My Bradford City Life Story #7: Damien Wilkinson

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Next up in our series is long-time WOAP writer Damien Wilkinson, who reflects on almost three decades following the Bantams.

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

Having spent the early part of my youth – late seventies supporting the then-in vogue European champions Liverpool – with the occasional fleeting visit to highly unfashionable fourth division City, I probably fell out of love with football in the early 80s particularly as the spectre of hooliganism hovered over the game.

In a forerunner of what was to come (see later), I do vaguely remember my Dad taking me to Leeds to watch Liverpool play, and I managed to endear myself to the Elland Road faithful by cheering a Liverpool goal (we were unfortunately in the home end!)

The catalyst for properly supporting City was an impromptu visit to watch City beat Oldham 5-1 in 1986, followed up by my Dad taking my younger brother Kieran in the Midland Road stand at the start of the nearly season of 1987/88.  Despite coinciding with me starting Uni, we all certainly got the bug in what was a memorable season; albeit one ending in disappointment.

Since then I’ve not looked back – mainly attending home matches and succumbing to a season ticket in 1996, and finally cranking things up in the last few years to take in more away matches.

What’s your typical home matchday routine?

Living across in Hellifield, about 10 miles north of Skipton, I have a fair distance to get to home matches.  My ideal scenario is usually to get a train into Bradford for around 1pm and spend some time usually in Haigy’s having a few pints to calm the pre-match nerves.

Post match and it’s a swift pint in the Midland Hotel on the way back to the station!

Away matches, I can recommend the excellent Shipley Bantams coach.

Favourite Bradford City players?

Obviously the usual suspects of McCall, Hendrie et al; but Robbie Blake possibly stands out for me.  Coinciding with a time when I was playing quite a bit of football myself, I felt some of the things he could do were amazing and I can’t think of too many City players where the phrase “ball glued to his feet” is more appropriate.

Despite not been blessed with pace, which I also identified with, Blake’s ability to conjure opportunities out of seemingly nothing was excellent – combined with one heck of a shot on him!

Favourite non-Bradford City players?

Early memories certainly of that man Kenny Dalglish, who was certainly some player, Gazza in Italia 1990, and Alan Shearer for his consistent goal scoring prowess and Euro 1996.

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Favourite grounds?

Not just for City matches, and having spent my University years in Birmingham, I have a fondness for Villa Park given its traditional feel as a proper ground and atmosphere.

More recently I have enjoyed the visits to Deepdale and the cracking away end atmosphere.

Least favourite grounds?

For reasons alluded to earlier, I’ve probably got to say Elland Road!  History was to repeat itself in 1990 when City visited and I again found myself in the home end.  Despite managing to keep things in check for the bulk of the match, Brian Tinnion’s point saving last minute penalty was just too much for both me and a few others, and we had to escape onto the pitch side and exit down a tunnel to escape the baying hordes.

I really must also mention Accrington Stanley – whilst the ground isn’t up to much visits have been severely tainted by some absolutely shocking performances there (Taylor/Jackson eras).

Image by Mike Holdsworth

Image by Mike Holdsworth

Favourite period supporting the club?

This is a really difficult one – whilst the promotion to the Premier league and the first season there (and first few matches of following season!) were absolutely incredible from a footballing perspective, I still think the 2013 history makers season surpasses that, albeit for wider reasons.

I think this is perhaps influenced by the downward spiral years preceding it, but personally I felt more “involved” in it for various reasons – personal circumstances meant I was able to get to even more matches, I was writing about it and most of all it seemed some payback for all the dross we had endured.  I suppose the fact we were operating on a shoe string also made it that bit sweeter.

Just walking around, in the period between the Wigan victory and the cup final, surpasses anything I have experienced with regards to interest in City;  the scarf always seemed to prompt discussion from complete strangers!

Most memorable matches?

There are many to choose from, but trying to whittle it down I would choose:

City 2, Ipswich 3, Division 2 (old) 1988 – they didn’t have to win, did they? And why was I sharing a room in Uni Halls of Residence with a smug Ipswich fan? – so, so disappointing and what could have been?

City 2, Notts County 0, Wembley play off 1996 – definitely walking in a City wonderland.

City 2, Barnsley 1, Division 1 1998 – the last-gasp Barnsley victory fuelled by Gordon Watson’s return and two goal sub appearance – complete and utter mental scenes at the end.

Everton 2, City 3 FA Cup 1997 – Waddle with one of the best goals ever?

City 2, Chelsea 0, Premier league 2000 – absolutely both the pinnacle of the ascent and beginning of the downward spiral.  Should have known better…

Aston Villa 2, City 1 Capital One Cup 2013 – best night following City ever, bar none.

City 3, Northampton 0, Wembley play off final 2013 – a fitting end to a fantastic season.

Chelsea 2, City 4 FA Cup 2015 – this had everything and will be the “go-to” cup shock for a very long time!

Match you most regret missing?

Probably the Blackpool 1996 play off turnaround match.  After the disappointment of the first leg I had completely discounted City’s chances to be honest and wished I had shown a bit more belief and gone to the match!

Match you wish you had missed?

Any of the catalogue of matches where we play teams either at the foot of the league or on some horrendous losing/non-scoring run, where we have duly obliged by helping them break the trend!  The 6-4 home defeat against Swansea in 1991 is a classic example (a team that hadn’t scored an away goal all season until they faced a City side in November!).

Having said that, I still always go to the next one with the optimism that we will finally run up a cricket score against one of these sides!

What don’t you like about football?

People who abuse our own players – I never understood what they are hoping to achieve. Referees who make themselves the centre of attention and, lastly, people who get hysterical when we pass the ball backwards or sideways.

How would you improve Bradford City?

I would improve the catering and club shop for a start as we don’t seem to be capitalising on the increased attendances which hopefully will continue.

Following this I would like to see what we can learn from football business models such as those employed by Swansea City, and try to encourage some sort of fan/community ownership model, as a route to creating sustainable and manageable growth and build on what has been achieved over the past few years.

Favourite manager?

Paul Jewell for making what always seemed impossible, possible and Phil Parkinson for creating a whole top 10 in itself of memorable matches.

Least favourite manager?

It’s difficult to look past John Docherty for a period of Bantam depressivism when the whole club seemed to be going nowhere fast.  An honourable mention also to Jim Jefferies for his shabby treatment of McCall, together with waving the white flag aka clearing the decks for next season a tad early as our time in the Premier League fizzled out.

All time City XI?

Paul Tomlinson

Brian Mitchell, Dean Richards, Eddie Youds, Wayne Jacobs

John Hendrie, Stuart McCall, Gary Jones, Peter Beagrie

Robbie Blake, James Hanson

Subs: Dean Windass, Sean McCarthy, Rory McArdle, David Weatherall, Jamie Lawrence, Jimmy Quinn, Gary Walsh

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