Saying our goodbyes

The long bleak winter is over. The weather has been fantastic recently; and we’ve enjoyed continuous sunshine almost every day, getting us in the mood for a summer of barbeques, beer gardens and beaches.

Although the football season lasts only 10 months, there’s something full circle about the fact we usually begin and end it in short sleeves. The almost care-free days of pre-season last July seem a long time ago now having endured a winter of discontent that, at Valley Parade, was about more than appalling weather. But with the season long since ended, the pain of failure has already been dealt with and the focus has quickly shifted onto a more promising future. We’re not quite care-free, but it’s more than just the recent sunshine which has lifted the mood.

This weekend we say our goodbyes to the season. It’s not quite over of course – a few hundred of us will travel to Crewe a week Saturday and there’s even an attractive end of season benefit game at Valley Parade the day after, where legends return. But this weekend is the last where we all come together before the close season break, and we won’t properly see each other again until summer’s almost over.

In recent weeks many supporters have offered the opinion they can’t wait for this season to be over. I understand and agree with such sentiments to a point – who wants to prolong this desperately disappointing campaign any longer than we need to? But the close season can drag on very slowly, so there’s always something sad to me about its imminent arrival.

We may be glad of a break from it all now, but at some point over the next few weeks we’ll start to miss it again, badly. And typically when we again get the urge to watch Bradford City at the weekend, it will be an itch we cannot scratchwith so much as a pre-season friendly for weeks to come. Life just isn’t the same when there’s no active fixture list guiding us through it.

At least summers where there’s a major championship are much more bearable. This time we get the World Cup no less and, after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008, the prospect of the nation coming together to cheer on the team will likely prove doubly exciting and memorable. Beyond the inevitable penalty shoot out elimination, there’s a feast of football on TV to keep us going.

Fantastic…But…Well…It’s not the same as going to watch City, is it? At least the first pre-season friendly will quickly follow the World Cup final.

But before all that, this weekend we say our goodbyes. We say goodbye to the strangers which sit around us at games, who are so comfortingly familiar and provide the backdrop to Saturday afternoons. The bloke behind me who screams “FORWARDS!” at the merest suggestion of a sideways pass in City’s own half. The two miserable moaners nearby who select a different City player to slate every week.

The friendly old lady nearby who offers us sweets, and her grumpy husband who threatens every year never to come back but always does. “Thunder” at the back of the Midland Road stand, giving the linesman grief. The eccentric person who sets off balloons when games get dull. Charlie over in the Kop (what’s happened to him since the Dagenham game?). Some of you guys drive me mad and ruin my Saturdays by endlessly moaning, but I’ll miss it come June.

This weekend we say goodbye to a similar array of characters in the pub pre-match. Where are we going to get those little nuggets of City gossip from now?

This weekend we say goodbye to close friends. Me and Steve have been going to watch City together for years. Others were with us and gave up, and I also bring along the wife with me now; but for me and Steve it’s a valued and meaningful friendship built on charged emotions. When we spend time together we go through extreme highs and lows, each feeling the same way at the same time. We cheer and hug together, we sit in silence and sulk together. It’s a strange but fantastic way to bond, but outside of going to watch City every weekend we rarely hang out. We’re off to Crewe next week, but who knows when we’ll see each other after? A strange ending, when I’m used to dropping him off with the words “See you on Tuesday/next Saturday for the (insert team name) game, I’ll text what time I’ll pick you up.”

This weekend we say goodbye to the players. At this time of year debates are in full flow about which out of contract Bantams should be kept and who should be ditched. We rarely agree with each other, let alone the manager’s decisions, but no matter who’s goes they deserve our appreciation. Whatever the failings of this season, lack of effort cannot be accused of any player. They’ve exasperated and angered us at times over the last nine months, but this weekend we say goodbyes and wish those we don’t see again good luck for the future.

This weekend we don’t say goodbye – we remember those we never forget. 25 years since the fire, a milestone to reflect on and provide a fitting occasion to honour those who didn’t go home that night. Every supporter has been asked to buy a t-shirt in aid of the Burns Unit and wear it with pride at the game. It promises to be awesome sight, and for anyone who doesn’t join in words will fail me. Hopefully we’ll all get to sing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ too.

But aside from that, above all this weekend we say goodbye to Valley Parade and everything it gives us. The joy, the pain, the laughs, the anger, the cheers, the booing, the lukewarm beer, the long queues for the toilets. We go every other week for nine months, but then we spend three months away from our second home. I drive past it often in the summer – en route to the cinema or the M62 – and just wish I could go inside.

It is just being at Valley Parade, being at the football, that I miss most close season. Football is a way of life for us, and our lives have been filled by football for so many years that the summer pauses are unnerving and unnatural. Some animals hibernate in winter, we hibernate in summer.

We hibernate to shopping centres and DIY projects and catching up with friends we neglect and Saturday afternoon TV and so many other things that rarely come anywhere near to generating the excitement of sitting inside Valley Parade, on the edge of our seat, with City on the attack and looking like they might score.

This weekend we say goodbye to it all, until at least July. I’ll miss you, I really will.