The greatest goal I ever saw: Bradford City's Gordon Watson v Barnsley

18 months out of the game with a double leg break after being assaulted in a local derby, Gordon Watson returns to the pitch for Bradford City. It's the dying minutes 1-0 down at home to Barnsley...
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What makes a great goal? Is it how hard the ball's struck? How far out it's been struck from? The amount of passes leading up to it? An acrobatic overhead scissor kick? If that's the case then as a football fan you'll get a few of these goals a season. You'll leap about, turn to your mate next to you (or in the case of an away match, whoever you've ended up next to in the melee) and shout Partridge style: "Fucking hell, did you see that?!" You might go on to lose or draw. But, it was a great goal. But that's it. Just a great goal.

There's been plenty of them over last few decades at Bradford City. Many City fans will remember the sadly no longer with us (and I don't mean us as in Bradford City, he really is sadly no longer with us) Robbie James's thunderbolt against Rotherham at - the much missed in my opinion - Millmoor. However I wasn't there that day.

You may have expected my to have picked that Chris Waddle goal at Everton, which was inexplicably beaten to Match of the Day's Goal of the Month by Trevor Sinclair's flukey overhead kick from the same day. That could have gone anywhere. Waddle knew what he was doing. He meant it. It was even more memorable by virtue that we won the game 3-2  and went through to the fourth round of the FA Cup. When it still meant something. A couple of years later Manchester United would opt out of the competition to attend a meaningless but PR-friendly/shirt-selling exercise tournament in Brazil. The FA Cup ceased to matter. That third round victory in January 1997 also signalled our last cup run.

Those aren't the reasons this isn't the greatest goal I ever saw though. I didn't see it. I wasn't there. Resigned to listening to it on the radio in my car.

It's almost there. The goal plus the victory, the player - arguably one of the most skilled ever to don the famous claret and amber despite his advancing years - the opposition, and the occasion. Almost. But not quite.

So if we're talking, player+occasion+opposition+skill then you might have expected me to have chosen Mr Stanley Victor Collymore's effort live on Sky on his home debut in the local derby game against a Leeds who fielded as odious a side as they've ever had. Well, nearly.

Stan had to win the fans over, fresh from allegations of giving Ulrika Johnson a backhander and being an all-round bad egg. In typical fickle-football-fan fashion though, all was forgotten in the 21st minute when Carbone's cross was overhead-scissor-volleyed into the back of the net. Collymore decided to give a bit back to the Leeds fans who'd been abusing him, winding them up even further amidst coin missiles and he became an instant hero.

But no, even this isn't the greatest goal I've ever seen.  We allowed Viduka to sneak in a late header and the game finished 1-1. Again. Nearly there. But not quite.

The greatest goal I've ever seen.

Let me take you back to 1997.

Bradford City. The second division. Struggling against relegation but fresh from the euphoria of a Wembley play-off victory. Enjoying bumper crowds under the stewardship of a certain Geoffrey Richmond with Chris Kamara as his manager.

In a bid to keep hold of our second division status Richmond, rather unexpectedly, decides to get his (though a few years later we learn it wasn't his) chequebook out, and even more unexpectedly Gordon Watson arrives as Valley Parade as our new £550k record signing. A highly rated former £1m top division striker who'd played alongside the likes of David Hirst and Matt LeTissier.

Just a handful of games into his City career, we play Huddersfield Town at home. A derby. A fierce one.  The ball drops in the middle of the pitch Watson has it. Town's Kevin Gray decides he wants it too but would also like to take Watson's leg off at the knee whilst he's at it. Watson's leg is shattered in an assault that Jimmy Hill was to claim in the resulting court case was the worst 'tackle' he'd seen in fifty years of football. The referee gives a yellow card. Chris Kamara runs onto the pitch. Brian Horton defends the 'tackle' on the radio. Tensions between City and the dog botherers are ratcheted up several notches from board level to the terraces for the next decade, during which Gray would be 'too scared to play' against City again. Conveniently being unavailable whenever the teams meet again.

So there's the background. Bear with me. It's important. The greatest goal I've ever seen is all about the context.

Fast forward now 18 months to September 1998. Gordon Watson is back. With the addition of seven screws and  a six inch plate in his leg. But he's only made it as far as the bench. The last time he crossed the white line on the Valley Parade turf he was on a stretcher on the way to hospital.

Chris Kamara has long since gone to be replaced by Paul Jewell. He's sat watching Bradford City play Barnsley. City's season has got off to a terrible start and it's not getting any better.

It's the last ten minutes. Barnsley are 1-0 up. Their 3000 travelling supporters, jammed right up against the home fans, are bellowing out their victory songs.

It's the 84th minute.

The subs board goes up. It's Watson. He's on. 18 months of anger, frustration, legal action, recriminations. Defender Andy O'Brien leaves the pitch. Jewell has six up front.

Watson comes on. The Valley Parade crowd cheer. It's been 18 months.

Bradford City pile on the pressure. Camped in Barnsley's box in front of the packed standing Kop. Running out of time.

It's the 87th minute.

Stuart McCall gets the ball and shoots. Typical never-say-die McCall. The shot's blocked. The ball comes spinning free in the area.


Watson's there. Watson strikes.

The ball's in the net. Watson reels away.

The ground explodes. 18 months of frustration and anger. He's three minutes into his return.

But no. That's not it.

Play restarts.

Lee Mills has a shot go over the bar. The home crowd a seething bellowing  mass.

It's the 89th minute.

The ball comes to Robbie Blake on the edge of the Barnsley area.

Everything stops.


S l o w  m o t i o n.

A jink. A twist. A shot. It's going in. Under the keeper. No! He gets to it. Squirming. Digs it out from under his body. The ball spins like a top in the area.


Watson's there.

18 months of frustration.

Watson strikes.

1-0 down with 3 minutes left, another loss.

The ball's hammered in the net.


18 months of anger.

A fizz. A crack. A roar. Watson reeling away again. City players chasing. Streams of bodies pouring down the steps of the Kop. Tumbling. Leaping. Seats splitting in the stands. Writhing like Medusa's head. Like nothing before or since. It had everything. The greatest goal I've ever seen.

The final whistle goes.

Bradford City 2 (Watson 87, 89) Barnsley 1 (Ward)

That match kick-started our season. We finished second to Sunderland. Promotion to the Premier League. Watson went on to score a further two goals that season. He played his part. He turned down a new contract in the summer saying he wasn't: "Fit enough or good enough to represent Bradford City in the top flight." That tackle ruined his career but that goal eclipsed everything.

And if you thought this was just an excuse to shamelessly flaunt some great Bradford City goals on your screen to remind you that the UK's 6th largest city has had a fairly handy team on occasions then you're right. But come on. We're 11th in division four and writing this has cheered me up. Reminded me that supporting Bradford City can be beautiful and glorious. And that's what great goals do to you.

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