For an overseas football fan, following their beloved club can be a challenge in itself. With coverage sometimes hard to find and differing time zones adding to the complication, EFL launched the iFollow service at the start of the 2017/18 campaign to tackle that very problem.
As part of a club's existing website, iFollow provides overseas fans with the opportunity to live stream up to 46 live league games featuring their club within the regular EFL season.
Also, in what is a first for English football, some Sky Bet EFL matches will be made available to watch to supporters within the UK and Ireland throughout the 2018/19 season, providing the fixture takes place outside the blocked hours of 14.45-17.15 on Saturday afternoons and is not broadcast live on Sky Sports. Fixtures taking place on Bank Holidays or Easter will also be unavailable for streaming.
Phil Woodford, a Bradford City supporter based in Ontario, Canada, has followed the Bantams for over 60 years. Despite having emigrated to North America in 1957, the first 11 years of his childhood were based in Yorkshire, on the terraces of Valley Parade, now known as the Northern Commercials Stadium.
“I started following City properly two or three years before I left for Canada. It was a combination of family and friends that I would attend the games with, it became a common interest amongst us all.
“I would say it was near impossible to follow the club once I moved over here. When I think back to what I would do to try and follow Bradford, it makes me laugh. It wouldn’t be until Monday morning when I’d have to get a national newspaper to find out the results.
“Even then it would be the score and nothing else, no other information so I found out the bare minimum. Soccer, as we call it here, wasn’t covered much at all, so it was extremely difficult to follow the club each week.”
Despite a five-hour time difference, Phil expressed his delight at the platform when asked how it had aided following the club he had supported since he was a child.
“I feel like I am in seventh heaven. The coverage I get now is fantastic and I am fully up to date with what is going on. I can comment on the everyday news coming out of the club, both on and off the pitch.
“I was forced to follow blogs and general newspapers to find basic news and opinions on the club, but now I can form my own personal impressions, which is far, far better than basing it on secondhand information.”
“It’s great that this service is now available around the world, and I have personally really benefited from it. The stream itself is of a very high quality and I’ve not encountered any problems that has stopped me from watching the games.”
An earlier start is required to watch the Bantams for Phil, with the standard 3pm kick-off on a Saturday afternoon transferring to a 10am start in Canada. Whilst it isn’t too much of a deterrent, it is now firmly in his routine for a weekend.
“My wife and children are both Canadian, of course, so I usually watch it by myself. There are odd times that my cousin may come round and watch it with me, but that’s about it.
“All my family in England are now cousins, with other relatives passing away. One of them actually has two little boys, both of whom are season ticket holders at the club. I talk to them and if I come over they’re a good source for getting tickets.”
Although a regular return to England isn’t something realistically achievable, he did manage to make his way to Wembley Stadium for the EFL Cup final between Swansea City and Bradford City – of course, he couldn’t miss such an occasion!
Even a heavy defeat – The Swans would secure their first major trophy in their history with a 5-0 victory - wasn’t enough to dampen the spirit. For Phil, it would tick off a lifelong dream of seeing his club at the national stadium in a major cup final.
“It was basically a once in a lifetime opportunity, who would have thought that Bradford City would have reached a cup final at Wembley?
“Just to be there was an enjoyment, the fact the result and the game was so poor was really secondary in the end.
“I’ll never forget we got into London and stopped in a hotel near Harrods. We went out for a walk, me in my Bradford scarf, and I was getting stopped by fellow supporters who were amazed when they found out I had travelled from Canada. In fact, that continued throughout the stay and on the Tube!”
With a future trip to Valley Parade firmly in his thoughts, Phil will be hoping the Bantams can have another season to remember and perhaps create another memorable Wembley Stadium experience, this time with a positive outcome.
You can sign up to iFollow, either as a domestic or overseas subscriber, by clicking here.