Getting it back together: The 2003-2004 Preview

Nicky Law keeping going

By Mark Douglas

Nicky Law is Bradford City's Winston Churchill. In the summer of 2002, when waves of debt-driven despondency threatened to engulf Valley Parade, his distinctive profile stood tall, a recognisable pillar of hope as the castle of sand that Geoffrey built dissolved around us. There he was: dignified but pragmatic, with nothing to offer us but a season of blood, toil, tears and sweat - a fresh message delivered with an honesty and integrity that veered so dramatically from the hot air coming out of the club in the previous months. His nondescript achievements on the field were forgotten: here was a man that City fans could do business with. And, as Law delivered a salvation of sorts, the doubters were silenced. How could they not be? His was the face of 'new City', warts and all. Certainly, we suffered humiliation in the ensuing ten months but come May, we were still alive and, in footballing terms, still at the business end of the English football pyramid.

But, the Churchill story didn't end with his stewardship of the free world in the Second World War. In 1946, just five short years after the end of the conflict, he was unceremoniously dumped from office, the beacon in the darkest hour unable to shine in times of normality. Thus lies the danger with Law. After accomplishing one of the most notable salvage jobs in the history of Bradford City FC, will he prove to be an effective leader only in times of crisis?

Law's path is paved with pitfalls. The first stage of the 'Bantams Future', the cultivation and reliance on young players, has become synonymous with the former Arsenal stopper, and 2003/2004 provides the first stern examination of the wisdom of this policy. Simon Francis remains arguably the finest prospect at Valley Parade since a young Scotsman tread the Bantams midfield in the early eighties with such poise, but his youthful backing cast remains largely unproven. The talented Tom Kearney's deferred ascension to the mantle of McCall will be one of the more compelling footnotes of the season, and much resides on its outcome. However, there remains those of us who, while we whisper it quietly, doubt the ability of local hero Danny Forrest to shoulder a striker's burden in this physical First Division, and, lest they forget the price of mediocrity, Law's slew of young Premiership rejects would do well to note the stuttering progress of Michael Standing, City's ephemeral midfield link-man.

Similarly, Law's judgement in that litmus test of managers, the transfer market, will come under scrutiny. Whereas last season most of Law's decisions had been forced, his hand this close-season has been much freer. Claus Jorgensen, the driving force behind last season's springtime revival, was jettisoned largely by choice, and we may be pining for his return if no goal-scoring replacement emerges. The biggest signing of the season was also a gamble. Will Dean Windass' cathartic return inspire, or will the presence of one of City's own galatico's of 99/2000 merely emphasise the difference between the current crop and the Premiership class of days gone by? They are all judgements that will be made by fans and board alike, probably sooner rather than later.

We are now days away from the Nationwide League kick-off. City have one of the best and most committed boardrooms in the league. For the manager, and much of the squad, however, D-Day is about to dawn.