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Guy Branston can help Bradford City by not lifting a finger
On the day that City were hanging their heads in front of the Football Association, I was looking at an animated photo of Guy Branston.
The big defender was interacting with the home fans at Shrewsbury.
He had a finger in the air. The middle one.
Perhaps the defender was telling the crowd what division their club would be starting in next season.
Or maybe they had forgotten how many goals Shrewsbury had scored. It was, after all, not the most thrilling of Bank Holiday Mondays so it would have been easy to switch off.
The flashpoint created a stir and the inevitable chants questioning Branston’s girth, hairstyle and parentage came raining down in response.
Branston’s a big boy and took it with a smile, even applauding those same critics at the final whistle.
On Twitter afterwards, the messages flying back and forth between the player and the home supporters confirmed that it was nothing more than a bit of banter.
That’s all well and good. Nobody has a problem with players getting a bit of stick and giving it back, as long as no offence is taken.
Some will say it’s nice to show the human side of footballers compared with the sterile “them and us” bubble that exists at the top level.
I’m not one of these Victorian spinster types who will call for this or that sanction simply because somebody has done something that’s a little naughty.
But it has to be put in context.
Bradford City have had NINE red cards this season and spent the following morning in the dock at Wembley for the lawless shenanigans that followed the recent game with Crawley.
It’s fair to say they aren’t so much walking a disciplinary tightrope as the thinnest of threads. Their behaviour has to be whiter than white.
The £9,000 fine dished out by the FA came with a warning about their future conduct. Any transgression, however minor, will result in more sanctions.
Incidents such as Branston’s laddish larks with the New Meadow crowd are the last thing the club could do with right now.
Those involved might have dismissed it afterwards as a joke. Nobody was getting precious and the home club reported no complaints.
But banter or not, let’s put it in context. Luis Suarez got banned for showing the finger at Fulham.
True, that was in the full glare of the Premier League spotlight where the smallest step out of line is magnified a hundred times over by the army of TV cameras.
City’s visit to Shrewsbury was not in the same league, literally. But that does not mean that anything goes.
What if the referee or his assistants had picked up on what was going on?
City director David Baldwin and a contrite Jon McLaughlin would have headed south to plead their Crawley mitigation with another potentially embarrassing example of indiscipline hanging over them.
As the club made their apologies and insisted that last month’s melee was a one-off, how would that stand with the FA “beak” as they perused the referee’s report from the latest game?
Branston has performed like a warrior in the back four while Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver take their punishment.
From being cast into the Siberian wilderness on the training ground, the club’s former skipper has roared back to play with heart, spirit and dogged determination in the most testing of times.
His makeshift partnership with Lee Bullock has looked rock solid. Should Oliver come straight back in at Northampton this afternoon, it will be incredibly harsh on whoever makes way.
When Phil Parkinson talks of a team of captains needed to cope with the disruption, he is thinking of Branston.
But those qualities need to be demonstrated at all times. Leading by example should not include silly interludes with the opposing fans, however harmless they may seem.
The FA’s eyes will be trained on everything City do from now on. Nobody can afford to let their guard slip.
Or the authorities will come calling again to point the finger.