For a young Newcastle fan in the '90s a season ticket at St. James' Park was just out of reach, watching Chris Waddle's mercurial twilight years at Bradford was a decent substitute though...
When I was 16, getting the chance to watch my beloved Newcastle United wasn’t the easiest thing in the World. The club was constrained by a then 36,000 capacity, and combined with having a side that everyone wanted to watch in the mid-to-late 90s, tickets for ‘The Entertainers’ were rarer than rocking horse shit.
As a football mad teenager I couldn’t get enough of the game, so when I realised I could get a ‘Junior Season Ticket’ standing on the Kop at Bradford City (a mere 20 minute train journey from my home) for less than I’d pay for a single game at Newcastle, I was all over it like a particularly rampant fungal infection.
It was during this time that Bradford managed to secure the signing of one of the most gifted footballers these Isles have ever produced - Chris Waddle. Granted he was at the end of his career, but at that level of the game he could still create moments of magic on a weekly basis, leaving tough tackling lower league defenders on their arses, crying like soft little babies. “Take the piss, take the piss, Waddle, Waddle, take the piss”.
I got completely drawn in by the tribal forces which overpower you when you start to follow a football team. I started to follow Bradford on away trips, catching a lift with my City-mad mate, Stuart, and his Dad who did the driving. We travelled to exotic locations such as Oldham and Hull, and on one memorable occasion we went to Manchester City in the middle of winter (back in the dark days for them, languishing in the doldrums). After taunting the Man City fans for 90 minutes with chants of ‘Ooh ahh, Eric Cantona’, we came out of Maine Road having forgotten where we’d parked, spending over an hour walking around Moss Side in the dark. I’d rather eat my own arm than repeat that experience.
Granted he was at the end of his career, but at that level of the game he could still create moments of magic on a weekly basis, leaving tough tackling lower league defenders on their arses...
The game which really sticks in my memory though was an FA Cup tie at Everton. The opportunity to travel to a side from the ‘FA Carling Premiership’, as it was known at the time, was too good to miss. So on Saturday 25th January 1997, we found ourselves walking through Stanley Park (having thoroughly memorised our parking location) and we entered Goodison Park, ready to cheer on the underdogs.
If you’ve already read Keith Wildman’s Bradford City related ‘Greatest Goal’ article (and if you haven’t you really should ), you’ll already know about some of what follows. Though unlike Keith, I was fortunate enough to be there on that sunny winter’s day.
From the off, despite fielding a full strength team, it was clear Everton weren’t at their best. A 36 year old Waddle began to pull the strings and soon rattled the Everton crossbar with a stinging free kick. Half time 0-0. So far so good.
Just 4 minutes into the second half, the Waddler finally created a breakthrough. Cutting back in from the right wing, his left footed cross bobbled around the box and eventually fell to John Dreyer, who smashed in a left footed half volley from the edge of the box. Cue wild celebrations.
Then, 2 minutes later came a moment I’ll always remember. My true footballing loyalties will always lie with Newcastle United, but I’d fallen in love with Bradford City in the space of a couple of seasons and I’ll always have a soft spot for them - and I defy any football fan to not get carried away when they see one of the greats of the English game score one of their finest goals right in front of your eyes. For a couple of glorious minutes I felt as much a Bradford City fan as the other couple of thousand people sat (well, stood actually) around me in the rickety old away section.
So, here it goes then. Another Bradford City attack was broken up by Everton. Andrei Kanchelskis began to race away, tearing through the gears as he approached optimum speed. Unfortunately he was heading in the wrong direction, and under pressure facing his own goal he made an awful attempt at clearing the ball midway into his own half. The hashed clearance dribbled into space a good 40 yards from the Everton goal.
Quicker than lighting in both mind and body, Waddle was onto it, swinging that mercurial left foot at the ball in his own awkward, gangly style. The ball flew through the air and seemed to take an age to begin it’s downwards trajectory. Neville Southall made a half-hearted attempt to get back to the goal line, but it was all in vein.
Quicker than lighting in both mind and body, Waddle was onto it, swinging that mercurial left foot at the ball in his own awkward, gangly style.
As the ball nestled amongst the folds of net on the edge of the Goodison Park pitch, a couple of thousand Bradfordians were making an attempt to demolish the old wooden away stand from within, using the simple method of going utterly berserk. I honestly thought the floor of the upper tier was about to give way beneath my feet.
The goal was made even more remarkable by the fact that Waddle had apparently told Neville Southall before the game that if he saw him off his line he’d try and lob him. Ouch.
Despite Everton getting on the scoresheet through an own goal from a teenage Andy O’Brien and an injury time consolation from the late, great Gary Speed, in between them a goal from Rob Steiner from another Waddle assist ensured Bradford City became giant killers and sent us all home very happy. We found the car really quickly too.
I’ve seen some superb goals since then whilst following Newcastle especially after finally getting to the top of the waiting list for a season ticket at one point. Ironically the only game I missed one season was when Alan Shearer scored that volley, also against Everton – the Greatest Goal I Never Saw.
That said, nothing can compare to the occasion of City’s day out in the Cup, and the shear class and brilliant footballing brain displayed by an aging, but ultimately magical Chris Waddle.
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