More than 10 years have passed since Bradford City achieved what many thought to have been impossible, not only getting into the Premier League, but then surviving after a nail biting final day. Four years earlier the club was in the 3rd tier of English football, however, an extraordinary rise saw the club experience two quick promotions and along with big money signings, (at the time) prompted excitement and enthusiasm for supporters. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for the Bantams; internal issues became a problem, then the club was relegated and faced imminent administration which in turn triggered a series of relegations which saw the club plummet to the 4th tier of the English football ladder and struggle to climb back up it. Bradford City FC is an intriguing tale of how one minute you can be living the dream then a few years later travelling down south on a Tuesday night to play Torquay’s finest.
It is fair to say that Bradford City have a reputation that stands above its current status of League 2 football. The club has five league and cup honours to its name, but having yo-yoed up and down the divisions for many years, Bradford have struggled to gain any continuity or solidarity. Queue the entrance of the ambitious Geoffrey Richmond as the new chairman in 1994.
He made the short trip from Scarborough FC in January that year, promising to get the club into the Premier League within five seasons; it may have not been on the Stalin scale of the ‘five year plans’ but it was a bold statement from a striving man who had clear visions on where he wanted and thought the club should be.
Under Chris Kamara (yes, that Chris Kamara was once a manager), Bradford City had some momentum going into the 1995-96 play-off semi-finals, but that was almost extinguished when Blackpool went to Valley Parade and won 2-0 in the first leg. It was a big blow to the team after all the effort that had gone into making the top six, however Kamara stayed positive. “Don’t write us off, If we can get an early goal we will get back into it.” And an early goal is exactly what Kammy got after Carl Shutt scored after six minutes. After that two more strikes followed from Des Hamilton and then Mark Stallard which completed the remarkable turnaround and send them to Wembley for a final against Notts County.
The final was very much a Bradford experience. Roughly three-quarters of the near 40,000 attendance in London were Bradford City fans and there was an air of expectancy amongst them that City would win. Indeed, promotion was secured with a 2-0 win over Notts County thanks to goals from Hamilton and Stallard. It was an important step for Bradford as it put them one league closer to their ultimate goal and after the post-match celebrations, Richmond stated that “this is only the beginning.”
Avoiding relegation next term was a tough ask. The team found life in the 2nd Division tough and it was a long season which ended with them just staying up on the final day of the season finishing two points clear in 21st. The 1996-97 side were grafters, not a great side but worked well as a unit. The team consolidated their position in the league during the next season, ending the campaign 13th.
Bradford’s miracle workers
However on the 6th January 1998, Kamara was sacked after winning only four of the previous 21 games which saw the club slip down to 11th after a promising start. Kamara described his sacking as “one of the saddest days of my 24 year career.” Richmond wanted the club to push for promotion this season after consolidating the term before and stated that although Kamara has been brilliant for City, he felt he had taken the club as far as he could. Former player and a coach at the club Paul Jewell took temporary charge until the end of the season. At 33 he was one of the youngest managers in the football league. The surprise was when Jewell was given the job on a permanent basis on the 8th of May 1998 - it was expected that Richmond would turn to a bigger name and it was a huge gesture of faith towards Jewell.
Jewell had steered City to their highest finish for many years and with no previous experience in management it was a good effort. However, the pressure was on after it was announced that Jewell would receive a strong transfer budget which was confirmed when he broke the club's transfer record twice within the first week of the 1998–99 season. The first one being the acquisition of Lee Mills for £1m and then spending £1.3m on Arsenal forward Isaiah Rankin. In another popular move he brought back former Bradford City favourite Stuart McCall on a free transfer. Richmond had backed Jewell and wanted him to deliver his dream of Premiership football but the season did not start well with the club winning only one of their first seven games. Jewell however kept adding to his squad, additions like Dean Windass helped the club pick up form and led to them competing directly with Ipswich for the last automatic promotion place.
Kamara described his sacking as “one of the saddest days of my 24 year career.”
Eventually it all came down to a trip to Molineux, If City won they were in the Premier League. Wolves though had only lost once since Boxing Day and still had a chance of getting into the play-offs so it was by no means an easy game. It was an absorbing football match which had everything; goals, mistakes, penalties and near misses. Ultimately City triumphed, thanks to a 3-2 win courtesy of goals from Peter Beagrie, Mills and Robbie Blake. That season Beagrie and Blake were hugely influential, both scoring double figures for the club.
Jewell’s ‘Dads Army’
Celebrations were short lived as the club made important steps to ensure they would be competitive in the Premier League, none more so than signing future legend David Wetherall, who made the short trip to Bradford from local rivals Leeds United. He explained his move; “For me it was an easy decision, they had just got promoted to the Premier League and it was a chance for me to play regular football.” Wetherall was signed for a club record fee of £1.4m and was the only ever-present member of the 1999-2000 campaign, playing every minute for City in the Premier League.
Bradford went into the first game of the campaign against Middlesbrough with not too many changes from the Division One team which prompted pundits, such as Rodney Marsh, to write them off. Wetherall told me; “People wrote us off, Rodney Marsh saying he’ll 'shave his head if they stay up.' Critics like that kept us motivated throughout the campaign.” Dissenters even labelled Jewell’s team as the ‘Dads Army’ of the Premiership, pointing to the age of players signed, but this didn’t seem to affect the team on the took three points from their opening fixture.
Many look back on Bradford’s 1999/2000 season affectionately, not just because of their final day heroics but also the fact they were competitive in most games. Points against Tottenham, Chelsea and three at home to Arsenal, not to forget the 5-4 thriller against a star studded West Ham side and the 4-4 against Derby - it was an exhilarating nine months that ended with huge partying on Sunday 14th May when David Wetherall’s marvellous header secured three points against Liverpool. Relegation rivals Wimbledon lost out to Southampton meaning Bradford stayed up by three points in 17th. Wetherall said of the success; “It was a team that achieved something; they spent a lot of money but with everything said about us it was a great achievement for the club”.
Big money, no results
A few days later though news started to filter through that Paul Jewell had handed in his resignation to chairman Geoffrey Richmond. This came as a shock coming so soon after the end of the season and different stories began to circulate; from some saying Jewell had accepted another job to others claiming Richmond deemed 17th place a failure. The reality was Paul Jewell had gone and his assistant Chris Hutchings was now in charge. Hutchings was backed and more big money signings came in, including David Hopkin, Dan Petrescu and Benito Carbone. The summer of 2000 to many, was the start of the club's rapid decline.
Wetherall agreed: “The biggest mistake the club did was letting Paul (Jewell) go. The board wanted to change too much too soon whilst Paul wanted to evolve slowly. The board didn’t plan the contracts; most of the players were on very healthy Premiership salaries without relegation clauses. This was important as when the club was to be relegated, the wage bill was still very high and without the money from the Premier League it would always be hard to cope.”
The Bantams had a torrid time in the Premier League that season, finishing bottom, winning only five of their 38 fixtures. The club struggled to gain any kind of form and it showed by the change of manager mid-season with Jim Jefferies replacing Chris Hutchings.
Nevertheless Richmond was optimistic the following season despite being back in Division One, unveiling plans such as for every pound spent on season ticket sales from the 8th June till the start of the season one pound would go into manager Jefferies’ player budget. What the club didn’t bank on though was the collapse of ITV Digital, and after the club found a disappointing mid table finish, Richmond announced that Bradford was set to lose upwards of £10m because of this. Richmond later said on this matter; “I couldn’t know we would have the ITV Digital situation that would take income away from every club.” With the club having no hope of promotion the next season, Jefferies resigned and the job was given to Nicky Law.
The breakdown in Carbone’s transfer also cost the club dearly as they had to pay him £800,000 to cancel his £40,000 a week contract instead of cashing in on him
The club was in a desperate situation now, so much so that after calling in the administrators 16 players were sacked, leaving Law with only five senior players in his squad. The breakdown in Carbone’s transfer also cost the club dearly as they had to pay him £800,000 to cancel his £40,000 a week contract instead of cashing in on him.
Talking of the administration, Wetherall said; “The club went through so many changes; players were leaving, administration, players weren’t being paid. It was a real test of togetherness. 11 years since then and the club are still suffering from it.”
The fight goes on
City did manage to pull through and once the club's future was confirmed, Richmond walked. On his departure he said that it “would have been my wish to still be at the club” but ultimately said he would go “for the good of the club” as long as his presence split the fan base. Gordon Gibb took over the reins along with Julian Rhodes.
Bradford again struggled in the league although, in truth; many fans, players and board members were simple relieved that City managed to fulfil the fixtures as it looked for a long time like they wouldn’t. Though a 19th place finish in 2002/03 was again a step in the wrong direction. Nicky Law was sacked in November 2003 with the club anchored in the First Division relegation zone, Bryan Robson was given the task of getting City out.
However, the task was too much for Robson. He could only take 22 points from the final 27 games which saw the club finish 23rd and slip into English footballs 3rd tier. Some may argue that this was City’s lowest point during the decline; the club had plunged into more financial trouble which resulted in Gordon Gibb resigning as chairman. By mid-February, players agreed to defer percents of their wages if the club was to be placed in administration which on the 27th February it was. Robson claimed the administration had a “damaging effect on the dressing room.” Wetherall also said on the situation; “Everyone realised we had to do what we could to ensure the club's survival. It was not the intentions of the current board; they put a lot of hard work into making sure the club survived. Even now they have put a lot of dedication into the club.”
Sponsors chipped in and along with the T&A Pro Celebrity All-Stars match, the money was raised to ensure Bradford City remained in business
Down, down, deeper down
City were now going through managers like confetti, with Colin Todd the next in the firing line. More important issues arose though with the club in danger of extinction, administrators told City fans on the 14th May that if they could raise £100,000 by the end of June it would guarantee the club's survival. Sponsors chipped in and along with the T&A Pro Celebrity All-Stars match, the money was raised to ensure Bradford City remained in business.
The Todd years were in truth a miserable time for the club, finishing 11th in both the 2004/05 and 2005/06 season he came under severe pressure with results not going his way and his ‘boring’ style of football was criticised. Dean Windass though, who scored 48 goals in his second stint at Valley Parade defended Todd. “I can’t believe people want to bring him down. He is the best manager in this league because of the respect the players have for him.” Despite support from the players, Todd was let go on the 12th February. Wetherall was given the job in a caretaker-manager role with City in a terrible run of form.
He said: “The period before and when I took over the club's form dipped. We were forced into selling our best players like (Dean) Windass and (Jermaine) Johnson as we couldn’t afford to tie them down. The board asked me to have a spell in management and I was still playing at the time.”
When asked why the team's form had dipped Wetherall replied; “The squad simply wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t through lack of effort, the player’s application was excellent under me.” This poor run saw the club, who were at the start of the decade in the Premier League, now gearing up for football in The Football Leagues lowest division as Wetherall could not prevent a third relegation in seven seasons.
“I really enjoyed my coaching time at Bradford, it paved the way for getting the current role for the FA that I have now by coaching the youth team at Bradford
Wetherall was relieved of his duties the next season and back came former favourite Stuart McCall. McCall was given a decent budget and more than enough time to make an impact at City but unfortunately for him it never happened. Under McCall, City never finished higher than 9th in League Two, a disappointing time as McCall had the best budgets the club had seen for a few years. It was also announced that mid-way through the 2007/2008 season that Wetherall would stop playing and take up a coaching role. It was a huge testament to his loyalty to how he stuck by the club and compromised to ensure its survival.
Since City’s relegation to League Two it has been an uneventful time for the club and its fans. Without being 100% clear of its financial troubles they seem to be more stable than a few years earlier. On the club’s future, Wetherall, who has since left his post at Bradford to take up a role of youth development for the FA, said the club needs to look to the future.
“I really enjoyed my coaching time at Bradford, it paved the way for getting the current role for the FA that I have now by coaching the youth team at Bradford. The club is focusing on its development squad, in hope they can bring through younger players in the long term, something I feel the club should have done a few years back.”
On the 25th August 2011, it was announced that Bradford manager Peter Jackson had resigned stating that “He felt that to resign now would give the club that best possible chance for the rest of the season.” A decision that has left many fans puzzled; four games in the League campaign and only one point is hardly a brilliant start but was his resignation really what a club striving for just a smidgen of stability needed?
Phil Parkinson took charge and led City to safety and has since stated he wants to push for promotion next year and in turn restore some pride back into a club which has endured a considerable amount of pain. All I can say to that is good luck sir!