Day 29/365 (2018)

“Life is bigger, it’s bigger and you, you are not me.”

Today’s picture is of mementoes, signed pictures, commemorative badges and the like that are displayed on my office wall. Momentoes and souvenirs of Bradford City AFC. They may soon be coming down from the wall. Possibly to be put into a box, stacked in a corner and not go back up.

I wonder if you’re familiar with the distinctive voice of Michael Stipe and the evocative mandolin playing on one of the 90s most haunting songs. And the video too,  Stipe’s performance is superb; a tortured and lost soul.

REM’s “Losing My Religion” is a terrific song, and is one of my personal favourite songs from one of my favourite bands. It still seems fresh and relevant musically after nearly three decades.

Unfortunately, it’s a song I’ve been thinking about with increasing regularity in recent months. I say unfortunately, because the song speaks loudly to me at the moment for I am, sadly, unexpectedly and incomprehensibly, in the process of losing my religion.

And, for any one who knows me, my religion is, and has been for approaching forty years, Bradford City.

I began attending matches at Valley Parade in the autumn of 1980. I think my first game was September 6 1980 against Bournemouth in a 1-1 draw. I say “think” because my memory is unclear. But, my first match at VP was in the autumn of either the 1980/81 or 1981/82 season. And Bournemouth looms large in my consciousness for some reason.

So, September 6 1980 it is.

At first I went irregularly to the games; as and when pocket money and earnings from a paper round allowed me. Nick, my oldest and dearest friend, later my best man and Godfather to my daughter – and the reason I even went to VP in the first place – would hop on a bus into town, mooch along Manningham Lane and jump across the muddy puddles that seemed to be a permanent fixture of the turnstiles we accessed the crumbling Top terracing via. For some odd reason, his earlier life in South Africa I expect, Nick would occasionally bring dates to the game. Not exactly the half time snack of the working man’s game. But tasty enough. And quite sticky.

As we grew older, Nick couldn’t attend as much due to university and travelling, work commitments, but he remains a Bradford City fan. I kept going through thick and thin and thinner, and thinner.

I took, Sarah, to Valley Parade on one of our first dates. At home to Milwall on November 28,1984. We won 3-1, went top of the table and stayed at the top, eventually winning the Third Division title that season. I was at VP, celebrating the teams success, with Sarah and mum and dad, and thousands of other giddy Bradford fans, when the fire began.

In 1994, Sarah allowed me to include a reference to my love for Bradford City in our daughters name. I tried for Claret Ann Amber but was voted down. I say voted, it wasn’t especially democratic. That name was vetoed by Sarah and my ma-in-law. But, I got Amber into her name.

I’ve attended matches at VP and at away grounds with every generation of my family. My late grandfather, a terrific Glaswegian chap, used to come with use. My dad has been a regular alongside me since early on. We used to bring my nephew when he was very young. Sadly, for unfathomable reasons, we have failed with Nick (a different Nick to the date eating one) and he is now an avowed Chelsea supporter. Do not ask me how and why. Suffice to say, he wasn’t happy on FA Cup day at Stamford Bridge when his hometown club put four goals past his chosen team. My mother began to come with us a few years ago an day wife is an occasional attendee.

My daughter began coming to match when she around four years old. I say she began coming to matches when, in reality, I dragged her along. She has had a season ticket for most every year of her life. From her initial reluctance to go with her dad for a cold afternoon spent at VP, she has grown into a fervent fan and fully lives up to the Amber in her name.

I have travelled up and down the island following the team. That’s nothing special really, many fellow fans do the same each weekend. I’ve spent money that I often couldn’t afford on tickets and City related stuff. Fans do that, I am not unique.

When the club put out calls for fans to fork the pitch to help it drain and to clear it of snow to ensure a match would go ahead, I answered the cry. Even bringing my own garden fork with me – and, trust me, as  fourteen year old on a bus with a garden fork, you attract some odd looks.

I have helped to paint the concourse. I have raised funds to help avoid the club going bust by donating and adding coins around the pitch. I’ve been involved in fund raising for City related charities. This club has been my foundation and is so much a part of my life.

In short, Bradford City AFC and all things Valley Parade and claret and amber are part of me. They are in my soul. Heck, they are even inked onto my skin in more than one place.

But, “are” has drifted into a “were”. “Is” into “was”.

For I am, like Stipe, losing my religion.

I’ve not enjoyed going the City for the entirety of this season and, if I really think about it, I didn’t enjoy much of last season. My loss of “faith” has nothing to do with results or performances on the pitch. Far from it, last season we occupied a play off position throughout the regular season and made it to Wembley. We lost, but, hey-ho. Early last season the club put on a TV “beamback” from one of our game at MK Dons. I went to watch it at VP. There, in a packed room inside my club’s stadium and full of City fans cheering wildly as we swept into a 2-0 lead playing delightful football, I sat in silence, unmoved as the goals went in. Unemotional and empty.

I have never felt so alone and bereft while in a crowd of people.

And this year we have also been in the play off positions. Although, with recent results, this may soon not be the case.

I wasn’t anticipating the football season back in the heat of last summer. I had no desire for the season to begin. After the first match of this year, home to Blackpool, as I left the ground and walked back to the bus station, I bumped into a friend. As we walked we discussed our loss at Wembley in the Play Off Final in May. My friend said he still had not got over the disappointment of losing. His comments made me think. They shook me a little as I realised that I was over it. And I had been about five minutes after the final whistle sounded and Millwall fans did what Millwall fans do and invaded the pitch.

Football simply has not “gripped” me at all this season. I’ve been to all the league games but haven’t got excited at anything. Most of the goals we have scored have been met with a muted response from me. I may have celebrated Charlie Wyke’s hat trick early the season but, if you cannot celebrate a City player scoring three goals in a game (doesn’t happen often), then all is lost.

Likewise, a win is nice, but I have not got too high on victory and defeats have not knocked me back. I don’t visit the club website to keep up to date with news. I no longer buy replica shirts – the last replica shirts I bought was a few years back and I took the away shirt, a nice black one bought the day before I flew to Chicago, on holiday with me. I wore it for about an hour before taking it off due to the humidity and I have never worn it again.

I have also stopped listening to away matches on the radio. And, very surprisingly to me, I do not miss them. Most home matches I only decide late on if I’m going; Boxing Day saw me still undecided about going and sat at home at 1320 for a 1500 KO. I went reluctantly.

Well, not reluctantly. That is not entirely accurate. I went, and continue to do so, simply because that is what I do and have done for so long. What else would I do?

But that is no longer enough of a reason to keep me going. I have become ambivalent towards the club. I’ve flatlined.

It is not the results. It’s not the manager, chairman (or, men, in recent years) and it is not the players. I’ve watched some truly terrible footballers play for my team and I have witnessed many awful matches played using terrible tactics by clueless managers. It isn’t the passion, or lack of, shown by those on the pitch and my fellow fans in the stands. I have been blessed to follow City through enough bad times and some incredibly amazing recent periods to know that football, generally, is cyclical. We will lay well again and we will also play worse again in the future. Matches will be won that should have lost and lost when we were so far on top of the game that,to mix sporting metaphors, if it were boxing, the referee would have stepped the contest. And I have seen some shocking decisions by inept match officials.

Maybe it is on field results that has got me feeling this way over years. But, I do not really believe that. As I said, despite our mini blip of recent weeks, I have not been enjoying City for some time now.

I wish it were the players, managers and results. For, then, I would know that things would change and move on. Personnel would come and go and my feelings would ebb with them.

It is something else that I cannot define and, unable to pinpoint the cause, am feel unable to address my faithlessness. I cannot identify my malaise, it is ghostlike, slipping like a wraith through my fingers when I try to grasp the why and how of my faithlessness.

And, when I ponder renewing my season ticket for next year, I am increasingly having to question myself to find a reason why I should. And that is not right. “Will I go to City?”, be it next match, next month, next season, would normally be a no brainier. It used to be as stupid a question as asking if I would draw breath tomorrow.

My parents no longer come to matches. That saddens me. My mother is not in the best of health – although, try getting her to admit that! And my dad, my longtime City companion, cannot now easily access his seat in the Midland Road. He’d love to come to games but, his loyalty to mum and his increasing mobility issues prevent him.

I’m close to tears as I write that line and acknowledge that my dad and I have probably been to VP together for the final time.

What would I do without BCAFC in my life?

I don’t know. But I’m finding the possibility is less scary than I once thought.

And so, after 37 years of going to matches and around 25 as a season ticket holder, I find myself just like Michael Stipe.

I’d dearly love to refind my love for City, to rediscover the passion I have felt for so many years, to feel a bond with my team as I once did. I long to rekindle my desire for something that, since I was around 12 years old, has sustained me.

But, I don’t know if I can do it.

 

“Losing My Religion” by REM

Oh life, it’s bigger. It’s bigger than you.

And you are not me. The lengths that I will go to.

The distance in your eyes. Oh no, I’ve said too much. I set it up.

That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight

Losing my religion. Trying to keep up with you.

And I don’t know if I can do it. Oh no, I’ve said too much

I haven’t said enough. I thought that I heard you laughing.

I thought that I heard you sing. I think I thought I saw you try.

Every whisper. Of every waking hour.

I’m choosing my confessions. Trying to keep an eye on you.

Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, fool. Oh no, I’ve said too much. I set it up.

Consider this. Consider this, the hint of the century.

Consider this, the slip. That brought me to my knees, failed.

What if all these fantasies come. Flailing around.

Now I’ve said too much. I thought that I heard you laughing.

I thought that I heard you sing. I think I thought I saw you try.

But that was just a dream. That was just a dream.

That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight.

Losing my religion. Trying to keep up with you.

And I don’t know if I can do it. Oh no, I’ve said too much.

I haven’t said enough. I thought that I heard you laughing.

I thought that I heard you sing. I think I thought I saw you try.

But that was just a dream. Try, cry, why try.

That was just a dream. Just a dream

Just a dream, dream.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sarah says:

    😞 too sad to contemplate x

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