprised you most about this season?
Mark: Upturn in results since McCall’s departure. I wasn’t sure what the effect would be with the interim managerial appointment and how the players would react but I didn’t see the good run of form coming from the players who had taken us to the foot of League Two and with an inexperienced managerial duo at the helm.
It has been a pleasant surprise (Lee Novak’s return/experience/goal scoring also must be credited) and provided some short term relief and joy initially!
Nikhil: I think I’ve been most surprised about just how bad we were at the start of the season! I know that there were some concerns from sections of the support over the summer about the transfer business the club had done, but I certainly don’t think we’ve got a squad that should be fighting a relegation battle in League Two.
In the rest of League Two, I’ve been surprised by the performances of Carlisle, Crawley and Morecambe, all of whom have excelled my own expectations of what they’d achieve this campaign.
If I can be cheeky and lob a little prediction in at the end – I think Carlisle, Newport County and Forest Green Rovers will go up automatically and be joined by Salford who will win the play-offs.
Mesh: That Stuart persisted with playing Dylan Mottley Henry and Kurtis Guthrie.
Ian: Resilience. We’ve changed so much in the last few games since Stuart left. We look, play and respond like a different team. The 1-0 against Tranmere and Cambridge proved that. Defensively we look more organised, we have remembered how to finish our chances and seem to be a lot calmer and organised defensively.
I was desperate for Stuart to work his magic again but it wasn’t to be. He’ll always be a legend to me and no one can argue his commitment to the club as a whole.
Whatever happened is now in the past. I just hope this new-found resilience continues to thrive under Trueman and Sellars. The players seem to respond to them and respect them. Not that they didn’t for Stuart, but they seem different players. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction to a defeat but, looking at the squad now, I believe we’d respond well to it.