The 2020/21 Bradford City season preview #1 – managing the disconnect

Image by John Dewhirst

By Jason Mckeown

The eve of a brand new football season is usually one of giddy excitement. But as the 2020/21 campaign gets underway this Saturday, it’s hard to muster great enthusiasm for the return of Bradford City.

Partly it is due to the hangover of two-and-a-half years of struggle at Valley Parade. It’s still difficult to come to terms with the self-inflicted demise on the field. The throwing away of all the good work of 2012-2017. One season slumming it in the basement league might have been tolerated, but like a car stuck in the mud it’s proving more difficult than hoped to escape.

Another year of trips to Newport, Salford and Morecambe, with the mental scars of 2019/20 illustrating we could be here for some time yet. The unexpected emergency braking to last season has left many City supporters in an angry, post Salford stew. There is no momentum taking us into a new campaign.

But the lack of eagerness for 2020/21 to commence stems even more from the prevalent uncertainty of when we supporters will get to be a part of it.

City kick off the season at Bolton on Saturday in the League Cup, the sort of fixture that would typically attract a Bantams away following of 3,000 plus. The weekend after, Colchester visit Valley Parade for an occasion that would usually see a bumper home crowd. But there will be no fans at Bolton, or at Valley Parade. Hopefully by October that will begin to change with limited crowds allowed back in, but even that will be a shadow of the Bradford City matchday experience we know and love.

City will initially be restricted to having 7,000 crowds. Nowhere near enough to satisfy demand during usual times. It means we are likely to have to rotate the home games we attend, whilst watching others on ifollow at home. The club deserves great credit for keeping season tickets affordable and providing streaming access to home games – £150 for all that is truly a bargain – but it will not be the Bradford City experience we know and love.

The great thing about supporting a club like Bradford City is how accessible it usually is. To those of us with season tickets year after year, the ups and downs of the Bantams are largely witnessed first hand. The opinions and memories we have of players are gleaned live and in the flesh. It is not like being a Premier League armchair fan, where you rely on TV and radio to follow your team.

There will hopefully be lots of brilliant Bradford City moments this season. Great victories that lead to success in the shape of promotion. But all us are going to miss out from witnessing some – or maybe even all – of those occasions with our own eyes. Switching off your tablet at full time after a City win won’t quite give you the same buzz as you get from walking out of Valley Parade in triumph.

And even when we are present to witness a brilliant City occasion, the safety first, Covid-19 environment will mean it isn’t the same. You won’t be able to sit with your mates. In your usual seat. There will be no chanting allowed. It will be a shadow of how good a loud and vocal Valley Parade matchday experience can be. There also won’t be any away trips to look forward to – possibly for the entire season.

On Tuesday 1 December, Cheltenham Town are due at Valley Parade. It will be cold and dark. And if City aren’t doing that well in the league, what sort of crowd will show up? With the game available to stream live from the comfort of your own home, suddenly the endurance part of live football will seem less rewarding.

Hopefully, the different stages of returning back to normality will go smoothly and quickly. 7,000 gatherings for the visit of Harrogate Town in early October. 50% crowds by early in 2021. Maybe even full capacity by the end of the campaign. If a Covid-19 vaccine can be developed and rolled out, the landscape could look very different by next Spring. An away trip to Morecambe to witness promotion on the final day would do just nicely.

As disappointing as it all feels about not properly attending games for the moment, it is still better than nothing. That first step back inside Valley Parade will feel special after such a long gap. And as much as we have to compromise, Covid-19 continues to cruelly illustrate there are more important issues in the world. And that we should be grateful for what we can have.

But for City’s sake, you have to hope it’s a short-term existence. Financially, the club will struggle without full capacity crowds and all the revenue a regular Bradford City matchday brings in. There is also a battle to keep supporters engaged. So that, when normality finally returns, the appetite to go to games is still there.

Because there is no getting away from the fact we are bound to experience a feeling disconnect the coming months. A sadness that our football club is less accessible. Moving on without us. The March 2020 lockdown that halted the Bantams’ 2019/20 campaign ensured that we didn’t miss a thing. That things didn’t progress without us (however much it might have been nice if it has carried on with us locked out, given some of the dismal performances after November). But when the referee blows his whistle for kick off at Bolton on Saturday, that will no longer be the case. Bradford City will be playing and making new history. But we can’t go and watch them do it.

The brilliant Rory Smith of the New York Times wrote a superb piece the other week about how football has continued to move forward with the same meaning, intensity and relevance – even without fans in the stands to provide the noise. That players, managers and coaching staff have been just as driven to succeed as they always have. And that it’s meant just as much to them when they have triumphed.

Smith wrote, “That is because, deep down, there is a lie that we tell ourselves, one that players and managers and executives are complicit in. It is a harmless lie, a comforting lie, a kind lie, one that we tell ourselves to excuse and to explain our passion, to transform our powerlessness into agency, to make us feel as if our love is reciprocated. It may be a lie that contains a form of truth. It is almost certainly a lie that those who perpetuate it do not know it to be a lie.

“It is that they play for the fans, for us — that we are not merely observers of the events that play out on the field, but the purpose and inspiration for them. And yet if these last few months have shown anything, it is that is not true.”

Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus last week, Kurtis Guthrie echoed this idea, “It’s nice to have the fans there for obvious reasons but you’ve got to get past that, be professional and do your job…it doesn’t bother me too much.”

Football – and Bradford City – is about to go on without us. And though many of us will still watch every piece of action we can through our screens, it is hard to feel the same sense of excitement and meaning as you get from travelling to BD8 or around the country.

To lose out on pre match beers and post match curries and banter with City-supporting friends and walks down Midland Road and barracking the referee and leaping out of your seat to cheer a goal and the roar of the Kop and the communal feeling.

This is going to be a strange season. Normally, a summer break of three months is enough to get you excited again for the return of football. But the worry about Covid-19 and the long term health of Bradford City is that the absence of regular, full-throttle matchdays will go on and on. To the point where we start to forget about all those things that we love about going to the football – and no longer miss going to Valley Parade on a Saturday afternoon.

Categories: Opinion, Season Preview


7 replies

  1. The analogy of a car stuck in the mud hit home with me. The club is in danger of staying in that rut after been driven in there by Mr’IKF’. We must not let the grass start to grow over the wheels or let parts be stolen or taken. It needs pulling out for restoring, new parts adding, a bare metal respray, not a cheap blow over and bit of t-cut. Stefan Rupp is a Petrol Head so he understands that get the right performance from his racing car he needs to invest in new parts, developments and regular maintenance. It’s the same with his football team.

    The club in the past has been given a new set of cheap set of bargain alloy wheels, a bit of a polish and a cheap oil change each season, but the rot is still there and the gearbox is rumbling. Given that this season is going to be like no other both on the pitch and financially I worry that when the gearbox goes, or the suspension fails we will be pushed back into the ditch and left to slowly rot.

  2. As someone with an ifollow pass for the last two seasons – I no longer live in Yorkshire – I can also tell you that it is far easier to give up on a game at Hal time when we are playing poorly, little chance of pulling it back and sometimes dreadful radio Leeds commentary. It is so easy to switch over to a movie, help out around the house or play with the kids. Whereas when in the stadium you have more of a commitment to the game. Unfortunately it does disenfranchise further.

  3. A very timely article to try to stimulate some excitement about the forthcoming season, thank you Jason.
    Firstly, above all else, the current pandemic that surrounds our lives is more important than football. We are all directly or indirectly affected by the coronavirus.
    From a personal viewpoint, I haven’t watched a full game of football since the debacle at Salford City on 07 March. This means that I haven’t watched a live game on television during the lockdown period. The most that I have witnessed is large proportion of the re-run of the World Cup semi-final between England and Germany. For me, going to a live game is a far better experience than watching a game on television. I’ve renewed my season ticket, but I don’t know if I will watch our games on iFollow when it’s my turn not to be at Valley Parade.
    Indeed, I’ve read more football material, including the latest City Gent, The Bottom Corner by Nige Tassell and Barcelona to Buckie Thistle by Mat Guy, than watched football on television during the past few months.
    I’ve missed meeting up with friends for pre and post-game beers whilst discussing all things Bradford City.
    Part of football is about dreams and wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could be celebrating promotion in Morecambe in May 2021?
    Remember, you don’t always appreciate what you have until it’s gone. Let’s hope that we can attend games soon and in a safe environment.

  4. Thank you Jason for an excellent article. I am very sad because I fear that we shall never visit valley parade again.
    We cannot at our age risk going into crowds and I think this season will be a write off as far as watching is concerned.
    I love city. Always have done and ending watching them will hurt.
    I shall continue to follow and support.
    I trust in mccall and wish all of you well
    Please Jason keep up your good work.
    Thank you city..

  5. I have agonized for weeks but in the end decided NOT to buy a season ticket this campaign.
    The first time in 50 odd seasons I am not planning to watch Bradford City.
    Covid and the restrictions has played it’s part in this decision but maybe football has changed
    , maybe I have, or maybe it’s a bit of both.
    Watching the PL games on tv put the tin lid on it.
    They were boring!.
    When a team like Man City can toy with the likes of Bournemouth or Norwich, have 80% of the play and win 1-0 is not entertainment.
    At our level it is rare now to see an entertaining game.
    What happened to the 3-2 or 4-3 games?
    We are lucky to see a 1-0.
    I might come back at some point when Covid has hopefully gone but for now, No.
    I am having a break

  6. First time in years me the wife and eldest won’t be at VP. A mixture of covid apathy damage from the Rahic era Lack of belief in the Current board and haven’t seen any tangible sign of attempt to drives the club forwards. Won’t be there this season. Scared I’m not going to miss it.
    Don’t particularly go to city to watch great footy particularly in the last couple of seasons but to engage with my mates and the banter that Is sitting together in the kop. As this is being dismantled under the current rules this season is a miss for me. I hope they do well but my appetite for city is dulled.

  7. MK.
    You have put in words my own thoughts more accurately than I did.
    But mine is a wider apathy encompassing the whole game.
    The PL is so far removed from the other divisions now that I expect City will never get back there but would we want to do?
    Quite frankly although the PL players are super skilful and complete athletes the games are boring and predictable.
    I was disappointed during the summer to see the way Covids impact on the game was played out.
    Each division decided their own fate.
    I always thought that English football was four divisions (even allowing for the PL being disdaneful of the lower leagues).
    To my mind there should have been no promotions or relegations. The season for all should have been concluded when Covid hit.
    That the Championship were allowed to continue whilst others did not showed the league system up for what it is.
    As I said I am takling time out for now.

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