STRIDING out of the tunnel ahead of his team-mates and along the touchline on his first return to Valley Parade since leaving Bradford City, Scott Kerr felt a mixture of emotions.
Excitement at the prospect of taking on his former club was one, as was a steely sense of determination to do himself justice against the team where his career had begun almost a decade earlier.
The overriding feeling, however, was one of sadness as supporters of the Bantams and Lincoln City, the club whose armband he was sporting that afternoon, remembered the 56 victims of the Bradford fire disaster.
Boxing Day, 2007, was the first time the two clubs had met in the league since that horrific afternoon of May 11, 1985, when the antiquated main stand had been engulfed in flames.
As ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the football anthem that had been re-released in the wake of the disaster to raise funds for the families of those who died and the 256 supporters left injured, played over the PA system, Kerr walked sombrely along the touchline.
Adding to the sense of poignancy was the presence of Stuart McCall, whose dad Andy was left badly injured in the fire, and Peter Jackson, Bradford captain in 1985, at the head of the two teams as the 15,510 crowd paid their respects.
Kerr will be back at Valley Parade today with York City and the midfielder admits the memories will come flooding back.
“I am really looking forward to going back to where it all began for me,” the 30-year-old told the Yorkshire Post about the six years he spent with the Bantams after joining them in 1995 as a teenager.
“Because I started at Bradford, I always look for the club’s results. I am a Leeds fan but I go back to Valley Parade from time to time and still have friends there.
“I went to watch a few games when Peter Jackson was manager (from February to September last year). Peter actually tried to sign me that summer but I’d only just signed a long-term contract here when he got the job.
“I’ve played at Valley Parade a few times but the one that really stands out is when Lincoln went back for the first time since the fire.
“Jacko was our manager and Stuart McCall, who was captain when I first started to train with the first team at Valley Parade, in charge of Bradford.
“I’ll always remember walking out as captain. Jacko led us out with Stuart doing the same for Bradford.
“It was tough. At the time, I just didn’t feel like I was playing a football match. It was very, very emotional knowing that the gaffer and Stuart, two men who I respect a lot, had been involved.
“As we walked out, I just couldn’t imagine what was going through their heads as they thought about that awful day. There was a big crowd there but it really didn’t feel like a match. It is hard to describe what it was like but the emotion was there for everyone to see.”
Bradford won that Boxing Day encounter 2-1 but Kerr was in the Lincoln side that drew 1-1 and then triumphed 2-0 in the following two seasons.
Midway through the 2010-11 season, he quit Sincil Bank for York after making 249 appearances in an Imps shirt. Kerr admits the move was a gamble with the Minstermen then being in the Conference.
He said: “It was a tough choice to leave Lincoln as it meant dropping out of the League. But it has turned out to the be right decision, especially considering where we are and where Lincoln are.”
Now back in the League, the club captain is understandably delighted – especially as the last week has marked the end of a seven-month absence from the York side after suffering cruciate ligament damage in March.
“Getting injured was awful but I am back now,” says the midfielder. “I missed two Wembley appearances (as York won the FA Trophy and Conference play-off final in May) and that was horrible. I am not a great watcher of games, to be honest.
“But I knew I’d played my part by making 40-odd appearances and being named ‘Player of the Season’, even though I missed the last 10 matches. I always thought the lads could do the job on the day and they did brilliantly to get us back in the Football League.”
With October pencilled in as a possible return date from injury, the publishing of the fixtures in the summer was of particular interest to Kerr.
“I saw the game at Valley Parade was around the time I was expected to return. I won’t say it gave me an extra spur as I was desperate to come back anyway.
“But it did become a bit of a target. The crowd will be a good one as I expect we’ll take a big following.”
Now fully recovered from injury, Kerr is hoping to be involved today against the club where it all began.
He added: “I started there at 14 after being released by Leeds. Paul Jewell was brilliant for me. Playing under him made me the player I am.
“Paul was a disciplined character who really helped me a lot. Him leaving after a disagreement with the chairman Geoffrey Richmond (in the summer of 2000) was when it all began to go wrong for the club.
“On a personal level, it was a blow as well. I’d only just signed my first pro contract and things seemed to be going well.
“I’d been there since before Bradford had been promoted from Division Two (in 1996) and the club had gone from strength to strength.
“But then things started to go wrong. Players like Benito Carbone came in. It was unbelievable to train with someone as talented as him but maybe changing things led to the downfall of Bradford as there was too much flair.
“It could have been so different if Paul had stayed. He had been at Bradford for years as a player and loved the club. If he’d still had his way, he would still be there.
“Since then, Bradford have struggled and that has not been nice to see. They have gone down a few times and are now in the bottom division.
“They virtually went out of the league not so long ago but under Phil Parkinson they seem to have built a good side.
“We are still confident, though. The Bradford crowd isn’t always a great one to play in front of as a home player if things aren’t going well. They demand a lot as a big club at this level.
“So, if we can go there and put pressure on them then the crowd might turn. And that could really help us.”
Last six games: Bradford City WWLDLD, York City York City WDDLDL
Referee: M Heywood (Cheshire).
Last time: Bradford City 2 York City 2; March 2, 1996; Division Two.
SkyBet odds: Bradford to win evens; York to win 13-5; Draw 5-2.