Eight years of hurt

The relative irregularity of international tournaments helps them become memorable experiences through life, and I often find the beginning of a new one sees me look back at the last to measure how things have since changed.

Four years ago when Euro 2004 was taking place in Portugal, I watched games in between working two jobs; neither of them what I wanted to do with my life. I feel happy with subsequent career progress and even the current disputes over TV watching, which will largely consign me to following Euro 2008 from an old TV upstairs, is a nice way of appreciating the fact I’ve got married since Greece improbably became European Champions.

An examination of Bradford City’s fortunes since Euro 2004 leaves a big question mark over whether things have progressed during the past four years. That summer City had just been relegated from the-then Division One and were facing up to a first campaign in England’s third tier for eight years. Since then a first basement division campaign in 25 years has occurred and with it high, but typically unfulfilled, hopes. The term ‘disappointing’ is usually the politest used to describe a City season in recent years, with lowlights including that 3-0 home defeat to Accrington, getting relegated after loaning out the top scorer and Bobby Petta.

When looking further back at where City were during Euro 2000, the current position seems even more dismal. The ‘most exciting signing in the club’s history’ was unveiled a month after David Trezeguet’s golden goal won Euro 2000 for France, reputedly earning in a week what City would seven years later pay as their first transfer fee since 2001. We supporters were relishing another campaign of visits to Old Trafford, Anfield and Highbury; compared to next season’s trips to Moss Rose and Christie Park.

But as Euro 2008 kicks off with Holland and Spain throwing down early markers, something will be achieved at Valley Parade later this month that hasn’t occurred since those Premiership days – the club has broken even. It might not be earth-shattering news to turn the national media’s focus away from debating where Ronaldo might be playing next season, but it should be a worth a pint or two celebration for City fans. After years of rising debts and the struggle to merely keep going, plans for the future are being laid on more solid foundations.

And if nothing else, the thing to look back on when recalling Euro 2008 in future years should be that we were free to watch it without distractions over our team’s continuing existence. Anyone remember who Portugal and Greece had to beat in the semi finals to reach the Euro 2004 final? I couldn’t without looking it up (Holland and Czech Rep by the way). While the rest of the country debated David Beckham’s quarter final penalty shootout miss, we were wondering how we might cope without Bradford City.

At the end of June 2004 that looked reality as the club were minutes away from closing. If there’s been nothing major to celebrate since, that we were saved at the eleventh hour is something that shouldn’t be forgotten. After all, will supporters of Rotherham and Halifax care whether Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s goal for Holland was offside the other night?

In the four years since we’ve had two and half years of mid table mediocrity under Colin Todd, before a calamitous and avoidable relegation to League Two. New investment was promised by Peter Etherington but delivered by Mark Lawn, and now a club legend is charged with delivering Julian Rhodes’ ambitious aim of a return to the Championship before the 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa. It’s easy to scoff, but then four years ago no one was talking about City returning to the Championship anytime soon – and that was just after we’d exited it.

So far this summer City fans’ focus has been on the increasingly unlikely chances of the season ticket offer reaching its target, but even if it fails average crowds next season are still likely to be higher than the three post-Euro 2004 years in League One. Stuart McCall has a transfer budget bigger than most in League Two and is apparently aiming in high with his targets. Lofty expectations are justified and, a year into the job, there is confidence in Stuart to deliver.

All of which is due to the hard work of Julian Rhodes and others in bringing City back from the brink in 2004 and keeping the club afloat before Mark Lawn came on board and helped the club finally break even.

There may be no England to cheer, but Euro 2008 should be a more enjoyable tournament for us to sit back and watch knowing there aren’t any doubts whether City will be part of the big kick off August 9.

The next four years before Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine should be very interesting.