By Nikhil Vekaria
In my nearly two decades of following City, I’ve been lucky enough to experience some special games.
There was the cold January night in Birmingham, where a James Hanson header sent Phil Parkinson’s League Two side to a major cup final at Wembley. The final itself brought painful moments on the pitch, but nobody could forget the pride of watching City walk out on that hallowed turf in a major cup final.
Two other trips to the home of football have followed since including the stunning win in the League Two Play-Off final against Northampton Town, the only time I’ve ever seen us promoted in my time following the club.
On top of those days at Wembley, there’s been the come from behind FA Cup win at Premier League champions-elect Chelsea, which preceded City playing Premier League Sunderland off the park in the fifth round.
Add to that two superb home cup wins against Arsenal and Leeds, thrilling late charges to the play-offs, two successful play-off semi-finals and some superb league wins over the years and it’s easy to argue that I’ve had times following City that fans of other lower league clubs could only dream of.
It could be considered strange then, that a trip to Scunthorpe in November 2015, finds itself nestled alongside these games as one of my very favourites of all time.
As an away day in its ‘purest’ form, I’d personally class Scunthorpe as pretty much bang average. A decent enough away end, usually a decent atmosphere and in fairness, quite frequently a clash between two sides who have found themselves competing directly with each other towards the top end of League One in recent seasons.
However, it is at best an inconvenient place to get to on public transport from West Yorkshire, especially considering it’s not actually that far away in mileage terms. Add to this a lack of decent pubs and the fact that City have visited frequently in recent years and the thought of another trip to Glanford Park hardly jumps out of the fixture list.
However, City started the 2015/16 season well and going into the game, lay just outside the play-offs. Despite flirting with the top six since being promoted back to League One, the start of the campaign had a slightly different feel to it, with a real sense among the Bantams faithful that the side were seriously capable of competing at the top end of the division.
In the September of that year, I had moved to Sheffield to start university and having been placed into a flat of 10, immediately found that football was a shared love between myself and three of the lads I was living with.
As the game approached, I arranged to go with a mate of mine who supported City and had also just moved to Sheffield for university. I then mentioned the game to the lads I lived with and having heard me regularly go on and on about City in the few months they’d spent living with me, two of them were free and decided to come along to Scunthorpe to find out what all the fuss was about.
We boarded a direct train from Sheffield with a couple of beers each at around 10.30am, arriving into Scunthorpe just before half 11. We then headed to the pub near the ground, which was by this point, heaving with City fans.
After a few drinks before kick-off, we headed into a buzzing away end and watched as a strong City side won 2-0 in relatively comfortable fashion, the second a superb team goal which was finished off by left-back Greg Leigh.
As we boarded a packed train back to Sheffield after full-time, City had gone level on points with sixth-placed Bury and were only out of the play-offs on goal difference, whilst the result had also included a small slice of club history, as Ben Williams kept a sixth consecutive league clean sheet. Phil Parkinson’s men would go on to reach the League One play-offs that season, before losing out to Millwall in the semi-finals.
Despite still having a season ticket, I hadn’t seen City play much at all since making the move to university and I think this certainly contributes to why the game ranks so highly amongst my favourite days following the club. Going from seeing us week in week out to missing large chunks of games had been a huge change for me and it felt good to be back at a game, especially as we played so well against another decent side.
However, the reason that my third league trip to Scunthorpe ranks so highly among more prestigious wins, is because it gave me the opportunity to share my love of following City with others. I think it can sometimes be hard to understand the appeal of following a lower league, or generally ‘unsuccessful’ team. The football is often poor, successes can be few and far between and even good seasons, which 2015-16 turned out to be, more often than not end in heartbreak.
But anyone who has followed any club at any level will tell you it’s not really about success at all. It’s about getting on that train to an away game and nodding at the familiar face whose name you don’t know but see going everywhere. It’s walking into a pub and not knowing anyone but knowing that they feel so deeply connected to the exact same thing as you. It’s the feeling of the ball hitting the back of the net, so special whether at Wembley or Wigan.
City played well that day at Scunthorpe and Greg Leigh’s goal is still one of my favourites in recent years. Scunthorpe away in League One doesn’t rank amongst all those great days due to the performance though. It ranks amongst them because it gave me the opportunity to share my passion with new friends and allowed me to give them an insight into why following a lower league football club is so special. And they loved it.
Do you have a favourite Bradford City game you’d love to write about? Get in touch.