Thursday, 27 June 2013

Bantams Blogger Chats To... Bantams Banter

Exclusive Interview: The BANTAMS BANTER boys talk Wembley songs, the future of the podcast and – err – feeling like Peter Andre.


   The Bradford City team aren’t the only ones celebrating a campaign of non-stop success this year. Away from the football field, Tom Fletcher and Dominic Newton-Collinge, the hosts of the award-winning City podcast Bantams Banter, are raising a glass to what has been a phenomenal season of highs for them – that is, 700,000 downloads, two Wembley podcasts, a hit single, and appearances on regional and national news.
   For those unfamiliar with the show, the Bantams Banter podcast sees Dom and Tom chat their way through various City games, and their wild celebrations are intertwined with talk of dental hygiene, first crushes and invention ideas – among other things. Recorded at Bradford City home and away games, the show offers a comical and refreshing insight into the unique emotions football fans encounter during those nerve-jangling 90 minutes. The quips of Tom and Dom sail effortlessly alongside some of the most iconic moments in Bantams history, making for entertaining - and often hilarious - listening.
   Supporters can relive the various ups and downs of the season, from the unadulterated joy after the penalty shootout victory against Arsenal to the dismay and deflation when City found themselves trailing in the Burton home leg. Features include ‘Phone A Foe’, in which the pair call pubs in the towns of City’s opponents, and commentary rap, the phenomenon responsible for several of Bradford’s goals in the cup run. There are also jingles for each player (James Hanson’s is currently Penny and Me by the band Hanson, following a controversial decision to switch from MMMBop.).
   And as if that isn’t enough, the duo even wrote and recorded two songs to mark City’s visits to Wembley. PJ and Duncan’s Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble was the first tune to receive the Bantams Banter treatment, and the accompanying video sees Tom and Dom sing, ‘Get ready, get steady for Wembley – knees are getting trembly!’ as they dance around City Park. Bradford’s success in the play-offs demanded a second single, this time in the form of a spin on the Mary Poppins’ number Jolly Holiday. 
   “We're both very creative minded and musical geniuses, so it was a pretty simple process,” laughs Tom. “No. We got lucky and just started singing down the phone to each other. The first time round, PJ and Duncan popped up and the second time round, Dom had a moment of musical inspiration! We also wanted to do something completely different to amateur rapping, so Mary Poppins was the obvious choice.”
  “I guess this harks back to when I was at primary school,” explains Dom. “I was about six at the time. Some girls asked if I’d dance to Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble in front of the school with them. I did it, I was rubbish and I was ridiculed for it until I left that school, so I guess I wanted to try and improve on that performance and wipe away the scars it left.
   “Seriously, though, we unanimously agreed on both songs. The first, and arguably only decent one, was written in the majority by Tom and it just worked, along with the video.
   “The ‘other’ song just came to us. I was watching Mary Poppins with my little boy, heard Jolly Holiday and thought, That’ll be different. I rang Tom and he got all giddy, so we quickly hashed together some lyrics and recorded a daft video.”

"You know how you felt when the final whistle went at Wembley? That's exactly how it's felt to do Bantams Banter this season." - Dom

   It’s fair to say that the podcast has given us its fair share of memorable moments. The Rory McArdle commentary rap, Sarah Millican impression and Wembley II celebrations make for engrossing audio, and Tom and Dom each have a personal pick of best bits.
   “Crying at Wembley the first time round!” says Tom. “Podcasting with Alan Davies was brilliant and a dream come true, but Aston Villa away will also stick in our memories - you have never seen two men hug as much after and during a game of football in your life!”
   “For me, it has to be those final moments at Aston Villa,” Dom says. “The thought of those dying seconds still makes me tingle all over. The national press picked up on our emotional speech, too, so I’m quite proud of it!
   “Wembley, twice, is also up there with the proudest moments. To be there podcasting, watching the team you love, was just something else and literally the stuff our dreams were made of. We’ve moved on now - novelty wears off when you’re a Wembley regular. We also got to meet a lot, and I mean a lot, of our listeners down there, which was easily the best thing to happen to us since we started the podcast. We felt like a pair of Peter Andres!”
   What about their on-field highlight?
   “Getting out of 'orrible League Two!” declares Tom.  “But we would also argue the cup final - that sort of stuff happens once every 100 years and we witnessed it!”
   Easy: promotion,” says Dom. “The way the team pulled it off was amazing. What a way to do it, the Bradford City way. Supporting this club hasn’t been easy over the years and the team certainly don’t do things the easy way, but would we change anything? Not a chance. This season has been beyond memorable, the best we’ve witnessed and the way it all came to an end - perfect.”
   Bradford City’s success has run with the rise and rise of Bantams Banter. Tom and Dom picked up an award after being voted BBC 5Live’s Fans of The Year, filmed a Capital One Cup promotion film and appeared on everything from Look North to Sky Sports News during the cup run, and the pair admit to being bowled over by the popularity of their show.
   “Overwhelmed would be a good word,” muses Tom. “We didn't expect any of it and neither did we plan for it – it snowballed out of control but we’re slowly keeping up with it! The media attention we've had has been the perfect tonic for us. We both dream of working in broadcasting and any positive media P.R. we got this year was greatly appreciated.”
   “You know how you felt when the final whistle went at Wembley? That’s exactly how it’s felt to do Bantams Banter this season,” Dom says. “It’s been unreal. Our downloads [The show has averaged 37,000 downloads per episode this season.] have been phenomenal and far beyond anything we could have wished for.
   “All of the national press we received, podcasting with the great Alan Davies, podcasting the rise of our beloved team… It’s honestly been amazing. We’re so proud, and to share it with fellow fans and even fans of other teams… We cannot thank our listeners and followers enough.
   “It’s what we dreamed would happen – we never thought it actually would.”
   But then, the future of Bantams Banter was thrown into doubt. The boys announced that the latest edition – #69 from the play off final – would be their last ever show, and Dom and Tom have remained tight-lipped about the fate of the podcast since. Have they decided what they’re going to do yet?
   “Almost!” says Dom. “Basically, I was offered a job and I was going to take it, but I just couldn’t give up the thing Tom and I have worked so hard to make into a success. It’s like our baby. Luckily, Tom was amazingly understanding about it all and told me to do whatever makes me happy, so I did. I turned down the job with the hope of carrying on with Bantams Banter. My wife and current employer have been great about it all. The thing is, we need to find more lucrative sponsorship – the podcast is relatively big now and is costing us a lot, and we need to make that money back alongside making up for the fact I’ve just turned down a better wage.
   “It was my choice and nobody’s fault - I couldn’t let go of Bantams Banter! Maybe I’m an idiot, but with a friend like Tom and a wife like mine, it wasn’t too arduous.”
   And finally, how do Dom and Tom think City will fare in League One next year?
   “My heart says carry on this momentum and push on for promotion, but my head says mid-table finish and cement our place as good League One club,” says Tom.
   “I rarely do pre-season predictions because it’s a waste of time. Whatever will be will be,” begins Dom. “BUT after last season, my faith in football has been restored, and I think we’ll boss it!”

Visit the Bantams Banter website by clicking here.

The pair lark about in the video for Let's Get Ready For Wembley.

Tom and Dom's first single spawned a sequel, Jolly Holiday.

Monday, 24 June 2013

All Quiet on The Transfer Front

Jones has signed, Duke has gone and Doyle is TBC. It can only be the close season.

   After the excitement of the 2012/13 campaign, we knew that the off-season was going to be strange.
   Bradford City’s epic adventure is well documented by now. A convincing start to the season saw the Bantams sizzle into the top seven, before they rampaged through the Capital One Cup. Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa were all sent packing as a clinical Bradford reigned supreme, and, as older fans relived the Premier League glory days, younger ones got their first taste of the top division, plus the chance to see world-famous players ply their trade on the Valley Parade turf. TV crews swarmed Bradford. The Bantams became the toast of the town, and the pride of Yorkshire and the fourth division. Everyone wanted to watch City. People scrambled for tickets for that big day, and, even though defeat followed, the side recovered and flew back to the capital in style to secure promotion to League One. Open top buses descended onto City Park for the victory parade.
  Then, suddenly, nothing. No more games. No more press appearances. No more checking the table on a Saturday afternoon. That was it. Just silence.
  But it wasn’t long before we were given something to chew on. Andrew Davies put end to the speculation about his future by penning a deal with the Bantams, and Gary Jones took advantage of his contract extension option to pledge his services to City for another year. And that, in a nutshell, is the next couple of weeks for you: an eerie silence broken by the talk of transfers and contracts.
  Welcome to the close season.
   The summer months mark an influx of far-fetched rumours and a mad rush to decipher those ambiguous codes coming from various parties. We listen intently for sporadic updates about Jo Bloggs and Jack Robinson, and excitedly gaze inwards as the rumour mill cranks itself up to full. We second guess. We debate. We check the newspapers and club websites every day, scouring the web for clues as our teams offer us tantalising glimpses into the state of the current market. Some years, it’s stagnant because clubs slash their budgets, but sometimes it’s in full flow, and the Sky Sports News scrollbar is alive with reports of supposed bids and high money fees. For many football fans, it’s the most enthralling and effective way of banishing the boredom that comes with the off-season.
   The script reads the same every year: some Premier League club is signing a multi-million pound ace to propel them into title contention; whole squads are revamped as new managers look to change the face of a club; one of the Premiership’s top performers hops abroad or switches allegiance; one team – quite often the England squad – is embroiled in some dramatic crisis that will spell the end of life as we know it. With league matches off the menu, national games and all of this become our port of call for a football fix.
   This year, the desire for kick-off among City fans is more prevalent than ever. Previous seasons have seen us await the coming campaign with a guarded optimism, approaching August with promotion hopes pinned on the ‘it can only get better’ mantra. Now, though, we’re raring to go. For the first time in a long time, we go into a season knowing what success tastes like. We enter the season with an interesting sense of confidence, and there is genuine substance to our hopes that goes beyond potential – that is, we have seen these lads achieve great things and we know that they are capable of the unbelievable.
   But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have to strengthen. Contrary to previous years, we are not welcoming a new management team, so the squad won’t have to be stripped down and rebuilt from scratch; it’s just a case of fine-tuning certain areas. We will need to add, of course – more depth may be useful, as almost a pre-emptive measure to avert an injury crisis  – but, in terms of experience, we’ve got several players who have played in League One and beyond, so, to me, it just seems to be a case of bringing in a few more names to ensure that we can really establish ourselves up there.
   In City’s case, the key transfer arcs are Duke’s future (it has been confirmed that he has signed a two-year deal with Northampton Town) and Doyle’s future. Some say that a new striker may be on the horizon, whilst others claim that the acquisition of Andy Gray way back in January means that this isn’t an area that Parkinson is looking to expand.
   As I write this, it’s just been announced that Matt Duke will join the Cobblers and become their first-choice goalkeeper. Although the promise of two years of guaranteed first-team football would have been hard to refuse, I thought that Duke would stay at Valley Parade, not least because his position as goalkeeper coach provided longevity in terms of a guarantee of a job once his playing career ended. But that wasn’t the case, and our cup hero made the tough decision to part ways with the Bantams and join Aidy Boothroyd’s side. It’s sad to lose him, but we’ll never forget those amazing nights against Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa that Duke’s efforts helped to provide. So, good luck, Duke, and thanks for the memories. Oh, and I'm really going to miss your chant, by the way.
   I know nothing about any rumours connecting Nathan Doyle to other teams, but I’m hoping that we can tie him down. As one of the more versatile players in the squad, he can be the attacking spark that terrorises opponents, or the tough-tackling defender who leaves strikers quaking in their boots. He’s the gel that binds the defence to the middle of the park. We’ve seen that he can come on and lift a team – it was his calm influence and Reid’s link-up play with Meredith that really allowed us back into the Burton home leg – and he fits perfectly alongside Gary Jones to steady the midfield unit. The two have forged a lethal partnership, with Jones’ energy and Doyle’s eye for a pivotal pass providing a more intense attacking outlet that is harder for defences to break down.
   Some prefer Ricky Ravenhill, who, as he often plays just in front of the defence, allows Jones to drive forward and make greater use of the wingers. And, yes, we do have Ravenhill, Will Atkinson and young Scott Brown, so maybe Doyle will be viewed as surplus to requirements, but he’s still an asset, and he’s still going to be a huge part of the squad if we keep him. If he wants to head elsewhere, it’s not the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t put up a fight to tie him to Valley Parade next season.
   Moving onto Andy Gray, who Parkinson signed on an 18-month deal way back in January. He’s definitely divided opinion since his arrival from Leeds. To some, he’s a poor player, not providing the pace, effort and creativity that Wells, Hanson and Connell respectively offer. Some fans cite him as the reason why Hanson’s hold-up play has improved, but others are uncomfortable with awarding him such credit.
   But I’m backing Gray to come good. Why? Because Parkinson doesn’t do dud signings. Only the cream of the crop will do for the City chief; the players with that winning mentality who are willing to battle hard for 90 minutes and who are only satisfied with a hard-fought three points. Moreover, Parkinson has shown an admirable ability when it comes to improving players, and it’s hard to ignore his impressive track record in this field: under Parky’s influence, Atkinson blossomed and silenced his critics, and Thompson brushed off a wobbly start to develop into a prodigious goalscorer. In a similar vein, Luke Oliver was regarded as the worst of a bad bunch during the Peter Taylor era, yet he blasted back in style to amass multiple gongs at the club’s awards night the following year. My point? Don’t ignore this history. Gray may still deliver.
    We’ll definitely be inundated with more rumours in the next few days and weeks as the market steadily picks up, and we’ll do our fair share of staying up late for midnight announcements and watching updates ticker across the news channels. But, in the meantime, embrace the transfer window, because you don’t find suspense and drama quite like it anywhere else.
   Unless, of course, it’s the actual football season.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

How Well Do You Know Your City Squad?

A quick quiz to ease those close season blues

   To get you through the off season, I’ve compiled a little Bradford City-based quiz. Below are some random body parts of members of the 2012/13 team, and your task is to identify as many players as you can just from the feature shown. For example:

(not a player, but simply invaluable this season)

   That's obviously Phil Parkinson, below. You get the idea.

   My brother scored 8 / 11 - see if you can beat him!
   Good luck!












Don't be fooled by number one's smile. Reidy will tear you apart. Again.

He’s the no-nonsense midfielder who helped E.T. phone home, can do a wheelie on a unicycle and once unscrambled an egg – according to the Twitter fact page, at least. Nathan Doyle was number two.

No teething problems for this player, who slotted right into the defence. Number three was Carl McHugh.

Player number four certainly nose where the back of the net is - it's Alan Connell.

I ear he's an absolute rock at centre back - number five was Rory McArdle.

Number six was Will Atkinson. Half a point if you put Messi - it's an easy mistake to make.

Tat’s Michael Nelson.

 Eye used to work at the Co-op! League Cup hero James Hanson was number eight on the list. 

The full back's goal proved rather handy at booking the Bantams a place in the fourth round of the League Cup - Stephen Darby.

His cool head kept out penalties from Arsenal and Wigan players this season –  Matt Duke was number ten.

Legs 11 was Garry Thompson.

How did you do? Tweet me your score.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

2012/13 Season Review

As the curtain falls on City’s most memorable campaign for a decade, I look back at the best bits of this fairytale season.

Congratulations, Bradford City!
   What a glorious season. What a glorious, magical, spellbinding, enchanting campaign. What a year for Bradford City Football Club.
   How nice it was. How nice it was to know that the worst-case scenario was a seventh crack at League Two, and not extinction. How nice it was to not be constantly compared to Leeds and Huddersfield. How nice it was to have a group of players who understood, who never gave up, who hounded every ball and who – in one instance – literally shed blood for the cause.
   And how unpredictable has it all been? In the top three, out of the top three. In the cup, out of the cup, into the same cup that we’d just been kicked out of, out of that cup (again) and into a cup final. In the play-offs, out of the play-offs, way off the pace, a wee bit closer to seventh, then back in with a bang as the season’s epic conclusion came down to the wire. Mad stuff.
   As the campaign closes, I’ve decided to take a look back at the key moments of City’s season – the season in which the Bantams burgeoned into the side that we’d spent five years dreaming of. Expect Wembley appearances, penalty triumphs and giant-killings aplenty.

Bradford City 5-1 A.F.C. Wimbledon:
  City romped to a stunning victory over the division’s strugglers, with Wells, Davies, Hanson and McArdle all slotting home before the break to send the Wombles packing.
   The Bantams hadn’t been on the right end of a result like that in a long, long time, and it was incredible. As a City fan who had been through the whole rigmarole of a promotion bid converting itself to relegation battle more times than I dared to count, I was cautiously optimistic, daring to dream but nonetheless trying to keep things in perspective. The Bantams crashed back down to Earth with a bump at the hands of the Millers the following week, but, even then, it was difficult to ignore this start to the season and the quality of players that Parkinson had drafted in. A team is only ever as good as the sum of its parts – but Parkinson had clearly crafted something very special here.
   This had to be our year. It was long, long, long overdue…

Bradford City 1-1 Arsenal (Bradford win 3-2 on penalties)
   I’ll never forget December 11th, 2012 and the build up to it: how chants blasted out through the corridors at school, the excitement as people clamoured to get tickets and the banter with all of the Arsenal fans in my class. I was actually sat next to a Gunners fan at the game (my brother’s friend). Did that stop me from screaming madly when City scored? Definitely not, and, to be honest, I think that our little guest was secretly quite pleased for us.
   Moreover, nothing could have prepared me for the sight of Valley Parade that night. I’d never seen the stands so full and it was probably the best atmosphere ever. Garry Thompson’s goal, the Arsenal blunders, the chants of “Premier League? You’re having a laugh”… It all just meant so much, and, best of all, City hung on in there, kept calm and took it to penalties. Last season, we were struggling to beat Barnet and Torquay, yet here we were, condemning the Gunners to a humiliating cup exit.
   In the car on the way home, we joked about Bradford getting to the final and the possibility of competing in Europe, blissfully unaware of how one of those prospects would be dramatically realised.

Bradford City 3-1 Aston Villa:
   We all know the story. Villa pressed us, but Wells coolly slotted home, followed by a thunderous McCardle header. Paul Lambert’s side bounced back, but Carl McHugh directed a Gary Jones cross past his boyhood hero to cap off one of the most remarkable nights ever for the Bantams.
   As Bradford fans, we were probably more incredulous than Paul Lambert: how had City, the same team who hadn’t been able to score for toffee less than a week ago, managed to put three past Aston Villa? And not only that, but outplay them for 90 minutes?
   Wembley rested just one game away.

Aston Villa 2-1 Bradford City (Bradford win 4-3 on aggregate):
   It was a snowy night in Villa Park. Four great, hulking stands looked down over the frosty pitch as a plethora of claret and blue flags were waved madly in the stands, almost foreshadowing the actions of the Bantams fans at the final. Not that we were to know that. At this point, it just seemed as though the Birmingham club were trying everything to intimidate Phil Parkinson’s men.
   Initially, it worked. Bradford were tentative and struggled under Villa’s early pressure, with Benteke taking advantage of a congested box to score early and give Paul Lambert a flicker of hope. However, James Hanson emerged as the hero of the match, firing a header past Shay Given to permanently etch himself into Bantams’ folklore.
   The ecstatic City fans entered into a rendition of “Que, Sera, Sera”, and that said it all: we were going to Wembley.

Wembley I: Bradford City 0-5 Swansea City:
   Here it was. Bradford’s date with destiny. The outing to the national stadium that we’d never expected. Make a day of it. Why not a weekend? Relish this experience, because trips to Wembley don’t come around often.
   As far as I was concerned, it was written in the stars. I looked back at the number of times that City should have gone out of the cup, but didn’t: when Notts County rattled the crossbar in the First Round; when Gerviniho fired wide from a few feet out; when Darren Bent headed the ball miles over an open goal; when Stephen Ireland’s equaliser was flagged as offside. Every time, Lady Luck was on the Bantams’ side, and I was sure that she’d be there again to help the team out in the cup final.
   But reality had different ideas.
   Swansea were ruthless. Their clean, crisp, precise passing was simply impossible to contest, and the Wembley stage left the Bantams with nowhere to hide. It was the first time that Bradford had ever wavered, ever looked like a side from the fourth division, but it didn’t matter: they had done us proud, and I’m pretty sure that the 30,000 flag bearers did their heroes proud, too.

Back to the League, where the Bantams’ form had dipped – perhaps owing to fatigue from the mammoth number of fixtures. Following the 4-1 drubbing to Exeter that had left Bradford 8 points adrift from the final play-off place, many supporters had written off a promotion, but we didn’t mind because we’d had that amazing, amazing cup run. But that wasn’t good enough for Parkinson and his boys: they needed to fulfil their prime aim.
   City slowly closed the gap to cement a spot in seventh, before clawing back a one-goal deficit to brush aside Burton Albion in the second leg. We were heading back to Wembley. Bradford were on the brink of doing what, after five dismal years, had begun to seem nigh on impossible.

Wembley II: Bradford City 3-0 Northampton Town:
   As holiday homes go, Wembley’s not a bad one to have the keys to. This match proved why.
   It was a different ball game to the Capital One Cup final. This result mattered more, for one, and both teams were on a level playing field. Whilst causing only a ripple on the international pond, the pressure was massive, because we had to go up, had to get out of the doldrums. Please, please, please.
   It really was the perfect end to our fairytale. Hanson, the local boy who had been working at a Co-op store when City signed him, saw his effort power past the Northampton goalkeeper to open up the scoring, and Rory McArdle and Nahki Wells added to City’s tally to clarify the result.
  “We are going up!” we boomed, utterly delirious. You can say what you like about the play-offs - how they’re not fair, how they’re too tense, how they’re too risky - but, believe me, when it’s your captain who is climbing the Wembley stairs to lift that coveted trophy, you’ll agree that there really is no better way to go up.

   Before this season, I didn’t even know what “Que Sera, Sera” was, I’d had so few reasons to sing it.
   Now, it’s up there with my favourite football chants, right alongside “Stephen Darby, baby”, “He’s magic, you know” and “DUUUUUUKE”.
    That is more than what I could have ever expected from this season.