Friday, February 22, 2013


Bradford City Offer Rare Romance In Cash Filled English Football

Roberto Mancini claimed at the weekend he was the best manager in English football. A strange thing to say you might think following his team’s collapse in the Champions League and inconsistency in the Premier League. Given the resources at his beck and call Manchester City should be winning things, such is the inherent bias football offers wealth.
This weekend sees big spending Manchester United travelling to west London to take on big spending Queens Park Rangers hoping big spending Chelsea and big spending City cancel each other out in their own clash in the north west.
As the Premier League chases the Asian baht, rupiah and ringgit most of the focus this weekend will be on those two games and the impact they will have on United’s inexorable procession to the title.
But elsewhere another game is taking place that will lack the hype and hullaballoo of the Premier League giants. Yet surely the story that has unfolded on the road to Wembley and the Capitol One Cup Final exceeds anything the Premier League cash cows can offer.
In 1985 Bradford City was a name on everyone’s lips. Images from a fire that tore through a ramshackle stand killing dozens beamed around the world. Those flames, combined with a rampant football hooliganism that was almost holding the game to ransom, changed much and led a rethink of stadiums and fans. The stadiums we now have in England with their improved safety and comfort come straight from the ashes of Bradford.
As a club Bradford long existed in anonymity. The fire at their Valley Parade ground brought them their 15 minutes of fame as Andy Warhol promised us all but they soon fell off the back pages. They were just another football club struggling to adapt to a torrent of change and wondering how the next bill would be paid.
A brief flirtation with the Premier League saw them defeat the likes of Arsenal, something they repeated a dozen years later, but it was all a dream. High wages were gambled on the likes of Benito Carbone and when relegation came the club was left counting the cost for several years.
They plummeted down the tables as they struggled to adapt to the new reality and they now find themselves in the 4th tier of English football, mysteriously known as League Two.
In recent years they have had the likes of Bryan Robson, Peter Taylor, Zesh Rehman and Lee Hendrie on their payroll but keen fans looking at the current vintage would struggle to find any familiar names. Even the manager, Phil Parkinson, raises few eyebrows among those for whom English football begins and ends with the Big 4, 5 or 6 or whatever in the Premier League. He spent the bulk of his playing career in the lower leagues with Bury and Reading.
The fans though have remained by their club with attendances regularly topping 10,000 as they have responded to the club’s imaginative pricing plans.
And this year they are receiving their reward. After a glorious Capitol One Cup run which saw them claim a hat trick of Premier League scalps, Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa, they are looking forward to a trip to Wembley and a final date with Swansea City, another club who have enjoyed a roller coaster three or four decades.
As part of City’s preparations for the Final no doubt they will be following a well worn path. There will be plenty of media interest of course, locally and nationally if not internationally, they will be measured for new suits and they will have sponsors crawling all over them ahead of their date with destiny.
The club shop will be doing a roaring trade and thousands of excited Yorkshiremen will be checking and re-checking their travel arrangements to London, their hotels and of course which pubs they will be celebrating in.
In this part of the world we will get to see none of this and that is a shame as it offers us a window into how even relatively small clubs have their own histories, traditions and cultures.
Valley Parade stands like a phoenix; a testament to a city’s pride in their local club and football’s renaissance since the dark days of the 1980s. The refurbished ground is one of the nicest in the lower leagues and was packed to the rafters when over 25,000 turned up to witness that classic David v Goliath encounter against Arsenal.
As a city Bradford rarely makes headlines; when it does it is usually for the wrong reasons. It can be a grim, unwelcoming place full of dark menacing buildings recalling a Victorian civic pride long gone. But this weekend the people and the football club will be beaming with pride as they hog the spotlight even for a short time in the final and perhaps for once we can allow a tiny bit of romance to enter English football and knock the rich men’s playthings off their pedestal for a few moments.
I started this story with Mancini’s claims he was the best manager in England. His squad boasts players costing 25, 30 million pounds. While managing a club with high profile players, and their accompanying egos, no doubt presents its own challenges, spare a thought for Parkinson. His motley bunch cost about 7,500 GBP to put together and that went on one player signed from a local non league team, Guiseley. The rest are hand me downs, cast offs and journeymen operating below the radar and away from the worldwide glare that afflicts their colleagues further up the divisions.
His meager contract, reportedly 1,000 GBP a week, is about to expire and the club are realistic; it’s going to be difficult to hold on to the man who beat Arsenal and Aston Villa. But for this weekend at least a mid table team with one win in their last eight league games are 90 minutes away from the biggest story of the year, a massive financial influx and European football.

I suspect that all Charlton fans will be willing Bradford on: Phil Parkinson was a well-liked manager.
I suspect that all Charlton fans will be willing Bradford on: Phil Parkinson was a well-liked manager.
Twice? Sorry, but bugger Blogger: it's why I changed to WordPress.
Speaking of romance being still alive and well in Bradford :
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