Pragmatism pays for Parky
A campaign which began with a resignation and ended with the avoidance of relegation almost counts as peaceful, given Bradford’s turbulent recent history. But now under Phil Parkinson, the Bantams are eyeing a brighter future. To find out more, we caught up with Jason McKeown from City site The Width of a Post and author of Paying on the Gate, a tale of the highs and lows of following the club...
Looking back to August, Peter Jackson resigned; it was said, to “give the club the best possible chance for the rest of the season”. What effect did his departure have?
Jackson’s departure certainly came as a huge shock, coming so early in the season, but the club managed to get through a potential crisis relatively smoothly. Within three days Phil Parkinson had been appointed as his replacement, and the team started to get results following a very slow start.
The reasons for Jackson’s departure have yet to be publically disclosed, though there have been plenty of rumours. It would be remiss to go through such speculation, but what is clear is the decision to leave was Jackson’s – as he didn’t believe he could manage the club successfully, for whatever reason.
Were supporters expecting this season to be spent fighting in the bottom half? Did ambitions change with the arrival of Phil Parkinson?
This was our fifth season at League Two level – and in each of the previous four we had approached the new campaign expecting to earn promotion. Last season we almost got relegated out of the Football League. As result, this season’s expectations from everyone – including the club – were to have a building campaign where some young players were nurtured, with the aim of mounting a credible promotion push in 2012/13.
However, a slow start sparked panic in the boardroom – possibly triggering Jackson’s resignation – and many of the long-term plans made during the summer were hastily discarded. Parkinson was given the brief of keeping City in the division, and a lot of additional money has been spent to help achieve that aim. We’ve stayed up, which is great news – but compared to where we were a year ago, not much progress has been made on and off the field.
How would you assess Parkinson’s months in charge?
Against the stated objective of keeping City in the Football League, Parkinson has been successful. It soon because very clear, when he took over, that his vision of the way forward was very different to Jackson’s. As such, we’ve basically seen the squad completely revamped mid-season, with a new set of players brought in.
This changeover proved very painful at times – particularly as those players suddenly out of favour hadn’t done much wrong – but the hope was that it would lead to improvement during the second half of the season, which could spark optimism for next season.
Whether that improvement has occurred is highly debatable. Parkinson has certainly turned the ship around and deserves credit for that, but on a number of occasions since Christmas it seemed we could pull well clear of relegation and into the lofty heights of mid-table, and each time form then dropped off to push us back into danger.
Parkinson is a pragmatist, which means the football isn’t always the most pleasing on the eye; but when the team has been on form it has been a match for almost every team in the division. Next season, the expectation bar will be raised for the manager.
Who or what has been the key to securing safety?
Strong home form – over recent years we’ve struggled badly at Valley Parade – has helped us to stay out of trouble. Since November we’ve only been defeated once at home (see below) and, although there have been too many draws, becoming tough to beat on our own patch is an impressive achievement by Parkinson.
We’ve been strong defensively all season (though curiously keep few clean sheets), but perhaps having a huge squad – because of both Jackson and Parkinson’s signings – has held us back in that the team was chopped and changed quite a bit. Parkinson finally settled on a regular XI at the start of April, and the result is we have won three from four games to confirm survival.
The changing of management (and the resultant comings and goings of players) tends not to be a cheap business. How is the club looking financially, after the troubles of previous years?
A year ago the club looked to be sliding towards the dark days of administration again, paying players’ wages late and threatening to leave Valley Parade due to the high costs of renting a stadium we no longer own. Although matters were resolved to a point, it led to a reduced playing budget over the summer and lots of rhetoric of building for the future.
However, after Parkinson came in and the board were panicked into believing we had the worst squad in the league (true story), the two chairmen dipped their hands in their own pockets to back the new manager relatively heavily.
The result is a lot of money was spent this season – mainly on loanees – and in January there was talk that the playing budget would be cut back again this year. Parkinson didn’t spend as much as he wanted to in the end, but you do worry that – unless season ticket sales go well – he will not have the same level of financial backing next season.
Ultimately, most City supporters want the club to cut their cloth accordingly and not risk any repeat of previous financial troubles. So although any cut backs this summer will be criticised – given Parkinson wasted a lot of money on loan players he barely even used – we expect the club to live within their means.
The scuffle at Valley Parade following the game against Crawley in March attracted plenty of attention. The dominant view seemed to be that the visitors and their manager were to blame. How did City fans view the whole affair?
The Crawley game was definitely one of the worst moments of the season. They beat us on the night – and fair play, they had much better players – but the horrendous tactics and attitude of their deplorable manager Steve Evans left a very sour taste. It really upset City fans, management and players, and definitely set the mood which triggered the events at full time.
That said, you can’t excuse what our players did in raising their hands. They completely lost control, and it did us no good given the game was lost. Because the red cards were given out in the dressing room after the match, we supporters had no idea until later in the evening. Fortunately the club pulled together to find form, but Steve Evans is guaranteed a heated reception when he visits Valley Parade with Rotherham next season.
Looking towards the summer, what do you hope to see in terms of transfer business?
Parkinson has brought some quality players to the club, and hopefully it means we won’t see such a huge changeover this summer compared to previous years. By and large we need to retain what we’ve got, and then focus on bolstering two or three positions (some full backs not afraid to cross the halfway line would be nice).
The other main focus will be keeping hold of this season’s true success story – striker Nahki Wells. The Bermudian international has enjoyed a hugely impressive first full season in English football – 11 goals from 35 games – and the 21-year-old is said to be attracting the interest of Championship clubs.
Is there optimism for the future? Might there be whispered talk of promotion campaigns during the summer?
The close season is always a time for breeding optimism, and this summer will be no different. There are reasons to believe we can raise the expectation bar once again next season and make a stronger push for promotion. I’d be disappointed if we weren’t challenging for the play-offs next season.
Jason is behind Bradford website The Width of a Post, providing in-depth coverage of the Bantams. You can keep up with the latest from the site on Twitter. He is also the author of Paying on the Gate, which charts his support of the club over the past 15 years. There is more on the book here.
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