Time to deliver on and off the field

One of the great things about emailing people is you can pretend to be sincere.

When I mailed a Leeds-supporting friend if she’d at least enjoyed her day out at Wembley last weekend I was able to do so without the immature smirks and wisecracks Leeds-supporting colleagues who sit near me have had to endure. I was equally glad she wasn’t able to see me shaking my head in despair after receiving her reply.

Yes she’d enjoyed the occasion, but was still carrying a sense of injustice that her beloved whites had lost to Doncaster Rovers. Not because she felt the players deserved more than the 1-0 defeat they suffered, but because the Leeds United supporters had notably outnumbered their South Yorkshire counterparts.

The Doncaster fans were rubbish for the number of empty seats they left she claimed, while ignoring the fact Rovers were forced to suspend ticket sales due to the number of ticketless Leeds fans attempting to buy them. I couldn’t help but feel it was a flawed logic to believe one club deserved to beat another on account of how many supporters they could muster.

Typical Leeds United fans – arrogant and looking down their noses at clubs who are now their equal, perhaps another season in England’s third tier will teach them to be more humble.

But wait. Supporters convinced success is their privilege on the basis of the number of their own, belief that opposition players won’t be able to handle the ‘intimidation’ of your big crowds, the feeling you can sit back and enjoy assured success…it all sounds a bit familiar – like us a year ago?

If there’s one thing the 2007/08 season should have taught us it’s that having more supporters than your rivals is not an advantage on its own. With our crowds averaging 10,000 more than many others, it was easy to get carried away in the belief these small clubs wouldn’t fancy running out at Valley Parade and we’d sweep everyone aside. The reality proved somewhat different as nine defeats contributed to the best supported club in the division managing only the 11th best home record.

Another year on and, despite the lack of success on the pitch, the aim is to dramatically increase crowds once more with a second remarkable season ticket offer. The daily updated figure at the bottom of City’s official website suggests it doesn’t appear to have yet captured the Bradford public’s imagination, but with many likely to be holding out until the last minute the club are still confident that the 9,000 adult applicants needed to trigger everyone getting a free second season ticket will be reached.

The season ticket initiative deserves all the applause it’s getting, but it does throw up plenty of questions for the season ahead. Will everyone who receives a free season ticket find someone to use it and, even then, will they go to every game? Are there enough supporters anxiously waiting until just before the deadline to see if the club are close to the magic 9,000 target, where they can then split the cost with a friend confident of getting that free season ticket?

The number of season ticket holders increased markedly following the £138 offer for 2007-08 season, but many of these were clearly floating supporters lured by the optimism that Stuart McCall’s return generated and novelty of live football. If, after watching a failed campaign of League Two football they renew it’s an achievement of sorts, but do they have other friends they can persuade to join them or will they think £75 a ticket or not bother? And what if 9,000 isn’t reached, what does the club plan to do then?

The growing uncertainty of if the season ticket initiative will succeed is similar to last season, where as City failed dismally to fight against relegation the number of supporters pledging to buy a season ticket was worryingly short of the 10,000 target. Julian Rhodes decided to run the offer anyway and the summer euphoria of Stuart’s return and Mark Lawn’s investment helped the uptake exceed expectations. There will be no such off the field moves this close season and it’s unlikely Stuart will be making the sort of headline signings that would trigger large queues at the ticket office. The next few weeks are going to be very interesting.

The hope is that the offer will succeed for more reasons than for those of us who have bought a season ticket for 2008/09 to get a second free. When Rhodes unveiled the first season ticket offer in February 2007 his motivation was to make the local football team affordable to everyone in the area. Football’s incredible rise in popularity over the last 15 years has sparked unprecedented interest, but seeing it in the flesh has gone beyond the reach of many.

The original season ticket sought to readdress the balance and, after some prodding, captured people’s interest. Other clubs have since replicated what City pioneered and, as the Premier League becomes further grasped from reality, Football League clubs have the chance to re-establish their importance in local communities by being a place young and old can afford to be.

Should the 9,000 be reached, prompting the second free season tickets, more fans will be supporting City next season than during the 1998-99 promotion season exactly 10 years earlier, a fact which underlines the high ambition of the initiative. Clearly it’s going to be touch and go if this is achieved and, even if it does, question marks over the future will remain. What about season ticket prices for 2009-10? What about 2010-11? It’s unclear if Rhodes and Lawn will have such a long term strategy and ultimately it could be out of their hands.

All of which underlines the importance of things going right on the pitch next season. City must mount a stronger promotion push sooner rather than later or the renewed interest in the Bantams will fade for many as quickly as it was rediscovered. There is a hardcore support who will continue to follow City come what may, but no amount of great offers will persuade the more fair-weather supporters to keep coming if we’re going to continue struggling against the likes of Accrington and Barnet. If City can be celebrating promotion the cheap season tickets will remain popular, but it seems unlikely there will be a strong uptake next year if another season of mid-table mediocrity follows.

The statement of ambition from Julian Rhodes this week, while putting pressure on the management team, is welcome. Whether the club should believe they can be in the Championship in two years is debatable, but the old saying of shoot for the moon and, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars could be on the chairmen’s minds. Certainly the immediate aims should centre of promotion from the basement league and provide those of a claret and amber persuasion the first opportunity to celebrate success in nearly a decade.

The pictures of Leeds United supporters crying at Wembley might have give us all a good laugh, but they should also act as a warning that big crowds at Valley Parade next season offer only limited help to achieving the goal of promotion. It’s appears such lessons are being taken on board with the announcement Stuart is to have a larger than anticipated budget to mould a team capable of achieving the dreams of a fickle and impatient Bradford public – before they conclude that even some of the cheapest season tickets in the country aren’t worth it.

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