This special Bradford City supporter culture

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

By Jason McKeown

Earlier this week, the City Gent scooped the ‘Best Fanzine’ prize at a national awards ceremony hosted by the Football Supporters Federation. The Bradford City fanzine beat off stiff competition from publications devoted to Premier League clubs, and thus continued a fine Bantams’ supporter tradition of punching above our weight.

There are, clearly, many football clubs in England that have a much bigger fanbase than Bradford City; and they and others can make credible arguments of being the most passionate. But the way in which we City fans enthusiastically engage with our club, and the lengths many people go to, is something to be immensely proud of. It includes the way we support our team on a match day, and also away from the stands during the week.

The City Gent’s pioneering status is much celebrated around BD8. It is the oldest surviving fanzine in the land, launched in October 1984 by John Dewhirst and Brian Fox. It very quickly grew in popularity and by 1988 more than 2,000 copies were sold per issue (when City’s average gates were between 8,000 – 10,000). At a time when supporters had no voice, the City Gent and other fanzines had a major effect in shaping the way that football’s authorities and the media treated football supporters.

The fanzine movement of the 1980s is often compared to the punk movement a decade earlier; with many of the principles, such as the challenging of the establishment, common in both. But fanzines have long since out-lived that need to rebel, and evolved into an avenue for fans to have a louder say about their club and, crucially, to entertain fellow supporters. They have become breeding grounds for future writing talent, such as the City Gent’s former columnist, and now Newcastle United editor for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Journal and Sunday Sun, Mark Douglas.IMG_0044

There is little glamour in the life of a fanzine editor, it seems, as there is no financial reward, and hours and hours of time and effort. Mike Harrison continues to ensure the City Gent’s existence, and it is quite extraordinary that the magazine is still a part of the Valley Parade scene. After all, common sense might suggest it should have gone the way of so many other football fanzines up and down the land, years ago. That is either folding, or finding a second life in the World Wide Web.

The internet itself has turned football fanzines into football e-zines, and here again Bradford City supporters have played a big part in this evolution – no one more so than Michael Wood and Boyfrombrazil.co.uk (BfB).

Launched in January 1999 at a time when most of us could only access the internet at the local library or an internet café (who, of that era, will ever forget the screeching sound of dial up?), BfB embodied the best virtues of City Gent’s well-informed opinions and of criticising constructively. And as the internet crossed over into our homes and is now even inside our phones, BfB was well placed to be the flag bearer of all City sites.

Back in those days, it was next to impossible for anyone but a web developer to build an e-zine, which is why Michael was so important. His background enabled him to build a functional and easy-to-use website, and his strong opinions meant that engaging content was plentiful on BfB.

Growing up supporting City in the early 00s was to read and to love BfB – it was my first port of call for City news, and I’m sure for lots of other people too. You think of monumental periods for the club, such as the administration of 2004 or Bryan Robson becoming City manager, and recall reading about it on BfB. It is a key part of those lasting memories. I read BfB to find out if my football club continued to exist, that’s how much trust we readers placed in it.

The development of blogging software has meant that anyone can set up their own blog these days; but like the City Gent BfB is still with us, and Michael continues to produce well-thought out articles and match reports. There are many replicas – imitation the sincerest form of flattery and all that. But Michael’s voice and dedication during the early years of the internet especially has left a huge imprint on many City supporters.

If John Dewhirst is something of the godfather of City supporter engagement, it is great that he has continued toobjects book 2 push this cultural movement, alongside another former City Gent editor, David Pendleton. In 2003 – the club’s centenary year – they were both asked to produce an exhibition on the club’s history for the Bradford Industrial Museum. It proved so successful that the club ended up giving the pair space to set up a Bradford City museum – BantamsPast – in 2005.

It remained in the old club shop until the building was sold to the One in a Million charity in 2012, but BantamsPast lives on via displays inside the ground, a website, and books about the club. Somehow it is right and fitting that City supporters have taken ownership of preserving and promoting the club’s history, rather than the club itself.

If BantamsPast is all about looking back, Bantams Banter was another step into the future. Launched in 2010 during the dismal Peter Taylor season, the success of the podcast has proven astounding, amassing thousands of listeners, even non-City fans. The club’s rise and rise in 2012/13 particularly helped to give Dominic Newton-Collinge and Tom Fletcher a national platform. The pair appeared on national TV and radio, and won awards for their show. A superb achievement, after such a low key start. The level of success must have shocked them pair.

Tom and Dom

What makes it such a riveting podcast is the way that Dom and Tom successfully capture all the best things about being a City fan. That raw emotion of their recordings from games is something that cannot be replicated elsewhere, and certainly not in fanzines and e-zines. To listen again to the pair going crazy at Villa Park or Stamford Bridge is to be transported right back to those moments. They have recorded live from some of the biggest occasions in Bradford City’s modern history, and those recordings will be listened back to and enjoyed for decades.

(The City Gent and BfB achieve this too and their old articles remain wonderful to read. They help you to relieve the big moments but also the other occasions that you thought you’d forgotten, prodding your brain to unleash your own personal memories and to revel in nostalgia.)

What Mike, Michael, John, David, Dom and Tom share in common is a level of passion and dedication for Bradford City that goes beyond investing in a season ticket and going to every match. It is the hours spent unseen from everyone else, working hard on their labours of love – producing something that other fans can enjoy, simply because they themselves enjoy doing it.

And there are so many others too – the guys who run Shipley Bantams, the Friends of Bradford City, the Bradford Disability Supporters Club, Shelf Bantams, the East Birley Supporters Club, the Skipton Bantams, the Bradford City Supporters Trust. All are run by people who want to do more than just cheer on the team for 90 minutes every week. They succeed in fostering a community of supporters who all share this common love of Bradford City.

It all helps to create a feeling of intimacy that you get following Bradford City. A year ago David Pendleton summarised to WOAP, “In truth we may not be all that different from fans at a whole host of clubs, but the important thing is that WE think that we are different. It is the stories we tell to ourselves that can shape the culture of the football club.”

Indeed, we might not be unique when you compare City’s supporter activities to those fans of other clubs, but it is still largely uncommon. Some clubs don’t have a print fanzine, or even a dedicated supporter blog. Podcasts are a relatively new thing, and many will have borrowed some of Bantams Banter’s best ideas. Like the early years of the internet and websites, the technology is not there for everyone to make podcasts just yet.

Bradford City’s mid-size club status seems to work in breeding this type of engagement. It is not a small fanbase, where there would be little interest in fanzines, websites and supporters clubs. It also isn’t such big a club that attempting to establish such initiatives would be lost. As Dom of Bantams Banter told this site in 2013, “I think Bradford City fans are generally loyal towards fan-based media. If there is something Bradford City related, they get behind it. Look at all the fundraising for the Burns Unit, for example.”

Who knows what the future holds for fanzines and even blogs? With social media everyone now has their own platform, and there is a young generation of people who probably won’t read newspapers and magazines when they get older, as they simply won’t have the relevance that they still do today.

But whatever new technologies emerge and however we engage in our love of our football clubs, recent history suggests that Bradford City supporters will be right at the forefront of it.

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Categories: Opinion

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7 replies

  1. ‘there is a young generation of people who probably won’t read newspapers and magazines when they get older, as they simply won’t have the relevance that they still do today.’ And what a shame that is!

  2. It’s been an interesting journey with City Gent, and I doubt if any of us thought way back in the 80s that we would still be producing and selling the Gent when in our fifties, or even as in my case in our sixties.
    We have watched many loyal customers grow older with us, and we have watched their lives unfold around us.
    Marriages, children, divorce and in some cases even death have been part of the journey and that has been true of both our buyers, and those who help with the magazine.
    We lost Richard Halfpenny just a few weeks ago.
    We have watched the way that City fans gain their information on the club change too as alluded to above and its interesting to see the make up of the City Gent reader.
    Despite our better efforts its not been possible to recruit younger people to join us in the production of the Gent nor have we obtained many younger readers.
    The readers seem to be largely of an age.
    It’s frustrating when selling the Gent on match days that supporters would rather spend more money on the programme.
    “What is it” and “Is it a programme” are two questions we get asked on a regular basis.
    Yes we used to sell 2k to smaller crowds and the argument could be made that we should sell more to the 18k we see at VP nowadays.
    Unfortunatelly the two do not go hand in hand although with this weeks victory in London we may pick up a few new customers for the next issue which will not Valley Parade on Boxing Day.
    Something to read over that quiet week between the Xmas festivities and New Year perhaps!

  3. Jason, I’m welling up here and I’m not joking.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this article on WoaP. As you know, I’m already party to an article you have written for the next issue of The City Gent, written to coincide with the launch of your book “Re-Inventing Bradford City” and for the benefit of others, here is a preview of the first paragraph:

    “I’ll admit it, I am heavily biased. I bet that you are too. When it comes to supporting a football club, I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to call myself a Bradford City fan. We are an amazing club to support. My near-20 years following the Bantams’ fortunes has seen me experience a whole range of emotions – and taught me a lot about life.”

    The award ceremony in London on Monday night was another occasion, as you say, where we did indeed continue that tradition of batting above our weight and one of the very first things I said in my acceptance speech on stage after being handed the trophy was to more or less quote your words from that first paragraph.

    Like you, I count myself very fortunate to support a very special football club and there is something different about us. Your article here quite rightly charts the many creative people who have been, or are still involved in getting across what is has been, and is still like to be a Bradford City fan.

    Having followed the club, actually more accurate is to say that I was born into the club in the 1960s but prior to the emergence of The City Gent I can’t recall of Bradford City fans producing anything creative for the benefit of their fellow supporters. It was a different era and the tools to do so just didn’t exist.

    Modestly you have omitted WoaP and as along with Mark Douglas who you have named, you could also be added as someone who started writing for City Gent before progressing on to contributing to BfB and then on to creating WoaP. You have one book published already and another one on the way. I’d like to think that having an outlet like City Gent for you enabled you to grow your writing talent. And of course, you are now nuturing young writing talent on WoaP yourself.

    So, it would seem then that everything that you have described in this article can be traced back to The City Gent and the autumn of 1984 when John Dewhirst and Brian Fox had a daft idea to start a fanzine!

  4. Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Actually to be a little pedantic it Was John Watmough who first sowed the seeds of the City Gent by bringing along a copy of York City fanzine Terrace Talk to the Monday night CTC73 committee meetings.JD and BF just happened to have left Uni at the same time and helped Mr Watmough with the idea if York City can do it why can’t we…..

  5. Another great article Jason. I’d just quickly like to share my thoughts about CG……

    But first a big heartfelt congratulations to Mike, Phil and rest of the team for the FSF award that CG won down in the Big Smoke. I’ve watched the You Tube video of Mike’s interview on accepting the award and it makes me immensely proud that Bradford City, our team, our club, has won yet another award.

    I remember buying my first City Gent as a snotty teenager from a scary looking man near the Bradford End. It took quite a bit of nerve on my part to approach him and part with my 20p (how much?!). From the first time I bought it I was hooked. At that time without internet, mobile phones or other technology, CG was really the only means of finding out what was happening at our club and I used to look forward to each issue that came out. I believe that I still have some of these early editions from 30 years ago stored safely away.

    CG not only informed me of what was happening at our club but it also introduced me to some larger than life characters (we all know who they are!), who over time, stopped being scary and went from being strangers to familiar faces and then eventually friends. I’m pleased to say that this camaraderie and friendship has stood the test of time.

    Now, as an exiled Bantam living abroad I can’t say enough as to how much I look forward to CG dropping in through my letterbox. Somehow, when I get it I always feel that all is right with the world. It is such a potent, tangible reminder of home and of the things that are most important in my life. It is almost as though we, the CG and fellow readers of a certain age, have a special bond who have all been on the roller-coaster ride together that is called Bradford City.

    Nowadays there are so many different ways a Bantam (Parader?) can access Bradford City material on the internet, the excellent BfB and now WOAP being the primary source (huge credit to you Jason for making this happen – thank you), that it could be argued that CG no longer has a place in this saturated market place. I would vehemently disagree.

    I think the appeal and longevity of CG can be explained by the fact that it has always managed to capture the zeitgeist since its inception and I would venture to say that CG is as much a part of Bradford City as Valley Parade is.

    There will always be room for a publication like CG even in today’s modern fast paced multi-media world.

    CG represents a link to the past, to a time when football used to be innocent and football was football and not a business. CG represents all that is good about football and in itself mirrors the Bradford City journey we have all been on.

    A big thank you to all those who have contributed and to the different editorial teams over the years who have helped make CG what it is today and long may it continue and please keep buying it as otherwise I won’t get it!

    Long Live Bantam Progressivism! : )

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