By Jason McKeown
Most of us are already willing the season to be over, especially as the final six games might test the recent goodwill
Here’s something that might depress you: there’s still more than a month to go before Bradford City’s season ends.
I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready for it to be over. Yet there are still six, pretty-much-meaningless-from-a-City-perspective games to get through. And if the previous 40 league games are anything to go by, that means there’s some further doses of pain, frustration and annoyance to endure before the close season break.
I do feel guilty to be willing for the season to end. It’s just over two years since the pandemic struck, resulting in us going 532 days without being able to set foot inside Valley Parade to watch a competitive City match. From a football point of view, our lives suddenly lacked the basic joys of being able to go and support our team. Following the 2020/21 campaign through the lens of iFollow was a reductive experience. I was so grateful to be able to finally go back inside stadiums at the start of this season. And I never want to take that for granted.
But still, I’m ready for a break from this. I suspect we all are. This season has been such a disappointment, and to having nothing to play for when there are still plenty of games to go is really frustrating. Over the coming weeks we’ll be up against teams like Northampton, Tranmere and Sutton, who have lots of on the line, and it will be hard not to feel jealous. The other three games, against Colchester, Scunthorpe and Carlisle, are encounters against teams who, by the time the fixture comes around, will either be safe or already relegated. And so they are going to be low key occasions.
There’s not a lot to get excited about for Bradford City over these final few games. A top half finish is probably beyond us. We could finish as low as 20th if we’re not careful.
But I think the biggest reason to want this season to end now is the risk of further damage to the mood and morale around Bradford City. Yes, the season has not gone anywhere close to plan. But in the appointment of Mark Hughes, there is genuine optimism for the future.
Since taking charge, Hughes has spoken very impressively and it’s clear he is trying to improve the style of football. We can feel confident going into the summer that City have a really good manager at the helm, and that he will have the chance to build something that puts the club in a stronger position to challenge for promotion. It’s a nice narrative that will keep us going during the summer months.
The problem right now is that continuing poor results don’t really support this positive outlook. No one is going to turn on Hughes, even if we lost all six of the remaining games. But further defeats would poke at the bubble of optimism we’re trying to maintain, threatening to expose its flimsiness, when we’re all trying to keep it going and make it stronger.
The following table shows the final nine results of each Bradford City season since 2017/18, and the number of points we’ve taken over that final period.
Yikes. And if we’re about to go through something similar again, can we just get it over and done with as quickly as possible?
The more optimistic outlook would be to hope that this time around we can be better and end the season with some good results. There’s certainly some winnable fixtures to come. Could we actually get some momentum to take into the summer and into next season?
After the last four years, it would certainly make for a novel approach.
Are the foundations there for a promotion push next season? History suggests they need to be
The fact there are only six games to go means we’ve not got long left watching many of the current Bradford City players. In total, 19 members of this squad are either out of contract this summer, or are here on short-term loan deals that will expire. Change, you would expect, is coming.
Mark Hughes has spoken about City getting on with offering new deals to out of contract players he wants to keep, and so we can probably expect some announcements before the end of the season. His intentions for 2022/23 will also be impacted by the fact he has other players contracted to the club next season who haven’t featured in his plans.
It’s tempting to hit the reset switch. Release pretty much everyone, and make others available for transfer. After all, this is a squad that has been nowhere near pushing for promotion this season. Some players have been here for several years, going through a huge number of managers. They’ve had their good moments, but their limitations are no secret either. Can they ever reach the level needed, on a consistent basis, to help the club achieve its ambitions?
But in the admittedly limited evidence of recent successful Bradford City promotion sides, there are lessons to take before throwing out the current crop. The glory seasons of 1998/99 and 2012/13 were of course aided by excellent close seasons of strong signings. But within both of those squads there were also established Bradford City players of seasons before.
The famous 1998/99 team that reached the Premier League included Robbie Blake, Jamie Lawrence, Peter Beagrie, John Dreyer, Darren Moore, Andy O’Brien, Wayne Jacobs and Gary Walsh – all players who had been at Valley Parade the season before, signed by Chris Kamara rather than Paul Jewell.
In 2012/13, there was Nahki Wells, James Hanson, Kyel Reid, Will Atkinson, Ricky Ravenhill, Andrew Davies, Jon McLaughlin and Matt Duke who had been at the club the year before. Phil Parkinson deserves all the plaudits for that amazing season, but he did not sign either Wells or Hanson, who between them delivered 41 goals.
The successes of 1999 and 2013 were of course hugely reliant on bringing in the likes of Stuart McCall, Lee Mills, Gary Jones, Rory McArdle and Stephen Darby, but both teams had solid foundations from the seasons before. Bringing in a completely new team rarely works.
That’s why, as disappointing as the current City squad’s performances have been this season, there have to be players that Hughes can point to and believe can play a big role going forwards. Even if, to us supporters, it can be difficult to see it right now.
Who has the ability to do better, and to raise their own standards on a regular basis? With each game, good and bad, Hughes will be learning just who can and can’t rely on. It’s going to be really interesting to discover what he decides.
Dion Pereira belatedly shines – should we start rooting for Luton to make the Premier League?
One thing we knew about Derek Adams before he joined Bradford City as manager last summer is that he loves his number 10s. The Scot’s success at Plymouth and Morecambe was built around lining up one, if not three, number 10s behind a striker, and giving them license to roam around the final third to cause damage.
For many reasons – not least last summer’s disappointing summer transfer activity – we didn’t really see this during Adams’ time at Valley Parade. The fact the number 10 squad number remained vacant when the summer window closed suggested something had gone wrong. Injuries to the likes of Lee Angol and Abo Eisa restricted their chances of playing as attacking forwards, and for whatever reason Adams wasn’t enamored by Callum Cooke and Kian Scales. Even Charles Vernam was in and out.
The January window was a chance to rectify that, with Jamie Walker signed on loan from Hearts and taking the number 10 shirt, plus Dion Pereira arriving on loan from Luton. But with results getting worse, Adams paid the price. Injury problems to Pereira meant Adams didn’t even get to play him.
But after belatedly getting fit, Pereira is now starting to justify why Adams elected to bring him in. Playing wide on a few occasions and more recently in that number 10 role, Pereira has really impressed for his quality on the ball and bravery in trying pieces of skill. His decision making can let him down, but there is no doubting the excitement he creates.
Pereira’s success comes with Walker’s form more questionable under Hughes. Walker got injured in Adams’ final game and had to wait to get fit, which has seen him largely used as a sub under Hughes. But whether coming off the bench or – in the last two games – starting, Walker is struggling to make a positive impact.
Looking at his performances overall since joining from North of the Border, I don’t think Walker is quite living up to expectations. He certainly has technical ability and is a good passer, but can you point to any game and argue he was the standout performer? Has he looked anything more than a decent League Two player? From judging Hughes’ use of Walker so far, you suspect the manager is yet to be won over.
In contrast, Pereira has so far made a notable difference when he has played. It’s a shame he was injured for so long, but he’s now getting the chance to show what he can do and is relishing the stage he is performing on.
Right now, if you could chose one from Walker or Pereira to be at Valley Parade next season, I suspect the majority of us would lean towards Dion.
The question is how likely that might be. Nathan Jones has spoken a few times about Pereira since he decamped to West Yorkshire, suggesting the Luton boss is keeping tabs on his progress. In August 2021 Pereira was awarded a contracted extension with Jones purring, “He’s earned his contract, he’s done fantastically well. He’s a real technical player for us and we’ve got good hopes for him.”
That would suggest Jones sees Pereira having a future at Kenilworth Road, although his contract status is a mystery. Both when he originally signed for Luton in November 2020 and when his contract extension was announced last August, the length of Pereira’s deal was not disclosed. After the weekend defeat at Bristol Rovers, where Pereira netted, he revealed to the T&A, “I’ve still got a few years left at Luton.”
Regardless of the contract length, how immediate Pereira might be in Luton’s plans could depend on how the rest of their campaign pans out. For Luton Town currently stand fourth in the Championship, giving them a brilliant chance of reaching the Premier League. Should they finish inside and win the play offs, Jones would suddenly face a huge challenge of developing a squad good enough to challenge in the Premier League. And if the bar was to suddenly rise like that, it’s unlikely Pereira would fit into those plans.
So should Luton do the unthinkable and make it to the top flight, they might suddenly have a young attacking midfielder surplus to immediate requirements who they’d be willing to let out on loan again. And for that reason, we should probably be rooting for Luton in their quest to make the Premier League.
Stefan Rupp’s recent interview should be the start of better communication, not job done
There has been plenty of talk about Stefan Rupp’s interview in the T&A last week. Were his answers insightful? Were the questions tough enough? Do we feel more or less confident about the City owner’s ability to revive the club?
We’ll each have our own opinions on the two-part piece, but beyond the finer detail of what Rupp had to say, the fact he is speaking at all is a step forward that should be encouraged. One of my biggest criticisms of Rupp has been his lack of speaking in public to supporters. Considering his position and given City’s bumpy path of recent years, silence from the owner hasn’t been good enough.
As I wrote earlier this season I have a lot of sympathy for Rupp and the situation he found himself once it was obvious his partner Edin Rahic was sending the club down a very dark path. Rupp didn’t originally agree to fund the club on the basis he would be the public figurehead, so it is difficult to expect him to become that. Yet at the same time, with Rupp making clear he is not actively looking to sell the club, there has to be an acceptance of the responsibilities and obligations attached to the role of Bradford City chairman.
Hence Rupp’s recent visit to Bradford to watch the Newport game, and interview with the T&A, is a move in the right direction. As fans we have a right to better understand the running of the club and its strategy – short, medium and long-term. The interview might still leave us short of some answers, but it’s progress on what we had before.
Now, Rupp must keep it going.
This interview cannot be considered mission complete. We shouldn’t have to wait another year, or longer, to hear from Rupp again. This should be the beginnings of more regular dialogue towards supporters, be that through the club’s own media channels, the T&A, supporter group meetings or – maybe one day – a fans forum.
It’s part of the job, and has to be treated as such.
We might not yet have all the answers we’d like on Rupp’s objectives for owning Bradford City. But, with more regular communications from the top, we’ll get there.
Keep football affordable – Bradford City deserve credit as they continue to lead the way
These are tough times for everyone. Inflation is at its highest level in 30 years, as the likes of petrol prices and food costs rise sharply. April sees the much-discussed removal of the energy cap, meaning we’ll all open our next gas and electricity bill with trepidation. The Bank of England is warning that families are about to suffer the biggest fall in living standards since records began three decades ago.
Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to absorb these higher costs, for others it’s going to lead to some really tough decisions.
Against this backdrop, it’s great to see Bradford City doing its bit by confirming season ticket prices will be frozen for next season. At a time when everything is going up, a rise in season tickets would be a lot for many people to bear. It is at least one financial expense that will remain constant. And with the interest free option to spread the cost by direct debit payments, the club really is doing what it can for its community.
The recent survey Bradford City carried out with supporters, which over 5,000 responded to, asked us to share the values that we want to see from our club. ‘Affordability’ came out as one of the top five choices, which says a lot. As a fanbase we are largely proud that our club is the cheapest in the EFL to follow. That, compared to so many clubs who rip off their fans, we have long-standing principles.
There will always be those who argue the prices should go up by a lot to fund a promotion push. But after last season’s rise in prices didn’t lead to better quality on the pitch, the lesson is clear – it’s how effectively you use the budget that matters.
For now, the argument that prices should go up has to be put to one side. There’s too much stressful money stuff going on in many people’s lives, without suddenly worrying about whether we can still afford to watch Bradford City.