CHALK and cheese are how Stuart McCall sees the differences between his first bow as Bradford City manager and today’s second coming.
Nine years ago, such was the feverish sense of excitement ahead of Macclesfield Town’s opening-day visit – a game watched by 13,401 fans, a crowd only Nottingham Forest could better in the lower divisions that day – that it felt like promotion was just a matter of time after the club’s favourite son had returned.
Today, though, there is a much healthier sense of reality. Make no mistake, City fans want another promotion push after reaching last season’s play-offs. But this is mixed with a realisation that Phil Parkinson’s departure, along with all his coaching staff and several key loanees, means patience will be needed.
“We are all excited for the new season,” said McCall. “There has been a big player and staff turnover and we can’t expect everything to be right straight away. But, equally, we are working hard to get things right as quickly as possible.”
Had things worked out differently, McCall’s return to English football could have come three years ago in his native Yorkshire.
Sheffield United, where the former Scotland international had been both a player and coach under Neil Warnock, made a big play for the then Motherwell manager during the summer of 2013.
A second consecutive failure in the League One play-offs had led the Blades to turn to McCall but, after much deliberation, he decided to stay at Fir Park.
“I knocked Sheffield United back that summer,” explained McCall. “It was when David Weir got the job. Everyone said I was stupid for not going because we were losing so many players. But I wanted to show loyalty.
“I flew back from Benidorm to speak to them and they offered me the job, but the budget had gone down from £4.2m when Danny Wilson was there to £2.1 with a five-year plan.
“Rotherham had just come up (from League Two) and I was told their budget was over £3m. Bradford’s was £2.5m. If I was going to be given £2.1m budget that was going to be a struggle.
“Plus, Sheffield United fans see Rotherham as their little brother, they have 16,000 gates and they have expectations. So, I said ‘No, I can’t do it’. I also felt loyal towards Motherwell and that following season we again finished second despite losing seven key players.
“We even went from 63 points to 70, a record. We got second on the final day with the last kick, a great feeling.”