By Jason McKeown
It was Saturday 1 November 1997 when I, a 16-year-old lad, returned home from my morning paper round feeling distracted. Whilst collecting the delivery bag from the shop, I had bumped into a couple of friends who had told me that later that day they would be going to watch Bradford City. I had never been before, but talked often of wanting to do so. Now they were going and I was not. I felt envious, I felt frustrated, and I spent the morning feeling down about not being invited.
At around lunchtime I mentioned it to my mum, who quick as a flash urged me to invite myself along and even went to the trouble of calling my friend’s mum to check they hadn’t set off. Within minutes I was leaving the house and rushing to join them. I would stand on the Kop terrace, and was blown away by the atmosphere and experience. The 0-0 draw City achieved with West Brom seeing me instantly fall in love with the Bantams.
Almost 17 years on and – after hundreds of Bradford City matches all over the country, thousands of pounds spent on tickets and countless hours writing about the club’s fortunes – I still come back to the fact it was my mum who made it all happen. Who gave a shy lad the confidence to push myself into a life-changing afternoon out at the football. Aside from three years studying at Sunderland University and 12 months when, just married, I couldn’t afford to go, I have missed just 15 home games (league and cup) during the other 13 years.
But tonight will be number 16.
It was a week last Monday, mid-morning, when my mum passed away. Without going into the details, her health had been in a bad way for a few months. Today is her funeral and there’s enough emotion to deal with without fretting over a home match vs Walsall. It has been a very tough week (and, in case you’re wondering, the two pieces I wrote for Width of a Post last week had been completed before it all happened).
My long-time – some would say long-suffering – fellow City-goer Stephen will also be absent tonight. Three days before my mum passed away, his gran unfortunately went the same way. Her role in Stephen’s affection for the Bantams was different but also very important to him. En route to home games, me and him would stop by her house to pick up his big brother David, who for a time was a season ticket holder also. She took a keen interest in City and would always bid us on our way to the match with the words “first goal’s for gran”. Her funeral was on Monday.
I write all this not to depress you, dear reader, but to celebrate the people we all have in our lives who so patiently and willingly provide the back up to our support for Bradford City. My mum not only inadvertently caused me to support Bradford City, but became an indirect supporter herself. When I was at Molinuex to see City promoted to the Premier League, she had gone to the local pub to watch the game on Sky. When I was running on the Valley Parade pitch celebrating survival against Liverpool, she had been nervously listening on the radio in a car; driving around the Yorkshire Dales with my dad, because the tension was too much for her to bear merely sitting at home. Steve’s gran also listened to matches on the radio every week.
My mum would always follow matches either via radio or online. I would be barely out of the ground after a game when she had text me about the result, and she would want to chat with me about the performance when I next saw her. She wasn’t a fan in the sense she knew who many of the players were, but could usually name the manager of the time and anyone who regularly scored goals.
On four occasions, she came to watch City too. The most memorable was on Boxing Day 2007, when City defeated Lincoln City 2-1 on an emotional afternoon at Valley Parade. She was blown away by the noise and the excitement when City scored. She loved the way that everyone cheered together. In December 2011, she attended two back-to-back Christmas home games against Crewe (3-0) and Shrewsbury (3-1) and was similarly enthralled. She watched City’s two Wembley appearances in my house on Sky, whilst we were at the game.
We all have people in our lives who don’t follow City through choice, but because of us. Who have learned to handle our mood swings depending on the result, know how to look up the league table and will regularly visit the club shop prior to Christmases and Birthdays. They know that they must never arrange a social or family function without first checking the fixture list with you.
They are our parents, our partner, our children. They care because we care. And they allow us to indulge in our sometimes over-the-top passion for the sport, which on some level adds to our enjoyment.
So tonight at the game, please may I ask you to pay thought to those such people in your life? They will be at home somewhere, watching score updates or remembering at 9.30pm to check the result. And when they do so, they will not think about whether City are still in relegation trouble or whether Aaron Mclean is a worthy replacement for Nahki Wells or whether Phil Parkinson is the right man for the job. They will think of you, and how you feel. And feel pleased for you if City have won, or sympathetic if we have lost.
These people are the backbone to our love for Bradford City, and we should always appreciate the sacrifices they so often make for us. Bradford City is a big part of their life, simply because Bradford City is such a big part of ours.