Bradford City fans have had it harder than most over the past three years.
The Bantams were just five minutes away from extra time in the League One Play-Off final against Millwall back in 2017 with the prospect of Championship football in touching distance.
Millwall’s Steve Morison broke the Yorkshire side’s hearts and the repercussions of that defeat sent The Bantams into a free fall.
But after descending to the bottom of the Football League, are things finally starting to look up for Bradford?
Bradford is a club with Premier League heritage, it has been a beating life-source of football in West Yorkshire for 116 years and has some of the most loyal supporters you are likely to find.
Supporters who are proud to be a ‘glass half full’ set of fans.
But since that fateful day at Wembley back in 2017, those fans have needed every ounce of that optimism to pull them through one of their darkest eras.
While that Play-Off game back in 2017 looks like the turning point, it was, in fact, May 2016 when Bradford’s fortunes changed for the worse.
The day Stefan Rupp and, more specifically, Edin Rahic took over the club.
Club legend Stuart McCall, who had managed the club twice before, was in charge for the defeat to Millwall and kept his job heading into the 17/18 season.
With the Bantams sitting mid-table, the chief executive, Rahic decided it was time for a new face and the fan-favourite McCall was gone.
This was the first indication that the new owners were singing a different tune to the fans.
George Collins, a life-long Bradford fan, had this to say on McCall’s departure: “Most of the faithful were angry at McCall’s departure – not only is McCall a club legend in both his spells at the club as a player, but we had been winning games and playing well up until the losing streak which all managers, even at the highest level, have to cope with.”
McCall was gone and boy did that start a trend.
After the Scot left in February 2018 the club hired and fired; Greg Abbott (caretaker), Simon Grayson, Michael Collins, David Hopkin, Martin Dury (caretaker) before getting Gary Bowyer in March 2019.
Historically when clubs go through managers like that they only go one way. Down.
Bradford’s former CEO, James Mason, explained what it was about Rahic that made life at the club quite so difficult: “Edin, in his desire to succeed, obsessed about the wrong things such as trying to make as much money from the day as possible as opposed to creating a positive environment to succeed. This success would have come naturally had Stuart been supported.”
A poll was taken last winter, with Bradford sitting at the bottom of League One, as to who was to blame for their unexpected fall from promotion-hopefuls to relegation certainties.
And, as so often the case when clubs are free-falling, the fans pinned the blame almost entirely on the two German owners; Rupp and Rahic.
In fact, 77% of the votes went towards the owners, 18% believed the players were to blame, while just 3% blamed the then manager, David Hopkin.
While Rupp was the majority shareholder, it was his assistant and the club’s chief executive, Rahic who appeared to architect to their downfall.
Season ticket sales dropped by 22% heading into their relegation 18/19 season last year and those 4,000 who didn’t re-apply missed Bradford’s worst season since they faced administration back in the early noughties.
If there was one morsel of comfort that the Bradford faithful could take from last season, it was the fact that Rahic had left.
Whether he jumped or was pushed is unclear, but the fans felt a parasite had finally been removed from their club back in December 2018.
Shortly after Rahic’s departure, Rupp promised to ‘Do everything in his power to wash away the dreadful memories of the last 12 months and consign them to the history books for good.’
It was too late in the season for a miracle and six months later Bardford went down to League Two.
The club did what they could to keep the fans onside, as George Collins explained: “More encouragement was given to us when former chairman, Julian Rhodes, returned to the board. Rhodes had been widely praised for his management of the Club through the turbulent times we faced in administration in the early 2000s.”
This was a smart move from Rupp as Rhodes was Bradford through and through and helped re-build the bridge between the fans and the club.
Whether at Wembley, in the Premier League or in League Two, the support Bradford still gets is admirable.
Over 13,000 poured into Valley Parade to see their side lose 1-0 in a scrappy and ill-tempered contest with Forest Green.
It sounded more like a Championship game with the fans behind their team and every decision being met with the loudest jeers League Two ever heard.
There is a general feeling amongst the fans that Bowyer has assembled the squad he wants and has a fair shot at sending Bradford back up the Football League.
Especially with the trigger-happy Rahic now a thing of the past.
Mason has praised Rupp for what has been done since going down: “It has taken relegation to start the recovery process and credit has to go to Stefan (Rupp) because whilst he admits he let things go too far he has stayed put and committed finances to make amends. This characteristic in itself is something that will be welcomed by many City fans. It may take time but the club looks to be going in the right direction which is great to see.”
While it would have been easy for Rupp to follow his countryman away from the club, he has stayed true to the fans and showed the loyalty they so desperately deserve.
And it appears they are building the right model to take their club back to where it belongs – up the Football League.