“When your dad takes you, at the age of seven, to watch his team, you are hooked for life. You cannot do anything about it.” John Wade, Who We Are
By Jason McKeown
After Saturday’s shocking loss to Gillingham left Bradford City in deeper relegation trouble, it’s understandable we all feel incredibly worried about the future of our beloved football club. It’s not just the prospect of going down, but that there might yet be further to fall beyond that. The future of Bradford City could very well be in doubt, thanks to the negligent leadership of Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp, who are proving to be a complete and utter failure.
But as bleak as the situation is, there are too many people with the club in their hearts to allow it to crumble. Bantams supporters, of course; but also former chairmen, directors, employees, players, managers. Bradford City means so much to so many people, and collectively we can win this battle to protect the very soul of this football club.
Bleak times are not unknown to any of us. Failure is part of the package we sign up for when we commit ourselves to the Bradford City cause. And our history is full of reminders that no matter how much adversity we experience, as a community we can pull through and eventually enjoy better times. The rollercoaster of emotions we collectively go through as City supporters strengthens our bond. The great moments we’ve celebrated together are all the more meaningful for the disappointments we’ve also endured.
I firmly believe that Bradford City will out-live the seemingly doomed tenure of Rahic and Rupp. And that one day the sun will shine on this football club again. It might take time – and we’ll have to bear more damage and heartache while we wait – but everything that is good about Bradford City, everything we love about the club, will prevail. Our children will still follow in our footsteps supporting the club. And so will their children. We will not go quietly into the night.
This leads me on to talk about my new book, Who We Are: Exploring the DNA of Bradford City, that has just hit bookshops. Published by Bantams Past, and volume 5 of the History Revisited Series. Myself and John Dewhirst first discussed the idea for the book in much happier times – Spring 2017, when the club was closing in on a play off spot during Rahic and Rupp’s first season, and a few weeks before the trip to Wembley where the Bantams lost to Millwall.
I began writing the book during that summer, where all seemed so well in the Bantams’ garden. The Millwall defeat hurt of course, but 2016/17 had been another season of progress, as Stuart McCall built on the astonishing success of the Phil Parkinson years. Bradford City, which had suffered so much struggle, was on the up. Building itself in a laudable and principled manner. On the cusp of completing the journey to Championship football. Who We Are was originally almost intended to be a celebration of this.
Instead, as book writing progressed against a backdrop of darkening storm clouds, the meaning of Who We Are has reshaped. My original aim of exploring the DNA of the club – analysing what makes City so special, what shapes our devotion, and the challenges that have held us back – has remained. But as the club has collapsed, and so much about why we love Bradford City has been abandoned by this misguided strategy – understanding and conserving our DNA has suddenly become utterly essential.
The very fabric of what this football club is about – what we stand for – is in grave danger of being lost. My hope is that Who We Are can help to preserve it.
So when it comes to rebuilding Bradford City from the current mess, I hope that Who We Are can act as a blueprint and an inspiration to those who will be leading the recovery. If and when new ownership can be achieved, I hope this book can inspire new leaders to really understand what Bradford City is. And more importantly amongst us supporters, as the debate and conversation moves towards what we want our club to look like, I hope Who We Are can help to guide the direction.
The book is very different to anything I’ve written before. I’ve studied not only the history of the club but the history of Bradford, to look at how Bradford City has got to be what it is. Who We Are is no linear retelling of our history – many people far more qualified than me have already done that – but an analysis of what has shaped us.
How City began in more affluent Bradford times to become one of the biggest clubs in the country. Why it fell away. How the rivalries with Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford Northern/Bulls have inspired but held back City’s fortunes. Why Don Revie’s Leeds United irrevocably damaged Bradford sport. How the Valley Parade fire disaster has brought the community around the club closer together. And why the boom and bust nature of modern times has shaped the culture of our devotion for the Bantams.
I’ve talked to a lot of people along the way. City supporters, current and former players and owners, ex-managers, plus journalists and commentators. They’ve told me what Bradford City means to them. Their perspective of the highs and lows. The reasons they believe City is such a special football club.
Amongst the 50+ interviewees includes Stuart McCall, Gary Jones, Paul Jewell, Julian Rhodes, Gordon Watson, Matt Kligallon, Greg Abbott, Ian Ormondroyd, Danny Forrest, James Mason, Simon Parker and John Helm. With supporter views ranging from Mike Harrison, Bangla Bantams, Paul Firth, John Dewhirst and the emerging City vloggers. Their stories help to shape and define the club’s DNA.
I understand we all feel disillusioned right now, and some people have commented they are fearful that reading the book will make them sad about missing what has been lost. But I hope it can rekindle your affection for the club, remind you of some forgotten great memories, and inspire you in this battle to protect the heritage and soul of Bradford City.
Many fans are talking of not wanting to give the club a penny more of their money. Well, this book is non-profit, produced on a break-even basis, with any extra proceeds going to the Burns Unit and MND (for Stephen Darby). It was also produced and printed in Bradford. So if you want to buy yourself something City-related, or need a Christmas present or two for loved ones, I hope you will consider supporting this project.
Who We Are is now available to buy from Waterstones (Bradford) and Salts Mill (Saltaire). It can be ordered online through BantamsPast. The book is priced at £20. The official launch night – which is now being used for the greater purpose of paying tribute to Darby and raising money for MND – is on Tuesday 30 October. On the night, Who We Are will be available to buy for £25 (with the extra £5 going to MND).