Verdict – Bradford City 1 Walsall 1: Bantams’ slide is emphasised by swathes of empty seats

Bradford City's players applaud those fans who stayed behind after the 1-1 draw with Walsall to show their appreciation at the final home act of a disappointing season (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Bradford City's players applaud those fans who stayed behind after the 1-1 draw with Walsall to show their appreciation at the final home act of a disappointing season (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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‘BANTAM PROGRESSIVISM’ was the term once coined by the City Gent, now the country’s longest-running football fanzine, to sum up Bradford City’s rapid rise during the Eighties.

Inside just seven years the club went from the bottom half of the Fourth Division and hosting what remains Valley Parade’s lowest league crowd of all time to missing out on automatic promotion to the top flight in the most heart-breaking of fashions.

That surge up the leagues, achieved on a financial shoestring, included a year-on-year improvement in league position until the peak of 1988 and a fourth-place finish that would have been runners-up spot but for a shock final-day defeat at home to Ipswich Town.

So, when Phil Parkinson’s Bantams side started on an upwards trajectory of their own not so long ago it was fitting that the old City Gent term should enjoy something of a revival among supporters. Until recently that is.

Looking around Valley Parade last night it seemed barely believable that this was a club who just a year ago had been the very epitome of vibrancy.

Swathes of empty seats greeted the Bantams players ahead of kick-off against Walsall as supporters once again voted with their feet over a campaign that has imploded horribly.

The official attendance may have been given as 18,976, but there were barely half that number present, the disparity explained by all season tickets holders being included whether present or not.

At least this ridiculous practice, pioneered by Arsenal in the Premier League, has given those who do still attend a chuckle or two when the inflated figure is announced. Otherwise there has been precious little to smile about in recent months.

Stuart McCall’s dismissal in February on the back of a six-game losing run and certain players giving every impression of having downed tools was bad enough.

But the disconnect between fans and owners that has opened up since then will take some repairing as season ticket sales that are 6,000 down on this term vividly illustrates.

Holding on to Simon Grayson, a promotion specialist at this level with four previous successes on his CV, seems key if the downward spiral is to be reversed.

But with the noises coming out of Bradford pointing to a similar playing budget to this season, which McCall believed to be mid-table at best, then this could be a hard sell for the board.

The next few days will tell us more with Grayson due to sit down with joint chairman Edin Rahic either today or tomorrow, but supporters really could do with a lift in these troubled times.

It did not come last night via the desired flourish in what was City’s final home game as Walsall secured their League One status with a battling point.

Erhun Oztumer put the visitors ahead midway through the first half with a diving header that turned a miscued shot from George Dobson into a fine cross.

City’s reply came in stoppage-time at the end of an otherwise dire first half, Matthew Lund converting Stephen Warnock’s inviting left-wing cross from close range.

Jordan Gibson, just moments after being brought off the bench, shot narrowly wide after stepping inside Jon Guthrie’s challenge and then Timothee Dieng’s shot was blocked as the hosts stepped up the pressure on the strugglers after the break.

Later Liam Roberts saved acrobatically from Shay McCartan before Tony McMahon fired the rebound over the crossbar.

The winner, though, would not come as what has largely been a sorry home campaign ended in fitting fashion via a result that was neither one thing nor the other.

City’s inability to punish a poor Saddlers outfit explained why five consecutive years of progress under first Parkinson and then McCall have ground to a halt this time around.

Most of those hardly loyalists who did brave a cold night had also left before Grayson and his players embarked on the traditional end-of-season lap of appreciation that looked more like a walk of shame.

It was a depressing sight, not least because City’s Valley Parade sign-off last term – a 1-0 first leg victory over Fleetwood Town that ultimately took McCall’s men to Wembley and the final of the play-offs – could not have been more contrasting.

The Bantams, unlike those years in the Eighties and again under the stewardship of Parkinson/McCall, have regressed horribly over the past few months.

Getting the club back on track in a division where money will talk even louder next season thanks to the arrival of Sunderland is not going to be easy.

Bradford City: Doyle; McMahon, Knight-Percival, Vincelot, Warnock (Chicksen 76); Gilliead (Gibson 55), Guy (Hawkes 66), Dieng, Lund; McCartan; Wyke. Unused substitutes: Raeder, Chicksen, Law, Devine, Hawkes, Patrick.

Walsall: L Roberts; K Roberts, Fitzwater, Guthrie, Leahy; Devlin, Chambers, Dobson, Morris; Oztumer (Cuvelier 87), Babyoko. Unused substitutes: Gillespie, Kinsella, Flanagan, Ngoy, Kouhyar, Candin.

Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorkshire).