By John Dewhirst
After promotion in 1982 there was eager anticipation among a certain section of the City support for the fixtures with Millwall which led to the infamous ‘Bradford Meatmen’ leaflets.
Long before the advent of the internet came the mysterious appearance of the handouts warning Millwall supporters about the visit of the Bradford hardmen. It was a challenge, if not provocation and the opportunity for the likely lads of Bradford to prove themselves. In the event however, the predictions of wanton violence came to nought.
My first visit to the (old) Den was that season in September, 1982 and needless to say it was an intimidating, unpleasant experience. The warnings of the ‘Meatmen’ were greeted with a combination of ridicule and particular hostility by the home fans in the 3,500 crowd and quite possibly still remembered by certain old cockneys yesterday.
Thankfully the world has moved on and Bradford City is a wholly different club. The supporter experience has been transformed and the prospect of crowd violence is unheard of. It is highly unlikely that there would be a repeat of the ‘Meatmen’ affair and crucially, such behaviour would be universally condemned by all sections of the Valley Parade support.
As evidence of progress, compare and contrast what has happened in the past thirty-five years: families attending games; much bigger crowds; modern facilities including – shock horror – female toilets that did not even exist at VP pre-1985. All told we have affordable football with a genuinely vibrant, positive match-day atmosphere.
No-one could suggest that when you attend a Bradford City fixture there is a risk of the claret and amber support causing trouble en masse. I accept that every club has a disreputable number of fans but as far as BCAFC is concerned it is simply not an issue. Thankfully crowd violence is rare and certainly not at the level that it was thirty years ago. The recent occasions of trouble that I am reminded of were at VP for the Leeds FL Cup game when our visitors threw seats on the pitch and then this weekend at Wembley.
When you attend a game you should not have to be looking over your shoulder for signs of trouble and yet that was the experience on Saturday. It is sad that from a crowd control perspective it was the best result because had Millwall lost, who knows what might have happened?
It seems that the Millwall supporters jealously defend their reputation. Thirty-five years ago the likely lads of Bradford aspired to be known as the equals of Millwall but surely the big difference is that people have since grown up and matured.
I don’t subscribe to the view that the behaviour of Millwall supporters is none of the business of other fans because it is. If Bradford people were dissuaded from attending the game at Wembley because of fear of trouble yesterday you can take it for granted that on a future occasion when Millwall are in a Wembley fixture that others will stay at home, whether from Barnsley, Bradford City or wherever.
Until supporters of all clubs state the bleeding obvious that this is unacceptable behaviour it will continue to be a blight on the game. Likewise, until the EFL or FA stop treating Millwall with kid gloves it will continue. For starters I would ban the club from playing at Wembley for at least the next five years.
So what if the Millwall fans joined in the clapping on the 56th minute of the game as a demonstration of unity? Big deal and besides, not every City fan subscribes to this as an appropriate way to remember the disaster. If Millwall followers were truly interested in unity and demonstrations of civility with other supporters then maybe next time they could try something which lasted for longer than sixty seconds and which didn’t bring universal condemnation.