Thursday 12th April 2018
For many years now – far more than I would wish to acknowledge, as it is yet another indicator that more of my road has been travelled than is left to traverse – my wife and I have had a brief conversation as I leave the house and set off to Valley Parade.
The exchange between us is a variation on the same theme and it goes something like this:
Wife: “Have fun. Enjoy yourself at the match.”
Me: “I don’t go there to enjoy myself.”
Wife: “Stay at home then.”
Me: “I can’t. Going there is what I do.”
And, with that, I give her a kiss and off I go to watch my football team.
In my thirty-seven – maybe thirty-eight, years as a fan of Bradford City AFC – there have been many occasions when following her suggestion would have been the more sensible option.
Please, don’t anyone tell her. It is best if that remains as one of those “unspoken truths”; she knows she is correct about most of the things we discuss and I know she is right the majority of the time. And, she knows I know she is, more often than not, right. It doesn’t need any acknowledgement, certainly not to my wife. She’d be wholly insufferable then!
Anyway, I digress.
In those thirty-seven, or so, years as a City fan, I have witnessed countless awful performances and abysmal displays that, on the frequent occasions they occur, I have wished I’d heeded her advice to stay at home and not bother going. Obviously, on returning home and in answer to her question, “You going next game?”, my answer has always been, “Of course.”
That’s what us fans do, we keep on going. We continue schlepping along and paying our money when, most of the time and to an outsider, it makes little sense to carry on supporting our chosen club. We follow our club in the bad times, hoping to be there when – indeed if – fortunes turn and success, fickle and delicate and oh so fleeting, briefly appears from the murk and gloom of mediocrity.
In the past five years or so, us City fans have basked in the warm glow that success, both on and off the pitch, has chosen to bestow on us.
Promotion from Division 4 (I’m old school, told you right at the top of this piece that I’m long in the tooth), exciting cup runs, Wembley appearances and play-off challenges – as both winners and losers. We’ve enjoyed watching players wear our colours with pride and show a determination to leave everything on the pitch at the final whistle, to battle for their team mates and make the fans proud. We’ve witnessed the genesis of modern day Bantams legends with the likes of Rory McArdle, Stephen Darby and Andrew Davies.
We’ve celebrated a headed goal at snow swept Villa Park that took us to a major cup final. We’ve cheered our team, loudly and proudly, despite getting thumped in that same final. And we’ve queued overnight in the cold for a ticket to travel and watch our boys go 2-0 down to a team of multi-millionaire internationals, before storming back to secure a breathtaking and, still to this day, incredible FA Cup victory.
Chelsea 2 – Bradford City 4. It’s almost impossible to believe. Yet I was there with my delirious fellow fans.
For two seasons we had the honour of watching Gary Jones – his signing as a relatively obscure thirty-something midfielder was met by this particular fan with, “Who? He’s how old?” – display professionalism and character beyond our wildest imaginings. Jones, always and forever, El Capitan, played for our club with the same heart, passion and desire that we fans feel.
Gary Jones got us and we fans, in turn, got him.
And, off the pitch, we’ve seen our club’s fanbase grow as a result of bold ticketing initiatives. Our crowds are the envy of many clubs in higher divisions.
But, that success has been in recent years.
Previously, we fans endured a long period of poor results, poor players, poor tactics and poor managers. Money troubles. Liquidation, fans rallying to raise cash to help the club survive. Relegations came with monotonous regularity until the prospect of dropping out of the football league all together became an alarmingly real fear. A decade? Was it so short a period? It seemed much longer.
Crowds were low. Morale was lower. Expectations were non-existent; simply having a club to support was all we fans wanted.
Since last summer (2017), I have lost my “mojo” for my City.
I wasn’t unduly upset at losing to Millwall in the final minutes of the play-off final and I wasn’t looking forward to this current season starting. I put that down to “football overload”, thinking I simply OD’d on footy; those play-offs and final extended our season, then there were various tournaments (Women’s international football, England U21’s or, was it the U20’s?), pre-season fixtures and so on. The close-season seems to get shorter and shorter each year and, as with professional footballers, us fans need an opportunity to take a break and recharge before it all kicks-off again.
Anyway, the season began and my mojo didn’t return. I thought it would when the first ball was kicked at home to Blackpool.
Sadly, it hasn’t returned yet. It’s been missing all season. Even when we were flying high before Christmas and the play-offs, even automatic promotion, seemed a near certainty. The collapse, on field and off, since the turn of the year hasn’t altered my feelings towards City at all.
Attending matches this season (2017/2018) has simply been a chore for me. From the start in August up to December it was often a very late decision to attend. Since January, I have chosen to avoid going to some matches and haven’t even bothered to follow the matches via the radio. Some of my disconnection with City at the moment comes from the fact that my parents – especially my dad – no longer attend matches; health and mobility issues are a key factor here. Yes, my daughter still goes with me to games and I love the time we spend watching City together but, along with my mojo, another key piece of my City identity is lost without my dad to share it with.
My mojo is still out there somewhere, missing and I’m looking for my way back to it.
Furthermore, I have agonised about renewing my season ticket. I wish my dilemma was based purely on disenchantment with results, players, owners and the such like. I envy those fans who have decided to stay away purely for reasons of discontentment with the current chairmen and because the team is, currently, so very poor. I long for my reasons to be so clean cut but they are not and I’m struggling to pinpoint the root cause of my missing mojo.
Right. I’ll try to wrap this up as swiftly as possible.
Until this morning, when I began writing this, I was undecided about attending tonight’s match. It’s live on SKY, I can sit in comfort at home and watch the game if I choose. Part of me doesn’t want to go to VP tonight. Part of me wants to stay at home and not watch the game on TV. Why would I want to watch a team of underperforming, spineless, inept footballers in claret and amber wander cluelessly around a quagmire of a pitch only to be whipped – as surely we will – by a Shrewsbury team chasing promotion?
But, whilst I have been penning this, my decision has been made.
I will leave the house tonight and, consequently, my wife and I will repeat the same conversation.
Why? Why, indeed?
Because, deep down – very, very, very deep down for me presently – I’m a Bantam, as all us City fans are. And bantams, those plucky, courageous little birds from which my club derives its nickname, don’t know when to give in; they keep on going to the bitter end.
And because, out there somewhere, but lost to me at the moment, is my City mojo and I desperately want it back.
**UPDATE – February 2021**
I wrote the above lines nearly four years ago. During those years my mojo has remained lost.
So much so that I made the decision quite early last year to not renew my season-ticket for the forthcoming/current (2020/2021) season. This after twenty-plus, maybe even thirty years, as a regular season-ticket holder. (My decision was made pre-COVID19 and the subsequent issues arising with attending live matches during a world-wide pandemic.)
My last attendance at Valley Parade was almost one whole calendar year ago. On February 8th 2020, City hosted Grimsby Town in a regular league match. I entered the stadium at around 1435 hrs. A mere fifteen-minutes later, as the players were finishing their pre-match routines, I walked out from what had, for 40 years, been my “spiritual home”.
And, when football was given the green light to start this season, I didn’t even look at the fixture list. Also, as before, I stopped listening to the radio commentary.
The matches have come and gone with very little notice. Oh, I’ve followed things through Twitter during some matches but, on the whole, I have only looked after the final whistle to see the result.
Yet, in recent weeks, like spring bulbs awakening in the frozen earth, I’ve felt stirrings.
Stirrings that led me to follow last Saturday’s game at home to Barrow.
Stirrings that caused me to to let out a cautious “YES!” as new-signing Danny Rowe collected the ball on the right of the Barrow box before cutting inside and rifling City into a one goal lead.
Stirrings that caught me muttering “Don’t be daft, O’Connor, get your hands off him!” as the City defender tussled with a Barrow striker in our own penalty area.
Stirrings that saw me let out an expletive as that same Barrow striker fell under the challenge (rather too easily if you ask me) and the referee awarded a penalty to our opponents.
The stirrings were still, well, stirring, as we held on under intense pressure for a half-time score of 1-1.
And the stirrings were at it again as, minutes after the re-start, we slammed in a goal to lead 2-1.
I think I may have let out a hearty “GET IN” at that point.
And then, as the 80th minute crawled slowly into the 81st, then 82nd and, eventually, past 90 to the dying minutes of the match, these stirrings prompted me to exhort City to “Hold on, boys.”
We held on to win.
And, I think, my mojo is holding on too.
Maybe, it’s even clawing its way back to me.