After once again under achieving last season Bradford are preparing for life for a sixth successive season in the basement division. Last season’s poor showing of 18th leaves a lot of room for improvement going into the new season, a lot of the struggles were played to the back drop of a managerial and coaching changes, along with numerous personnel changes to the playing staff.
On paper the gaffer, Phil Parkinson who is entering his first full season at Valley Parade, has made some shrewd summer signings and whilst a ball hasn’t been kicked in anger just yet, it looks like City have a vastly improved playing squad this season, as opposed to the one lining up for the last campaign.
No fewer than nine players have signed on for the claret and amber since the final whistle of last season sounded. Parky has bolstered the defence with the likes of Stephen Darby from Liverpool and Rory McArdle from Aberdeen – McArdle was part of the Rochdale side that got promoted a couple of seasons ago, and it’s hoped he’ll play a key part for City this season. At left back James Meredith has arrived from York City, Meredith was a key player for Gary Mills side during their promotion winning side from the conference last season and by all accounts turned down clubs from higher up the leagues to sign on at Valley Parade.
The marquee signing for City, and possibly of the division was the return on a permanent deal of Andrew Davies from Stoke City. Davies spent the majority of last season on loan at Valley Parade and, despite getting sent off three times, one of those in the infamous ‘Battle of Valley Parade’ against Crawley, he was a regular shining light in a otherwise forgettable season. The fact that Davies was prepared to drop from the Premier League to League Two, and the likelihood of a probable (substantial) wage drop, just goes to show how much Davies wanted to stay at Bradford and try and bring success to the long suffering supporters.
In midfield the arrival of Rochdale stalwart and skipper Gary Jones is a massive boost and with Ricky Ravenhill out injured until November its likely Jones will take hold of the captain’s armband just like he did at Spotland. Garry Thompson has arrived from Scunthorpe United; Thompson originally turned Bradford down whilst at Morecambe in favour of a move to Glanford Park when he left Christie Park. Will Atkinson, who spent the second half of last season at Valley Parade, has arrived permanently on a free transfer from Hull City, the winger largely struggled to find form whilst on loan and it’s hoped that he’ll prove fans wrong who may already have written him off before a ball has been kicked for the coming season.
Another major coup in the transfer market for Parkinson was the arrival of former loanee and player of the year Nathan Doyle on a free transfer from our South Yorkshire neighbours in the Championship, Barnsley. Doyle ,who previously played for the club during a six month loan spell during the 2006/2007 season from then club Derby County, was a huge hit – such a hit that despite only playing in the claret and amber for half the season, he scooped the player of the year award. Either Parky is a good salesman or the pulling power of what could potentially be achieved at Bradford is attracting players to drop down the leagues and join the Parkinson revolution.
Up top Alan Connell has arrived from Swindon Town, Connell was top scorer for Paolo Di Canio’s champions last season and hopefully he can do the same for City this time around. Personally I see Connell as a backup striker to James Hanson and Nahki Wells; the latter is destined to be one of the stars of League Two this time around.
Whilst being very impressed with the caliber of signings that Parkinson has made so far, I still think the squad needs three possibly four players to bolster numbers for when suspensions and injuries start to impact on the squad.
The players that have departed Valley Parade personally I haven’t been too fussed about – one player I do feel will be missed is David Syers who opted to join Doncaster Rovers. Syers missed the majority of last season through injury but the year before had scooped Player of the Year in his first season in professional football and on his day was a key player for City.
Pre-season results have been impressive and comfortable victories against local non-league sides Tadcaster and Guiseley were either side of a week’s training camp in southern Ireland, In Ireland City beat Wexford and Bray. The training camp in Ireland will have helped build morale and camaraderie between the new and existing players, and hopefully, throughout the course of the coming season, the benefits of the camp will come to fruition.
Aside from the new additions to the squad, for me personally the star player has been on the books all along. Nahki Wells. Wells burst into the side half way through last season and seized the opportunity with both hands, without a doubt he’d have to be in the top five players in League Two to keep an eye on for the coming season. Wells has goals in the locker, pace to burn and a young fresh attitude to go with and if he can build on his impressive form during the course of the second half of last season, then not only will Wells propel his career forward then the likelihood is Bradford could also be moving in the right direction.
The league season kicks off in just over a week and a tricky game at Gillingham, which I am hoping will be the scene of Bradford’s first three points of the season. Time will tell, but if City are slow out of the starting blocks this season will that be disastrous? Not in my opinion with a host of new arrivals time will be needed to gel the players together. Hopefully the optimism that is bouncing around amongst the Bradford faithful is not misguided like in previous years.
Will the 2012/2013 season be another ten months leading to disappointment or will the fortunes at Valley Parade finally turn after so many years of under-achievement? 46 games to go…
Written by Mark Scully, We Are Going Up’s Bradford City Blogger
Mark tweets at @scully87