Jones has signed, Duke has gone and Doyle is TBC. It can only be the close season.
After the excitement of the 2012/13 campaign, we knew that the off-season was going to be strange.
Bradford City’s epic adventure is well documented by now. A convincing start to the season saw the Bantams sizzle into the top seven, before they rampaged through the Capital One Cup. Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa were all sent packing as a clinical Bradford reigned supreme, and, as older fans relived the Premier League glory days, younger ones got their first taste of the top division, plus the chance to see world-famous players ply their trade on the Valley Parade turf. TV crews swarmed Bradford. The Bantams became the toast of the town, and the pride of Yorkshire and the fourth division. Everyone wanted to watch City. People scrambled for tickets for that big day, and, even though defeat followed, the side recovered and flew back to the capital in style to secure promotion to League One. Open top buses descended onto City Park for the victory parade.
Then, suddenly, nothing. No more games. No more press appearances. No more checking the table on a Saturday afternoon. That was it. Just silence.
But it wasn’t long before we were given something to chew on. Andrew Davies put end to the speculation about his future by penning a deal with the Bantams, and Gary Jones took advantage of his contract extension option to pledge his services to City for another year. And that, in a nutshell, is the next couple of weeks for you: an eerie silence broken by the talk of transfers and contracts.
Welcome to the close season.
The summer months mark an influx of far-fetched rumours and a mad rush to decipher those ambiguous codes coming from various parties. We listen intently for sporadic updates about Jo Bloggs and Jack Robinson, and excitedly gaze inwards as the rumour mill cranks itself up to full. We second guess. We debate. We check the newspapers and club websites every day, scouring the web for clues as our teams offer us tantalising glimpses into the state of the current market. Some years, it’s stagnant because clubs slash their budgets, but sometimes it’s in full flow, and the Sky Sports News scrollbar is alive with reports of supposed bids and high money fees. For many football fans, it’s the most enthralling and effective way of banishing the boredom that comes with the off-season.
The script reads the same every year: some Premier League club is signing a multi-million pound ace to propel them into title contention; whole squads are revamped as new managers look to change the face of a club; one of the Premiership’s top performers hops abroad or switches allegiance; one team – quite often the England squad – is embroiled in some dramatic crisis that will spell the end of life as we know it. With league matches off the menu, national games and all of this become our port of call for a football fix.
This year, the desire for kick-off among City fans is more prevalent than ever. Previous seasons have seen us await the coming campaign with a guarded optimism, approaching August with promotion hopes pinned on the ‘it can only get better’ mantra. Now, though, we’re raring to go. For the first time in a long time, we go into a season knowing what success tastes like. We enter the season with an interesting sense of confidence, and there is genuine substance to our hopes that goes beyond potential – that is, we have seen these lads achieve great things and we know that they are capable of the unbelievable.
But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have to strengthen. Contrary to previous years, we are not welcoming a new management team, so the squad won’t have to be stripped down and rebuilt from scratch; it’s just a case of fine-tuning certain areas. We will need to add, of course – more depth may be useful, as almost a pre-emptive measure to avert an injury crisis – but, in terms of experience, we’ve got several players who have played in League One and beyond, so, to me, it just seems to be a case of bringing in a few more names to ensure that we can really establish ourselves up there.
In City’s case, the key transfer arcs are Duke’s future (it has been confirmed that he has signed a two-year deal with Northampton Town) and Doyle’s future. Some say that a new striker may be on the horizon, whilst others claim that the acquisition of Andy Gray way back in January means that this isn’t an area that Parkinson is looking to expand.
As I write this, it’s just been announced that Matt Duke will join the Cobblers and become their first-choice goalkeeper. Although the promise of two years of guaranteed first-team football would have been hard to refuse, I thought that Duke would stay at Valley Parade, not least because his position as goalkeeper coach provided longevity in terms of a guarantee of a job once his playing career ended. But that wasn’t the case, and our cup hero made the tough decision to part ways with the Bantams and join Aidy Boothroyd’s side. It’s sad to lose him, but we’ll never forget those amazing nights against Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa that Duke’s efforts helped to provide. So, good luck, Duke, and thanks for the memories. Oh, and I'm really going to miss your chant, by the way.
I know nothing about any rumours connecting Nathan Doyle to other teams, but I’m hoping that we can tie him down. As one of the more versatile players in the squad, he can be the attacking spark that terrorises opponents, or the tough-tackling defender who leaves strikers quaking in their boots. He’s the gel that binds the defence to the middle of the park. We’ve seen that he can come on and lift a team – it was his calm influence and Reid’s link-up play with Meredith that really allowed us back into the Burton home leg – and he fits perfectly alongside Gary Jones to steady the midfield unit. The two have forged a lethal partnership, with Jones’ energy and Doyle’s eye for a pivotal pass providing a more intense attacking outlet that is harder for defences to break down.
Some prefer Ricky Ravenhill, who, as he often plays just in front of the defence, allows Jones to drive forward and make greater use of the wingers. And, yes, we do have Ravenhill, Will Atkinson and young Scott Brown, so maybe Doyle will be viewed as surplus to requirements, but he’s still an asset, and he’s still going to be a huge part of the squad if we keep him. If he wants to head elsewhere, it’s not the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t put up a fight to tie him to Valley Parade next season.
Moving onto Andy Gray, who Parkinson signed on an 18-month deal way back in January. He’s definitely divided opinion since his arrival from Leeds. To some, he’s a poor player, not providing the pace, effort and creativity that Wells, Hanson and Connell respectively offer. Some fans cite him as the reason why Hanson’s hold-up play has improved, but others are uncomfortable with awarding him such credit.
But I’m backing Gray to come good. Why? Because Parkinson doesn’t do dud signings. Only the cream of the crop will do for the City chief; the players with that winning mentality who are willing to battle hard for 90 minutes and who are only satisfied with a hard-fought three points. Moreover, Parkinson has shown an admirable ability when it comes to improving players, and it’s hard to ignore his impressive track record in this field: under Parky’s influence, Atkinson blossomed and silenced his critics, and Thompson brushed off a wobbly start to develop into a prodigious goalscorer. In a similar vein, Luke Oliver was regarded as the worst of a bad bunch during the Peter Taylor era, yet he blasted back in style to amass multiple gongs at the club’s awards night the following year. My point? Don’t ignore this history. Gray may still deliver.
We’ll definitely be inundated with more rumours in the next few days and weeks as the market steadily picks up, and we’ll do our fair share of staying up late for midnight announcements and watching updates ticker across the news channels. But, in the meantime, embrace the transfer window, because you don’t find suspense and drama quite like it anywhere else.
Unless, of course, it’s the actual football season.