By Jason McKeown
We’ve probably all had this sort of person in our lives at some point, or perhaps they’re still around. A much older Bradford City supporter, who has experienced all the ups and downs from a very different era; but with whom the football club becomes a bond and a topic of conversation between two people with little else in common. Or perhaps it was a relative of yours, who even played a big part in why you now follow the Bantams.
My person came via work. A man in his 60s, named Geoff, who from a distance seemed grumpy and unapproachable but who would carry a spark in his eye on all matters claret and amber. Our paths didn’t cross much at first, but in time, I’d like to think, we became friends. Mates who would waste 10 minutes or so in a morning or afternoon discussing Phil Parkinson’s tactics, or how good a player Bobby Campbell was.
And that was where the dynamics of the conversation were so different to chatting to regular City-supporting mates. Me and Geoff would typically begin a conversation on the topic of Parkinson’s latest press comments (he would often lend me his copy of the T&A to read on my lunch break, plus old City books from time-to-time) and at some stage nostalgia would be triggered and he would tell me all about trips to Darlington in the 70s and the antics of him and his mates. He’d compare the players of today with his heroes of the past. Heroes I’m only aware of myself through reading the club’s history. Geoff had lived through that history, and at times he was enthralling to listen to.
In truth – and just like my own grandpa, a Man City fan who had become turned off by modern football during his final years – City had somewhat left Geoff behind. He could no longer afford to attend matches, and years of underwhelming football before that had worn him down. You could see how much he enjoyed reminiscing about the good old days. Often he and I would be the first people to arrive in the office; and while I had got in early because I had urgent work to get on with, I was more than happy to lend him an ear for five minutes at least. A nice way to start the day.
Sadly and very suddenly, Geoff’s health deteriorated. He wasn’t in work for a while, and a ‘get well soon’ card circulated around the office for us all to sign. Then he came in recently for a visit, in truth looking a shadow of himself. I didn’t want to crowd him so stayed back as others rushed around. I was later told by a friend, who Geoff was closer to, that he had terminal cancer. The doctors predicted he could make it to Christmas, but Geoff – perhaps ever the pessimistic (so a City fan, then) – gave himself one final target. To attend one more Bradford City match.
Last night, such hopes ended with Geoff passing away peacefully in his sleep. There’s a tear in my eye as I write this, even though compared to so many other people who were in his life I barely knew him. But that final ambition struck a chord with me and I was so desperate for him to get to cheer on his football club one final time.
The idea of stopping supporting City now – for whatever reason – is one I struggle to contemplate. We’ve had over a decade of misery at Valley Parade. But one day (and it might be another decade), a good time will come around and there is going to be one heck of a party. The prospect of not being there for it almost makes what we’ve gone through seem trivial. What was the point of all this bungling about in League Two, if we don’t get to experience our Hollywood ending? Though I guess whatever the future holds, to one day have such a wide range and vivid collection of memories as Geoff is something to aspire to.
When City march out to the field to play Fleetwood Town in just under two months time I will be thinking of Geoff, and hoping that he’s somehow watching over Valley Parade with a perfect view of the action. Bradford City Football Club means so much to so many, and we all surely deserve to get to experience that one more City match.