Friday, 18 October 2013

Ricky Ravenhill Seeks Out Loan Move

Ricky Ravenhill prepares to leave the club
   Sheffield United were visiting Valley Parade, and the Bantams were 2-0 up. We were all incredulous. How had City, who were supposed to be tentatively calibrating their way around their new division and playing the part of the terrified new boys, managed to slot two past a team who had been tipped for promotion, a play off place at the very least? We’d all seen much, much stranger the season before, but we were still pinching ourselves. This was more than we’d expected an hour or so earlier.
   “Ricky Ravenhill’s coming on,” my uncle said, pointing over to the touchline. “He’d best not get booked.”
   “There are two minutes left!” I laughed. “Even for Ravenhill, that’s a stretch.”
   But, oddly enough, it wasn’t. Extra time ticked in, and Ravenhill found his name scribbled in the book for ‘dissent’. Which was sort of ironic, given how the midfielder’s playing style divided opinion during his tenure with the club.
   To some, he was exactly what was needed to match the combative, direct style of the majority of League Two outfits: tough tackling with dogged determination and fierce defensive play. But to others, he’s reckless and a bull in a china shop; though there’s always intelligence embedded in those spurts of manic play.
   But I liked him. And why not? He got stuck in. He won tackles. He lead from the front during the relegation battle of two years ago, and helped to secure survival at a time when things were looking increasingly, increasingly bleak (I blame Brawl-ey Town, among other things).  He was a symbol of Parkinson’s intent as manager, of the kind of players the City supremo wanted to bring in: passionate, hardworking footballers who wouldn’t be bullied off the ball.
   Ravenhill became the captain, but an injury sustained during pre-season banished him to the sidelines. Jones slid in, Doyle hopped aboard and the rest was history.
   Questions were raised about his role in the team. Why did we need him? What was the point of him? What did he bring to the club that others didn’t? Then, the squad rotation policy was implemented. Doyle ran out of steam, Ravenhill stepped up to the plate and that was it – our misconceptions about him were assuaged. The club captain was suddenly the most important man in the midfield, and Doyle was the one under fire. Football fans are, by nature, a very fickle bunch (me included, and I’m also great at sitting on the fence and getting Ravenhill mixed up with Stephen Darby from a distance, which is utterly disgraceful because the latter’s my joint-favourite player), and no sooner had we deemed Ravenhill surplus to requirements, he was the catalyst of our promotion charge and helping the Bantams rack up the points that were so desperately needed in the closely-fought play off chase.
   Doyle combined sleek passing ability with composure and calmness, while Jones offered unrelenting energy and the rallying cry when the team was under the cosh. Ravenhill was an amalgamation of the two, with a bit more thrown in besides: his merciless tackles saw him placed just in front of the back four, allowing Gary Jones to surge upwards and be more creative. He added something different to the fold, but Doyle’s coolness won out after Ravenhill picked up a knock during a midweek clash.
   Again, Ricky was stuck on the bench, a starting berth proving frustratingly elusive. He waited behind the first-choice midfield pairing of Jones and Doyle, and then Kennedy’s arrival saw him slip further down the pecking order.  He was second, third, fourth fiddle by the time the campaign opened at Ashton Gate, biding his time for a chance in one of the most competitive areas of City’s tightly-knit squad.
   Parkinson strived for a consistency within his starting eleven, with Mark Yeates and Kyel Reid the only ones to really challenge his ethos other than where injuries and international call-ups had forced him to make changes. Ravenhill bobbed along compliantly, never begrudging those who had started ahead of him – which is credit to his professionalism and maturity.
   And so, too, is his request for a loan move. At 32, the curtain will fall on his playing days in just a matter of years. Time is of the essence as far as his sporting career’s concerned. Unlike Darby, Wells and Hanson, he’s not got the luxury of an impending peak, of another ten years of first team football. Every game counts.
   Perhaps it’s no surprise he’s asked to move on, and there’s no doubt in my mind that there’ll be teams clamouring for his signature; he’ll be a surefire starter at many League Two, perhaps even League One, teams, because look at what he’s offering them: experience, energy and an attitude that most Premier League superstars could take note of when they’re flaring up on a Saturday afternoon. And maybe there’s still a place for him in this City team. Just maybe. If – perish the thought - Doyle or Jones pick up injuries and are out for months, or if Kennedy fails to impress, Ravenhill would have to be recalled, thrust into the centre of the park to slip on the captain’s armband for one last time. He might return and win a slot in the line-up, handing the ‘reserve midfielder’ hat to the players to whom he’d lost his place a year ago. Or he might leave for pastures new in January and sign permanently for another side where, it can be assured, his services would make a massive impact.
   But whatever happens, Ravenhill can rest easy in the knowledge that he was one in the band of brothers who propelled the mighty Bantams out of the dingy, gloomy, hopeless bottom tier, stopping the rot and reversing a slide that had been in full motion for over 10 unremarkable years. Walking out at Wembley. Holding that trophy aloft. And above all, sticking with the club when it would have been so easy to turn around and wash your hands of claret and amber.
   And having that on your C.V. will make any club sit up and take notice.

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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Bantams Blogger Meets... Peter Jackson

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bantams Blogger meets former Bradford City player and manager PETER JACKSON to find out about his career highlights, the rise of Nahki Wells and his ill-fated spell in the Valley Parade hot seat.

   It’s a Saturday morning in Waterstones, and a trickle of City fans line up at a table in the doorway. Sat next to a stack of books alongside his wife, Alison, is former Bantams boss Peter Jackson, scribbling his signature as he poses for pictures and talks enthusiastically to supporters.
   In his autobiography, Living With Jacko, Peter and Alison talk emotionally and candidly about Peter’s battle with throat cancer, his football career and that fateful day in 1985. It’s a beautiful read, but not one that’s failed to attract controversy: Mark Lawn told the Telegraph And Argus last week that the board “don’t agree with what he has said in certain parts of it”.
   “[It’s about] mostly what’s happened in my life and my wife’s life as well, really,” Peter Jackson says. “It’s not a typical football book but it’s the truth about my career, my problems with throat cancer and basically my life in general.”
   Jackson played over 300 games for the club and returned to manage the side at the end of the 2010/11 season, eventually keeping the Bantams up with just one game to go. Though his stint in charge was ultimately doomed and he resigned after just four league games the following year, Peter describes his time at the helm – which saw the arrival of Bantams hotshot Nahki Wells - as his ‘dream job’.
   “[It was] brilliant. I loved it. I absolutely loved managing the club,” he begins. “To go down to Apperly Bridge, where it all started when I was a kid, as manager was really special for me and I’m just sad it didn’t work out.”
   ‘Work out’ being an underestimation. The start of Jackson’s tenure was blighted by uncertainty, with fans worried the team would slide out of the Football League and be forced to leave Valley Parade in the process. But for Peter, originally drafted in as interim manager, his priority was simple.
   “Just to keep the club up,” he says. “Just to keep the club up, simple as that. It was in freefall. There was no spirit within the club, there was no passion or pride - at least I gave that to the club, if nothing else. I brought some smiles back to people’s faces but my main aim solely was just to keep the club in the Football League.”
   Jackson secured survival at Hereford on the penultimate day of the campaign. The achievement saw him appointed permanently and he began recruiting for the new season, with his sights set on that elusive promotion to the third tier that had so far escaped all his predecessors. And Peter thinks the team he assembled could have cracked it.
   “Yeah, I believe so,” Jackson explains. “You only have to look at that couple of games before I left. For the Leeds game, where we should have beat Leeds United that night and they were a Championship side, we gave a really good account of ourselves, and with the emergence of Nahki Wells, a player I signed, I firmly believe that we’d have been up there.
  “Nahki came through Mark Ellis and Dave Baldwin. Different people had recommended this player and he’d been released by Greg Abbot at Carlisle. We brought him down, had a look at him and I signed him. He wasn’t on massive money so he was worth the risk because he had a lot of pace and he can destroy teams with his pace alone. But he’s matured now and he’s a really good finisher who’ll go for millions of pounds.”
   Just before his departure, Jackson’s side had taken just one point from a possible twelve and lost to Dagenham the week prior. Did he feel a pressure?
   “No, not really,” he says. “It was early stages in the season but there were things going on around me that shouldn’t have been happening at a football club. That was my reason for leaving and everything in the book is true.”
   Where did it go wrong?
   “Different people trying to do different things really – probably the emergence of Archie Christie,” Jackson sighs.
   It’s these comments, about then-head of development and chief scout, Archie Christie, that have led to City cancelling the book signing originally planned in the club shop. In the book, Peter writes, “Day by day, week by week, I felt my authority was being undermined… and not only by Christie… Mark [Lawn] also used to come down to the training ground while Colin [Cooper] and I were taking training sessions, something none of my previous chairmen had done.
   In spite of this, Jackson doesn’t regret coming back.
   “No, not at all,” he says.  I loved it. I really, really did enjoy it. Being able to keep the club up, which I did, build for a new season… But, as I say, the arrival of Archie Christie killed it all.”
   Of a career encompassing the honour of being made the Bantams’ youngest ever captain, 60 games at Newcastle and 155 appearances for Huddersfield Town, as well as three promotions, what stand out as the highlights?
   “Winning, obviously, the Championship with City,” he begins, “winning Newcastle United’s Player of the Year and my promotion with Huddersfield Town at Cardiff many years ago.”
   And at Bradford City?
   “As a player, lifting the trophy and meeting so many incredible people - the spirit we had at Bradford City after the fire. I started there as a kid and to think I’m stood now, in the centre of Bradford, Mario’s, where I used to have my hair cut, 100 yards away… It’s quite emotional to think there’s a book on Peter Jackson in Bradford, sold in Bradford bookshops, so that’s quite pleasing. And the biggest low was obviously the Bradford City fire and another one is my sad departure of what I call my dream job.
   “The fire was a really awful time, as you can see in the book. The emotion was really high and, as I say, it was a very sad day for everybody connected.”
   Jackson’s current pursuit takes him far away from the pitch - but it’s one that, he says in his book, comes with even more pressure than managing a football club.
   “We’ve got a home care company,” he explains. “We provide carers to go to people’s homes and we employ over 90 people, so it’s quite a big business we’ve got.”
   And Jackson, who went to the cup final and was ‘even waving a flag’, says it’s great that City are finally moving upwards after six years of rotting away in the doldrums.
   “[It’s] good, excellent, really good,” he enthuses. “They’ve brought in good players, they’re doing well and they need to get on a roll. I’ve always said at one time, with the turnover of managers, someone will eventually get it right, and Parkinson’s getting it right.”

Living With Jacko is out now and available to buy here.

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