Football: Jewell polishes the Anfield way

Simon Turnbull talks to the bright new leader lifting Bradford's spirits
Click to follow
EVERYWHERE in Bradford this past fortnight the talk has been of the Toon - everywhere, that is, except the dressing-room at Valley Parade. "I've banned the players from talking about the Newcastle game," Paul Jewell said, settling into his chair in the manager's office. "We've got Crewe at home on Saturday and then Crystal Palace here on Tuesday. I don't want the players thinking about Newcastle until after that. I don't want them to become distracted."

In the car park outside, followers of Jewell's Bradford City team were decidedly distracted, perusing the Telegraph and Argus' 28-page FA Cup fourth-round "preview special" as they queued for tickets to watch next Saturday's tie, at a distance. City's allocation of 4,500 tickets for St James' Park having been snapped up within four hours of going on sale, a big screen beam-back has been arranged at Valley Parade.

"I'm sorry to sound like a cliche," Jewell said, "but I'm not thinking beyond Crewe on Saturday. When we come to play Newcastle we'll really look forward to it and relish the task. But the most important game in any club's history is the next one. The day you start looking too far forward your concentration wavers and you lose focus on the job in hand. It's something that was instilled in me at Liverpool. I was in the first- team party when we went to Dinamo Bucharest and beat them in the semi- final of the European Cup. We celebrated on the plane coming back but Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans had us on the training ground at 10.15 the next morning as if nothing had happened, preparing for the league game on the Saturday."

Jewell prepared for many a game in his four years on the playing staff at Anfield. He never played in one for the first team, though. A reserve teamer at 16, he topped the Central League scoring charts for two seasons. But at the age of 20 the local prodigy - from Scotland Road, Walton - was allowed to join Wigan Athletic.

"I remember driving out of the car park the day I left thinking, 'What have I done?' " Jewell reflected. "It was my boyhood dream to be a Liverpool player and I'd been living out my dream every single day for four years. But dreams have to give way to reality somewhere along the line and I knew if I wanted to further my career it was time to move on. Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush were in the first team and I knew if Joe Fagan and the backroom staff thought I was good enough to play in the first team they wouldn't have let me go. Liverpool don't make too many wrong decisions, do they?"

Jewell himself has not been making many bad decisions of late. At 34, he is the second youngest manager in the Football League, behind Mansfield's Steve Parkin. And, on recent form, he is the brightest boss outside the Premiership, brighter even than Peter Reid. The First Division manager of the month award he collected last week bears tangible testimony to that. Under his stewardship, Bradford have emerged as the form team behind Sunderland in the promotion race. (Their 4-1 win over Crewe Alexandra yesterday took them to second in the table.) Having spent his playing career in the lower leagues with Wigan and Bradford, Jewell could be managing the Bantams in the Premiership next season.

There would be rich irony in that, given the fact that he is the manager the Bradford fans did not want. "I wasn't the big name a lot of people craved," he said, reflecting on his appointment as Chris Kamara's successor a year ago. "But big names weren't born. That reputation has to be earned. And maybe big names aren't always the answer. I'm not saying they are or they're not but I don't think anyone could be any more committed to try and make a success of Bradford City than I am.

"People were telling me I was going to be sacked after seven games of the season. We only had five points. But I'd brought in a lot of new players and they were getting to know each other. We turned the corner after we got hammered 3-0 at Ipswich. The lads have worked so hard. We haven't really been playing well in terms of flowing football in the last six weeks but we've dug in and got results. That's really pleased me because the best teams in the world work the hardest. Ability alone isn't enough to win anything."

Jewell learned that much at Anfield, where Ian Rush was always the first line of defence. The same tackle-from-the-front philosophy has been applied at Valley Parade, where Robbie Blake and Lee Mills have flourished as all-round strikers of industry. There is no shortage of talent either, with Gary Walsh in goal, Stuart McCall in midfield and Peter Beagrie and Jamie Lawrence on the wings. But the real gem in the Bradford crown is their sparkling young manager - a headline waiting to happen since his playing days peaked with the FA Cup goal that put Wigan in the quarter- final, at Norwich's expense, back in 1987.

"Getting headlines now is all very well," Paul Jewell mused. "It's the end of the season that counts. And we've got a long, long way to go yet. One thing is for sure: my feet are on the ground. That's the way I was brought up, not just by Liverpool but by my family as well. I won't be getting any ideas above my station. I think I can do a decent job, but only time will tell." Delivered in Scouse, it was a pearl of pragmatic managerial wisdom with an authentic Anfield ring to it.