Football: Fan's eye view - Bradford City: The joy of Bantams beating heavyweights

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN my beloved Barnsley beat Bradford City on 26 April 1997 to secure promotion to the Premier League, it was almost too easy to forget that our vanquished rivals had taken another step towards the trapdoor to the Second Division.

Nothing else mattered - the Reds were up, and that was it. The final whistle blew, and the inevitable pitch invasion began. What was this, though - why were Bradford's supporters staying in their seats, clapping, cheering, as though they were the ones who had something to celebrate?

Of all the images I remember of that fateful afternoon, nothing sticks in my mind more than those away fans, bedecked in orange and yellow, putting their own woes to one side to share in our joy.

Five days later, on the night of the General Election, 500 Barnsley supporters made the short journey to the Pulse Stadium to see Bradford take on Oldham Athletic in a game which some would argue was more important than the shennanigans between Blair and Major. Chris Kamara's team had to win, or fall through the trapdoor. Happily, win they did, and the 3-0 drubbing of Queen's Park Rangers on the final Sunday ensured the Bantams would be playing First Division football in 1998.

Now, almost two years on, as Bradford lie second in the First Division, the similarities between City's promotion push are strikingly similar to those of Barnsley. All season City have been considered unworthy of a place at the top end of the table, and the club have not been given the recognition their achievements merit.

I'm sure I speak for all Barnsley's fans when I say that I hope Bradford make it. After the way those fans conducted themselves, they deserve their day in the sunshine. Regular supporters have long said the seventh- biggest city in England deserves Premiership football, and it would be fantastic if this could be their year.

Like Barnsley, because nobody has given much credence to their rise, there is no pressure and no expectancy on the players to complete the job. As Danny Wilson will testify, this can bring with it an easier ride to the finish line. Back in 1997, Wolves were the big-name team who were expected to overhaul their unfancied rivals, but, Mark McGhee will remember, his side's required upturn in form never materialised. This season, for "big-spending Midlands rivals with a tendency to blow up" read Birmingham, not Wolves.

My, this is so spooky, I'm half expecting Bradford to get promoted, come straight down again, and then see Paul Jewell scoot off to Leeds United after telling everybody he loved them and would not go. On second thoughts, there is surely just the one manager with such a lack of principles?

Make no mistake, whatever anybody says, Bradford deserve promotion and are well on course to get it. The chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, has backed the manager, Paul Jewell, with hard cash, and for his investment to pay off so soon would be testimony to the redoubtable Liverpudlian's ability to get the best out of his players.

Whether they can stay there or not is a different matter. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is becoming more difficult to bridge every year, and it is a chasm which can no longer be overcome by muck and nettles alone.

If City are to go up and stay there, it will require quality players with belief that they are able to compete as equals with the best players in the land, because once those heads go down, the death rattle sets in and remains until early May.

It's amazing to see players who produced football to such a level that it was allegedly "just like watching Brazil" reduced to struggling to put two passes together in a matter of weeks.

Once Chelsea did for us 6-0 at home in our third match, I knew, I just knew that we weren't going to make it. No matter how much bravado on behalf of the manager or defiance from the players, the game was up... on 24 August.

We had been stuffed in front of our own fans and the Sky TV cameras; the decline was swift. Just look at us now...

So while I hope Bradford do get there, I just hope that there is one similarity between our two clubs that City do not emulate. It's a different world up there, and I wish you luck, for you will need it.