Bradford City hero Abbott draws strength in adversity

FOR someone whose natural positivity and exuberance can light up a room, 2018 has been undeniably tough at times for Greg Abbott.

Greg Abbott during a spell as caretaker manager of Bradford City last season. (Picture: Simon Hulme)
Greg Abbott during a spell as caretaker manager of Bradford City last season. (Picture: Simon Hulme)

Geography may denote that the 54-year-old is a Midlander by birth, but the claret and amber of Bradford City stirs his soul. It is his club, almost like family and the duty of care runs deep.

Seeing fissures among disgruntled sections of fans, a number of whom have significant issues at co-owner Edin Rahic’s running of City, has hurt in the aftermath of an awful set of on-pitch results from the start of a calendar year which can be described thus far as an annus horribilis.

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Yet in the final analysis, sport is sport and life is life.

Greg Abbott with fellow Bradford City coach Martin Drury.

Abbott has had bigger challenges to deal with than football this year. Like embarking on a battle against cancer after stepping down from his duties as head of recruitment in mid-April to undergo treatment for prostate cancer.

A combative and wholly committed midfielder during a nine-year playing stint at Valley Parade, Abbott has similarly shown those steely characteristics during his fight to overcome illness.

It takes a lot to knock down Abbott and, thankfully, the signs are that he is winning his own personal battle – with the adopted Bradfordian’s trademark enthusiasm now being harnessed in a new role assisting head coach Michael Collins – for the greater good of his footballing passion, Bradford City.

Fraught moments there may have been so far this year, but Abbott is one to draw strength from adversity, something his club have proved proficient at in their darkest hour.

Abbott said: “We have got to try and bring it all together, that is the key for me. It hurts me to see the club divided.

“I still have got people who I speak to about when I was here (playing) and they are ringing me up saying: ‘what is going to happen?’

“I did not even know what was going to happen myself. Part of me is just delighted I am sat here talking in a good frame of mind.

“Not a lot knocks me down; but my illness knocked me down and football – good and bad – has never knocked me down and I have always bounced back from that and that is what I want to put to the lads and players.

“I have been through quite a bit on and off the pitch now and I will be the most vocal and energetic. There will be nobody with more energy, enthusiasm and determination for the club to do well.”

Heading into a close season on the back of a desperate run of two wins in 21 matches, the mood music in early summer at City was understandably morose.

A deep sense of apathy was prevalent among many supporters, with the more vociferous venting their social media fury firmly in the direction of Rahic.

A coaching appointment viewed by sections of the club’s support as underwhelming did little to draw the sting out of their ire either. Quite the opposite. But with the new season now in view, the atmosphere is becoming less febrile.

A busy summer of recruitment, headlined by the signing of Huddersfield Town duo Sean Scannell and Jack Payne, has started to lift the spirits of fans, who gave Collins a warm ovation as he walked to the Valley Parade dug-out for the first time in Tuesday’s friendly with Sheffield United. It was a spot of balm after a hard summer, with a positive City display being a further step in the right direction.

Abbott acknowledged: “The mood has killed me...Some of the stuff you read and the frustrations. You feel a lot of the frustrations and you are hurt with some of the criticisms. Whatever it is; it does not matter if you are part of that situation or not. I do not want anyone at the club criticised if I am honest. I just want everyone to enjoy the game and what Bradford City is all about.

“We want to bring back the good times. If you cannot bring back fantastic football and win every match, at least bring back a place where everybody belongs, wants to be part of and shows unity. If you show unity and really want to belong, the team will find a way of replicating that and we will be absolutely fine.

“We have got to make it a less divisive situation. A lot of things have been said and written about Edin. Listen, he is different. But a lot of things have been wide of the mark at times and I think that has been a bit unfair.

“Once things get momentum with the social media and people add a little bit to it that is not quite right, all of a sudden you have a crescendo of ‘what are we doing, what is the club playing at?’

“But with the signings we have made and this new team off the pitch, we will get it right on it and we can have some success and get some smiles on faces.”

As Collins and fellow rookie Martin Drury prepare for their maiden season in the dug-out in the EFL, Abbott – with over three decades of experience in professional football – will be watching their backs to a degree and fronting up where necessary, too. For those who know Abbott well, that will not constitute a surprise.

“You will probably hear me more when we are getting beat than you would if we were winning,” he added. “Because if we are winning, I will let the two lads take all the plaudits. If we are having a tough time, you will see me come to the fore and show what I am made of, hopefully.”