By Gareth Walker
23,971 people attended last night’s match at Valley Parade. I wonder how many of those had sore heads this morning? It was certainly the biggest attendance that I can recall at our ground and a quick bit of research shows that it does indeed surpass our previous highest attendance of 22,057 for the Liverpool game just before we dropped out of the top flight on 1 May, 2001. That was our previous highest attendance for the redeveloped ground, even though our highest gate receipts were taken during the Manchester United game in that same Premier League season.
From a personal point of view, it was fantastic to see the ground so full for the first time in 11 and a half years. Looking at it from another perspective, however, it was also heart-warming to think that some of the club’s younger supporters were experiencing an occasion like this for the first time, after suffering for long periods during their time following their team.
Not only were we experiencing the thrill of playing against one of the heavyweights of the Premier League, but also we experienced an atmosphere that is all too rare around BD8 these days.
Although we are all in it together supporting our team when we go and watch Bradford City, and that bonded togetherness is one of the huge attractions for many people, everyone’s personal experience of the events at a game is different. For me, last night’s game created a slightly different type of atmosphere to what I would experience at a normal League Two encounter. Maybe this is because I see the league as our “bread and butter” and clear priority this season.
I don’t expect everybody to agree with me, but last night didn’t have the same tension for me that the game against Stockport did in 2011, for example. The result itself didn’t seem quite as important and, as such, I enjoyed the more carnival atmosphere created and thoroughly enjoyed the game as a bonus. Of course I still celebrated wildly with everybody else when the unthinkable happened and we became Giant Killers, writing the club’s name in League Cup history.
People often say that they prefer attending away games, due to the atmosphere and singing that seems more prevalent from the City contingent on our travels. However, the noise last night was more reminiscent of that made by an away following – it felt like we were in the midst of the sound throughout the contest as all corners of the ground made their voices heard.
It was certainly louder and more spine tingling than the usual singing and chanting that we partake in at home games, when the plethora of empty seats around the ground somehow seems to suck up the atmosphere; particularly when those that make the most noise position themselves the greatest distance away from the pitch.
In contrast to us home supporters, the Arsenal following seemed relatively subdued to me (although I am told that the positioning of the Sky microphones in the ground somewhat flattered the amount of noise that they made on television). Maybe this was because they were more tense than us, were losing for a large part of the game and were facing the embarrassing prospect to them of being dumped out of the Cup by “lowly” Bradford City. Whatever the reasons, I felt that the song “You only sing when you’re winning” has never been more appropriately applied than to The Gooners last night.
Whilst speaking of chants, there were some crackers during the game. Personal favourites of mine that can avoid being censored in print were “Always remember the 56” – how poignant to remember one of the club’s darkest days and lost brothers during one of our brightest hours.
I also enjoyed the rhythmic clapping and chanting of “DUKE” during the penalty shoot out. Talk about the crowd playing the role of the team’s 12th man!
Football supporters often talk about catching the proverbial “bug” when they attend their first football match and, similarly, returning supporters talk about re-catching the same bug when the come back after being away for a while. It’s hard to put this in to words, but I’m sure that most football supporters reading this know what I am talking about.
It would be interesting to know how many of last nights “floating” City supporters caught the bug and will be returning to VP again more regularly. What is certain however is that the more of these people that do return, the more beneficial it is for Bradford City and the knock effect of that will hopefully be that we experience more occasions like last night in the future.