By Jason McKeown
This is a big season for Bradford City. Four years on from the gut-wrenching agony of losing the League One play off final to Millwall, the club’s painful decline must finally start to be reversed. The Bantams came so close to Championship football but have since fallen back to the depths of the struggles before Phil Parkinson. Almost as though those glorious years of 2012-17 were for nothing.
The push back has to begin now.
This is big season for Bradford City. Mistakes of the recent past are well documented. But this summer, it feels as though a genuine plan has emerged – and that the club is operating in a more focused, professional and thoughtful manner. It’s a plan that encourages supporter engagement and buy-in. I met up with CEO Ryan Sparks with about three games to go of last season, and it was obvious then that he couldn’t wait for the 2020/21 campaign to be over so he could get on with ramping up his strategy.
The club was ready and has shown that.
This is a big season for Bradford City. They came up badly short, again, in 2020/21. The response has been to recruit the best manager in League Two last season. Derek Adams is a proven promotion winner who has delivered success at every club he has managed. He has a clear, methodical way of doing things – with a string of promotion winning medals to back it up.
For a club that has gone changed managers six times in the last four seasons, this time we really have to hope they’ve chosen wisely.
This is a big season for Bradford City. The recruitment activity has been front-footed and with a sense of urgency. Many of the new faces don’t cause pulses to race – but do offer plenty to intrigue. A year ago, City were floundering after James Vaughan could not be persuaded to stay and the hunt from a replacement became desperate and ultimately flawed. There has been a calmness about the club’s transfer activity this time – not prompting huge headlines, but not causing great anxiety either.
With the bulk of the squad in place before pre-season even began, the hope has to be that pre-season bonding will have proven deep and meaningful. That something special is brewing.
This is a big season for Bradford City. They prepare to welcome supporters back, after we’ve 18 months following the club through the lens of ifollow and the divisive battleground of social media. As the pandemic gave us an almighty distraction, it became difficult at times to remember why we love this club so much. More than 12,000 of us have given the club a vote of confidence by buying up season tickets.
As Valley Parade prepares to reverberate to the sound of football chanting once again, you hope the players and managers can provide reasons to cheer and demonstrate that it has been worth the long wait.
This is a big season for Bradford City. Supporters return to a stadium that has undergone significant tender loving care, as energy and focus has gone on improving the matchday experience – addressing the slow decline that has hindered many parts of the famous old ground. It helps make fans feel more valued, knowing the club recognises there’s more to all of this than ploughing all the resources into a playing budget.
That moment when the players take to the field at home to Oldham – the first home game back – could be one of the most memorable moments in the long history of Valley Parade.
This is a big season for Bradford City. The sporting of a white home kit with claret and amber trim will take some getting used to, but it embodies much of what is good about the club’s renewed way of going about things. Change, but with a purpose behind it. A reconnection with the club’s identity. A moment to use past glories as inspiration to create a new chapter of success.
Compare this season’s kit to the wretched 2018/19 relegation shirt, where City moved away from their own colours for no obvious reason. At the time it only added to the grim realisation that those running the club had broken Bradford City away from its roots and values.
This is a big season for Bradford City. They will kick off with a wave of positivity and warm sentiment, but it is also a point where further failure will be difficult to tolerate. If it goes wrong once again, what on earth would the plan be after that?
We’ve had days and weeks and months and more than a year all separated from each other. The Bradford City community fragmented. Battling to get through the huge challenges of lockdown. Looking after ourselves and each other against a deadly pandemic that hit Bradford as hard as any part of the country. We’ve had to deal with job insecurity, furlough pay, losing jobs, not being able to get a job, worrying about paying our bills, battling to keep a roof over our heads, struggling with a soaring mental health crisis, worrying about an incredibly uncertain future.
When we wanted to turn to our escapisms, our hobbies, what could our beloved Bradford City offer to us? A 2019/20 season that ended abruptly, the mood of the fanbase struggling to get over a dismal defeat to Salford that had all but spelled the end of fading promotion hopes. Endlessly replaying old Bradford City matches on YouTube. Unresolvable arguments on Twitter about Stefan Rupp, Julian Rhodes, Stuart McCall and others. And then an entire 2020/21 season watched online, where positive relief was in short supply.
No going down to Valley Parade with friends and family. No walk down Thorncliffe Road. No passing through the turnstiles. No gazing at the (occasionally) green turf. No seeing players new and familiar live in the flesh. No bumping into mates on the Kop. No chanting City ‘til I Die. No chuckling at Charlie’s latest outbursts. No high-fiving Billy Bantam. No losing your mind cheering a Bradford City goal. No warm feelings of joy going home after watching a brilliant Bantams win.
Just a Bradford City void. One that we had no idea if it would ever end.
This is a big season for Bradford City. As live football returns and we embrace once more something we had taken for granted, the rewards of getting it right this season – of all seasons – are absolutely huge. For all we have endured since 2017, and for all we have missed during the pandemic, this is a season where we need Bradford City to once again become a club we can be proud of.
Categories: Season Preview