Monday evening isn’t exactly a highlight of the week at the best of times. The weekend is just a pleasant memory and the daily grind has our noses firmly to its stone again, real life intruding to suck the joy and leisure out of our bleak existences. Oh dear – I’m depressing myself…
Even Monday evenings, though, when the next weekend mini-break seems so far off and unattainable, still sometimes has its compensations. Not tonight, however. No Premier League football to remind a nostalgic Leeds fan of what used to be on offer every fortnight at Elland Road. Not this benighted Monday. Instead, it’s rugged, ragged League One fare, as rough and honest as a monk’s undies, replete with hard graft, application, work rate and maybe a primitive sort of skill here and there. It’d do, normally – some games at this level can be ok. Ish. And if nothing else, you’d think that such rustic entertainment might help your average long-suffering Leeds fan stop thinking about that clueless git of an alleged referee who paraded his criminal lack of ability at Elland Road on Saturday.
But this isn’t the best of League One, such as it is. It’s Bradford. And there’s just something about that homely little club which makes watching any of their games feel like you’re witnessing two sets of artisans having a mud-wallowing contest. This, you understand, is at the best of times.
Tonight, the impression of mediocrity is heightened by the state of what Bradford City have the cheek to call a pitch. It is not a pitch. It is a morass. To say it’s cutting up is hopelessly inadequate. I’ve seen slasher movie victims less cut up than Bradford’s gloopy, damaged playing surface. Compared to this Somme battlefield of a playing area, Derby’s old Baseball Ground resembled a manicured, pristine bowling green. And as all of us with a few decades on our backs will recall, the Baseball Ground was a real pig of a pitch. They were still digging up mummified inside-forwards there a decade after Derby moved out to their new, Meccano stadium.
So bad is this Bradford surface that, I have it on good authority, visitors MK Dons took one look and asked to have the fixture switched to a ploughed-over potato field on the edge of the city. The ball would run truer there, the horrified Milton Keynes man protested. The farm furrows would suit the Dons’ passing game better than the ravaged, blitzed bog within Valley Parade’s not-so-hallowed portals. Besides, the desperate southerners argued, playing in a field would make the attendance look better. Most of the Bratfud faithful appeared to have turned up disguised as claret or amber seats.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the circumstances of this game have reduced it, as a spectacle, to something rather less entertaining than watching a turnip rot. Unsurprisingly, half time arrived with the scoreline as blank as Peter Beagrie’s face. Most of the first period had been spent with the combatants burying the ball under the friable surface and then digging it up again. The more skilful players on the Dons’ side resembled ballet dancers trying to escape quicksand. Even the muddied oafs of Bradford looked more like swamp-dwellers than footballers though that may be their standard appearance, for all I know.
I have to say, the second half was much better. I spent it asleep on the sofa, dreaming as an old man dreams, of Felicity Kendall and Debbie Harry, naked in a hot tub. I must have snored away thus, blissfully happy with aesthetic fulfilment, probably with an appreciative leer on my face, almost certainly drooling slightly, for – ooh, a good half hour. Then, the hot tub vision melted away, to be replaced by a mud-bath; Felicity and Debbie disappeared from view instead of obligingly wrestling – and I was awake, staring at the Somme again.
The surface hadn’t deteriorated – it couldn’t possibly have, not without two days’ application of a rotavator – and the brave, willing players of both sides were still trying to make the ball move as a spherical object ideally should. Somehow, the teams between them had managed to score some actual goals – three of them. I guessed they must have taken it in turns to use a tank or other caterpillar-tracked vehicle to conduct actual offensives, rather then just battle it out in the cratered and pitted no man’s land.
MK Dons, unable to reproduce the form that has been coming to them so easily when they play on grass, had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat to a team evidently more proficient at mudlarks than football. Whether they will lodge a complaint to the League is yet to be seen – but either way, the result is likely to stand. Bradford fans and players will head home happily, to spend the time until Friday afternoon scraping the mud off their boots, or clogs, as applicable. For them, mind-boggling as it might appear to civilised people, this passed for entertainment.
For Bradford, it’s a rise to the dizzy heights of only ten league places behind crisis club Leeds United. The glorious prospect of playing in the same division as their hated neighbours – and experiencing another Wembley Final thrashing – must be positively dazzling for them right now. How the season pans out remains to be seen; but MK Dons will certainly be relieved to be heading back south without having lost any personnel drowned in the West Yorkshire peat bogs. For them, small mercies are all they have, tonight, to give thanks for.