The play off final preview: Pushing back to where we belong

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

The final whistle had long gone. The season – effectively over by February – was coming to an end. And yet a couple of thousands of us City supporters were still there, weirdly prolonging our own pain.

Stoke City had just defeated Bradford City 2-0 at Valley Parade, to finish off a dreadful 2003/04 home campaign where they only won six times in front of their own supporters. The club, in administration, had been relegated to League One, and were facing a hugely uncertain future. The players had under-performed and failed to come close to overcoming considerable odds.

And yet many of us stayed behind at full time, ready for the traditional end of season lap of appreciation. The players assumed we’d all gone home and didn’t come out. The minutes kept ticking by, and our frustration grew. The players were keeping us waiting to give them an ovation they didn’t even deserve. Eventually someone told them what was going on outside. They sheepishly reemerged from the dressing room to take the hollow applause.

That was the farcical way that the last Second Tier game at Valley Parade ended, 13 years ago. The club had spent nearly a decade playing in the top two divisions, enjoying thrilling times and scaling modern day heights, before the big financial crash. The 2003/04 season was City’s centenary year, but celebrations were put on hold as the club spent the campaign slumped in the relegation zone and fell back into administration.

Nicky Law was sacked after 12 winless games. His replacement Bryan Robson fared little better. A £750 per week wage cap meant neither manager could bring in the quality players that were needed. The chairman Gordon Gibb resigned, and then had a very public spat with Julian Rhodes. Relegation was eventually confirmed by a pathetic home defeat to bottom club Wimbledon. The club looked set to go out of existence.

They survived that summer. But this was a huge price to pay for the financial recklessness of 2000. Bradford City, so progressive in the 1990s, bowed out of the Second Tier in the most miserable fashion imaginable. It has proven to be a long, long journey back.

For 13 years, City have remained in the bottom two divisions. Below the Championship, which is widely considered their natural level. Valley Parade is the 36th biggest ground of the 92, and attendances this season are the 32nd highest in the top four divisions. On paper, City should not have spent the last 13 years making regular trips to Accrington, Yeovil, Morecambe and Rochdale – even though there are financially driven reasons for such underachievement.

Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp want to take Bradford City to the Premier League. It’s debatable whether we supporters agree with that aim. The top flight is out of touch with reality, and the noncompetitive nature of the division means City could never hope to do more than just survive in it. But playing back in the Championship is an ambition we all aspire to realise. The greater glory and prestige that comes with this status is something we all want to taste again.

Through the dark times that followed 2004’s relegation, that Championship dream has been clung onto. Even when it seemed like a million miles away, as we spent Saturday afternoons in shabby away ends at Barnet and Dagenham, we kept hoping for a dramatic change back up the ladder. The club’s rise and rise since 2012 has been outstanding, but its big finale is always getting to the Championship. The journey has been wonderful, and now we’re closer than ever to reaching our destination.

Over the last 17 years we have endured misery and heartache; and along the way learned some incredibly painful lessons. We have sunk to the lowest level in the club’s history since the 1960s, hovered over the trapdoor to non-league obscurity, and now we have come back fighting.

The fanbase is stronger. The infrastructure of the football club has been torn down and rebuilt. The owners have a strategy for the next level. The time is ripe for City to return to the Championship.

It won’t be easy on Saturday, but the prize on offer is massive. The financial rewards could change everything for the club. The next chapter in Bradford City history could be defined by these next 90 minutes.

Defeat and it’s back to entertaining Fleetwood, Oldham, Walsall, Bristol Rovers, MK Dons, Gillingham and Shrewsbury for another season. Win, and City will host league fixtures against Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Derby County and Norwich City.

Back to where the club once was. A full recovery from the financial nightmare of 2002-2004. The confidence and belief has soared over recent weeks. The mood is buoyant after Fleetwood.

Win at Wembley, and the lap of appreciation that the players receive will be something else.

Categories: The 2016/17 play offs

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12 replies

  1. As time goes on it’s easy to forget some of the dark days of being a Bantam, but Saturday offers the opportunity to move the club forward to a level we might never have expected to see again.
    Let’s hope that Wembley provides the new dawn and a return to the promised land

  2. Another well written article but I grimace slightly at any article that uses talks about where a club ‘deserves’ to be and ‘belongs’. Opinion always divides people, from football to Politics and through to religion. What a football club ‘deserves’ or in fact where they ‘belong’ is a debate ao large, it would be a series of articles in itself….
    Where do Bradford ‘deserve’ to be? Some would argue back in the Premiership, after all we’ve already been there and done it better than ‘Boro did this season. I agree with the cynics and think that a big crowd doesn’t mean you ‘ought’ to be higher in the leagues than others. The other side to the coin, some would argue, is that we belong down in league two due to us being financially irresponsible all those years ago. However this comment is simply my opinion.

  3. Very good , Jason, you sum up the past misery very well. And your comments on the Premier League are well made.
    But I would like to make a few points.
    Saturday is , in effect, a cup-tie. I think City are marginal favourites, on the evidence of the league table. But only marginal. Remember that Millwall nearly made it last year.
    Defeat would be a set-back, not a disaster. We never expected to go so far, in fact many thought we would be in the bottom half of the league.
    Our owners have a plan, a long-term one, as witness the player signings of the past few weeks. I like what I see.
    We are well-managed, well supported, we are going forward.
    Let us hope for victory, but only be down-hearted for a very short time if we do not win.
    I cannot wait for Saturday, and will be proud of my team come what may.

  4. I remember when Robson took charge for the first game.That was against Millwall when Dennis Wise was incharge and we beat them with a great Danny Cadamarteri run down the centre of the pitch to score.

    • I was there too. I seem to recall he came on as a sub, then was substituted himself. Looked a bit out of shape too.

  5. Where we deserve to be depends on current perceptions.

    Lots of clubs have rising and fallen, e.g. Luton, Pompey, Blackpool. Over the last 50 years averaging out every season, our position is 12th in League 1 – A mid table league one side.

    So this season we are 7 places above where we should be…

  6. Great article Jason – it ramped my nerves up ten fold!
    The prize on offer on Saturday is huge, the achievements of this season already superb.
    Can we keep Gregory and Morrison quiet on Saturday? If we can, we win – If we can’t we need to score more than they do!
    Nervous tensions similar to those of games against QPR, Blackpool, Wolves, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Chelsea are already flying in my chest!
    Thoughts of all we have been through and those who put in the hard work to get us back to here, and then hope that our current crop can harness the energy of those that came before them and push on again!
    Come on City! Our time is now!

  7. A very nice piece Jason, very to the point, heart felt and I fully agree in general with the points made. I would have to add that whilst I have been a supporter since 1960, I have seen the lows, more lows and even more lows, before we got to the giddy heights of the Premier Division we suffered no end of disappointment. I can fully understand the younger supporters having the desire and ambition to get back to the Premier level,and even the owners too. I wouldn’t wish to ever put the club in such danger as joining the ranks of where everything that is bad about the modern game are openly displayed. I personally would be more than happy for us to maintain a good level of football and have some longevity in the Championship especially If it means we can sustain our club for the benefit of our supporters.
    It is time to be thankful for what we have and not to crave what has near on destroyed us in the past. We only have to look at the history of the last 20 years or so, our first visit and to someone us it was a dream to be at Wembley and beating Notts County, Then we had the phenomenal rise to the “Big Time”, engineered by a big time Charlie who got in too deep. On to a demise that nearly saw us go out of the league, purely as a result of earlier bad business management and bad deals. Look at the progress over the past few years though, We employed a manager who specialised in lower league success and he thankfully continued his work ethic of getting results even when it meant serving up some performances that were not great to watch at the best, and downright boring at the worst. Mixed in with that boredom, we lifted our game to lower the colours of some big names, Arsenal, Villa and Sunderland being a few. We became the first forth level club to get to the final of the second most important cup competition that we have in England , we saw just being in that final as victory and what a weekend that was, it was The League Cup final to give its earlier name. that very same season we paid our (unbelievable to us older chaps) third visit to that most hallowed of all grounds, and gained promotion to the 3rd Level at the expense of Northampton Town. Here we are on the verge of yet another massive climb up the ladder to where I believe is our natural level. Win or lose on Saturday, we have gone through a lot in our history and have just and the most important of all our anniversaries. We turn another page at the weekend and we now have a good and very entertaining team all who have a fantastic work ethic , starting with the the owners Edin and Steffan, Stuart Kenny and the team management, the 100% players who give their all week after week, the backroom staff and most importantly, a family of supporters who are the envy of the league. Win or Lose on Saturday , Lets be thankful for what we have people. Enjoy your weekend !

  8. Thank you for the first WOAP article in the week leading up to our play off final game at Wembley.
    I very much like the comments made by Pete and Bernard. No club deserves to be in any league. Our neighbours from East of Pudsey believe that they should be in the top division whilst I am sure that many Sheffield Wednesday fans also believe that they too should be in the top flight. I have supported Bradford City for nearly three decades and if my maths is correct I have supported them for nearly 40% of that time as a third tier team.
    I for one am still grateful that I can go and support my club as the readers of this wonderful website will be aware that we nearly lost it all back in 2004. One of my all-time favourite games watching Bradford City came in the summer of 2004 when we played Harrogate Town. Just to see us playing football made the song: “…don’t you take my City away, na na na na…” even more special.
    Evolution is key to the well-being of our football club.

    • Whilst you’re absolutely right that no club has a divine right to deserve a higher level of football based purely on the size of its ground and current / potential support, it’s not unreasonable or arrogant to have an expectation of where you feel that club ought to be aiming for. For me, as the article suggests, that’s the Championship, with dreams of returning to the Premiership one day.

      And just because we were a lower league club until the mid-eighties doesn’t make it our rightful place. We haven’t over achieved at all by finishing above mid -table in League 1. The club I support now is nothing like the club I started watching in the early 1980’s, and it’s disingenuous of older supporters in particular to pretend that our history as an under-achieving lower league team should define our current view of what has become our natural level. Do e.g. older Reading fans see their club in the same light, given their many years as a lower league team in the old Elm Park stadium? I very much doubt it! Unlike a section of our support, they don’t undersell their club, they see themselves as Premiership wannabes. Nor should we undersell ourselves, either.

    • Yes, I remember the Harrogate game. I had thought I might never see City again. It was a very happy event, many City fans there. It was one of my all-time favourite games. Thanks for reminding me.

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