The return of a (very) irregular feature
Written by Jason McKeown (images by John Dewhirst)
Reece Staunton’s Bradford City career stutter is disappointing, but can the player respond positively to Adams’ tough love?
If you read many footballer autobiographies – and I tend to go through a lot – you’ll quickly build up a sense of how often different managers shape a player’s career.
Player A is flourishing under Manager B, but then they’re sacked and Manager C comes in, who freezes Player A out. Eventually they sign for another club, where Manager D seems great at first, but turns out to be tactically clueless. Then Manager E takes over and the player gets a new lease of life.
Reece Staunton is a long way off anyone asking him to write an autobiography, but if he one day does pen one, the manager heroes and villains of his fledgling career are easy to imagine. Stuart McCall will be a hero to Staunton – he gave the defender his debut back in 2017, when Reece became the youngest player in the club’s history, at the age of 15 years and 332 days. And last season, McCall elevated Staunton to first team regular, where the Bradford-born defender flourished. When Staunton suffered a bad injury a year ago, it sent City spiraling into a relegation battle.
Now fit again after missing the rest of last season, for Staunton it might be easy to assume that Derek Adams is on track to go down as a villain in the player’s personal story. The high regard McCall had for Staunton does not appear to be shared by Adams, who has not given the player a single minute’s worth of league action, restricting his appearances to two Football League Trophy outings. And, last week, Adams sent Staunton out on loan to National League North neighbours Bradford Park Avenue.
From the outside, it hasn’t looked like a good fit from day one. In a pre-season friendly at Guiseley, Adams played Staunton as a holding midfielder, declaring afterwards he doesn’t see him as a centre half. Staunton was never personally named, but was part of public blasts from Adams following poor team performances in defeat at Chesterfield in a friendly and Manchester United Under 21s in the Football League Trophy. Adams has made it clear he only trusts certain members of his squad to start matches, and it is obvious that Staunton is not part of that group.
It’s quite the change in fortunes for the player. Up until his injury last season, Staunton was arguably the frontrunner for 2020/21 player of the season. During that period, the club awarded him a four-year contract, with McCall purring, “He is a player with great potential.” This came less than a year after Staunton had been given a first professional contract under Gary Bowyer, who said at the time, “When I first arrived at the club, the academy staff rightly identified Reece as a player, along with a few others, who could potentially break into the first team. We have had a plan for him since then.”
It is, of course, down to Staunton to impress Derek Adams. And there were signs that he was starting to do so a week ago, when the 19-year-old produced a man of the match display in the final Football League Trophy game at Sunderland. Nevertheless, Adams’ unwillingness to play Staunton more regularly – especially with the current 5-3-2 formation seemingly suited to his ball-playing skills – is puzzling to many supporters. And there are questions about how much Staunton can learn from dropping down two levels to play for Avenue.
Add in the fact Staunton can’t be recalled during the initial 28 days loan period, plus the midweek developments that have seen Liam Ridehalgh miss the Exeter FA Cup replay due to illness, and Paudie O’Connor and Yann Songo’o pick up injuries, and the decision is even more curious. City head to this weekend potentially short of left sided defensive options, which Staunton could have provided.
Ultimately, Adams is here to win football matches. That will define whether he keeps his job or is eventually sacked. The pressures from supporters and the top of the club are for promotion. No one will thank him for developing young players if he doesn’t win enough football matches – just ask McCall – and the experienced manager has the full right to operate in the way he deems best.
There are also plenty of reasons to believe that – in the long-run – the Adams’ tough love might help Staunton. He is only 19 after all, and getting game time at the Horsfall Stadium could well be more worthwhile than spending time on the City bench, waiting for an injury to O’Connor or Niall Canavan. Plenty of young footballers who ultimately make it can look back on loan spells down the football pyramid that significantly aided their game. Hopefully, Staunton will be able to say the same.
But rightly or wrongly, the public perception of the way Adams is managing City’s promising youth crop isn’t great. He has come down hard on the likes of Staunton, Jorge Sikora, Finn Cousin-Dawson and Kian Scales for poor performances. Yet has allowed other, more senior players to get away with similar drops in standard. Take the Manchester United Under 21s defeat, when Adams blasted his fringe players. Staunton didn’t set the world alight that night, but he was hardly the worst player on the pitch. Others – such as Songo’o – had really poor games, yet were named in the first team the following Saturday.
If Staunton (and other City youth products) are to be punished for one bad game, why aren’t senior players?
We’ve seen enough of Staunton to believe that, with the right development and opportunities, he can go onto become a very good player for the club. And though some will argue, with justification, that young players should be treated no differently to others, the fact is Bradford City as a football club has spent a lot of years – and money – developing players like Staunton. It is a big investment that appeared to be on the brink of being rewarded with Staunton looking like a first team-capable player, and perhaps even someone who could be sold to a higher league club for decent money down the line. As Bowyer said, there was a plan.
Hopefully, this will be the making of Staunton – and, in 20 years’ time, he’s sitting down to write his autobiography, describing Adams as one of the managers who aided his development. But if the player’s career does go downwards from here, it’s easy to see who Staunton might blame – as will many supporters.
The youth team are out the FA Youth Cup – but at least they followed the rules
Speaking of City youth players, on Wednesday I popped down to Valley Parade to watch the FA Youth Cup game against Oldham Athletic. Over 600 fans were in attendance in the Kop, and it was a good atmosphere for the next crop of Bantams under 18s to play in front of.
They couldn’t have made a better start when, two minutes in, Jay Tinsdale sent over an excellent cross that was headed home by captain Bobby Pointon. But Oldham’s response was quick, and by the sixth minute they had equalised when Jim Simms was played through and finished well.
The Under 18s – managed by Martin Drury – are certainly adaptable. Drury changed the formation three times in the first 26 minutes alone. Jack Wilson – one of the standout performers on the night – played in four different positions over the 90 minutes. On this evidence, City’s most promising youngster is centre half Noah Wadsworth, who looks very assured, reads the game well and caught the eye bringing the ball out of defence.
Unfortunately, Oldham were too good for City on the night, with Simms going onto net a hat trick. In the second half City struggled to lay a glove on Oldham, although they were hampered by a quirk of the new rule about substitutions in the FA Cup.
With around 10 minutes to go, Wadsworth went down injured and had to go off. City had not used all five of their allowed subs, and someone was stripped off and ready to come on. But the rule this season is that you can only make those five subs over three separate occasions – and the Bantams had used up their slots. So they had to play out the final 10 minutes with 10 men, knowing that – if they could have equalised (the score 2-1 at the time) and forced extra time – they could have then made that final sub and gone back to 11 men.
So out the FA Youth Cup, but at least we obeyed the rules. Are you watching, Matt Taylor?
Bradford City’s most vocal supporters are setting an example to everyone else, but their removal from the heart of Valley Parade is curbing their influence
On Saturday the Bantams welcome Northampton Town for a really important home game. You can be sure that fans in the North West corner will be up for the occasion, and will sing their hearts out passionately for 90 minutes.
Known as the North West Kollektive, the opening up of an atmosphere section at Valley Parade has been interesting. My season ticket seat is in the lower tier of the Kop, in a block close by the North West corner. This season, the noise this group of supporters have made has been really impressive. The enthusiasm and positivity they display a great example. There are times when it’s as much fun to look up and see them bouncing along to a chant and waving giant flags as it is to watch the action on the pitch.
I tweeted about this after the Oldham victory back in August, and was surprised to get several replies from other fans who said they could barely hear these fans. And in October, when Hartlepool came to Valley Parade, I found out why. On that dismal Tuesday evening, I sat in a different part of the Kop. The difference in the volume of noise was astounding. You struggled to hear the North West corner. It really did sound like they were situated too far away from everyone else.
The group of fans who have set up home in the North West corner were previously part of the Kop upper tier K block. A central part of the club’s big stand behind the goal, and the source of chants that a large section of fans in the Kop would join in with – the ripple effect seeing many fans in the Midland Road and Main Stand take part too. Now, the club’s most vocal fans are separate and – against Hartlepool – the Kop was much quieter. There is nothing to stop everyone joining in with them, but with the noise coming from further away it seems that fewer people are willing to do so. And that is creating a bit of a problem.
Valley Parade, overall, is much quieter than it used to be.
The T&A’s Simon Parker ran a great feature about the North West Kollektive earlier in the season, with one of the chief atmosphere section organisers – Ben Hall – explaining the reason for the move. “The biggest problem with the Kop is its size and putting out the flags on seats was such a logistical issue.” On the move to the North West corner, Ben said, “Hopefully, two or three years down the line, it will get bigger and bigger and we’ll be able to at least fill the middle bits of the corner as well. There’s always going to be a lot of people who want to stay in the Kop. But we’ve made it clear we’re not going back because it makes no sense for us to be in there.”
Clearly, the fans who make up the North West Kollektive are having a great time in their new home. They have the opportunity to make the noise they want to make, and know they are surrounded by like-minded people. But moving in this way does slightly take the heart out of the club’s traditional vocal home end. For many of us, a season ticket seat is steeped in tradition. You renew the same spot year after year, sat with your mates and family – and getting to know others around you. It’s no surprise a lot of fans have resisted switching over to the North West corner, but it does leave a fragmented effect. The noise is no longer carrying.
A few years ago, a Four Four Two feature ranked every single ground in the 92 for atmosphere, and Valley Parade finished in an impressive third place. This was during the 2012-17 glory days where the atmosphere inside the famous old ground was outstanding. It has not surprisingly taken a hit in recent years given the on the field struggles. This season, despite sounding good where I sit, it clearly isn’t as good as it can be to fans in other parts of the ground.
None of this is the North West Kollektive’s fault, but you are left wishing for a way that they could be more central to the rest of the crowd, rather than a separate entity. The rest of us need them.
It’s feast or famine for Bradford City and cups – the true cost of this year’s struggles will be truly seen in January
No WOAP match report this week of the Exeter game I’m afraid. And though the defeat was far from unexpected, it’s disappointing that once again all of Bradford City’s cup interest could be over before Christmas.
There is still a very good chance of an FA Cup reprieve, following the news of an FA investigation into Exeter City using six subs when only five were permitted. This could result in the replay being replayed, or City getting reinstated and Exeter booted out. The Bantams have kept their counsel, but it would be very understandable if they are fighting hard to get the result nulled.
Should the extra time loss in Devon stand, it would mean that it’s four seasons since the Bantams last reached the potentially lucrative third round of the FA Cup. They’ve also bowed out of the Football League trophy at the group stage for four straight seasons. And – since the amazing run to Wembley in 2013 – City have been knocked out at the League Cup first round in seven of the last nine years.
There is always an argument to make that cup football can be too distracting when the ultimate goal is to go for promotion. In 2014/15, when City reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup, the resultant league fixture pile up arguably cost them a play off spot. And even though they went up the same season they reached the League Cup final, the cup heroics of 2012/13 did hold them back from making a stronger push for the automatic promotion spots.
But there are often morale, confidence and momentum benefits gleaned from a good cup run – and, of course, financial rewards. The self-sustaining model of 2012-17 meant that the cup revenue from the runs of 2013 and 2015 went some way to improving the squad and helping the club continue to move forwards.
That’s why getting back into the FA Cup is not to be sniffed at. If they’re reinstated, that’s presumably £22,629 in prize money they’d receive. Win at Cambridge in round two, and there’s another £34,000 windfall. And that’s before the draw for the third round, where a lucrative tie would become a strong possibility.
It’s an awful lot of ifs and buts, yet it shows just how much the outcome of the FA investigation could be huge on City’s season. As it might go some way to determining how much Derek Adams can strengthen the squad in January, and – in turn – heavily influence the club’s prospects for mounting a successful promotion push.