It took a lot of effort to be at Valley Parade tonight. The wife had an evening function to go to, and it was my turn to stay home with the kids. The perfect excuse not to go. But instead, I got my dad to babysit, meaning he had to get back from what he was doing slightly early. And because it takes time to travel to Bradford, I had to leave the wife to sort out the kids until he got there. She wasn’t impressed, tutting disapprovingly and sighing loudly as I headed off.
It took a lot of effort to be at Valley Parade tonight. But in the past I wouldn’t have worried about any of the hassle. Missing a home game was always unthinkable. Going to Bradford City is my thing, and I’ve spent more than 20 years asking others to make sacrifices for me going, trying to make up for it later. I don’t really drink. I never go to the pub. Bradford City is the one vice that others kindly tolerate.
It took a lot of effort to be at Valley Parade tonight. Not just because of childcare headaches, but because the stench of Bradford City’s 2018 decay makes it more and more tempting not to bother. I’m not there yet, and I genuinely hope I never will be. But amongst friends and acquaintances who I habitually chat to about the Bantams, there’s been a notable drop off in people going. Some have found the purer joys of non league football. Others just don’t want to know full stop. On the official City website this week, the club revealed some 2018/19 season ticket holders have yet to actually pick up their season ticket card. I’m guessing they won’t be bothering. Writing off their £169 outlay without taking in a single game.
It took a lot of effort to be at Valley Parade tonight. Evidently too much effort for many. The stadium felt eerily half empty. Vacant seats outnumbering those with bums planted. Stay home and watch the Champions League. Or Bake Off. Or go to the pub or to the cinema. Stay away from a chilly West Yorkshire night. From watching this underwhelming football team. From having anything to do with this deeply unpopular ownership regime.
It took a lot of effort to be at Valley Parade tonight. And for those who stayed away, the big worry is how many will bother to come back.
They certainly didn’t miss anything here, as the beleaguered City side plummeted to new depths. They fell a goal behind in under 90 seconds and were 2-0 down by the tenth minute. Coventry were hardly the strongest of League One teams, but were comfortably better in every department.
City look every inch a team that will be relegated. Watching them tonight and against Rochdale on Saturday, they remind me so much of previously relegated Bradford City sides, like the class of 2003/04 and 2006/07. Back then as now, there was some effort and on paper the players didn’t necessarily appear out of their depth. But performances would be disjointed at best. And at crucial points in matches, dreadful individual mistakes would be their undoing. 90 minute efforts undermined by poor application and self inflicted moments of stupidity.
City huffed and puffed for 45 minutes, but rarely convinced they could come back. Many fans left at half time. Those that stayed were rewarded by Anthony O’Connor pulling a goal back. But within eight minutes they were 4-1 behind through more dismal defending. A second for O’Connor and City preserved some interest in the final knockings, but a disallowed George Miller goal for handball saw the on loan striker dismissed. It was a debatable decision and there’s been too many of them late. The final push from City was heartening, yet ultimately the Bantams were well beaten and have now slumped to the bottom of League One. It is hard, even at this relatively early stage, to make a case for them staying up.
There was initially some improvement when David Hopkin took over, but after four straight defeats that looks a distant memory. He lacks the players he needs, but the 4-3-3 deployed here failed to get the best out of Jack Payne and Miller. In the centre Josh Wright was once again feeble and the returning Hope Akpan was too easily knocked off the ball.
The players aren’t really responding to Hopkin. There just isn’t enough mental strength. And behind them there is nothing in reserve. In fact, for all the talk of the owners focusing on youth development, WOAP understands the club hasn’t entered an under 23 development team this season as a cost cutting exercise. So the bright young players at the club aged over 18 have no competitive football. They are being left to stagnate. The one principle Edin Rahic has tried to instil, gone. At this stage it’s tempting to wonder if they’ve given up even pretending they have a strategy.
As bleak as the outlook is around Bradford City right now, the fear is how much worse it will get. Coventry, a club further on the process of deeply unpopular owners, offer cautionary lessons. Even though their plight and fall out is arguably much tamer than the likes of Blackpool, Blackburn and Charlton. But looking ahead at what they and others have endured, and our similar troubled path, there are clearly some major tests to come for City supporters.
Can we stick together, through the rough and rougher? Already the bcafc hash tag is the scene of bitter and depressing fall outs between long-time City supporters. In some areas, friendships are strained. The debates about the culpability of Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp, and how to express the widespread feeling of dismay, are already fraught and heated. As protest efforts inevitably step up from certain quarters, and others resist or disagree with the approach taken, the supporter base will become more fragmented. Not so much on whether you are supportive or in disagreement with the owners – that particular debate is basically over – but on how we go through these tough times.
On a forum this week, one supporter talked about next year’s season tickets, provocatively arguing that anyone who buys one is a traitor. It’s clear that if things stay as they are, there will be an almighty drop off in season ticket sales no matter whether City stay up or avoid the drop. Those of us who renew – and I will certainly be one of them – will be labelled scabs. Those who boycott will be dubbed deserters. When we went to Blackpool early last month, we didn’t come across a group of supporters united in their disgust at the Oystons, but divided in demonstrating their dismay. An undercurrent of dislike of the owners, but expressed in different and divisive ways. Even if the Oystons did the decent thing and sold up, there will be some healing needed between Blackpool fans.
That could be us. I don’t think there is a single City fan not upset at Rahic’s tenure, and even the minority who support him acknowledge he has made mistakes. But we are all guilty of pointing the finger at others. At the Supporters Trust for their self-serving and embarrassing talks with Rahic. At fans who are too angry about the situation. At others who aren’t angry enough. “Head in the sand”. “Unrealistic expectations”. The barbs go back and forth. They will probably get worse.
Somehow as fans we have to stick together and not blame each other. To fall out as a group risks eroding our values of always welcoming others. Of being an inclusive club, where everyone has being made to feel a part of things and welcome. Sure, we argue like hell over everything. But there’s always a shared respect. That could easily be lost.
I believe that we are in the fight of our lives. Not to avoid relegation – we have been to League Two before and ultimately prospered – but the fight to save our football club from the negligence of others.
An erosion of our collective spirit will make for weaker opposition to the demise of our club. I don’t have all the answers for how we drive through this, but I’d feel more confident standing strong alongside 20,000 Bradford City supporters than I would being in a splinter group of a few hundred. We all want the very best for the club. Somehow, we must stick together so we can collectively take the fight to those who threaten our heritage, our values and our future.
Categories: Match Reviews