Bradford City 2
Evans 7, B Clarke 87
Sunday 8 May, 2016
By Jason McKeown
I’ve supported Bradford City for almost 19 years now. My first City game was a 0-0 draw at home to West Brom that was way more thrilling than it sounds. At the end of my second season as a fan, I saw Bradford City gain promotion to the Premier League at Wolves. In years four, seven and ten, I bore witness to relegations that took us from the top flight to League Two. I’ve seen the Bantams line up at Old Trafford for a league match, and been there at Barnet when City were second bottom of the entire Football League. I have been privileged to watch some of the greatest players in the club’s history, and countless others who came nowhere near close to the required standard. Watching Bradford City these past two decades has rarely proven dull.
And yet I have never witnessed times like these.
For this, the final game of the regular campaign, with the true drama due to restart next week, 20,807 fans were present. Some had turned up two hours early to cheer on the players as they parked their cars. They and everyone else gave the team an extraordinary reception as they walked out onto the pitch at kick off, and the noise remained impressive throughout.
There were more fans here today than were present on the final day of the 1999/00 season, when David Wetherall’s header was enough to defeat the might of Liverpool and confirm Premier League survival. More tellingly, it was almost three times the amount of people who showed up for a 2-2 draw with Millwall that brought down the curtain to the 2006/07 season, City relegated to League Two.
This is a football club reborn. Transformed from a wretched state of some nine years previous. Revitalised from struggling to stay in the Football League this time four years ago. The rate of progress, the amount we have climbed, is outstanding. The best might be yet to come, but whatever happens over the next three weeks, the legacy has been strengthened.
Travelling to the game on the train today, on the journey I was struck by the youthfulness of Bradford City’s support. A family of City fans boarded at Keighley – the three children decked out in claret and amber – bursting with excitement to get to the ground. A group of teenagers got on at Shipley, talking loudly about who they wanted in the play offs.
Without wanting to pour any cold water over Leicester City’s triumph – watching TV coverage of their amazing title-party against Everton last night, I didn’t see many youngsters in the crowd. Football remains unaffordable to a generation in large parts of the country, but not here in one of the UK’s economically poorest cities.
Today was not the crowning moment of Julian Rhodes’ pioneering season ticket approach that was launched nine years ago, but it was yet another marker of progress. It wasn’t a full house, but it wasn’t far off. Bradford City is right at the heart of the community, and thriving because of it.
On a glorious Sunny afternoon, North Parade was like a carnival as crowds of City fans spilled out of every pub. Both sides of the Manningham Lane pavement were home to heavy pedestrian traffic, all heading one way. Every turnstile at Valley Parade had a lengthy queue of people waiting patiently to get in. An Asian family chatted excitedly as they waited to go inside the ground, directly in front of me. After a week that brought us a step closer to a US president who would ban Muslims, multiculturalism thrives at Valley Parade.
There was a real buzz about the place. A timely moment to come together and respectfully remember those who once never returned from an afternoon at Valley Parade, and then a party atmosphere to celebrate reaching the play offs. An afternoon to savour, before the huge battles ahead. An afternoon to thank the manager and players, for all they have achieved so far.
It became an exhibition game. Lee Evans’ stunning long range opener on seven minutes set the tone for a dominant home display. They were aided by a dismal Chesterfield performance. A strange formation of no centre forward, coupled with obvious disinterest, caused Chesterfield to lie down and let City win with ease. Their large away following deserved better from their own.
Evans and Josh Cullen were mesmerising. Linking up superbly, full of tricks, and rarely wasting a pass. Some of their many cross field balls were things of beauty. They are massive players for the play offs.
With Paul Anderson making a first start since breaking his leg in September and impressing – what a weapon he could be from the bench in the two legs to come – Tony Mahon his usual excellent self, and Stephen Darby and James Meredith getting forward so well, City overran the middle of the park and laid on so many chances. When Sam Hird was sent off midway through the second half any doubt in the game’s outcome went with him.
Eventually, late on, Billy Clarke took one of numerous opportunities to make it 2-0. He and Jamie Proctor were brought in up front and did well. Clarke especially made a a strong claim for play off involvement. They will surely both join Anderson in starting on the bench next week, but don’t discount their influence.
With Millwall winning late on in dramatic style, and Walsall thumping Port Vale, it’s as you were in the play off schedule. City welcome Millwall here same time next week, before a Friday night second leg at the New Den. Perhaps not ideal, but it might actually suit City. All season long they’ve fared better when scoring first rather than chasing games. If they can gain some form of first leg advantage to defend in South London, it will probably play into their strengths.
Certainly Millwall won’t relish their trip North next week. Seven home wins in a row now. Another clean sheet, which means the miserly 40 conceded all season is a joint club record with the great City team of the 1910s. We are still making history.
What a story for everyone, but especially our newer supporters, who have never seen such events. The wonderful email that a young supporter’s dad sent the club this week – shared on social media in the build up – should make you weep with joy.
You and me, us older and supposedly wiser supporters, we enjoy our football but do so with cynicism born from years of bitter disappointment. We admire our current players but are all guilty of talking about their failings and groaning when they give the ball away. We have years’ of bruises from City knocks that give us perspective and appreciation of recent events – and that can be both a positive and a negative.
But then – to sound like an old bugger – there is the youth of today. Who aren’t tarred by our pessimism. Who have never known true Bradford City disappointment. And they are having the time of their lives. And for us, the older ones who endured the Colin Todd years and whatever the hell Peter Taylor’s strategy was, the joy is not just in seeing City’s progress but in welcoming a new generation of fans and trying to catch a glimpse of Bradford City through their eyes.
Where James Hanson is their hero. Where Kyel Reid can never do wrong. Where the rock solidness of Rory McArdle is an inspiration. Where the quality of Reece Burke takes your breath away. This group of players will be remembered for a lifetime, because of what they have given and how much it means to so many of our crowd.
We, the older fans, try to tell our younger counterparts that we had it better. Think winning the play off semi final second leg against Burton three years ago was unbelievable? Try Blackpool 96. Believe that Gary Jones, Kyel Reid and Andrew Davies are legends? Not in the same league as Stuart McCall, Peter Beagrie and Darren Moore. Consider Phil Parkinson’s accomplishments the greatest? Let me tell you about what Paul Jewell did.
But what has happened at Valley Parade since 2012… well it is right up their with anything the club has achieved. And whether you’ve supported City for 9 months, 19 years or 90, we are all privileged to witness it. They have cemented a new generation of fans, buying their loyalty for years to come. The atmosphere at the club is the best I have known.
The things we have seen. Between 2001 and 2012, I witnessed my football club get ripped apart brick by brick; the stench of decay and failure overwhelming. I saw crowds drop from 18,000 to 6,000, and for a time it really did feel like a hearty few of us were left. We fell badly, painfully, pathetically, avoidably. And there was nothing we could do but keep turning up, chanting “City till I die”, and hoping for an end to the misery.
And now this. The last four years of incredible progress, amazing stories and stunning memories to treasure for decades. Bradford City are a different club, and I couldn’t be prouder to call myself one of thousands of Bradford City fans.
So bring on the first leg next week. One that will no doubt be played out in front of another 20,000+ crowd. It will be some occasion. Another afternoon to relish on this incredible ride. Young and old, we will be there. Making all the noise.
City: Williams, Darby, McArdle, Burke (N. Clarke 46), Meredith, McMahon, Evans, Cullen (Morais 79), Anderson (Reid 68), B. Clarke, Proctor
Not used: Cracknell, Morris, Thorpe, Reece-Foster
RIP – Chris Mitchell. Fondly remembered at this parish
Categories: Match Reviews