By Jason McKeown
As Bradford City were slumping to yet another woeful defeat on Saturday, within the stands of Oldham’s Boundary Park lurked the distinctive presence of Steve Evans.
Last week, the 59-year-old Scot publicly declared his desire to become the next Bradford City manager, even going as far as to promise that the floundering Bantams would make the play offs this season under his charge. There is no indication that Evans’ attendance at the game was at the invitation of the club, but with bookies listing him as the favourite there appears to be a growing possibility that he could soon be in the hotseat.
Appointing Evans as the next Bradford City manager would be an incredibly huge gamble by Stefan Rupp and Ryan Sparks. Especially at a time when they’re both coming under increasing supporter pressure.
Choosing the next Bradford City manager should not be about bowing to supporter pressure, but you ignore what your fans think at your peril. Take a read of the bcafc hashtag on Twitter, the Facebook pages and message boards and you get a real sense of the fragmented mood that currently exists. Tensions and emotions are running high. Everyone has an opinion and perhaps finding compromises and resolutions is too much of a stretch right now. But further dividing supporters is not going to help.
You can find many City supporters right now advocating that City give Evans the job. That’s absolutely fine and I think we could all benefit from taking a step back and respecting each other’s opinions. However, what’s equally obvious is just how many fans are completely against the idea of letting Evans anywhere near the Valley Parade home dugout.
Some are talking of boycotting games if Evans takes the helm. That they won’t renew their season tickets next year. You can argue this is over the top and that no fan should be putting a gun to the club’s head. But you shouldn’t dismiss this depth of feeling. At some point in the coming weeks or months, Bradford City are going to put season tickets on sale. They’re going to ask us all to commit our hard-earned money and sign up for another season, on the back of a campaign that is proving to be a huge disappointment.
If you appoint Evans as manager, you risk losing a section of City supporters. If you appoint Evans and it doesn’t go well in terms of results, the competency of Rupp and Sparks will come under even fiercer criticism and the dip in season ticket uptake will be even more significant.
That, more than anything, is the downside of gambling on Evans. If it works and he makes an impact, you can probably just about give fans reason to believe in the future direction of the club. Even many fans who don’t like Evans would renew and suffer in silence (I would be one of those people). You are at risk of looking like you’ve sold your soul – which we’ll come onto – but if you get success, well, you can argue the ends justify the means.
But how likely is it that Evans can be a success? Not just because of his respective strengths and weaknesses, but because how likely is it that any manager who Bradford City appoint can be a success? His promise of getting City into the play offs is utterly meaningless. He cannot guarantee such results, and anyone wanting him as manager because of such a claim can’t have been paying much attention over the last few years.
The big lesson of Derek Adams’ tenure is that no manager is guaranteed to be a success, no matter their previous track record. You have to take into account the relatively high odds that the manager who comes in is going to fail. And for the most part, managers depart Valley Parade taking the blame for their own under-performance. It would be different with Evans. Knowing the backlash and the strong feelings of many, if Evans was to fail at Valley Parade the entire competency of those making decisions over who should be manager would be called into even more question. Credibility shot to pieces.
And with Evans, that would be for many reasons. You cannot pretend his controversies of the past haven’t happened. This excellent article on Two Hundred Percent outlines Evans’ criminal convictions at Boston United and is well worth a read. In summary, Evans and the Boston owner were found guilty of fraud and financial doping on various occasions. At one point Evans was banned from football for 19 months, and he only narrowly avoided a prison sentence. These actions were not just deemed illegal but considered to have given Boston an unfair advantage over other clubs.
The talented Ian King, who wrote that article in 2010, concluded, “Ultimately, whatever else Evans achieves in his career will be tarnished by his past and whichever club employs him will be tainted by his involvement with them.”
Of course, Evans’ controversies haven’t ended there, and have taken place much closer to home. After a visit to Valley Parade as Crawley Town manager in 2012, Evans was accused of exposing himself to a City female employee outside the changing rooms. A subsequent FA investigation found him guilty of a lesser charge of “using abusive words and insulting words and behaviour”. He was fined £3,000 and given a six-match stadium ban.
Evans guided Crawley to promotion from League Two that season (he left for Rotherham just before promotion was sealed, a development that saw a video emerge of the Crawley squad celebrating his departure). Back to back promotions for Crawley was impressive, but it came at a time of huge spending from the Red Devils that saw them spend £600k on transfer fees getting promoted out of the National League (at the time it was a higher spend than all 24 League Two clubs combined).
When you have a budget that completely outstrips your rivals, success is that much easier to attain. And it was a really huge financial advantage Crawley had over the National League and League Two during that period. For example, after they beat Championship Derby in the FA Cup, the then-Rams manager Nigel Clough revealed some of his players were on lower wages than their Crawley counterparts.
Evans moved onto Rotherham and again achieved back to back promotions, taking them from League Two to the Championship. They spent decent money once more, and were buoyed by the moving to the newly built New York Stadium. Over that period there were some memorable battles with Bradford City, which Evans almost always won. But after the Crawley antics and the infamous brawl at Valley Parade that saw five players red-carded after the game had ended, Evans was the enemy to Bradford City supporters.
As for Evans, his managerial career probably peaked in 2015 when he successfully guided Rotherham to survival in the Championship. Not long after, he left the South Yorkshire club. Evans has since been employed by Leeds United, Mansfield, Peterborough and more recently Gillingham. He hasn’t done badly at any of these clubs, but has hardly pulled up any trees either. Those advocating Evans takes over at City are unlikely to be citing footballing reasons since 2015.
And that, more than anything else, should be at the forefront of City’s decision-making process right now. Even if you can park the controversies, the past history with Bradford City, and the fact appointing him would alienate a sizeable part of your fanbase, is there enough football credibility left in Evans to gamble on him being a success at Valley Parade?
I think Evans is approaching the end of his own manager lifespan now. You can argue – even with the mitigating factors of what he did at Boston, and the big money spent at Crawley – that he was a successful manager. But he hasn’t done anything of late that would make you think he can guarantee City would finish in the play offs.
If his words were so effective, why are Gillingham on course to be relegated from League One? If the Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony – who keeps publicly urging City to appoint Evans – thinks Evans is so good, why did he sack him after only 12 months? And with Darren Ferguson having left Peterborough this weekend, would MacAnthony be prepared to appoint Evans right now?
As a fanbase, we have rightfully derided some of the recent transfer activity. Signing players whose better days are behind them, with patchy records and little achievements of note in recent years. As Paul Jewell neatly summarised last week, “they’ve bought too many who are at the wrong end of their career.”
For me, appointing Evans is to make that same sort of mistake.
And with all of this, you risk the fall out and further divide of City supporters. The example of Rafa Benitez at Everton feels especially pertinent. Everton brought in a manager who most of their fans disliked – the enemy who once looked down his nose at them, as manager of their rivals – and it split supporters. And the only way Benitez would make it would be to instantly successful. When things soon didn’t go to plan, there was no honeymoon period or credit in the bank to help him. Benitez was quickly sacked, and fans turned angrily on the board over their misjudgment.
That is situation City could find themselves in if they appoint Evans. He either needs to be instantly successful, or it will get very ugly. And it won’t just be Evans who would feel the wrath, it would be an owner and CEO already battling to demonstrate they have the ability to revive the club.
In their choice of next Bradford City manager, Rupp and Sparks have the opportunity to get supporters onside by implementing a plan and vision for the future that we can buy into. It’s not an easy moment for sure, but it’s not a decision they can afford to get wrong.
JM note – we always try to be balanced on WOAP. And if anyone would like to write an article about why Evans should be the next Bradford City manager I’m happy to publish it.