The story of a city

SAM_1145

By Philip Jackson

This is where we used to stand to meet my Gran off the train

It was a spot near here where I first caught sight of the huge black plumes of smoke coming from the North.

I have no idea of how I’d count the number of times I’d walked up and down this hill, although it’s been an age since the last time, I don’t have to think twice, so familiar, up we go northwards.

The streets feel subdued, looked down upon by beautiful Yorkshire stone buildings and their sad, grey empty windows waiting for more stories to be made.

The road levels out and life seems to return.  People still want to be here, the Latvian, Chinese and Polish supermarkets, the happy, noisy crowds around pubs spilling onto the street, stories in production, lives being exchanged, invented and re-invented.  Each will have their own memories of these surroundings, walls, roads and buildings that in their own way have shaped who we are.

The city is brought to life and defined by those who are there.

The rays of light are starting to hit the old walls of the city, brightness and warmth, mirroring the excitement and life multiplying as Valley Parade comes into focus and away from a subdued city centre.

The sunlight bathes the stand opposite, the bright claret, amber and old gold accentuating the beauty of the scene.

The scoreboard reads “WWFC”.  In recent years heralding the visit of Wycombe, this time however, it does not.  No-one can deny we haven’t stood toe to toe against bigger opposition this past year, ah yes, the romance of the cup, the plucky underdog, “go out there and enjoy yourselves, the pressure’s off, it’s your cup final” but now the game is changing.

The story developing here needs to be replicated across this fine city.

Joy has returned to the City experience over the year, the familiarity with League Two and fear of losing has been shaken off, 86th in the league has been replaced by forward movement and 50th, the gap between where we are and where we ‘should be’ has closed.  This experience has brought greater synergy between the players and fans, each spurring the other on.

Bring this mood into the whole city, break out of the mould, defy the expectations and perceptions given to you by others.

City’s momentum has brought it onto a plane with teams that reflect our own level of support and size, not the ‘little 4th tier team’ forgotten about for the last few years.  Sitting in my seat, I’m hoping we can cope, that we can show that there is still scope for progression, that we haven’t reached our ceiling yet.  Wolves are a big club, rich, much richer than us.  A sound beating may point to the limit of our ambitions being achieved, I don’t want that, after years of suffering I would feel cheated if our train was starting to pull into a station.

The mood is electric, the noise fabulous and the ground (almost) full (we may need the 2nd tier of this stand, after all!)  Even the Wolves supporters must appreciate this, after two years (only two years!) of failure, loss and cynicism. The thought of playing in dingy smaller grounds with small crowds is hurting, so a bright, breezy afternoon in a big and bouncing ground will be a tonic even for them.  They state the usual nationwide opinion that this city is not a particularly nice place, everywhere has its problems though and without people to care for a place, it has no chance.

The warmth and friendliness of those in the stands here is vital, the sense of pride, community and friendship, the exchange of stories and news, jokes and opinion fly about.  We are here to do our bit for our team and city.  Many experiences have come and gone, empty stands, misery, loss, humiliation, rain, relief, joy and laughter.  It has formed and made us to what we are now, but we are still here and they have given a richness to our lives unseen by the outside world.

The match itself is everything a football match should be.  Played cleanly and fairly, City working well together, they look lither, less bulky than their opposition, De Vita seems to be able to dance around his markers and score as the ball comes back to him in the box.  The match has started like this, City are going forward and Wolves backward, but the game swings from one end to the other, excitement, nervousness and frustration rotate as City fall behind.

Wolves responded to us and now City again respond to them, after the errors and panic that the Wolves pressure brought, a calm and assuredness returns to the City defence.  City never stop pushing, fighting and playing, the crowd mirror this attitude, this pride that has enveloped the club can be seen and felt.  Wolves looked tired during that second half onslaught, hanging on may be too strong a word, but happy to defend, keeping hold of what they have.

This is how far we have come and our train has still not reached the end of the line; here we are with a team two years removed from the top flight, sitting back and defending against us, shunning adventure else it might cost them.  I come to the conclusion that they see us as equals, meeting another big club, not just another stop on their trip to the little lower leagues, but a match against a serious contender.

We lose, never quite able to break down the door, but the mood goes beyond this one game, the Wolves fans and team ecstatic with getting a win, here, against Bradford (City)!  Any time in the last few years that emotion would be closer to, job done, move on.

We are still developing and adapting to life at this level, the management team know we need to still go further, we will, and days like today will only help.  No-one in this league will see City as a soft touch, yet we are still a work in progress, but progress is the key word.

I have not lived in this city for a long time now, but it still holds within it many happy memories for me, around every corner are triggers letting me relive and remember, this will be the case for the majority of us, far dearer to our hearts than elected representatives asleep at the wheel for so long, or developers only concerned with profit, the soul of this city has passed them by, but not me, it has never let me go.

Yes, it does need help, the beauty of its architecture and landscape is there to be seen and the passion, histories, past and future stories of those within the city are the ones that can change and renew it.  This city is unique, it is not Leeds, Manchester or anywhere else, we need to find the strands of our own stories and history and work out the solutions together to make the city thrive once again, the answer is here within us.

The noise, passion and pride Bradfordians have for the city is seen at Valley Parade, it is authentic and genuine, and it needs bringing out into the streets of the city to be more than just a collection of identikit shops as seen everywhere else.

I may be an idealist, but The City of Bradford made me an idealist, what did it make you and what are you going to make of it?  Are new rays of light starting to hit the old walls of the city?

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Categories: Opinion

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6 replies

  1. Thank you Philip for a brilliant article, typical of WOAP, with some really interesting threads. When you say “the gap between where we are and where we should be has closed”, I wasn’t sure whether you meant we are still on an upward journey or 50th is about right given our history. I’m sure there are many ways of looking at that. But current crowds, current trajectory, recent achievements are only a part of our story. Our exploits since 1980 would probably have most fans pitching us as a 2nd tier outfit. But I think that’s stretching it given what went before (look at time spent across all divisions at myfootballfacts.com) and 50th is about right, which is a bit poor for a city of Bradford’s size?
    I think an equally striking point was that, despite all the misty eyed romanticism and great rallying cry to find the solutions to make the city of Bradford thrive, you left. Not a criticism, as I did the same many years ago. I just found it interesting!

    • Cheers Mike.
      The thing about where we should be is very subjective, hence the ‘apostrophes’ around the words ‘should be’. According to the fans of many teams they ‘belong’ in the premier league, I left an open-ended conclusion on that point, as it’s always a matter of conjecture and will never end due to the competitive nature of football, I hope and believe we will rise further, but obviously at some point in the future we will go down again.

    • I would not place too much store by the 50 or so years spent in the bottom two leagues prior to 1985. We have changed as a club beyond all recognition since then, probably more so than any other club except Reading or Wigan. And the financial structure of the game itself is nothing like back then. Teams like Yeovil, Colchester or Scunthorpe reaching the second tier are nowadays comparatively rare – the medium – big clubs with their bigger resources usually end up there eventually, and this season’s League 1 contains an unusually high number of these clubs.

      Based on the size of the district’s population, the fan base and the facilities, and on our achievements on the field since 1980, we should most definitely be pitching to be a 2nd tier outfit, and even an occasional Premiership wannabe.

  2. Nicely written Philip. I too hope that the upward trajectory of our beloved team can restore some pride into this once great City. That will be some job if they manage to pull it off; so far so good, and as John Hendrie wrote about another promotion in his recent article, it is more a matter of when and not if.

  3. Philip, thanks for the well written read. It raises some really interesting points. We’d likely all wish that a successful BCAFC could be the catalyst to a resurgent City of Bradford. However, to think that this can truly be achieved is more fantasy than ideology. Yes Bradford is not like Leeds and Manchester as these are to expanding cities that attract business and in turn higher wage earners with a greater disposable income. Meanwhile, Bradford is either in recession or depression, unable to attract business without huge subsides, such as the faltering Westfeild development, and has a shrinking population of earners with a high disposable income. (for e.g. I’m one of five friends that have all moved away from the city and of those that remain they live in satellite villages and spend their money locally or travel through to Leeds). Any business man with an ounce of acumen wouldn’t buy into the Ctiy nor BCAFC. If I had money to burn I’d put it into the bantams but that’s ideology (and fantasy!). I applaud those who try to turn things around and I think you’re correct that the city needs a unique selling point. In this respect the city water park is great. Meanwhile, the shambolic attempt to build another Birmingham Bull Ring type in an attempt to ‘retail’ the city out of recession shows a great disconnect with the changed values and cultures of the city. At present the fabulous old architecture and to a lesser extent Valley Parade look like last bastions of a white materialistic socioeconomic era.

    • Bradford has several unique selling points as a city – a rich industrial and cultural history, some wonderful architecture, a fantastic backdrop within the Pennines with some amazing country pubs, and the Media museum. There are definite signs that the worst of its slump is behind us – just take a look on Thornton Road, for instance, compared to 10 years ago. But it does need to back these up with a better retail offer, and more city centre restaurants attractions. I, for one, would much prefer to eat and shop in good quality shops or restaurants in my home city, rather than drive to Leeds, Harrogate or the White Rose Centre. And who knows, maybe some of those who hold the “changed values” will join the rest of the city in its renaissance.

      But to do so, Bradford must overcome its biggest weakness – its over-cynical and ultra-pessimistic locals. There’s nowhere quite like Bradford for its own inhabitants denigrating the city, and they do it enormous harm by doing so. You won’t hear people in e.g. Hull, Middlesborough, Sunderland or Wolves – all economically challenged towns with an “image problem” – knocking their home towns the way Bradfordians knock theirs.

      And why shouldn’t anyone want to invest in BCAFC? We are a club with a definite upward trajectory, so in football investment terms, now would be as good a time as any.

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