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A confession - and plenty of Pompey-Bradford emotion
Friday, 27th Oct 2017 20:40 by Steve Bone

A confession always makes a good start - or end - to a story so here's mine: I've not really 'got into' Pompey this season. I've seen them play only three times (four if you include sitting in front of the telly for the Gillingham game) and I've not looked forward to any single game.

Given that we're in a higher division, and actually doing okay in it, the only factor I can put this noticeably-lower level of interest down to is the takeover.

As was well-chronicled at the time, I was completely against the idea of seeling the club lock, stock and barrel to a new and previously-unheard-of investor. This was partly sold because I thought we, the fans, were doing okay in charge and had exciting times ahead of us at the helm of the biggest community-owned club in the land. But it was also because if we carried on, at least in the short-term to see how it went, I had that silly notion that we could change the direction of football in this country, and take it away from a game where money is almost everything in determining your club's destiny. Dreamer, me?

Anyhow, my to-sell-or-not-to-sell argument was lost and sell we did, and so far, you can't fault Michael Eisner nor Tornante for what they have done and what they have said they will do. They seem to be all about steady growth and sensible planning, and whoever's hands I think the club should still in, I'm all for that sort of appraoch. But, if I'm honest, my heart's not really been in it so far this season. Am I alone in this, I wonder?

I'm hoping, though, that my outlook could now change, for I am going to my fourth game of the season this weekend and I am genuinely and thoroughly looking forward to it. Pompey v Bradford - it's everything that Pompey v MK Dons, or Pompey v Crawley in the Thingamy Trophy, was or is not.

A proper game. That's what Pompey v Bradford is.

When the fixtures came out, the first four I looked for were the two against Bradford and two against Charlton. For various reasons, not all of them completely clear even to me, I feel a close affinity to both these rival League One clubs and I am delighted we are again at the level where we are playing their like.

I think with Bradford, a lot of it is down to the fact we've played them fairly regularly since the time I started watching Pompey. And we, of course, have had some very big days that have involved them too.

If you'll allow me a meander down Memory Lane, I'll take you through some of the games I remember. The earliest, a 1-0 home defeat as we tried to cross the Third Division promotion line in April 1983, was referenced by Bradford boss Stuart McCall in his look ahead to this weekend's game.

A piece in The News told how his shot trickled in for the only goal of the game, leaving Bobby Campbell's team to sweat for another week before getting their promotion plans back on track at Newport a week later. I'm not even sure McCall's effort could be called a shot. I recall the ball bouncing around the six-yard box and happening to hit his ankle last before squirting over the line. That's what it did - it squirted.

That could have set me off on years of disliking Bradford but it didn't, and the next time I saw us play them was on the final day of the 1985-86 season, when we beat them 4-0 having missed out on promotion (for the second year in a row) in the previous week.

Alan Ball's programme notes spoke of the 'occasion it might have been' but there was a far sadder tone to that day than that of a missed promotion - for it was very close to the first anniversary of that unspeakably horrific day when 56 fans died in a fire at Valley Parade... when Bradford were supposed to be celebrating the title.

I also quite vivdly remember us beating Bradford in the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1988. We'd avoided a High Court winding-up order a few days earlier so there was a feeling of relief more than joy in the air as Terry Connor and Mick Quinn led us to victory over the Bantams and a place in the last eight (where, incidentally, we were robbed by next week's Cup opponents Luton... at least I'm 99 per cent sure we were robbed).

On through the years and a few forgettable Second Division tussles against Bradford came and went - one of them in January 1989 marked the home debuts of Micky Hazard and, I think, Gary Stevens and led to a quite-impressive 3-0 win soon after Frank Burrows had returned for his second spell as manager.

But it's 1998 you really have to make your next stop in your look through Pompey-Bradford history. The Great Escape. Or was it, in fact, The Greatest Escape? In a way, by the time the Blues went to Valley Parade for the final day, the hard work had been done.

A near-impossible gap at the bottom of the table had been cut drastically and dramatically - but that last game still had to be won. Sammy Igoe and John Durnin, helped somewhat by a lacklustre Bantams effort, ensured it was and Michalis Vlachos was stripped to his pants by the delirious travelling army on the pitch.

Another poignant day, for very different reasons again, came when Bradford visited for our first home game of 2001-02. It was the first Fratton match since the untimely death of Aaron Flahavan and before the game his family laid flowers as the fans sung Abide With Me. Her was another day, like the anniversary of the fire, that made you remember football wasn't everything.

A couple of years later the mood was different again and we had another Sunday invasion of BCFC as Gianluca Festa got his team-mates to wear white boots, Toddy netted a hat-trick to win a golden one and Pompey celebrated being Division One champions in style with a 5-0 romp.

And amazingly, after 22 games between the two sides in 21 seasons, that is where we left the story. We've not played them since.

As Pompey rose to the Premier League, Bradford, not long out the top division themselves, sank to the fourth tier - a route the Blues were to copy a few years later. Bradford escaped from League Two at the end of the same season in which Pompey slipped into it. But now, Pompey having taken a couple of years less than Bradford did to clamber back up to tier three, we can at last watch on as the Blues and the Bantams go head to head.

Let's hope we don't have to wait another two decades after this season for it to happen again.

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