WOAP’s infrequent series about the lifestyle and culture of supporting Bradford City continues with Jason McKeown looking back on his teenage years following the club.
Here was the contradiction to me. At 15, 16-years-old, I would have to plead for hours – often unsuccessfully – to be allowed to go out with my friends on an evening. Yet when it came to travelling 200 miles, unaccompanied, on a coach to Norwich to watch Bradford City, my folks didn’t bat an eyelid.
Hang out in my local park after it goes dark? “I’m afraid not, you don’t know what sort of dangerous people might be lurking about”. Go to Moss Side, Manchester to watch the Bantams at Maine Road? “We’ll drop you off nearby, you can walk from there”.
A teenager’s life is so tough. You are desperate to unbound yourself from the shackles and immaturities of childhood; yet the fact you are still not a full adult severely limits your freedom. At 16 you are old enough to buy cigarettes and to have sex, but you can’t choose your own bed time. You think that because you have a part time job you are independent, rarely giving a second thought to who pays for the food you eat or for the roof over your head.
My parents were stricter than some, but more relaxed than others. At times it felt like they forced me to put my school work first, when all I really wanted to do was join the cool kids drinking plastic bottles of cheap cider in the park. They couldn’t stop me falling in with a bad crowd for a period, but reined me back before I let their influence send me off the rails.
And this is where football came in. Because as much as my parents themselves didn’t care for the sport, it was a seemingly safe, time-consuming and distracting hobby for an energetic teenager to become consumed by.
So I could go to Norwich City, on the other side of the country, with a couple of friends, when I won’t be back until 11pm at night and where there will be no way for them to know if I am safe (it was the 90s, before mobile phones took off). It was no problem, because getting back so late stopped me from spending the evening outside the Co-op with dubious friends, pleading with strangers to buy us booze.
And so it was that Bradford City became my stepping stone to adulthood. A way to develop some personal responsibility, such as working out train times and saving up my part-time wage to buy a season ticket. A way to be around adults of all ages, shapes and personalities. A way to feel like I was independent. And a way to have fun sensibly, and with little fear of getting in trouble.
So long as I’d completed my homework first, of course.
A teenager’s life is such a drama. School sucks. All those science lessons to get through, and history, and geography, and bloomin’ humanities. All those long days sharing a classroom with swots and bullies, trying to maintain a respectable position in the pecking order. The overpowering obsession with the opposite sex, hamstrung by a lack of confidence or ability to talk to the girl you had a mad crush on (and by spots all over your face). The feeling of misery that Emma (or Steph or Sarah or Rebecca) doesn’t seem to know that you exist, never mind want to kiss you (and how do you kiss somebody, anyway?) The sudden realisation that your parents can drive you round the bend, merely for being your parents, and that you wish you didn’t have to put up with them.
Football was such an escape, and such an overpowering obsession. I’d spend the week at school counting the sleeps until Saturday, pondering over whether Edinho, Rob Steiner, Robbie Blake, Ole Bjorn Sungot or John McGinlay should be leading the line, instead of getting my head around algebra. In the evenings I would play football with friends, pretending in my head that I am Jamie Lawrence and trying to perfect the Peter Beagrie shimmy. Then after tea I’d load up the Amiga (or, a few years later, PC) and play as Bradford City on Sensible World of Soccer, or Championship Manager. Or I’d watch taped episodes of Goals on Sunday to view the Bradford City goals. Or I’d re-read matchday programmes from cover to cover.
It was brilliant, it kept me sane just before the point where the pressure of GCSEs and your next stage in life threatens to overburden you. But even then, it was all about filling time. About getting through the long and tedious wait until Saturday.
Life was now all about Saturday.
Back then the Kop was a terrace and instead of your own seat you had your own spot. Three steps back from the front, just to the right of the goal as you looked out onto the pitch. Me and my three mates who went to watch City together. Plus another lad we knew who went with his dad. And then loads of other people we stood with every week, without knowing or daring to ask for their names. Much older than we were, much more knowledgeable about not only the Bantams but the world around us. I’d hang on their every word, allowing their view of Bradford City to shape my own.
I’d heard swear words before, even if I didn’t understand what they all meant; but to hear adults bellow them during City matches, without anyone telling them to stop, left you feel giddy. I was blown away at hearing the referee and opposition players receive a volley load of abuse. At no other time in my life, up to then, had I heard such loose tongues or being in an environment that presented such freedom to express your feelings.
There was no teacher or parent to stop you joining in with the swearing. You could behave in ways that simply weren’t tolerated in every other aspect of your life. Yeah, it really was a giddy experience.
Occasionally there would be others who came with me. School friends intrigued by the fact I spent all week talking about nothing but how powerfully Nigel Pepper can shoot. They were, like me, teenagers with little to fill their weekends and desperate for something to occupy them. Sometimes a few of the girls would come along with the group, looking bored and complaining about the cold. I’d just about developed the nerve to be able to say hello to them. I didn’t much like them entering into my Bradford City world and viewing it empty and tedious. It had become too important to me for them to attempt to discolour it.
I loved going to Valley Parade, and I also loved the new-found freedom to travel to away games. We always went on the supporters coach, edging our way close towards the back where fellow teenagers – louder and more confident – were arguing about who was the biggest Bradford City supporter and shouting nasty things about Leeds United. Have a spare £1 ready for the “Guess the minute of the first goal” competition (my friend won it once, I was so jealous) when the organiser comes around. Look forward to stretching your legs at a service station, and the first glimpse of the floodlights of the ground you were visiting.
Before Bradford City, I’m not sure if I set foot beyond Keighley – five miles from where I lived – without my mum and dad. Now I was crossing county borders, visiting new towns, all without parental guidance. And at an age when you often feel miserable without really understanding why, where the pressure of upcoming exams is growing, and where your future looks a little scary, it was an intoxicating experience. A different world that was yours and yours only, where you could escape and be as mature or immature as you wanted to be.
Emma might never have kissed me, but I no longer minded as much. I was in love with a football team, and they seemed to love me back.
Categories: The Life of a Bradford City supporter