By Jason McKeown
Continuing from part one, WOAP has put together a panel of long-serving supporters – John Dewhirst, David Pendleton, Ian Hemmens and John Wade – to find out how the current era of success compares to Bradford City’s historic achievements.
If you had to name the greatest all-time City team, based on ability, the 2000/01 Premier League relegation side would arguably take the crown – but no one looks back upon that team with fondness.
What turns exceptional players into legends are their achievements and contributions irrespective of ability – so with that in mind, do players from the 2012/13 and 2014/15 teams belong in the same bracket as McCall and co?
John Dewhirst highlighted the character of the current team. “It is the unassuming modesty, team spirit and work ethic that impresses me. Everyone is playing for each other which is wonderful. We hadn’t seen that at Valley Parade for so long.”
David agreed, “Parkinson’s great gift has been getting every ounce from his players. The spirit of togetherness is reminiscent of that of the ‘bantam progressivism’ era of the early to mid-1980s. To be honest that is about the only comparison that can be drawn between the successful teams of the various eras. The contexts of their successes have been so varied that it is almost impossible to compare like for like.”
Ian added, “The achievements of the recent teams will rightly go down as major points in the club’s history. Personally irrespective of generations, the 1911 FA Cup win will always be the pinnacle (so far!) but for sustained improvement and success, the achievements of both the 2013 and present squads are right up there.”
And what about the club’s current longest-serving player, James Hanson? Is he now a Bradford City legend? “If his thumping header at Villa Park, or that looping effort that opened the scoring in the play-off final isn’t enough to place him in the all-time great bracket, I don’t know what will,” stated David.
“A Bradford lad, who famously ‘used to work at the Co-op’. It’s Alf Tupper-esque. His goal per game ratio is up there with the best, his work rate is phenomenal. I hope he spends his entire career at Valley Parade and that it includes battering defences at an ever higher level.”
Ian is similarly a big fan of the current number nine. “I think he has to be considered up there amongst the club’s legends already and, as he stays even longer, his standing will surely be acknowledged. He is on course to finish amongst the club’s top all-time scorers.”
John Wade added, “James Hanson is difficult to categorise yet. He seems a sort of talisman, just as McCall and Bobby Campbell were. When Campbell came back to City, they immediately started winning. McCall, of course, is the top man.
“I hope Hanson stays fit and continues to improve, because I do think he is improving. He really tormented Sunderland, and is a really tough lad. In many ways he is very much like Campbell. I think the “former shelf stacker” helps his image. So I would say he is well on the way to ‘all time’ status.”
Bradford City have had many owners, good and bad. Often there is a split amongst supporters over the job that those in the boardroom have performed, and Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes have certainly attracted a wide range of viewpoints over their time at the helm.
“Personally, I think we should be pleased that we have two people running the club who are ‘fans’ and are, in this day and age, cautiously prudent when running the club,” offered Ian. “Another period of administration would surely kill the club, so we should be happy with the legacy they are building.
“Julian is very publicity shy but has obviously learned lessons from earlier on, and whilst Mark is really ‘marmite’ to most fans, no one can deny his love for the club.”
David pointed to the ongoing season ticket initiative as the pair’s true legacy. “As a double act, the pioneers of affordable ticket pricing. I deliberately say affordable rather than cheap. It is one of the vital elements that have made Bradford City one of the stand-out clubs in modern football.
“It is wonderful to see that policy reaping rewards, both in terms of attendances and plaudits from the world of football. You will always get the supporters who say we should charge more for our season tickets, but that would be a hugely retrograde step. It would make us just another football club, indistinguishable from the other ninety-one.
“The pricing for the Sunderland FA Cup tie was part of the reason why we ultimately won. Let any fan tell me that the atmosphere created didn’t make them proud to be a City fan? I’m old enough to remember City ramping up the prices for the 1976 quarter-final against Southampton. The increased prices meant that the match didn’t even sell-out. We would do well to remember that lesson from history.
“Regarding Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes as individuals: although the Rhodes family were partly responsible for our rise and fall of the early 2000s, they have stuck with the club and by doing so have absolved themselves ten times over from any acrimony from the Richmond years. As the momentous events of 2013 unfolded, I was delighted that Julian and his family were still at the helm to witness the Wembley visits.
“Mark Lawn will always have his critics. What you see is what you get with Mark, no more no less. Having worked closely with Mark developing the 2013 Suite I’ve grown to like him a lot. However, the one thing I didn’t expect to see was Mark Lawn the internet sensation. Whether it was Match of the Day after the Chelsea game or the ITV phone call, the clips have gone viral. People at work, who aren’t City fans, say things like, ‘I really like your chairman … he’s a proper Yorkshireman … I bet he can hand out a proper bollocking’.”
John Dewhirst praised the stability that the pair have brought to the club, but questioned the club’s financial limitations in the long-run. “From an historical perspective they have provided relative stability and better the devil you know – we don’t have the worry about the motives of an unknown foreign owner with little sympathy for local sensibilities. At the end of the day we know where they stand.
“However, there remains a nagging doubt how far the club can progress without new investment. The ticket debacle and pitch problems may suggest under-investment at the club, which we all know has been run on a shoestring for so long. At some stage there needs to be new investment, but I can’t see where it will come from or with what conditions attached.”
A striking feature about the last few years has been the bond between the players and the crowd. Social media has undoubtedly helped to bring the two closer together, as has the way in which supporters get behind the team during matches.
John Wade stated with pride, “The atmosphere at home matches now is the best ever, better than 1998/99 and 1999/00. The fans love the players; the players seem to love the fans. I cannot put my finger on the exact reason, but it really seems to have begun in the League Cup against Arsenal. I think Gary Jones had a lot to do with it.”
John Dewhirst agrees that the current atmosphere is “unprecedented”, adding, “A big part of the recent atmosphere has been the fact that the new Valley Parade has been full to capacity, the sheer size of the crowd vs Sunderland was notable.
“A big difference this season is that there has been atmosphere in each end of the ground and the main stand has lost its inhibitions. In a historic context, what is different is the proportion of families and women in attendance. Frankly, it is a far more civilised atmosphere.
“I saw a photograph from the Sunderland game of a packed Valley Parade and it immediately reminded me of photos I had seen of games against Burnley in 1960 and 1911. It felt great to know that I had finally seen a respectable, capacity crowd and been part of it. You no longer need historical photos of a packed Valley Parade.
“What is great from the perspective of a traditionalist such as myself is that the club is wearing a classic kit. Both home and away strips this season look great. There have been a few erroneous designs in the last twenty years and I hope that the club can stick to classic, traditional kits in the future.”
Ian believes that the club’s season ticket initiative is a big factor behind the warm atmosphere. “Historically, the Bradford sporting public are hard to please and quickly apathetic, so the club’s initiatives price-wise have proved a fairly sustained supporter base which will grow if the team keeps progressing.”
David views the bond between players and supporters to be different to past eras, but special in its own modern way. “The world has changed. The players don’t travel to the ground by public transport anymore, most don’t live in the city of Bradford. Whereas the 1980s teams would regularly be out on the town on a Saturday night, today’s players are expected to be more, shall we say, ‘professional’.
“Conversely, via Twitter and the like, the players can actually come closer to thousands of their supporters. They can share their elation or frustration in an instant.
“I’ve never known so many players have their own songs as the current team has. That probably reflects on the fans more than the players. They’ve changed, we’ve changed.”
It is too early to talk about the legacy of this period, but Ian is in no doubt that these modern times will form part of the club’s heritage, which younger supporters will grow up re-telling. “When I was a young lad a few of my friends were all Leeds fans purely due to their success and they would taunt me about ‘What have City ever done?’ I could point with pride to a FA Cup win before Leeds United even existed.
“The present team under Phil will have the same effect for young City fans now – they will pass on stories of their exploits to their children and grandchildren.
“We might not be the most fashionable club in the league but now, more than ever, we live up to our nickname as Bantams. Tough fighters who never give up; we should be proud and enjoy the journey.”
With special thanks to Fliss Cater for her design skills.