By Phil Abbott
Congratulations to Steve Gorringe, announced today as BCAFC Supporters Board ‘Supporter of the Year 2013-14’. For many, Steve will need little introduction, given the nature of his support of Bradford City. For others, they will soon put a name to a regular face in the City crowd. For some, they will simply be content to read of his magnificent contribution to the life of Bradford City over a number of years.
Following their search for the winner of the reinstated competition, the Supporters Board were particularly impressed with one nomination from Phil Woodward, a friend of Steve. In that nomination, Phil wanted to share the terrific work Steve does for the Shipley Bantams in running coaches to away games for a huge number of individuals over the year.
“Steve has run coaches to every away game this season, including cup games. He has taken time off work to attend games, specifically long Tuesday night trips. He takes calls at all hours for people booking on the coaches. He has also arranged a bucket collection for McMillan Cancer charity on Boxing Day and helped to arrange a race night that made £600 for Prostate Cancer UK and also attended hospital to hand out gifts for sick children at Christmas.
“He arranged all the members’ away priority cards for this season too. He plans pub stops in advance, puts together info on the pubs and the grounds for the travelling City fans and puts the money made back into the club. He also records a Bradford City broadcast on BCB radio, again giving up his own time for this. He is unselfish in his devotion to Bradford City and the work he does behind the scenes should be recognised, applauded and commended. He has taken over 250 supporters to away games this season, arranged the coaches, looked after our supporters young and old and arranged 3 tables for our supporters for the Player of the Year awards, discounted for our members.
“Steve does lots of work that benefits other supporters rather than doing things just for him. He is a loyal supporter that puts others first and spends lots of his own time doing things to benefit Bradford City. He is well organised and makes away trips an enjoyable experience despite the result and that along with his history of fundraising for charities, including the Burns Unit stands out for me. The criteria sums up Steve’s passion, enthusiasm and commitment for this club and it would be perfectly fitting for him to be recognised as Supporter of the Year.”
I know of Steve, and I have seen him on the away terraces many times, but I’ve never spoken to him. Recently, all that changed as I wanted to delve deeper into what appeared to be such a rousing and heartfelt nomination. I gave Steve a call for a ‘quick chat’. There are many times you put the phone down after an hour (particularly when you’ve not done much of the talking yourself) and you think ‘I’m never gonna get that part of my life back’, but far from it being so with Steve; I was both entertained and inspired.
During my hour with Steve, I wanted to probe a little more into what makes him such a great and worthy winner of the award.
How do you feel to have won the award?
“I’m shocked,” confirmed Steve. “I found myself asking why I had been chosen as there are, in my mind, many people who do good things around the club”.
Here were the first tones of a humble yet gratified gentleman.
“I feel a personal pride and satisfaction for achieving something”, he continued.
The undertones of lots of what Steve has to say are very much set around the auspice of it being all in a day’s work.
What motivates you to do what you do with the Shipley Bantams?
“I know I’ve done a good job when someone jumps off the bus at the end and says thanks. I know I’ve let them down if there are 10 of them having a moan!” says Steve. “But a lot of what I do is lived out in the memory of my close friend Stuart Hardy”.
With great affection, ascribing him as one of his closest friends, Steve went on to tell me about how Stuart, who sadly died in 2009, and himself seized the Shippers reins eight years ago when the diminishing committee had dropped to just two members. Incredibly, finding time to fundraise for a wealth of causes, the notion of a travel club was developed around the time that the football club was in administration and unable to provide official transport to away games.
What sort of challenges do you face in making the Shipley Bantams happen?
“I like to plan trips down to the minute”, said Steve, “And that has its challenges. If I’ve promised a particular stop-off or a particular arrival time, then I always make it happen.”
There’s no accounting for breakdowns, late cancellations of games or traffic jams, but Steve appears to leave very few stones unturned in his bid to ensure his military precision is rewarded each and every away game.
“I have boxes and boxes of stuff in my office”, he recalls. “Ground guides, notes on stopping points, pubs, things to remember for next time we visit a specific ground.”
But Steve knows first-hand that the QE2 Bridge over to Gillingham or a busy M62 can be the spanner in any well planned, well-oiled works.
Which is your most memorable game for which you have arranged a trip?
Steve sighed. There had been so many. But, some of the most recent voyages were right up there.
“The two trips to Wembley take some beating. We took 10 coaches!” recalled Steve. “But for pure drama, the Villa semi-final probably takes it. How on earth was it possible that we had won? How could Bradford City have made the cup final? We had a camera crew with us on the day too, and the emotion was something else.”
But memorable games for Steve are not just surrounding the great days out. He recalled an unfortunate midweek trip to Aldershot.
“During the week, a few people had pulled out, and then even more did at the last minute. We were down to 8 people, so I decided to hire a people carrier rather than let people down. It seemed a good idea at the time! As it happens, we broke down in Hemel Hempstead on the way and ended up shelling out £90 for a taxi to get to the game on time. It was great though as, having heard of our plight, Mark Lawn and the Aldershot chairman had left some complimentary tickets for us on the gate when we arrived.”
Have there been any games where you wished you hadn’t been there?
Steve sighed again, but this time, I could feel the pain that I’d just rekindled.
“Most of the bad games from years gone by have been forgotten through the troughs and peaks of following City, but two in particular come to mind,” recalled an uncomfortable Steve.
“The most recent was the 5-0 JPT defeat at Hartlepool. There was nothing to see on the pitch and very little to laugh about at all. It was dire.”
Even though this was a bad memory, Steve and his passengers always have something to laugh about on the bus and this tends to temper the emotions a little. He went on to describe the latter part of the Peter Taylor years, where poor away performance tested his resolve.
“We were at Cheltenham, post-Christmas, and the players’ body language was terrible. It suggested they were not interested and had accepted defeat. We’d taken time off work. I had a real blast at the players on the night, even on the old message board too. I went on about their lack of professionalism and what a privileged existence they had as professional footballers. It wasn’t a good time.”
Where are your favourite/least favourite grounds?
Steve was keen to make the distinction between ‘stadiums’ and ‘grounds’ as in his experience, there is a subtle difference.
“As far as stadiums go, it’s Wembley. But there are other stadiums that are soulless. My least favourite of these stadiums is MK Dons, for exactly that reason. It’s a beautiful stadium, just soulless.”
But there have been some dire ‘grounds’ in Steve’s experience too.
“Tuesday nights in Aldershot aren’t great! The access for away fans is miles around the back, up a park path. After the game there are no street lights and it feels like walking down ‘Ambush Alley’,” laughed Steve. “And then there’s Kenilworth Road. The place just stinks of pee and rust!”
But there is a place in Steve’s heart for many of the older grounds, each with many stories to tell. His favourite? Spotland.
“I love Spotland. Whenever we play Rochdale, we take a massive following. We’re all close together and the great acoustics in the stand mean that there is a great atmosphere.”
You mentioned others who you would say were worthy of the Supporter of the Year Award?
“There are lots of people who do a great deal for the club. In particular there are some great established or developing Supporters Groups where people do similar things. There’s Shelf, White Abbey, East Bierley and Skipton to mention a few and some great people doing amazing things for the Supporters Trust, Friends of Bradford City and Bradford Disability Team. I’m a particular fan of the likes of Mick Shackleton and Mark Neale, for example.”
(Editorial point – To maintain transparency, the Supporters Board agreed that they would not be able to nominate anyone or be nominated themselves for the award. Both these men serve currently on the board)
Finally, how do you see this season going?
“I’m looking for at least a top half finish,” fired Steve, “But I’d like to think we had a chance of the play offs. I think we’ve spent the lower budget better to ensure there is more quality throughout the squad. I think we have a bit more depth than before. It seems to me that Phil Parkinson is building a team who will work hard for each other. They might not be as skilful, but the sum total of their efforts might be better than before.”
Let’s face it, Steve has seen more than enough over his time as a City Supporter, so his views hold some credibility. Only time will tell just how much, but however you feel about the coming season, let’s take one more moment to look back at last year and raise a glass to a remarkable man – the one and only Mr Steve Gorringe, Supporter of the Year.