A Day of Gloom, A Lifetime of Joy

With around 10 minutes to go at Saltergate on Saturday, I looked around the pitch at our players and began to feel a huge sense of relief.

Part of this relief was because the game was almost over and I could stop watching this wretched, gutless City display. Part of the relief was also because I knew I would soon be leaving the ground and my backside could recover from the numbness of sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench for three hours. But the main reason for feeling relieved was because City’s outcome had finally been decided and I could stop fretting about their frankly feeble fight to avoid the drop to basement league football.

Of course we were hoping to leave Saltergate in celebratory mood. Two weeks ago that seemed a huge possibility after City’s welcome three points at Brighton. Last Saturday’s home defeat to Leyton Orient had killed off any realisitic hope and if anyone still felt we could do it, to many of our players clearly didn’t and failed to put up a fight. Each of the three goals conceded had an air of comedy about them as the players put in a performance as poor as anything they have managed all season.

With hope over long before the final whistle, it was easier to stop feeling gloomy and relax instead of worrying about whether Rotherham, Forest, Gillingham or Oldham could do us a favour by beating sides above us. We can now stop spending hours carefully studying the league table and trying to predict other teams results. All that’s left is a carefree, meaningless home game with Millwall next Saturday and then we can all take a break from City and come back refreshed for a League Two campaign in August.

And that is why I don’t feel too sad about the relegation at this moment. It just seems to have been inevitable and watching our players raise hopes and then fail miserably over the last few weeks has been deperessing enough. It’s often said that it’s the hope that kills you and it has been so frustrating to watch the team fail to make a better fist on avoiding relegation. It looked straightforward enough weeks ago, just a few more wins and the odd draw. At half time against Orient last week, survival seemed within touching distance. Frankly I have had enough of walking to work on a Monday morning feeling anxious/worried/depressed at City’s plight and I aim to go in with a smile on my face this Monday (especially as a couple of my colleagues support a certain Yorkshire club who have also had a bad weekend!).

After Saturday’s despair turned to relief at Saltergate, I joined in with other City supporters in singing away during the closing stages. The atmosphere became fantastic as everyone seemed to join in. Deep in stoppage time, “City till I die” boomed out of our end of the ground. It was a hugely uplifting moment that reminded me no matter how bad things get, there is always next season. This won’t be the last time I see City relegated, but I also haven’t witnessed my last City promotion.

During the last few years supporting City I have seen us get relegated from the Premiership to League One, suffer two periods of adminstration and watch countless decent players depart to be replaced by inferior ones. I’ve seen us lose woefully home and away on too many occasions to think about, watched other teams turn up at Valley Parade and win crucial games that left their fans going crazy in celebration. I’ve watched us concede a glut of horror goals through bad defending or goalkeeping, I’ve seen our strikers miss chances that even I could have scored, I’ve seen referee’s get decisions badly wrong and loads of injury time winning goals for the opposing team. Saturday’s defeat can be added to this list, but misery and City have gone hand in hand in recent years so it hardly comes as a shock.

As I looked down at the away terrace at the end of the game, I recognised a couple of City fans who I have known/seen around Valley Parade for many years. Almost 2,000 City fans had decended on Saltergate, a sizeable following that will dwarf many of our new rivals. We will all be back in August, whether it’s Accrington and Macclesfield gracing our turf. Most of the current bunch of players will have left, new players and a new manager will be in place. That old killer, hope, will return. Hopefully this time our particular hopes will finally be realised.

Despite the misery, going to watch City has given me hours of joy that I wouldn’t swap for anything. I love our club with a passion and know I will be supporting them until my dying day. Many of us feel the same and, with our continuing support, our club will turn it round and earn success. Eventually City will win a promotion, go on a good cup run and rise back up the leagues. In the not to distant future, our players will be pararding silverware around the pitch and the open top bus will come out of its garage.

It might take years but it will happen and, when it does, the memories and pain of occasions like Saturday will seem distant. We’re City till we die and we will all be there celebrate our club rising again.

League Two is a Series of Bad Decisions

Donovan Ricketts let the ball go through his legs after Jamie Ward hit the ball at goal. Slowly it squirmed over the line. So slowly, so slowly.

Eight years ago I felt sick with anticipation. It was barely something I could understand and certainly was something that while I hoped for it I never thought it would happen. City – my team – were in a two way shoot out with Ipswich Town for a place in the Premiership. For sure we had lost to Huddersfield Town but as our form started to stumble so did the East Anglians. Eight years ago I could hardly believe it. It was hard to form in my mind.

But it was formed in my mind. It was believable.

Six months earlier City had played Sheffield United – who themselves were chasing promotion – and then Paul Jewell’s Bantams were second bottom and people were saying that Geoffrey Richmond was frittering away the talents of the recently returned Stuart McCall by allowing him to be managed by the Scouser. The game ended 2-2 but the way the Bantams organised themselves that day convinced me we would be in the play-offs at least.

So eight years ago I could believe it was us or Ipswich to follow Sunderland into the Premiership because on the field and off it we were a superbly run club. Jewell had a team that played effective, percentage football and Richmond – turning a profit every year – led a tightly run ship.

I could believe it because we were a well run club at (the vast majority of) levels and perhaps it was naive but my sense of social justice tells me that when you do things right good things happen. Not that the cream rises to the top but rather that the top is layered with people that do things in the right way.

I could believe it.

I guess the second goal was unlucky. A shot cannoned off the post and Ward was the first to react it it. Ricketts did well and shot glances around the area as if to ask Am I playing on my own here. Rebounds always seem to fall to them when you are at the bottom don’t they? We never seem to get there first. Bad luck.

Move forward a few years and I’m standing on the pitch with a dozen other City fans watching Geoffrey Richmond argue with Matthew Ward a Daily Express journalist – about the merits of the Italian footballer he had unveiled as a new signing half an hour ago. We stood in the centre circle watching Richmond ebulliently wag his finger in Ward’s face as Ward impressively went toe-to-toe with the powerful figure of the Bradford City chairman.

The sun beat down on Richmond as he told Ward that Bradford City would no longer be considered a small club and as he said it from the corner of my eye I noticed recently installed manager Chris Hutchings wandering the full length of the field untroubled by press men or supporters and in retrospect Richmond’s ebullience was his bullish attempts to keep the club together following the departure of Paul Jewell.

For the first time Richmond was putting his not inconsiderable efforts into the wrong area so badly and it bore such consequences. Richmond was no longer running the club well and the club was running away and the debate on the scale of Richmonds (mis)management and the effects of external elements in football will go on forever but unequivocally in the Summer of 2000 with Richmond out of control and Hutchings a shadow Bradford City were a badly run club and a year later we deserved relegation.

It was irritating to see a team show so little fight. Bill Shankley said that he preferred to use the language of the people and that he would not call a player lackadaisical when he could call him lazy. Omar Daley is a lazy footballer and he while he is not alone today there are too many players on the field for City who are not invested in the future of the club. Too many loan players so do not need to perform and too many last year of contract players who can see the exit door. How have we got to a position where you can write the names of the starting eleven down and you cross off the ones you think you will see next season rather than the ones you thing will go: Ricketts, Edghill, Wetherall Will he stay not being manager?, Bower Better than Div 4, Clarke , Daley, Johnson, Schumacher Out of contract, would be good to get him to stay, Parker, Paynter, Weir-Daley Rumoured to have a two year deal on the table – who offered him it?

How can a team play well when so few of the players have anything invested in the future of the club?

I stood outside Valley Parade – this was three years ago – with Bradford City Supporters Trust chair (and the reason we still have a Bradford City, but that is another point) Mark Boocock and we waited for administrator Kroll to get an agreement on the CVA document that would end City’s second spell of administration which had come about after Gordon Gibb and Julian Rhodes had fallen out and the club had slipped into League One.

Gordon Gibb would not agree to the terms of the CVA which left the one hundred year old club waiting for one of our former players – Ashley Ward – to agree to drop his objection and take the club over the needed percentage of agreed creditors but Ward was out on the training field and could not be reached and so we sat in the Banqueting Suite which stands above a place were 56 people died and in a location where professional football had been played for a century waiting for a guy who did very little for his £18,000 a week to get out of the shower and decide if the club would continue or if it would be liquidated.

So we waited and we talked to one of the officials of Kroll the administrator and asked him about the future of the club and he saw reason for optimism because unlike the rest of League One we would not be riddled with debt so “all” we had to do was to get income over expenditure and we would be debt free. We pondered as Ward finished his shower and told us we could continue to be a City with a football club and I walked away thinking that this surely, surely is not how a football club should be run.

Jamie Ward ran fifty yards pretty such unchecked before putting in a shot which Mark Bower turned into his own net. 3-0 and all the booing to date – the chiding of good players and the atmosphere of poison – has cheapened the criticism given out to some players who are not even going through the motions.

Six months ago Colin Todd was not sacked not as a solution to get the playing side back on track or to flood the club with new ideas on how to play the game or even to change the focus of the system to a more or less direct game but as a punishment because results were bad and as a sop to the fans who wanted rid of him. Sacking a manager is a way to effect a change to bring improvement but it is not a change in itself. Julian Rhodes is a good man, a good fan and he is applauded for his innovations but decisions often outside his control have been poor. The debts we have no are caused by bad decisions, the way we ended up paying rent of our own ground was a bad decision and yes changing managers without ever effecting a change on the field was a string of bad decisions.

So slowly the ball crept over the line. So slow the decline of this club but along the way bad decisions have been made metronomically – from the boardroom to the pitch to the stands – and this is by no means the lowest Bradford City can sink.

League Two? Can I believe it? Of course. Seven years of bad decisions should result in this.

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