The Bantams will be hoping to take advantage of packed Valley Parade crowds this season. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
DURING the second half of last season, The Yorkshire Post fell into conversation with a prominent League One manager after his side had just played at Valley Parade.
The chat was very much off the record, not intended to be attributed, but the contents were revealing.
“This is a bear-pit of a place,” he said as we looked out across a by now deserted Valley Parade. “The Bradford fans make such a racket and were in our faces from the moment the players came out of the tunnel.
“It must be a great place to play as the home team, as the racket they make must influence referees. We spent most of half-time telling our lot not to step out of line as this crowd would turn a yellow into a red card.”
The statistics possibly don’t back up that assertion of the Valley Parade crowd being like a 12th man. City, after all, lost nine of 23 league games on home soil – or, should that be ‘Bradford mud’ considering the poor state of the pitch from January onwards – last term.
But it got this correspondent thinking and with the club’s cheap season ticket offer having proven so popular that more than 18,000 have been sold, maybe the crowd can play a pivotal role in turning the coming season into a successful one for the Bantams.
Manager Phil Parkinson certainly believes so, as City look to improve on last term’s seventh-place finish.
“The support we have is fantastic,” said the 47-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “The two chairmen have done a great job in reducing ticket prices to get as many people as possible in the stadium but for the people of Bradford to get behind us in such huge numbers is still pretty amazing.
“It can be a big help to the team. Our challenge is to find ways to gain an advantage on teams with bigger resources than us in this league and, to me, an important way of doing that is to make Valley Parade as tough a place as possible for opposing teams to visit.”
City are at Swindon Town on the opening day so will have to wait to sample what seems likely to be a partisan atmosphere in BD8.
Shrewsbury Town’s visit a week on Saturday could bring the club’s first home league crowd in excess of 20,000 since West Bromwich Albion clinched promotion at Bradford in 2002.
Parkinson added: “I always say to the players that we have to keep the supporters right behind us and we can do that with the manner of our performances.
“Bradford City supporters expect a level of commitment and if we can give them that then they will stick right with us through anything.
“We lost too many games at home last year. I know that. But we weren’t alone in this division, there were a few teams who will have been disappointed by how they did at home.
“League One is a division where a lot of teams come to make life tough for a home team and our challenge is to counter that better than we did last year. The fans can help us do that.”
Whether City’s attendance against Shrewsbury breaks the 20,000 barrier or not, those supporters who do come along will see plenty of new faces even though recruitment has been far from easy.
“It has been a strange summer in many ways,” said Parkinson. “Certainly in terms of trying to bring people in as, like most clubs at this level, it has been hard.
“The market has been strange in that it has been driven upwards by teams at our level paying surprisingly high wages. Clubs that you maybe wouldn’t expect to do so, as well.
“There has also been an element of Championship players that have been released who have been looking to the Asian market for lucrative contracts. That has complicated the market for teams like ourselves.
“Wages have been driven up and that can make things tougher when it comes to signings. It has slowed things down. But I do feel that, gradually, we have been able to bring new faces in. I’d like to make another two or three but we have been happy with the calibre of signing so far.
“Paul Anderson was one that has excited people. He is a good age and has experience of playing at a higher level. Nathan Clarke is another of the recent additions and he came in with plenty of experience.
“He has captained Leyton Orient at this level and will be a good addition. Nathan was really keen to get back up north to his family and the move suited everyone.”
Thanks to their Cup heroics of last season and finishing just outside the play-offs, Bradford have been backed in some quarters as a potential dark horse of the promotion race.
The opening weeks should tell us a lot, with last season’s beaten play-off finalists Swindon first up.
“League One is a tough division,” said Parkinson. “There are the teams with bigger resources than the rest such as Sheffield United and Wigan. You have to then factor in teams like Barnsley that have spent money.
“Plus a few that maybe people wouldn’t expect to spend big. Bury and Scunthorpe United are teams that maybe people who don’t follow things as closely as me might expect to be in the bottom half.
“But their wage bills will be high and both have squads capable of making a challenge.”