Back from the brink

Some 400 fans were at Torquay on Saturday to wildly celebrate Bradford City’s come-from-behind victory, but how did the rest of us follow the afternoon’s events?

Many would have planned to listen to radio coverage, others rely on updates online; plenty would keep their eyes glued to Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday and some would have already been roped into wandering around the shops with loved ones, trying not to think about it at all.

Me, I didn’t know what to do.

With my car in need of its heating fixing and a heavy drinking session with workmates planned for the night before, travelling 300+ miles to Plainmoor had already been ruled out. Normally when I don’t go, I tune into Radio Leeds to follow the game and keep one eye on other scores via the internet, but I couldn’t face the agony of listening to whether we could snatch a win or would painfully lose again.

I hadn’t given up on the team, or even the season. I was just struggling to face up to what seemed like the inevitable after defeat to Lincoln. I was convinced it was the end for manager Stuart McCall. His likely dismissal wasn’t one I agreed with – I made my views known via this site three weeks ago and two admittedly spirit-crushing defeats hadn’t altered my belief McCall should stay until the end of the season at least – but it seemed to have gone beyond the point where my opinion could make a difference.

In the closing stages of the defeat to Lincoln, a few fans began chanting McCall’s name and I joined in while most stood in silence. It seemed the number of supporters who wanted him gone had grown to a majority, and on the Monday after the defeat whispers reached me that those closer to Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn expected the joint chairmen to now pull the trigger. Chanting McCall’s name at Sincil Bank felt like my last act of defiance, the majority were about to have spoken.

I’d already begun to feel marginalised for still supporting McCall. Football fans are great at voicing opinions and, beyond just fellow City supporters telling me why he had to go, followers of other teams were increasingly lining up to state how surely the legend should be fired because sentiment doesn’t win football matches. And like in any situation in life where people argue against your opinion – that Avator is an amazing cinematic leap, that house music is a credible form of music, that your well-crafted proposal produced for your boss is flawless – you begin to question yourself.

Do I just not see enough good cinema? Has a student life wasted in nightclubs distorted my hearing? Am I only really still supporting McCall because it’s Stuart?

But even if I could still the logic in my own views, last week it was almost irrelevant because events had sprialled beyond the point where it seemed a debate could even be held, and where what I think should happen didn’t matter. Unless I win the lottery and invest millions into the club, my opinion holds no more or less weight than some guy hiding behind a username spouting angry abuse on the Telegraph and Argus website, no matter how much of a moron I think they are.

So the decision is apparently made, all I can do is feel bad for McCall. This article really struck a cord with me and helped me to remember that, as clear a decision sacking McCall appeared to be to others, his obvious affection and emotional attachment towards the club means that failing at Valley Parade is not going to be easy for him to take. It would mean the relationship he has with us supporters would never be the same again. No one could ever take away what he did for this club as a player, but it’s through sharing the triumphs and tragedy with us that would make failing as manager at City so much more difficult for him to take.

Whether your McCall’s biggest critic or biggest fan, no one could enjoy him exiting the club in this manner – could they?

But as news of his sacking failed to materialise, it became obvious there was one last chance for McCall at Torquay and, if I couldn’t be there to watch it, I just didn’t think I could handle the feeling of helplessness. It was like a family pet, loved and cherished for years, having to be put down; you knew it would have to be done, but you didn’t want to see it actually happen. Go into another room to perform the act, come back in a while and tell me it’s done. Then we can slowly look to move onwards.

So as the weekend loomed large I didn’t know how to spend the hours between 3-5pm. I considered taking in a local non-league game, but then a friend invited me to watch him play for a Saturday team and I ended up shivering in an open field in Silsden despite the sun been in my eye.

The only problem was my friend’s game kicked off at 2pm which meant it’d be over by 4pm, and his manager’s long ball tactics meant the midfield position he was supposed to play in was largely bypassed. So uninvolved was he that at half time he was subbed, and so a largely dull game became even more unappealing and my fingers weren’t sufficiently frozen to prevent me regularly checking the internet, via my phone, for the latest at Torquay.

Four times I checked the score between 3 and 3.15pm, then on the fifth occasion I faced the dreaded news that City were 1-0 down. The Silsden game was soon over and we retreated to the club bar where Soccer Saturday was been shown. My eyes became fixed on the bottom of the screen for scoreflashes in the hope of a City equaliser. No updates from Plainmoor and, in this betting culture which has grown in recent years, I was instead left bemused when obscure goal updates were met by cheers from others in the bar, staring intently at their slips.

The second halves around the country kicked off and still 1-0 at Torquay, the rest of my friends wanted to leave and the prospect of staying on my own waiting to hear the groans of others when their accumulator failed to come through didn’t appeal.

Driving home, I had to put Radio Leeds to see if City could come back. The frustration of the Bantams trying but largely failing was clear in the voices of the commentary pair Gareth Jones and the City Gent’s Mike Harrison. The misery within me become even stronger, but having gone weak and turned the commentary on, I then couldn’t bring myself to stop listening; so rushed into the house and fired up Radio Leeds.

Just as hope was nearly over, Gareth Evans scored and I jumped up and down in the room in relief. Then, improbably, he scored again and my screams of delirium brought my confused wife rushing in from the room to check I wasn’t rolling around in pain. I felt so happy I wanted to cry. As the final whistle sounded I texted around 10 friends – City and non-City fans – to register my glee. By the end of the night many others had also text me to offer congratulations.

Is this the turning point in City’s season and McCall’s reign as manager, or does it merely prolong the inevitable? With two consecutive home games to come, we may know soon. As Saturday’s visit of Bury becomes something to look forward to rather than dread, I remain both excited and fearful for the immediate future. McCall may have pulled back from the brink of being pushed, but he remains precariously balanced on a very thin ledge.

Meanwhile I won’t miss another game until Aldershot away in March now; so, if McCall’s reign is ended between now and then, I’ll be watching on while probably feeling just as helpless. I hope you won’t mind if I end up covering my eyes.

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