We spoke to Jason McKeown of The Width of a Post for this edition of The Opposition View, Plymouth Argyle vs Bradford.
How did you get into supporting Bradford?
It all came about during my teenage years. One morning I was chatting to some friends who were planning to go to Valley Parade that day to see City vs West Brom. I invited myself along, not expecting much, but was blown away by my first look inside Valley Parade.
In the film version of Fever Pitch, there’s a wonderful scene when the young boy takes in Highbury for the first time and his jaw drops to the floor, before he asks his dad when the next game is. I’d not seen that film before at the time, but the character’s reaction was exactly the same as mine. After my first look at the ground from the inside, I immediately leafed through the programme I had bought to check the next fixture. I knew straightaway this was my home and that I would be a Bradford City fan for life.
What’s gone wrong at Bradford this season?
That’s a long story, but it all stems back to the unpopular and (now thankfully) former chairman Edin Rahic. He jointly bought Bradford City in 2016, when the club was closing in on promotion to the Championship. Yet through a catalogue of arrogance and mismanagement succeeded in tearing up everything special about the club, and ripping apart its soul. It has been absolutely heart-breaking to see City become a shell of the club we once were.
For the first 18 months of Rahic’s reign, the team under Stuart McCall still managed to remain a staple top six side. But the wheels have come off spectacularly. Over the calendar year of 2018, we’re on our fourth different manager. The team has been unnecessarily torn up and the replacements inferior (the result of a transfer committee Rahic put himself in). We have some decent players, but the team has been badly constructed. We deserve to be bottom of the league, although there is hope that recent weeks have seen a small improvement.
Chairman Edin Rahic has just left, what happened with him?
As explained, it has been a destructive tenure from Rahic. The reason he was able to buy Bradford City in the first place was due to persuading multi-millionaire Stefan Rupp to purchase the Bantams, whilst acting as an angel investor and remaining based in Germany, with Rahic running the club. Luckily, Rupp finally got wise to Rahic’s errant ways, and talks between the pair have led to this week’s agreement for Rahic to leave.
The supporters have largely been utterly dismayed by Rahic’s approach, with season ticket and commercial revenue falling drastically and many others boycotting the club. This week is undoubtedly a moment to celebrate, but clearly we face a huge task fixing the damage.
Do the problems run deeper than manager David Hopkin?
Hopkin arrived in early September, just after the transfer window closed. He inherited a badly built squad, and walked into a hugely toxic atmosphere – due to the divide between supporters and Rahic. And until Stefan Rupp installed former chairman Julian Rhodes as consultant a month ago (to effectively take over the reins from Rahic), Hopkin had struggled to get much done.
Finally, Hopkin has been able to sign a couple of players, move on some coaching staff, and bring in his own assistant. His record is obviously poor right now and supporter patience is beginning to wear thin. But I think most fans would agree Hopkin has been dealt an exceptionally poor hand. The club will back him in January it seems, and hopefully he can make his mark.
What tactical style do you perceive Bradford are playing right now?
We are direct for sure, despite the absence of a competent target man. We do have some good footballers in the middle of the park, with Jack Payne, David Ball and Lewis O’Brien amongst our best performers of late. The signing of Karl Henry, to sit in front of the back four, adds more balance and will hopefully help us improve our awful defensive record.
I’m sure Plymouth Argyle will see more attack-minded, attractive sides at Home Park than City this season. But don’t write us off just yet. There’s a bit of steel at last.
Have any players stood out this season?
Despite the high volume of goals flying into his net, goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell has performed pretty well. Lewis O’Brien, a loan signing from Huddersfield, has put many of his more senior team-mates to shame with his all-action approach. Jack Payne is our most likely match winner. Elsewhere, the picture is patchy at best.
Are there any real weak links in the ranks?
Hopkin’s playing style demands a target man. Kai Bruenker, a German lower league striker signed by Rahic, is his only option. The lad tries his best, but looks well short of this level. He is a stop gap until the January window.
Who or what comes to mind when you think of Plymouth Argyle?
I work with an Argyle supporter. In an office largely full of Premier League supporters, it’s great to have a fellow lower league fan to share stories with – and the two of us have lots of enjoyable chats about our respective teams’ fortunes. Monday morning could be interesting!
Which Argyle player, if any, would you like to sign?
The Graham Carey of last season would be nice. Or given our target man issues, Ryan Taylor would do a job for us.
How do you see the rest of the season panning out for Bradford?
The next six weeks are massive. If we can get to January still in touch with the rest, and spend some significant money to improve the team, we have a chance. There are signs of recovery of late, but a heck of a lot of ground to make up.
And how about for Argyle?
After your astonishing recovery in the second half of last season, I’m concerned you will suddenly kick on and leave us in your wake. That said, there appears to be off the field problems at Argyle that could hold you back, as we can attest to.
And finally a prediction for the game?
It is a do-not-lose game for us, so I will take a 1-1 draw.