By Jason McKeown
It has been the worst Bradford City season in 15 years. Just seven wins at Valley Parade all campaign. 11 defeats in the last 16 matches. Bottom of the league. About to be relegated. Back to the basement division.
And yet 13,108 of us have signed up for another year. Season tickets sales for 2019/20 have exceeded all realistic expectations. It is a remarkable demonstration of faith from Bradford City supporters. A colossal show of support in the club’s hour of need.
Last summer under Edin Rahic, season ticket sales figures were kept under wraps. Thousands didn’t renew and Rahic did not want the world to know. WOAP understands that around 13,700 were actually sold. So for City to have basically matched the 2018/19 total is quite something. And there’s still plenty of months until next season starts to exceed that amount.
Edin Rahic’s negligence did so much to destroy all that was good about Bradford City. But this amazing show of support proves that we will not die. Robbed of dreams of making it to the Championship. Stripped of a team we can be proud of. But I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m City ’til I die.
It’s tested us all, these past 18 months. As a fanbase we have fretted non-stop about the future of our club. We’ve argued with each other. Oh, have we argued. In the comments section on this site. On Twitter. Facebook. The message boards. In the pub. Even inside the ground. Arguments about Edin. About Stefan Rupp. All those managers. The bloody useless players. If you’ve avoided falling out with a fellow City fan over the past year and a half, you’ve either been biting your tongue or living under a rock.
But at the end of the day, we’re all City aren’t we? We want the same things. We cheer at the same moments. We despair as a collective. We are a community, riding this rollercoaster together. Passionate. Caring. And most definitely loyal. The season ticket uptake proves that yet again.
There’s no question we are still in tough times. It took 2 hours and 40 minutes for the Titanic to sink after hitting the iceberg. At Bradford City, the damage of Edin occurred several months ago, and we’ve been frantically trying to avoid capsizing since. But through the imminent relegation, we are about to crash into the icy waters of League Two.
It won’t be easy rebuilding the team over the summer, given so many underachievers remain under contract. League Two is an unforgiving arena – it took six attempts to get promoted on our last visit – and a promotion push next season shouldn’t be assumed. But we have strength in supporter numbers at least. At no point during our last League Two adventure were we able to count on 13,000+ season ticket holders.
What the high renewal rate does prove is that Bradfordian resilience. To be a Bradford City fan is to live a life of fleeting glory. The good times like Chelsea, Villa, Wolves and Liverpool are long celebrated because the highs are rare. If glory was all that mattered, we’d have given up and gone to support a Premier League team on TV long before Edin had a dream. And though the patience to endure many seasons as bad as this one would wear thin quickly, we accept that relegations are the painful part of the package you sign up to as a lower league supporter.
We are Bradford City. It’s our way of life. Our Saturday afternoons. Our occasional Tuesday evenings. And it dominates our thoughts and conversations in almost every waking hour in-between games. It hurts so much right now and we’re desperate for the season to end. But after a summer break, come August there will be nowhere we’d rather be than at Valley Parade.
Despite the on the field collapse, there are signs of hope off behind the scenes. The club are realistic, but also looking to next season with confidence. There is an internal belief that Gary Bowyer knows how to fix things. That the retention of Julian Rhodes provides positive leadership. That the club can prosper again. If there’s one consolation about being so cut adrift at the bottom, at least the planning for next season can begin before everyone else.
The £2 million deficit? A problem of course. But Rupp’s financial resources are considerable. What’s more, a Swansea sale of Oli McBurnie would trigger a sell on windfall for the Bantams, which can help offset the losses. Bowyer would not have agreed a two-year deal without financial assurances from the top. A busy summer awaits.
Hopefully next season will be better. That we recover from relegation in the way Bury and MK Dons have to compete at the top of League Two. Put to bed the nightmare of these past 18 months. So that eventually we can look back on this time with half a chuckle, in the same way we eventually could laugh about Barry Conlon, Jake Speight and Chib Chilaka. Who knows: maybe one day Matter of Heart will be viewed as a comedy film, rather than a horror.
But whatever happens, we stand tall together. We supporters are the club’s biggest asset. We have kept with the club through thick and thin before, and we’re once again enduring a tough moment together. The good times will return again. And when they do, we’ll appreciate them even more because of what we’re currently going through.
City ’til I die? There’s no other way.