I’m thrilled to bits that Bradford City will be at Wembley this Sunday for the League Cup Final. My connections to the West Yorkshire town run deep and personal.
Indeed, without Bradford this colyoom would not exist.
Back in 1992 I’d been living in Bradford for 3 years, just finished a novel and felt pretty finished with England too. The great British public had elected their fourth consecutive Conservative government. Well, if they wanted Tories they could bloomin’ have them. They deserved them, but I wasn’t going to stick around.
So I walked into a travel agent and asked for the cheapest flight out of the country. £39 bought me a one-way flight to Malaga. Luvvly jubbly. Walking out of the airport I stuck out my thumb and looked for a new life in Spain.
After hitching around Andalusia, I headed for Barcelona. I knew the place well and hoped I might feel I belonged. However, after a tremendous Summer in Catalunya I found myself hitching over the Pyrenees into France.
Throughout my teens I’d hitched around France and felt such an affinity with the place that it already felt like home. But the Goddess of the Road had other ideas. Despite arriving in the south-westerly corner of the country on a Sunday and sticking to ‘D’ roads, slow and void of traffic, I found lift after lift propelling me northwards, until in a single day I’d reached Poitiers.
Then I was in Roscoff, boarding a ferry to Cork.
Six weeks later I was walking from my new home in Salthill to the Westside, where I was starting a job as a Youth Worker in the Rahoon Flats. As I turned out of Highfield Park I saw on the side of the Rahoon flats a huge mural of a city skyline. Stunned, I recognised it immediately, as it was the last place I’d truly called home.
How bizarre! I’d taken a one way flight to Spain, hitched randomly through three countries and ended up in Galway, which was apparently twinned with Bradford.
The question that most perplexed me was ‘Why?’
Why was Galway twinned with Bradford? I couldn’t think of two less similar places. Bradford is in the centre of the country; Galway’s on the coast. Bradford, like Rome, is built on seven hills; Galway’s pretty much flat. Bradford has the largest Pakistani population living anywhere outside of Pakistan, while Galway’s population back then was completely white. Bradford is a heaving melange of so many global cultures it’s hard to keep track. Galwegians think their city is multicultural, but it’s not really.
Ever the chancer, I typed all this down on a couple of sheets of A4, called it ‘Double Vision’ because of the comparisons I was making between two twins,
and wandered uninvited into the newsroom of the Connacht Tribune.
Shoving the sheets under the Editor’s nose, I asked if he could use something like that. After reading it, to my amazement he said he could use something like that each week.
That was September 1992, and you’re still stuck with me. But now at least you have some idea of how important an ingredient Bradford has been in my life.
I moved there in 1989, and within a few months had blagged my way into so many jobs at the university, nobody was quite sure what I did, which proved perfect for allowing me to access all areas.
I worked as a cellar man, tending real ales and as a barman I served students vile pints of Guinness and blackcurrant. The only male cleaner on a staff of 83 women who cleaned the student halls of residence, I also drove the Union van, did turns as a DJ, sweated for a few months as a pizza chef, worked a venue kiosk, wrote the programme and tasting notes for the beer festival, and wherever I went, whatever I did, I was welcomed.
Much of this was made possible by the Bars Manager, my friend and housemate, the enigmatic and wry Malcolm Arnold, who tragically died aeons too early.
Phwoof! A wave of emotion him me when I wrote that. I’ll just take a moment if you don’t mind.
As is the case when you’re working in extremis, I forged friendships behind the bars of Bradford that proved stronger than time. So when Bradford City made it to Wembley, I noticed on Facebook a conversation between two of my erstwhile colleagues. Now we’re back in touch, and that’s the power of football.
Distant from embarrassing Premiership giants like my own beloved Chelsea, there are clubs like Bradford City that make the game worthwhile. They haven’t won a major trophy since their FA Cup victory in 1911, which might make victory for them seem perfect, until you consider the fact that Swansea City, their opponents, have never even made it to a cup final before.
I’m not so petty that I’d begrudge Swansea a win simply because they outplayed and defeated Chelsea over a two-leg semi-final, but every cell in my body will be rooting for Bradford City this Sunday.
Back in 1985, the entire population of Bradford was devastated by the fire at City’s Valley Parade ground. The blaze killed 56 fans and left 265 injured. Afterwards the club rose from the ashes, gaining promotion to the Premier league in 2001, only to plummet down 4 leagues since.
With a side that cost absolutely nothing except the £7,500 they paid for their centre forward (he used to work in the local co-op) Bradford City have defeated the Premiership’s mighty Arsenal, Wigan and Aston Villa to make it to Wembley.
Once the home of Britain’s industrial millionaires, Bradford is now a poor and beleaguered city, yet their football team shines like a beacon to the underdog.
You don’t need to spend millions to be successful.
Glory doesn't come with a price tag.
Come on Bradford City!