By Jason McKeown
When Manchester United’s Scott Wootton fouled Chelsea’s Ramires in the penalty area just as the referee Lee Mason was due to blow full time on a 3-2 United win, you could hear the groans from Bradford City fans across West Yorkshire.
A long, long day of waiting for the League Cup quarter final draw had just been delayed by at least 30 minutes, after Chelsea took the game with United into extra time. But finally, after the two sides shared another three goals from which Chelsea emerged victorious, and after two advert breaks, tediously long studio debate and Sir Alex taking the time to moan about Nani, we got the draw – and what a draw – to relish. Groans replaced with very loud cheering at almost 11pm. Once again, I’m very sorry to my neighbours for all the noise.
Bradford City will play Arsenal. A sentence I will not be bored of writing or reading for some time. Tuesday 11 December is going to be a wonderful evening, with a packed out Valley Parade making an almighty racket and the world watching on via Sky Sports’ live coverage. After so many years of disappointment and despair, this is a reward for keeping the faith. We may get thrashed, but the club cannot lose.
Nevertheless as the euphoria dies down and attention turns to the bread and butter of regular City matches, the club’s board are faced with some important dilemmas over making the most of the occasion. They are going to benefit from a huge windfall that cannot have been anticipated, but there are more than monetary considerations as the city of Bradford and the region woke up on Thursday morning to the news the local football club is hosting a glamour game that a lot of people will want to see.
First of all is filling the stadium. Valley Parade has, of course, never been sold out to capacity since Geoffrey Richmond’s over-ambitious redevelopment plans were concluded when the Bantams were in the early stages of a bumpy slide down the leagues. Up in the heavens (top deck of the Main Stand) there could even be seats that have never once supported a person’s bum. Only Stuart McCall’s testimonial in 2002 has seen a capacity crowd at the redeveloped Valley Parade. This occasion offers the opportunity to change that.
However, such has been the lack of demand for tickets, relative to capacity, over the past decade, two sections of the ground – the lower tier of the Bradford End and the North West corner between the Main Stand and Kop – no longer have valid safety certificates. Therefore, if the club wish to open them for the Arsenal game, they are going to have to spend time and money obtaining a valid certificate for what is probably going to be a one-off use. If they remained empty, however, the prominent positioning of both sections to the TV cameras would look pretty poor to the watching world.
I guess the maths are simple on this one. How much will it cost to get the relevant paperwork vs how much revenue can these filled seats provide? If the latter is significantly greater, it is surely a no-brainer for the club to get them fit for purpose. Even though there are no guarantees they will be able to sell these areas out.
Which brings us onto the other dilemma – ticket prices themselves. Do the club ‘cash in’ and price them fairly high (up the road, Leeds United are charging £28 for their quarter final tie with Chelsea), or make sure they are affordable to one and all? To me it would look embarrassing if City do not sell out this match, and will be a pretty poor reflection on the city of Bradford. But let’s not forget that the game will take place two weeks before Christmas and is being shown on Sky. Price the tickets too high and it will be easy for floating supporters to elect to watch it from the comfort of their home or at the pub instead. The club will surely want to avoid this.
With League Cup requiring Arsenal fans get 15% of the stadium (3,765 tickets if all of Valley Parade is open) and 8,400 City season ticket or Flexicard holders (who, we must assume, will all get priority booking – heck, if I’m committed to buy a regular seat to watch City play Accrington and the like, I’m bloody getting my regular seat for this game), there would be just short of 13,000 tickets available for the general West Yorkshire public. It is hard to see how City could not easily sell these, but pricing is going to be important.
Clearly there is no need to go to bargain prices. I would not expect to only have to pay £10 or £15 for such a glamour tie. But if tickets are more than the £20 it costs to watch a regular League Two fixture at Valley Parade, the Board will leaves themselves open to accusations of cashing in. It is surely inevitable that tickets will be priced at £20 for adults – a very fair price for what is a huge, huge game for the club.
That is the balance sheet, but what the Arsenal game offers is the chance to build a new legacy around the city. How many people who turn up will be setting foot inside Valley Parade for the first ever time? Or how many will be attending their first Bradford City match for years (maybe not since the Premier League days)? Many people in the home ends will not necessarily be intending to support the Bantams, but if we can provide them with a superb atmosphere and great experience – well, maybe we can encourage a number of them to return again. Think of the number of young kids who will be taken to their first ever football match. We can blow their minds, and win their hearts.
Although Arsenal at home is a big, big match for the Bantams, it is not going to determine our season and will be looked back upon next May as a footnote, whatever happens. This season we are going all guns blazing for promotion, and the signs at this stage are very encouraging. Perhaps some of the West Yorkshire general public who attend the Arsenal match might enjoy it so much they want to be part of that promotion campaign too.
And maybe, just maybe, we can have a few more near-capacity Valley Parade crowds during the closing stages of the season (and in a play off semi final, if needed). And perhaps renewing those lapsed safety certificates will see those parts of the ground needed for more than just a one-off.