STUART McCALL admits a “big summer” lays ahead for beaten play-off finalists Bradford City ahead of sitting down with the club’s owners today for a planning summit.
The Bantams’ dreams of ending a 13-year absence from the second tier of English football were dashed by defeat to Millwall at Wembley.
Steve Morison struck a late winner for the Lions to deny Bradford the £5m windfall that comes with promotion to the Championship, via increased central payments from the Football League.
Missing out on such a sizeable sum is likely to have ramifications, not least in terms of what budget the club will have to work with next term.
Four of the starting XI against Millwall are out of contract next month with no talks understood to have taken place over new deals with either player-of-the-year Mark Marshall, Tony McMahon, James Meredith and Rory McArdle.
Stephen Darby and Matthew Kilgallon, both on the bench for the League One final, also face uncertain futures due to their own deals expiring on June 30.
Co-owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp will discuss their blueprint for the future with McCall at Valley Parade today and the Bradford manager admits clarity is needed as to what direction the club plans to take.
“I can’t say too much because I just don’t know what the meeting will bring,” said the former Scotland international to The Yorkshire Post when asked about sitting down with his bosses.
“There are a lot of players out of contract so we will see what happens. There haven’t been talks, nothing as yet.
“I do have a list of targets for next year as well but we will have to see what is said on Monday. It would be nice if we could keep the majority of the group together. I wouldn’t be over-confident of doing that but we will see.
This is a big summer for the club. It will be a real shame if we can’t improve again and push on.Bradford City manager, Stuart McCall
“We need strong leadership now, from myself as a manager and from the owners. We can’t let the club just fall back into a lull. We need to kick on.
“We gave it a right good go this season but we have got to be stronger again next year. Recruitment has been good and we need to recruit well again.”
Millwall, of course, offer a blueprint as to how best to deal with defeat in a play-off final after being beaten by Barnsley at Wembley a year ago.
“Neil (Harris, Lions manager) was in this position last year,” added McCall. “But the thing for him was he kept the squad together. There was talk of (Lee) Gregory leaving but he kept him.
“They brought (Shaun) Hutchinson in for (Marc) Beevers and that is almost the only change they have had. They kept that group together.
“It will be interesting to see if we can do the same. This is a big summer for the club. It will be a real shame if we can’t improve again and push on.
“We said at the start of the season, ‘Let’s improve on last season’ and we did by getting to Wembley. We have to do that again.
“We will have the meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Sit down with the players, too. But it will come from the top. We have to have an open mind. I don’t have a clue what the thinking is yet.”
Saturday’s final was marred by a pitch invasion by a few hundred Millwall supporters at the final whistle.
With no stewards on the pitch, a sizeable number of these interlopers headed for the dejected Bradford players despite the best efforts of Millwall manager Neil Harris to keep them away.
McCall had to be dragged away from a couple of gloating fans by Bradford goalkeeping coach Steve Banks. “If Banksy hadn’t come over, I could easily have been embroiled in throwing a couple of punches,” added the angry City chief.
Co-owner Rupp was as irate as his manager at the post-match scenes and the slow response from the authorities, a full 10 minutes elapsing before reinforcements arrived.
“We don’t want a civil war in the football stadium on a Saturday afternoon,” said the German. “This is complete b*******. So, if people have this in mind, they are in the wrong place.
“This is not what we want in football. If you want to celebrate, fine. But to endanger other people’s safety, this goes a little bit too far. It is still only football. We are not going to a war or something.
“I am very proud of our fans that they really saw it for what it is; a family experience and an exciting Saturday afternoon which is fun for everybody. When you see all our supporters with all their kids, this is what you want.”
Pages 2-3: Report & reaction