By Philip Jackson
This season lies on the floor, limp and irreparable. The balloon of our 2017-18 campaign, which continued to fly high in the air above Valley Parade, burst without warning at the turn of the year and we have watched it plummet more quickly than we thought possible.
This fall has engulfed the club in a thick cloud of controversy and anger, confusion and recrimination. Much has been written and spoken on the subject from every angle and perspective, each of us longing for something solid which can lead us on and out.
However these threads play out and whatever emerges over the next four months, come August we will be kicking off the 2018/19 season in League One.
It is this statistic that may be an underlying issue, unnoticed, in the back of the mind of many Bradford City supporters.
Already, we will be racking up our 6th consecutive season in League One. Only Walsall, I believe, have spent longer in the division, having entered in 2007 and never left. (What fun they must have!) Of course, that will equal the amount of time we spend in League Two. Add onto this 12, the three years before that also in this division, we get to 15. 15 (Fifteen) (Spelled out in old vidiprinter style) seasons in the lower leagues.
During this time, we have had some good times, some great times and one first on Match Of The Day, stand on the top of the football world, let everyone bask in our glory moment; but football moves on and time begins to drag.
During this time, we have generally been one of the better teams. Only in our first season did we vaguely skirt with relegation before winning three of our last four and finishing comfortably in 11th.
During this time, we have seen others come and go, some return, some have not. We have had a few league encounters with bigger sides, but we have remained.
What I am saying, after 15 years I, and perhaps many others, am getting bored of the Oldham’s, Northampton’s, Fleetwood’s, Bristol Rovers’, Rochdale’s and Walsall’s and all the other standard lower league teams that cross our path again and again.
Now I know that many of our more senior supporters stood and sat through decades of lower league football between 1938-1985 (The year I started going, coincidence?) and so I am unable to comment on those times, but 15 years seems just about long enough to me.
What, I have been recently pondering on, I feel may be contributing to the current ill-feeling within the City ranks is how close we have been.
Is it this, alongside the owners, their plans, their errors. The players, their plans, their errors and almost everything City related in 2018, that has ‘helped’ cause so many to feel so disconnected to the club at present?
Let me return to our time in the lower leagues: We have had the administrations, fears of going out of business and out of the league, which gave us the ‘Glad we have a club to support’ cushion, which probably got us through the bad times up to the slugfest with Crawley in 2012.
In the nick of time we had Parky, 2012/13 and the rest; the reward for all that pain. Great!
This led on through into our progression in League One. The issue may be now that we subconsciously need to move on again, we want, need and expect more than just to have a club to support.
2014/15, we improved, probably not enough to go up, but we may well have reached the playoffs if not for the cup run. 2015/16, we were closer still. We were only five points from 2nd place! Another draw with Burton, beating bottom of the league Colchester at home, a sloppy equaliser not conceded against Shrewsbury and we would have been there.
Then there was last season and Millwall. The fact that we were better than then, the fact that if we had won one game against them in the league they would have missed the playo ffs, the final performance in which we didn’t do ourselves justice, the late goal.
Everything for six seasons has been telling us we are on the right track, that we are indeed ‘On our way, we’re on our way to the Championship, we’re on our way. As the song goes.
By rights we should be there. The performance of the promoted teams, especially the gallingly good showing Millwall have made since going up, tell us we could well have been fine.
It was our turn!
Then there has been this season, or more precisely, May 2017 onwards.
The worry over the unfolding approach to recruitment and retention, the lowering of budgets when we were clearly nearly there, Stuart managing to paper over the cracks for so long, holding the illusion that this set of players were good enough, which, as the year progressed, it became clear they were not.
This denial of what we may feel is now rightfully ours, from people who, we were told, had the funds to deliver, may have some contribution to this disconnect.
The flight cancelled as we stand at the boarding gate, the light turning to red as we approach, the only three pies left in the shop being bought by the guy in front of you, that promotion your boss promised you, not materialising, it is that feeling.
We were all there (well lots of us were). Boxing Day 2016. Stefan and Edin, hyping us all up, talking of the Premier League and great schemes. (I did, at the time hope it wasn’t a Michael Knighton in front of the Stretford End juggling footballs moment.) Yet they are the ones who, through accident or design, at odds with their own words, have shut the door on this feeling of inevitability, and it hurts.
I know they had a three-year plan, of investing in youth and in the facilities and running of the club, which of course costs money, but if they are now unwilling to spend on this and for us to compete in League One how do they expect to do it in the Championship against very strong, very rich opponents?
But we were nearly there and this denial, this expectation of moving on, this boredom of continuing to remain where we are, is sitting in the background having an effect on all that has happened around the club since January.
Denied by the ones who had promised us that promotion