On Saturday 6th August 2011 Bradford City will walk out for their opening day fixture against Aldershot Town to kick off their fifth straight season in the bottom division, nothing any Bantams fan would have thought when we got relegated from League One. The highs of playing the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in the Premier League just over a decade ago really do seem like a far distant memory.
The Bantams have under achieved every season whilst being in League Two failing to reach the play-offs in any of the previous four campaigns and in truth not really getting close to a serious promotion push during that time. Even Peter Taylor who had a stack of promotions with a variety of clubs under his belt failed to produce the goods. Ask any Bradford fan and they would probably point to last season’s feeble effort as the worst in the club’s history.
However with Taylor now gone, and Peter Jackson installed as the permanent gaffer at the helm things are looking positive at Valley Parade heading into the 2011/2012 season. A cautious optimism is floating through the supporters as transfer activity has been done with long term thinking in mind, something lacking over previous seasons. The vast majority of the summer recruits are young hungry professionals on their way up in the game rather than players coming towards the end of their career and looking for a final pay day.
Behind the scenes Jacko has surrounded himself with some real football men. One time Middlesbrough defender Colin Cooper has put pen to paper as his permanent number two after spending the last couple of months of last season, like Jackson in an interim role, and the chief Wayne Allison has also joined as coach. The club has put in a much needed scouting network which is headed by former Dagenham & Redbridge chief scout Archie Christie. Already a couple of potential gems have been snapped up for the newly created Development Squad, in particular Scott Brown a 16 year old central midfielder has been signed from Clyde with Jackson describing him as one of the best 16 years old he’d seen in a long time.
With a number of players being shown the door after yet another poor season which saw the club brush with a late season relegation battle, there has been a hive of transfer activity down at Valley Parade this summer with no fewer than twelve players being brought in. One major problem for the Bantams last season was the distinct lack of goals with the club amongst the lowest scorers in the whole football league. Jackson has looked to strengthen in the attacking department with arrivals of Nialle Rodney from Nottingham Forest and Ross Hannah from non-league Matlock Town. Hannah netted an incredible 52 goals in all competitions last season for the Derbyshire side and will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of former non-league players James Hanson, Steve Williams and Dave Syers who have all made the step up in the last couple of seasons to prove key players for the club. Signed to boost the attacking ranks is Mark Stewert from Falkirk who finished top scorer for the Scottish First Division side last season. Stewert described in an interview by joint chairman Mark Lawn ‘as mustard’ is one of three players signed from the Scottish club with right back Chris Mitchell and left winger Jack Compton also penning deals (the latter on a 6 month loan contract).
To complement the younger pro’s, Jackson has snapped up no nonsense centre half Guy Branston. The vocal defender was instrumental in the Torquay side last year, which reached the play-offs and was named in the League Two team of the year. Branston is the new skipper and you never know he might be lifting the League Two title in May! Also signed is former Manchester United youth midfielder Richie Jones from Oldham Athletic, and former Carlisle striker/midfielder Nahki Wells. Liverpool keeper Martin Hansen has joined on loan.
Pre-season has seen the club test itself against different levels of opponents with wins against non-leagues sides Silsden and Guiseley, a draw against Matlock (which was part of the deal of Ross Hannah’s transfer) and defeats against Bradford Park Avenue, Bolton, Hull City and Carlisle United, avoiding any serious injuries along the way.
For the first time whilst being in League Two, Bradford aren’t amongst the bookies favorites for promotion which I personally feel could play into our hands. Can we sneak under the radar and prove a force this year? Well I hope so, after all in Jacko we trust!
After last season it would be great for the smiles and cheers to return to the stands at Valley Parade rather than the groans which have been rightly given out over the past few years, and what better way to get that going by beating Aldershot on the opening day and winning in the backyard of our fierce and local rivals Leeds United in the Carling Cup first round…well we can dream!
Fingers crossed the claret and amber or voltage cherry clad fans will have plenty to cheer about this season both at Valley Parade and on the road. Will 2011/2012 be our year or will it be another season of hurt and despair. The next ten months hold the key to the answer; hold onto your seats as I’m sure it will be a rollercoaster either way.
Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger
Mark tweets at @scully87