Paradise Lost, Paradise Found?

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By David Pendleton

It’s has been difficult to love Bradford City this season. Attending matches has been chore. A duty. You can reach out and touch the apathy. Paradise lost. Valley Parade was so very recently one of the most vibrant grounds in English football.

However, despite relegation looming, a chink of light appeared. Almost unexpectedly, and against all logic, season ticket sales have not only held up, but shot past reasonable assumptions. It was an, almost shocking, illustration that the fans had not in fact given up on Bradford City. That, even with Leeds United poised to gain promotion to the Premier League, we weren’t about to enter a new dark age. All was not lost. Was this a collective madness? What was going on?

However, before we get too carried away, let’s face the fact that difficult days lie ahead. Anyone who presumes that, because season ticket sales passed 13,000 before the second week of April, City will steamroller League Two needs to think again. I remember fans saying that we would bounce straight back following relegation from the Premier League in 2001. After relegation from the Championship in 2004 we were certain to sweep League One aside, then in 2007 when we slipped into League Two … well, you can guess the rest.

Just because we are likely to have ten times more fans than, say Morecambe or Solihull Moors, doesn’t mean that we will have a team ten times better than those clubs. Remember the daft quotes from Sunderland fans who predicted what they would do to this ‘piss pot’ of a division? They might well get promoted this season, but it hasn’t been the open top bus parade some of their more optimistic fans believed. We would do well to heed the lesson.

All that said, it is difficult not to be buoyed by the season ticket sales. The club needs to grab hold of this rare piece of good news and hold it aloft. Race off on a lap of honour, spray the champagne, but most importantly build on it. A start has been made. The announcement of a rejuvenated Supporters’ Board is a significant acknowledgement of a need to rebuild bridges with a jaded fanbase. While there has been mutterings about the ‘same old faces’ representing fans, the Supporters’ Board is open to all and that includes individual supporters.

There has been outright criticism of the fact that the Supporters’ Trust will be one of the groups on the Supporters’ Board. Clearly, the attempt by the Trust to engage with Edin Rahic was, at best, ill-advised, but they were far from the only people to be misled by Edin. However, even though they espoused views that were far from the majority view, does that mean that they should be banished into the wilderness forever?

Clearly, the Supporters’ Board, and indeed City fans as a whole, should be open to contrary views. It would reflect badly upon us as a club if we vilified fellow City fans or bullied them into silence. As recently as 2004 the Supporters’ Trust was central to the raising of £250,000 that went a long way to keeping Bradford City afloat. Surely, they deserve the chance to reflect and consider how they might once again be an integral part of our Bantams family.

Recently, James Mason, the man who coined the Bantams family tag, said to a packed meeting at the Record Cafe:

“We all want to fall in love with our club again. Let’s have one big love project, let’s talk about why we love Bradford City. It isn’t about winning matches, you support it because it’s yours, the family ethos. Every fan can play their part. We are the sum of our parts, it’s a cliche to say that football fans own their club. Stefan Rupp is the current legal owner of the club, but we will be here long after Stefan, or Julian, or Mark Lawn, or Edin Rahic, or Geoffrey Richmond, or Stafford Heginbotham. So we have a responsibility to our club and our city to do what we can.”

The fact that James made that plea, not from the boardroom of Valley Parade, but a bar on North Parade, probably says something about the long shadow of Edin Rahic. It is probable that Edin’s dislike of James’ popularity was a major reason why the club lost such an articulate advocate of the Bantams family. It is possible that not everyone at the club has readjusted to the new reality. If that is the case, I would respectfully suggest that they reevaluate their position.

Let’s get the flags waving again on the Kop. Return the atmosphere to what it was just a couple of years ago, among the best, if not the best, in the country. Engage once again with the K Block Bantams, who drive the Valley Parade atmosphere. Don’t see them as a threat, don’t see anyone as a threat.

Embrace a fan base that produces books, websites, podcasts and vlogs, whose production is not driven by profit or ego, but by a love of the club and a love of Bradford. Break down barriers of perception that, because the club didn’t produce it, authorise to or directly profit from it, then it cannot be spoken about. Embrace and celebrate supporters’ groups and events, for they are a celebration of the football club. Just because it doesn’t directly financially benefit Bradford City does not mean that it has no value to the club.

Indeed, in such times as these, quite the contrary. These things help hold the Bantams family together, help endear loyalty to something that is greater than the current crop of players, or the terrible shirt or even more terrible former owner. This is the Bantams family. This is what it means.

Categories: Opinion

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7 replies

  1. Well written piece David and so true. Dropped my wife’s car off for a service at Perry’s in Huddersfield early this morning. Never been there before.Met a guy in the garage car park moving the cars around. Turns out he is a City fan, K block and like me, can’t wait for August. Had a chat with him for 15 minutes before the service department opened. World put to rights and our future assured, one way or another. Wherever you go there are City fans and all I have met, have or are renewing for 2019/20. As you say, It’s not just about football !

  2. For fans to become ‘engaged’ in a meaningful dialogue with the club, then paragraph six and seven raises some issues. For there to be a constructive relationship, there needs to be open minds on both the part of the club and the supporters.

    I do not know all the ‘ins and outs’ of the reign of the previous owner, but I sense that he had a very fixed view and a model which he was determined to implement. When things started to go beyond his control, he seems to have panicked in the spring/summer of 2018 and adopted a ‘scatter gun’ approach to recruitment and possibly footballers salary structure. Rigid thinking, can lead to all sorts of problems, when the mantra doesn’t work on its own. Rather than work with fans, he became more isolated and developed what for all intents and purposes was a ‘bunker mentality’, cut off from those who could help to counterbalance his idiosyncratic mission.

    So for a constructive and respectful relationship to develop, both parties need to embrace concepts such as ‘critical thinking’ and apply those techniques in continuing interactions. Yes the club has budgets and professionals to help it achieve its aims, but we the ordinary supporter have valid points and views.

    We need each other, so it has to be a positive and real partnership.

  3. No, the current supporters trust shouldn’t be involved. Their statements and emails are rambling incoherent nonsense which often seem to divert in to a socialist rant. Their support of Edin even when the stories were becoming more widespread and in particular the email that talked about his smelly bottom was an embarrassment to themselves and to City fans .The stories of how they handled themselves before Edin lead me to have the opinion they are not fit for purpose.

    Until BCST has a change of leadership, in my opinion they do not have sufficient credibility to claim to represent the ordinary City fan.

  4. Brilliant words Dave Pendleton!

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve slowly been falling back in love with Bradford City. Firstly, there was the excellent talk from James Mason at The Record Cafe prior to the Doncaster Rovers game. Then there was a visit to Bristol. Even though we lost at Bristol Rovers, we played quite well in the first half and it was an enjoyable atmosphere in the away end. Then the surprising news that the club has sold over 13,000 season tickets for next season. And, finally for now, the Bradford City special on Radio Leeds tonight. Gary Bowyer spoke clearly and sensibly and despite our run of six consecutive defeats, I am confident that he can turn our fortunes around if given time. The show ended with an interview with Steve Parkin. He explained how he along with Phil Parkinson and others are performing a coast to coast bike ride to raise monies for the Stephen Darby Trust. When asked what his favourite time at Bradford City was, Parkin mentioned the Chelsea FA Cup win and the play-off final win. However, he highlighted THAT James Hanson goal at Villa Park and eluded to the fact that the famous evening in Birmingham in January 2013 was probably his favourite moment. He continued to mention the difficulties faced at Bolton Wanderers and how he thinks about the 2012/2013 season when things are challenging. We as Bradford City supporters need to remember the fleeting good times too, to remind us how to love our football club.

  5. The club is getting there again slowly but ultimately the bond is only going to be fully restablished if we can reset the playing squad in the summer and replace the current underachieving lazy individuals. Until then the toxicity remains and having 16 players under contract means that the Edin stench sadly lingers for now.

  6. Great article David, very uplifting and it really resonates. Dare I say I’m even starting to look forward to August!

  7. An article to keep you going though the summer until next season arrives.

    The loyalty of us City fans only points up the exact opposite of this current squad. They have shown no willingness to fight for the club, no loyalty to the magnificent number of supporters who have followed them and the decline into relegation has been a slow, slow sinking beneath the waters without even a single splash of resistance from the only people who could provide that – the players themselves.

    With only one or two exceptions they should all be absolutely ashamed of themselves. Is there any chance of that – not at all.

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