Dignity – the trait we know so well

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By James Pieslak

On the general scale of enjoyability, last week was somewhere between zero and one. A heavy defeat, takeover rumours, and a book about the fire disaster left many of us feeling either down in the mouth or with something of a sour taste in it.

After so much positive publicity this season, our club is under the spotlight and much of it is unnerving, sad, or downright depressing by association (aware that many are delighted about the takeover rumours, unlike worried old me – a risk-averse wimp).

As attention turns to the commemoration on Saturday, and the memorial of the 30th anniversary of the fire disaster in a few weeks, the club is going to be in even sharper focus. Journalists are going to be in the city in numbers. The majority will be respectful; a few might be looking for a lurid headline. TV and radio crews will be conspicuous. Some politicians will be on the lookout for a bandwagon to jump on.

Every time we open a newspaper, click a news site, flick a button on the remote control, or turn the dial on the radio we will hear and see familiar scenes of the present and awful scenes of the past. Accompanying the pain this year is an undercurrent of insinuation and ugliness. At a difficult enough time, it almost feels like we need to don a suit of armour.

Well screw that, we don’t need one thank you very much. Thirty years on, we will steadfastly refuse to let this overshadow what really matters.

This is not the correct forum to comment on the book. There is enough analysis for people to read. Much of it is fair but much of it is ugly. The cycle goes like this: report, reaction, report, reaction, report, reaction etc. It’s a vicious circle. It’s time to take a step back. There is a critical word associated with the city’s response to the fire over the years which has threatened to be trampled underfoot. Dignity.

For 30 years the city of Bradford has responded to that horrific day with dignity and tried its utmost to stare down the awful memory of what happened with dignity. I was there that day, one of my very first games. One of the things the club and the fans have taught me since then is the value and importance of dignity.

Amongst the twitter maelstrom David Pendleton captured it perfectly when he said: “For 30 years #bcafc fans have been praised for their dignified & measured response to the fire. Let’s keep that at the forefront of our minds.”

Quite right too.

There is much hurt, sadness and anger at the moment. All of that is perfectly understandable, but now is the time to focus on what really matters. Blame, rumour, accusation, counter-accusation, insinuation, and finger-pointing threaten to turn the thirtieth anniversary into something as utterly offensive as being background to a spat.

That is completely ludicrous. It overlooks what matters. Others may or may not have an agenda but we do and it is a bigger and more important one – it is about honouring and remembering.

I’ll hold my hands up, this applies to me too. I’ve reacted hot-headedly to a lot of what I’ve seen and read in the past few days, but sitting down and analysing it, that is not the right reaction. It is time to be the bigger man. Shouting about journalists and lashing out at MPs only adds to the ugliness.

Looking back to a little me, running away terrified that day, he wouldn’t want me to be chasing people around angrily 30 years on. He’d want me to sit down, reflect, remember, and respect – just like I’ve done every other year. Dignity.

With the focus on the club and the city, this is when we once again show what Bradford City is all about. This is a special club with a special bond and a fantastic tight-knit community of unbelievable support. Many of us have been through some form of hell with the club, some to an unthinkable level. Somehow this has tied us closer to the club and it tells.

Are we fashionable? No chance. Do we feel honoured that we’ve ended up supporting this funny old team? Immensely. We don’t wear our badge as a fancy logo to show off, we wear it because we are intrinsically connected to the club. Above and beyond what happens on the pitch there are deeper bonds between this club and its fans. A lot of it traces back to 1985.

Head down to Valley Parade on any given day and you’re guaranteed to bump into old friends and faces from the past that bring this to life. They possess that trait – a total and unswerving loyalty through the thick and the thin – which is built on something so much more than title wins, fame or glory. It’s something unique that nobody else can grasp or pick at.

This is part of the reason why we’re reminded so often what great supporters we are. Look at Swansea where we gained the admiration of the world. Away at Chelsea. At home to Sunderland, where our fans played a part in blowing the socks off an expensively-assembled Premiership team. Amusingly, someone from the Sunderland dugout responded to that by trying to encourage his own supporters. Here’s a point he missed, you can’t artificially create support like that, it just happens. It’s from the heart.

Away at Doncaster when a song about a pie of all things went viral. The game at MK Dons last season – a brand new fan base up against us – they never even stood a chance. The flat caps. The charity activities. The people who work tirelessly to raise money in their spare time. The charity single that has just been released. Amazing.

It isn’t just in the good times. When the chips are down, as they’ve been so often, the fans and the city respond magnificently. Preston, Bristol City, Blackpool away, the Taylor-era, Burton away, the fire disaster – time and time again people demonstrate why this group of fans are unique. It’s that deep-seated bond that drives it.

There have been countless examples where the fans of this special club take your breath away. It puts a smile on your face. I’m smiling now. The reason is because #bcafc and its quirky, unique, tragic, rollercoaster history is weaved into our DNA. Enough of the rage, it just isn’t befitting.

All of this is not to say we should ignore what is happening or be ‘senile’, as the city has been harshly described. Debate is right. Questions will and should be asked. I’ve got dozens. ‘Question everything’, somebody wise once wrote. In this case that is critical. What they didn’t write was ‘shout and rant’.

That has nothing to do with dignity.

Like the club is a big part of our DNA, so the events of 1985 are weaved into the DNA of the club. That is why these recent developments hurt so much. But when people talk or write, as they have, about a ‘cesspit’, let others be the ones holding the hose that fills it.

Because as they do that, we’ll be the ones focusing on remembering and honouring with dignity, the trait we know so well.

That is what matters above everything else at the moment.

A special edition of the City Gent – remembering the anniversary of the Valley Parade fire – goes on sale this Saturday. £1 of every copy sold will be donated to the Burns Unit. 

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Categories: Opinion

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7 replies

  1. Those were my thoughts but I just could not have written them so eloquently. Thank you.
    I hope that our younger supporters can maintain that dignity on Saturday, and not resort to chants to ‘Remember the 56’ or ‘Stand up for the 56’.
    Let’s just close our eyes and ‘Remember’ those that died that day.

  2. You’ve hit very eloquently on some of the most important traits of being a City fan. We all love the club and if it wasn’t for the continual emotional rollercoaster, perhaps that love wouldn’t run so deep. The amazing highs of recent times come at a price, we have all witnessed and felt the effects of the lows. Some too horrific for words.

    Luckily for me, I was not at Valley Parade that fateful day in 1985. There but for the grace of God go I. I cannot begin to imagine the horror and carnage, nor do I want to, but I can play my part as all of us can by respecting and honouring those who were there and who paid the ultimate price for following their heart and allegiance to their club.

    The best way to show solidarity with the victims is to continue to give 100% support to the club that cost them their lives and to do all we can to help the burns unit in this commemorative year and at all times.

    The city of Bradford has a proud heritage from a bygone era, but little to shout about in recent times. Little that was until a certain Mr Parkinson came to town. With his vision, drive and tactical skill, he began to assemble a squad that could share his hunger for success and his dream of how it could be made to become a reality and take shape.

    He is not the Special One because of where we finish in the league this season, but despite it. His ability to motivate, inspire and enable the players to punch above their weight and outperform their previous best on a regular basis is what helps to set him apart. That same ability which allows him to take other people’s unwanted “has been’s” and cast-offs, then mould them into a side worthy of some of the finest opposition in European football and humble them so publicly on home turf is a measure of his strength and prowess.

    Now the city and the fans have the right to feel proud and rejoice together and a duty to remember the 56 and honour, respect and pay homage to them in the best wait possible, by helping to fund the burns unit set up in memory if those lost souls and by supporting the club as they did to the bitter end. City till I die!

  3. Superb article James, for 30 years around this time, i tend to withdraw into myself. My partner says she notices a difference in me. I like to be left to my own devices without anyone fussing over me. I’ve always been this way since that day. My thoughts drift away to that day, i close my eyes and see that day. That is my way of coping with all sorts of emotions. I still think i could have done more to help on that day but in reality it was impossible. I know not a day has gone by without some reminder of that day.

    I will never attack anyones way of dealing with the tragedy in whatever way gives them succour and some sort of comfort or closure but i’ve come fairly close with a certain journalist recently. I made my feelings known on Twitter not that he’s seen them as he blocked me months ago.

    I will continue to show my respects and hopefully maintain the dignity shown by Bradfordians over the years despite the said journalist & his newspaper not affording us the same courtesy. As a body , we are ‘the bigger man’

    RIP the 56

  4. what the goons in the press don’t realise is that we are the Bradford family, whether that’s the city of Bradford, or the Bantams.

    We stand together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder and pay our respects in our way. The same dignified and understated way we have done for the last 30 years.

    It makes me such a proud Bradfordian and proud Bantam.

  5. I have always believed we have a unique set of fans. The last few seasons and in particular this one has proven that to me. As you say Chesea away, Wembley against Swansea when we were 0-65 down, and even last Tuesday against Bristol.
    The last week has really got to me. I wrote an article which is included in the special issue of City Gent available on Saturday where several contributors have written about the fire disaster.
    In it I said last Wednesday was the day it all changed!
    Not a glib statement as last week when the book was launched, thats how it felt for me.
    No longer would we have the quiet dignified `typically Bradford` rememberance.
    A week later I read a superb article like the one above and there is hope.
    I too fear for chants about `the 56` and hoodies, and flags, and visiting dignitaries, but hopefully at Valley Parade on Saturday the dignity that makes Bradford and being a `City fan` will come to the fore.
    Lets show the world again how special we are.

  6. You would imagine that the furore will have died down by the next anniversary and the bitterness and rancour will have died away. As a “campaign” it has no legs. You cannot blame MF for the way he feels and having read the book you can see that that his research has been meticulous and it is impressively written. Hopefully he can move on and put those talents to good use. The Guardians part in this is less wholesome and the almost daily “revelations” have just made matters worse. In time this episode will be remembered but it will not define us or the way we remember. Good article.

  7. Piesey, great article. You’ve written it well and you’ve written it right. I too hope the tradition of dignified, stoic and introspective reflection continues today despite any heightened media interest. This is how we remember and pay our respects, it’s who we are, shaped the club and the city and its part of being Bradfordian.

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