Issue Relatively miserable

As told by Jason Mckeown

Like the bad guy or monster in a film who you think has finally been defeated, only to keep reappearing and causing further havoc – Bradford City’s relegation prospects have become a recurring nightmare in recent weeks. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water and be consoled by mid-table mediocrity, it has been back to looking over the shoulder.

So as a confident Burton Albion raced into a lead on Tuesday which, in truth, they rarely looked like surrendering until Jake Speight popped up to equalise with 15 minutes to go, I – and no doubt thousands of others inside Valley Parade – was gripped by fear and pessimism about the immediate future.

Just like after we lost at home to Chesterfield, trailed 2-1 to a nine-man Stockport and were defeated 2-1 at Stevenage; I was fearful that this relegation threat – as daft as it seemed at other times – was very real. And with the club making loud noises about its long-term future being uncertain, the additional problem of a demotion to non-league could be terminal. Well-placed sources claim City’s Board has approached the Football League for their views on the ‘doomsday’ scenario of the Bantams entering administration and moving to Odsal. The League is said to relatively sympathetic, but the experiences of Chester and Boston suggest Conference officials may not be so helpful if City were to drop out of the Football League and go into administration.

Such dark thoughts occupied my mind as, in front of me, on the pitch, City’s players struggled to find the desire – not to mention the guile – to cancel out Burton’s lead. And as the atmosphere inside Valley Parade simmered backwards and forwards between discontent and positive support, I feared not just that we were in a losing battle to stay up but witnessing the third to last match ever at our 108-year home, before we start again next season supporting some AFC Bradford City on a Sunday league pitch.

Then Speight scored, and joy quickly turned to relief that things might not turn out so bad after all. And as the cheering subsided and we roared City onwards towards an unlikely – and what would have been undeserved – victory, a chant of “We are staying up” bellowed out the Bradford End. And I half-joined in, feeling much better about everything.

And then someone near me got angry, and I felt a bit stupid and very frustrated before wondering what’s the point.

The angry person was upset at the Bradford End chant, and it triggered him into a sarcastic rant about how pathetic it is that people are pleased over such a small achievement that City should now be able to survive the drop. His point had some validity; we began this season with credible hopes of achieving so much more and, as a club, we largely still believe ourselves too important for our surroundings. But still the timing of his outburst – firmly puncturing the mood of those around him just as we had something to celebrate – revealed a side to football supporting that I struggle to understand.

Unhappy that we can now be happier, because it’s not good enough to be thankful of avoiding the worst. Nothing can change how disappointing this season has been – and a huge inquest needs to take place when the dust finally settles – but limiting the damage at least should allow us to break into the briefest of smiles.

But that negative attitude has become such a widespread fabric of supporting Bradford City. 10 years ago, a Premier League club getting booed off for playing poorly against Southampton. Ever since it’s has been a downwards spiral of ever-lowering standards.

Under-performing players who in the end have to be ditched to save money. That weaker financial position leads to weaker replacements who become equally unloved, who are then swapped with even more inferior players. It has gone on and on like this. Performances always seemingly getting worse – from the disgrace of losing to Southampton in the Premier League to getting thrashed 3-0 at home to Torquay in League Two. Even the wins are tempered by the fact they generally came against teams we were recently much higher above.

It’s been on heck of a bumpy, uncomfortable fall. This past decade.

Aside from an almost year-on-year decline in league position, it’s the lack of good times and moments widely savoured along the way which illustrate how low the enjoyment factor has been allowed to fall. And this circle of decline means that even players who deserve some recognition for their efforts in claret and amber have largely been quickly forgotten or are widely derided.

Imagine you were asked to draw up a six-player shortlist – PFA-style – of the best City players over the past decade, in terms of their impact over at least one season. We’d all struggle to compile such a list, and even then widely disagree. (For what it’s worth, my personal top six from this decade of despair would be Mark Bower, Dean Furman, Stuart McCall, Donovan Ricketts, David Wetherall and Dean Windass – bet you disagree with at least two if not more of my choices). Top six team performances of the past decade? Top six moments? Not a great deal of choice to go for, is there?

But the upshot of all of this is that the pressure of continued failure and lowering expectations lies heavily on these inferior players of the present. This current team isn’t capable of much, other than preserving our league status. That might not be good enough, but one has to wonder whether the blame of failing to realise expectations beyond what the players are collectively – and individually – capable of should be fully piled onto their shoulders?

For 90 minutes on Tuesday, many received non-stop abuse for their failings. It ain’t Gareth Evans fault we’re in League Two, forced to recruit players like Gareth Evans.

Above all else, I guess I wish we could act as though we are on the same side as our players more often, instead of this near-constant outrage that they are letting us down. So when we are urging our team to equalise against Burton, but then – when they manage that – instantly turn around and slate them for not being good enough, it seems we are merely trying to inflict as much misery as we can upon ourselves – and. ultimately, it is we who suffer for that.

No one would suggest we get out the open top bus should City stay up this season. But, after staring down the barrel of the non-league gun, we should take some degree of consolation that it probably won’t turn out as badly as it might have.