Outsiders are welcome

“Come and visit Bar 71 lads”, said the Swindon Town steward who had appeared from nowhere after we had queued up at the County Ground away ticket office for tickets to Saturday’s game. “It’s for away supporters only, and we’ve put Bradford City photos up to make you feel at home. There’s even one charting how far you’ve travelled today, which I researched myself.”

So we did visit Bar 71, located directly underneath the away section of the County Ground. And though the posters looked a bit naff (see photo below) and the beer hardly cheap, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience with plenty of room and big screen coverage of the Chelsea v Arsenal game. And though we were the only people there for half an hour, by the time Robin van Persie was completing his hat trick, Bar 71 was packed out with City fans. And suddenly in from the pitch outside burst a jokingly annoyed Lennie the City Gent, wondering why no one was sat in the stand watching his routines. “Never mind the beer,” he ordered “get out there.”

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

"Welcome to Swindon, here's a picture of Craig Fagan to make you feel at home."

There has been much comment made of Swindon’s decision to charge us £25 to watch a League Two match and rightly so. Times are tough and all that – football, at this level especially, should be an affordable activity not a luxury expense. A week earlier I’d attended the Blackburn Rovers v Tottenham Premier League fixture and paid just £17 for the privilege. When you consider the petrol expense of travelling 200+ miles to Wiltshire, Saturday was a costly day out.

Yet after getting past the monetary concerns, it was also a hugely enjoyable experience. Bar 71 might be little more than a glorified Working Mens Club, but it was a nice touch by Swindon to lay on facilities for away supporters. Financially profitable for them, of course; somewhere nearby, there will have been a local pub or two missing out on revenue we would have otherwise provided them. But the Robins were also making an effort to ensure our matchday experience was a good one, rather than rely on others to do so.

It may have cost £25 a ticket, but if we’re in the same division next season I personally will favour a trip to the County Ground over some League Two away games (like, for example, Port Vale – £20.50 ticket, not allowed in their supporters bar).

And that’s a point that few football clubs – Bradford City included – appear to be aware of. Away support is an important financial consideration, and there is much they can do to make sure a visit to your stadium is an attractive proposition beyond providing away fans with a decent view of the match.

Perhaps Brighton deserve the status of pioneers in this respect. As part of the development of their brand new Amex Stadium, they built an away stand where they can make bespoke changes to the facilities. Visiting supporters to Brighton this season have arrived into an away concourse in the colours of their team, with posters of their present and past heroes on the wall. Inside the ground, the away seats are cushioned. Martin Perry, Brighton Chief Executive, explained the reasoning to the BBC during the summer: “Why not be welcoming to your visiting club? Why not make it a fantastic experience for them? Because actually what happens is, they look for the Brighton fixture and they say “I’m going to that one” and we get a full house.”

Swindon’s Bar 71 was a low rent equivalent. Bespoke posters on the wall, a chance to socialise before the match and then a 5-second walk to the away turnstiles once everyone in your group had supped up. Certainly profitable for Swindon in terms of the bar and food takings; but potentially even more rewarding for the club when it comes to the number of fans who attend their club’s fixture at the County Ground the following season.

Not that it’s solely a football club’s responsibility to ensure away fans have an enjoyable experience. My favourite away trip of the season so far was Oxford in August. A few hundred yards from the stadium was a pub which put on outdoor seating, a special beer tent and a DJ playing indie classics. We were warmly welcomed to join the large group of home supporters, and we spent a good hour chatting to a number of friendly Oxford fans. A great experience which they do for every game, apparently; and because of it we’ll be travelling to Oxford the next time that City play them.

At Morecambe, Bradford City supporter Dan Thornton – who’s caravan park is based opposite the Globe Arena – has for the last two seasons put on special events before Morecambe-Bradford matches for City fans only. Although the racist stand up comedian was not to my taste and so I won’t be going again, other City fans were not bothered by it and will go in the same high numbers next time.

Whoever instigates them, the efforts of Brighton, Swindon, Oxford and Dan add something extra to the day which makes them more rewarding. When the most important factor – the match itself – is beyond our control and more often than not disappointing, it’s nice to return home from a day out with something positive to look back on from it.

Which brings us to the obvious question of what – if anything – Bradford City and us supporters are doing for visitors to our own city? As much as we can complain about Swindon’s £25 entry, the fact we charge away fans £20 to see their team at Valley Parade makes our moral high ground position rather dubious. The facilities in the Midland Road stand are okay but nothing special, while there is no Bar 71 equivalent (or a realistic location to open one) to offer visitors.

Sadly, there are no decent pubs in the immediate vicinity of Valley Parade and – without doing some research first – few away fans would have a clue where to find one. The excellent Haigy’s is hidden away, and the City Centre pubs aren’t especially football-focused. The Sparrow Cafe on North Parade, for the moment, remains a hidden gem that only a handful of City fans are aware of (well worth seeking out if you’ve not been, mine’s a pint of Bernard Unfiltered if you’re buying). That and a good curry after the match aside, it’s hard to know what would make a trip to Bradford especially more attractive for an opposition supporter.

Does it matter? When opposition away followings at Valley Parade are sometimes dipping below 100 and rarely top 500 I think it does. Consider that – to a Southern-based opposition fan – a trip to Bradford is similar in distance and effort to Accrington, Morecambe and Rotherham, which would you favour if money and a social life meant you had to pick and choose?

In early 2012 City will face away trips to London borough clubs Barnet, Wimbledon and Dagenham – a fair equivalent to the above for us. Some fans will go to all three of these; me I will probably go to two of them. Wimbledon I’ve not been too before so that will be included, and my other choice would probably be Barnet on the basis I had much more fun travelling down to North London last season compared to going to Dagenham the year before.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps we shouldn’t give a toss what away fans think of Bradford and the fact they will rock up on Manningham Lane at 1pm looking for a pint and can find only sex shops. But when experiencing the difference in visiting a club who were genuinely welcoming to me and who had clearly made an effort to ensure I enjoyed my time, I feel sad and wonder if we lose out financially from the fact ‘Bradford City away’ is unlikely to be any opposition fans’ highlight of the season.

Wright signs for Brighton coming back from non-league

Jake Wright was supposed to be little more than a footnote in Bradford City history.

The left sided defender wore number 46 – the highest number the club has issued – in 2003 but was did not feature in the following years before he was released signing for Chris Wilder and Wayne Jacobs at a Halifax Town side where he served well enough that he secured a move to Crawley Town as Fax declined.

Crawley allowed the player to go Brighton on trial and Brighton were impressed enough to sign Jake Wright to the League One club.

The 23 year old battles for a place at the Withdean Stadium at left back or in the middle and has the tributes of Russell Slade – a man City once tried to recruit as youth team boss – ringing in his ears.

One wonders what turned Wright’s career around. Perhaps Wayne Jacobs critics will note that Wright had turned and City’s brightest prospect of last season Luke O’Brien also plays in the assistant manager’s position which might point to Jakes doing something right.

Coaching aside a man changes between 18 and 23 and Wright now is no doubt different from Wright then. More mature, more determined perhaps and that could be a result of release by City.

Nevertheless it is heartening to see a young player turn himself around following release from a league club and with City dipping into signing non-league players such as James Hanson and Steve Williams there is a hope that good players may be available from previously unused sourced.

The eighteen year olds released as kids five years ago become matured twenty three year olds the non-league system further sorted and returned the best.

Ashikodi Returns To Watford As The Anticipation Begins

Moses Ashikodi returned to Watford for a scan on what is a suspected broken leg sustained in the win over Brighton as the anticipation in the run up to City’s biggest game in years began.

The Bantams face Leyton Orient at Valley Parade with the possibility to get out of the League One relegation zone and push towards safety. Orient say that City would rather be in their position than ours and that may be true with 43 games gone. When 44 have been played things could be very different.

Nevertheless Ashikodi – who has built and impressive partnership with Billy Paynter – will not take part in the run in. The striker’s return will allow Spencer Weir-Daley a crack at the cult hero status Mozza was cementing.

Weir-Daley is a good match for Ashikodi – both offer pace and finishing – but perhaps lacks the aggression that the Watford man brought to the forward line. How curious that the future of this club sits in the partnerships and fitness of a Watford, a Southend and a Nottingham Forest player. How ironic that out man with the most bottle is off saving a different club from relegation.

One wonders if Windass is keeping an eye on events at Valley Parade. One wonders if he is feeling the anticipation.

Game On

Football is great in the sun. At least it is for Bradford City fans. I think it goes back to wins over Wolves and Liverpool and the bright sun that those games were played in. When the sun comes out and spring is in the air City seem to start the good stuff.

The good stuff being Billy Paynter’s goal in the first half that gave the Bantams a life-saving 1-0 win at Brighton.

Paynter struggled all afternoon after getting clattered in the first minute and stooped in to score after Kelly Youga had heading against the bar. Moses Ashikodi ended the game on a stretcher and the fact that both City’s borrowed forwards could end up out for next week’s massive game with Layton Orient is worrying but the fact that next week means something is down to a dogged display from the Dave Wetherall men today.

Watching Young and Ashikodi and Paynter today got the mind racing to what City will be like as a team next season. We have no idea what division we will be in, who the manager will be and we don’t know if any of these guys sweating and running in claret and amber will ever set foot in Bradford again after the end of the season.

City were lucky for sure with Brighton three times pinging the bar and posts and for long periods we lacked real firepower but doggedness saw us though. Stand in outstanding midfielder Eddie Johnson take a bow after a quality performance that suggests City might have an inbuilt replacement once Marc Bridge-Wilkinson returns to Port Vale in the summer.

So games 44 and 45 of the season see the Bantams facing Leyton Orient and Chesterfield with Leyton promising a place out of the relegation zone for the winner and Chesterfield after that perhaps sending them down should results go the way. One note on the fixture list if Leyton Orient’s last day meeting with Huddersfield Town, an easy three points should Town not need them, and the fact the Londoners have to entertain to Nottingham Forest. Chesterfield have play off chasing Oldham on the last day and Northampton next week. They will see a win agianst us as crucial.

City face Leyton Orient at VP, away to Chesterfield and then finally at home to Millwall. Game is most definitely on.

An Oily Stage

As I wandered to work listening to the odd tune it struck me that this weekend at Brighton Bradford City’s time in out of the basement of English football could – for all intents – come to an end.

Having only briefly gone to City in the early 1980s Division Four period I shuddered at the idea that having started this decade in the Premiership City could end up playing at a level of football so low that a large chunk of the Bantams support were probably not born when last it was seen at Valley Parade.

What does League Two/Division Four football look like? Is it entertaining? Is it bullish? Which skills are required to win in a league that is one step off not being professional? Is the gap between here and there similar in scope to the Premiership/Championship jump?

One hopes we do not have to find out but should we lose at Brighton’s Withdean Stadium it will be likely we will.

If it does all but mathematically end on Saturday then what better place than the athletic track stadium which most ironically represents the problems of the majority of modern football clubs.

Brighton and Hove Albion have some passionate supporters who struggle manfully to try get the club into a new stadium in the City. At the moment attendences average at around 6,200 in a City of 155,919 people and an area of just under half a million.

The 6,200 of Brighton struggle against the same sort of massive disinterest in the struggling club that most fans find. The majority of people in places like Brighton and Bradford do not give much of a damn about the football club and certainly are not about to pay taxes to support it or see it given preferential treatment for planning applications and the like.

Of course were Brighton and Hove Albion to get to Wembley – or as we did up the Leagues – one can be sure that more than 6,200 would be in attendance.

The Brighton stadium plans are a microcosm of most of footballs problems. A small passionate group looking to enhance something that when working well is a massive civic institution – and when badly still a significant one – against a face of at best indifference and at worse nimby hostility.

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