By Jason McKeown
It must really suck to be a James Hanson hater. To have to devote so much of your time moaning about a hard-working, dedicated Bradford City footballer. To reject the fairytale story and obsess about the things this over-achieving striker can’t do.
Think about it.
This debate about James Hanson’s worth has been going on for more than five years. Back in 2011 and 2012, Bradford City were struggling near the foot of League Two, fretting about the prospect of relegation to non-league obscurity. And amongst the many valid complaints and grumbles of the time, some supporters went on and on about how Bradford City would never prosper with someone as limited as James Hanson up front. How we needed to “get rid” to move upwards.
Since then, the club has gone up and up – and James Hanson has remained relevant, significant and at the forefront of so many great moments. And yet still the argument persists from a section of City fans. If we want to progress as a football club, we need to get rid of James Hanson.
You think of all the wonderful moments James Hanson has contributed to Bradford City since 2012, and of how tainted they must have felt, even at the time, to those who don’t like him. Sure, when Hanson netted that famous goal at Villa Park to take the Bantams to a major cup final, the Hanson-haters cheered alongside the Hanson-lovers. But it can’t have felt as good to them as it did to us. To not only cheer a priceless moment for a footballer you love, but to know he was metaphorically sticking two-fingers up at those who derided him.
And those moments have continued. The crucial goals at Burton in the 2012/13 play off semi final. The opening goal of the play off final against Northampton Town. The winner against Leeds United – Leeds, for goodness sake – and the important early goal against Millwall that set up a certain FA Cup trip to Chelsea. Even last season, in a year of struggle in front of goal, his hat trick in a must-win encounter with Walsall was an uplifting occasion. Only last week, on an incredibly emotional night for the club as we mourned Sir Bobby Campbell, Hanson scored with a powerful header.
These are not just giddy goal celebrations, they are occasions in the club’s history that will be long remembered and re-told. Some of Hanson’s goals are amongst the best moments we supporters have ever experienced. And to many of us they mean more because of who Hanson is, where he has come from, and what he represents. A Bradford lad, who worked his way up from the bottom. A true hero.
And yet amongst those who would rather keep complaining about his deficiencies, express anger at his misses, and repeatedly state – with some justification – that Hanson should score more goals, these memories must be less colourful than they are for the rest of us.
How can those goals mean as much to you when Hanson’s ongoing presence at the club causes so much irritation? How can you leave Valley Parade last Tuesday not feeling joyous at Hanson’s fitting goal tribute to Bobby, because in your view he should have scored a hat trick?
But it’s more than the past, it’s how the ongoing annoyance that Bradford City still employ James Hanson must leave you feeling. If you spent a chunk of the 90 minutes each week waiting for Hanson to fail, it must feel bittersweet when he does score. If, like on Saturday, City lose and Hanson misses a good chance, it is odd to take glee from it – as several City fans did via social media. Your wants and aspirations for Bradford City don’t quite match the rest of us. You care just as much – of course you do – but Hanson leaves you conflicted.
You just don’t seem to be enjoying yourself as much as the rest of us.
And that means the debate rumbles on and on. If City want to get promoted to the Championship, we need to get rid of James Hanson. Just as we needed to if City were going to get promoted out of League Two, and to compete at the top end of League One. But the reality is that City have prospered because of Hanson not despite of him. Take away his contributions, and the club would not be where it is today.
Of course, if City are to keep moving forwards and climbing the football ladder, Hanson will eventually not be good enough for our ambitions and aims. And if and when that day occurs, those who have stubbornly stuck to disliking him will have a field day telling the rest of us they were right all along.
But as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
I’ve supported Bradford City nearly 20 years, I’ve studied and written about their history prior to that. James Hanson is one of the most iconic and notable players the club has ever employed, and his legacy will live on long beyond his time on the field. That managers have come and gone and yet all played him regularly says everything you need to know about what the true experts think.
And I’ll personally always feel proud of the fact that I have supported James Hanson throughout his time. Not because I am blind to his shortcomings, but because of his many strengths and his terrific contribution to the cause. And I can only imagine how miserable it must be to hold onto the opposite viewpoint.