By Andrew Baxter
I kid you not; someone called me a “glory hunter” a couple of weeks ago, for following my beloved Bradford City to Wembley. How times have changed!
Being 17-years-old, I only vaguely remember the “glory years” of Molineux 1999 and the Premiership era. My first ever City game was Aston Villa at home, on 3 February, 2001. I was just five years old, so my recollections are sparse at best. Although I can’t remember much about the game, I have been reliably informed that season that City lost 3-0. Typical, you might say! 11 years on, I was sat in nearly the exact same seat to see the Bradford City crop of 2013 take on Aston Villa in the League Cup semi final.
It was during that Villa game that I realised how much the club had changed in the 11 years I have been going to see them. I’ve seen three relegations, two administrations, nine managers and numerous defeats, in exotic locations such as Macclesfield and Accrington. My generation is one which has mainly associated City with decline (we almost went out of the Football League altogether last season!) with defeats, and general negativity.
I’ve had several taunts of “why support Bradford? They never win!”, but in my view, that’s not the point of supporting a team. I could never gain as much satisfaction from watching Manchester United pick up another trophy than I did when Garry Thompson scored “that” goal against Arsenal.
But this season has showed a complete reversal of the fortunes of the club. Gone are the dull, dreary home defeats against footballing giants such as Stockport and Barnet, these have been replaced by demolitions of teams, even some at the very top, to the stage where James Hanson (who used to work in the Co-op, as the song goes) outplayed Per Mertesacker (two World Cup semi-finals, and a Euro 2008 runner’s up medal). Gary Jones (a 36-year-old from Birkenhead) outclassing Santi Cazorla (World Cup and European Championship winner). It is the stuff that dreams are made of!
My Dad used to (and still does) tell me of cup runs of the past – Southampton at home, Everton away – but these are merely a selection of YouTube clips to a youngster like me. This season will live long in the memory, and could have long-term benefits for the club in general.
Apart from the obvious financial rewards for the club, the cup run has inspired the next generation of youngsters to support Bradford, rather than one of the “big” teams, like Chelsea. This is evident from the 31,000 we took to Wembley for the League Cup final (and the 25,000 we took again for the play off final). This can only be good for the club, as perhaps these youngsters could persuade their friends and families to come watch The Bantams in action.
Another possible positive is the amount of under-16s playing football in the region, as a result of City’s rise and success this season. More children supporting the club and playing regularly surely will result in a greater chance of a hidden gem being unearthed. The Bradford Schools’ under-15 side won the National Schools Cup the other week. And, with five of the team in the Bradford City youth system, this can only be beneficial for the club.
With more children playing regularly, comes more talent, and a possible chance of a future first-team player that supports the club through and through.
It has been proven before that success for Bradford can provide future positives for the club. For example, after the Premiership years, youngsters like Clayton Donaldson (who we released, incidentally, but has still forged a successful career) and Luke O’Brien have come through the youth system.
Hopefully in five years’ time there will be another crop of promising youngsters proudly wearing the claret and amber of Bradford City. And if this is the case, then (as Frank Sinatra sang), the best is yet to come!
Andrew Baxter’s own blog, The Field of Play, can be found here.