Thursday, 30 June 2011

Impatience or A Genuine Concern?

The last couple of weeks have been very reminiscent of the first few weeks of Stuart McCalls reign at City. When McCall joined the club, it was relatively late into the summer and we were left to pick up the freebies no one else really wanted; we welcomed the likes of Paul Evans and Paul Heckingbottom back to the club and also managed to secure the signings of players such as Scott Phelan.

With just two signings to date, a lot has been made of the lack of transfer activity by Peter Jackson so far this summer. One of his signings is very good in Guy Branston and Ross Hannah is also an exciting prospect, although unproven in the football league currently. McCall’s rushed together side struggled badly at first and a dreadful October saw the club slide to 8 games without a win and 21st in League Two. After the debacle of last season, Jacko cannot afford for this to happen again. The team needs time to gel and he needs to be signing players capable of improving the weak squad currently at the club.

Whilst it wouldn’t be sensible to jump straight into bed with the first player City talk to, time is of the essence if Jackson wants to put together a team capable of competing towards the top end of the division. Rushing into signings can often lead to being lumped with players who are either not good enough or only here for money. However, waiting too long can also prove problematic and lead to panic signings, as seen last season when Peter Taylor brought in Jake Speight, at a cost of £25,000, who proved to be nowhere near good enough.

It does, however, seem as if the club have been chasing unrealistic targets so far this summer. While ambitious targets are great, and the players targeted so far would have improved City immeasurably, it is unlikely they would have ever joined the club. Clayton Donaldson is only a target as he is Bradford born-and-bred and while the emotional pull of playing at Valley Parade is clearly strong for him, if he has any professional pride he won’t be found anywhere near Valley Parade come 6th August. Likewise, Ashley Grimes, having signed for Rochdale clearly stated while still at Lincoln that next season he would be playing higher than League Two, and finally Gary Jones – a Rochdale legend – was highly unlikely to ever leave the club.

While the ambition involved in targeting these players is commendable, if Jackson doesn’t have plans B and C, we could find ourselves at the bottom of the pile scrapping around for the leftovers.

I trust Peter Jackson has other targets in mind, but we are at risk of not having a proper team gelled together by the beginning of the season, meaning we are back to where we started 4 years ago in the league, using the rest of the season to catch up. Perhaps tomorrow being July 1st will see our fears allayed somewhat with numerous signings – where is the Scottish duo from Falkirk? –but being almost a week into pre-season, it is time the squad started taking shape more. Maybe it’s just impatience with a lack of news emanating from Valley Parade, but a couple of signings to get excited over would be nice!
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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A Number of Changes

Because of circumstances TBB has been quiet for the past week and a half and consequently a lot of this will have already been covered. In that time though, there has been quite a few things, however small, happen to City. Two of them point to a new way of thinking at Valley Parade with the hiring of Archie Christie as new Chief Scout and Nick Allamby as Fitness coach.  These appointments show a clear shift in thinking at City in areas that were desperately in need of improvement.  Further to this, a takeover/investment has been close to happening – which I will discuss at another time - and club legend David Wetherall has left the club after 12-years service.

Archie Christie is an excellent appointment for the club - a proven scout, with previous successes at Dagenham, concentrating on plucking the best of released youngsters for the club. For too long City have been relying on signing released players who have failed elsewhere instead of bringing in youngsters to improve and propel into the first team. Christie, should he prove successful, will bring about a change in transfer policy at City and should result in the club producing teams with a more youthful look to them. Not only would this lead to a younger, fresher team, but it should result in City being able to produce more of their own players, and get transfer fees which actually represent their value to the club. A win win situation for everyone. Already having secured the signatures of three youth internationals, one of which turned Newcastle down for Valley Parade, City should profit handsomely from this venture.

Further to this, Peter Jackson appointing a specialist fitness coach is a massive step in the right direction. While I have no doubt that Jacko and his assistant Colin Cooper have an idea of how to keep the players fit, their knowledge of the area will pale into insignificance compared to Allamby’s. For as long as I can remember, City have genuinely looked sluggish compared to other teams. While knocking the team’s fitness levels is an easy way to knock the previous management regime, it has been a genuine concern at City for a good period. When compared to Crewe on the final day of last season, City looked slow, unfit, sluggish and overweight. Fitness is a key aspect of the game at League Two level. Where the players are all of a similar ability, it is the attributes such as fitness and stamina which can make the difference between a mid-table finish and the play-offs. Hopefully an intense pre season with Allamby and his services throughout the season will see the City players have that extra 5% which will put them in front of the rest.

But the biggest news is that City legend David Wetherall has left the club after 12 years. Wethers was Paul Jewells marquee signing in the clubs first Premier League season and his ever present presence that year was one of the key factors in survival. Of course, he will always be remembered for that goal versus Liverpool. Unfortunately for Wethers, he was the one constant in City’s fall from the top flight to English football’s lowest level; but that is no reflection on the man himself. His deferring of wages over a longer contract period sum the man up as he was always one to do his best for the club, which even saw him attempt, but ultimately fail, at keeping the club in League One following Colin Todd’s sacking. Wetherall even translated his committed on pitch performance to his eventual coaching role with the youth side, which saw his team go on an impressive cup run, taking some notable academy scalps such as Southampton. Wetherall will move into his job at the Football League with the well wishes of every City fan and he will always be welcomed back at Valley Parade. 


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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Why Everyone Should Be Excited By Leeds United v Bradford City

I looked at the cup draw this morning and cheered wildly. Leeds. Away. It doesn’t get much better than this I thought. Another game with 4,500+ travelling Bradfordians in full voice backing the lads out on the pitch – exciting!  But I came online and I found more posts around the message boards bemoaning the draw than excited at it.

City aren’t going to win the cup. And apart from last season we’ve hardly had a win in the damn thing. In recent years we’ve not trouble the 2nd round, bar last year, exiting in mundane games against the likes of Carlisle, Forest and Wolves. Hardly pulsating games to excite the masses.  But the Leeds draw is different. Despite residing only ten miles down the road from Bradford, the paths of the two teams rarely meet. We rarely get the opportunity to get one over them from down t’road and we should take the chance with both hands.

A lot of fans seem to have a defeatist attitude – we’re not going to win so what’s the point? Well if that’s the case, why bother at all – City rarely go into games, if ever, guaranteed of a win. We probably wouldn’t have won had we drawn Scunthorpe, Rochdale or Carlisle – but we’d still give it a go.

Then people were moaning about whether it’ll be on TV or not – will we get our share of £30,000 TV money? Who cares? It’s Leeds, get down to the game. I realise that’s not an option for some, but the vast majority it’s the closest game we’ve had since we last played Leeds 3 years ago. For once money can be forgotten about – and at Elland Road with most likely a crowd of around 20,000 similar to last time, the share of the gate receipts will be more than plentiful.

Since dropping into League Two, we’ve had a severe lack of local derbies. I remember 6 or 7 years ago in League One where it seemed every other game was a derby of sorts – Huddersfield, Hull, Doncaster, Rotherham, and Sheffield Wednesday all in the same division. And we came out on top of the ‘Yorkshire League’ that year! Since then we’ve had nothing of the sorts - Leeds gives us a game to get excited about again. Our biggest rivalry in League Two is probably Rotherham – and that’s lost any sort of kick it had about it since they left Millmoor. The trip to Elland Road gives us a chance to have a highly charged, intense game for once, with what will promise to be an electric atmosphere.

And for Leeds fans too, I’m sure they will be much more looking forward to a game against City, than some of the possibilities they could have drawn – mouth-watering ties with Accrington, Burton or Hartlepool.  A midweek game against City will, with the greatest of respect, be a much bigger prospect for them than welcoming any of those teams and I’m sure they will be looking forward to telling us how much they don’t care about us, how it’s not a proper rivalry and how they will remind us that we are the ‘poor relations’. Despite all this, the Leeds fans that I’m mates with have for the last few years proclaimed how they wish that ourselves and Huddersfield had swapped positions and they could have had matches with us rather than those from the Galpharm. They want a ‘proper’ Yorkshire derby it seems, and we’re the ones to give it to them. 

Maybe I’m biased, being Leeds born and bred and having lived here for my 21 years all my mates are Leeds fans and love winding me up – but I think if you can’t get excited by the thought of this cup draw, then nothing much will excite you as a Bradford City fan.

It might only be the Carling Cup. They might not really care about us. But who cares?

It’s Leeds, away. Bring it on. 

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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

In the Clubs Best Interests?

Quite a stir has been caused today with the news that local businessman and current Guiseley FC director, Steve Parkin, has submitted and had a takeover bid for Bradford City rejected by Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. The Yorkshire Post article, in which it indicates Parkin would bring City and the Bradford Bulls together under one company, states that discussions are ongoing with the club and that both Lawn and Rhodes want to see Parkin’s business plan.  In the four years that the club has had joint ownership, both parties have stated they would move over if they received an offer which was in the best interests of the club – so we must assume so far that the current offer was not satisfactory.

The proposal from Parkin, for what is essentially just a name at the moment considering Bradford City have few tangible assets, seems to be relatively impressive at face-value. Lawn would receive his £1 million loan back, and Parkin would offer £750,000 for their shares with a further £750,000 based on performance. As part of the deal, the two owners would also maintain 25% of the clubs shares, but without any voting power. However, when broken down, the offer would see Lawn and Rhodes pocket just £375,000 each, with a 12.5% share of any future profits. When you consider what almost £3 million could buy in terms of other clubs, it is a relatively high offer, but it is an offer which I would presume they are unlikely to accept, considering their financial input into the club - said to be around the £5.5 million mark. Selfish of them you may say, but considering that neither of them are multi multi millionaires, it would be an enormous loss for both of them.

Looking at Parkin’s physical proposals makes for an interesting read. He would plan to buy both clubs and place them in the ownership of ‘Bradford Sporting Company’, whilst maintaining autonomy. The long run would see the clubs sharing, in theory, a new purpose built stadium, fit for the 21st century. This could be called wasteful, considering City’s current residency of Valley Parade is more than fit for purpose, and with a few tweaks would be more than adequate for the Bulls as well. However, Parkin’s ideas would more than likely consist of providing the stadium, alongside new training facilities and rentable retail units. A stadium which would be used 24/7, 365 days a year. The stadium would likely be a catalyst for the revival of both clubs, who have both been struggling for a number of years now. Looking at the wider picture as well, it could also be the catalyst to provide Bradford with a more prosperous future itself, providing optimism, jobs and economic activity.

With news of this coming out now, it heightens pressure on the club to succeed this year. If City struggle again badly this year, many fans will begin to turn on the owners –a s happened in recent months with the Valley Parade saga - as questions over the bid rejection will begin to surface. Considering the success of similar schemes in Wigan and Hull particularly, the current owners will have to show some significant progress in the near future.

However, the news coming out today leaves this reader feeling somewhat uneasy. The idea that both clubs will play at the same ground for the next decade before moving into a purpose built stadium is unnerving. If Parkin wishes to move City into Odsal for the next decade, we will see the issue of the Valley Parade lease rear its head again, but it would be equally difficult to move the Bulls into Valley Parade long term as the pitch does not meet rugby league regulations. A move away from Valley Parade would also be heart-wrenching for any City fan. Obviously the place is steeped in history, much more history than most grounds, and while a move away in the long run may enable the club to have a more secure and prosperous future, it would never be an easy decision. And the thought of leaving it for Odsal, is horrible.

I would expect a press release from the club’s point of view very soon, from which we may be able to establish more. All we can know for certain is that the next few weeks and months will prove to be very interesting. 

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Monday, 13 June 2011

Branston Joins City

For the last few seasons, City have been far too soft in the heart of the defence. Opposing strikers have often found it far too easy to walk through the defence, and could leave the pitch being forgiven for thinking there was no defender marking them. City boss Peter Jackson has finally looked to have resolved this problem with today’s signing of Guy Branston from Torquay. Branston joins from Torquay who only conceded a mere 53 goals last season.

Branston has had a somewhat nomadic career so far, taking in almost 20 clubs since beginning his professional career over ten years ago. The two year contract he has signed with the club will see him stay at Valley Parade until he is 34. A worry, you may think, but it sees him tied to City for the next two years – just as he is coming into the best patch of his career.

His recent record is excellent; he played last season in one of the meanest defences in League Two – one which went ten games without conceding. He also found himself in the PFA League Two Team of the Year and managed to scoop himself the Torquay Player of the Season award, as well. City seem to have captured Branston when he is coming into the best form of his career.

Branston also has big game experience and experience of winning. Throughout his career, Branston has won the play offs twice, with Sheffield Wednesday and Colchester, was part of the back-to-back promotions under Ro**ie Mo*re at Rotherham and won the league in his brief spell at Kettering Town. His experience will be vital in what could be a youthful squad next season.

He could also prove to be perfect foil for bringing out the undoubted potential that Steve Williams has. His first season was excellent but last year Williams suffered a lot and made far too many soft mistakes. Playing alongside Branston, and training with such a vastly experienced centre half can only help Williams, and may finally produce the player we know he can be.

In the interest of balance though, it is worth noting that he was mysteriously pushed out of Burton, allegedly for having a poor attitude. Obviously there could be many reasons for this, but as long as we get the correct level of professionalism from Branston, Peter Jackson has managed to secure exactly the type of player Bradford City need.

And as a final positive, it should allow Luke Oliver to move back to his preferred position of centre forward! 

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Monday, 6 June 2011

How Far Away Are We?

With little news coming out of Valley Parade recently, topics for discussion have been sparse. So with that in mind I thought I’d have a non-statistically relevant look at how far away City are from being able to challenge – and whether all the doom mongering is really necessary.

Obviously this season was a massive disappointment, but looking at the figures shows some surprising things. Firstly, this season saw City collect more points at home than last season. 10 wins, 3 draws and 10 defeats saw a haul of 33 points compared to last season’s 31 points from 8 wins, 8 draws and 7 defeats. Despite the alarming number of home defeats, an improvement, albeit small, was seen in a purely points basis. When compared to the two ‘worst’ teams in the play offs, Torquay and Stevenage who finished 7th and 6th respectively, both those teams only managed to gain 38 points at home – a mere 5 more than City. In fact, City won more home games than Stevenage, and the same amount as Torquay. Clearly this shows that a ‘fortress’ is not needed to gain promotion. Even Wycombe who finished in the final automatic position only bettered our 2008/09 home record, which saw City finish 9th, by one point. Indeed it is clear that away form is where the difference is made.

City picked up a paltry 19 points on the road this past season – a big factor in the teams low finish. In comparative terms, Torquay picked up 31 points on their travels this season while Stevenage also picked up 31 points away from home. An extra 12 points would have seen City finish on 64 points, still two wins short of a play off place, but it is clear that the team couldn’t do the required business on the road this season. Had they maintained last season’s modest haul away from home would have seen City finish in the top half.

Obviously this is a lot of coulda-shoulda-wouldas, but considering City only won 2 less games than Torquay, and 3 less than eventual play off winners Stevenage, there is not much to pick between the teams in this league. Having looked at this, it is therefore ludicrous to predict another season of battling away at the bottom. Accrington who finished below City last year finished just 7 points from automatic promotion, a scenario all City fans would be pleased with considering the last 4 seasons.

If City can sort out a strong spine to the team with 4 new signings; a goalkeeper, centre half, central midfielder and striker, then there is no reason why the club cannot push for at least the top 7 with the remaining players here. Players like Luke O’Brien, Steve Williams, Dave Syers and James Hanson have all been championed as being good enough for this league so with the right additions, the top 7 should certainly be attainable.

Bradford City clearly have no right to be in the promotion places, but without ambition to be there, the club would be on a slippery slope to oblivion. 

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