Asian fans are finally heading to Valley Parade to get behind the team in huge numbers after decades of fear and distrust
When Khalil "Jerry" Hussain was 12, boyish curiosity took him to the Bradford City turnstiles, where he hovered, trying to glimpse the football action, not yet brave enough to venture in. Like most of his generation, the children of those who arrived in Bradford from Pakistan or Bangladesh in the late 1960s and 70s, Valley Parade was not a place of belonging, even though many settled in the Manningham streets right around the ground.
That perception in the south Asian-origin community has gradually changed, Hussain says; steady modern community work has worn the barriers down, and the delirious Capital One Cup run to Wembley has rallied everybody round.
"Perhaps I was a pioneer," he says. "I did start going in and watching games at the end of the 80s, when there were very few Asian people in the ground. There was a fear factor among our parents, a sense that football was hostile, it wasn't for us."
Hussain, an inclusion officer at the local Springwood primary school and a tireless football community organiser, now works with the club to bring groups to Valley Parade for their first taste of matches. "Gradually, with time, we're seeing many more regulars, a few hundred at the League Two games; they enjoy it, they feel comfortable, they understand the importance of football, of coming along and socialising. For the big matches in the cup run, it has been absolutely awesome, for everybody in Bradford, and at the Arsenal game, we were into the thousands of Asian supporters."
Julian Rhodes, the club's joint vice-chairman, is reluctant to highlight specifically this more inclusive support, because, he says: "We feel we are welcoming to everybody without distinguishing – we want as many people as possible to come and enjoy supporting the club. That is why we make it as affordable as we can."
It was Rhodes's innovation, after City slumped to League Two in 2007 just six years after dropping out of the Premier League, to introduce the £6 per match season ticket, £138 in total, in a successful effort to retain a large crowd. Matchday prices are less cheap, at £20, but the club has other deals to encourage less well-off supporters to attend, and last season's home average crowd was 10,491, League Two's highest.
Despite his sensitivity, Rhodes does accept that the cup run, and the near-unbelievable prospect of Wembley, has united much of the city. "That has been one of the best things about it, the way everybody, regardless of origin, is excited," he says. "It does feel like the whole city will be supporting the club in the final."
The ex-City centre-forward Ian Ormondroyd, who now runs the club's community foundation, acknowledges it has been "a slow process", but he now sees more mixed support than when he was leading the line for the team: "Certainly since the Arsenal game more Asian-origin fans are coming to the games, and we do what we can to encourage everybody to feel the club will welcome them," Ormondroyd says. "We do a lot of promotions at primary schools, and we are seeing it change; we feel we are getting there."
Lifelong supporter David Pendleton, the one-time editor of the City Gent fanzine, a club historian and the curator of the Bradford City museum, observes this with approval, as his club has begun to reflect the diversity of Bradford itself. The cup run, which he has experienced in near-disbelief, has been "a game-changer", he says.
"Bradford City has to be positive and embrace everybody if the club is to progress – the city itself is constantly changing. Somehow the big cup matches have galvanised everybody, the old divisions are suspended, the whole city wants the club to win at Wembley.
"In fact," he says and pauses, "everybody in Bradford has just about forgotten about everything else, until then."