Tuesday 23rd February, 20104 years ago, at the end of February

We’ve gotta fight (fight, fight, fight, fight) fight for this love as Bradford City travel to leaders Rochdale

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I always look forward to Rochdale away. In a division largely filled with run-down dumps or B&Q-purchased new flat pack stadiums, the compact and tidy Spotland ground is one of the most charming. Its size is suited for a fanbase lacking in number but not passion. Visiting supporters are allocated a full stand that runs lengthways down the pitch. With a low roof, the acoustics are excellent  for generating a cracking atmosphere. And while you wait for kick off, the PA announcer treats you to an enjoyable trip through recent indie music history, with a distinctive Mad-chester twist.

I’ve always enjoyed Spotland – and I thought, no assumed, that it would be us one day leaving it behind as the reversal back up the leagues finally began. But instead, it is Rochdale set to instigate the goodbyes and leave us. And by us, that’s League Two, which like it or not we are now firmly part of the furniture of.

Dale go into tonight’s fixture top of the league and eight points clear of 4th-placed Chesterfield, with a game in hand. And though the weight of history may yet spark some late-season jitters – Dale have famously being in England’s bottom division since 1974, so no pressure then – it seems highly likely visiting supporters of League One clubs will next season be enjoying Spotland’s delights.

All of which puts the Bantams in the most rarest of positions, at least in our own eyes – second favourites. Since demotion to League Two in 2007, a belief City are too big for this league has been maintained. No matter the respective league position of the opposition, each league fixture has been approached with the supporters’ mindset we should win it, causing more frustration when we don’t.

With recent form so disastrous and Dale’s progress since thrashing City 3-0 at Valley Parade continuing in terms of results if not performances, no City supporter will harbour any expectations of an away win this evening. Cup ties apart, the Bantams have not got into a game with such little hope since the League One trip to second-place Bristol City in March 2007 – a repeat of that night’s scoreline would do nicely.

But the underdogs tag is something which personally excites me rather than has me searching for the nearest cliff or message board to mutter “look how far we’ve fallen.” For the majority of my City-supporting life, we’ve been just that – underdogs. The small team from the big City who battled against larger clubs and often won. As supporters we would get behind the team in a way which has rarely happened at Valley Parade since the turn of the century. We’d understand the difference we could make, and our players’ mistakes would prompt groans but not boos.

Filling out Accrington’s away end may be heart-warming, but I’m not sure I necessarily like us being considered a big club. It brings expectations that the wage and transfer budgets can hardly hope to match. It has lead to delusions of grandeur which see our fantastic stadium no longer as homely and intimidating as it was pre-1998, due to ultimately pointless and financially-suicidal development work. We congratulate ourselves on having the biggest crowds in the League, but we still have thousands of empty seats on match days. Rochdale may be small, but they are comfortable in their own Spotland skin.

It’s not that there’s an identity crisis, but my hope in Bradford City ‘rightfully’ climbing up the leagues is not so we can be big again, but small. I see our natural position at bottom half Championship/top half League One. Should we reach such heights again, no one will go on about us as a big club, no one will rave on about our big gates, no City supporter will think we should win every game. We’ll be more understanding in defeat, and more jubilant in victory.

But such hopes, no matter how seemingly-modest for a club with Premier League history, are far removed from the current, grim reality City find themselves in. The debacle at Accrington on Saturday firmly punctured the mood of optimism triggered by Peter Taylor’s appointment and the pressure is growing on the team to pick up. Taylor could not have had a more dismal start to what may yet be a short time in charge, his most realistic objective tonight is damage limitation.

Changes will be made, particularly to a backline bolstered by the curious loan signing of Robbie Threlfall from Liverpool. While the prospect of the 19-year-old replacing Luke O’Brien will be relished from a section of support who don’t rate last season’s fans player of the season, one might question the long-term value of allowing another team’s youth player to take the place of a City one unless he has a Valley Parade future beyond the one month deal signed.

However, with a lack of wingers at the club, Taylor may have signed up Threlfall with the intention of pushing O’Brien to left winger. Certainly O’Brien has hardly been the main problem of a defence which has wilted too often all season, and it’s unlikely Taylor will view a swap of left backs as the solution.

In the centre Zesh Rehman, hauled off at Accrington for tactical reasons but also because he was simply awful, is likely to be on the bench. Former Dale player Simon Ramsden may be moved over to the centre to partner Matt Clarke with Jonathan Bateson recalled to right back, or the forgotten Steve Williams may get a chance.

Credence to the theory Taylor may push O’Brien into midfield comes from the unconvincing displays from Gareth Evans outwide, who may be pushed up front or start from the bench. Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn impressed Taylor when far from their best, and will continue in the middle despite the competition from Steve O’Leary.

Omar Daley is not expected to be fit so Chris Brandon, Leon Osborne or Scott Neilson will battle for the other spot. The latter’s early season form is increasingly a distant memory – against Notts County in the JPT last October, Neilson impressed Sven Goran Eriksson enough for the Swede to make a serious inquiry about him (see a special edition of City Gent, available on Saturday, for an exclusive interview with Stuart McCall revealing this and more).

There is some confusion over where City played 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 at Accrington, but so isolated was James Hanson it seemed clear to me and everyone near me he was playing a lone striker role. Taylor may choose to go with Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne, or trust the advice of assistant Wayne Jacobs that Hanson is a much better player than Saturday’s tame showing and at least grant him a partner.

Rochdale have survived the January transfer window with most of their stars not snapped up, save for the excellent, Paul Arnison-thrashing Will Buckley, who signed for Watford. This transfer was rumoured to have caused friction between Keith Hill and his chairman Chris Dunphy, but for now the manager remains despite Dunphy fearing he’s already “outgrown” the club.

At Valley Parade they produced a level of performance not witnessed by City fans in our near three-year stay at this level, it would not be an exaggeration to say that, on the night, a Championship club would have struggled to live with them. Despite the pre-season loss of Adam Le Fondre, the two Chris’ partnership of Dagnall and O’Grady has blossomed. In a team of outstanding players for this level, special mention should go to 19-year-old defender Craig Dawson – who has attracted interest from Spurs and Blackburn.

Their team sheet offers City little hope, but cast into the role of second favourites should be a cue to turn up the noise instead of despair. Yet again City are drifting and, as familiarly depressing as this is, now should be the time to do something about it. Those of us going tonight should loudly back the team like we haven’t done all season. We should be chanting at 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, whatever. We should be leading the fight for our cause – even if we’re not sure what the cause is.

This is our football club, and we’re allowing it to fall into further decline by standing their muted at Accrington and booing the players. They didn’t deserve their bus ride home on Saturday, but if someone’s going to inject some passion into their boots and make them remember what an important cause playing for Bradford City is, well it’s got to be us.

So tonight we sing, tonight we support our team in defiance and tonight we hope to begin the path that means we’ll shortly catch up with the tiny Lancashire club which has overtaken us through getting things right on the pitch, instead of bragging about how wonderful they are off it. Tonight we sing about how we’re City till we die, before the club itself really does.

Can’t wait.

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18 Comments

  1. Mike Hitch says:

    Great article Jason. The last paragraph had a ‘Churchillian’ ring about it.
    I firmly believe that we are in a period of ‘readjustment’ after Stuart McCall and that we will move in the right direction again soon. Sadly I’m in Egypt but I’ll have the BBC text commentary right next to me.

  2. Ben Firth says:

    “I see our natural position at bottom half Championship/top half League One.” – Afterall we are lucky to still have a club??

    I dont get this attitude from so many City fans, there’s no such thing as a football teams ‘natural position’, your as big as your chairmans ambition/wallet….and the fans will follow – we are pure proof of that on so many levels.

  3. Neil Myers says:

    Thought the last couple of paragraphs were fantastic Jason except for the last six words.Bradford City Football Club will never die,,,, but as you say the club needs the passion from the terraces tonight.i’m sure given that support from the fans the confidence so sadly missing at Accrington will return possibly along with three points.

  4. Mike Bradley says:

    I have only recently discovered the site and I found this article to be fantastic. Really well written and very enjoyable. It certainly cheered me up. Good luck to the boys tonight. We all hope they can get something.

  5. Andy Kordowicz says:

    Spot on. I’m sick of the apathy of City fans. We used to make an absolute racket at VP and now it’s like a morgue. I sit near the top of the Kop it’s impossible to get any decent songs going. We’ve always had a cracking away following, and made a lot of noise, but at Accrington there was a weird silence throughout. Don’t get me wrong, I was as frustrated as anybody with the performance, but football isn’t a game to be played in a sterile atmosphere. Yes, we need to get behind them tonight. We need to show those lads that run out wearing our badge that we support our side whatever. That does not mean that they should get a standing ovation when they play as badly as they did on Saturday but we can at least offer some support through the game. We should not be screaming vitriolically at Michael Flynn to, “F**k off!” when he approaches the away end to applaud us (You know who you are and you’re a disgrace to City fans everywhere… I wish you’d take your own advice). Flynn’s gesture is an appreciation of our attendance and although he didn’t have one of his better games he did at least have the balls to approach us. All the comments I have read on the OMB are berating the vast majority of players for a lack of effort … Well Gents, I think an away following of 2000 who don’t sing constitutes the same thing.

    See you at Rochdale. Altogether now … WE ALL FOLLOW THE CITY, OVER LAND AND SEA.

  6. Jason Mckeown says:

    Hi Ben

    I know where’ you’re coming from and you’re right we should be grateful just to have a club to support, but we cannot spend the rest of our lives just being thankful for existing.

    When I say natural level, I don’t mean I think we have a divine right to be there, I consider it a level where we could/should be able to compete given the club’s infrastructure.

  7. Graeme Kettlewell says:

    Jason, if the club’s infrastructure (stadium) is an indicator of where a club could/should compete, where should say Queens Park compete? Darlington? Rotherham? Portsmouth? Gateshead? Closer to home I beleive that Silsden play at Cougar Park in Keighley. Like Ben, I don’t understand the concept of a natural position or pecking order in football, a team is as good as its players, managers and supporters and increasingly the depth of its owner’s pockets.

  8. Jason Mckeown says:

    Hi Graeme

    I never said anything about the size of a stadium being an indicator of where a club should be. Look I was just expressing an opinion of where I believe City can compete (not where I think they should or deserve to be), if you want to label me an arrogant fan that’s fine but I wasn’t implying we should be higher up the leagues, I was just stating I would like us to be.

    I don’t personally want to get into a debate about this. Some of us would like City to be in the Premier League, me I’d like us to be in the upper areas of the Football League. I am not trying to start a debate or enrage people. There’s no doubt in my mind we deserve to be in 4th division.

  9. Joe Ferm says:

    There’s no such thing as the ‘natural position’ of your club – that’s the beauty of promotion and relegation. What I think Jason means is that the club’s current status and position are less than the sum of its parts (i.e. fan-base, catchment area for players, stadium and facilities, revenue-generating capacity), when the sum ought to result in, as he says, the club being at least a division higher when compared with other clubs in the bottom two divisions.

    Personally, I think we’ll get a point tonight.

  10. Ben Firth says:

    Hi Jason,
    I was being sarcastic, its been my main bugbear since our relegation from the Premiership and subsequent two stints in administration.
    I have argued until blue in the face on our various message boards that just because historically we were a small club we have to fall back into that and like/accept it.
    We are a big City football club with the potential for a great following – why dont so many of our so called fans aspire to that?

  11. Graeme Kettlewell says:

    Jason, I want BCFC to be higher up the league as much as anybody else, and I wasn’t labelling you arrogant, as far from it as I can get, but I don’t buy this idea of where ‘a club should be’.

    The problems for BCFC are wide ranging, the effects of the Premier League seasons and the collapse of ITV digital leading to the club not owning VP are well known. The apathy that affects the City of Bradford at all levels is another. Bradford, like its main football club is a city that has seen much better days, but in my opinion very few Bradfordians have any significantly positive things to say about the place, and you could go further to say that few truly care about the city. How many people in Bradford would honestly care if the club were relegated? Half of them would blink, and carrying on supporting ManYoo, Chelsea, Liverpool etc saying that they’d rather support a successful club anyway. The apathy that is eating away at the City of Bradford is eating away the football club in my opinion. Until this changes, the catchment area for players, fans, stadium and facilities will mean nothing and the club will probably continue to rot. If my son were offered an academy place at BCFC, could you recommend it? Training facilities? The abuse dished out at Luke O’Brien and Joe Colbeck? Mark Lawn has put his money where his mouth is, but even he gets abuse. The people of Bradford need to get behind the City of Bradford and then maybe with a feel good atmosphere in the City maybe the football club can start going upwards. Or vice versa, but the malaise affecting one City is affecting the other City.

  12. J Billingsley says:

    Fancy running for the council Mr Kettlewell? With speeches like that you’d get my vote. There is mass of apathy in Bradford, but I feel this stems from the top (in terms of the town) and the bottom in terms of the football. I don’t know why it’s taken the council years to do something with the Westfield site (a good reason I’m sure) but in the same vein I don’t know why the atmosphere is so flat at VP, or why we had people sticking two fingers up to McCall at the end of his final game.

    Hopefully both are to improve for the better.

    (Local MPs whose parents are inept politicians and are more bothered about political corectness than serving the needs of their constituents are not helping though!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/dec/18/philip-davies-political-correctness-campaign

    http://cornerstonegroup.wordpress.com/2007/11/08/its-time-to-make-a-stand-against-political-correctness-by-philip-davies-mp/)

  13. Jason Mckeown says:

    Hi Graeme

    You make some excellent comments. I only hope you were at Dale this evening to see our fans behind the team like I’ve not seen in years. It was an incredible night, I’ve almost lost my voice.

  14. Dave Pendleton says:

    Shall we call it The Rout of Rochdale? Only 800 of us there, but what a racket. Right from the off, players charging into tackles, I knew something was on almost from the first minute. A great City night.

    All together now:

    Midland Road take me home
    to the place I belong
    to the Valley
    to see the City
    Midland Road take me home!

  15. simon strong says:

    Dave – how I envy you being there last night (I could not get up from Guildford).
    As Aussie songwriter Paul Kelly sang in his tribute to Don Bradman “they say the darkest hour is just before the dawn”. How true might this be after last nights performance – lets hope so.

  16. J Billingsley says:

    Not even Dean Windass’ commentating could ruin this one!
    Well done City, and I’m envious of those who crossed the hills last night. I’m sure it goes some way towards making up for last season’s game.

    Was Clarke as wobbly as Deano made him out to be? Did we miss Rehman in any way?

    1. Michael Wood says:

      We have a new match reporter for this one who is – as we speak – beavering away on an article which will answer all these questions and more.

  17. Hannah Ingram says:

    Brilliant post!

    As a Bury fan whose boyfriend is a Bradford fan, we’ve had some decent discussions about this.

    I was going to pull out a few quotes from this as being spot on, when in fact all of it is. Being in League Two is rubbish, we all know that, but the fact that you’re being level-headed about it and accepting the fact that no team is ‘too good’ to be in this league is really refreshing.

    In fact, the very discussion myself and my other half had last night was about being the underdog – we’ve always been that way and it does make wins more enjoyable and losses more understandable. Teams that think they can walk this league because it’s the lowest tier often pull up short, i.e. Notts County.

    We’ve always had the post-match comments along the lines of ‘I can’t believe we lost to a team like Bury’ but League Two is the time for the underdog in my opinion.

    We’ve had our fill of bad managers, bad refs, bad pitches after being dumped into this league.. but time IS a healer and I think you’ll be well on your way back up soon enough. In both matches we’ve played you this season, it’s plain to see that you’re not a bad side and I’m glad things may well be improving after your victory last night (you did us a favour too.. shame we didn’t capitalise!)

    Good luck for the remainder of this season, from a fellow underdog :)

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