On Tuesday 30 October, over 500 Bradford City supporters came together to show their appreciation for Stephen Darby.
By John Dewhirst
I have followed the club for 48 seasons and in that time have experienced the full roller coaster. In common with most other City fans I have found this season to be somewhat challenging to say the least. I won’t deny that you ask the question – or have it asked of you – why bother? Bradford City has never been a fashionable club and never will be. Neither will it become particularly successful and command the national headlines. I long since recognised that supporting Bradford City is more than about winning games and trophies.
As will be inferred from the fact that I have written (and been involved with the production of) a good number of books about Bradford City, I have a particular interest in the club’s history. The fascination arose from the fact that when I started supporting the club, it was already long-established as a perennial struggler and yet prior to World War One Bradford City had come close to establishing itself as one of the leading sides in England. Of course the same fall from grace was mirrored in the fate of the city. My curiosity led to an interest in the history of BCAFC and a voyage of discovery.
From a personal perspective, possibly the most startling find was that my great-great grandfather had had involvement with the origins of football in the district in the 1870s as landlord of the Girlington Hotel and that his nephew had been a founder member of Manningham FC in 1880. However, whilst this was relevant from the perspective of researching family history it was also another reminder of the extent to which Bradford City AFC (and its predecessor Manningham FC) has been a big part of the lives of Bradfordians as well as the city of Bradford. Indeed, the history of Bradford City and the city of Bradford are intertwined. Quite simply it is more than just football.
My own commitment is to write and publish a series of books that document the history of the origins of sport and the development of professional football in Bradford from the very beginnings to the present day. The Bantamspast series ‘History Revisited’ came about because I did not believe that anyone had previously provided a satisfactory account of that history. Between Jason McKeown and I, the series now runs to five volumes with at least another two in progress. When finished the collection will provide a definitive, detailed and illustrated record. The series is self-published (under-written by myself) and non-profit making and hence does not have to comply with the requirements or formats of commercial publishers.
I long since concluded that Bradford City AFC has been a prisoner of its history and we will never escape. It is fanciful for instance to believe that we will emulate the Liverpools, Chelseas or Manchesters of the football world. In all probability we are doomed to remain also-rans, irrespective of who owns the club. So why do we bother?
Jason McKeown’s book WHO WE ARE (which is the fifth volume in the History Revisited series) seeks to answer that question by examining the components of the club’s personality and explaining what Bradford City means to those who follow the club. What he discovered is that despite diverse personal backgrounds and circumstances, those who identify with Bradford City AFC have an awful lot more in common than simply the colours of their scarves. In fact we’ve all got pretty similar values.
Last night’s tribute at Valley Parade was a celebration of just that. Whilst there was less than a dozen people who spoke on the stage about their affection for Bradford City – a selection of administrators, players, managers and supporters – what was patently obvious was that everyone was essentially saying the same. In fact you could have extended the event 24/7 and invited other City personalities to speak and the messages would have been the same.
If anyone needed a reboot of faith and self-belief about ‘why do we bother’, last night was the tonic. Forget the league position. Take heart from what the club has achieved in the not too distant past from an even weaker position. In truth, whilst I am pretty concerned about the club’s situation I am confident about the future. What has gone wrong at Valley Parade has been a failure of leadership, not a loss of values or commitment on the part of supporters. We can fix the former and the latter provides a strong foundation to go forward.
WHO WE ARE provides what is arguably a manifesto for the club and defines a vision that is relevant for a revival of Bantam Progressivism. Listening to what was said last night reaffirms that we share a common cause.
In my opinion last night helps to fortify our self-belief ahead of what promises to be a difficult winter. Long live Bantam Progressivism!
The club will announce tomorrow how much was raised for the MND Association.