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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Like The Proverbial Millstone

One of the pre season favourites for promotion from League Two but struggling at the wrong end, Nobes looks at the continued failings of Bradford City in the basement division.

The experienced Peter Taylor failed to turn Bradford into promotion challengers

Never have so many been disappointed by so few. These are tough times at Bradford City, a club whose decade of decline seemingly shows no sign of ending.

Ten years ago they were in the top flight, playing in front of packed houses against the cream of the Premier League.

Now they sit 20th in the basement division - yet still attract average crowds of over 10,000. If the league table was decided on attendances, City would be top by a distance.

It's testament to the loyalty of the Bantams fan base, who have had precious little to cheer about as they have watched their club, crippled by excessive spending during their Premier League zenith, tumble down the leagues.

All that's left as a reminder is their Valley Parade ground - an impressive stadium on two sides acting as a memorial to better days.

Indeed, the ground itself, half Premier League and half lower league in its appearance,
almost acts as a metaphor for the West Yorkshire club themselves. There's potential at Bradford - yet they remain rooted in the fourth tier.

The reality, too, is that Valley Parade, like the proverbial millstone, is actually proving to be a hindrance in their quest to progress back up the Football League ladder.

It was estimated last season that costs to cover running the 25,000 arena ran to £1.2 million - a sizeable proportion of their budget for the year and undoubtedly impacting on their playing resources.

Not that Bradford's finances and the squad they have assembled translate to the lowly position they currently occupy.

When you consider the achievement of Dagenham & Redbridge last term too, then it can't be said that City don't have a big enough budget to mount a promotion campaign.

Yet they have struggled to do just that during their four years in League Two - a stay which was supposed to have been as short as it was sweet. Bantams supporters once hoping for a quick escape are now just praying for any kind of escape.

Well, as long as it's upwards - and their worrying slide towards the bottom two culminated in the resignation of Peter Taylor, who oversaw his final game during last weekend's vital 3-2 win over struggling Stockport.

It ensured the 58-year-old at least ended on a high note during a season he described as the most surprising and disappointing he had endured in the game in over two decades.

It's an indication of how expectations have been revised that the former Leicester boss spoke afterwards about the club using the win as a springboard to help keep them in a division they had hoped for promotion from.

In truth though, barring a run of four wins from five which saw them just a win off the top seven at the beginning of November, the Bantams have never looked like justifying the hype that accompanied them in pre season.

Interim Bantams boss Peter Jackson led Huddersfield to play off success in 2004

It's become a familiar story over recent years with pundits always backing City to earn promotion only for them to fail to even mount a sustained challenge for the play offs.

Stuart McCall, a legend on the terraces from his playing days, could only manage top half finishes of 10th and 9th - before being persuaded not to resign and to stay on to try once more.

Eventually, in a move that did him and the club great credit, McCall fell on his own sword after another disappointing campaign. No compensation to be paid, no rash sacking administered, no hard feelings.

The experienced Taylor, who along with QPR's Neil Warnock has more Football League promotions to his name than anyone else, seemed a perfect choice to replace him.

In his previous League Two job he had taken Wycombe to promotion in his first full season. Not even his knack of getting teams challenging at the summit has rubbed off in West Yorkshire though.

Former Lincoln boss Peter Jackson has been placed in temporary charge as the club survey their options. A proud and passionate Yorkshireman, Jackson took City's local rivals Huddersfield to promotion from League Two in 2004.

As a player he captained the club to the League One title in the mid-1980s and, despite his Huddersfield links, should unite City's large fan base in a way Taylor never could for however long he remains at the helm.

Whether he is the right man for the long term is a different issue. Although his record with Huddersfield deserves respect, his spell at Lincoln saw a relegation battle won, and an expected promotion challenge fail to materialise.

Ultimately, a poor start to last season saw him leave Sincil Bank - albeit it was a decision which appeared both harsh and premature. He will feel he has a point to prove and would relish the opportunity to restore glory to his hometown club.

City though are rumoured to have approached fellow League Two side Accrington Stanley to speak to their boss John Coleman.

The fiery Liverpudlian has been in residence at the Lancashire side for 12 years - taking Stanley into the Football League and, despite working with the division's smallest budget, is on course to secure them a sixth successive year in the 92 club.

It's a remarkable achievement for a man who encourages his team to play football but also knows what is required to handle the rough and tumble that is part and parcel of life in the lower divisions.

His work on the other side of the Pennines also proves that he is a man who can work to a budget - although resources at Bradford would be much greater - and who is able to build lasting foundations at a club.

It may be just what City require at this moment in time. After years of spiralling downwards, now is the time for some vision and long-term planning for a brighter future. Coleman has shown he can create a dynasty and, given the chance, could do the same on a greater stage.

Whoever they decide to appoint, Bradford must ensure that there is no further nadir. This particular Valley simply can't afford to plunge any lower down.

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