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One fine day, one fine season

21 May

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Written by Jason McKeown

(Images by Mike Holdsworth)
 

This time around, the walk down Wembley Way failed to carry the same sense of aura. From being blown away, last February, by the size of the stadium and feeling giddy with excitement about stepping inside, the prestige was lost and the wow factor gone.

Been there, done it and literally bought the t-shirt. It would surely be impossible to ever feel blasé about a trip to Wembley, but this time around it felt all the more serious. Just another day at the office, albeit a very important one at that.

That such sentiment was reflected in spectacular style by the players was the story behind Bradford City’s play off final success. Whatever the motivation was – righting the Swansea wrongs, or simply ensuring a 64-game season wasn’t ultimately deemed futile – the single-minded focus and determination to win the game was incredible.

Just as not many teams could have lived with Swansea last February, Northampton stood no chance of stopping us on Saturday. For sure, they were awful and froze on the big occasion in the same manner we did in the League Cup Final. But let’s not downplay the achievements of our players. It looked easy because we made it so easy.

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Every City player was on their game. The defence, led in typically impressive manner by Andrew Davies, stood up to the Northampton physicality with relish. Aidy Boothroyd has attempted to counter City’s tactic, used in the April league match, of Davies attacking every ball launched into the Bantams’ box by deploying a player specifically to block him. It caused a few jittery moments, but Davies still by and large won everything. Alongside him, it was great to see Rory McArdle back at his best.

The only question over team selection had been whether Nathan Doyle would retain his place over Ricky Ravenhill. Doyle more than justified the nod, with a composed display in the engine room alongside Gary Jones. Kyel Reid had his best game for weeks and Garry Thompson maintained his outstanding form from the second half to the season. James Hanson and Nahki Wells were unplayable, with Northampton defender Clarke Carlisle admitting that Hanson “owned” him.

If the three-goal burst wasn’t stunning enough, the manner in which the players continued to drive on impressed greatly too. Each goal was celebrated wildly of course; but led by Jones, you could see everyone quickly telling each other that the focus had to be retained and there should be no let up. The high standards at 0-0, which led to us scoring three goals, were just as prevalent at 3-0. Even in the closing stages.

For us supporters, it meant the afternoon went by remarkably stress-free. The tension at kick off was huge – again, a contrast to our visit to play Swansea City, where we were on such a high just to be there and it all went downhill from kick off. When Hanson scored, bedlam. Same with McArdle’s Aston Villa-esqe header. After Wells had netted and we’d gone crazy once more, the tension no longer weighed heavily on our shoulders. No one was relaxing – football has produced stranger things than a Northampton comeback – but we were at least able to enjoy it.

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When Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill jointly lifted the trophy, I was surprised by how emotional the moment proved to be. A release of joy, of relief in some respects. Ultimate confirmation that we had done it. That we had achieved a promotion – which for so much of our six-year stay in League Two has appeared to be an impossible task.

All we have wanted to do, since relegation from League One was confirmed at Saltergate in April 2007, was get out of the basement division. That single ambition has sparked so much pain and anguish, in response to generally making such a poor fist of it. It led to a club legend departing Valley Parade in a manner unbefitting of such a great man. Four managers, a huge turnover of players. Barry Conlon, Scott Dobbie, Lewis Hunt, Paul McLaren.

This makes up for the dark times of the past six seasons. For losing to Morecambe; routinely getting humbled by Accrington; Notts County 5 Bradford City 0; Barnet 4 Bradford City 1; Southend 4 Bradford City 0; Bradford City 1 Crewe 5. We now swap trips to Fleetwood, Dagenham and Torquay with visits to Wolves, Sheffield United, Preston, Coventry and Tranmere.

Next year looks very exciting, but it will have to go a long, long way to top the drama of this season. Last summer, Width of a Post ran a survey with readers to vote for their favourite Bradford City matches of all time. Whether you have supported the club for four years or 40, it’s surely the case that your top five or top 10 now needs rewriting. The occasions like Wigan, Arsenal, Aston Villa (twice!), Burton and Northampton will take a prominent place in the history of this club. 110-years-old, and there has never been a campaign quite like this.

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That the season got its finale of promotion via Wembley, in game 64, is as fitting as it is joyous and exhilarating. This feeling will last long into the summer. A summer that we will spend looking to the future with relish, whilst re-living the colourful memories of 2012/13 again and again. Look back, look forward, smile. This is a fantastic time to be a Bradford City supporter.

And for that we have to thank this group of players, and Phil Parkinson and his management team. No one should dismiss how difficult it is to manage or play for this club. Our expectations often outstrip the abilities of those we can afford to employ. Performing in such a pressure environment is not easy and has got the better of many good people.

These players are a mirror of ourselves and what we demand. They give everything they have, they take pride in wearing the claret and amber colours. They want to succeed just as badly as we want to see them succeed. That might sound like a simple statement. But when you’ve had years and years of the opposite being true, it makes it all the more meaningful to see the basic principles in place and working so stunningly.

Thank you Phil Parkinson. Thank you to every player in that squad. We thought days like Saturday were doomed never to occur again, yet you have provided us with a season full of them. Whatever happens in the summer and over the next few years, the names of this squad will never be forgotten.

Just as that feeling, when the trophy was lifted, will stay with us forever.

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Team Claret and Amber finish the job

20 May

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Written by Mahesh Johal

(Images by Mike Holdsworth)

“The team ethic stands out; this is an XI greater than the sum of its parts.” Notts County 0, Bradford City 1 – the first game of the 2012/13 season.

I had the responsibility of producing the player ratings after the League Cup Final and I stand by my decision to give every player a 10 out of 10. My maximum rating was given not because of their performance on that day, but instead for their contributions along the journey.

As so poignantly summed up by Alex Scott, our previous visit to Wembley was an event. Just getting to the national stadium to face Swansea was a success, and regardless of the result we were the real winners. To return to Wembley just three months later is another unbelievable feat. Like that cup journey, ever single player has contributed to our success in the play offs.

Yes, some will get more praise and attention than others, but fundamentally, those stand out names would be nowhere without their team-mates. Saturday’s result epitomised the definition of a team performance. Furthermore, I think it was a club performance, in which every person in claret and amber contributed to the victory. Once again tasked with rating these players, again they all receive the maximum mark. Saturday’s result was truly special and the performance of each player to achieve the team goal was remarkable.

SAM_1059The two upfront were simply too good for their opponents and they deserve all the praise they get. Clarke Carlisle tweeted after the game that James Hanson ‘owned him’ and he really did. Hanson won every header and dominated the tall Northampton back four. We constantly hear that Hanson is the under-rated player in this team, but he is certainly not. Opponents fear him and Saturday proved why.

I was there to see Hanson score at the Horsfall Stadium during his trial with club, and so to see a local lad ignite the wild celebrations at Wembley is an image both he and I will never forget. Together with his partner in crime, Nahki Wells, they were simply unstoppable.

Wells’ goal and all round display was there for all to see, but if there is one defining moment of his game, for me, it was him losing the ball in the first half. Silly you may think, but seeing Wells then bust a gut to retrieve it highlighted how hard this team was willing to work for each other.

SAM_1033Both goal scorers will grab the headlines, but they were aided by the team’s wide men. The two wingers had a hand in all three goals, with Kyel Reid producing one of his best performances of this season. After missing out on an appearance in the League Cup Final, Reid appeared to really enjoy his moment. I remember specifically, at one point, hearing the roar of those fans on the half way line. I was initially unsure what generated this sudden noise, only to see Reid geeing up the crowd. It’s these little moments that really stand out in my mind.

Like Reid, Gary Thompson had the better of his marker all game. I’ve always rated his footballing ability, but on Saturday it was his awareness in the penalty area that was most impressive. Both goals he played a part in were situations that could have caused a player to panic, but Thompson was coolness personified to pick out both strikers.

Nathan Doyle also got in on the act as a provider, setting up the second goal. It was deft ball to find Rory McArdle and it highlighted the all-round class which he has. Northampton are a physical team and we needed someone to match them. I felt Doyle was that man. At times he was robust, chomping at opponents feet. On other occasions, he was spreading the ball effortlessly around midfield.

SAM_1100Doyle justified his selection and I thought his work in tandem with Gary Jones overawed the Cobblers. Jones was again simply awesome in all aspects of the game. To see him salute and bow down the crowd really emphasised the strong relationship that has formed between the skipper and the fans. Previous generations of City fans talk about the idol, Stuart McCall. For this generation, we now have Gary Jones.

Talking of leaders, the centre halves were again first class. Firstly, McArdle’s goal is potentially as iconic as his header again Villa. If anything it was nearly an exact replica. I have talked in depth before about my feelings when he scored that goal and it was a surreal experience to have the exact same emotions this time round. Going 2-0 up changed the mood from possibility to a reality.

McArdle again was on hand to battle Clive Platt and, later, Adebayo Akinfenwa with Andrew Davies. The pair were fantastic foils for each other, with Davies his usual classy self. His positioning, reading of the game and ability to win balls that he shouldn’t were all on show on Saturday. Davies’ strengths are well documented and when the team needed him the most he was at his best.

The defensive quartet had so much balance and this largely due to the full backs. Stephen Darby’s cult status among the fans is growing and his performance on Saturday showed why. I felt Northampton’s tricky winger, Ishmel Demontagnac, was a potential match winner; but Darby completely nullified him. First and foremost he is a defender, but Darby offers so much energy in attack. This is such an advantage and, at times, Northampton didn’t know how to handle our forward surges from both right and left flank.

Like Darby, James Meredith, was brilliant. I should probably describe his role in the build up for the first goal, but it’s not the first thing I think of from Meredith’s appearance on Saturday. Midway through the second half, he won the ball in a crunching tackle. Able to quickly get back to his feet, he bombed forward in his menacing style and, in tandem with Reid, was able to win us a corner.

It’s amazing how important Darby and Meredith are in both attack and defence. Full backs don’t grab the attention that, say, a striker does; but these two offer so much to the team and both set the tone.

SAM_1086Wembley is a wonderful venue and the fans have fabulous views from which ever seat they sit in. However, there was one person with the best view of all – goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. That’s not meant to be disrespectful to Jon, but his team-mates in front of him made it so difficult for Northampton to get near City’s keeper. McLaughlin played a whole game relatively untested. When they did, most notably with the long throw in, he was up to the task, confidently taking through the barrages.

If there is an image of Jon on Saturday that I will remember, it is the one of him and Matt Duke side by side, trophy in hands, celebrating promotion together. Being a goalkeeper must be a lonely and sometimes selfish position. Our two keepers have battled against each other all season, but there is obviously a kinship between the pair.

It is here where my main point of this article lies. All these players have driven each other on to bigger and better things. Yes we have our stars, but our achievement on Saturday was down to the squad. Ricky Ravenhill deserved his run out. Whilst he may not have started the showpiece event, he has contributed massively in getting there. The same can be said of Alan Connell, Zavon Hines, Will Atkinson, Carl McHugh and Michael Nelson.

SAM_1125This team ethos runs through to the management as well. Phil Parkinson is our leader and rightly deserves all the praise he received. But can you find an assistant as liked by us fans than Steve Parkin, or a fitness coach like Nick Allamby? The fact that Parkinson wants the contracts of his backroom staff sorted out at the same time as his own sums up the unity both on and off the pitch.

Saturday was unreal and I am so proud of this team. Alex summed it perfectly when he wrote, The thing about this team which makes all of this so perfect is that the entire squad, each one of them, are so likeable. They give everything they have in every moment, they never know when they are beaten, and the morale, the atmosphere is fantastic.”

Well done, Team Claret and Amber.

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Present perfect

18 May

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Bradford City 3

Hanson 15, McArdle 19, Wells 28

Northampton Town 0

(Bradford City promoted to League One)

Saturday 18 May, 2013

Written by Alex Scott

(Images by Jason McKeown)

They have done it. After six years of toiling away in the bottom tier, Bradford City have done it.

Saving their best performance for the most important moment, Phil Parkinson’s men were dominant upon the same Wembley turf which they were humbled not three months ago. I haven’t really bought into the redemption narrative (that never felt like the point of this journey), but for those that did, any demons haunting their dreams have been well and truly exorcised.

This season has played out like a novel. The story seemed predestined. The tracks were laid. It was meant to be this way. It wasn’t that “you couldn’t write it”, because you could. This is exactly how you’d write it. The weird thing is that it actually happened. To talk of fate diminishes the sensational reality these players have delivered, but how can you not think about it? Everything that happened today felt like a callback to a seed laid months before.

In their 64th and final game, City reached a level of performance they only ever hinted at amongst the first 63. I can’t remember a Bradford City team look that assured, that dominant. To a man, they were flawless.

Picking up where they left off against Burton, City rendered Northampton helpless. Bradford looked like a team that could have beaten Aidy Boothroyd’s men in any number of ways; Northampton’s cupboard was bare from the beginning.

It is difficult to separate the two moments which have defined this year, despite the fact they were almost polar opposites. Whereas the Swansea encounter felt like more of an ‘event’, today was a football game. This was a day for real football fans, the real reason we do all this, and it was a real football game. And what a game it was.

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From minute one City were on top, and by the time anyone had time to breathe, the game was over as a contest. The 90 minutes of football from half time at the Pirelli, to half time at Wembley may have been the best in 15 years. A combined 5-1 against two of the stingiest defences, and best teams, in the division. Especially in the manner it was done, with it always looking like there was more to come.

The opening quarter of an hour saw City begin to bang on the door; the second saw it irrecoverably blown off its hinges.

James Hanson opened the scoring with a wonderful looping header back across Lee Nicholls after the reputably dominant Northampton back line again failed to reorganise, leaving Garry Thompson uncovered at the back post before he picked out the big number nine with a delicate lob across the six yard box. The Cobblers demise felt inescapable already.

The big man was unstoppable today. From beginning to end he won everything in the air, and did so against the most aerially dominantly League Two side in years. Today James Hanson fulfilled his destiny, achieving the goal he could never reach, leading us out of League Two. We can no longer underestimate his value. He led. He dominated. He put in the best performance of his career.

City’s lead was quickly doubled as Nathan Doyle wonderfully picked out Rory McArdle who reprised, almost exactly, his goal against Aston Villa with a bullet header at the near post after losing his man. Boothroyd’s men were reeling, and City dropped the hammer not long later, with a typically predatory Nahki Wells finish. The game was over before the half hour mark. These players hit their ceiling, their apex. They could have won the game by as many as they wanted to. It will never get better than that.

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The defence were magnificent in the face of constant aerial pressure. The past two games have seen Andrew Davies highlight exactly why he is so important to this team, in both games laying the foundation for the attackers to flourish. McArdle alongside him was as good as he has ever been, and in Stephen Darby (baby) and James Meredith, City may have the best young full back pairing outside of the Championship.

Gary Jones was majestic, again. He and Nathan Doyle controlled the middle of the field from beginning to end. Jones is the heart of the team, and in only a season has ensured his bust in the Bradford City Hall of Fame. Parkinson spoke about his attempts to install a new culture at the club last summer, and no one has been more important in that than Gary Jones. He is irreplaceable. He is magic.

The thing about this team which makes all of this so perfect is that the entire squad, each one of them, are so likeable. They give everything they have in every moment, they never know when they are beaten, and the morale, the atmosphere is fantastic. To see a man like Alan Connell, who has every right to be frustrated, be this happy is just a delight, and sums everything great about this squad up, These men have rewritten the destiny of Bradford City Football Club.

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Not many have played a more important role than Wells, who in perhaps his final act in claret and amber demonstrated everything that makes him so special, a phenomenal display, sealing another man of the match award. He finishes this marathon season with eight goals in the final eight games, and it speaks volumes for the heights he may be able to grace that he has come through so wonderfully when it mattered most. A fact true for the whole team, actually.

If this side were going to make the leap from good to great, it was always going to be on the shoulders of the Bermudian, and again he didn’t disappoint. Clarke Carlisle and Nathan Cameron were left tangled in his wake.

The outmanned central defensive pairing for the Cobblers epitomised their team’s performance. Never at any point did they threaten. Save a handful of impressive punches and catches from Northampton long throws, Jon McLaughlin was untested.

Boothroyd’s men were abject from start to finish and as a group of fans who know all too well about being outclassed on the biggest stage, there is sympathy with the Northampton fans, who really can’t have enjoyed that. Their team were set up in a way that (in hindsight) appears naive, and their players froze.

I’m not sure how much difference it would have made had their players shown up, as rampant as their opponents were.

There isn’t anything I can say about Phil Parkinson’s job this year that would do him justice. He has been vindicated in every decision he has made. He has been the catalyst that brought this club from the bottom of the Football League, to these magical heights in a matter of 18 months. Today will go down on the short list of our club’s greatest days, a short list within which he is already a frequent character.

As time passes and we look back, these players will go down in history amongst our pantheon of our greatest. To a man, they’ve all made a critical contribution at one point or another. But that isn’t really relevant today. What is relevant is that the club is now in place to keep its core, its young core, together and this wonderful story, this wonderful ending, may only be a beginning. The present is perfect; the future could be anything.

They have done it. They have really done it. And they have really done it in the best possible manner. They have earned it; they have deserved it. The gulf in class between the two sides on display at The Home Of Football was inescapable.

And in the end, the truth came through to the fore: it was a League Two team playing a League One team.

City: McLaughlin, Darby, McArdle, Davies, Meredith, Thompson, Jones, Doyle (Ravenhill 87), Reid (Atkinson 78), Hanson, Wells (Connell 85)

Not use: Duke, McHugh, Nelson, Hines

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Back to Wembley: Play off final song three: Bradford Calling

17 May

By Jason McKeown

West Yorkshire covers band have got in on the Bradford City play off act, with a superb re-working of The Clash’s London Calling – Bradford Calling.

Drummer Tino Palmer told Width of a Post the story behind the song.

“The idea for the song first came about for the League Cup final, but there were so many other songs about I thought it would get lost in the crowd…plus I’d just bought a cafe in Ossett and was a bit snowed under (pardon the pun). So when, on that strange Sunday I stood in The Northern with Lloyd and the other fans watching that great win against Burton – with their “road to Wembley” scarves – I thought perhaps I should finish it off.

“So home I went, messed around with the words a bit more then sent them off to the band’s singer Mik Raven. He came back with some changes – belters, I have to say – and on Monday, we agreed to get sorted with it. Two days later, a quick rehearsal, then on Thursday May 10 we trudged into Voltage Studios on Manchester Road and Tim Walker helped us to record and finish it within three hours. This is punk rock, baby, we don’t mess about!

“Jamie Fletcher from SMF Print was on backing, and he said we needed a video to back it up, so he contacted Fruition Media, who do a lot of work with/for the club, and he agreed to a quick video shoot on Monday 13th. Also in the studio the previous Thursday was Chris Cooper, ex Pulse sports commentator, now at Sky, and he put Sky in touch with me, arranging for their presenter Richard Graves to come and talk to us at the shoot.

“A full crew turned up, interviewing us and even taking part in the video…24 hours later, it was uploaded to YouTube as I sat in BCB’s studio waiting to tell them about it all and play the song. Then by Thursday it had over 4,000 views and was being universally well received, much to our satisfaction…and relief!!

“Plans are afoot for more City-based recording; I’m making a sort of career of it. After my first exploits with my old band The Negatives did “we are City” back in 2001…who knows what’s next?

“Watch this space…”

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Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

One afternoon

17 May

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By Jason McKeown

90 minutes.

Or maybe 120.

And there’s also the possibility of penalties.

Either way it’s one afternoon.

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One afternoon between another year in League Two or a move up to League One.

To a promotion party.

Or the devastation of a second Wembley defeat.

No half measures, no in-betweens.

It’s all on the line.

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We know the history, you can still see the bruises.

Season upon season of feeling underwhelmed.

Of set backs, of failures.

Of unhappy endings.

This time, please let it be different.

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We can trust in this group of players.

They get it.

They get what it means to us.

They get what it means to themselves.

An outstanding group of individuals that blend together so well.

Win and we go forward together.

Lose and some may go their separate way.

League Two players, but together they can become League One.

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One afternoon to change everything.

For them.

For us.

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May is a month of winners.

We see it every year.

Not, sadly, with our own eyes.

But through the lens of others.

Chelsea, Wigan, Cardiff, Hull City, Gillingham, Mansfield.

Watch their players dance about on your TV screen, read about their fans going crazy in the paper.

Always someone else’s party, never ours.

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When the Sky cameras zoom in on tomorrow’s winners, let it be us.

Let it be Gary Jones and Ricky Ravenhill jointly holding the trophy up.

Let it be our smiling faces that are beamed into pubs and homes all over the country.

Let it be Phil Parkinson punching the air.

Let it be.

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May is also a month of losers.

For every team who triumphs, another is slumped on the floor.

Supporters and players devastated, tears.

Climb up those steps to collect a loser’s medal.

Losers. Losers.

Don’t let it be us.

Please.

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Parkinson will have the players fully prepared tomorrow.

Giving it everything they have is a minimum.

What is the role of us supporters?

The same.

Giving it everything that we have is a minimum.

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From the first minute to the last, no need for silence.

No need for muttering.

No need for moaning.

Booers, stay home.

We need to sing, and we don’t need to stop.

From the first whistle to the final kick, a wall of noise.

We’ve paid to be here, but we’re part of the event too.

The noise we make, it must be deafening and relentless.

Anything else is a half measure.

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City till I die, that’s a given.

Whatever happens tomorrow, we’ll be cheering them next season.

But to come this close…well, we can’t let this opportunity slip us by.

That history of underachievement tells us it won’t be so easy to earn this chance again.

~~~~~~~

One afternoon.

90 minutes.

And maybe extra time.

And maybe penalties.

Whatever it takes.

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One afternoon away, from Bradford City’s world changing.

Back to Wembley: Looking back over my shoulder

17 May

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By Jason McKeown

The walk down Wembley Way tomorrow lunchtime will clearly invoke memories of being here only three months ago. But in order to fully appreciate the occasion, perhaps we need to cast our minds back further.

It is brilliant to be here, again, heading to Wembley. It is both exhilarating and scary to think that we are one game away from promotion. And whatever happens on the pitch, nothing will change the fact that it has been a magnificent season for Bradford City. Something that we have not been able to say for a long time.

If, between 1995 and 2000, the club enjoyed one of the most successful periods of its history, 2000-2012 ranks amongst its worst. The fall from the top tier of English football to the bottom has been well documented – it seemed like a nightmare that was never going to end. For all we knew, 12 years of misery could go on for another 10 or 20. Or, if it was to end, it would only be because of another relegation that the club, in its current existence, could not survive.

So let us, for a few moments, reflect on our recent history and why it should make tomorrow even more special. Our reward for keeping the faith. Ignoring the two spells of administrations and looking only on what happened on the pitch, here are my 12 worst Bradford City moments from the last 12 years. Please feel free add your own at the end.

1) March 2002 – Stockport at the double

If the late 90s had seen City define themselves as a club punching above their weight, the first indication that we were becoming underachievers came during our first season back in the Football League, when a dismal Stockport side found rich pickings from the Bantams.

Jim Jefferies had managed to keep the squad which ended our second season in Premier League – Benito Carbone included – and we began the season well. Struggling Stockport, without a win, rocked up at Valley Parade in September, and won 4-2. It could have been more.

By the time the two sides met again at Edgeley Park, in March, City’s promotion hopes had faded and Carbone long gone. Meanwhile Stockport had won just one more game since their West Yorkshire triumph and were going down. Stockport County 1 Bradford City 0. The division’s worst team had inflicted the double. Humiliation, and precedent for season after season of City slipping up against teams at the bottom of the division.

2) November 2002 – seven straight defeats

In the aftermath of the first administration, Nicky Law’s task was simply to keep City in Division One (now the Championship) whilst expensive players were replaced by bargain bucket signings. It started okay, but then seven straight defeats in autumn equalled a club record. Relegation was looking inevitable.

The nadir of this wretched sequence, for me, was a 3-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest. Graeme Tomlinson was re-signed on non-contract just to fill the bench, the dreadful on-loan Harpal Singh struggled on the wing. Injuries meant that Law’s 14-man squad featured seven players who had come through the youth ranks (including Tomlinson), but only three would go on to play more than four games for City. Forest brushed us aside easily; the future looked bleak.

3) March 2003 – bloody Burnley

2003/04 was City’s centenary season – marked by relegation and going back into administration. Take your pick of painful moments; from the early season 12-game winless run that did for Law, through to relegation being confirmed, under Bryan Robson, by bottom club Wimbledon beating us 3-2 at home.

My personal lowlight was Burnley at home in March. Robson had started to win matches, although losing three players on transfer deadline day was a huge blow. Beat fellow strugglers Burnley at Valley Parade, and we had a great chance of staying up. We battered them for 90 minutes, but it looked as though we had to settle for a 1-1.

Then a scramble in our box, and pathetic defending allowed Ian Moore to score a Clarets’ winner. Utter misery.

4) February 2006 – Oldham put Todd on the brink

Despite impressing during his first season in charge, it didn’t take long into his second for Colin Todd to come under pressure from some fans. A League One promotion push failed to materialise, and a five-match ban for star player Dean Windass saw relegation worries briefly flicker.

A 4-1 thumping to Oldham seemed like the end for Todd. City were awful and Oldham played us off the park. The defending – usually the strength of Todd’s team – was appalling. Luckily City went on to lose just one of their last nine games, but it looked bleak on this afternoon.

5) March 2007 – not fit to wear the shirt

Todd left in February 2007 with City accused of “going nowhere” under his direction. As David Wetherall took caretaker charge we suddenly found direction; unfortunately, it was the wrong type – downwards.

A huge derby game with Huddersfield needed a big performance, as City had fallen into the bottom four. A packed out away end was rewarded by the limpest of displays. 1-0 down after a minute, no shots on target over the 90. Huddersfield were average, but that’s all they needed to be to earn a 2-0 win. The lack of effort and fight really, really hurt.

6) April 2007 – three relegations in seven seasons

City went down to League Two with a limp defeat at Chesterfield a month later. The afternoon summing up everything that had gone wrong, as Steven Schumacher’s woeful pass set up the first Chesterfield goal, Donovan Ricketts allowed a weak shot to slip under his body and into the goal and then later Mark Bower scored an own goal to seal a 3-0 defeat. We’re down.

Tears at full time, anger in the stands. I’ll never forget the sight of Schumacher crying his eyes out as fans screamed abuse at him.

7) October 2007 – the first Morecambe experience

Stuart McCall was surely destined to succeed as Bradford City manager. The most popular player in the club’s history took his first managerial job having rarely failed in anything he’d tried. McCall’s inexperience showed during his first season, with a run of five straight defeats in September and October leaving City looking at yet another relegation battle.

If getting thrashed 3-0 by Accrington wasn’t bad enough, the fifth of those defeats – at Morecambe – was the real low point. City had gone 1-0 up, but Garry Thompson inspired the Shrimpers to come roaring back. Their winner coming in the last minute. One of the most painful experiences I’ve ever endured supporting City.

8) April 2009 – “Please don’t sing, I don’t deserve it”

For three quarters of McCall’s second season, automatic promotion looked a strong possibility. But then form collapsed and merely making the top seven looked a tall order. After one especially bad night – losing 4-1 at Bournemouth – McCall vowed to quit if City didn’t make the play offs.

Eight games without a win, it was do or die at Dagenham. City looked okay for an hour, but then characteristically collapsed after the Daggers took the lead. It ended 3-0. At full time McCall came over to those of us in the away end to apologise, and when a chant of “Stuart, Stuart” went up he asked us to stop because “I don’t deserve it”.

9) February 2010 – Taylor’s reign begins in a bad way

It was so sad to see McCall leave as City manager, midway through his third season. There had been another promising start, but when form fell away McCall was once again unable to turn it around quickly enough.

Whatever people might say about McCall’s failings, the players were clearly giving their all for him even in defeat. The two games that followed – a 0-0 with Grimsby under Jacobs and 2-0 defeat to Accrington under new manager Peter Taylor – were that of a side unsettled and demotivated. City were pathetic at Accrington and never in the game. A sold out away end turned on the players in a nasty way.

10) October 2010 – losing the plot

It was a wretched start to the season under Taylor, but just as it seemed as though we were moving in the right direction, a bizarre moment. City had just got a good 0-0 draw at high flying Rotherham, with the back four outstanding. A day later, two young defenders from Manchester United – Reece Brown and Oliver Gill – rocked up on loan. We would later find out that the terms of the deal meant Taylor had to play them both in the next game.

So Tuesday’s impressive back four was ripped apart to make way for two players who struggled right from the start – Luke O’Brien and Zesh Rehman the unlucky ones – and a deflated-looking City went down pathetically 1-0 to Morecambe. Forget the closeness of the scoreline, for me this ranks as the worst City performance I have ever seen. We were pathetic from start to finish. Dreadful management.

11) May 2011 – end the season now

Taylor left and interim boss Peter Jackson just about kept us up; but with the club publically declaring it was looking to leave Valley Parade in the summer due to the high rent, a final, meaningless home game of the season carried the question mark of it being our last at the old ground.

City marked it in the worst possible style, getting absolutely humiliated by a rampant Crewe side who hadn’t even made the play offs. City 1 Crewe 5. Thank goodness this didn’t turn out to be the end for Valley Parade.

12) March 2012 – brawl-gate

A second successive season battling against relegation to non-league, and this time around the doubts were greater. Under Phil Parkinson, City had at least become difficult to beat at home. But a visit from promotion-chasing Crawley looked important, with just seven games to go.

On the field City were bettered by an ugly, cynical and downright nasty side. It was horrendous to watch Crawley’s antics and our struggle to match them physicality. A bad-tempered game spilled over into a brawl between players at full time, but as we headed home we didn’t give it much thought.

Later that evening, a double whammy. On top of losing the game, in the dressing room after three City players and two Crawley were sent off. That Jon McLaughlin, Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver were our three best-performing players at that time added to the gloom. Relegation suddenly seemed a real possibility.

————

Fortunately, the Crawley game was the last genuine low point of this 12-year period. Now we hope that a win tomorrow can truly confirm that such dark days are behind us and that last summer we brought to an end such a difficult era.

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Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

Back to Wembley: A night at the movies with a Bradford Blockbuster

16 May
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Photo courtesy of Wendy Michallat

By Katie Whyatt

The 2012/13 season has brought us more thrills, spills and twists than anything that has been churned out of Tinseltown recently – and there’s still another chapter left to go.

The Bantams’ incredible year would form an ideal script for Hollywood executives to sink their teeth into, especially if the journey ends with victory in the play off final.

Bradford City sailed the crest of the League Cup wave, knocking out Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa en route to football’s home. Couple sheer determination, a pinch of Lady Luck and an underdog status with high-octane defensive battles and nail-biting penalty shootouts, and the club rapidly became the centre of attention, causing ripples in countries as far-flung as Japan and America.

However, City crashed on the big stage as they were torn apart at the hands of the merciless Swansea City. It was the first time in the competition that Bradford had looked like a League Two side, and, gosh, it was crushing. It wasn’t how the narrative was supposed to end. It was anything but the perfect finish to the otherwise textbook fairytale.

After finding a bit of form in the League, City’s promotion chase was back on track, helped by a bit of good fortune with regards to Exeter and Fleetwood’s results.

It wasn’t exactly a coast to the capital, though. There were the horrendous officiating mishaps as Rotherham rocked up at Valley Parade, and, after the lacklustre first-half performance in the Burton home leg, there was a fear that Bradford had blown their chances of a League One place. But the team struck back in clinical fashion, roared on by an army of 1,500 travelling fans, to book a return trip to the place that is rapidly becoming a second home for City.

If Parkinson’s men win the play off final and snatch the promotion that has so far eluded them during the League Two stint… what a perfect end to the story that would be.

You can picture the movie’s tagline now: Bradford City’s story, a pulsating tale of grit and determination. Shatter the odds. Surprise a nation. Valiantly clamber to your feet after upset on one of the world’s biggest stages, and go on to achieve what you’ve spent years striving for.

All of that, against the backdrop of ten tempestuous years of constant decline and several successive relegation battles, and Hollywood bosses will be thinking that all of their Christmases have come at once.

Characterisation isn’t too difficult, either. City’s team is brimming with down-to-earth and gutsy heroes who will be the perfect protagonists for this exciting adventure: James Hanson, the former supermarket shelf-stacker whose blistering header stunned Aston Villa; Gary Jones, the midfield engine; Carl McHugh, the Donegal teenager; Matt Duke, Phil Parkinson, Rory McArdle. Include every single one of the Bradford City players, because they are all our heroes.

The squad is a motley composition of champions: our champions. Parkinson’s diverse mix of men, who have inspired an entire nation with their giant-killing odyssey. Even the Harry Potter series would struggle to provide you with more endearing stars.

Villains come in the form of the cynics, the Premier League big boys and the referees. And – shudder – Steve Evans.

Parkinson would be played by Hugh Grant, and Timothy Spall would star as Mark Lawn. Garry Thompson’s on-screen counterpart just about goes without saying (It’s Daniel Craig, by the way.), and Bantams Banter could make a cameo appearance. I could go on.

Whether any of these are actually apt choices remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a start.

If The Damned United can be turned into a book and a film, why not City’s story? It’s certainly just as enthralling a tale as that of Brian Clough’s ill-fated tenure at Leeds United.

Intertwine the main story – of City’s compelling exploits this year – with the players’ lives and the fans’ views, and boom: you’ve got compulsive viewing.

I’ll take my Oscar now, I think.

Who knows? If City win on Saturday, the idea of a movie won’t seem so far fetched at all.

Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

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