But Peterborough fans already nervous about new manager Graham Westley
26 September ~ Aside from Arsène Wenger, there can't be a safer manager's job in English football than Phil Parkinson at League One Bradford City. The 47-year-old recently celebrated four years in charge by signing a new contract that will keep him at the club until 2018. If Parkinson sees his new three-year deal out, he will become the second-longest-serving manager in the club's history. Shortly after agreeing the new contract with his manager, Bradford's joint chairman Julian Rhodes was already talking about the next one, stating that he sees Parkinson remaining at the helm into the next decade.
Parkinson's popularity in the boardroom and among fans is easy to understand. After Bradford reached the Premier League at the turn of the millennium, the fall down the leagues was painful. When Parkinson took over in September 2011 there was a real danger that Bradford were about to become the first ex-Premier League club to be relegated to non-League.
Early on in Parkinson's reign he identified the blindingly obvious, declaring: "There is a losing culture at the club.” Yet unlike so many Bradford managers who failed before him, he was successful in changing that culture. In his first full season in charge, Parkinson revamped the squad with spectacular results – Bradford were promoted from League Two and reached the League Cup final. After last season's seventh-place finish in League One, the Bantams have climbed 35 places up the Football League ladder under Parkinson. They were among the pre-season favourites for promotion.
But it is the cups that have really defined Parkinson's time at the club. Over the past four years, 11 higher-league opponents have been defeated by Bradford. Most famously City beat Arsenal and Aston Villa en route to Wembley in 2013 and Chelsea and Sunderland in last season’s FA Cup. These heroics have provided financial stability and captured the imagination of Bradford's sporting public. Thanks also in part to the continuation of City's pioneering approach to pricing, more than 18,000 season tickets were snapped up for this season.
While Parkinson is the sixth-longest-serving manager in the top four divisions, tomorrow he comes up against the newest in Peterborough United’s Graham Westley. The same age as Parkinson, this is Westley’s tenth managerial role. Just when Parkinson’s managerial stock was falling with struggles at Hull and Charlton, Westley’s was on the rise after he guided Stevenage from the foot of the Conference to League One between 2008 and 2011. He has struggled to achieve much since, but continues to be in demand.
Westley’s reputation for the long ball has caused some concerns among Peterborough fans, given the club are known for their attractive attacking style. Westley has responded by writing to all season ticket holders this week with the grandiose aim to “raise our minimum standard to beyond 600 passes per game, leading to 25-plus attempts at goal”. Yet if he achieves that level of football on a weekly basis, Westley probably won’t be troubling Parkinson in the long-serving managerial stakes – he’d be lining up as the long-awaited successor to Arsène Wenger. Jason McKeown