I’ll be a Bradford fan on Sunday - and not just because Swansea last weekend became the latest team to slip into this ridiculous trend of resting players before games they (often wrongly) see as more important, writes Steve Bone.
I’m not alone among Pompey fans in having a bit of an affinity with the Bantams, and would love to see them become the first fourth-division team to win a major trophy. It’d be good for football but, more importantly, great for them.
My interest in Bradford stretches back further than the two memorable visits to Valley Parade that many Pompey fans still talk about today.
I can still vividly recall the finals days of successive seasons in the mid-1980s when Pompey and Bradford’s worlds collided.
On May 11, 1985, Pompey were winning at Huddersfield and starting to feel sorry for themselves for missing out on promotion to the first division on goal difference to Manchester City, when in another part of Yorkshire, a fate was befalling Bradford and their fans that put worries about promotion and results firmly into perspective.
It was the day of the Bradford fire and, having not gone up to our game at Leeds Road, I watched it unfold live on TV. I can still hear John Helm’s commentary now. The tragedy affected football fans as much, I think, as the Hillsborough disaster four years later.
The final day of the following season brought Bradford to Fratton and Pompey had just suffered more promotion agony. Alan Ball, our manager at the time, made mention in his programme notes of ‘what an occasion it might have been’ - but also referenced that fateful day, 51 weeks earlier, that had claimed the lives of more than 50 fans.
Bally was back in the Fratton hotseat at the end of the 1997-98 season when Pompey headed up to Bradford needing a win, and favourable goings-on elsewhere, to stay in the second tier. The little man came out to address the travelling fans before the game, along the lines of ‘don’t do anything silly; let’s try to have a good day’.
We didn’t do anything silly, and did have a good day. Sammy Igoe inspired a 3-1 win and we were safe.
Five years later, another final-day Valley Parade visit was under starkly different circumstances. Same division; different end and it was all about golden and white boots.
Toddy earned the golden one with a hat-trick and the whole Pompey team - crowned division-two champions a week earlier - wore white boots in honour of Gianluca Festa, making his last appearance in a Blues shirt.
As they always have been, Bradford were the most wonderful hosts that day - taking time from their own preparations to doff their caps at Pompey’s achievements. Many fans will still have one of the half-and-half Pompey-Bradford scarves produced for the day.
Since then, Bradford have endured the toughest of times. After their Premier League adventure ended in 2001, they suffered two spells of administration (sounds vaguely familiar...) and three relegations in seven seasons (what took them so long?).
They’ve been to the edge of the abyss and now are going in the right direction again.
And, incidentally, watching every move of their journey for the Bradford paper has been Simon Parker, who many of you will recall covered Pompey for The News for most of the 1990s.
He, and Bradford, will probably have a good day on Sunday whatever the result. And there’ll be plenty cheering them on in this part of the world.
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