My Bradford City Life Story #5: Mark Neale

Image by Alex Scott

Image by Alex Scott

The next up in our Life Story series is long-standing Bradford City supporter Mark Neale. He is well known to City fans for his involvement in the City Gent, Bradford City supporters club and Friends of Bradford City. 

How long have you supported City and how did it happen?

My first game was on 16th September 1965. Why do I remember it so well? City 1 Stockport County 7!

Amazingly, I can remember the City goal scored by Roy Ellam at the Bradford End. The story was that I was allowed to go places by my mum, if my older cousin took me. He decided we should start going to football and it was also decided to go and watch City one week and Bradford (Park Avenue) the next.

We went to this City game and I was hooked, and never made it to watch the Avenue the following week, and he became a fervent Avenue fan; which gave us a few years of fun when the `Derbies` were the most eagerly awaited games.

(By the way City lost 1-7 at Crewe the week after the Stockport game, so it’s all being a big improvement for me. When other fans moan and talk about `worst teams` and `worst results’ I just nod sagely!)

What’s your typical home matchday routine?

Nowadays, following my decision to take a raincheck on my involvement with `Friends of Bradford City` last September, we have a much less hassled home game routine.

We used to have to be down at Valley Parade for around midday, but now we often do not leave home until 1pm. We sometimes go in the Italian cafe on Manningham Lane or the `One in a Million` cafe, but if it’s the first day for a new `City Gent` we meet Mike Harrison to get a box of the issue to sell.

The days have gone when I used to record the `Bantams Beak` in the basement studio of BCB and then go to the Corn Dolly for a couple before games. I found I needed to go to the loo, and often missed goals!

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Favourite Bradford City players?

Well Stuart McCall is the obvious one, but I have a tremendous affection for the team which were involved in the fire disaster and also the `nearly season`.

I know John Hendrie, Greg Abbott and Peter Jackson quite well, and one of the greatest honours in my life was being asked to carry Gladys Hannah’s coffin with Stuart for her funeral in Saltaire.

I do fondly remember players from that first City team, and players like Bruce Stowell, John Hall, Ian Cooper and Ces Podd.

Favourite non-Bradford City players?

As far as non City players, in the 60s/70s I always liked the Chelsea team of that era. Bonetti was my idol, and Charlie Cooke was THE best player I have ever seen.

When we played at Chelsea last season, and they paraded Bonetti, Hinton and Harris on the pitch it was quite a special moment for me, as I loved that team, particularly when they beat Leeds in the FA Cup Final.

I also admired the Manchester City team which included Bell. Lee, and Summerbee which played superb football managed by Joe Mercer.

For a period in the late 1960s I would sometimes take myself of to watch First Division games (now Premier League) and saw the likes of Best, Charlton, Law, Greaves and Mackay which was terrific.

I remember seeing a young Kevin Keegan playing for Doncaster Rovers against City, and watched his development with interest, and Steve Gerrard would have certainly graced a Claret and Amber shirt!

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Favourite grounds?

In my early days I always particularly liked going to Millmoor, and remember places like York, Halifax and Rochdale with affection.

The old Wembley was special too. I never went except for the play off final in 95/96 because, to me, going to any game other than one involving City would be like going to a party that you did not have an invite to.

I was warned it was a poor stadium and certainly parts of it were showing its age, but it oozed atmosphere, and history. The view from the seats were not that bad neither. I am just pleased we played there before it was re-developed. I can’t believe that the twin towers were not retained and incorporated into the new Wembley as they were an iconic symbol of so many historic moments in the old stadium.

I am a big fan of John Betjeman and in his poem `Harrow on the hill` from ‘A few late flowering chrysanthemums` – he captures the atmosphere of Wembley so well.

When melancholy Autumn comes to Wembley

And electric trains are lighted after tea

The poplars near the stadium are trembly

With their tap and tap and whispering to me

Least favourite grounds?

Well I never liked going to Elland Road, for a whole variety of reasons; not least of them being spat at when I had travelled to a game against City with the Bradford Branch of Leeds Supporters branch as a peace offering in my role as Chairman of our Official Supporters Club.

Apart from there I have enjoyed going to many other grounds, although there are many I have never got to.

Favourite period supporting the club?

It’s amazing but there are several periods of supporting City which I remember as a favourite.

The very early period, when although the team and results were not good it was all a very new and fresh experience. Plus you were `off the leash` for the first time in your life and experiencing the excitement of going to new places on your own; or at least with your equally young and inexperienced friends.

The 84/85 period was memorable obviously for the Fire; but also for the incredible unity of the team, club and its fans, when the disaster drew us all together.

Most memorable matches?

All the promotions have become important memories, but getting promotion at Darlington in 1969 still remains very special.

Obviously in more modern times the Premiership seasons, and then 2013; and of course last season, with the win at Chelsea probably becoming my favourite ever City moment. Even more so than the Wembleys!

Match you most regret missing?

I remember missing the 1-0 win over Liverpool in the League Cup when Bobby Campbell scored the winner, because I had a conflicting engagement that night. Afterwards I kicked myself for getting my priorities wrong!

I think I made up for it later though by managing to sneak away from a wedding reception to watch City play Huddersfield at Odsal (after the Fire) without anybody noticing – even my ex-wife! I just said I had got chatting to somebody, which is why I had been away so long.

I still can’t believe I got away with that one!

What don’t you like about football?

Some times being involved in the game, as I have been over many years, you see and hear things that spoil your impression of the game.

I recall senior players paying juniors to turn up at supporters events in their place – events you have spent lots of time organising. It’s difficult to tell a room full of people that instead of X player attending you have a unknown Junior!

I also once witnessed a transfer taking place whilst I was sat in Geoffrey Richmond’s office, and couldn’t believe how little say the player involved had. It was like he was piece of meat.

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How would you improve Bradford City?

At the moment there is not a lot I don’t like about Bradford City, so it’s hard to suggest ways of improving things. I like the fact that we manage to advance within the constraints of our finances, and won’t risk going into debt again. I like the fact that our owners are `fans` and for that reason I had my misgivings about being owned by foreigners.

I like the passion shown by our fans in terms of noise and atmosphere, which is as good as I have ever known in 50 seasons; and I like the fact that largely our fans are well behaved.

I am proud of Bradford City and can’t imagine supporting any other club.

Favourite manager?

Well it has to be Phil Parkinson. I like the way he works, and the fact that he has been here for quite a while (by modern standards) and seems to want to stay to finish the job. Paul Jewell took us to the promised land and Kammy was a real character. Going further back, Terry Dolan and Jimmy Wheeler did well for us.

Least favourite manager?

John Docherty. Jim Jefferies.

All time City XI?

Downsborough, Darby, Jacobs, Stowell, McCall, Jackson, Wetherall, Hendrie, Hanson, Bannister, Elllis.

Subs: Podd, Edinhio, Jones, Palin, Oliver, Cooper, Wells, Abbott, Campbell.

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Categories: My Bradford City Life Story

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5 replies

  1. There seems to be a stock answer for all of us as regards ‘least favourite manager’ with a certain ‘Mr John Docherty featuring !!! I can honestly say his reign was the only time i’ve questioned my faith in following City. Only the thought that he surely wouldn’t last long kept me going to VP.

  2. Really enjoyed this article. I hope you don’t mind me saying this Mark but its great to get some perspective from those of us that might be a little older and balder. Your recollections brought back some great memories of my own. We’re all on a roundabout. Whilst watching those Docherty years with Stephen Torpey up front who’d have thought that we would reach the dizzying highs we’ve been treated to in the last couple of years.

    I really hope that todays youngsters get the same opportunities as we did in exploring football on their own, finding their team and following it for a lifetime. I think that thats the biggest threat from the Premiership brand. Lower league football has so much to offer and you learn so much more watching live football rather than the over hyped rubbish on TV.

    • Totally agree. I have clear recollections of much of what Mark says, particularly the Stockport game which I saw as a 15 year old and the Darlington promotion night! Regarding today’s youngsters I still feel their allegiances will, in the main, follow their parents though there will still be some who decide to ‘support’ which ever team wins the most which I’m afraid was the case with many locals in the 60s who started to follow Leeds. Both my sons, now in their 30s, were brought up following City and remain as keen as ever despite both living in London. I’m sure when the time comes their children too carry on the tradition!

  3. Amazed by the wedding story! Might explain why she’s now the ex wife!

  4. Mitch. Spot on!!!

    But the present Mrs Neale is a season ticket holder and forner Supporters Club and FoBC Committee member. She would have been away from
    the wedding before me!!!!

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