By Alex Lester
Ever since 1999, when at the age of nine I accompanied my Grandad to my first ever match at Valley Parade, Bradford City has often been to blame for a number of contrasting emotions.
On that afternoon, City drew with a then bottom-of-the-table Oxford United side, a disappointing result that meant the team’s promotion bid would go down to the last game of the season – an away fixture at Wolverhampton Wanderers, a team that hadn’t suffered defeat in thirteen games.
The emotions felt that day at home to Oxford were a mixture of excitement and wonder, mixed-in with more than a hint of nervous energy. With my programme bought – containing a free poster of Jamie Lawrence no less – there I sat along the Midland Road, my journey with the City about to begin.
In the weeks, months and years that followed, every inch of the emotional spectrum was explored. From the joy of winning promotion to the despair at losing to Leeds United (twice in 1999/2000), each week brought with a new sensation – building to a crescendo of sheer relief upon the final whistle on May 14, 2000.
As a gentleman who’d witnessed City playing across all divisions, my Grandad was quick to tell me that following the Bantams wouldn’t always be like this – and boy was he right.
Miserably exceeding his own predictions, City’s demise since David Wetherall secured Premier League survival during the final game of the 1999/2000 season has been incredible.
Two bouts of administrations didn’t help – nor did a succession of woefully equipped managers, blundering their way from one transfer window to the next, with only the likes of Dean Windass, Danny Cadamarteri and, in more recent times, James Hanson providing fans with a reason to renew their season tickets.
Understandably, anger has therefore become a fairly staple emotion when dealing with Bradford City. From an ever-growing list, standout moments of fury include a 4-1 home defeat to a relegation-threatened MK Dons (February, 2005), Billy Clarke’s miss in the League One play off final and of course, most games from the 2018/19 season.
Superseding this feeling of anger throughout the years, however, has been an underlying love for all things Bradford City. As the family ties mentioned in this article suggest, the Bantams have been a feature in my household for as long I can remember – something I’m sure most fans reading this article can relate to.
Like most football fans across the world, one’s tie to one’s club is something that’s both immeasurably special, and immensely emotional. Which is why the anger felt towards Bradford City today, feels more heartbreaking than ever before.
Where once the tweets, screams and shouts were directed at those on the pitch, today it is those behind the scenes who bear the brunt of our wrath. Never during my time as a supporter has so much been criticised, pulled apart and scrutinised by the club’s fans – and the worst part is, it’s mostly justified.
Apace, the list of injustices post 2016 continues to grow. Duped by a German conman and his gullible ally, fans have seen Bradford City tumble from a Championship-chasing, profit-turning outfit, to that of a meme-feeding, League 2 relegation-facing joke.
Between losses and despair, lines from the club have been drip-fed to the fans – teasing that the end of the tunnel is now in sight.
Take Exhibit A, for example:
Once the bottom fell out of Rahic’s grand plan, Stefan Rupp kicked the PR spinathon off in December 2018, declaring that [the] ‘people of Bradford deserve better than Rahic’, before declaring he would continue to invest in the club he and his pal purchased two years prior.
Arriving just a few months before the announcement of the club’s ‘Our City’ season ticket marketing campaign, Rupp’s words did manage to raise some belief, as evidenced the fact that 12,000 fans – myself included – had renewed their season tickets by April 2019.
Hopes raised, 2019 started well enough, with City establishing themselves as a play off contender by the start of December. One month later however, and reality once again bit, hard.
Having loaned-out a big-earing Eoin Doyle to fellow promotion contenders Swindon, City allowed top scorer James Vaughan to leave for Tranmere Rovers before replacing him with Kurtis Guthrie of bottom-of-the-league Stevenage, and an aging Lee Novak.
Soon after, Gary Bowyer was swiftly replaced by Stuart McCall as manager and in the summer that followed, Rupp’s seeming lack of interest – especially in areas relating to player scouting and recruitment – became more apparent than ever.
Across the Twittersphere, City’s recruitment policy was laid bare for all to see, with a number of fans questioning the re-signing of Dylan Mottley-Henry and Billy Clarke, while James Vaughan’s departure left fans feeling anxious as to where the team’s goals would come from.
Sensing the unrest, the club chose to relentlessly press the issue of the pending ‘salary cap’ as a reason to justify its frugal activity in the market, redirecting some of the anger away from the boardroom and towards the EFL.
In the days and weeks that followed, City announced contract extensions for Clayton Donaldson and Richard O’Donnell, while down the road, Antoni Sarcevic, Eoin Doyle, Ian Henderson and James Wilson were unveiled by Bolton and Salford respectively. Once again, City fans were left to eat the dust of their divisional rivals, with a mid-table finish now viewed by most as a best-case scenario for the 2020/21 season.
All the while, the PR cogs within Valley Parade continue to turn. Replacing the underexposed, dimly lit ‘Our City’ campaign, ‘City for All’ failed to match its predecessors figures despite matching it’s equally weak production value, with many fearing season ticket sales would have fallen below the 10,0000 mark irrespective of the global pandemic.
Growing ambivalent at best, fans like John Wade are turning their back on the club, and who could really blame them?
Time after time many City fans feel as though they have been trampled on, lied to and conned.
For too long now, Bradford City’s loyal, loving fanbase feels as though it has been taken for a ride. Families across the region are suffering not because they want a return to the Premier League years, but because they no longer feel the same affinity with the club they grew up loving.
Calls for better communication are pointless – offering the club more airtime could well lead to a further feeling of deception, greater anger and more ambivalence amongst the fans. Instead, I’d like to see calls for a greater emphasis on recruitment evidenced by intelligent signings – starting this January.
Positive action, rather than cheap, tacky words. A win or two might be nice too.
Last week, Peterborough Owner Darragh MacAnthony stated that he believed his approach could see a club like Bradford back at the top of League 1 and that if new owners can’t be found sooner rather than later, a fan-ownership model could pay dividends instead.
Whatever you think of Posh’s controversial owner, his words offer some food for thought.
Rupp was right in 2018 when he said we deserve much better. Two years later, and he’s proved himself unable to deliver anything but further failure so far. If things are going to change – if ever we’re to feel love not just for our team, but for our club – it needs to happen from the top down.