By Jason McKeown
Seconds after the final whistle was blown at Villa Park on 22 January, 2013, a delirious Phil Parkinson used his on-the-pitch interview with Sky Sports to boldly declare that Bradford City fans could sell out Wembley on their own. He was not, in fact, getting carried away. Neither does David Baldwin’s claim, two weeks later, that the club could have sold 100,000 tickets appear to be an over-exaggeration.
The demand for tickets to Bradford City’s League Cup Final appearance has been staggering. For a club which has, this season, averaged 10,043 in the league, the 33,000 Wembley allocation was snapped up easily. Width of a Post received numerous emails from exiled supporters begging for help – we did our best with a few deserving cases – and every season ticket and flexicard holder doubtlessly found a queue of friends and family eager to snap up the extra two tickets they were entitled to buy. The club reckoned to have received hundreds of emails and letters from people all over the world, arguing why they deserved a ticket.
Then came the moment when tickets went on general sale, last week; with the somewhat incredible scenes of people camping outside the ticket office on a freezing Bradford winter night, plus tales of supporters spending 12-24 hours queuing to buy one of the 2,500 remaining tickets. That a 2012/13 league match ticket stub was required in order to buy a general sale ticket enabled some unscrupulous people to sell their spares on Ebay and make an unwarranted profit. Via the Claret and Banter message board, one despicable conman apparently collected hundreds of pounds from desperate supporters on a false promise of Club Wembley tickets.
The pursuit of one of those large, attractively blue-coloured Cup Final tickets has been emotional for all. Whether entitled to a ticket due to being a season ticket/flexicard holder, lucky enough to have a friend who is, or devoted enough to queue throughout the night, those of us who are going on Sunday should all feel privileged to do so. Because by Baldwin’s calculations, for every one of us clutching a ticket right now, there are another two people green with envy.
Yet division stretches beyond those who have and those have not, and the desire to watch Bradford City in a major cup final has seen both the generous and the selfish side of some of us. Season ticket and flexicard holders have at times displayed a snobbish attitude towards those who do not own one of those credit-card size passes for 2012/13. Non-season ticket/flexicard holders have complained that the three ticket entitlement was too high, offering freedom for us to abuse that right by bringing along friends who don’t even support the club.
I can see both views to be honest. Of course, we season ticket/flexicard holders deserved our place at the front of the queue. Sunday is undoubtedly a very, very special occasion for everyone; but for those of us who have kept their faith, when others around us gradually drifted away from the club over the past decade, we get to feel extra pleased with ourselves. This is a reward for numerous home defeats. For futile trips around the country watching City lose dismally in front of crowds of 2,000 or less. For enduring players like Jake Speight and Bobby Petta. For the Peter Taylor era. This is our moment.
But the idea that Bradford City is ours and ours only is an unfair assumption. 10,000 of us might show up whenever the Bantams play at Valley Parade, but two local radio stations find they each have a sufficient audience to provide commentary to the district – as they have for many years. Some people don’t go every week because their life doesn’t enable them to – job, family, other interests. Some can’t afford to go, as cheap as season tickets still are. Some people have moved away from the area. Some people have vowed to wait until the club gets better again.
For those of us who never miss a home game, who spend every waking second thinking about the club, who travel up and down the country – it can be difficult to understand the people above. Could you ever contemplate taking a job that requires working on a Saturday afternoon? Would you put fishing or shopping or drinking above Valley Parade? We matter greatly to the club, because without us turning up every other week no matter what, there wouldn’t be any point in any of it.
But the club is not just ours. It has a place in the hearts of many, many others too. You don’t have to go to all the games to care about the club.
And as long as we season ticket/flexicard holders have the ticket we deserve for Sunday (which we do), why have hostility towards others who we might consider less loyal? Now that the tickets are sold, hopefully this them-and-us, what-makes-a-loyal-fan debate can be put to bed.
Because what seems to have been overlooked by many is the significance of us taking 32,000+ supporters to Wembley. Can you imagine how wonderful our end of the stadium is going to look? Have you considered how loud we are going to sound? It is going to be mind-blowing, and – after a decade where City have sadly lived in the shadow of close neighours Leeds, Huddersfield and Burnley – it will be fantastic to spend an afternoon feeling like we are a big club.
And beyond the game itself, what a benchmark of City’s popularity and relevance this is proving. We can suddenly argue, with accuracy, that Bradford City has at least 100,000 supporters. Bradford City has at least 100,000 supporters. Wow. Who would ever have thought that a month ago?
The club’s appearance at Wembley has captured the imagination of the district it resides in. 10 years ago City was recovering from the wreckage of administration, finding that supporters and businesses were turning their back. Now you can find banners of support wherever you go around the city; you can find stalls in Shipley and Keighley selling Wembley scarves; you can find people who normally have no interest in football talking with enthusiasm about the Bantams. Come 4pm on Sunday, Bradford will standstill – residents either inside Wembley, tuned to Sky TV or listening on the radio.
This level of interest won’t last. We won’t be attracting gates of 20,000 next season. But a statement of the club’s potential has been made, one that can be maximised upon if we continue to get it right on the pitch and move up the leagues. Just like the financial windfall, the cup final interest is something that has to act as a springboard to take the club forwards from over the next few years.
Phil Parkinson’s Bradford Army: 100,000 strong, and growing in number.