Port Vale 0
Bradford City 2
Ritchie Jones 46, Forsyth 55
Tuesday 4 December, 2012
By Jason McKeown
The end is nigh for myself and evenings like this.
It was the middle of 2007 – just as Bradford City fell into League Two – that our financial situation and lifestyle allowed me to become a regular away game attender for the first time since I was a teenager. The last five and a half years have seen me miss no more than a handful of games per season. The M1, the M6, where to park in Dagenham, where to drink at Macclesfield – I feel like I know it all like the back of my hand. An era of my life very well spent, even if on the field glory has been in short supply.
But without wanting to steal Will and Kate’s thunder, I have some news. You see myself and the wife are also expecting our first child (and like Will, I wish the Daily Mail would leave us alone!) It’s due at the end of May (worryingly close, and this will cause me panic for months, to the scheduled date of the League Two Play Off Final. Please do it via the automatic places, City!) And as thrilled as we are about our news and for the new chapters in life having a child is set to open, it will close a few too.
In short, there will be no Tuesday night trips to Stoke this time next year. Saturday treks to Bristol will also be out of the question. Home games and a few local away matches, that is the life for me.
Not forever of course. Within the blinking of an eye, no doubt, Junior and their siblings will have grown up and moved out. As I scanned the number of elderly City fans at Vale Park this evening, I felt some comfort from knowing that this somewhat foolhardy Tuesday Night Club of extreme supporting will always leave its doors open to me. But in many respects this feels like the start of a final lap in this level of devotion to Bradford City. Time to leave others carrying the baton, for a few years at least.
And it is nights like this where extreme fanaticism/borderline stupidity of following the Bantams is so evident. When we arrived into the ground 45 minutes before kick off, there were just four other City fans present. By the time we were underway there were still only around 100 of us. A bitterly cold night, three weeks before Christmas, and a third-rate cup competition – it’s no wonder the away turnout was so low. Come mid-January when there’s not much else to look forward to, we will be back at Vale Park in much bigger numbers for what will no doubt be an important league match. By then, this night will be long forgotten.
The action itself fitted the low key feeling. For all the talk of operating with a small squad, tonight Phil Parkinson managed to pick 10 outfield players that – when everyone is fit – few, if any, City fans would include in their first choice XI. The give-the-borderline-players-a-chance-to-impress approach always looks good on paper, but very often doesn’t work out. Tonight at times City looked less a team and more a bunch of individuals trying to push their case for more regular selection. And with a lack of edge to the tie fuelled by the stark truth that really, deep down, none of us cared that much whether we progressed or bowed out (those of us present were desperate for a win of course, but there would have been no tears shed had we lost), for the most part it was the type of evening you won’t particularly miss when other life priorities take over.
But then barely a minute into the second half, City scored and you go mental celebrating. A good goal it was too, with Garry Thompson breaking clear and laying the ball off to Ritchie Jones, who finished impressively with a low shot from the edge of the box. Only Ritchie’s second goal in a Bantams shirt, with the other also coming at Vale Park, last season. He must like it here, though hopefully not enough for rumours of him joining the Valiants in January to come to fruition.
Nine minutes later it was 2-0. Thompson again broke clear on the flank as City counter attacked, and his low cross into the box left an unmarked Craig Forsyth with a ridiculous amount of time and space. He took his time slotting the ball home too. Nice to see him off the mark in a City shirt, but other elements of Forsyth’s game tonight were very disappointing.
And that was that. A first for City’s cup exploits this season – the match seemingly settled before the final kick. Plenty of huff and puff from Port Vale and Jon McLaughlin made a string of outstanding saves throughout the evening, but a third City goal always looked just as likely with numerous chances created and spurned.
Thompson’s key role in both goals was a fitting reward for a vastly improved performance. He was back up front, despite Parkinson’s recent comments that for Garry it was winger or nothing; and found greater success from the fact his team mates did not send long balls to his head, but balls over the top for him to run on to. Alan Connell had a decent night also, but on this evidence Thompson might just have pushed himself up the pecking order to third choice striker.
Ritchie Jones impressed with his unfaltering energy levels – you wouldn’t know, from tonight, that he’s been out injured for most of the campaign. Blair Turgott built on his promising debut against Brentford to cause Port Vale numerous problems. Tom Naylor enjoyed a far more impressive second game for City, this time in the centre, following a jittery first game, at right back, against Exeter two weeks ago. Parkinson will have got everything he wanted from the night – a place in the quarter finals, and some genuine selection headaches for Saturday’s important league match with Torquay.
As for us supporters, it had been worth all the effort travelling down and worth putting on all those layers in a futile attempt to stay warm. There is always something much more enjoyable about watching a game you are winning compared to the laboured, half-paced opening 45 minutes of goalless action. Seeing Nathan Doyle come on to play right back almost had a retro feel. Gary Jones and James Hanson looked sprightly on their mini run-outs.
Such nights are quickly forgotten. A mere footnote on a season where the headlines, good or bad, are inevitably generated elsewhere. Yet the experience of being part of the few, the hardy, soldiers – of whom you recognise so many by sight from countless afternoons and evenings similar to this – feels special in its own way. At different stages of our City-supporting lives, we probably all experience periods of going to as many games as possible and then others where it’s not so much. Tonight offers a snapshot of the supporters who are in their die-hard period of support (young and very old it seemed, middle-aged people few and far between). And though I feel sad I will soon not be among them nearly as often as I have these past six seasons, I feel proud to know I’ve done my stint.
And when my child is old enough, I will look forward to regaling Stuart Benito Carbone Gary Walsh Beagrie Edinho McKeown with tales of nights such as this.
City: McLaughlin, Darby (Doyle 61), Naylor, Good, McHugh, Turgott (Gary Jones 62), Ritchie Jones, Ravenhill, Forsyth, Thompson (Hanson 72), Connell
Not used: Duke, Wells