By Paul Askham
A couple of days ago I was listening to the latest WOAP podcast and the topic of lockdown football struck a chord with me. In the backdrop of what at times has felt to be an apocalyptic global pandemic, I’ve actually been quite surprised how much I have enjoyed watching City on iFollow this year.
It’s nothing like going to a game, but it’s absolutely scratched the itch for me. Myself and my fellow season-ticket holders have been setting up concurrent Zoom meetings, synchronising the match clock and watching games together, which has helped maintain a social side to matchdays. Beer acquired from fridge, match notifications turned off, phone cast aside, “I’ve paused it on 1 minute 27 seconds, let me know when you catch up mate…”.
Just after the turn of the year I contracted Covid, around the same time as my 72-year-old Dad had his first vaccination jab. I recovered fine, and as my Dad’s first jab made it to 3-week maturity we slightly relaxed the stringency of our support-bubble owing to my antibodies and his vaccination taking hold. Whereas before I had been briefly popping in and out in my mask to walk his dog, I have now been spending a little bit of social time at my parents’ house. Since then he’s been watching home games on Mum’s iPad using a mate’s untapped iFollow login, whilst I get on with my usual Zoom watch-along.
Ever the frugal Yorkshiremen though, we’ve been watching away games together to maximise the value of the £10 outlay.
This has led to us watching City together properly for the first time in my 36 years. It only occurred to us recently that between us we have been season-ticket holders for 50 out of the last 60 years, but we have never done the “Dad & Lad” days for which many has been a rite of passage.
I can think of four games we’ve watched on telly together. Huddersfield away in ’96 when Waddle scored from a corner, half of the QPR game at the end of that season as we were returning home from watching the Bulls in the Challenge Cup final, some god-awful 0-0 against Port Vale or someone like that a few years back, and the Reading replay in the FA Cup.
Dad followed City home and away from the late-50s right through to the mid-80s. He played for the Supporters’ Club and from what I understand he helped organise fundraisers in the Jack Tordoff/ Stafford Heginbotham days. He still has some strong views on our honorary life-president and perennial shirt-sponsors, based on the purchase of a dodgy motor back in JCT’s early days. When you get him onto that subject and he talks about kicking off in the middle of their one and only showroom at the time, you’d think it had happened yesterday such is his ire.
Two significant events happened in the mid-80s. In reverse-order in respect of importance, the first was my arrival on New Year’s Eve 1984, which after our recent good run I recently discovered was the last time we strung more than five wins on the bounce together.
The second, far more significant event, was the fire in May 1985. Dad had watched pretty much every home game from the Main Stand that season, but as the league title had already been secured and there was effectively nothing to play for, he opted to play cricket instead that day. On the face of it I find the cold common-sense approach of that choice baffling as in a similar position I’d be in superfan-mode soaking it all in, but what a decision it proved to be.
He went to a few games at Odsal, but by his own admission he totally lost interest in going to Valley Parade after that day, and on the handful of occasions he’s been back he says he hasn’t felt comfortable.
Fast forward 10 years we were living in a pub in Brighouse and the 10-year-old me had become a Manchester United fan, obsessed with my sticker-book, Eric Cantona and Andrei Kanchelskis. Dad still followed City, but it was restricted to 50-word write-ups in the Sunday paper and seeing the goals on Look North. He quite rightly voiced his disdain for his son supporting a Lancastrian side, but never tried to push the Bradford envelope. City talk was confined to me feigning disgust at his keyring and array of City Gent polo shirts.
All changed in 1996 when he took me to Wembley. On first arrival I was gawping at the Euro ’96 posters in the concourse, then on getting to our seats I was more bothered about working out where the television cameras were so I could suss out at which end Cantona had scored his FA Cup Final winner against Liverpool a fortnight before.
As the ground started filling up around me I became aware to what extent we were outnumbering the Notts County fans. Des Hamilton scored his goal early-doors and my City transition was well underway. I’m always a little underwhelmed when I see that goal back, as in my head I picture him stumbling for 20 yards before unleashing a 30-yard screamer. It wasn’t quite as glorious as that, but it was enough to set me on the right path.
I spent the next couple of years in limbo living in deepest, darkest HD6 surrounded by Huddersfield fans at high-school. My interest in City was taking precedent over Man United, but I wasn’t old enough to go to Valley Parade on my own. Finally in September 1998 I managed to talk my parents round, and me and my mate Ben were allowed to attend our first Geoffrey Richmond “quid-a-kid” game against Barnsley.
After an in-depth chat about how we needed to resist getting off the 626 bus to Shipley as it passed through the Interchange (“stay on, and get off when all the other fans do”), we were on our way. Ashley Ward scored the first goal we ever witnessed at Valley Parade, but Gordon Watson came off the bench to score two right in front of us (grainy image below). The significance of those goals wasn’t lost on us after 12 months of Town fans baiting us singing songs about Kevin Gray.
At this point my transition from Man United to City fan was complete, barring being disproportionally overawed by witnessing Gary Walsh and Lee Sharpe in Claret & Amber. I’ve been a Season Ticket holder since then and still make it to a decent chunk of the away games.
City is my main topic of conversation with my Dad. It always has been, as it’s my main interest and I haven’t a vast amount to say for myself besides! His main “Dad joke” comes when we avoid defeat, when he talks about the points gained as though they’re physical items which need careful transportation. Without fail he asks if I managed to carry them back down Manningham Lane without dropping any, or if there was enough room in the back of the car to transport them back from an away ground.
I’m abundantly aware Peter Kay doesn’t need to be watching his back, but Dad jokes aren’t meant to be amazing and it’s been our thing for 20 years now. If anything, the absurdity has been dialled up in the last few weeks with the recent abundance of points and bad weather. Before the recent mini-slump we were discussing the ambience at which points would be best stored and whether we need to be building a racking-system for them in the garage. At least 1 point from a possible 9 has saved us a trip to B&Q on pensioner-discount day for some lengths of wood and a dehumidifier.
One thing you can easily gauge with my father is his contentment level by the level of nonsense he talks. Bradford City doing well evidently still makes him happy.
The last team he knew the individual traits of first-hand contained Jackson, McCall, Abbott, Hendrie and Campbell. For the first time in nearly 40-years he now knows for himself who’s who in the squad, rather than what I relay to him from my beer-addled memories of the day before. The iFollow option has been great and it’s highlighted the importance of it continuing in some form beyond this season. He nearly leapt out of his chair when Danny Rowe scored against Bolton, and he was more gutted than I was the day after the Newport game.
There are obviously issues around match-streaming affecting footfall in stadiums once they are open again, but as well as young parents and those who live miles away from Bradford, there must be a significant number of people who’d benefit from “Blue Badge” iFollow season tickets in the future.
Stadiums reopening will be brilliant for me as being young(ish) and able-bodied I’ll be at Guiseley pre-season and attend as many games as I can thereafter. But I know for a fact that, if there wasn’t a streaming option, it would leave a gap in a certain septuagenarian’s week if his City-supporting renaissance was curtailed.