Bradford City v Shrewsbury Town: Valley Parade crowds big attraction

Luke James
Luke James
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THE opening week of the season has not been kind to Bradford City.

A second half collapse on the opening day at Swindon Town was followed by a midweek KO in the Capital One Cup as the Bantams’ proud record of consecutive penalty shoot-out triumphs was ended in clinical fashion by League Two York City.

Today, though, should still be an occasion to savour as Valley Parade prepares to host its first game since City shattered all records for season ticket sales.

A grand total of 18,021 were sold, more than the club’s average attendance in their first season in the Premier League.

Depending on how many of those turn up and the size of Shrewsbury Town’s travelling support - they had sold less than 200 tickets last night but expect four times that number to make the trip - City’s first home game of the season could draw the biggest crowd since 21,338 filed through the turnstiles for the visit of Doncaster Rovers in 1949.

To achieve that landmark, today’s crowd must beat the 18,276 that saw Bradford’s clash with Sheffield Wednesday at the start of the 1999-2000 top flight season.

For Luke James, this phenomenal level of support for a League One club is why he was so keen to join on loan for the season from Peterborough United during the summer.

“One of the first things that the gaffer mentioned when I signed was how many season tickets the club had sold and what a great atmosphere it was going to be this year,” the 20-year-old told The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s visit of Shrewsbury Town.

“I was hooked straight away. Every player wants to play in front of big crowds and I am no different.

“There will be 18,000 season ticket holders, maybe another 1,000 turning up on the day and then the away fans. It is going to be great.

“I have been at Valley Parade for another couple of friendlies in my career but I think they finished 0-0, while I also played in pre-season against Carlisle.

“But the first league game will be something very different and I can’t wait. I just hope I can play my part.”

James’ debut in a Bradford shirt came in Tuesday night’s Cup tie at York. Considering the Bantams lost - and, in the process, brought to an end their run of nine straight shoot-out triumphs, a record for English football - it was not the most auspicious of starts.

The loanee, though, is adamant that he has joined a club on the up and points to last season’s stunning Cup triumphs as proof Bradford are heading in the right direction.

“Chelsea was incredible,” he said. “It was the sort of result where everyone can remember where they were when they heard Bradford had won at Stamford Bridge.

“I know I can. At Peterborough, we had just won at Notts County and I was getting on the coach. I was turning my ‘phone back on and all the lads were saying, ‘Have you heard about Bradford?’

“I hadn’t so the lads told me. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at my phone and saw Middlesbrough had won as well at Manchester City. It was a crazy day.

“The Bradford result, though, meant that bit more. Not only was it Chelsea but Bradford were in the same division as Peterborough so everyone was buzzing. It showed what a good division this is. It shows the strength.”

As a lifelong Sunderland fan, what happened next in Bradford’s Cup odyssey as the Black Cats were humbled at Valley Parade in the fifth round did not please James too much.

Amid the disappointment of the Wearsiders crashing out of the Cup, however, was a sense of admiration at what Bradford had done.

He said: “I knew it would be a big test for Sunderland beforehand and that is exactly what it was. Bradford were flying and deserved to win. That sort of momentum is hard to stop.

“Our challenge now is to build on that success last season. The fans will probably feel the same, which is what the season ticket sales will have been all about. The Cup run will have caused excitement and everyone wants to be part of it.

“As players, our job is to make sure we keep those fans excited with our performances and get the results. The start to the season wasn’t what we wanted but we will bounce back.”

This is a big season for James. Having moved to London Road a little under a year ago from Hartlepool United with a well earned reputation as a goalscorer, the striker endured a difficult time.

He netted just once in 31 league games for Posh and is the first to admit that things must change now he is at Valley Parade.

“Like every other striker, I want to get goals,” said the 20-year-old native of Northumberland. “There is real competition here with three strikers besides me. They are all really good.

“So, if I want to play then I know I have to deliver. Hopefully, when my chances comes along I can take it.

“Last season was disappointing. It didn’t really happen for me. When things go like that, you try and think what has happened and what needs changing.

“Maybe I was over-thinking things, analysing it too much. That may have preyed on my mind. “This, though, is a new season and a new start for me. It was great for my confidence in the summer that someone like Phil Parkinson came in for me.

“The gaffer has shown huge faith in me and now I have to repay that faith by scoring some goals and helping the team.”