From Wembley thrills to February chills for Bradford City boss Phil Parkinson (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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From Wembley thrills to February chills for Bradford City boss Phil Parkinson
February is a scary time for Bradford City managers.
Like turkeys at Christmas and grouse on the glorious 12th of August, this month has proved to be hunting season for those occupying the Valley Parade hot-seat.
Colin Todd, Stuart McCall and Peter Taylor all exited stage left before hearing the first cuckoo of spring.
Now suddenly the finger is being pointed at the present incumbent.
A few short months ago, as City bathed in the afterglow of an unprecedented season, the thought that the manager’s position would be in the spotlight seemed utterly unthinkable.
Parkinson was the manager who had resurrected a club that had spent too long shoved away in the attic and forgotten. Like getting your bed-ridden granny suddenly fox-trotting down the hallway, he had breathed new life into a cause that had looked lost beyond repair.
After so many false dawns and promises, Bantam fans had something and someone to believe in. Under Parkinson, it has finally felt good to say you support Bradford City.
This time last year, they were everybody’s favourite second team. Like Newcastle under Kevin Keegan, the neutrals took “little City” to their hearts.
The giant-killing exploits in the Capital One Cup captured the imagination; not just in West Yorkshire but across the country – even around the world. Forget Manningham, City made front-page news from Melbourne to Montreal.
Mentioning you came from Bradford brought instant recognition for all the right reasons. After years of negative headlines and associations, the city was identified for the success of an upwardly-mobile football club.
And Parkinson was the focal point of this renaissance; the calm, assured hand on the tiller steering the good ship Bradford City clear of the choppy waters that had so often threatened to drag it down into the depths.
It was no surprise that his exploits drew admiring glances from other clubs. Within three days of vanquishing Villa at Valley Parade, Blackpool came knocking with the offer of Championship football and wages worth four times what he was earning.
But Parkinson turned down the chance to talk. His reputation among those of a claret and amber persuasion grew even higher.
Three months after Swansea killed the cup fairytale, City returned to their “second home”. This time Wembley knew the script and promotion was secured via the most one-sided of play-off finals. After six years and 279 games, City were a League One team once again.
On the afternoon that the city prepared to party with the open-top bus parade in Centenary Square, Parkinson and his staff signed new contracts and the love affair was complete.
But nine months on, there is a growing fear that the club could be slipping back towards where they came from. The boss is starting to face more searching questions than just the usual message-board rant.
Weather permitting, City will face Coventry this afternoon at their temporary Sixfields home. Northampton – a name that conjures up so many special memories from last year – becomes the latest test which the Bantams and Parkinson must solve to halt this shocking decline.
One win in 21 games; none from the last 13 since beating MK Dons in late November. Those are the damning statistics being used like a stick.
Five defeats in that winless run – and only nine all season – suggest City are far from out of their depth. But they are not doing enough, in Parkinson’s words, to “win these very close games”.
It should not take a lot to turn it round. The fillip of scoring first – something as rare as a dry weather forecast – could do the trick or a tap-in for Aaron Mclean, brought in last month to fill the boots of Nahki Wells and pacify those angered by his switch to Huddersfield but yet to open his account.
Defeat at Carlisle on Tuesday was a defining moment. The Cumbrians were a poor side on an even more wretched run but still came out three points to the good.
Afterwards, Parkinson delivered a “wake up and smell the coffee” press conference. The club had to “get realistic” about their league status and acknowledge the building threat from below.
In yesterday’s T&A, Parkinson spoke openly about the spotlight on his own position. He is long enough in the tooth as a manager to see the signs; he has been here before.
He has also come out the other side, as have so many others. He cited the example of Sam Allardyce who looked a dead man walking a few weeks back as West Ham careered towards the foot of the Premier League.
Three wins and four clean sheets later and the happy Hammers are safely berthed in mid-table. The frothing sack mob has relocated in search of another hapless victim.
Parkinson’s status is hardly at the critical stage that big Sam was facing. But he knows the ruthless nature of the game too well to take anything for granted.
You can watch the We Made History DVD over and over and what City achieved last season still struggles to sink in. The timing of the internet release of the fans’ film last week was particularly poignant given the rut that currently consumes the team.
The crowd – or at least 99 per cent of them – desperately want Parkinson to turn things around and carry on the long-term building process that last summer’s three-year contract put in place.
Like Paul Jewell who lifted the club into the Premier League for the first time, Parkinson’s place among the pantheon of top Bradford City managers has already been written in stone.
Nobody, not here or anywhere, will take another fourth-tier team to a major Wembley final in our lifetime. That record will always stand proud, possibly forever.
But you cannot live in the past and the form guide remains an immediate cause for concern.
Football is a results industry, as we are constantly reminded, and City have been failing on that score.
A week on Monday marks the anniversary of the cup final. It is also 11 years to the day that Parkinson was given his first managerial chance at Colchester.
It should be a proud occasion – but will only be so if City have finally unwrapped their first three points of 2014 by then.