By Jason McKeown
It begins in BD8. Bradford City will kick off the 2022/23 season with a visit from Doncaster Rovers and what will no doubt be a bumper crowd. The Yorkshire Derby will be a huge event that will hopefully set the tone for a huge Bradford City season.
Between now and then, expect to hear lots of talk about who most deserves away tickets, as the Bantams prepare for August trips to Northern clubs with tiny away allocations – Barrow and Hartlepool.
It’s back up to Carlisle on Boxing Day, and Harrogate Town are scheduled to visit Valley Parade over the Christmas period for the second season in a row. Get ready for an Edgley Park open away end soaking in January. A Valentine’s Day Tuesday evening home game against Tranmere. A Good Friday tussle at Wagmi United’s Crawley Town. The curtain coming down with a home game against Leyton Orient.
Fixture release day is always an exciting affair. A huge, tangible step forward to the next season. Our calendars are suddenly filled with important dates for which to try and avoid social clashes. That mate who has a wedding booked on a Saturday next April, sorry but we can’t make it. You see, it’s Rochdale away…
This year’s fixture schedule takes a slightly unusual twist with the looming presence of the Qatar World Cup. The Premier League and Championship have both had to arrange a pause to their calendars for a five-week period, starting in late November. Leagues One and Two will carry on when the World Cup takes place, offering some potential club vs country clashes.
For Bradford City, it’s not too bad. The World Cup kicks off on Monday 21 November, with England vs Iran that first evening. City are in action two days earlier on Saturday 19 November, with a visit from Northampton.
The weekend after is the FA Cup second round, so who knows if City will be playing. On the Friday night of that weekend, England play the USA and no club is going to schedule their FA Cup fixture for the same evening to compete with that.
City’s next league match is away to Leyton Orient on Saturday 3 December – the day the round of 16 matches are due to start. So there’s a chance this could clash with an England fixture, but City will be relieved they’re not at home with the risk of losing income. Similarly, the Saturday after, when the quarter finals are due to finish, City have a long away trip to Gillingham. They’re at home to Rochdale on Saturday 17 December, when the 3rd/4th play off game is due to take place.
It’s fair to say that City probably won’t take huge away followings to Leyton Orient and Gillingham if England are doing well, but that’s not the end of the world. They were never going to get huge City visiting support for such long distance trips just before Christmas.
Nevertheless, it is bound to feel a little bit strange when the tournament comes around. World Cups are meant to be played in the summer, when club football has come to a complete stop and we can all collectively watch it. It’s supposed to be a festival of football that everyone is a part of.
Still, it is what it is, and the bigger issue is why on earth this farce of a World Cup is still going ahead, wrecking the domestic football calendar, and more importantly with the horrendous human rights issues associated with Qatar’s staging of it. It’s a country that has less than half the population of Yorkshire and no football heritage. Perhaps it’s a good thing we will be so far removed from such a ridiculous World Cup and can focus on other things. It’s going to be hard to enjoy such a tainted tournament.
City will naturally hope that by the time it comes around, they’re up there challenging for promotion. It looks like a fairly kind start to the campaign, with plenty of early fixtures against teams who struggled in League Two last season. Albeit that as well as the freshly relegated Doncaster Rovers on day one, they face a visit from Crewe at the end of August.
From an away fan point of view, October looks fun with short trips to Harrogate, Salford and Grimsby. If the fight for tickets for the Harrogate and Salford games prove fruitless, a day out to Cleethorpes will be a decent consolation. Expect City to sell out these three away games, especially if things are going well.
Depending on FA Cup draws and progress, there is that usual weird bit where home games become sparse over November and December. After Crawley Town’s visit on Saturday 29 October, there are just two home league matches before Christmas. And, as it stands, there are only two Tuesday night home games all season – Swindon in October and Tranmere in February. The fact the season begins a week early, isn’t stopped for the World Cup, and ends in early May means it’s a more stretched out fixture list overall. Certainly compared to the Covid season.
On the same day as the league fixtures came out, Bradford City were in the hat for the League Cup first round draw. In the past, the early round draws were stacked against League Two clubs due to the seeding system, but since 2020 it has become a free for all draw – apart from the North and South split. Yet despite the opportunity for an easier tie, City have been paired with Championship opposition for the second season in a row.
Hull City will travel to Valley Parade for the first time since April 2005, when both clubs were in League One and the Tigers were closing in on promotion under Peter Taylor. It’s fair to say an awful lot has happened since to both teams. For Richie Smallwood, the League Cup tie will quickly see a reunion with the club he has just left.
This season will mark 10 years since the famous League Cup to Wembley of 2012/13. Since that unforgettable campaign, City have bowed out of the League Cup at the first hurdle in seven of their last nine attempts. It would be nice to have more of a cup adventure this season.
Completing the fixture unveiling is the unloved but-amazingly-still-with-us Football League Trophy. Seeding still applies here and it has not helped City, who will share a group stage with League One Burton Albion and Sheffield Wednesday, plus face Leicester City under 21s.
Last season, Leicester Under 21s lost all three of their group games – and by some distance. Fleetwood defeated the young Foxes 4-1, Accrington triumphed 5-0 and Barrow won 1-0. City haven’t beaten an Under 21s side since Manchester City in 2017/18. So they’re due a victory.
2017/18 was also the last time City got past the group stage. As ever this competitio will be at the bottom of the priority list for the Bantams, but there are financial incentives that come from a decent run. And the potential of a Tuesday night trip to Hillsborough might be fun.
With the fixtures yet to be finalised, City at least know they will be in action on the weeks commencing 31 August 31, 21 September and 19 October. And if they do get through, they’ll play a second round knock out tie on Wednesday 30 November. That will be the day after England’s final World Cup group game against Wales.
What’s that noise I hear you ask? Why, it’s the sound of the new season buzz. And after a week of new signings, a kit launch, and now a new fixture list to pour over, it’s a Bradford City buzz that’s getting louder.
With City’s pre-season friendlies beginning in just a week, the gap of no football is all but over for another year. There are fixtures – glorious fixtures – to look forward to. The backdrop of where and when we’ll be following the Bantams for the next 10 months is in place. And it all feels very exciting.