It is an irregular sight to see a stadium of Valley Parade’s size and heritage play host to the likes of Barnet and Fleetwood on a weekly basis but that is the fate that has belied the Bantams since their ITV Digital induced capitulation through the football league that began at the turn of the millennium. Since then, they have experienced two administrations and fifteen managers in succession of Paul Jewell, the manager who oversaw their miraculous stay in the Premier League of the final day in 2000 with a win over Liverpool. From that pulsating day, Bradford’s journey has only been in one direction, a twisty, winding road down.
Now, under the guide of young, yet relatively well-experienced Phil Parkinson, the club could be about to leave years of false optimism behind them and turn their intended direction upwards after 12 years of constant pain and frustration which has reached a nadir with two consecutive 18th placed finishes in the bottom tier. That a club who were dining with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea just 12 years ago with an inhabitation of a 25,000-seater stadium that still stands should be reduced to the ignominy of the barren lands of England’s football league pyramid with such immediacy is the clearest warning of how badly it can go if finances are miscalculated; it is a long fall from the top of which no club, as Portsmouth and Rangers of Scotland have been recently discovering, are immune.
The days of Peter Taylor that still hang over Valley Parade to a degree, are just about eroded from the memory with the club having been directed to the dullest of slumps by way of the ugliest of long-ball systems and it is indicative of the negating factor Taylor had that Bradford fans still exhume with the disillusionment and bitterness that was ripe when he eventually quit the club when placed in the dark depths of 21st in League Two. Peter Jackson lasted just 6 months after him and now Parkinson, who saw a significant improvement in results and performances at the turn of the calendar year, has breathed fresh air into the Bantams and some of the optimism that usually surrounds those parts on the dawn of a new season may contain a significant degree of validity.
Bradford beat Shrewsbury Town, Crewe Alexandra and Southend, clubs who were all involved in the promotion hunt at the end of the season, last December in a run that landed Parkinson a manager of the month award. It was also suggestive of the potential that this team have, furthered by their run to the semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy competition, but an unsettled squad in tandem with a manager still newly-introduced to its players fell away to another disappointing finish just 6 places away from what would have been a ground-breaking relegation. That the club bought in a total of 31 players over the course of last season is a fascinating tally that put a stringent blockade on any attempt to forge a settled squad.
That figure has been trimmed down to a modest 24 players so far this summer with Barnsley’s versatile midfielder Nathan Doyle the latest player signed up to Parkinson’s optimistic new era, following Alan Connell, scorer of 13 League Two goals for champions Swindon last term, as well as former Stoke defender Andrew Davies through the arrival doors in west Yorkshire. Liverpool’s young right-back Stephen Darby has also been brought in, plus Rochdale’s experienced midfielder Gary Jones who was the driving force behind Dale’s promotion from the bottom league two years ago. These arrivals will supplement the current youthful talent of Kyel Reid and Nakhi Wells who showed sporadic glimpses of their ability last time out as well as striker James Hanson who has so far struggled with having the sole responsibility of goal-scoring locked onto his shoulders.
It is already a far more rounded, calculated squad put in place by Parkinson who has previously shown no qualms in mentioning the word promotion when asked about his sides’ chances in the forthcoming season. They have had this optimism previously and it has betrayed them with the most unforgiving of drudgery. Bradford fans have suffered long enough and this could be the year that ends it.