By James Storrie
These are great times to be a Bradford City fan. The good times have returned at long last and there is a buzz around Valley Parade that has not reared its head for a very long time.
Like the proverbial phoenix that rises from the ashes, the club is transformed from the smoke and mirrors era of a few years ago to a strong concise unit. Finally, the club and the fans are one.
This comes primarily from the special bond that exists between the fans and the players. A bond of such strength has probably not been seen since the last promotion season of 1998/99. It can seem a bit odd that people who kick a bag of wind about can be labelled as heroes, but to a lot of people that’s exactly what they are.
Take Gary Jones for example, thirty six years old and has plied his trade in the bottom divisions for the majority of his career. Why should it matter to him one jot about the fortunes of Bradford City? Why should he run himself into the ground every time he pulls on the claret and amber? He’s in the twilight of his career; surely he should be like countless others seen at the club over recent times. Surely he should just pick up his money, underperform and move on, never to be seen again. But no, this gloomy assumption was blown out of the water merely weeks after he signed from Rochdale, he broke the mould.
There lies the difference: Phil Parkinson signs players with character as well as ability. Gary Jones plays with such passion and determination that he fully deserves his current status as the best thing since the prodigal son himself: Stuart McCall. There are countless others. Take Andrew Davies for example, a player I just find unbelievable in the sense that he’s either daft as a brush or hard as nails, or even a mixture of the two! I can barely remember a game he has played where he hasn’t suffered a kick in the head, a punch from McLaughlin coming for a cross, or an elbow from a striker. Davies puts his head where Angels fear to tread and he puts his body on the line for the club every time he plays.
As do countless others. And that is what makes this team so great. They have an honesty and integrity to their play. There will be games this season where City are outplayed and outclassed as they try to bridge the gulf in budgets and quality, but you can guarantee that they will never be outfought.
What is noticeable around and inside the ground is the huge change in atmosphere. The place is vibrant, the drum is louder, the fans clap and cheer more enthusiastically than ever, every tackle is met by a roar of approval, every header cheered from the rafters. When Hanson and Wells hurry and harass their opponents through sheer hard graft and effort, they are rewarded by their names being serenaded throughout the ground.
A great moment happened last Saturday when a young lad a few rows in front of me, in what I’m guessing was his first ever City game, was far too mesmerised with the noise from the City faithful to be bothered about the action on the pitch. Instead he turned his back to the game and banged continuously on his chair to the rhythm of the “I just can’t get enough” chant. Brilliant! He can’t have been older than three and he seemed to be having a great time contributing in his own small way to the noise levels. There does seem to be more families attending games, and what a great time for any young City fans to be witnessing their first few matches.
Phil Parkinson deserves endless credit for bringing days like this back to the club. The rise in his managerial fortunes in a way seems to mirror the club as a whole. From limping along a few years ago, seemingly going no way fast after a promising spell at Colchester, false promises and dawns at Hull and Charlton left him in the same kind of nothingness that City were in, barely surviving in the bottom tier of English football. The events that have transpired since have been quite remarkable and will be talked about for a long, long time.
The newly opened 2013 suite at Valley Parade serves a fitting tribute to what that group of players and staff did for the club and maybe even the city of Bradford as a whole. People are proud to support the club now; other teams admire the exploits of last year and we became the blueprint for all lower league teams to try and follow. “Do a Bradford” is a phrase managers now use when discussing cup competitions.
Looking back, it’s funny how the Johnstone’s Paint victory over Sheffield United a few seasons ago seemed miraculous at the time. But that now lies dormant, forgotten and insignificant to the events that have occurred since. To me the Bradford City of that night feels like a completely different club to the one that last weekend swept aside the Sheffield United of 2013. The fans remain the same noisy, vibrant bunch that went berserk when Chris Mitchell slammed home the winning penalty at Bramall Lane that night, but the ethos and structure of the club has changed immeasurably.
For the first time in many years the club are on the up. Positivity reigns once more and not even the chair kicker sat behind me can spoil my mood at 3pm onwards. These are certainly great times to be a Bradford City fan. Long may it continue.