Archive | Wembley RSS feed for this section

One fine day, one fine season

21 May

SAM_1074

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.

SAM_1095

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.

SAM_1086

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.

SAM_1038

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.

SAM_1106

Team Claret and Amber finish the job

20 May

SAM_1129

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.

SAM_1028

Present perfect

18 May

SAM_0142

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.

SAM_0068

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.

SAM_0097

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.

SAM_0130

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

SAM_0121

SAM_0132

SAM_0161

SAM_0170

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…”

_____________________________________________

Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

One afternoon

17 May

tim

By Jason McKeown

90 minutes.

Or maybe 120.

And there’s also the possibility of penalties.

Either way it’s one afternoon.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

One afternoon to change everything.

For them.

For us.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~

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

Back to Wembley: Looking back over my shoulder

17 May

DSCF6790

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.

_____________________________________________

Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

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

16 May
8709987783_c88e49f916_k

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

Back to Wembley: We never do it the easy way, do we?

16 May

2013-05-05 13.55.45

By Will Rook

A Bradford City fan walks into a pub in Wembley, and the barman says, ‘The usual then mate?’

We’ve all heard the joke and many variations, but let’s not kid ourselves, it never grows tiresome.

To be a fan of Bradford City, one must be made of stern stuff and you’ve got to allow yourself to enjoy moments like these when they happen, and all the joviality which goes with it. Because they don’t come around often for anyone, let alone us.

It’s fair to say over the past 12 years we haven’t really had it our own way; after a slide from the Premiership to the wrong end of the Football League and being faced with such crippling financial woe, nearly ceasing to exist on two separate occasions.

As a collective we seem to stand by the motto of, ‘We always make it difficult for ourselves’ and this has rung true for the majority of the new millennium.

Relegation to League Two was the rotten cherry which topped the cake of anguish and pain for City. And even though it was expected it never really got any better after that, until now.

Last season, in my opinion, was a turning point. Peter Jackson started the season in charge and expectations had been lowered considerably from their normal ‘play off minimum’ standard after finishing 18th the previous season, briefly flirting with relegation from the Football League. Jackson had built a squad, with the help of Archie Christie, which he believed would be competitive. Although after a poor start and only one point to show from the first four league games Jackson and the club parted ways.

Enter stage, Phil Parkinson. A young, ambitious manager with experience higher up the pyramid, just what was needed to get a squad which according to Julian Rhodes “patently wasn’t good enough” firing. Parkinson was given a target of survival for the season which, despite some poor displays and grumbles from the fans, was achieved with games to spare leaving Bradford City in another 18th placed finish. Not quite hitting the dizzy heights of the top half, but the target set out from the board at the start of his tenure had been met, an important milestone in gaining trust.

A busy summer was ahead, and Parkinson was duly backed heavily by the club’s co-Chairmen in the transfer market, taking a £600k hit on the budget. Players like Gary Jones, Garry Thompson and Rory McArdle were brought in to replace deadwood from one of the biggest squads in the league.

The quality of football was incomparable, although the huge dent in finances to get this far once again highlights how nothing for us can ever be done the ‘easy’ way.

Even in our League Cup run, when the opportunity of a ‘glamour tie’ was there, we had to get past Burton Albion and Wigan before our plum draw at home to Arsenal.

In my opinion, the Arsenal game was when the majority really started believing that we had a special crop here at Valley Parade. We’d never in our wildest dreams thought we could beat Wigan, let alone a team of Arsenal’s prestige and quality. When Thomas Vermaelen missed his penalty to spark wild celebrations, people started to realise our fortunes may have finally turned.

This was confirmed after that glorious night at Villa Park which will live long in the club’s history and I doubt any fan who was there or watched on television will forget for as long as they live, it really was an ‘I was there moment’ and promotion or no promotion even the most ardent sceptics had to admit Bradford City’s stock was on the rise once again.

The run to the final of the League Cup had sparked optimism and belief throughout, not just the football club but the entire city of Bradford, but unfortunately with this distraction came a dip in the club’s league form which had been impressive up until then. The run of results in between the Arsenal victory and the cup final looked to have put the nails in the coffin for a promotion charge which had looked more than possible at the start of the season. Once again, ‘never do things the easy way’.

The crushing defeat in the cup final had people once again questioning Parkinson and some performances left a lot to be desired, notably the 4-1 defeat away at Exeter and the first half showing at home to Southend. Fans started to give up hope once again, as they had so often been used to doing towards the end of the season.

Somewhat aided by a complete capitulation from Exeter City and amazing form, the team managed to pull themselves back into the play off race, pulling back an eight-point deficit within a week and going on to secure the last spot in the promotion lottery with a game to spare. While it was wrapped up before the end of the season, it could hardly be described as easy having to make up so many points in so little time.

Finally, our play off semi-final against Burton. Such was the sense of optimism around Valley Parade for the first leg, no-one could quite have foreseen the display we were in the first half with Parkinson admitting it was probably as poorly as we’ve defended all season. Somehow though, owing to a Garry Thompson wonder strike, we were still in the tie at 2-3 going to the Pirelli Stadium.

The mood in the air was a little less of confidence and more nervousness for the second leg, with a goal deficit to overturn away at the team with the best home record in the division. Once again though, against all adversity, this team who simply refuse to lie down came out to win 3-1 and 5-4 on aggregate setting up a Wembley play off final with Northampton Town.

Now with the final so close and the game poised tightly, fans are once again getting excited. I’d say though, whatever happens come 3.30pm on Saturday afternoon, take a look where we’ve come from, not only in the past 12 years, but more recently. For our side to have such a turnaround in fortunes in such a quick amount of time is nothing short of incredible.

Also remember this: before this season we hadn’t been to Wembley to see our team 17 years, and now we’re going twice in one magical campaign. Sure, we’ve had to put up with a lot, but at the moment we’re pretty lucky really, aren’t we?

Come on City.

_____________________________________________

Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

Back to Wembley: The last promotion

15 May

photo0254.jpg

By Gareth Walker

When the Bantams take to the field at Wembley on Saturday, Phil Parkinson and his men will be aiming to become the first City side since 1999 to win promotion.

Having followed the club since 1991, I am fortunate enough to remember the side that won promotion to the top flight 14 years ago and the previous promotion-winning team some three years before them, in 1996.Whilst it would be wrong to try to compare the respective abilities of the individual players in these teams to those of today’s players, there are elements within the make up of the sides that are similar.

I am sure that I’m not the only one who would say that the 1998/99 team are my favourite City side from my time watching the club. They are certainly amongst the best players to have worn the City shirt in the modern era, and they were also possibly the most loveable.

The affinity that the team of 14 years ago shared with the fans is still evident today as people talk fondly of most members of that squad. Wayne Jacobs, Jamie Lawrence and Gordon Watson are key examples of this, as they interact with the fans regularly via Twitter and are often seen in attendance at City games. A couple of months ago, I was also fortunate enough to meet John ‘Tumble’ Dreyer and his affection for Bradford City shone through clearly, as we had a long chat about all things Bantams.

Meanwhile, the time and respect that this season’s players have for the fans was also evident at last week’s player of the year awards as they mingled and chatted freely and openly with supporters. James Meredith and Garry Thompson were even willing to help us out by playing a prank on fellow Width of a Post Writer, Mark Scully, that worked perfectly.

Although today’s team are yet to reach the same legend status as their 1999 peers, the League Cup run puts them well on the road to achieving that goal. And if they were to seal promotion at Wembley, it would be very plausible to imagine them being talked about in the same vein as the team of 1999, and that we will be still be looking back on their achievements 14 years from now.

The middle of the park is often described as the engine room of a football team and it is in that area that we find the captain of both the 1999 and 2013 sides. It is impossible to say any more about Stuart McCall that hasn’t already been said. The man is arguably the biggest Bradford City legend of the all, and the 1999 team were one that clearly played in his spirit.

And the same can be said about today’s players and Gary Jones. The man who we like to call magic is the closest thing that we have had to McGod since the man himself. Jones’ energy levels and spirit evidently inspires his team mates, as witnessed during countless games this season. It was hardly a surprise that Jones completed a clean sweep at last week’s awards ceremony.

On Tuesday night, Parkinson revealed that, in the summer when he spoke to Steve Parkin about signing Jones, he was told that the Magic Man is only ever happy at 5pm on a Saturday when his team have won. This has been clear in the way that he has celebrated every goal and every point this season, with his clenched fist pump and applause of the supporters. Even in pre-season this was evidently rubbing off on his team mates. I can recall Stephen Darby enthusiastically celebrating the friendly victory at Guiseley.

Speaking of Darby, he is someone who a couple of months ago was being described as an unsung hero of the team. The fact that City’s right back was voted into second place in the POTY awards – and that he won the Player’s Player of the Year – shows how we came to recognise his importance to the side. All successful sides seem to have an unsung hero in their midst and our last promotion winning team was no different, with Gareth Whalley often described by people as the player who allowed McCall to go and imprint his influence on games. His range of passing too was immense. Similar, some might say, to the role that Nathan Doyle plays in this season’s team.

Other than central midfield, the other area of the two teams that it is easy to draw comparisons between is the strike force. City’s lack of success in recent years has been at least partly put due to the failure of various managers to find two strikers who can play together and complement each other in such a way that allows both of them to play to their full potential. All too often have we relied on the goals of just one key man throughout a campaign; whether that be Dean Windass or Peter Thorne. This has led to supporters often sitting around wishfully reminiscing about the halcyon days of Lee Mills and Robbie Blake.

For the first time since those two stars adorned the claret and amber shirt, we now seem to have found a pairing in James Hanson and Nahki Wells who we can compare to them.

Wells’ pace and unpredictability have worked well alongside Hanson’s height and awkwardness to play against. They have been vital to the success that we have achieved so far this season. And Wells’ claim. after the play off victory over Burton, that both have ambitions to play at a higher level left me wondering if they will stick around to hopefully achieve this aim at City.

One key figure who I haven’t mentioned yet is the manager. It is hardly surprising that in our most successful season for 14 years, we have possibly our most popular manager in that time, barring of course the aforementioned Legend McCall.

Many supporters talk about Paul Jewell being their favourite City manager of all time and why wouldn’t he be? For the first time since his tenure, however, Jagger has a challenger for this title, as fans are desperate to see Parkinson put pen to paper and commit himself to the club for the next season at least.

The biggest thing to remember about any promotion-winning side is that they perform on the big occasion when it really matters. Jewell’s men did it at Molineux in 1999. Let’s pray that Parkinson’s class of 2013 can do it at Wembley, in order to cement their own place in City Folklore.

8709991751_2c739f4a0c_k

Photo courtesy Wendy Michallat

_____________________________________________

Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

Back to Wembley: Divided family loyalties

14 May

DSCF6781

By Jeremy Casey

Northampton Town versus Bradford City isn’t normally the kind of fixture you would associate with creating a bit of a family split.

Everton versus Liverpool, yes.

Manchester United versus Manchester City, possibly.

Sheffield United versus Sheffield Wednesday, probably.

Celtic versus Rangers, less likely.

But Northampton v Bradford? The Cobblers v The Bantams?

Surely that won’t be the subject of inter-family rivalry and banter?

Well, however unlikely it may seem, it is a reality.

I am a Northampton Town fan.

I was born in Northampton, and have been watching the team since my dad Jerry took me to the ramshackle (but sorely missed) old County Ground for the first time in the mid-1970s.

At that time, and for many years later, Bradford City weren’t a club on my radar, and indeed, on any member of my family’s radar.

But that was soon to change, when my uncle Ken Wilson and Auntie Joan moved to West Yorkshire, settling in Cullingworth, where they raised my three cousins Greg, Graeme and Iain.

Now, there was a Yorkshire connection, a Yorkshire branch to the family clan – and they all ended up supporting Bradford City.

I even went to watch games when I was staying with the Wilsons.

I was lucky enough to witness an epic FA Cup win at Preston North End, and also a 2-1 league win at Huddersfield Town.

Bradford had become a bit of a second team for me.

And the ties didn’t stop there.

My sister Catherine, a fellow child of Northamptonshire (although she was born in Corby) and Cobblers fan, went to university in Leeds in her teens.

Following graduation, she ended up working for my uncle’s company in Keighley, and also settling in Yorkshire in the village of Addingham.

Now, as a football fan, Catherine also decided to go and watch Bradford with the Wilsons, all at the time when it was really exciting to be a Bantams fan.

The club was a progressive one and was on the up, and was promoted to the Premier League under the management of Paul Jewell.

The Bradford bug had well and truly bitten my auntie, uncle and cousins, as well as my sister.

They became season-ticket holders, and it was all about City for the Wilsons, while what could really go wrong for my sister?

She was and always will always be a Cobblers fan, but where was the harm in watching and following Bradford?

How could there ever be a clash?

At the time, Bradford and the Cobblers were poles apart.

City were hosting Manchester United and Liverpool (I twice saw Bradford take on the Reds, including that famous last-day triumph), while the Cobblers were battling away, as they have done for most of their existence, in the lower divisions.

Nobody could have predicted Bradford’s slide down the divisions following their relegation from the top flight, and in recent years, the Cobblers against the Bantams has become a regular fixture.

My annual visit to Valley Parade – where I have now made friends – now sees me watch Bradford take on Northampton, with the home side, annoyingly, having the upper hand in the past few years.

It’s a reverse story at Sixfields, where the Cobblers have claimed a couple of wins and rarely lost to Bradford in recent times.

But this season has seen the teams meet on four occasions, and the Cobblers have yet to win one!

Both league games were lost 1-0, while two FA Cup ties ended in draws, with Bradford progressing after winning a penalty shoot-out.

I am obviously hoping it will be fifth time lucky for the Cobblers at Wembley next weekend!

And that brings us on to the national stadium, and next week’s play off final.

I am really looking forward to it, but it is also going to be an emotional day for me, and my family.

I had always said I wouldn’t go to the new Wembley Stadium until the Cobblers played there.

But then fate played a hand.

My uncle Ken sadly and suddenly passed away in January of this year.

When Bradford reached the final of the Capital One Cup in February, I was asked by my sister and auntie Joan if I would go to the game.

It was the sort of occasion Ken would have revelled in, and it was an honour to be asked to be part of the day.

Now I am heading to Wembley again, and this time to watch my beloved Cobblers.

But again, fate has played its part, with Bradford City the opposition.

I’ll be backing the claret and whites, as will my sister – surely the only Bradford City season ticket holder to be sitting in the Cobblers section! – while my auntie and cousins will all once again be among the travelling army from Bradford.

So it is going to be a strange day for me in some ways.

I would never say my loyalties are split, because they aren’t.

I am a Cobblers man, and I want the Cobblers to win.

No question.

But if they don’t, and it’s Bradford who triumph, I will at least be happy for my cousins, and I’ll be happy for my auntie Joan.

And win or lose, I will definitely be raising a glass in memory of my uncle Ken, who I know will be looking down from above, and dishing out stick to the Cobblers players, as he always did when I went to Valley Parade!

I just wish he was still here to enjoy the day with the rest of us.

Anyway, with both clubs set to take plenty of supporters, it is going to be a fantastic occasion, and may the best team win.

As long as it’s the Cobblers!

Jeremy Casey is the sports editor of the Northampton Chronicle & Echo

_____________________________________________

Play off final: Width of a Post build-up

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,514 other followers