By Stephen Hodgson
If there ever was an opportunity to test the loyalties of a football fan to their club, then it has to have been the last 15 years of being a Bradford City fan. After shattering the post-war ‘lower league team’ mould by attaining new heights in the league, we then got to see first-hand exactly what it meant to look into the abyss of liquidation.
What followed was a decade of absolute darkness. Burdened with the fiscal realities of debt maintenance, Bradford City couldn’t guarantee its hold on their best players for more than a season and mediocrity became the norm, minus a few exceptions. Any success on the field was taken away from the team by financially stable vultures that the club could not afford to say no to. Relegation followed relegation and, before we knew it, division four (it’s REAL name) became our home. Bradford had been dealt a hammer blow, one that the club has only recently been able to shrug off.
Flash forward to the end of the 2011/12 season, and City languished in the bottom half of the basement division with an equally unimpressive 18th position finish. The fans that remained at the club had become a diehard group, who had seen it all from miserable refereeing decisions to Sunday League-esque grounds.
Thankfully, Phil Parkinson was able to attain success where his predecessors had failed; allowing a lot of the old timber to leave, he was able to bring in new talent to bolster the squad. To add to this, the decision by the coaching staff to adopt a 21-man squad created a tight-knit group of players that wanted to graft hard for one another. The proof was in the pudding, and the 2012/13 season will forever be a testament to Parkinson’s shrewdness in the closed season. ‘History makers’ is perfectly befitting for any squad of players that fought their way to Wembley twice in one season.
So, where does our club stand? A recent WOAP interview with Joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes would suggest that the financial footing of the club is looking up, and that the precipice of non-existence is no longer overshadowing its fortunes. The long running battle to regain ownership of the stadium has been re-assessed and re-branded as a ‘manageable expense’, feelers have been put out to the council to re-classify the stadium land, thus removing any threat of land reclamation, and the brilliance of the Flexi-card is strong and well.
For the first time in a long time, the whole focus of the club and the fans has become the men that represent and fight for the badge on the field.
Not too long ago, only a matter of years in fact, the only decent and intellectual online analysis available to Bradford fans was the now defunct BoyFromBrazil site. Now there are bountiful outlets for fans to have reasonable and heated debates on all things Bantams related. Whether you like articles (this great site), old-school forums (Claret and Banter), Facebook (Bradford City/SBCBYAGHB), Twitter (#BCAFC) or even Podcasts (Bantams Banter) there has never been the depth of analysis and discussion that now exists.
The only question that remains to be answered is: where do we go now? There has been a lot of talk about the financial planning of the club and where the Bradford City Supporters Trust stands in the grand scheme of things. Personally, I feel that, outside the owners of the club (who are themselves fans, let’s not forget), there should be no say on what the club can and can’t do. As much as I appreciate the inclusion of fans in some of the decision-making processes, the owners should be held accountable to nobody unless their actions directly threaten the club’s existence. This being said, there is certainly a role to be played by the Trust and I for one am very excited to see the fruit that their efforts will bear.
Bradford City AFC has had, does have and will continue to have one major problem unless it is faced head-on with an aggressive action plan: support base within the City of Bradford itself. As much as we’d like to deny it, Bradfordians fail to support their club in the same manner that other similarly sized cities do.
Look at the two Liverpool teams, the Tyne and Wear teams and mostly any other club of substance and you will find that almost all the residents (young and old, rich and poor) of these places call themselves fans of their particular club. You’d be lucky if you came out of Bradford with one third of the people in the city identifying as fans of their home club; and therein lies the true problem that the club is faced with.
If the Bantams were able to get the people of Bradford behind the club – whether this be the form of coming to watch the club live, or even just purchasing an item of club merchandise – then our fortunes and potential would radically improve overnight. Of course, I understand that it takes money to make money and that it would take a lot of people on the ground to mobilise an entire city. However, the groundwork to achieve such a feat has been given to the club in the above-mentioned ways.
Like never before, Bradford has the tools at its disposal to reach the entire region, and all that it would take was a little organisation. Posting leaflets, offering incentives to local school kids and their families to attend games, a man with a van driving around with a billboard advertising the next home game and a whole mess of other initiatives remain to be tried.
If the club was to begin accomplishing this feat in the near-to-distant future, whilst ensuring that Parkinson is still given the required resources and time to build the squad into the side that it could and should be, I firmly believe that the sky is the limit. A great deal of questions remain to be answered and obstacles need to be overcome, but I am certain that we now have the necessary foundation from which to succeed.
The last decade has been a humbling experience for our club. Let us hope that the next decade is one to remember, for entirely the right reasons.