Kamara takes the highs and lows

Simon Turnbull talks to the Bradford manager who has scaled new heights
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The Independent Online
Bradford City stood proudly on top of the First Division table, for the first time in nine years, but Chris Kamara did not sound like a man on top of the world. "It's a proverbial banana skin," he said of Sunderland's imminent visit on Friday night, shifting in his smart chair in Valley Parade's plush new Main Stand. "What usually happens in this situation is everyone comes out of the woodwork to see what's going on and the team goes flat. Hopefully we're better than that but it'll certainly be a test of character."

It was, as the manager had feared, a test failed by his table-topping Bantams. They suffered big-night stage fright big time, frozen from the moment Robert Zabica fumbled Michael Gray's 30-yard speculator over his line. Four goals behind after 37 minutes, they had to be grateful for the small mercy of containing the damage to a 4-0 defeat. The air of deflation was palpable long before the relief of the final whistle.

Not that Kamara was bemoaning his lot. "People talk about the stress and pressure of this job," he said, "but there is none. It's a privilege to be a football manager, even when you've been beaten or you're bottom of the table."

And these, for Bradford City and their manager, are enjoyable if testing times. Despite Friday night's result, they remain in pole position in the First Division. With 13 points from their first six games, they have made precisely the same start that Bolton did to their runaway championship charge last season, which Bradford ended needing to win their last two games to beat the drop.

"The difference," Kamara said, "is that there was no money for players at the start of last season. Having gained promotion, we built a new stand and put in these new offices. Now, we've gone out and spent pounds 750,000, which is peanuts compared to what other clubs have spent but a lot of money for a club like Bradford. In any case, I don't believe you need to spend millions of pounds and put a club's financial future at risk when there are players around who are bargains."

Significantly, two of Kamara's summer acquisitions from the bargain basement have been goods marked damaged, in reputation at least. Jamie Lawrence, signed for pounds 50,000 from Leicester, spent two years in Parkhurst for his part in an armed robbery. And Peter Beagrie, knocked down from the pounds 1.1m of his Everton days to pounds 50,000, was last month put on a year's probation after being convicted of committing assault while on a mid-season break in Jersey with Manchester City in February. Though they looked like luxury items as Sunderland exploited Bradford's lack of central midfield, the two wingers have been the pick of the City side in the season's opening weeks.

Signing such talented but tainted players shows the conviction Kamara clearly has in his man-management ability. "I try to treat players as I would like to be treated myself," he said, "but there is a strict code of conduct here." And he can always point to his own playing days to illustrate that falling foul of the law need not become a permanent millstone. As a midfielder with Swindon 10 years ago Kamara was the first player to face police proceedings relating to an on-field incident. He received a five-figure fine for breaking an opponent's jaw but subsequently made a success of his 20-year career.

Kamara, who will be 40 on Christmas Day, started as a reject himself after Middlesbrough chose not to offer apprenticeships to him and the twin-talented Bill Athey. He was in the Royal Navy when Ian St John offered him a start at Portsmouth. And he enjoyed the satisfaction of ultimately making it into the Middlesbrough first-team - an ambition which eluded his fellow midfielder in the town's St Thomas' School XI. "He wasn't the most gifted footballer," Kamara recalled of Steve Gibson, who visits Valley Parade on Saturday with the pounds 30m Boro team he has allowed Bryan Robson to build. "He made up for it in determination, though."

Kamara has needed to be resolute himself in his 20 months as a manager. "I get racist letters all the time," he said, "from people who aren't Bradford City supporters. You just laugh at them, tear them up and throw them in the bin. But I got one towards the end of last season which upset me because it was from one of our supporters. He knew everything about this football club, everything about me and everything about my family. He mentioned Enoch Powell and Alf Garnett, really old stuff. To think that someone out there can have so much hatred..."

Kamara left the sentence unfinished, then left to work on his unfinished business as the manager who has taken Bradford from the middle of the Second Division to the top of the First. "I'm certainly not going to let something like that unsettle me," he said.

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