Morecambe v Bradford City: Harry Pritchard determined to reward Gary Bowyer’s faith

THESE days, Harry Pritchard is not short of a reminder or two of just how far he has travelled in a footballing sense and where he has come from.

Bradford City's Harry Pritchard: Scoring against Carlisle. Picture: Simon Hulme

Another will arrive this afternoon at Morecambe’s Globe Arena where a sell-out travelling contingent of 1,600 Bradford City supporters will make up over half of the crowd as the Lancashire seaside resort lives up to its moniker of ‘Bradford-by-the-Sea.’

The loan winger may be used to the sea air following his time just down the coast at Blackpool.

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But the sight of a packed stand was a novelty act at Bloomfield Road for large parts of last season when vast swathes of Pool fans stayed away amid their ongoing protests against the reviled Oyston regime – with the ground usually barely a quarter full amid a yawning orange expanse of empty seats and eerie atmosphere.

Healthy five-figure crowds at Valley Parade and sizeable away followings are now the norm for Pritchard and it is an epic journey from his days in the Hellenic League with first club Flackwell Heath and Burnham.

It may not have just been ‘one man and his dog’ territory, but it was not far off it with Buckinghamshire, with all due respect, not a football hotbed.

But it served Pritchard well and after success in a six-year association with Maidenhead United, where he secured promotion from the National League South and was bestowed with a plethora of end-of-season awards, something akin to the big time has beckoned.

A former personal trainer, Pritchard never gave up on his dreams of becoming a professional and that was where former Blackpool manager and current Bradford chief Gary Bowyer came into the equation to hand him his chance at 25.

As clubs across the country celebrate Non-League Day today, the High Wycombe-born player will never forget his footballing roots and his special time at Maidenhead, where he scored 47 goals in 265 appearances to assume club legend status.

But it is fair to say, he remains forever grateful for Bowyer’s intervention.

Pritchard said: “He brought me into league football at Blackpool and now he has signed me for Bradford and I owe him massive thanks for that and, hopefully, I can repay him in performances, goals and assists to help Bradford get promoted.

“You are always hoping and you know there are always going to be scouts in the stands in the non-league and the Conference is a very good level with so many teams and there are always lots of scouts at games.

“Obviously, if you have a good season, you hope that someone has been watching and, thankfully and luckily enough, the gaffer was watching.

“I always wanted to be a professional footballer. I was working and playing part-time as well and getting on at 25. I did not think it was over, but, thankfully, I got my break.

“At a younger age, I was around academies and went around the local teams and then I just went to Flackwell Heath, Burnham and Maidenhead and around the area. I never gave up.”

The deep schism between Blackpool supporters and the club’s ownership may have formed a backdrop to Pritchard’s maiden season as a professional in 2018-19, but there was a happy ending.

More than 15,000 fans attended the Seasiders’ ‘home-coming’ at Bloomfield Road to mark the end of the Oyston regime in the home game with Southend in March – and a feelgood factor started to grow again on the Fylde coast.

The situation may not have been quite as parlous at Bradford last term, but a disconnect between supporters and former chairman and chief executive Edin Rahic saw sections of claret-and-amber followers keep away or lose faith, at best – with matters on the pitch significantly compounding matters.

Thankfully, with Rahic now out of the picture, the club are building bridges again. Early days it may be, but Bradford supporters are starting to smile a tad more again and contemplate a bit of overdue hope.

Pritchard said: “It is brilliant as Bradford is a massive club and should not be in League Two and we have to make sure as a team and a squad that we repay the fans by getting promoted back up the leagues.

“It is similar with Blackpool’s new owners coming in and the manager and the fans coming back. It was a great buzz around the club and it is the same here at Bradford.

“Obviously, with playing in front of 15,000 fans, it helps if we are struggling to get a goal and with the fans, it makes you want to work a little bit harder to get that goal. It does help massively.”

Today, City face a Morecambe side who have not won at home since Easter Monday, with Bowyer handed a selection poser with captain and marquee summer recruit James Vaughan available again following suspension.

To help compensate for the loss, Pritchard was switched to an advanced central role to support Clayton Donaldson in the home victory over Swindon Town, with Zeli Ismail and Dylan Connolly operating on the flanks.

It remains to be seen how Bowyer goes in today’s game, with Pritchard of the view that City’s squad resources will come into their own during the hard slog of winter – and he is emphatic in his belief that today’s hosts should not be treated lightly either.

Pritchard said: “It is one of those where they have not won at home, but they are going to be really up for it with Bradford coming to their place.

“We have sold out our away allocation, so it is going to be a great atmosphere, which will obviously help them as well.

“We have got a great depth to the squad and that is what Gary wanted to bring into Bradford. With anybody who comes in, it is not as if they are going to be out of position or out of place.

“That is what is going to help us over these winter months.”