Monday, 4 September 2017

#58 Valley Parade, Bradford City

Bradford City 3 Bristol Rovers 1
Saturday 2nd September 2017, League One

Everyone loves a lower league game being broadcast live on Sky. The chance for the famously appreciative Premier League fans to while away the international break by enjoying a match between two of the FL72 sides they spend the rest of the year ripping the piss out of for being tinpot. The only slight downside being that away fans of the match in question suddenly find themselves having to arrive at whichever far-flung town two and a half hours earlier than expected. Thus we were forced to begin the three and a half hour drive to Bradford at the merry old hour of 6am, with the only crumb of humanity from our TV scheduling overlords being a free SkyBet Brand Breakfast Baguette™ for those travelling on supporters club busses. For John, Jack, Terry and I however there was only the long, unseasonably misty, road ahead with only some irresponsibly early cans to tide us over.

Where's me bloody bap Sky?

Rovers were on a decent run of form going into today's game with wins against Bury, Fleetwood and Fulham, not to mention a decent show from the youngsters in the Checkatrade who overcame Wycombe 5-1 at Adam's Park. Bradford were strong favourites for promotion this season having narrowly missed out after losing 1-0 to Millwall at Wembley last season. We arrived in the West Yorkshire city about an hour and a half prior to kick-off and parked up about five minutes from the ground. Having heard a lot of horrible things about Bradford in the past I was pleasantly surprised by the surroundings; rolling green valleys and old sandstone buildings surround the stadium which has been built into the hillside and overhangs the streets below in several places.

Going away with a football team is an excellent way to get to know one particular road and one particular dingy pub in all the great cities of the UK and today we would be getting to know the Bradford Arms. Decorated like the set of a 1960s kitchen sink drama and somewhat sparse on the beer selection front but run by a very friendly pair of ladies and full of Gasheads. Studying the teamsheet, it seemed Darrell Clarke had done the obvious thing and chosen Tom Broadbent and Johnny Burn to fill the Lockyer and Sweeney shaped holes in central defence rather than try anything unorthodox. Sercombe, Clarke and Lines were the three in midfield, Harrison, Bodin and Moore in an increasingly familiar attacking triangle and Slocombe in goal. Notable by his absence from the starting line up was Joe Partington, dropped to the bench after a very convincing performance against Fleetwood, which raised a few eyebrows around the room.

Entering the away stand you get a good idea of how elevated the ground is as you have to ascend a massive flight of ancient-looking stairs to the TJ Dallas Stand where we were to be housed today. It's a funny little stand which shrivels in terms of size compared to the rest of the ground despite being two tiered. Seating around 1,840 supporters half on the floor and half in the stand itself. It feels quite tight in some parts of the bottom section, so much so that I wonder if a particularly tall person might even whack their head on the ceiling if they celebrated a goal too hard. The much better views are afforded on the top tier where we were sat, with only six thin pillars spread over the whole stand to contend with.

What instantly hit me when looking out of the rest of the stadium was the colour scheme. It's pretty common for a stadium to have at least the seats the same colour as the club's traditional attire but Valley Parade's fondness for florescent yellow is really something else. Most of the supports, rafters and handrails are painted this colour, with the more restrained burgundy saved for the external supports, possibly to respect local light pollution laws. Fortunately half the seats inside are also burgundy so it's not too overpowering.

The home stands at Valley Parade much like the TJ Dallas Stand are strange customers. The main and cop stands are huge and two tiered, connected by a curve of seats in the west corner. These two stands look like they could've been carved from any modern all-seater bowl, save for two low sections of seating that jut out of the bottom of each corner which I shall henceforth refer to as the 'flaps'. Next to the leftmost flap (relative looking out from the away stand) you can clearly see parts of the original terracing from the old wooden main stand which was destroyed in the infamous 1985 stadium fire, claiming the lives of 56 Bradford fans in the process. The main stand only runs about three-quarters of the pitch, with the remaining space taken up by a small red brick building which contains the team's changing rooms. Weirdly, Valley Parade houses it's own dental surgery.

The remaining stand, the Midland Road Stand, sits opposite the main stand and is the only single tier stand in the stadium. It's fairly unremarkable other than it's small size in comparison to it's brethren. All the stadiums seats are coloured in equally sized blocks of gold and burgundy which makes them look a bit like football scarves. All-in-all Valley Parade is quite a higgledy-piggledy stadium, understandably so considering the massive rebuild demanded by the fire but it's got a lot of charm and stands out from some of the more identikit league grounds. My favourite part by far is some of the views of the valleys you're afforded if you can glance through the gaps in the stands or out from the top of the big steps to the away stand.

The match that we'd travelled so far to see turned out to be a bad day at the office for Rovers. Not the worst I'd even seen them play away, that honour goes to Walsall 2017 or Accrington 2016 but without our regular central defensive pairing we struggled against a clinical Bradford side. The first goal came after just thirteen minutes when Leadbitter failed to prevent Romain Vincelot heading a corner down for a spuriously marked Charlie Wyke to tuck between Slocombe's flailing legs. As we anticipated, the stadium's massive half-bowled design lead to the home fan's celebrations being channelled into an almighty roar. The jubilant pricks. Byron Moore had the best chance of the half for Rovers, heading a ball that Ellis Harrison had just about managed to cross before it went out downwards towards goal but Doyle was able to make a good reaction save with his foot after returning to the centre of his goal in the nick of time.

Back out in the second half Rovers were undone by yet another corner in the 62nd minute, again a Charlie Wyke header which was so similar to the first I can't even be bothered to describe it. If I sound salty it's because I am. A mere eleven minutes later the young Smoggie upstart completed his hat-trick when Jake Reeves outwitted Sercombe and Leadbitter to stick in a cross right to the far post for Wyke to HEAD INTO THE NET ONCE AGAIN. A brilliant afternoon for Wyke but a toothless display from our defence. The travelling Gashead's respite only arrived nine minutes from full-time as Tom Nichols received the ball on the wing, turned and squeezed past two Bradford players and ran to the outside line of the box. His curved attempt hit the post but Bodin was there to tap in the rebound while Doyle was still on the floor.

To be fair Bradford had only had one defeat in 33 games at home so it was an understandable scoreline. It was just a shame to travel so far to witness such a timid performance from the team that had beaten Fulham away a mere week before but I suppose these are the risks we take. I try not to let the games I see colour my feelings towards a ground but considering the four hour trek home I don't think I'll be in a hurry to revisit Valley Parade, a decent one to tick off all the same.

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