By Dave Welbourne
During these depressing days, I’ve thought deeply about Bradford City’s situation. There is a saying that you can change your wife or girlfriend, but you can’t change your football team. Since 1958, Bradford City has been my football team, and even through the dark days I have been loyal. We had to go through the bad times, and City’s history has been pitted with these, in order to appreciate the good times.
When we were down in 3rd Division North, or the 4th Division, people used to question me, perhaps unsure about my sanity, as to why I supported Bradford City. It didn’t occur to me not to. There was more to City than 90 minutes, and I eagerly took my place on the Kop with the other diehards, in all weathers, without the luxury of a roof to shield us. I always felt I belonged to ‘the family’ of people who went home and away through thick and thin. I have met and celebrated or commiserated with Kopites, and danced or jumped around with people whose names I don’t know, but we recognise each other as fellow travellers all the same.
Over the years I have introduced others to Bradford City and they too remain loyal fans. I started taking my little brother Chris, who is now sixty, and we still go together. Now the family has grown to include his son Robert, my grandchildren, Jenny, Oliver, Georgia, and Lauren, and a whole group of friends. We are all season ticket holders, some of us for many years, and we are all proud to follow City. The Club has always been a ‘family club’, and a safe place to take young children.
But now I feel angry that there is something seriously wrong. Like many others, I feel disconnected, as if the club has been stolen from us. Directors, managers and players come and go, but the fans stick with the club, and pull together during times of crisis. The other day I came across a cutting from the Telegraph and Argus, advertising a public meeting at St George’s Hall, in January, 1967, just one of numerous crisis meetings which have resulted in the fans bail-out, because we care so much about Bradford City.
Throughout the 60 years I have supported them, the feeling was it was ‘our club’, and we would do anything for it. Through links with players, managers and directors, we have had a special connection to the club. But not anymore! The heart has been ripped out, loyal servants behind the scenes have been dismissed or resigned, dedicated players have been shown the door. For me it all began when Phil Parkinson left, and then Stuart McCall was shamefully sacked. Something was rotten, and the values of the club, held so dear by us all, had been destroyed.
The finger had to be pointed at the top, the owners, whose dictatorial approach is destroying all the good that has been built up over the years. I’ve tried many times to explain what the club means to the fans, but I can not sum it up better than I did in an article written for the City Gent in August/September 2013. Sometimes in order to get through the bad occasions in life, we have to look back to find the positive, and the reasons for going on. I, therefore, quote from that article below.
Perhaps 2012/13 will go down as the greatest season in the club’s history. We had a lot of friends all over the country, and the world. People who claimed not to be football fans, sat up and took note. I was talking to a Aldershot fan before we played them on March 9th. He was worried that if they lost, they would face relegation, and perhaps fold altogether. However, he did say that Bradford City had done more for football than any other club in many years. For him we had restored good old values at a time when bigger clubs had sold their souls to avarice.
I’ve met Spanish waiters who were delighted by our achievements, and who follow City’s progress in their own countries. A Sunderland supporter I came across in Majorca, three days after promotion, said you must all be proud to support an “outstanding club”. When we were going down to Belgium (to visit the battlefields of World War 1, and to pay our respects to the Bradford soldiers, and City players, who were among the fallen), two little old ladies, listening to us talking about football on the train, asked if we were going to a football match. When I told them the purpose of our visit, they each exclaimed: “How magnificent!” Bearing in mind they knew nothing about football, they added, “And you’ve had such a very successful season.”
Messages of congratulations have come from all over the world. One went as far as to claim that the club had done more for the City of Bradford than the Council has ever done, and the spirit and pride had been restored to the community. Thousands turned out to cheer the conquering heroes when they had returned to Bradford, just as they had the FA Cup winners in 1911.
In 1911 that team had given the city a lift, and once again, the 2012/13 players made people feel good in a city which had had its share of problems and heartache. It had cost a fortune in times of economic hardship to follow the Bantams, but this sacrifice had been repaid.
The outstanding characteristics of the season’s success must be the team spirit, and the crowd support. Prior to the Burton play-off games, we went to a supporters’ ‘do’ at Shelf. The guests were Gary Jones and Stephen Darby. We were impressed by their genuine characters. They were bristling with confidence, sure they could achieve promotion. Gary expressed the players’ view that they had let the fans down against Swansea, and were determined to get back to Wembley in the play-off final, and put the record straight. They both agreed they had never played for a better club, and enthused about the team spirit, on and off the pitch.
This they believed should take them through, and they were full of praise about ‘the boss’, Phil Parkinson, and Steve Parkin, and how they had reached a high level of fitness due to Nick Allamby, especially in a season of over 60 games. Gary felt that even at his age, he had never felt fitter, and this had been proved week in, week out. Both the players were ecstatic about the support from the fans which was vital to success.
My brother Chris and I came away convinced that this was the best team spirit since the days of McCall, Hendrie and Beagrie et al. We had seen battling performances on the pitch, and the musketeer’s mentality: “all for one and one for all”. Then came the blow in the first leg at home to Burton. We were full of confidence in the Fighting Cock before the game. This was the year we were going to climb out of the lowest division at last. We lost, but over a few pints we reflected how we had stumbled at home against Blackpool in ’96, then went to the seaside to win, and earn the right to face Notts County in the final at Wembley.
Surely we could do it again. The celebrations, and dubious karaoke in the Lord Clyde after the second leg victory said it all. We were all daft as brushes.
I had been watching City since a boy. I started taking our Chris in the 1960s, and in all that time we had very little to celebrate, the most memorable occasion we shared was when we won the 3rd Division title at Bolton in 1985, which was tragically followed by the Fire a week later. 1996 had been our moment, and that event we often recalled. Those who were not around then, or too young to experience promotion to the Premier League in 1999, were envious. When, if ever, would they reach those dizzy heights? Well it was to be the 2012/13 season, the fairytale season which surpassed any other. More than ever, it seemed to be ‘the family season’.
Youngsters were swept along by the joy of success. Their schools were buzzing with talk of City. James Hanson became a role model at his old school, Bingley Beckfoot. The rest of the team consisted of players they could look up to, and the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, and especially Arsenal after City knocked them out of the League Cup, paled into insignificance. For the first time in their lives they had a team to be proud of. Local shops had special window displays, congratulation messages adorned the press.
A newly formed club-scout group in the city even adopted the club’s claret and amber colours for their neckerchiefs. At last there was something to cheer about, and what’s more, it could be done as a family, many of whom made both trips to Wembley. What was also noticeable was the increasing number of Asian families supporting the club. All bodes well for the future. The Northampton game was particularly pleasing because of the style in which it was achieved. Millions were able to see the display on television. It was also featured on the news, and those world-wide friends were able to witness the crowning glory, and toast the victory.
The police at both finals were full of praise about the behaviour of the fans. It was even remarked on by the BBC after the Millwall debacle during the FA Cup Semi-Final. Bradford fans were held up as a model of how to support a team in contrast to Millwall louts. As we were leaving Wembley, two policemen and a policewoman were smiling, watching the City fans dancing, singing, and chanting as they left the ground. One said to me: “It’s good to see you lot back, and winning this time. You make our lives easy. Good luck next season.”
There was a special bond between the fans and the club. The Valley Parade Fire had a great deal to do with that special relationship which is reinforced each year at the memorial service. It has a profound impact on the players who attend.
They see that Bradford City is more than just a football team, and the club’s history is important. The club’s values and ethics have been moulded over the years. There is a pride that runs through the club. Fans demand honesty and commitment. They are realistic in knowing that the team can’t win every week but they have always admired players who try and give everything for the club.
Today this seems to be lacking. Once players were proud and eager to join the club, but now they don’t seem to get on, and lack commitment. There also seems to be a problem with fitness when in the past we were one of the fittest teams around. This was reflected during the last 15 minutes at Blackpool.
Rahic and Rupp have got to be held responsible for the mistakes they have made, and for the deterioration of relationships with fans, players and staff. We used to believe we were all in it together. Now it seems we are not. A lot of the good work done over the years has been destroyed. If the owners are not up to it, they need to go, and put the club up for sale to those who care. Otherwise we shall face the problems experienced by clubs such as Blackpool, Coventry, and Portsmouth in the past.
But the history of Bradford City shows that we bounce back, and we have to cling onto this thought during these troubled times, and restore faith and trust.