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.