By Jason McKeown
It’s our home. A special place that conjures up a whole range of emotions. The scene of so many colourful, vivid memories. The good ones powerfully outweighing the disappointing ones, cementing a deep connection that makes the place so important in our lives.
It’s hard to imagine ever getting bored of going to Valley Parade. Matchdays are such an exciting moment in the week. The coming together of thousands of people across the local district, sharing a common desire of supporting Bradford City. A communal heritage, passed from older generations to their kids, and then to their kids.
Valley Parade is a place to go with your family, or your mates. It offers the opportunity to make new friends, too, with the people who sit near you. A Valley Parade crowd is a network of close relationships merging into others. With all of us sharing an enduring love of the club.
I’ll never forget my first visit to Valley Parade. Walking through the Kop turnstiles on the North West side, and surveying the scene from the back of the old terrace. The lush green pitch. The vast open space. The different stands packed with people. The stirring noise of chanting. The collective sense of anticipation. And the startling fact I’d only had to pay a fiver to get in. It was love at first sight. Taking in Valley Parade was the moment I instantly became a Bradford City supporter, hopelessly hooked forever.
It is an overwhelming experience that we’ve all been through. A gift, dangled in front of you that is irresistible to take. A new home where you feel welcome and included. A sense of purpose that comes with cheering on a football team with like-minded people.
I’ve seen so many great things at Valley Parade. Brilliant games of football. Dramatic goals. Thrilling victories. Wonderful players. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of extreme highs and lows. Your mood is so often likely to change over the course of the two hours spent inside Valley Parade. It can lead to despair, anger and frustration, but the buzz that comes from victory provides an extraordinary burst of warmth. A giddy level of gleefulness that few other things in life, if anything, are capable of giving you.
There is nothing like the satisfaction of walking out of Valley Parade feeling jubilant, knowing that the exhilaration will remain inside you for several days. Sharing that with other people brings us closer together. Makes it more worthwhile. Imagine following your football team by only ever watching it on TV by yourself? How hollow it must be.
We all have our own pre-match routines, which for many are an equally important part of the day. From waking up on a Saturday with a mixture of nerves and excitement. The journey to town. Meeting friends and family for lunch. A curry. A pint. Or several. The bustling North Parade scene. The Fighting Cock. The Beehive. And so many others.
I love the walk from the city centre to Valley Parade, especially if you set off after 2pm. The way the crowds of people grow in volume, the closer you get to the stadium. Snakes of people walking in small groups, chatting about the team news, the prospects for the 90 minutes ahead, or just laughing and joking. Everyone going in the same direction.
The first glimpse of the Valley Parade floodlights, above the nearby houses, never fails to stir the soul. Then you pass the badge stall just by the petrol garage. The programme sellers nearer the ground. Mike Harrison holding up the latest City Gent by the North West corner. All reassuringly familiar sights.
Through the turnstiles, into the concourse and then on to your seat. Your very own seat in your home. Many fans have kept the same season ticket seat for years and years. We each have our own slightly different view of the pitch. And quick as a flash you can recall City goals throughout the years, and how they appeared from the perspective of your own seat. How they made you feel.
Valley Parade is such a beautiful ground. Built, unusually midway up a hill, which means fans in the Midland Road stand climb up to their seats, and fans in the Main Stand lower climb down to theirs. Each stand is full of character in a way that newly built stadiums can never hope to match.
The old place reflects the up and down nature of Bradford City, and the volatility of the different levels the club has played at over the last 35 years, since it was rebuilt.
The Kop and Main Stand tower high into the sky, ensuring Valley Parade is a landmark that can be seen from miles away. The old terrace Kop was a thing of beauty – I really miss it – but the seated version is great too. There’s a real steepness to it. And its closeness to the pitch can make a full Kop seem as though the crowd is on top of the players. How many games, over the years, have City won in part because of the atmosphere from the Kop?
The Midland Road stand is more modest in comparison, although the view is brilliant. Constructed during the club’s mid-90s rise, the fact part of it hovers over the pavement and road behind is something really unusual.
The Bradford End was built in 1991, a time of low ambition. It looks comical compared to the towering Kop opposite, and its lack of facilities have meant the club has largely stopped using it for away fans. But in its own way, it adds to the charm of Valley Parade.
The main stand is a permanent reminder to the folly of overstretching. But since the Premier League years the rows and rows of empty seats in the upper tier are a marker of the club’s true potential. When the ground was packed out for those famous Parkinson Cup games, Valley Parade’s large capacity was justified. The ambition ultimately has to be to get the club to a level where 23,000+ crowds are a regularity.
I love the atmosphere when Valley Parade is rocking. The noise bounces around the ground, creating a wonderful backdrop to the action. The atmosphere is what makes live football so engaging. And when the mood is right, we produce something very special in our home. During the Parkinson years, Valley Parade was judged to be one of the best atmospheres in the country.
I love the mixture of a football crowd. The groups of young people , the multi generation families. To observe youngers fans queuing at half time for autographs from the City subs is to glimpse a world of supporting City without the cynicism the rest of us are saddled with. I’m always full of admiration for elderly fans who have been coming for decades. All the things they’ve seen. It’s something I want to replicate. To grow old, still coming to games with the same enthusiasm.
Of course Valley Parade has even deeper meaning for some. The fire tragedy of 1985 is something that brought a community together in sorrow. In the immediate aftermath, there was every possibility that City would never play at Valley Parade again. But fans campaigned hard for a return home. For supporters who were around then, there is an even stronger emotional bond to Valley Parade.
For everyone, going to Valley Parade is a way of life. One that we hugely miss right now. The emotional ups and downs of the team’s performances, but also the escapism that a couple of hours at Valley Parade offers. We miss sitting in our seats, seeing the people we go to games with, and all the others we encounter on a typical match day. We miss the spontaneous joy of a Bradford City goal. The roar of cheering a good tackle. Standing up in expectation when City win a corner in front of the Kop. The outrage that greets a poor referee decision.
We don’t know when we will be back. But when the day comes that City are playing in front of a crowd again, it will be emotional and joyous. To be inside Valley Parade – our home – will mean so much to so many.