It is funny how often we find symmetry within our life. It is as if we are books and we would fall over without proper bookends to hold up our stories.
My bookends take the form of a football ground. Officially called “Coral Windows Stadium” for commercial purposes, Bradford City’s home is better known to the football world as “Valley Parade”.
It was only a couple of days after I first arrived in England in late August that I went down to watch the Bantams play vs AFC Wimbledon. The team and the ground is full of history: a history both personal and cultural; both joyful and tragic.
It was nearly a century ago that my Great-Grandfather played for Bradford City and it is also just over a century ago (1911) that they famously won the historic FA Cup. Since then, the clubs history has been a heart-wrenching mix of hope, fear, and tragedy.
In 1985, Valley Parade was the scene of a horrific stadium fire that killed 56 people and shocked the football world. Years of fluctuation and mediocrity followed, until in 1999 Bradford City finally returned to the pinnacle of English Football: The Premier League.
Hope sprang eternal for the newly promoted club until they were hit with some serious financial problems and relegated shortly after. This was followed by rapid decline and as recently as 2001 they nearly fell out of the Football League (comprised of the top 4 divisions) altogether.
This year has been another year of hope, as the Bantams heroically made it to the League Cup final at Wembley, beating 3 Premier League clubs on the way (Bradford is 3 leagues below the premier league). They are returning to Wembley once again for their league playoff final, where they can clinch promotion to the third tier of English Football.
Aside from the fire, thankfully, Bradford City’s fluctuating history of hope and disappointment is a familiar tale. It’s mine.
This first year of mine in England has been full of hope, but equally littered with it’s miseries. After arriving full of hope, was met with a slow and demoralizing start. I struggled to get into any team, at any level, until I was finally able to get into training with Guiseley AFC, a well-respected local side in the 6th tier of English Football. I eventually stayed on with them for the remainder of the season.
While I was personally frustrated with the lack of chances that I was given to play, it was an exciting club to be at as they were favorites to earn promotion to the 5th tier. We ended the season on 91 points, a club record. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win the league and earn automatic promotion (which it normally would have been). So, we entered the playoffs, which are just as nerve-wracking as they are exciting.
As I wrote recently, it was Squeaky Bum Time, which only ends one of two ways; with overwhelming joy or gutting pain. Unfortunately, for us, it was the latter. We lost the second leg of the semi-final at home 0-2 to our local rivals FC Halifax Town, who eventually went on to win promotion.
The following week was a chance for consolation. We had the County Cup final to play, where we once again played FC Halifax Town. On a dreary May night, after a lethargic 90 minutes plus extra-time, Halifax once again ousted us 1-0; leaving us with nothing to show for our record setting season.
While there wasn’t much to remember on the night, it did provide a perfect bookend to my first year in English Football. The game was played at Valley Parade only days before my departure.
I had hoped to play that night, but unfortunately it was not to be the case. This was a culmination of all the disappointment from the previous weeks losses.
However, in hindsight, I think about the progress I have made since I have been here and I can’t help but look at the positives. Nine months ago I visited Valley Parade as a fan and didn’t know a soul. At the County Cup final, I returned as a player and have gotten to know some fabulous people.
The first chapter of any story rarely ends with an exciting climax. It’s an introduction. It’s where you meet some of the main characters, get a feel for the setting, learn the rules, and finally, it should give you enough interest to start Chapter Two.
As I head home – via my Mission trip to St. Lucia – for some summer relaxation with my family(who I miss terribly by the way), I am looking forward, God-willing, to Chapter Two. I know I will be returning wiser, stronger, and equally hopeful.
Thus end’s Chapter One.
I may do a few special through the summer, so stay tuned!
Dedication: there are so many people I have to thank for getting me to this point, but I am dedicating this post to the Inglehearn family who took me in and gave me a home, while I got my feet on the ground.
Also, please spare any thoughts and prayers you can for my Great Uncle Francois Inglehearn who has just passed away.