Reconnecting with Bradford City

By Jason McKeown

“Tim’s advice is that it is better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb then half way up one you don’t.”

Dawn from The Office

Here’s a question: if Bradford City had opted against sacking Derek Adams three weeks ago, would they now be dealing with five straight defeats?

I don’t think they would have been. Not because Adams was on the brink of brilliant results before he was unseated as manager, but because his form all season had been patchy yet without any back-to-back league defeats, never mind five on the bounce. The Adams’ formbook suggests he would have earned a point or two from the last four City matches, perhaps even ground out a win. In the shortest of short-terms on the field, the Bantams are probably worse off from making a change.

This is not in any way an argument to say that dismissing Adams was the wrong call. For me, it was completely the right decision. The situation had become about much more than just results. He looked a bad fit for the club. The way he operated, the styles and methods he deployed, and the manner he carried himself in post-match interviews, were all difficult to support or relate to.

Sacking him was a brave decision, but ultimately the right one to make.

However, as is so often the case when there’s a mid-season change in the dugout, there is some pain to bare from the transitionary period. To think, two games ago there was still talk about pushing for promotion. After Saturday, we’ve probably all given up checking the gap to the play offs (it’s 15 points by the way). There remains a small, but not ignorable, chance of being sucked into a relegation battle. But ultimately, it’s all about planning for next season.

And on that front, there was so much to be encouraged about from Saturday’s defeat to Swindon Town. After only one week on the training ground, we saw visible green shoots of the work of Mark Hughes and his assistant Glyn Hodges.

City played on the front foot. With purpose. They passed it around in a much more impressive style. They were methodical. Organised, but with attacking freedom. It was football to get you on the edge of your seat. That as a supporter you felt entertained by. Not perfect by any means, but something you could really buy into.

Valley Parade responded in the finest way possible. This was the best atmosphere inside the ground since August. The North West corner has this season become the home of the club’s most vocal supporters, but taking away this source of noise from the Kop has created a fragmented backdrop. And then there’s the performances on the pitch, which have been so flat. It’s all been a bit too quiet. Little to cheer. Plenty to boo.

But on Saturday, the energy was back. And everyone seemed to come together to loudly back the team. The North West corner was outstanding in its chanting, and it transferred across the ground with more and more people joining in.

For the first time since those heady days of August, Valley Parade felt united. The players inspiring fans, who in turn inspired the players. There were no groans, no mutterings and the players for their part did not hide. Everywhere you looked there was good old fashioned, honest effort – on and off the field.

A reminder, and a much needed one, of just what Bradford City can be.  

When Alex Bass rashly gave away a stoppage time penalty and Jack Payne rolled the ball home to win the game for Swindon, the pain was at its sharpest. This did genuinely hurt. But not in a way where you wanted to turn on the team and boo them off the pitch. Whilst many fled for the exits, thousands stayed back to clap the players.

It was in some ways nice and reassuring to feel so pained by the defeat. In the recent years of decline, there has so often seemed to be this big gap between supporters and fans. Their failures were their failures, not necessarily ours. When we were upset, we were upset at the way they’d played, the way the manager had forced them to play, or the way the club was being run.

It has been rare, in recent times, to truly feel like you’re behind what Bradford City are trying to achieve. To be so desperate for them to win. In the same way you felt during the Phil Parkinson years, or Stuart McCall’s second spell in the dugout.

The emotions just haven’t quite been the same since, especially under Adams. When City have won this season, it’s improved your mood but hasn’t proved especially uplifting in the way it so often can be when your football team wins. When they’ve lost, the anger from supporters has felt overwhelming. All in all it just hasn’t felt great, and I’m sure I’m not the only fan who has felt disconnected.

What Mark Hughes’ appointment offers is a fresh start. And the manner he has gone about things so far – not least how he speaks before and after games – offers something to get behind. We always want Bradford City to succeed, of course we do. But this feels like a manager trying to do things the right way. Deliver the kind of football we want to see. Instil the type of passion we want to feel. And it’s something that seems worth investing into.

And that’s why, for how bad the form book looks, this doesn’t feel like a doomed situation anymore. Five straight defeats normally suggest a side in freefall, stripped of confidence and with no real clue what to do stop the rot. But it feels like City are getting better, not worse. If they keep performing in this way, adding in a bit more quality and cutting out silly mistakes, better results will come along soon. Especially when the likes of Charles Vernam and Jamie Walker return.

On the same day as City lost to Swindon, Leeds United’s new manager Jesse Marsch was beaten in his first game in charge. The American reflected after, “I felt the performance was more important than the points.” That seems a strange thing to say, but you can see what he is getting at – and it’s a sentiment that we can relate to at City.

If Adams had stayed rather than Hughes appointed, City would have probably dug out better results of late. After all, with Adams it was all about results and nothing more. But even if the league table under Adams would have looked better than it is right now, would you have been looking forward to the next game? To next season?

What Hughes has offered over these two games in charge is a vision of a more appealing Bradford City future. Better performances, which is in some ways more important than results at this moment. And that could be more crucial in the long run, as it sets up City – and supporters – for feeling more confident going into next season, compared to the path Adams was taking.

The challenge for Hughes and the club is that this utopian moment of the team being clapped off the field after five straight defeats won’t last. They do need results to match the performances. They need to start picking up points to demonstrate the way plotted forward can succeed. Patience is never indefinite.

We absolutely do need to see some rewards soon to justify our new-found faith. But as a starter at least, it suddenly feels good – and painful – to be a Bradford City fan again. Having spent the last few months struggling to feel anything.

Categories: Opinion


18 replies

  1. Jason. For once I agree with every word

  2. Hughes will be a success but only if he is properly backed to get the job done. A complete waste of yet another season based on thinking a manager can pull off another ‘morecambe’ is a tough pill to swallow. So as much as Hughes excites me with his proven track record at a very high level I wait with baited breath as to what tools Hughes will be given.
    Saturday was a breath of fresh air and was the first wipe of a cloth at the stain of mediocrity left behind by deluded Derek. It might take some time to fully get rid of that stain.

    • Adams was backed. We have had, one of the best L2 playing budgets ever since we got relegated.
      We just need to get better value.

      • Our wage budget dropped every season since relegation. Forget Adams, he’s gone. Hughes has the ability to get us up but is used to working with quality players. Something we lack. Give him the tools to get the job done then we don’t end up with another farcical January window.

      • Dropped or not, it’s still as good as virtually every other club in L2. In fact I can imagine that only Salford are demonstrably more.
        I think us fans get too hooked up about playing budgets.
        Parky largely, had an upper mid-table (on average) at best budget and yet we had three Top 7 finishes
        We gave Martin Dury a Top 6 budget and of course the incompetent Rahic wasted it.

      • Out of interest how do people find out what clubs’ wage budget is?

        Do they all get published somehow?

        Genuinely interested but can’t quite believe any business would put this together information in the public domain.

        …but back to the article I’ve enjoyed the Renaissance. Long may it continue.

  3. Absolutely spot on.
    I’d forgotten how it felt to enjoy a game, be totally engaged and enraged!

  4. Wholeheartedly agree , Saturday felt like a turning point for me regarding the connection between fans and players. Whilst they looked absolutely gutted at losing the game the support they got at the end must have given them a lift. To know your best efforts are applauded will i’m sure help them.
    A friend couldn’t make the game and text me with his concerns when he saw another defeat ,i told him he missed the best performance from us on and off the pitch for a long time . It felt good to be at the Valley again ,at last.

    • Only 3 players (Songo’o, Cook and Gilliead) in City’s starting lineup are contracted for next season. The required summer recruitment looks quite daunting.

      • You make that seem like a problem? To me that’s a bonus. Too many times in recent years we’ve signed players who weren’t good enough on long contracts which has hampered recruitment because we can’t shift them on.
        There’s a few in the current squad I’d keep but there’s a lot for me who’ve consistently underperformed or looked like last minute panic signings – Robinson falls into both categories.
        I just hope we put in a robust recruitment structure. Each season since Sparks took charge we’ve been told that the haphazard approach has gone but it is always the same – signing over-the-hill, permanently crocked players or a load of panic signings in January because or summer signings are underperforming. Only to repeat the process each year through Bowyer, T&S and Adams. It seems it doesn’t matter who is the hot seat its the same pattern repeated.

  5. A brilliant post, agree with everything you say Jason.
    Even though we have lost these last two game’s they have felt like a breath of fresh air. I’ve actually enjoyed going to valley parade again. Under Adams I hated going.
    The players looked better players on Saturday, I can’t think of one player that improved under Adams, most went backwards but even after a week under Hughes some of them .
    I’m excited for next season now rather than dreading it, I’m looking forward to Hughes bringing his own players in and looking forward to playing better football next season. The atmosphere as returned to valley parade and hopefully its here to stay.

  6. Yes – it was refreshing and re-invigorating BUT sad fact is that NONE of the current first xi or squad woukd get into any other League 2 side.

  7. Better performance, better football, better coaching, better man management. This all leads too better loan players.
    Something we haven’t had for a while.

  8. Hughes has had a very positive impact on the players. This, despite being without key players. Some are on the way back so with Hughes influence, I hope to see a better performance once they return.
    I note Flynn has had a positive impact at Walsall. Hopefully we can see the same at City. Importantly, Hughes will have his say in recruitment. He will influence Clubs in a higher division to let their more promising players join us. Hopefully, his presence will be key in getting better quality players on a more permanent basis as well. Only time and budgets will tell. I hope Rupp will see this appointment as an opportunity to increase the playing budget to help in moving this great club to better times.

  9. Can’t wait for this season to end though, so that Mark and Glyn can properly start to get this club up and running. The next couple of months does allow them time though to decide upon the uncontracted, and whether any of them stay. Hopefully by early May the results will reflect that a handful of them are truly up to the task of taking City into third place by May 2023.

  10. Football is all about hope. Always. Distinguish hope and you have no chance Ever. Hughes injects massive doses of hope. The hope bank was almost empty. Believe in hope and you have a chance. Always. Good luck Mark, and thank you for replenishing the well of hope.

  11. Great to read an uplifting article again.
    For various reasons, I was at Valley Parade on my own last Saturday. When I was messaging friends after the game, two words that I used were green shoots. I appreciate that there is a lot of work for Hughes and Hodges to do to get us anywhere near where we want to be. However another word that I used in my messages to friends last weekend was eloquently. Listening to Hughes talk after the Swindon Town defeat provided me with some hope. Whilst actions speak louder than words, the way that Hughes spoke, even after a 95th minute defeat was calm, confident and reassuring. Plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

  12. Absolutely looking forward to every game now, the connection is back between fans and club.

    Forget the Mansfield game that was an assessment game then the Swindon game was a cruel last second penalty from a lot of hard work but that happens in football and you can take the medicine when the team put a shift in and all this has happened within 10 days of a class act manager signing of Mark Hughes who is going to love this club as much as we will love him if we can keep him for the duration of His contract, the signs are there already in a quick turnaround and these are the same player’s, so every up and coming fixture has now gone from dread to excitement.

    The best part of all this is that an arrogant Adams, lost the dressing room then turned on the fans which is the worst thing you can do to a club like ours and said the fans need to be careful because they is no other manager who can come in and do a better job than me 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂

    What will we be like when Mr Hughes has a full pre season to get ready, I really do hope we can keep hold of him to take us on a journey we all deserve, instead of people coming here and taking us on their journey who cannot cut the mustard……..

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