By Jason McKeown
Where would we be without our match-going mates? Whether it’s long standing friends, family members like your dad or sister, or people you’ve met through following the club, companionship is a huge part of the pleasure that comes from supporting Bradford City.
Bradford City is not a club blessed with huge numbers of support. As we go about our regular lives on a Monday to Friday, the chances are you’ll speak to more fans of Premier League clubs than City. But on Saturdays on a matchday, there’s a moment we jump in a car to meet, or knock on the door to call for, fellow City fans to share the day with. The outside world is put to one side. A bubble forms around you, decorated in the colours of claret and amber. A shared passion and affection. We each get it.
Many of these relationships and traditions of going to watch City together go back years. We’ve got older together, gone through ups and downs in our lives. But sharing the experience of going to Valley Parade has been the cornerstone of our friendship.
Our personal perspectives of the ups and downs of supporting Bradford City are enhanced by the friends and family we experience them with. That amazing cup win. A promotion. Such moments are remembered fondly not just for the goals and full time celebrations, but how we travelled to and from the game with our mates. The pre and post match pints. The way we jumped on and hugged each other.
Football supporting is about more than just 90 minutes, and our mates help to give it all that greater sense of purpose. The long hours journeying to away games would be much duller on our own – the chances are we wouldn’t even bother going. The in-depth conversations we share about everything Bradford City help to fuel your passion, because you’ve got someone who cares as much as you do.
I always think there’s a greater level of depth to the relationships you have with the people you go to watch City with. Together, you go through a volatile range of emotions depending on how City get on, and you have to learn to share these feelings outwardly with each other.
The giddy excitement of a brilliant win, but the melancholy of a terrible defeat. The pride of success. The anger of failure. There is such a rawness to football emotions, and they’d be more difficult to savour or get over if you were on your own. Or if, at full time, you instantly returned to an environment of people who don’t care about Bradford City like you do.
The journey home or after match pint with your City companions can be a mini party or valuable group therapy session. And in those moments, you’re really grateful of being there for each other.
You don’t really get that with other friendships. You might break down and share bad times in life with your closest friends and family, but more often we put on a front to the rest of the world. We don’t sulk or sing in front of each other. But with your City supporting mates, that kind of behaviour is encouraged. We all feel the same way – happy or sad – and create a safe space for us each to revel in.
These friendships also make the unbearable bearable. Lift your spirits when things are really bad for City. I remember with great fondness the Thursday night trip to Blackburn in April 2018. We were going through a terrible patch under Simon Grayson. We lost 2-0 at Ewood. We were absolutely terrible. But the gallows humour amongst the group of mates I was with that night made sure that we at least still had a right laugh.
With your City supporting mates, there’s no laboured small talk. No uncomfortable silences. You’ve got a depth of City topics to talk about – how useless player x is, who the manager should select, what the chances are of winning today. And then there’s diving deep into a shared Bradford City history. Memorable games experienced together. Players who meant a lot. Old debates like the nearly season of ’88, Geoffrey Richmond’s tenure, the sacking of Colin Todd. Travel and booze mishaps from away trips of the past.
And you’ll have your own collection of stories of City moments shared together. The time we were all screaming in unison at Kyel Reid to pass the f**king ball, only for him to stick one in the top corner and we all jumped on each other in joyous disbelief. The time one of our lot declared there was no chance Mark Yeates could score a free kick from that far out, but then he did. The time one of us went on a massive post match rant about how terrible we were and why our season was falling apart, only to end the angry monologue predicting a 3-0 City win against the league leaders the following week. You and your mates probably have your own set of mini City stories that aren’t funny to anyone but those within your group.
For family members who share a devotion for the Bantams, it must provide an extra layer to their relationships. There aren’t many, if any, activities that parents and their offspring can keep sharing from childhood to being adults.
Normally, younger generations will drift away from enjoying what their parents do, and spend less time with them. But Bradford City can act as an anchor that keeps family members close no matter what else is happening in each other’s lives. If you go to City with your parents or your kids, imagine how different those relationships would look without the mutual love of the club?
Even with just regular City supporting friends, the depth of the shared connection helps it to endure. We all have friends who have drifted in and out of lives. People who we once spent a huge amount of time with, but for a variety of reasons have drifted apart from. It’s less likely with City supporting mates, because you’ve got this shared passion to enjoy. And even if you can’t go to the games anymore with them for whatever reason, that friendship is still there to be picked up again.
Right now, with the country slowly moving out of lockdown, our friendships with our match-going friends and family have been put on hold. The chances are you’ve not seen your match day companions in person since the season was curtailed in March. And it leaves a big hole that no amount of zoom calls and WhatsApp group chats can fill.
But eventually, when normality returns, matchday routines can recommence. We can sit together inside Valley Parade with our friends and family again. Cheering and despairing together. Reveling in the company of people who make supporting Bradford City more meaningful.