By Mahesh Johal
In recent years, the last home game of the season has been somewhat of a jealous affair for us Bradford City supporters. We have witnessed the likes of MK Dons and Swindon celebrate their promotions on our patch, whilst we have had to reflect on wasted seasons, and live in the hope that one day we would be the club partying. Saturday’s win over Burton ensured, for the first time in our six-year League Two tenure, that Bradford City will still be playing for promotion in May.
Every season has started with hope but faded into failure. There were times during March when I felt that this campaign would be another to add to the collection. But this side and this season are different to any other that we have been involved with before.
For some, this is the second or third foray into the play offs. For others like myself, this is unchartered territory. The idea of the play offs both scares and excites me. I have watched enviously as both Leeds and Huddersfield have recently participated in several divisional finals. Seeing Town fans celebrating a victory in the Wembley sun is an experience I crave. However, I do not think I can handle the 270-plus minutes wait to get that point. Our cup exploits prove that anything can in football and its this unpredictability that makes this proposition so terrifying. I feel we have the better of all the teams currently occupying the other spots. But, come the first leg, I know I will be a nervous wreck and the games will be on a knife edge. As contradictory as it sounds though, it’s these elements of tension and anticipation which I am also looking forward to.
Since the cup exploits, there has been a very unique mood progressively building around Valley Parade. Anyone who has been at the games would have felt it. The play off chase has brought a different thrill and set of emotions when compared to the cup journey. For me, one minute I believed, the other I didn’t. There was the relief of beating York, the frustration of Aldershot and the anguish of defeat to Rotherham. There has been an added spice playing games in April, with the knowledge that victory will help a promotion cause rather than relegation. It is an experience that us fans have thrived on.
I said after the final minutes of the Northampton game that there was something special in the air. Saturday’s crowd has further enhanced that thought. You rarely see the bottom tier of the Kop bounce or the unison of clapping and chanting around all four stands at Valley Parade. These final months has brought the best out of both the players and the fans.
The manager and his staff deserve all the plaudits they receive. What they have done has been nothing short of spectacular. The amazing thing is, it could get better. Phil Parkinson never gave up on this team and their qualification further demonstrates why he is the only man for the job. When criticised for rotating his group, their recent form and fitness have justified his selection process.
The performances of the lesser-mentioned players also epitomise Parkinson as a manager. In my opinion, Michael Nelson was man of the match against Burton. Nelson won every header in the same way Andrew Davies did against Northampton. He also did a fabulous job quelling the problematic Calvin Zola. Gary Jones quite rightly gets the plaudits in midfield but Ricky Ravenhill was also great. A marmite player, I thought he won countless numbers of tackles and put his head in where it hurts. We probably have more accomplished footballers to compete and have their positions, but it is their tenacity, professionalism and passion that has really shone on of late.
We have had quality players come and go over the last six years, but none of them have stood up and respected the shirt and club as much as this group of players. It is here where this season has clicked compared to all others.
Whilst most fans expect another trip to Wembley, it should be remembered where we finished last season and where we are now. To obtain a play off berth is a massive achievement and one we should be proud of. I intend to bask it this glory for the next week because, in a fortnight’s time, this rollercoaster season is going to take another turn.
My advice to you all, make sure you’re buckled up…