By James Pieslak
It looks like Sunday’s tie against Sunderland will see a bigger City crowd than the 23,971 souls who watched in disbelief as we beat Arsenal in the League Cup on penalties. The size of the crowd looks set to be further swollen thanks to a legal firm removing their advertising from the front of the Kop to allow more fans in. This is a great move, both for the club and for the firm in question’s PR team.
The bumper crowd will be a mixture of die hards, fair weather fans, newcomers and 4,200 rowdy Mackems – and it’s this context that makes Sunday’s game different to the recent cup upsets we’ve been involved in.
In my 30 plus years of supporting City, a few visiting supporters have really stood out for their noisy backing. Cardiff City in the 90’s impressed for the atmosphere they created inside the stadium, if not some of their behaviour outside it. Middlesbrough have always impressed for the volume they create. A number of other teams have come to Valley Parade and belted their hearts out for the full 90 minutes, just as our brilliant away support does on a weekly basis at grounds up and down the land.
The Sunderland support at Valley Parade is amongst the very the best I’ve seen though. It could partly be down to the fact they seem to always put four past us (0-4 in 1997, 0-4 in 1999, 1-4 in 2000, 0-4 in 2003), but their supporters always seem to generate the most noise at Valley Parade, even from kick off. Sunday has to be different. Our absolute and utter dominance of the atmosphere is an advantage that the players have visibly fed off against Premiership sides in recent years (Wigan, Villa, Arsenal, Chelsea) but Sunday could be different if the pattern of history repeats itself against the Black Cats.
Sunderland are backed by a set of noisy fans who support their team vociferously. You can accuse them of being inferior on the pitch when compared to the Gunners or to Chelsea, but off the pitch Sunderland are in a different league to those two.
For the City players, Sunday is a step up against better opposition once again. That is even truer for the fans. Although there is a sense of confidence ahead of the game amongst the City faithful, Sunderland are the favourites. Their players are technically superior to ours, no matter how much we worship our idols in claret and amber. Yes the pitch is a leveller but their players are still better. #SoWhat I hear you ask, if that’s the case why do we keep beating these Premiership sides? In The Times newspaper after the Chelsea game, the reporter wrote something along these lines: “Mourinho looked up at the noisy Bradford end, knowing the visitors were kicking towards their fans in the second half. He must have known what was going to happen with that support willing them on”. Parkinson relates to that in the Star.
He is spot on. Like Sunderland; Arsenal and Chelsea possess better footballers than us, but – my gosh – when our players hear and feel the backing of the City fans in games like this, they don’t believe that anymore. You only have to see Hanson leaving international defenders black and blue, McArdle dominating global footballing icons like Drogba, Yeates outfoxing World Cup winners to ghost into the box and score. These players grow in stature, find another yard, rise another inch, run a touch faster, tackle a little harder.
There is a genuine bond between the crowd and this bunch of players that, put simply, just works. It’s fantastic and it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The starting eleven will come out of the tunnel on Sunday expecting the same, but 4,200 noisy Mackems might just throw a spanner in the works.
I wrote in a previous article about the decision not to show the game on the TV and the impact it has on attracting potential supporters, but the fact is there could be thousands of newcomers to Valley Parade on Sunday. Parents with kids, young couples, families, teenagers, whites, Asians, people of all backgrounds – thousands of potentially new supporters will be there to watch their local team take on a Premiership side.
Some people seem to resent these newcomers, but I don’t understand that attitude. We were all newcomers once. I’ve seen City virgins hugging each other in response to a City goal, and I’ve watched them play a massive role in City’s recent high profile successes. Just like the diehards they sing along, cheer the players, join in the songs, scream blue murder at the ref, and jeer the opposition. Another great atmosphere and a big win might turn a few of them into regulars.
The players need everyone right behind them on Sunday – they don’t differentiate between the voices of new fans or those that have stood on the Kop since 1985. Like the lads on the park, every single Bradford City supporter needs to put in a huge shift on Sunday. They really do, because in this instance the visiting supporters really are a step up in class.
The Sunderland fans will be very noisy. Mark my words, they’ll surprise a few people. ‘Everywhere we go’ goes the terrace favourite. The rest of the lyrics of that song will ring truer than ever on Sunday.