The week before the twenty-fourth

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Yeovil Town vs Bradford City preview

@Huish Park on Saturday 17 January, 2015

By Mahesh Johal

Saturday, 24 January. 2015. It has been a date logged in my diary since October last year. No, I hadn’t pre-empted a mouth-watering fourth round FA Cup tie in West London. Instead I was expecting City to be travelling to Swindon.

Whilst I am sure it’s a wonderful place, Swindon isn’t exactly on my list of places to visit. The thought of a cold January away trip was enough of an excuse for me to forgo the game and free up the weekend for a trip Portugal. Together with friends from university, we had three nights booked in Porto, with the highlight being a trip to the Estádio do Bessa to watch Boavista F.C.

It was probably during the celebrations of Andy Halliday’s goal that it occurred to me that my plans for January 24 had changed. With backdrop of the Kop’s booming rendition of “Bring on the Chelsea”, I can’t say I felt euphoric in the same way described by Katie. Instead I felt nervous. Whilst people were high fiving and hugging it had suddenly dawned on me that I had booked my flights to Porto with Ryanair. If there was one company I didn’t want to be in a tangle with, it was them (touch wood, it’s gone ok…)

I felt both happy and sad but my state of confusion and mixed emotion was further compounded during half time as my phone battery died. I was desperate to read their T&Cs and understand if I could change my return flight home? How much was this going to cost me? Would it be easier to cancel my trip? How could I tell the boys that I was backing out? Question after question swirled in my mind. I even asked if it would it be easier to miss City’s crowing game and carry on with my plans to Porto instead?

“What if you weren’t there to see it?”

It was at this point that City’s fantastic #bethedifference campaign kicked in. “What if you weren’t there to see it?” Quite frankly I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to be on January 24 other than Stamford Bridge cheering on the Bantams.

A marketer by profession, I was really impressed with the club’s efforts to raise support for Wednesday’s match. Successful marketing campaigns, in my opinion, are all about connecting with people. It’s about having a message and a product and clicking with an audience. The #bethedifference campaign did this immediately with Bradford City fans.

The clubs use of Vines, YouTube videos and social media further enhanced the anticipation and hype surrounding the game. The basis of social media is to interact and converse. Finally the club is doing this with its 32k followers on Twitter. The dialogue between the club and fans, some of it surprisingly witty, helped make the tie stay at the forefront of Bradford fans minds.

Yes, the proposition of a plum draw at Chelsea got the ball rolling, but credit has to go to the club for maximising the opportunity the replay gave them.

This effort shows a vast improvement compared to the club’s Christmas jumper world record attempt in December. I felt the campaign was rushed and a bit of missed marketing opportunity. Could the club not sell its own jumpers in the shop; was three days enough notice raise awareness? Heck, Bantams Banters sold out of 150 Christmas jumpers in no time at all, so there was definitely an appetite for it amongst fans.

I guess this is why #bethedifference worked so well. It helped generate fans’ appetite. It made fans want to be at Valley Parade to witness more cup glory. I can only presume that it was the brainchild of CEO James Mason or a new head of marketing? Whoever it was deserves a big pat on the back for both the idea and the execution.

I may be getting ahead of myself, but #bethedifference demonstrated to me at least that City are starting to transform off the pitch as well as on it. The club seemed to perfectly understand the niche for Wednesday and capitalised on the opportunity. Its use of the digital format was savvy, whilst the local press (as ever) supportive of the club’s efforts.

“How can someone as consistently good as Meredith not have a song?” (Alex Scott, 2013)

Wednesday’s cup exploits may remind fans of 2013, however it’s evident that the club has changed significantly since then. Nothing sums this up more than James Meredith.

Jumping from Conference to League One in two seasons, his first in the third tier was inconsistent. The added competition of a marquee signing like Alan Sheehan and his protracted contract negotiations this summer put the Australian on the back foot. However he has stormed this season and is firmly up there as one of our most consistent performers. My man of the match on Wednesday, Meredith has reclaimed the left back jersey all to himself.

Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle should take their places amongst him in the back four against Yeovil, whilst Andrew Davies fitness may determine if he can cope with two games in four days. Jordon Pickford should return in net despite Ben Williams’ clean sheet on Wednesday.

The midfield quartet also shows the club’s progression on the pitch. It is still ultra-committed and work thirsty; but there is a bit of extra quality and panache. Billy Knott is the flag bearer of this movement. His dynamo like performance, in particular in the second half, saw the Kop send off their hero with a standing ovation.

However it’s my opinion that Gary Liddle is the glue in this midfield. Snappy in the challenge, cultured with the ball at feet, I would argue that his presence in the team in the team has become as important as a Davies or a James Hanson.

It’s hard to predict who will plays on Saturday after two games on a heavy pitch. You would assume if changes were to occur in the midfield that Mark Yeates is in for a shout for either Filipe Morais or the improving Halliday. From Phil Parkinson’s comments on the club website however, you sense that both James Hanson and Jon Stead will continue up front.

This team has progressed significantly from the one that was outplayed by Yeovil on a rain lashed September afternoon. One would hope and expect a positive result against the leagues bottom side, but as this match preview shows (rightly or wrongly) supporters’ eyes are already looking towards January 24.

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