An ugly victory as Hereford United fans get the wrong kind of Bradford welcome

It was a long way back home  – 180 miles to be precise – for the 176 Hereford supporters at Valley Parade on Saturday, but for many it will not have been Gareth Evans’ 41st minute strike and subsequent celebration in front of them which will have provided the lasting impression of a disappointing day.

The welcome some received from the people of Bradford could be fairly summed up as ugly, with stories of heavy-handed stewarding and a gang of teenagers punching and spitting on supporters outside the ground at the end.  Small and trivial these incidents may be considered in the context of the history of poor stewarding and hooliganism, but little consolation for the few on the receiving end.

It was midway through the second half that attention was diverted from a reasonably entertaining League Two encounter to the block of the Midland Road stand which housed Hereford supporters. Without knowing what was happening, it was clear stewards were dragging out a small handful of supporters in the most heavy-handed of manners. A Bulls visitor to Claret and Banter claims the stewards began throwing out supporters for persistently standing. When these fans quite reasonably argued that home supporters in other parts of the ground were also standing, they were apparently removed for questioning the stewards’ authority.

Meanwhile the photo evidence of a young supporter appearing to be forcibly removed reflects badly on the the people charged with home and away supporters’ welfare and some questions should be raised by those with the power to ask them at Valley Parade this week. At numerous City away games in recent years, stewards have attempted to force City fans to sit down; but the larger number of away fans make it next to impossible to enforce and efforts are usually quickly abandoned. Were these Hereford fans penalised for supporting a small club?

As the skirmishes ended, the reaction of City fans in the Bradford End was hardly commendable either. Aside from strong rivalries, banter between sets of fans at games is generally good natured and fun for both. The same Hereford fan who left a message on Claret and Banter claims home supporters initiated slit throat gestures towards them, while the choice and tone of the chanting towards them came across as unnecessarily threatening. Such anger might be understood, if not excused, were it directed towards Leeds, Huddersfield and Burnley fans, or even if the visitors were leading. The Hereford fans had done nothing to warrant this humourlessly-bile form of chanting.

And then outside after the game it got worse. Walking along Midland Road after home games all season, it’s been noticeable that gangs of teenagers have begun congregating on street corners in the hope something might “kick off”. A small mini bus for Hereford fans was positioned close to the away turnstiles, with one steward stood talking to them. I’d begun to walk past and towards my car, so didn’t get the best of views, but within minutes this group of Hereford supporters were surrounded by a gang of teenagers and fighting broke out. Those nearer claim a female supporter was punched while another female was spat at. Other Hereford fans tried to defend their own and the steward looked helpless. Eventually more stewards arrived to help and two police vans pulled up, with the group of teenagers fleeing up the hill towards Manningham Lane and hiding within the grounds of the nearby Mosque. A long journey home for Hereford fans must have felt significantly longer.

And as they departed so to did a bit of the club’s reputation. “Going to Bradford away? Watch yourself, I’ve heard the stewards are violent and home supporters ambush you outside the ground at the end,” is the kind of story which travels fast among rival fans. After the match City manager Stuart McCall had spoken of his frustration that, mid-way through the first half, a supporter within his earshot had barracked the players with the words “come on, we’re only playing Hereford,” but in this situation “only Hereford” is an important point. Perhaps these cowardly fans who attacked visiting supporters will steer clear when the likes of Rochdale and Rotherham come to Valley Parade, as they will bring sizeable numbers of fans which are likely to include plenty willing to get involved with a fight.

Next Saturday City travel to Macclesfield, a fixture I’ve been looking forward to for weeks due to the warm welcome I’ve received from friendly Silkmen fans on my previous two visits. Luton and Chesterfield aside, that’s usually the norm wherever you go in League Two and, for the majority of well-behaved City fans, it’s part of the enjoyment. What a shame that, thanks to the minority, there are now less people who will consider a trip to Bradford anything but ugly.

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