By Gareth Walker
Having previously enjoyed writing about one of my favourite City managers, Chris Kamara, I am now tasked with writing about one of my least favourite, Jim Jefferies. It is easy to explain why my sentiments towards the pair differ so greatly.
Whereas Kamara was in charge as the good times began to return to the club, Jefferies was the custodian just as the rot firmly set in. And despite not being the initial catalyst for the decade of hurt which followed, he played a significant role at the beginning of the painstaking process.
Jefferies arrived at Valley Parade in November 2000 after the sacking of Chris Hutchings and just as the effects of Geoffrey Richmond’s infamous “six weeks of madness” were being realised in the City Boardroom.
On the face of it, the appointment of the Musselburgh born former right back didn’t look to be a bad one. He had a burgeoning managerial reputation North of the Border having twice won promotion to the top flight as first division champions with Falkirk as well as lifting the Scottish Cup with two different clubs, firstly with The Bairnes in 1993 and then with his most recent club Hearts in 1998. It was in Edinburgh where he had really become a household name as, during his five year tenure, the Jambos had become the closest challengers to the Old Firm monopoly in the SPL.
With little chance of breaking the Celtic-Rangers strong hold, Jefferies probably thought that he had taken Hearts as far as he could and was ready to take the step up and face a new challenge in his career. His willingness to come South and his attainability would certainly have been factors in Richmond’s decision to approach him. But with all that was going on behind the scenes, there was probably an even bigger reason that the Scot was top of the City wanted list at the time.
Although our financial problems were not yet public, they will have been fully evident behind the scenes and JJ had built up something of a reputation as a fire fighter of fiscal problems, having set a club record unbeaten run during his time at Berwick in the late 80s despite the threat of the club being wound up
Add to this the fact that he was relatively young, at only 50 years of age, and Scottish managers at the time had a decent track record in England, Jefferies seemed a logical choice.
How wrong could we be? The Jefferies reign was always up against it, but it started badly and it just got worse…
When he arrived JJ sold himself to Richmond as a manager who could get City’s under-performing squad playing nearer to their full potential. It is believed that Jefferies was fully aware of the situation that he was coming into at the club and what the consequences would be if we were relegated at the end of the season. He fully believed and convinced the Board that he could keep us in the Premier League, just as he supposedly later convinced Richmond that he could get us promoted again after we were relegated.
Now although I am not saying that what happened next was all his fault – we all know how GR liked to be “hands on” chairman – but his methods at City were in stark contrast to those which had been utilised by his predecessors and ultimately they were an absolute disaster.
Old school management was the name of the game and his first idea was to get the squad fitter and stronger. There were reports that in his first few training sessions numerous members of the first team squad were physically sick at the side of the pitch.
Experienced pros such as Stuart McCall, David Weatherall and Peter Atherton were basically told that they weren’t doing their jobs properly. The togetherness within the camp, already strained by the arrivals of big name signings such as Stan Collymore and Benito Carbone, was completely ripped apart by an “us and them” mentality which Jefferies and his assistant Billy Brown implemented.
All managers bring their own signings and players that they know to a new club, but when Jefferies did it “his men” simply weren’t good enough. The fact that he favoured these poorer quality players over the ones that were already at the club was probably down to the fact that they bought into his methods, but it created a cancerous atmosphere in the squad. Collymore once describing him as one of the most useless managers that he had ever worked under.
The dismantling of the team spirit that our previous successes were built on quickly spread into the stands in much the same way in which Ian Hemmens described things happening in the John Docherty era. I was fortunate enough not to be following City during The Doc’s reign, but the feelings described by Ian in his article reminded me somewhat of my thoughts during Jefferies time in charge.
The style of play again wasn’t great and rather than drawing on the strengths that we had in the squad, we seemed to be doing the exact opposite. It all came to a head with some supporters when club legend Stuart McCall was dropped in favour of Jefferies’ golden boy Gary Locke, who to this day is still one of the worst players that I have seen in a claret and amber shirt.
Brown for his part was an expert in alienating people with his scathing quotes and comments in the press about players and supporters. The whole club began to descend into an absolute shambles. There were bizarre incidents such as McCall and Andy Myers having a punch up as we were thrashed 6-1 by Leeds at Elland Road.
In truth, both us and the management team should probably have all been put out of our misery when we were relegated out of the Premier League in 2001, but the pain continued. At a fans forum in the summer of 2001, Richmond told us how Jefferies had convinced him that our squad was good enough to make an immediate return to the top flight.
This was probably part bluster from Richmond – a man who we all know had a famous gift of the gab – we were clearly nowhere near good enough, and the fact of the matter was that we couldn’t afford to make changes because we were already staring into the abyss as soon as we had been relegated.
The players that we brought in to replace our overpaid ones were a mixed bag. Eion Jess and Claus Jorgensen did well, but we saw far too little of Juanjo’s “wee spark” which Jefferies had promised us.
Eventually, after reportedly going AWOL prior to a league game against Coventry City in December 2001, Jefferies and Brown were relived of their duties. The damage had been done.
He went back to Scotland where he maintained and even enhanced his reputation as a well respected manager, with an eight-year spell at Kilmarnock where he again was commended for his ‘fire-fighting’ skills, and even at one stage becoming the longest serving manager in the Scottish Premier League. He then spent a season and a half with Brown back at their old Tynecastle stomping ground, before taking up his current role at Dunfermline where he is now once again dealing with financial problems.
(Incidentally, it was Gary Locke who took over from Jefferies after his second spell in the maroon half of the Scottish capital.)
Someone once described Jim Jefferies to me as being the wrong man at the wrong club at the wrong time. This was conceivably true, but also a very polite way of describing his spell at Valley Parade. There is still a belief to this day amongst some sections of our support that we could have stayed in the Premier League and avoided the subsequent pain of the next decade if we had a different man in charge at the time, one who made better team selections and built better relationships with his squad.
If Jefferies’ reign was the start of the period of struggles for our club, it has taken over 10 years for the pain to subside enough for me to talk about it. Maybe the successes of last season have helped with this. Hopefully now we are finally at the beginning of another rise in Bradford City fortunes, and we are setting off on a journey similar to the one which Kamara started us off on rather than the one which we embarked on under Jefferies.
Our series ‘He managed Bradford City’ will return next summer.