What it takes to play for Bradford City

By Jason McKeown

What does it take to play for a club like Bradford City? As the Bantams went down to a wretched defeat to League Two strugglers Carlisle United on Saturday, it’s a question that feels especially pertinent given the club’s ongoing struggles to live up to pre-season expectations.

Jordan Gibson and Omari Patrick were ultimately deemed to not have what it takes to play for Bradford City. They came to the club, as young players, in the summer of 2017. Against a backdrop of high managerial turnover, a toxic ownership issue and relegation from League One, both players struggled to make the mark (combined league starts: 13). They were ultimately moved on and had to rebuild their careers.

On Saturday, both Gibson and Patrick scored against their former club, and each player chose to celebrate by goading Bradford City supporters who had booed them during the match. It was an embarrassing spectacle to watch players supposedly not good enough to be at your club play like League Two world beaters. Letting them leave was supposed to lead to improvement, not regression.

What did this humbling to discarded former Bradford City players say about the current bunch? In front of another huge away following, Derek Adams’ side wilted under the pressure and produced a feeble performance. At the final whistle, there were chants of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’. The players – minus Adams, who never comes to face supporters at full time, win or lose – exited the field with the boos ringing in the ears. The league table finds them 14th position at the half way stage of the campaign. They kicked off this season favourites to win the league.

Up in the stand above the players at Brunton Park there was at least one person who can say with confidence he knows what it takes to play for Bradford City. Gary Jones was on co-commentary duty for BBC Radio Leeds and could not hide his anger and despair at what he was seeing from this group of Bantams players.

It wasn’t so much the performance – as Jones explained, “we all have off games” – but the lack of effort. Jones argued that City’s players should have been doing a lot more. “You can still run around and put pressure on your opponents”, he exclaimed, adding that City supporters “at the very least want to see them working their socks off. It costs nothing to do that. It should be a given every time on the football pitch.”

It’s cruel to compare arguably the most inspirational Bradford City player of the last 20 years with the current squad, but the standards he set offers pertinent lessons to the 2021/22 vintage. It’s almost eight years to the day since the famous 2-2 draw against Sheffield United, a match that will be forever known as the ‘Gary Jones Game’ for reasons he articulated brilliantly when summarising at Brunton Park this weekend.

In that game at Sheffield United, the Bantams were 2-0 down in the first half and playing very badly. Jones was as poor as anyone. And when he talked on Saturday about how players can sometimes have off days, he was relaying personal experience.

But it’s what he did next that day that made it the Gary Jones Game.

On that afternoon at Bramall Lane, Jones would not accept City’s dismal surrender. He refused to let his own disappointing display act as an excuse to roll over. So he got into the face of his team mates. He loudly demanded the ball. He grabbed hold of the entire team in the second half. Inspiring every single City player to aim for higher standards and give everything they had.

City came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2. Jones netted the Bantams’ first goal and set up the equaliser. A point rescued from a hopeless situation.

He never gave up. And we loved him for that.

Jones left that summer, but his influence lived on in the history maker team mates who continued to thrive and set the culture for the dressing room. It was a remarkable time for the club. Not always plain sailing and some bumps along the way, but a huge inner resolve and determination to ride out the difficult moments and come back stronger.

Heavy pressure and some tough moments in front of a demanding crowd. “You’ve got to be a certain type of player to play for Bradford, to handle it,” Jones said in 2017. “We wore our hearts on our sleeve every time we stepped on that field, we gave 100% – I think that’s what a lot of supporters related to.”

Those players knew what it took to play for Bradford City. And when Gibson and Patrick walked into Valley Parade in the summer of 2017, the last traces of that culture were being wiped away. James Hanson, James Meredith, Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby had just gone. Billy Clarke – a player who came after Jones left, but was deemed such a positive influence he was infamously named in Phil Parkinson’s inner circle by a bitter Alan Sheehan – had just been sold to Charlton. Senior players like Tony McMahon, Romain Vincelot, Matt Kilgallon and Colin Doyle were still there to continue the legacy, but not for long.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that, within the dismal drop in the squad’s character that has followed since 2017, Gibson and Patrick struggled to thrive. But as various bad eggs have come and gone, the bigger worry for City right now is that those old high standards and character remain elusive.

It is this – as much as a striker who can score a hatful to support Andy Cook, a right midfielder who can consistently assist, and a right back who can actually defend – that is needed in this January window.

Adams has talked a lot about having too many losers in his squad. And he needs to find players with the confidence and character to play with their shoulders broad and their chests puffed out. To relish the challenge of playing for the biggest crowd in League Two. Not just for those days where things are going well and thousands are chanting their name, but those difficult moments when instead of hiding you need to stand up and be counted.

Does Derek Adams recognise the type of player who has what it takes to play for Bradford City? He has been given the benefit of the doubt about the summer transfer activity, and that’s fair to an extent. But with the behind-the-scenes changes to the recruitment set-up that he has overseen, this January there can be no doubt the incomings will be his choosing and how they perform a full reflection on the manager. The club must also do their bit by ensuring Adams is adequately backed and able to bring in the type of players he wants.

If we see improvements from the January arrivals, especially to the overall squad standards, then belief can be retained that Adams is the right man to lead us forward, even if promotion doesn’t occur this season. But if there is no improvement, the pressure will inevitably be heaped on his shoulders. City so often change managers in February, and Adams will do well to survive what seems to be an annual Valley Parade managerial storm at that time of the year.

The players have a lot to prove after Saturday. And so does everyone directly involved in the running of the football club. These next few weeks are going to tell us an awful lot. Ultimately, the Bantams need to emerge from the window much closer to having a group of players who know exactly what it takes to play for Bradford City.



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17 replies

  1. Good piece Jason. In my opinion we’ve never replaced Gary Jones. The in your face, dictate tempo type of midfielder. Watt and Cooke just don’t have the tenacity to stamp their authority on a game and win the battles. Songo’O too has been a disappointment, as I had high hopes he could be the general we’re crying out for. Maybe it’s because he’s having to protect a back four seriously lacking in both pace and ability. Adams has to find the nasty players who can upset opponents. Nathan Doyle, Davies, McArdle, Mcmahon were all no nonsense players but would face up to the opposition.

    This season is another wasted season for me. Another season of becoming an established league 2 side rather than a side with ambitions of promotion. With every passing year we drift further and further away.

    I was in favour of Adams given his track record but I’m struggling with his cold approach to all things Bradford City. Bring success and no one cares, but carry on as he is and the fans will soon turn and we’ll be back to square one.

  2. Much is being made at the moment of Adams not saluting the fans at the end of the game. In modern times it has come to be expected and Adams is apparently not doing his standing with the fans much good. But I can see why he doesn’t. It would surely diminish his authority in the eyes of the players if he were seen to be roundly abused – as at Carlisle he surely would after ignominious defeat. In any case we need more than gestures from him and I personally am more irritated by his failure to answer journalists’ questions. He evades them by simply summarising the match, almost always inaccurately and simplistically. I sense, however, he is as angry and frustrated as the fans, having been sold the same lies. Don’t tell me he signed some of these players by choice! He signed some of them as fifth choice – he has said so – simply because he, himself, had no other choice given the constraints of the budget. So we blame Sparks. But by the same token Sparks, himself, does not set the budget; he merely administers it at the owner’s behest. So we blame the owner – he who was sold a different lie. And we go round in circles.

  3. Quick tip for you Jason, keep this article as a template as you must have lost count of the number of similar articles you have written over recent years for WOAP. Save it and use the time saved to spend with your family. Fans are starting to do the same.

    I was at Carlisle on Saturday and as the sight of Kelvin Mellor, another player that couldn’t hack it at VP, waving to City fans after the second goal was the final straw for the day I like hundreds of others left. On the way out I bumped into one young lad who is part of the hard core of the away following. In his 20’s he spends £1,000s following City home & away, week in week out. To say he was angry is an understatement “how much have I wasted following this shite”, “I’m been taken for a mug’… hard to argue with that.

    For all the empty promises that the club checks on the character of any player signing for City, it’s clear the majority can’t hack it. Is this down to recruitment (Derek’s current Get Out Of Jail Card), budget or management skills? It should be standard practice that they are taken onto the pitch at Valley Parade before signing and asked this question ‘We are 2-0 down at home against Harrogate, Sutton, Barrow etc. 15,000 City fans aren’t happy. What do you do? Are you up for the battle?” Can I recommend that Gary Jones runs this part of their job interview!

    Tomorrow night we have “An Evening with Derek” it is to be toxic. I’m sorry to say but I hope the manager & CEO don’t get an easy ride. There is only one question that needs answering and it needs answering straight with no media training buff or BS. We have had enough of that over the past decade.

    What is wrong with our club, what are you as the manager, CEO & owner doing to change this once and for all?

    The days of empty promises about getting the right players in, investment in backroom staff etc. etc are over. The club’s future goes beyond signing a few new faces in January. The next generation of hard core City fans are fed up, bored & are in danger of looking elsewhere for their Saturday entertainment.

  4. Good article. If Adams was restricted to 5th rate signings why on earth did he decide to come to Bradford? Surely he must have set conditions to taking the job! The signings made thus far has not improved the squad. I would say it’s made them worse. I want Adams to succeed. We don’t want a manager conveyer belt of constant changes. The signings this month will need to be inspiring. Anything less will be a betrayal to all fans of what was promised when purchasing season tickets.
    If signings are uninspiring then the club will fall apart. Rupp has a part to play. He needs to provide a budget that suits the desire of the fans. I believe this window could be a turning point with regard to where we will be next season. We need to attract quality and Jones type players. Sutton apart this squad is dire. So come on City board do the right thing and sort this out.

  5. The fans turned on McCall, Hopkin, Grayson, Bowyer and now Adams. It’s the club infrastructure that’s causing all the this.
    We don’t own our ground, we don’t own our own training ground and we have a totally disinterested Chairman. Sparks is keen but has a lot to learn and we need more experience.
    What a mess we are in! Nowt changes

  6. The worst aspect of all of this is that fans have had enough.
    They are losing interest hand over first.
    City supporters have always gone through tough times watching the Bantams but do so because as long as you have a team giving 100% for the cause, the rest of it can be excused.
    That’s why the McCalls, Jones, Darby, McCardles and Abbots are worshipped.
    Now and for a few seasons we have none of that.
    We have nothing to relate to on the field and off the field it’s worse.
    We have an owner who only becomes vocal when he himself is annoyed, not by what’s going on the field but by a spurious attempt to buy the club by semi serious needs using Monolopy money.
    We have a CEO who makes remarks that are quite honestly stupid. “We no longer accept mediocrity” and ” Anything less than promotion is failure”.
    Then when the going gets tough he disappears.
    We have a manager who quite frankly does not respect the fans or the media.
    He simply does not see it as part of his job to explain his actions to 1200 fans who have given time, effort and money to travel to Carlisle.
    He does not even acknowledge them.
    So we ask what it takes for players to play for City.
    Well all the things that Gary Jones said on Saturday.
    And more.
    Why does it take a former hero to say all this?
    A proper ex City player who has seen it and done it. Not one who played 13 games in total (Gibson and Patrick) and react as if they have scored in the Champions League. It was a low to mid table L2 game and they scored against a poor City team. They were not good enough and still wouldnt be.
    We should be asking what it takes to be the owner, CEO and manager of Bradford City.
    Because at the moment they hide when the going gets tough and in Bradford that is unacceptable.
    Grow some balls, Rupp, Sparks and Adam’s and at least have the guts to admit you got it wrong and what you are going to do to get it right.
    You might find that it gains you some respect.

    • well said Mark. i stopped going to fans forums a while ago. Too many sycophants in attendance. The last straw was when some lady stood on a box asked about those who attend reserve games like it was a superfan competition. However i hope they get the grilling they deserve imo. A simple read of your post out aloud would be a good starting point

  7. City were awful on Saturday but the reaction bordered on hysteria. This isn’t like last year (yet, hopefully).
    The players were rightly booed off but I thought ‘not fit to wear the shirt’ was taking it a bit far. I was disappointed, dejected and desperate for better but it was over the top in my mind.
    I think the City support is fantastic, turning out in their droves to watch dross, but there does seem to be a sense of entitlement – we may be a big city, but we are not a big club and it isn’t a shock for Carlisle to beat us!
    There also seems to be a nasty core in the social media. In the main I steer clear of it but the new lad Pereira has had grief already online and he hasn’t kicked a ball yet. These people actually seem to delight in failure.
    As I said the support in the main is fantastic and the social media warriors are evident all over not just City but I think we need a reality check at times.

    • I agree to an extent Rob, especial with respect to social media but I do think the reaction is a symptom of a lack of connection between the players and fanbase.

      This is manifested in banal post match interviews, and a manager that doesn’t acknowledge the supporters at the end of the game

      It might seem a small thing. When you are as good Brian Clough with 2 European cups under your belt you can do what you want. When you are a manager of a league 2 side which, by the club’s own admission, is badly under performing you really do need the supporters onside.

  8. A useful reminder for the current squad of players.
    During Phil Parkinson’s reign, which is plastered up all over the corporate area of the ground, we had the famous cup runs and the promotions. And you might think we lionise that era just because we won stuff.
    That’s partly true, of course.
    But also during that same period, Parkinson’s City team went 21 games without winning.
    Twenty-one.
    And not once during that period did the City fans chant “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”.
    And that’s because that team, unlike this one, never gave up or shirked their responsibilities.
    And the fans could see that.
    The players didn’t give clichéd answers in interviews about “going again”. They rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in.
    City fans don’t demand the impossible, that you win every week and play scintillating football.
    Listen to what Gary Jones actually had to say about playing for Bradford City. Having off days with the ball are acceptable providing you don’t ever have an off day with your pride or your standards.
    That is why fans of Bradford City will turn on you. Because your pride has gone. Because the easy stuff of running, chasing, thumping into tackles is somehow beneath you.
    And that’s why, if you’re not up for it, you should find another club very quickly.

  9. If Saturday had been a one-off it wouldn’t matter so much but it wasn’t. Sometimes these players react positively in adversity, more often than not they merely capitulate. This has been the pattern since the last Wembley appearance, basically, and standards have plummeted to boot. Watching a few “highlights of Chelsea v Chesterfield “ clarified, for me, several of the reasons why we are so poor. Chesterfield, 5-0 down, kept searching for and scored the goal that gave their fans some cheer. They had players who showed pride in themselves and their club. Their owner has shown that he hasn’t just bought a club; he’s investing to take the club forward. They are smaller than us but in the National League they pay over £150 more than us for adult “early bird” season tickets. A ‘quid pro quo’ I guess. Thus they can look beyond and above the drongoes we get.

  10. I was fuming over the weekend after that Carlisle loss – and said as much in my post on the match report yesterday.
    However I’ve calmed down a bit now and gained a bit of perspective.
    Its important to remember it is just a defeat. We tend to forget Parky’s teams also had bad defeats – as did Jagger’s, Cherry’s, Kamara’s etc. I think this one sticks out, along with the ‘Pools defeat as particularly bad because of the perceived lack of application from the players.
    Taking a longer term view you have to think are we better than we were this time last year? I’m sure you can dredge up stats like points gained after so many games, goals scored / conceded etc but my gut feeling is that we’re no better off – and that’s the disappointing thing – that’s the thing we should be fuming about.
    Last years January window was, at the time, considered to be a success but 12 months on, and with Crankshaw and Rowe gone, do we still view it as a good piece of transfer business – I’m not so sure, and if that’s the case what are we doing now that will improve on last years performance?
    As the article correctly points out the ‘type’ of player is everything. Parkinson used to say he looked for three things – attitude, physicality and proximity to Valley Parade. Its that sort of mantra we need to revert to. Ability to play in front of a large crowd is everything and staying fit is everything. Failing to get that right risks the club going backwards and perhaps more importantly the mental health of a young footballer.
    I’ll be really interested in what’s said tomorrow evening. I do hope its not just an exercise in venting frustration at the weekend’s performance because I think we’ll miss an opportunity to get to the heart of what’s going wrong at the club.

  11. You might have to recheck the history books. Gibson was signed by McCall in the summer after Parky walked and Patrick was one of Abbots signings in the summer after Wembley defeat..I think

    • Nope Gibson was signed in the summer of 2017 (under McCall as you say but not just after Parkinson left). Patrick’s signing was announced just before Wembley but he joined up with the squad that same summer of 2017.

  12. Another day …another spin of the negativity death spiral 👎

  13. It does not matter when Gibson and Patrick signed really.
    They were deemed not good enough and they still are not despite the goals.
    For Gibson read Poleon, and for Patrick read Morris or a whole procession of mediocre players who never really ‘did it’ at VP.
    And that in essence is the problem with the modern game at the lower levels. Players are with clubs generally on two year contracts and to he honest by the time you realise how good or bad they are, they are either shuffled out of the building or if they turn out decent then its either a rush to cash in before the leave for nothing or the player can hold a club to ransom. In reality few players stay at any club for very long.
    Managers are hampered by this as it is difficult to spend a couple of seasons building a team when there is such a ‘churn’ of players going on.
    Gibson and Patrick scored on Saturday but the likelyhood is that might be a pinnacle of their career and innate couple of seasons they might well be scoring against Carlisle and once again abusing and disrespecting their former paymasters again.

  14. Was so pleased to be at the Bramall Lane game. Jones was magnificent and it is a performance like that which sums up the type of Bradford City attitude that we all want to see on the pitch. Interestingly it was at that same game that Yeates was exposed – pulling out of a 50/50 ball which Jones would never have done – went off him after that!
    It’s all about character and we miss that on the pitch. We need core players to build a team around , just like PP did, and not the constant summer rebuilds. There’s no fight in our players anymore and that is why fans are so fed up.

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