By Jason McKeown
“Wet”. My two-year-old is not happy as light rain drops began to fall on us on our walk home from work/nursery. She keeps holding out her hands for me to dry, visibly annoyed by more trickles of rain running down her hand. It must be serious, she’s actually letting me put her hood up.
A couple of hours later it is dark outside and myself and three friends have arrived at Bradford Forster Square station on the train from Skipton. Light rain drops have by now developed into a torrential downpour. It is bouncing off the floor. “Wet” is an understatement.
The walk to the ground looks deeply unappealing so we jump into a taxi. “Valley Parade please.” “Are City playing?” asks the taxi driver as we head up Hamm Strasse. I tell him we are playing Barnsley. “We always beat the big teams don’t we?” is his reply. From not knowing that Bradford City are even playing, our new friend is an expert.
Outside of the taxi the sky lights up, as a bolt of lightning can be seen over the moors. “There’s no way this game is going to be on!” declares one of our group. It seems too early to make such a call, but as a loud bang of thunder is heard, the omens do not look good.
We are dropped off at the top of Manningham Lane and the rain intensifies. Along with several others we huddle under the roof of the petrol garage above Valley Parade. “It’s easing up” shouts Adam optimistically and we reluctantly walk down to the ground. Water is streaming down the hill around us and a hot dog seller looks on gloomily with no customers in sight. “I hope they give us a ticket stub” I say as we get to the turnstiles.
But we don’t. £10 in, no proof of purchase. We gather inside the concourse, and on the TVs you can see the players warming up on the pitch in monsoon conditions. The thunder continues. The doubts about the game taking place intensify by the minute. It is 7.20pm and there is no let-up in the rain outside.
On the tannoy comes an announcement “The game will be delayed five minutes”. There is no explanation offered why, so we each pile on Twitter for more news. Pitch inspection is the stated reason. Even the Official Bantams feed admits that it is looking bleak. Five minutes later the tannoy crackles again. “The game is unfortunately off”. Now what?
2,500 people have showed up tonight. 2,500 people need a refund. 2,500 people have no proof of purchase. Everyone stands around. People who had made their way into the seats join us on the concourse, many walking straight towards the exit. No one leaves. Not without a tenner refund or a ticket stub. Quite right too.
There is confusion, there is frustration, and there is a lack of communication. People get upset and in hindsight it is nonsense that stubs weren’t given out on entry. Do the club not check weather forecasts? Did they not consider this might happen? But most around us are smiling and having a joke, or ordering another beer from the still-open food kiosks.
If you spend your life getting outraged over little things you are in your element here. On Twitter people are fuming about the lack of organisation. About the late call off. About the players not coming on the pitch to thank the fans. Much of this is ludicrous but that’s the world we live in now. The rest of us here seem to accept that no one is perfect, that mistakes happen, and we enjoy the way that some people are rushing around from turnstile to turnstile, desperate to get their stub/refund and get off home.
Our group of five even decide to do a selfie (see right) as our proof of attendance, in case it is needed. Someone jokes that we should have the day’s newspaper to give it real credibility. Eventually they announce that the delay over sorting people out is due to the club hastily printing off ticket stubs to give them out. We just need to be patient, and most of us seem to be.
The players suddenly start appearing inside the concourse. They’ve showered, got changed and are going home. When have players ever left the stadium before the fans? Tony McMahon is quick to get off. Ben Williams, Billy Clarke, Gary Liddle and James Hanson are also seen. They stop to have photos with City fans. There’s a nice atmosphere as people joke back and forth with them. Then Greg Leigh walks past with no one stopping him for a selfie. Poor old Greg, who was about to make his debut at last. He is the true loser of tonight.
There is a lot of fuss nearby over a young blonde lady. We realise it’s Steph Houghton. The England Women’s captain and girlfriend of the City skipper. She’s here with family, in the concourse with the rest of us. We get pictures with her. Then Stephen Darby appears, spots his lady and gives her a hug and a kiss. It’s a nice scene.
Finally the ticket stubs arrive and people can leave. We let the queues calm down and join one at the bottom. In total since the game was called off, we’ve been waiting half an hour. It could be worse. The urgency of some to get home seems strange given we all expected to be here until at least 9.30pm.
Back outside the ground, the rain is still unrelenting. We walk back to the train station. I bump into Michael Wood. I don’t see him much these days. It’s nice to chat, and we walk together towards Bradford city centre swapping theories about Parkinson and McCall’s managerial reigns.
Back at the station we miss the train to Skipton and it takes an extra hour to get home. The time is spent chuckling at the Bradford City Twitter hashtag. Looking up on Wiki, with incredulity, that Brad Jones has been capped four times by Australia. Re-living the Kyel Reid show at Rochdale on Saturday. At least we get to keep that Spotland buzz for a few more days, rather than be upset by another home defeat.
It is nice to get home at a normal hour. It is even nicer to be dry again. It has been a wasted trip out but a fun one nonetheless. These are the moments that you laugh about for years to come. “Remember the time that we went to the Barnsley cup game and it was called off?” It is a tiny moment of supporter notoriety. A badge of honour to be here. These are the stupid things you go through as a football fan.