Can Bradford City step up?
bRADFORD: A gritty northern industrial city with a population of over half a million. A city with a club which, last season, had the second highest attendance in their league.
But a city which has not seen top-flight football since 2001 and a club which currently presides in the third-tier. Will the Bantams ever come home to roost? It is well within living memory that Bradford City were in the Premier League. At the turn of the century, the club were battling it out at the top table of English football with the likes of Leeds United, Derby County, Ipswich Town and Coventry City (and we all know how their tales have ended up).
But, unlike the clubs previously mentioned, the sad plight of Bradford City is not as welltold.
If you fast forward six years from their relegation from the Premier League in 2001, the club had dropped down to League Two, the Football League basement.
The mighty Bantams had been boiled down to a flappy bird in less than a decade, completing one of the biggest falls from grace, at least on a par with Blackpool and Portsmouth.
In the case of Bradford, it would not be till they beat Northampton Town 3-0 in the 201213 League Two play-off final that they could manage to to fly out of the basement of English football (albeit still only into League One). This was the same year of their remarkable run to the League Cup final, where they ultimately lost to Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City.
Since that fateful season they have resided in League One, but not through lack of trying.
In the 2014-15 season, they narrowly missed out on the play-offs, finishing seventh.
The following two seasons saw them take that next step, but they ended up being grilled at the hands of Millwall in the semi-finals in 2015-16 and the final last season when Steve Morison struck late on for the Lions.
After a complete season of not losing at home without sufficient reward, the fans were rightly questioning whether they’d ever escape the League One coop.
Two managers, Phil Parkinson and Stuart McCall, both failed to make home form count in the large scheme of things which surely indicates the problem was a club-based one rather than the management’s.
With the club managing to maintain an impressive attendance of 18,000 last season - and having sold over 18,000 season tickets this year – it’s fair to say that Valley Parade is one of the most intimidating stadiums in League One.
This contributed to an amazing 17-month unbeaten home run.
However, they picked up the most home draws of any club in the division along the way, crucially dropping points.
It appeared the home record became a noose around their necks. They were desperate not to lose instead of being desperate to win.
This season has already seen the end of their unbeaten home run at the expense of relegated Blackburn Rovers, losing narrowly 1-0.
Since then, many a Yorkshire pundit has expressed relief, arguing McCall’s men can now look to win games rather than play for the draw. This new freedom was shown when Bradford went on to win their next home game against Bristol Rovers 3-0, Charlie Wyke hitting a hat-trick.
This was a convincing win televised on Sky Sports and will have impressed viewers across the nation.
Bradfore are again considered promotion contenders and look to have the firepower to make a go of it.
Of course, there is a long way to go and even the most optimistic Bradford fan will doubt whether or not they can achieve a top two spot this season.
After all, they have not got automatic promotion since 1999. However, after an absence of 13 years from the second tier of English football, the club are perhaps the closest they have ever been to regaining a spot in the Championship.
If they can keep striker Wyke firing, you can guarantee to see a more positive Bradford side that will compete at the top of the league and desperately try to avoid the disappointment of last season.
With experience in the form of Romain Vincelot, Matthew Kilgallon and Tony McMahon and the youth of Dominic Poleon and Omari Patrick, this could be the season where the Bantams finally lay their final eggs in League One.
Whatever happens, you can guarantee the Valley Parade will be as packed as ever and the flock will be singing away with the hope Bradford will return to the Championship. Let’s just hope they don’t cock it up!