Bradford City v Leyton Orient
Valley Parade / League One / 14th December 2014
I think it’s safe to say that the 24th February 2013 will go down as one of the most important days in the history of Swansea City Football Club. In perhaps the most fitting way to possible to celebrate a club’s centenary year, Swansea City claimed their first major trophy by claiming the League Cup at Wembley. Yet it was also quite strange a day for Swansea. For much of the past years, Swansea have been painted as everyone’s ‘second favourite team’ with their exciting passing football, yet that Sunday afternoon almost all the neutrals out there were backing the Swans’ opposition. How dare everyone denounce ‘Swanselona’! What club dare take the ‘most liked’ tag from the Swans? Well, that club was Bradford City – a team who had imperiously taken down Premier League opponents such as Wigan, Aston Villa and most impressively Arsenal to get to Wembley. Thankfully, for us Swans fans anyway, Swansea waltzed to the trophy in the final by winning 5-0, but everyone’s hearts were already won over by the Bantams. And that includes the Swansea fans. Not only during the 90 minutes of that final were the Bradford fans brilliant, not relenting in their singing so much so that the Swans fans began to applaud them at 5-0 down, but they were also great company leading up to, after and even the night before the big game. I left Wembley that day wondering why I had never visited Bradford City FC if their fans were like this? Just under 10 months after that final, I finally found myself at Manchester Victoria ready to disembark for the West Yorkshire city of Bradford.
I arrived into Bradford Interchange around 11:30am and found myself at the top of a slight gradient looking down on the City Park area just down the road. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect of Bradford as a city on my arrival, but I was quite surprised how big the city actually seemed to be – I reminded myself it was a city after all.
As I delved into the city centre, I was also surprised by the hilly-ness’ of the hub of the city – it was like being back home in the Valleys at times! Despite mixed reviews about the city from people I had spoken to, I actually found the city very nice – it had a sort of shabby charm to it. I completed the arduous task of climbing up the hill that consisted of the main shopping high street, before I realised I hadn’t really spotted any pubs (I’m assuming I had just inadvertently bypassed them).
I eventually came across the Sparrow, which I had read on the Football Ground Guide was a recommended CAMRA pub. However, it looked like a lot of the Bantam fans had already begun to congregate in its pokey interior and it looked a bit of a squeeze in there, so I decided to head onwards.Seconds later I found myself at the suitably Bradford-City-looking City Gent pub, complete with pictures of the club mascot ‘the City Gent’ brandished over the doors and windows. I’ve since learned that the City-orientated pub is new to the area after only opening in August, but it seems it is not the place for early prematch drinks, as the place was dead as I entered (it was much, much busier when I popped my head in on the way back from the game). The pub itself though is great and if I commend it for anything, it has the prettiest ceilings and pillars I’ve seen in any pub on my travels. The building itself is pretty awesome. After enjoying a pint in the fairly empty City Gent, whilst Smooth Radio smashed out ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me’ amongst other ‘smooth’ classics, I decided to head on.
As I walked up Manningham Lane, I was actually quite surprised to spot one of the claret and amber stands of Valley Parade lurking through the gaps in the streets ahead of me. I was under the impression that the ground was a much longer trek than the one I had made, but I decided not to complain and instead head straight to the ground to collect my ticket which I had ordered two nights before.
On walking around the corner on to the street Valley Parade, I was quite surprised at how imposing the ground actually looked towering over the streets below it. I walked down the hill towards the ground with some Bradford players, who I recognised but couldn’t put a name to, walking alongside side me to the ground and went in search of the ticket office.
By the time I had my ticket in my hand, it was barely 1 o’clock so I decided to head back to the Bradford Arms, which I had past on my way to the ground. The pub was rather empty when I entered, apart from one Leyton Orient fan sitting at the bar. I assumed everyone must have been Christmas shopping in Bradford this Saturday afternoon. However, by 13:30 the pub was abuzz with the sound of Yorkshire and Cockney accents. There was a nice, jovial atmosphere between the home and away fans in the pub, which is always a pleasant sight on a Saturday afternoon.
Shortly before 14:30, I began making my way back up the road to Valley Parade, although I almost never made it to the ground thanks to a usual Lost Boyos ally of mine almost breaking my neck: a pie. Yes, some sick, twisted soul had discarded a massive pie (it looked like meat and potato) onto the pavement and somehow I had missed the thing, slipped on it and almost went flying into the air. I’m fairly sure that it was the strong Bradfordian wind, which had kept me on my feet. Remember kids: pies can kill too.
Pie attacks aside, I made it to Valley Parade within minutes of departing the Bradford Arms and I should add here, once again, that it really did look impressive. The two larger stands, the Main Stand and the Kop, looming over the two smaller stands gives the ground an unorthodox, lopsided look, which very much reminded of Newcastle’s St. James Park. In fact, even from the outside, Valley Parade resembled a mish-mash of two grounds with one modern ground attached to a more traditional lower league ground.
Today, after several recommendations, I had bought myself a ticket in the upper tier of the Kop and so I worked my way around the Main Stand, past the club reception, until I found myself at the appropriate turnstile.
I made my way up the two flights of stairs until I emerged at the concourse for the top tier. There was nothing really worth mentioning in regards to the concourse, although the bar was stocked with £3.20 bottles of Carlsberg, which have that horrible taste of plastic as you drink them. I still somehow managed to fit in two before kick-off anyway. Whilst I was on the concourse, I also managed to catch the on the pitch chat from a Bradford fan I had met on the train journey and who was mascot for today’s game: 4 year old Tom (to clarify, I had got chatting to his mother Sraah, a fellow English teacher, on the train home from Wembley in my drunken state – I did not just randomly enter a conversation with a 4-year-old). Anyway, I was even tweeted this picture shortly before kick-off – this lad knows how to do a proper Lost Boyos pose.
Once again, on emerging from the concourse into the stand, the place reminded me of (a slightly less high up) St. James Park. Just like the away end up in the heavens of the Sir John Hall Stand at Newcastle’s home, the pitch looked far below, especially as I began my ascent up the steps further towards the top of the Kop.
Valley Parade was originally built in 1886 for Manningham Rugby Football Club on an old quarry site with the name Valley Parade coming from the road that the ground is built on – a sloping road running down the side of the hill. In 1903 Manningham RFC moved from egg-chasing to football and thus became the Bradford City we know today. After the ground underwent a bit of a makeover in 1907, following Bradford’s ascension to Division One, for much of the 20th century Valley Parade remained very much unchanged. However, it was to be one of the worst sporting disasters in history that would very much alter the landscape of Valley Parade.
During the 40th minute of Bradford’s final game of their triumphant, title winning 1984-1985 Division Three season, a game v Lincoln City, a fire broke out in the main stand. It would take just 9 minutes for the wooden main stand to be engulfed in fire, after the fire had spread from the back rows and eventually onto the roof, which then collapsed. Tragically, 56 people lost their lives that day and 265 were injured; the 56 are remembered with a memorial outside the club reception in the main stand. Unsurprisingly, the fire prompted a multi-millionaire pound rebuilding of the main stand and a bolstering of the capacity of the Kop and putting a roof on it, as well as minor improvements to the two other stands.
As I stood on the Kop today, directly opposite me was the T.L Dallas Stand (sometimes known as the Bradford Stand, as it is the nearest to the city) housing the small gathering of Leyton Orient fans today. To the left of the Kop is the East Stand and has the unique quirk of overhanging the East Midland Road below, thanks to Valley’s Parade placement on a hill. And finally to the right of the Kop is the equally huge Main Stand, also complete with two tiers.
I found myself climbing the stairs of the Kop in search for Bradford fan Ben Hall, who I had first met at Wembley and had also visited Hailfax with in the summer months. I’d been invited to join Ben again to support his hometown club and, more excitingly, to hopefully get a go of playing his drum.
When I eventually found Ben a few rows from the back of the Kop (we were now really high up), along with James who I had also met at Wembley and Halifax, I was impressed at the drumming setup the Bantams had with two drums tied securely around a supporting pillar.
As the two teams walked out onto the pitch, Ben and his drumming sidekick began banging away at the two drums, whilst I joined in with the waving flag brigade around them. As the amber and claret of Bradford City lined up alongside the red of Leyton Orient, the rows around me burst into shouts of “City!” and it was blatantly obvious straightaway that I was in with the noisiest fans in the ground. I was also really looking forward to the game, as Leyton Orient were on great form in League One and sat on the top of the league, whilst Bradford also found themselves in a respectable position in and around the playoff places.
Any worries I had of being singled out as a Swansea fan were soon dismissed, as James went and did exactly that by announcing to half the crowd around us that they were in the presence of a Swans fan. As mentioned at the start of this piece, there seems to be a bit of mutual respect between Swansea and Bradford, so despite my team snatching a trophy away from their team, the Bantams welcomed me well.
The game was certainly a slow burner with the fans having very little to sing about. When some Bradford fans tried to spur their fellow fans on into song and with the fellow fans offering little in return, one frustrated Bradfordian shouted out in anguish “You should have gone Christmas shopping instead!”
Just as the half was coming to a close, with Bradford probably just about the better team without creating too much, Leyton Orient snatched a goal from nowhere. It was to be a Welshman who would open the goalscoring for the league leaders, as Lloyd James found the top corner brilliantly with a curling effort from outside the box.
Half-time: Bradford City 1 – 1 Leyton Orient
Half-time consisted of a quick trip to the bogs, another peruse of the concourse and another piss-tasting bottle of Carlsberg – I’m not even sure what possessed me to buy another one! Anyway, after buying my Carlsberg and realising how stupid I had been (again), I resorted to drinking it very quickly to get rid of it (I wasn’t wasting £3.20) and then began the climb back up to the top rows of the Kop for the second half.
On returning to my seat (which I didn’t sit down on once all game) on the Kop, Ben asked could he have the honour of having a photo in one of my fabled flat caps. I happily obliged, but in return for one thing…
Within seconds of the second half getting underway I was in possession of the claret and amber drumsticks and I was in full swing banging away at one of the drums trying to instigate some of the chanting. However, despite the efforts of following the lead of the other drummer to my right and probably partly thanks to the alcohol inside of me, I don’t think my drumming was quite as rhythmical as Ben’s drumming. I’m not sure if it was my attempts at starting Bradford chants or my shoddy drumming that was making Ben and James laugh, but after a couple of minutes of drum-bashing I thought it best to hand back over to Ben.
As the second half unfolded, Bradford began to assert their dominance on the game, although just like in the first half they were not creating any clear cut chances.
As the clock ticked over 90 minutes, Orient looked more and more likely to hang on for the 3 points. That was until Bradford won themselves a freekick 20 yards out from goals. A buzz of excitement went up around the stands, as everyone awaited Bradford’s Bermudan striker Nakhi Wells to strike it. This season, I’ve seen so many freekicks go in that I just had no doubt that he was going to score. Seconds later the ball glided over the wall, the Orient goalie was stuck to his line and the ball nestled comfortably in the back of the net. 1-1! Cue ‘scenes’ in the stands as Bradford had grasped a last gasp equaliser to earn themselves a well-deserved point against the league leaders.
Full-time: Bradford 1 – 1 Leyton Orient.
I said my goodbyes to the lads and made my way back down from the top of the Kop. However, James would not let me leave until I had had a photo with one Bradford fan who remained – according to James, he’s a Bradford legend so I obliged.
I finished the day off with a mini pub crawl through Bradford. I had a great time in the Shoulder of Mutton pub just off the main shopping high street, reminiscing with some very friendly Bradford fans about our February Wembley experience. Although easily the star of the show in the pub was Norman, a lively guy who was stood at the bar with us asking a variety of football quiz questions with the answer to every question being ‘Manchester United’. He informed us before leaving that he was a United fan (we’d guessed that already).
I finished off my day out in Bradford by hitting a pub near Bradford Interchange, which I can’t remember the name of for the life of me. Despite forgetting its name, it really was an excellent, quite rustic-feeling pub, which I wish I had had more time to visit.
I have now finally visited Valley Parade and I have to say that has to be one of my favourite Football League grounds. Also, I was very much surprised at how much I enjoyed the city of Bradford itself – I’ll definitely be back again.
Highlights: enjoyed the city, Valley Parade is a great ground, playing the drums, Nakhi Wells freekick to grab Bradford a point.
Low Points: not a great game.