By James Pieslak
Dear Bradford City,
From the moment I first stepped onto your old open-terraced Kop back in 1985, I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with you. Everything about you intoxicated me. Your ground, your noise, your smell, you had it all. I was in deep. My heart was marked from that day. City Till I Die.
This love affair has given me some truly amazing moments. You have provided some of my most cherished memories. Some of the highs are just wonderful. The very presence of Stuart McCall in midfield and John Hendrie on the wing. Spurs and Everton in the cup back in the 80s, Blackpool away, Notts County at Wembley, Nigel Pepper vs QPR, Blake and Mills, Wolves away, Chelsea, Villa, Arsenal, Burton, Leeds in the cup, The Pie song at Doncaster. The list is long. I smile when I jot them down. Happy times.
There have, of course, been less happy moments too. Ipswich at home, Boro in the play offs, John Docherty, that checkered home shirt, McCall and Hendrie leaving, administration, Kevin Gray on Gordon Watson, Adam Chicksen in the starting line up, Millwall in the play offs x 2, Edin Rahic. This list is also long.
No matter. I have still followed you come rain or shine. I knew I was born to do from that moment I first stood on your crumbling terrace, mesmerised by the Valley Parade pitch. I have made excuses and lied through my teeth to go watch you. I have travelled to the south coast to support you with the foulest of hangovers. I have sung your name wildly, embracing friends and family. I have hugged complete strangers because of your actions. I have felt tears of joy stain my cheeks.
I have risked physical injury from cantankerous opposition fans. I have proudly worn your colours around the world, trying to spread the word like some odd Bradford City-missionary. I have passed my love of you onto my kids. Even my wife has an extreme soft spot for you, and she comes from down south.
Lately though, you have become oh-so-difficult to love. In fact, you have become increasingly easy to dislike. Successive seasons of misery have really taken their toll on me. At first it was frustration. Then it was annoyance. Then sadness. Anger. Hurt. Helplessness. Shock. Horror. Rage. Right now, it’s a mixture of all these emotions laced with apathy. I keep missing matches. My lads have to be practically dragged to Valley Parade. They’re sick of you. I am too. I did not see things going this way just a few seasons ago when my boys wanted to spend every waking moment at Valley Parade.
Throughout my existence on this planet you have always been very central to my life, but right now I can feel that slipping away. Joy, pride, happiness, excitement – feelings I have associated with you for so long – feel so rare nowadays. I used to be held back from getting to Valley Parade to watch you, nowadays I slog along forlornly.
I have never felt so out of love with you.
I am not disloyal. I am not a fair-weather supporter. I am just tired of you giving me so little to enjoy and love. I am tired of seeing you show such a lack of direction, vision and purpose. Having three young boys means there are viable alternatives to watching you on a weekend, particularly when they are so reluctant to watch your latest demonstration of tepid dross.
It’s pretty heart breaking, actually.
In the film Love Actually, there is a peculiar gentleman who quietly obsesses over his friend’s wife. At one point he turns up at her place unannounced and holds up a board saying: ‘To me, you are perfect.’ Now, I know you are not perfect. I don’t particularly want you to be a global brand, a Man City or a Liverpool. I don’t expect you to be. I just want you to feel like Bradford City again. I just want you to give me some of those feelings that remind me of being a little lad stood holding his Dad’s hand on the Kop again. Joy, pride, happiness, excitement.
There will always be rough with the smooth with you, and that’s a huge part of the charm. If you were to suddenly turn into the Harlem Globetrotters of football my reaction would be to quietly fall off my seat in the Kop in shock. You normally do things the hard way, but at least you give off a semblance of purpose, drive and vision when you go about it. That redeeming quality is one of the things I love about you, but right now there is scant evidence of this on or off the pitch. Instead, it’s empty platitudes and marketing messages from a club that doesn’t seem to really get me or care about me anymore. Key figureheads seem almost hostile.
If I was the creepy chap with the signs in Love Actually I’d knock on your door, Bradford City, and I would hold up two boards. One would say ‘Stop being so bloody awful’. The other would say ‘I love you really.’ Maybe I’d have a third saying ‘No to checkered home shirts.’
So, Bradford City. Two things. Number one, can you please stop being so bloody awful and number two, can you give me a reason to really love you again? I know it won’t take much, but I could do with some help from you that’s all. I don’t think I’m alone.