Issue The misery, the ecstacy and the unforgettable goodbye

As told by Jason Mckeown

The Team

Lenny Pidgley | Lewis Hunt, Steve Williams, Luke Oliver, Luke O'Brien | Tom Adeyemi, Lee Bullock, David Syers, Kevin Ellison | Michael Flynn, James Hanson | Jake Speight, Gareth Evans, Robbie Threlfall

How the hell has it come to this? It is half time at Valley Parade and, with matchday companions visiting the toilet or friends elsewhere in the Midland Road stand, I’m stood alone with my thoughts. And they are becoming ever-darker.

Bradford City are 2-1 down to a Stockport County side that began the day six points below them in the relegation places, and we’re staring directly at the trap-door to non-league. “It’s not good news elsewhere” mutters the always-irritating PA announcer as he reveals League Two’s bottom club, Barnet, are 2-0 ahead in their game. The situation is looking increasingly bad, and City’s recent history of fighting relegation battles offers little comfort towards the likelihood of getting out of this mess.

I just don’t understand how this could be happening. I mean the relegations from the Premier League, Championship and League One made sense – we couldn’t compete on and off the pitch – but this time we really should be too good to even be contemplating going down.

And what happens if we are relegated? Mark Lawn told us a month ago that he doesn’t know how City could afford Valley Parade if they dropped into non-league. I don’t want to support some AFC Bradford City playing on a park pitch in the Evo-Stick First Division North next season, I like the way things are. And why do bad things always happen to us? I mean what exactly did we do to deserve this last decade? My gloomy self-pity continues as the players trot out for the second 45 minutes.

One hour later I’m celebrating more wilder than I can remember in years. Gareth Evans has just drilled an unstoppable shot through a crowd of bodies and into the far corner to improbably win the game four minutes into stoppage time. The level of joy inside is being fuelled by the built-up anguish inflicted upon us over the previous hour and a half. We’ve just gone through 90 minutes of utter torture, all of which can now be forgotten as I jump up and down like a five-year-old, only pausing to hug those around me. The players have chosen to run directly to the front of my block in the Midland Road stand to celebrate their euphoric moment. Eventually the cheering subsides, but I’m feeling so good and shaking all over too much to be able to sit down. In no time at all we’re punching the air as the final whistle is blown.

This is why we love Bradford City. This is what makes all the other crap worthwhile.

That Peter Taylor’s final game in charge could have such a climatic ending is hardly in keeping with the monotonous closing weeks of his reign, but it was nice for the outgoing City manager to part ways with the club in such harmonious circumstances. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his early departure, he at least leaves the club in a much more comfortable league position than it appeared at 3.45pm. There is much work to do still, but seven and nine point cushions over Barnet and Stockport respectively offer Taylor’s successor a sturdier platform to preserve the Bantams’ league status from.

For a time it looked like a comfortable final afternoon for Taylor. Finally ditching the ineffective 4-3-3 formation, City started the game strongly with James Hanson and Michael Flynn leading the line of a 4-4-2 set-up and Steve Williams taking advantage of non-existent marking to head the home side into a 14th minute lead from a free kick.

Hanson had already had a goal ruled out for offside and, though Stockport threatened with the impressive Paul Turnbull shooting just wide and having a goal disallowed themselves, a second City goal would have probably caused them to collapse. But on a dreadful playing surface, the ball-playing nature of Williams was to prove costly after the young defender dallied too long and was pick-pocketed by Turnbull, who charged forwards and finished low past Lenny Pidgley to equalise.

City at least continued to attack and two frantic goalmouth scrambles should have been rewarded by a re-taking of the lead. The first scramble saw a Flynn effort saved, the surprise-returner David Syers hit the bar and Williams fire a third attempt that was blocked on the line. The second occasion included Kevin Ellison’s effort being kept out illegally by Hatters defender Adam Griffin’s arm. A red card and a penalty, which an out-of-sorts Hanson wasted when his casual effort was pushed away by former City keeper Matt Glennon.

And when Stockport took a 2-1 lead six minutes later after Ryan Dobie was played through one-on-one and rounded Pidgely to slot home – despite strong suspicions of offside – that feeling of comfort 20 minutes earlier was replaced with despair that grew bleaker during the interval. In many respects City had been unfortunate, they’d had the majority of chances and forced numerous corners; but the combination of conceding two soft goals and missing a spot kick left you feeling that – once again – they had been architects of their own downfall. Williams had looked shaky, Tom Adeyemi ineffective as a wide player and Lee Bullock off the pace in the centre.

Taylor reacted by making two substitutions, with Adeyemi and Bullock giving way to Evans and Jake Speight in a move which saw Flynn pushed back to midfield alongside Syers. Yet as they struggled to get the ball into Stockport’s penalty area – never mind create a chance – during the first third of the second half, it looked a long way back. The bumper home crowd were on the players’ backs and it took all their bravery to keep going and force the tempo. To their credit they began to perform, and were rewarded by some of the most ferociously-positive support heard at Valley Parade in sometime.

The tide began to turn against Stockport – who’d begun time-wasting from the 46th minute – after Dobie’s flying elbow into Luke Oliver’s face gave an erratic referee no option but to issue a second red card. But as City continued to struggle to break down nine-men it still looked like a morale-crushing defeat was on the cards. This was going to be a dismal send off for Taylor.

One last throw of the dice – Robbie Threlfall for the bloodied Oliver – and never before have City gone so gung ho under Taylor. It appeared the Bantams were playing 3-3-4 – hey, it might even have been 3-2-5. Evans and the outstanding Luke O’Brien were playing as wideman and enjoyed loads of space against an over-loaded Stockport side; Lewis Hunt was also getting forward well. Numerous corners, endless balls pumped into the box, plenty of throw ins too. Speight hit the post, the crowd roared the players on even louder. The clock must have been ticking down ever-slower to the blue shirts.

Finally, salvation. A corner isn’t defended well and Syers does an outstanding job of keeping it in play by heading it across. Williams is at the backpost, his effort at goal hits a Stockport body but crosses the line. Unbridled joy, followed by a huge collective sigh of relief.

The urgency wasn’t as great in the final 15 minutes, but still City continued to press forwards and come agonisingly close through Speight (twice), O’Brien, Ellison and Syers. Five minutes of injury time almost up and, after Ellison appears to be hauled down in the box only for the referee to wave play on, the disappointment of only getting a draw is palpable. But then so is the relief at the fact you are no longer facing up to the despair of loss that was so painfully real 15 minutes ago. This is better than nothing.

And then there’s one last attack. And after superb work again by O’Brien the ball eventually runs free to Evans. And he shoots. And he scores. And for the next few minutes you scream at the top of the voice. And the level of exhilaration causes tingles all over your body. And for the rest of your weekend that feeling will stay inside, causing you to involuntarily smile at regular intervals.

And you can console yourself with the fact that, whatever we did do to deserve this last decade of hardship for Bradford City, it justifies going absolutely mental when celebrating scraping a win against a nine-men team bottom of the entire Football League.