By Gareth Walker
I was recently reminded that, back in June, I made the bold statement I would only be attending two away games during the 2012/13 campaign. Including the two trips to Wembley, I ended up attending 18 – including Plymouth away on a Tuesday night.
In total, I attended 45 of our 64 games this season. I missed one home match, which was the FA Cup Replay victory over Northampton. So what happened? What made me go so against my well-meant intentions?
Well, first of all, I have to say that the me who was speaking last summer was the Sensible Me. The Sane Me. The one who at the time wasn’t suffering from the Football Bug. I was thinking clearly. I knew that, with only the wife working in our house – whilst I took on the role of ‘Stay at Home Dad’ – money was very tight and luxuries were unaffordable. I had even pinpointed which two away games I was going to attend: Accrington, because I could walk to that game from our house, and Fleetwood because a lads’ weekend was being organised for it.
But therein that statement lies the issue that changed everything. At some point, the luxury of going to the matches became a necessity. It all started to go wrong last June when the fixture list came out and pressure intensified further towards the end of July as the first game of the season approached.
Inevitably, the text message came through. “Anyone fancy Gillingham away?” I was on holiday and I’d had a beer or two at the time. I could excuse this one surely? It was the first game of the season after all; and if I offered to drive then it would bring down the cost. “I’m in” was my reply. I’d straighten it out with the Mrs later.
Looking back, that was my biggest mistake. And I’d made it almost without a second thought. I’ve often spoken to people about why away games are so addictive. Almost like a drug, in the buzz they provide when your team scores in front of the packed away terrace you are stood on. Once I’d committed to that first hit, there was no going back.
I dread to think how many miles I have travelled this season – by train, minibus and car – and, more worryingly, how much money I have spent. Both must have reached the thousands.
I got my hit many times of course. Raucous celebrations with friends as Alan Connell scored at Accrington, Garry Thompson netted at York and Ravenhill bagged one at Chesterfield, to name just three.
As this season developed into a successful one, the whole club seemed to become more united. People were starting to utter the words ‘Bantams Family’ again; as finally supporters and the club began to feel closer, after years of feeling poles apart. That is something that we all enjoy being part of, and matchdays beaome much more than just going to games.
I have made some really good mates during my time following City; but those that I have made during City’s seasons in the doldrums, over the last few years, have become especially close because of what we have shared together. We have travelled the length and breadth of the country to watch some horror shows and, finally, this season we have been rewarded. No real fan will ever change their football club, and, as such, these friends will be of the life long variety. You just can’t put a price on that.
Hanson’s header at Villa and his goal at Burton. Victories over Wigan, Arsenal and Villa. Wembley TWICE, and, of course, promotion – the third that I have seen whilst supporting the club. Nobody can take these memories away from me and they will live with me forever.
As a City fan, I will be thanking this season’s team and its management for years to come. Their names are now edged in Bradford City Folklore, and I was fortunate enough to be there to see most of the key moments.
On a personal level however, I have to thank my wife and son; because no matter what the cost to our finances, they have understood that this season has been a once in a lifetime experience. If you gave me the opportunity, then I’d do it all over again without question.
For that reason alone, and even with our second child due in November, I have avoided making the same mistake of predicting how many games I will attend next season.