By Jason McKeown
If you’re a Bradford City supporter, there’s one particularly pertinent truism right now – someone disagrees with your view of recent events at Valley Parade.
After six months of turmoil on and off the pitch, and with the Bantams firmly moving in a new direction over the summer, there’s a wide-ranging split of opinion amongst fans about the outlook. Some of us are optimistic. Some of us are concerned. Some of us believe we’re on the right path. Some of us predict Armageddon.
Passions are running high, and it makes for a volatile atmosphere. The levels of debate are at times healthy and constructive, at other moments petty or just plain nasty. There’s a clear unwillingness from some fans to listen to, or respect, alternative views. There are insults, there is mud-slinging and the divisive mood feels as bleak as it has ever been. At times I wistfully hark back to the days where the most heated debate of the time lied in whether Gary Jones could be considered a club legend.
We City fans are in the main an intelligent, passionate bunch. It is very rare that we universally agree on anything, and the debates and arguments around the club’s fortunes are a healthy part of what it is to be a football, and Bradford City, fan. But there is undoubtedly a fear over how big the divide is becoming, and the impact it will have on the atmosphere next season.
Firstly, everyone should be entitled to their own view. As fans we can look at the facts that are out there and come to our own conclusions. Some of us know a little bit more about what’s happening behind the scenes, which can further inform our viewpoint. But all us can only go on the facts we have access to. In the main, it feels unfair to tell others they’re deluded, misinformed, have their head in the sand or are over negative – just because we disagree with their findings. And trading insults won’t change their mind.
The simple fact is that recent events – namely the appointment of Michael Collins as head coach – put us in a place of unknowns. No one can possibly predict with certainty how handing an unproven 32-year-old the head coach role is going to work out. It could be glorious. It could be a shambles. What’s done is done. And without access to a working crystal ball, we’ve just got to see how this one pans out. Ultimately when the season starts on August 4, we’ll be right behind him. Because that’s what fans do.
The second point is that the depth of feelings on both sides deserves more respect. There are thousands of us City fans who care incredibly deeply about the club. It’s often the first thing we think about in the morning, and the last thing we ponder at night. It occupies our thoughts and dominates conversations, often when – in the bigger picture of our lives – we should really be focusing on other, more important things.
We shouldn’t begrudge, or belittle, anyone for caring. Arguing about the colours of the new kit is of course tedious, but it matters to a lot of people. When it comes to things that are really vital – such as the ambitions, strategy, coaching and leadership of the club – feelings run even higher. If people stop caring, the club would be in big trouble. Because without that attachment and close affinity, they’ll find other things to do. A few years ago someone who works in complaints told me to always respect the way as a complainant is feeling, even if they’re not justified with their grievance.
In the excellent Bantams Banter video interview with Edin Rahic, a comment from the Bradford City chairman has been widely circulated on social media. “I have to convince everybody this is right way, but if you don’t like it, there’s the door”. This doesn’t sound great, but I personally choose to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. From what I know about Rahic, I don’t think he would intend that so starkly.
Nevertheless, there is a problem that fans on both sides of the debate have seized on those comments. “If you don’t like it, there’s the door” is perceived as an insult to some questioning the chairman’s strategy, and a stick to beat Rahic with. But for those who want to support the approach, these words have been taken as declaration to back the club almost blindly, and to call out anyone who doesn’t as “not a true supporter”.
In May Bantams Banter published an article from a City fan named Alex Lester, who wrote, “It’s time for us to do our bit and support the club we love. Whoever gets the job as Head Coach should be welcomed with open arms. Without prejudice and without criticism. On a similar note, inbound transfers should be applauded and encouraged, not heckled or abused.” Whilst the sentiment is laudable, it unfortunately makes subsequent praise tainted in the sense it hasn’t been earned.
If you make up your mind to support something no matter how it turns out, that support doesn’t come across as merited or credible. It’s exactly the same of anyone who takes the polar opposite view and openly states they will criticise everything Rahic does. Your criticisms won’t seem fair-minded or logical, and will similarly lack credibility. It shouldn’t be about picking a side and then backing it whatever happens. It should be assessing developments and independently drawing your own conclusions.
For me, there’s a need for all fans, especially those on the extreme edges of this debate – from both sides – to moderate our views, listen to the opposite opinions, and find a bit more centre ground. It doesn’t mean you have to start or stop believing. But by opening our eyes a little bit more, we could all accept there are some genuine concerns right now, but that there are also genuine reasons to be positive. That we’re taking a step into the unknown, which can be both scary and exhilarating. That it’s okay to be worried, but also that it’s okay to be excited.
If we carry on digging trenches and firing shots at each other, it’s almost guaranteed to carry on over the course of the season – no matter what happens. Because as it stands, when the season plays out, one side of the debate is going to be loudly told they’re wrong by the other. And that doesn’t make for an appetising atmosphere. The only point-scoring that should matter is the league table.
There should be room for constructive, healthy debate. No matter how you feel about matters, let’s please try and respect the fact not everyone sees it our way. If we cannot fathom the opposite stance, let’s please try. It’s not about changing anyone’s minds. It’s just recognising that we all have a valid viewpoint.
Because there’s one truism that will always endure amongst each and every Bradford City fan – we deeply love, and want what’s best for, our club.