‘Football Fans’ by Ian Beesley (Cafe Royal Books, 2019) £6.00 +postage
It’s twenty years since the Bantams were promoted to the Premier League, embarking on a unique if not traumatic experience. Whether it will be repeated is anyone’s guess and whether that is what every Bradford City supporter really wants is another matter entirely.
It seems a long time ago – which indeed it was – and an awful lot has happened in the intervening period. It was also a fleeting experience and the first season in 1999/00 was undoubtedly the most enjoyable of the two. After the first month of the following campaign and victory over Chelsea at Valley Parade, things started to disintegrate quickly and it wasn’t much fun to get trounced nearly every weekend.
The odds against survival in the Premier League were stacked against us and I suspect that most fans expected our membership of the Premier League to end sooner than later. However the mood among supporters was to enjoy the adventure. Maybe with an eye to posterity, Geoffrey Richmond commissioned Ian Beesley to record the experience in a series of black and white photographs that were published shortly after.
Richmond knew that it was an historic achievement getting promotion and was determined to commemorate it. Whilst he had his own motives, no-one could argue with the wisdom of his decision and to his credit BFG sanctioned Ian’s involvement. How it would have been fascinating for modern generations to have inherited a similar project from 1908 (when the club had last gained promotion to the first division of English football).
Ian is a tremendously gifted photographer, a Bradfordian whose work has also provided a record of industrial and social change in his home city. As a supporter of the club he knew as well as anyone else at Valley Parade the emotional significance of having reached the promised land of the Premier League. The measure of his professionalism is that he succeeded in maintaining a detached perspective of events.
His photographs reveal the pride and excitement of City supporters in a way that an outsider would probably have missed. He knew exactly what he was looking for, not just in terms of his craftsmanship as a photographer but also as someone tasked with recording a special phase in the club’s history. My regret is that Ian was not similarly engaged to record the heartache of our subsequent relegation and the ensuing purgatory of the decade that followed.
The most notable difference between then and now is the development of Valley Parade. Whilst the present Kop had been completed, the extended Main Stand was yet to be finished and in fact was not ready until the 2001/02 season (by which time we were back in the second division with debts about to engulf the club). The irony of course is that despite languishing in the lower divisions since 2004, on memorable occasions we’ve had bigger crowds and better match atmospheres in BD8 than was the case in the Premier League. However the title of this booklet – Football Fans – is apt because raw matchday emotions now are no different to what they have ever been.
Indeed things haven’t really changed that much, the antics of Charlie as lead performer in the Kop being a prime example. Aside from different scarves and shirts, the photos could be of big matches nowadays. On the other hand, all-seater and all-ticket games were then a relatively new experience.
Football Fans includes a selection of 19 photographs and it is fascinating to see them once more. I have found them as evocative now as when they were first released and the passage of time gives them added meaning. Each image tells a multitude of stories and collectively they are impactful, thought-provoking. It’s probably the nearest that Bradford City has come to art and not in a poncey, pretentious way either. I’d venture that Ian’s shots belong to the New Age Bantam Realism genre and I hope that it won’t be too long before he repeats his project, irrespective of which division we find ourselves in.
Only 250 copies of this A5 size booklet have been produced and it’s well worth the purchase. Order your copy through this link
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