By Matt Rowson
Do you remember how, at school, there was always a kid who tried to make himself look big by hanging around with older kids? The one, pathetically insecure individual who made a point of addressing these older boys by name, very loudly in your presence, and laughing excessively at their bad jokes. Do you remember how the extent of the camaraderie and shared exploits in his stories never quite matched up to the evidence of your own eyes? How a lack of substance was pasted over with crass, liberal coatings of show... until the older boys abandoned him and he realised that none of his peers cared that much for him any more?
Hellooooooooooo, Bradford City.
It could all have been so different for the Bantams. Promoted to the Premiership at the same time as ourselves, a small club challenging the odds and surviving a season should have been met with much greater acclaim. Instead, having relied on an unusually large number of inept sides, an idle treatment room that would have made any Hornet weep and a very last minute escape to survive a season, Bradford have started to paint themselves as Premiership establishment. Ludicrously.
Before 1999, the Bantams' last top-flight game was in 1927. For fifty-odd years up to 1985, they never even made the old Second Division. They spent their final, pitiful, Premiership campaign not blooding young players, but signing a menagerie of withering ex-stars and never-quite-weres. Now back in Division One, arguably still above what might be seen as their traditional station, the messageboards complain at the tedium of Nationwide life, and discuss the inevitability of their immediate return.
Jim Jefferies, who always manages to look as though he's just watched someone crapping in his front garden, has opted to pursue the 4-3-3 formation that GT experimented with for so much of last season. It is no coincidence perhaps that match reports complain about weaknesses in defence, of full-backs being given too much land to cover and being repeatedly exposed, of disorientated defenders allowing balls to bounce in their own penalty area. City don't appear to have many problems going forward, so the final analysis seems to be consistently "if we sort the defence out, we'll be flying". Which also sounds familiar.
In goal for City will be Gary Walsh, the portly stopper having reclaimed his spot from the whining Matt Clarke, departed for his natural home at Palace. Backup is former Grimsby keeper Aidan Davidson.
At right-back is Norwegian Gunnar Halle, who has now been playing football in England for over ten years. His lack of pace is being badly exposed by the 4-3-3 system, and fellow contender Peter Atherton is likely to have similar problems when he returns from injury. On the left, an injury to the long-serving and resilient Wayne Jacobs meant a debut for seventeen year old Lewis Emanuel. That Emanuel was chosen ahead of natural leftback Andy Myers says something for how highly he is rated, although Myers now features more frequently in central positions than he did at Chelsea. David Wetherall and Robert Molenaar, both signed from City's near-neighbours Leeds, form the regular partnership; the highly-rated Wetherall has recently been linked with Southampton as a replacement for ex-Bantam Dean Richards. Another option in the centre is Andy Tod, on loan from Dunfermline, although he has also featured up front and currently has a knock.
The midfield trio of choice features the evergreen Stuart McCall, alongside fellow Scot Gary Locke and ex-Crewe man Gareth Whalley. Locke was originally signed as a right-back from Jefferies' old charges Hearts but has impressed more further forward, although his lack of judgement in tackling sometimes leaves something to be desired. Whalley has been one of City's better performers this season by all accounts, and has been described as "the complete midfielder, if he could tackle and shoot". Other midfield options include the chaotic Jamie Lawrence and summer signing from Bournemouth Claus Jørgensen. With Lee Sharpe also injured, the left-sided Lee Makel has been signed as short-term cover; his appearances seem to have come from the bench.
Up front, Ashley Ward's height has proved so vital to the forward line that he has recently played through injury. Playing off him have been former Scottish international Eoin Jess and Benito Carbone, subject of rumours linking him to first club Torino. Should Carbone depart, Robbie Blake will get another chance to stake a claim.
City are still shopping around for squad members; another line leader seems like a good idea, and former Bantam Lee Mills' recent listing at Portsmouth has not gone unnoticed (prompting the headline "Dark Satanic Mills" on one website). Everton striker, Bradford-born Danny Cadamarteri has also been linked following his effective dismissal from Goodison; how the disgraced striker's signing would sit alongside the recent dismissal of two youth teamers for, apparently, bullying is not clear.
With further trialists also arriving at Valley Parade, City's reserves will be taking on a highly changeable form. As we will no doubt see in Tuesday's Worthington Cup tie, should Bradford decide to show off their Premiership credentials.