Issue There is relief, the season’s over

As told by Jason Mckeown

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Lewis Hunt, Luke Oliver, Lee Bullock, Robbie Threlfall | Dominic Rowe, Jon Worthington, David Syers, Omar Daley | James Hanson, Jake Speight | Alex Flett, Luke O'Brien

There is so much to trouble the mind and soul related to Bradford City at the moment, but at 3pm Saturday there was a reminder – however unwelcome – of what’s really important.

There is a football match taking place at Valley Parade. Not the most noteworthy game occurring around the country today, but between 3 and 5pm it is the be all and end all for us. Fretting about winning, fretting about the players’ effort levels, fretting about a horrendous scoreline and performance. Today is not a good day, but the weekly soap opera of trying to win football matches is everything that matters. Our purpose. The other stuff just gets in the way.

There is what could be the last ever football match taking place at Valley Parade. It feels strange walking up to and entering the ground, trying to mentally train yourself to appreciate what could be your last proper visit to your second home. Your last time through the turnstiles? Possibly. Your last time walking to your seat? Possibly. If this later proves to be it, maybe not knowing now is for the best. It would be so emotional to be here realising it definitely was for the final time; we would hardly be able to bring ourselves to leave.

There is perspective offered to the current worries by a minute’s silence to remember the Valley Parade fire of 26 years ago, just before kick off. Fitting that the 56 people are remembered if this is the final ever game at Valley Parade, but also a reminder of how reluctant we should be to leave the scene of such tragedy. I was only four years old – and living in Wales – when the fire occurred, so it’s not something I feel I have the right to write about. But as people argue City shouldn’t allow those terrible events to prevent us from moving, it strikes me that – having been so determined to rebuild and return to Valley Parade in the wake of 1985, with such strong emotion involved – giving up our home now because of a squabble with the landlord seems somewhat ill-fitting to the memories of the 56.

There is moaning 11 seconds into the game – surely a new record, even after this last decade. The kick off is messed up by the players, and the outrage at their efforts and level of ability begins in earnest. Still it’s normal, and while not to mine and other’s tastes a reassuring kind of normal. Debating the merits of Jake Speight up front, questioning the suitability of Lee Bullock as centre back. Normal. The kind of discussions and reactions taking place in football grounds up and down the country. As we look set to spend the next few weeks fretting about financial matters, moaning about Omar Daley’s effort levels is a welcome relief.

There is a goal to Crewe inside 12 minutes. City had started the game okay, but then give the ball away in a bad position and Shaun Miller races clean through on goal and past the recalled Jon McLaughlin, before tapping into the net. Crewe, like City, have nothing to play for aside from ensuring departing striker Clayton Donaldson ends the season with the League Two Golden Boot trophy. As the players celebrate, Donaldson – who had already tried a couple of shots from ridiculous angles – looks upset and one of his team-mates has a word. Miller had done the work, but Donaldson, it seemed, wanted his strike partner to allow him to slot the ball home. Great team player.

There is some resistance from City, initially at least. Speight has a drive at goal parried by Rhys Taylor, and a struggling-for-form James Hanson can only fire the loose ball against the angle of post and crossbar. Minutes later Hanson passes up another chance, and his growing army of critics in the stands are fearful in their abuse. “Get back to the Co-op” they yell at last season’s player of the year. Last season’s David Syers, if you will. Once looked upon as a solution, Hanson is now apparently part of the problem.

There is the occasional positive from this dreadful season. Syers harries for possession and plays Speight through on goal. Just as he’s about to pull the trigger he is pushed over by a Crewe defender for a penalty he then converts. The last ever Valley Parade goal by a City player? Possibly. Three goals in five games for Speight now, a decent end to the season. But the real hero was Syers, a player to build next season’s team around.

There is applause at regular intervals. Applause for McLaughlin when he tips over a long-range piledriver. Applause for full debutant Dominic Rowe after cutting inside and hitting a low shot that has to be palmed out by Taylor. Then applause for Crewe’s lethal counter attack from the resultant City corner, which sees Bryon Moore race down the flank and play Miller in to score. Whatever your views on the way we City fans get behind our own, that sporting nature within us to applaud wonderful opposition goals and pieces of play is something we should be proud of. I guess you could say we get plenty of practice.

There is a brilliance about the visitors and how they pass the ball around. Since attending the 2-1 loss at Gresty Road last January, I’ve retained a view that Crewe – on their day – are the best team in League Two. They should have done better than the 10th place they finish, as they rip City apart time and time again. No one is picking up Moore, who is running the game and laying on numerous chances for the dangerous Miller and Donaldson. 90 seconds after going 2-1 up, Donaldson gets that goal he wanted so badly – sealing the Golden Boot. A Bradford lad of course, but this is one piece of sporting excellence we all struggle to share pride in. His 28 goals are one more than City have managed in total at home all season. If only he hadn’t left City at 15. If only.

There is a growing sense of embarrassment. Danny Shelly has a goal ruled out for handball, but then scores legally right on half time with a shot McLaughlin should save. At half time – the last ever half time at Valley Parade? Possibly – the boos ring out and the reception from fans in the Bradford End in particular looks nasty. Part outclassed, part lacking in effort – the players looked beleaguered. They’re not bad people, but as a team too many individuals are unwilling to truly put their bodies on the line and the rest are letting them get away with it.

There is a white flag waved from the home dugout. Peter Jackson addresses the issue of his midfield being overrun by hauling off Hanson and Daley and pushing Alex Flett and Luke O’Brien into midfield, but it’s a negative move aimed only at limiting the damage. City know they are beaten and go through the motions. Only Rowe offers us something to cheer with a series of promising runs at defenders which hint at self-confidence soaring. Flett works hard too, and City become better at retaining the ball. Still, with 45 minutes to go we’re just playing out time.

There is only one more goal, a second for Shelly following a scramble and initial save from McLaughlin. The ball somehow bounces through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom corner. The last ever goal at Valley Parade? Possibly. It’s hardly a moment of beauty, but one that arguably best reflects the 108 years of struggle and under-achievement that Valley Parade has been home to.

There is a mass exodus of people from the ground once the fifth goes in, despite 23 minutes to play. The last 23 minutes of football ever at Valley Parade? Possibly. Anger has been replaced by resignation and black humour, with sarcastic cheers for successful passes and, when City cross the half way line, cries of “shoot”. O’Brien eventually obliges with a shot from the edge of the box; it’s tame and easily held. Someone else gets up to leave, joking to us all “see you at Odsal”. No one laughs.

There is a mixture of almighty groans and laughter when Rowe’s low cross into the box looks perfect for Speight to tap home, only for him to miss the ball and fall over. Before Speight’s backside has smacked the grass, the usually patient family who sit in front of me head for the exit. A odd way for the 2010/11 season to end for them really, watching our £25k striker fall on his arse. You can imagine spending the summer playing it over and over again in your mind. It probably sums up the entire campaign.

There is no pitch invasion at the end, as an army of stewards block every route from the stands to the turf. Even allowing for the pointlessness of previous seasons pitch invasions, it would have been ridiculous for anyone to have wanted to bother. The Crewe players are given a standing ovation by City fans. The ground empties quickly, and a few hundred of us stay for the players’ lap of appreciation. All week on message boards, people like me – who like to clap the players at the end of the season regardless – have been slagged off for being willing to applaud failure. But it’s our choice, and you don’t have to stay. A fear of a protest booing against the players grows as we wait for them to come out, but in the end it seems those sufficiently outraged are already on their way home.

There is a quietness to the lap of appreciation. The players look a little embarrassed, with good reason of course. But the outfits most are wearing offer some symbolism over the failings of others. They’re wearing suits, those damn suits that at the start of the season City were proudly declaring on their own website were a wonderful thing, “In order not to let down Peter (Taylor’s) required standards.” Quick fixes, gimmicky ideas, yesterday’s answers.

Lap of appreciation

Smartly dressed players on their lap of appreciation

There is a dignity to Jackson all afternoon. This is not his team, but they might just have cost him the manager’s job for next season. He is emotional during his two local radio interviews, but passionate about staying. Possibly shown up tactically today, I nevertheless hope he gets the job because he deserves the opportunity to show what he could really do.

There is a relief the season is over. As the players head to the dressing room we take a long lingering look around Valley Parade – our last ever glimpse of this view? Possibly – before heading out into the summer’s night observing City fans shaking hands with Crewe supporters and congratulating them for their brilliant team. Before getting into the car and switching between BBC Radio Leeds and the Pulse talking about the rent problem. Before spending the next few weeks and months anxiously checking for news on City’s future. Before eventually, hopefully, being able to look forward to next season with genuine hope rather than fear.

There is so much we don’t know, but there is one thing I can be sure of. I’m City till I die.