My Bradford City Life Story #6: James Pieslak

Our regular series continues with WOAP and Bantams Banter writer James Pieslak in the hotseat.

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

I have been supporting Bradford City for 30 years. I was just five years old and was begging my Dad to go watch a game of football, so he took me to watch City as they were enjoying a great season. In his youth, he had been a Leeds fan but stopped going once he started a family. He did think about taking me to Elland Road, but their reputation for hooliganism at the time put him off. He never went back there other than as a City fan.

My first match was towards the end of the 1984/85 Championship season, a 1-0 home win against Plymouth Argyle, which we watched from the old open-terraced Kop. I loved it according to Dad. Not much stands out, apart from our keeper Eric MacManus having a moustache and Plymouth having a striker called Tommy Tynan. We were hooked very quickly in that season of triumph and tragedy.

What’s your typical home matchday routine?

I have three routines. I live 200 miles away, so it very much depends on whether I can make it up or not. The first routine is the one where I remain 200 miles away and am left helplessly watching #bcafc on twitter and end up celebrating or despairing in random places, such as the time I yelped and punched the air in response to a City goal in a quiet craft shop, much to everyone’s bemusement.

The second involves a late dash up the M1. The third, preferred, option is where I wake up at my parents’ house in Baildon, spoil the wife for the morning, and then head off to North Parade with Dad, sister and some friends for a few pints before taking our seats (I still hold a season ticket) in Block K of the Kop.

9763021391_0579916333_k

Favourite Bradford City players?

Stuart McCall and John Hendrie. My early years were spent kicking a ball and pretending I was both. Thirty years on, the pair are still idolised and an appreciation of their talent passes down through the generations. Legend is a much overused word in football and in life, but those two deserve that tag in Bradford.

Like most City fans, I expect honesty and hard work as a minimum. Players that understand what the club means to the supporters, and who will run through walls have always been ones that I’ve had a soft spot for.

Jamie Lawrence typified that, and he had talent to go with it. His passion was there for all to see and he still continues to follow and support the club today. I loved his never-say-die spirit and you could tell he genuinely marvelled at where life had taken him. I consider myself lucky to support this club, and he demonstrated that same gratitude but as a player.

Favourite non-Bradford City players?

The one player that I would stop everything to watch was Zinedine Zidane. It was like time had stood still when he had the ball. He made the game look so easy. The only other player who comes close to that for me is Andrea Pirlo. His performances against England in recent years are simply masterclasses in how to dictate a game of football.

Favourite grounds?

Other than Valley Parade, I like Upton Park. It has four stands and there is a sense that the crowd are right on top of the players. The fans were superb too and gave me some top notch ribbing when I ordered a round of drinks in a broad Yorkshire accent in an East End pub.

Any ground that still has standing in the away end gets my vote too – Stevenage and Dagenham jump to mind. They’re small grounds but they have character. There’s nothing like watching football on terracing and having a proper jump around when you score.

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Least favourite grounds?

The modern wraparound stadium is ubiquitous, uniform and completely devoid of soul or atmosphere. They seem to all follow the same template and The Walkers Stadium in Leicester, Stadium MK and Madjeski are perfect examples.

Such stadiums tend to feature strange banners that try to depict some kind of ‘passion’ when in fact the opposite is true.

They have them at Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and the Emirates and I sense that a branding expert has had them designed and hung up rather than an actual supporter. It’s all very contrived – ‘JT Captain, Leader, Legend’, ‘MUFC: One Religion’, that type of thing.

Favourite period supporting the club?

The 1987/88 playoff season was fantastic. I was about nine years old and City mad. We came inches from getting into the old First Division (Premiership in today’s money) and my heroes McCall and Hendrie were central to everything. Of course, it all ended in tears but up until that point, that season was exciting, free-flowing, and there was so much positivity around.

The recent years under Phil Parkinson are special too. Parkinson has given the club its soul back and we’ve been spoiled under his tenure. Even without the added context of the position he has taken us from, the past few seasons have seen some magical moments and at times we’ve been the talk of the footballing world. You just do not expect that supporting Bradford City.

Most memorable matches?

Wembley 1996, Wembley twice in 2013, Wolves away in 1999 and beating Boro on our Premiership debut spring to mind.

Before all that though there was a thunderous West Yorkshire derby at Elland Road that I went to with my Dad and sister. It was March 1st 1989 and it finished 3-3. We took the lead on three occasions and Leeds kept pegging us back.

It was a night game under the floodlights, and going to Elland Road as a young lad always felt like going behind enemy lines. Pilgrims in an unholy land. Until that evening, my memories of Elland Road were of getting soundly beaten, but that night City roared into Leeds United like lions. It was a pulsating fixture and I think everyone came away exhausted. The atmosphere was like nothing else I’d heard before, and I lapped up every second of it.

Another Leeds game that springs to mind is the 2-1 win in the Capital One Cup last year. I missed that game, as my Dad was in the LGI about to have a major operation the following morning. We left him that evening not knowing what was going to happen and I couldn’t concentrate on the game – or so I thought.

The late comeback produced an almighty outpouring of emotion that overwhelmed me later on that night. The following days Dad was in intensive care and when he finally came around, in considerable pain, he was eventually able to muster his first smile when I said to him ‘Dad, we beat Leeds’.

Match you most regret missing?

I missed out on Chelsea through no fault of my own, so Blackpool away is the game I most regret missing. I went to the home game and was absolutely despondent at full time.

I don’t think I had any positivity left in me after that first leg, so I decided to miss the second leg and play cricket instead. As we drove home after the cricket, we listened to the radio with a mixture of joy and horror as the goals poured in. I lost faith and didn’t go to support my team, so got what I deserved.

Match you wish you had missed?

Although painful at the time, I’ve never regretted been at the big games which have gone wrong – Villa away in 1988, Ipswich the following week, Blackpool at home in the 1996 playoffs. It’s the no-shows that drive me mad.

Me and my best mate once travelled from Bradford to Brighton after a particularly heavy night. I’d rolled home at about 3am and was up an hour or so later to get the coach from VP. It was a long grim journey, and perhaps the City players had been out with us the night before because they simply didn’t turn up.

I remember Ashley Ward looking completely disinterested and the fans were livid with him – he got a real earful that day. To add to the misery, we were in a temporary stand at the Withdean Stadium which was completely exposed to the elements. It rained for the duration of the game, we were well beaten, and my hangover worsened and worsened. Awful.

What don’t you like about football?

The rich poor divide and the lack of ambition by the footballing authorities to do anything about it. Deloitte published a report a week or two ago which showed that the total revenue of the 20 Premier league clubs is £3.26bn whereas the total revenue of all 72 league clubs is £717m. That means 22% of clubs account for 78% of revenues.

Championship clubs are throwing money at trying to get into the promised land of the Premiership and who could blame them with that bounty on offer? But the penalty of failure is there for all to see.

I can only see one thing happening, which is more and more clubs folding as the super-rich, backed by the TV companies and the regulators, behave like some great vampire squid wrapped around the face of football, relentlessly jamming their blood funnel into anything that smells like money… to borrow a well-known phrase.

How would you improve Bradford City?

To progress and establish ourselves as a solid Championship side we need a level of investment that the current owners cannot provide, so it would be great to see added investment into the club. However, I would urge everyone to be careful of the hand that feeds us. The takeover rumours this summer have been wonderful in terms of seeing how the club has been put on the map, and hopefully somebody viable comes forward.

I’d like to see more home grown talent coming through. There have been a number of players that have escaped from our clutches over recent years – Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley for example – so I would love to see more local talent progressing through the ranks into the first team. Cheering on a home grown player in a City shirt is a wonderful thing – and in commercial terms having such assets is great for the club.

984294_873239906055979_911361219644795134_n

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Favourite manager?

Until recently, I’d have said Paul Jewell but it has to be Phil Parkinson. He has brought a smile back to Valley Parade and has created a squad that you cannot help but be proud of. They’re very much players in his own mould – honest, hardworking, reliable and talented – I love them.

Phil Parkinson seems to understand the club and its fans and he has forged a very special bond between staff and supporter which I’d hate to see undone.

Least favourite manager?

John Docherty deserves an honourable mention but I’ve opted for Jim Jefferies. Dourness personified. The day he joined until the day he left seems like a big dark cloud. Disunity on the pitch and chaos off it, Jefferies and his assistant Billy Brown were at the heart of so much of it.

He brought in a player called Gary Locke, who a good trusted friend of mine went to school with and who he described as ‘bang average’. Locke was pedestrian and didn’t have too many redeeming features as a professional footballer which seemed to be the style for the Jefferies way of playing football.

I accept that Jim Jefferies was at the club at an extremely difficult time, but having him at the helm was like putting Keith from Nuts in May in charge of the Glastonbury Festival. The wrong person with the wrong vision.

All time City XI?

(4-4-2). My favourite City sides have always played with wingers.

Walsh, Jacobs, Abbott, Richards, Wetherall, Beagrie, Hendrie, McCall, Lawrence, Blake, Mills

Subs: Schwarzer, Jackson, G Jones, Waddle, Campbell (hard to have Campbell on the bench but I couldn’t break up the Mills/Blake partnership, sorry Bobby!)

Advertisements


Categories: My Bradford City Life Story

Tags:

3 replies

  1. I think “bang average” was extremely generous to Gary Locke. And to think Jeffries pushed out Stuart so he could bring in Locke. Probably the most criminal thing ever done at VP (and there are some contenders for that title)!

    • The consensus at the time was that Beagrie and McCall were pushed out because Jeffries felt threatened by them and was protecting his own position. It may have just been because they were (relatively) high wage-earners and the club needed to reduce the wage bill, but it was perplexing back then.

  2. I’ve heard it called many things in my time but ‘Blood Funnel’ is a new one on me!!

%d bloggers like this: