Branston determined to set Bradford buzzing
There was very little wrong with Guy Branston's life in Torquay.
He enjoyed the relaxed seaside lifestyle and the relatively temperate weather on the English Riviera, he met Kelly and fell in love, and his football team were on the rise, reaching last season's League Two play-off final.
But Branston, a strong and uncompromising central defender, has given it all up to join the fourth tier's perennial under-achievers Bradford City.
Bye bye palm trees, hello two-bed in Pudsey.
Branston is a natural leader who has been made Bradford skipper. Photo: Getty Images
Branston is no stranger to taking a chance, gambling on his next move. According to Soccerbase, he has made nine permanent moves and 13 loans spells since he started out as a trainee at Leicester in 1997. It strikes me as a life of endlessly depressing hotel rooms and handshakes with new team-mates. But the bubbly Branston sees it differently.
"Martin O'Neill was my manager at Leicester and he told me to go out to the lower leagues, to take it all in, embrace it and become a better person and player. He was right," said the intelligent and in-yer-face Branston.
"Some hotels have been awful. One was choc-a-block with first-team players and youth-teamers. It was filthy and the food was terrible. I dropped a stone in weight.
"But moving to different clubs is something that has helped me. If the manager at your club does not want you, then you don't play anymore. Simple. A loan move has always been a great option, playing games, meeting people. I try to take every positive I can."
Branston claims he has just finished the hardest pre-season of his career and has relished the opportunity to impress upon his team-mates his unwavering desire to make a success of his move north. In training the other day, one of Bradford's younger players came out of a challenge with him sporting a black eye. When the player in question asked Branston if he should not have taken it a little easier, the defender laughed.
"I train how I play, I cannot turn it on and off," added Branston. "If there is a ball to be won, I win it, play it simple, pick the other player up afterwards and shake his hand. Young players must realise they have to have a winning mentality."
It is perhaps not surprising that manager Peter Jackson, now 50 but once upon a time a no-nonsense centre half with the Bantams, has made Branston his skipper.
The west Yorkshire club have finished 10th, ninth, 14th and 18th since their relegation to the bottom tier in 2007. Both Stuart McCall - another club legend - and Peter Taylor failed to build a winning team at Valley Parade, but Jackson is determined to arrest that sustained trend of mediocrity and wants Branston to make sure that a youngish squad understands the importance of grinding out results during a long season.
The skipper points to the likes of striker James Hanson, midfielders Dave Syers, Lee Bullock, Michael Flynn and fellow defender Luke Oliver as the experienced core of a squad that he hopes can challenge for promotion.
"We have an outside chance," he said. "It will be a big transitional season. We're a young vibrant squad with exciting players like Dominic Rowe, Chris Mitchell and former Falkirk forward Mark Stewart.
"Team spirit is massive in this division and we need to stick together. If we don't it could be a long season."
Branston reckons that Shrewsbury will be one of the teams to watch, with wily and experienced manager Graham Turner capable of improving on last season's fourth-placed finish.
He is backing his former club Torquay to recover from the loss of manager Paul Buckle to Bristol Rovers. "They have got players with a bright future," said the defender. "The club has got a solid fanbase of 2,000 and I hope the team can kick on again because they deserve success."
But he reckons that all four teams relegated from League One last season - Bristol Rovers, Swindon, Plymouth and Dagenham & Redbridge - may find it surprisingly difficult to adjust.
Rovers' new manager Buckle has brought in 15 new players and it will be interesting to see how successfully they gel.
"Buckle knows what he is doing but I would not have signed that many," said Branston. "He is putting himself under massive pressure.
"Swindon are a good club and they will be a side for others to worry about. I think that new boss Paulo Di Canio will want players with proven ability, although a lot of his signings have not played in this division before."
Di Canio was a flamboyant and outspoken player but the 43-year-old is completely unproven in management. He has signed players from Italy, Ghana, Namibia, the Netherlands and Algeria. Without doubt, a bold and brave venture has been undertaken at the County Ground and I don't think it will take long before we find out if it has been a foolish one.
Crawley, promoted from the Blue Square Bet Premier last season, are the bookies' favourites and several clubs will feel that, with a following wind, they could trouble the top end of the table.
Chesterfield, Wycombe, Bury and Stevenage won promotion last season - and who would have picked those four before the season began?
I am certain that unfancied teams will again emerge out of the pack this season, and I would not be surprised if the unflinching Branston has made sure that the Bantams are one of them.