Tag Archives: League Two

We Made History one year on: ending 12 years of hurt

17 May

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On this weekend one year ago, Bradford City were promoted to League One after defeating Northampton Town 3-0 at Wembley in the play off final. In the first of two articles looking back, Jason McKeown reflects on this unexpected achievement.

It seemed as though everybody had given up, I know that I had. Promotion from League Two just wasn’t going to happen. Too much ground to make up, too little time remaining. A seventh straight year in the basement division beckoned, it was time to come to terms with this frustrating reality.

My personal belief that we could do it was extinguished on a Tuesday evening at Plymouth, in the middle of March. Bradford City drew 0-0 with the then-basement club. And though the second half performance was good, the failure to turn late pressure into a winning goal seemed symbolic of what was surely to come in the final few weeks. I departed Home Park frustrated and deflated. There was plenty of consolation to take from the League Cup heroics that would ensure 2012/13 would go down as a good season, but in the league, it seemed, it was all over and all that was left was a nagging sense of what might have been.

When, a few days later, City were thrashed 4-1 at play off contenders Exeter, it appeared to be confirmation that my immediate Plymouth reaction had been right. I listened to the St. James Park capitulation at home on the radio, and began to think about next season. Defeat left the Bantams languishing in 11th place, 12 points behind the Grecians all be it with two games in hand. Too much ground to make up, too little time remaining. Year after year of watching failure suggested that a familiar tale was being played out in front of us again. Ah well, at least we had some fantastic memories to take away from this season. At least it wasn’t as bad a campaign as the last two.

The Exeter loss

The Exeter loss

Two months and two days after the Exeter debacle, Bradford City were celebrating promotion at Wembley stadium.

It was an incredible turn around in form. Started, it was said, the day after the Exeter defeat when Phil Parkinson held a summit meeting with his players. Whatever was said at the training ground that Sunday morning, it had a drastic effect. In the nine remaining games, City produced five wins, three draws and a defeat. Enough to secure the final play off place with a game to spare – a place they snatched from Exeter, for whom the 4-1 Bantams victory would be their final win of the season.

Initially it was difficult to tell that anything special was beginning. The next league match was Wycombe at Valley Parade on a Tuesday, with an early Garry Thompson goal enough to settle a contest between two sides seemingly with little to play for. Any hopes of rekindling play off ambitions seemed to quickly extinguish in the next match, at home to Southend, as City found themselves 2-0 down after just 11 minutes. A commendable comeback saw Zavon Hines and James Hanson make it 2-2 with a minute remaining, but when Kyel Reid had a stoppage time penalty appeal turned away you assumed that that really was it.

Easter Monday at Torquay was the true rebirth to the hopes. That City won 3-1 at Plainmoor wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but the realisation that every other result had gone our way suddenly made promotion seem a realistic hope once more. We were back in this.

Northampton were next at Valley Parade. Nahki Wells ended his personal goal drought with an early tap in, and it proved enough to secure back-to-back victories. Make that three in a row, after Bristol Rovers were swept aside in superb fashion three days later. 3-0 at half time through Wells (twice) and Andrew Davies; Thompson sealed a 4-1 win in the second half and, amazingly, City walked off the field at full time inside the play off places.

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Exciting, thrilling and unexpected times. Chesterfield away followed and the away end was bouncing. With the score 1-1, Ricky Ravenhill drilled home a lot shot from the edge of the box to spark wild celebrations. So good was City’s form and so indifferent those around them, that a top three finish was in grasp. A stoppage time equaliser by Chesterfield all but ruled that out, and the following Tuesday promotion rivals Rotherham punctured the mood with a smash and grab 2-0 Valley Parade victory. Forget automatic promotion; let’s just get over the play off line.

The final regular home game saw Burton Albion rock up. They looked ordinary, with Calvin Zola in the centre lifeless. Hanson scored a scrappy goal before half time, Lee Bell was sent off for the Brewers early in the second. City held on comfortably and, due to results elsewhere, were guaranteed a play off spot with a game to spare (a game that, at Cheltenham, was used to rest players). There were fantastic celebrations at full time. Finally, after five previous years where we only once came close, City were part of the end of season shootout.

Burton were back for the play off semi finals, and in the first leg at Valley Parade looked a different side. They were far from ordinary, with Calvin Zola full of life. He scored two brilliant goals, Jacques Maghoma tore Stephen Darby to pieces. Half time and City went in 3-1 behind and in big trouble. The second half of the first leg was crucial. Burton failed to press home the fact that we were on the ropes and sat back on their lead. Thompson reduced the arrears with a quality strike from distance. We left the ground feeling disappointed but also relieved – Burton had let us off the hook. Whether we could turn it around at their ground was unclear, but there was certainly no way we would play as badly.

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Sunday May 5 was such a memorable day. The sun was shining brightly, the away end sold out, and as we drove up to Burton the pubs were packed out with City fans full of confidence. I really believed we would do it, although as soon as the game kicked off I was filled with terror and nerves about just what was at stake. This means everything.

We started the game slowly, but then grew into it and – 27 minutes in – a mistake put Wells in to give City the lead and level the tie. Then, five minutes into the second half, Hanson struck a thunderbolt from the edge of the box that arrowed into the bottom corner. Pandemonium. Burton made it 2-1 straightaway to level the tie at 4-4, but then in another instant Wells had made it 3-1 and caused another outbreak of jubilant scenes behind the goal that he scored.

What an afternoon Burton was. The impressive way that City came back, the sheer determination to get to the play off final and the brilliance of Wells and Hanson. “We’re proud of you” was sung at full time and the on-pitch celebrations seemed to go on another hour. Me and my group of friends kept the party going all night when we got back to Yorkshire.

We’re off to Wembley, again.

Meeting Peter Beagrie

Meeting Peter Beagrie

Saturday 18 May, 2013 began for me at 4am. I was riding down on a bus with the Skipton Bantams supporters club, which was departing at the ungodly hour of 5am. We were parked up on the edge of London before 9am, already merry from alcohol. A fry-up in a pub, a short underground journey to Wembley, and more beers in the Hilton Hotel next to the ground. I even bumped into City legend and Sky pundit Peter Beagrie. His former team mate and another Bantams legend, Jamie Lawrence, was sat on the row behind me inside the stadium.

Unlike the sheer I-can’t-believe-we-are-here-wow joy of the Swansea cup final, this visit to Wembley was filled with nerves, panic and fear. Game 64, and a whole season rested on this. It didn’t bear think about, losing twice here in one season, yet there was every chance that this was how it was going to end.

The players clearly did not agree. They were so determined, so focused, so ruthless. They blew Northampton away in the first half. Hanson – goal! Everyone around me was hugging everyone. McArdle – goal! This is unbelievable. Wells – goal! 3-0 and only 28 minutes played. We celebrated in stunned disbelief. No one thought this would be easy, but that’s just what it was proving.

Some people say the second half was an anti-climax, but I didn’t agree. The worry that Northampton might score kept me nervous, and then, as time ticked by and you realised that the improbable was now impossible, excitement grew. We have done it! Promotion, at last. Let’s have that final whistle blown, let’s begin the party, let’s ‘ave it!

The moment of Gary Jones and Ravenhill jointly lifting the trophy will stay with me forever. It was the near-perfect day, and to have finally escaped the bottom division meant the world to us supporters. I attended the Centenary Square open top bus ride a few days later to revel in more public celebrations.

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Supporting a football team like Bradford City carries one undisputable guarantee – the bad days will outnumber the good ones. It means that, when something truly special occurs, like a promotion, a cup run or a thrilling late victory, you savour the occasion that bit more because of what it means.

Perhaps as Manchester City fans celebrated clinching the title last weekend, in a much more reserved fashion than when they won it two years earlier, they would reflect that the thrill of success dulls when it occurs more and more often. It was notable that when Man City fans talked of the bad times, they still referred to their brief flirtation with third tier football in 1998/99, rather than anything since their first Premier League title win. It might have been fun to support Man City this season, but it was probably even better in 2011/12, when it was all so new to them.

1998/99 was also the year of Bradford City’s last promotion. In between that day and the start of the 2012/13 season there had been an even greater ratio of bad days to good ones. Only defeating Liverpool to avoid Premier League relegation in 2000 counted as success over that period. The League Cup miracle was the first subsequent occasion of hedonistic times in 12 years, and it was continued with promotion in May.

Of the two Wembley games, you’d have picked the play off final as the one to win. It all worked out perfectly, and for that we are left with a treasure chest of memories from 2012/13 that we will store lovingly until the day we die.

For all we had been through in the 12 years prior, May 18, 2013 truly was one of the greatest days in the club’s history.

2013 reviewed by Bantams Banter and Width of a Post

16 Jan

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Against a backdrop of 12 years of underachievement and crushing disappointment, 2013 will be fondly remembered by Bradford City fans for decades to come. To reflect back on the many, many achievements of Phil Parkinson and his players, Bantams Banter have recorded a special podcast reviewing 2013.

Width of a Post was delighted to be invited as guests on the one-hour programme, with writers Gareth Walker and Jason McKeown joining Tom and Dom to re-live the best Bantams Banter clips and share memories of that incredible 12-month period.

We’re unlikely to see the like of Bradford City’s 2013 again, so pour yourself a glass and indulge in some recent nostalgia.

Click on the image below to listen to the podcast.

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We made history…the fans – a short film

29 Nov

By David Nowakowski

Experience a stomach churning tension like your first day at school or wedding day nerves as fans of all ages follow their team to Wembley for the second time in a matter of months.

Nervousness and tension turns to sheer joy and elation as the fans dare to dream of sweet victory.

We made history – the fans, was made by the fans, for the fans, to commemorate this very special day in the 120-year history of Bradford City Football Club.

Small children at the game will show their grandchildren this in years to come and be proud to have been part of an historic moment in English football, seen through the eyes and hearts of the fans.

Fans were asked to submit video footage captured on phones and personal cameras via social media networks to create a visual documentation of this special event seen from the fans eyes.

I then had to sift through the raw material and working with the Minneapolis Film School has produced a short film which will be showcased at the National Media Museum in the lead up to Christmas.

I was overwhelmed at the response and received over 1,000 clips of footage. I approached this as a social media experiment which has turned out to be something really rather special.

David Wilson, Director of Bradford UNESCO City of Film said, “This is a real meeting of hearts and minds, using new technology and social networks to assemble a 1,000-strong team of film-makers which was then skilfully crafted together as evidence of this great sporting achievement.”

The short film will be screened at the National Media Museum on the following dates in the lead up to Christmas to accompany a full length feature film:

  • Friday 6 December with the film, Nebraska (17.40).
  • Saturday 21 December with the film, It’s a Wonderful Life (11.40)
  • Thursday 26 December with the film, It’s a Wonderful Life (17.05)

We Made History 2012/13 DVD – available soon

4 Nov

By Jason McKeown

Bradford City’s 2012/13 season will never be repeated. For a fourth division team to reach a major cup final – defeating three Premier League teams along the way – and then to come from nowhere to win promotion was the most incredible of stories. Against a backdrop of 12 years filled with misery, financial problems and relegations, 2012/13 was all the more special for us long-suffering supporters.

But as those incredible memories inevitably start to dim over the years, the importance of having mementos and keepsakes of the historic season will grow. The kindest thing to say about BBC Radio Leeds’ Dave Fletcher’s book, Bantams over Wembley, is that it is factual. But for re-living the emotions of what we experienced in 2012/13, it doesn’t scratch that itch.

It’s therefore fantastic news that Bradford City Football Club has produced a commemorative DVD of the 2012/13 season – We Made History – which will shortly be available to buy. Width of a Post was extremely grateful to be given an advanced copy to review, and it is much a relief as it is a joy to confirm that the club has made a very good job of it. The disc – which features over two hours of footage – is a superb record of a superb season.

For many years, I always bought the club’s ‘Goals of the Season’ video/DVD; even the ones covering those relegation seasons. Produced by Cavasport and featuring the commentary delights of Keith Coates, they had always made for a great watch, before sadly declining in quality and then been stopped altogether. The away game footage they showed looked taped from the TV, with the crowd noises obviously taken from a different match and dubbed over (unless Dagenham really did play Tom Hark every time we scored at Victoria Road).

The care and attention taken by Fruition Media and the club to create We Made History is obvious. There have been mumblings of discontent from supporters over how long production has taken, but it’s far better to get it right than to rush something out substandard. The wait is worth it.

We Made History is split into two parts. The first, a 45-minute documentary based on a programme produced by Pulse FM at the end of last season, tells the story of the season. It begins with a horror collection of bad goals conceded over previous seasons, which provides some context of just how wonderful 2012/13 was to be. Goals from the majority of games feature within this documentary; plus in-depth reflections of the Wigan, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Swansea, Burton and Northampton matches. I still have many of these games on my Sky planner and have watched them several times, so it surprised me just how emotional I felt re-living those great moments during the documentary.

What helps the enjoyment of We Made History is the decision to use Pulse commentaries from the time over the goals. The worst thing City could have done would have been to hire a commentator to talk over these matches months later, as it would have lacked the raw emotion. To hear Tim Thornton’s screams of delight (oddly Ian Ormondroyd laughs a lot whenever City score) really takes you back to the feelings of ecstasy we experienced at the time. However, it is Dean Windass who steals the show. Employed by the Pulse to co-commentate for the big cup games, he makes no attempt to hide his partisan support for City and his reactions are hilarious.

The documentary also includes Pulse interviews with Phil Parkinson immediately after certain games, which are great to listen back to. And with the happy ending of promotion at Wembley, you can’t fail to have a beaming smile on your face as you watch this documentary.

Part two features action from all 64 matches of City’s historic season, again with Pulse commentary added. In the main this is a run-down of all the goals for and against, but there is also footage of 0-0s and in-depth highlights of the cup and play off games. The pictures from some of the away games are not great quality (was Accrington away filmed on a mobile phone?), but it’s still great to see all the goals. I guess you wouldn’t want to watch both parts of the DVD in one sitting, as there is plenty of repetition; but the option of sitting down to watch either part will give this DVD plenty of longevity and ensure you keep re-watching it.

We Made History is due to be available to buy this month, with the exact timings due to be confirmed shortly. Those people who pre-ordered will receive an email when it is ready for them to either collect or have delivered. If you haven’t pre-ordered, get yourself down to the Valley Parade club shop to buy it as soon as it comes out, so you have a permanent record of a season that we will all be talking about for decades.

If you don’t buy it, you may regret it for a long, long time.

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2013/14 season preview: Managing expectations

30 Jul

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By Jason McKeown

They say that old habits die hard. And for the Bradford City community, the challenge this season is surely to maintain the feel-good factor of 2012/13 rather than reverting to type and allowing negativity to flourish during any bumps that appear along the road.

Which is not to make doom-ridden predictions of a season of struggle, but it is to express some concern about the high levels of expectation for City’s return to League One. They are expectations led from the front by the club’s joint chairmen, with both Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes separately on record talking up the prospects of another play off challenge. The high performers of last season having been retained, momentum could go a long way and the top six may not be an unrealistic objective.

But still, it’s highly questionable whether it is something that we should be expecting from Phil Parkinson and his players. League One is going to be a step up. A step up we should be able to make with a certain level of comfortableness, but that does not mean we’ll be good enough to be among the front-runners straightaway – nor should we be too concerned if we are not.

In recent years, promoted clubs from League Two have struggled to make it more than two seasons in the third tier before coming back down. The last team to earn back-to-back promotions from League Two to the Championship was Darren Ferguson’s heavily backed Peterborough in 2008 and 2009 and, before that, Peter Taylor’s Hull City, nearly 10 years ago. It is not impossible to scale the heights of a return to the second tier of English football, but I fear it will prove too much for City to achieve so quickly.

For a start, the club’s playing budget is said to be roughly same as it was in League Two last season, rather than massively increased (£2 million this time compared to £1.8 million in 2012/13). That is fully understandable and in fact should be applauded. The club committed to a playing budget in 2012/13 that was £600k more than break-even point – the stunning cup run more than making up the shortfall and therefore justifying the gamble. City will have increased revenue streams from moving to League One, although they won’t be spectacular. Enough, at least, to mean that a similar playing budget is this time within our break-even point.

Yet unlike in League Two, such a budget is not amongst the highest in the division. The May 2013 notes from the Bradford City Supporters Board suggest the average League One playing budgets range from £2-£3.5 million. Since then Rhodes has commented that many of our new rivals have indicated they are going to be operating on reduced budgets, but realistically we are still probably somewhere near the middle financial-wise.

The budget has been used to retain the existing squad. That is, for me, entirely the right approach. Those players who excelled for the Bantams last season deserve the opportunity of playing for the club at a higher level. Yet it is a step up, and that could prove a difficult transition for some players. One positive is that – Gary Jones, Ricky Ravenhill, Michael Nelson, Andy Gray and Garry Thompson aside – the squad is young and many players may not have reached their career peaks.

Finally, there is the quality of League One. It is true to say that there are many teams who will hold few fears and we should feel confident of at least four proving to be worse than us, but there are also plenty of clubs who look strong. Wolves come down with eye-wateringly high parachute payments that mean they will surely challenge for promotion. Bristol City and Peterborough were also relegated from the Championship and look capable of making quick returns. Swindon and Brentford did really well last season, losing in the play offs. Sheffield United are the division’s second largest club after Wolves. The likes of Preston, MK Dons and Notts County are threats.

Perhaps the biggest issue for City’s challenge to meet expectation levels lie in clubs like Leyton Orient (7th last season), Walsall (9th) and Crawley (10th). Rightly or wrongly we perceive ourselves to be a bigger club than these, most notably in terms of support, yet they are likely to prove difficult opposition. Just imagine the outcry were City to lose at Walsall in early October. We may no longer be the big fish in the small pond, but we’re still big.

The idea that City can better the majority of these and other clubs to finish in the top six is, to me, troubling. It’s not so much that I don’t believe we could do it, but I worry that it is being assumed. Were City to indeed be knocking on the door for a place in the 2014/15 Championship it should be treated as a pleasant surprise, rather than some form of entitlement.

And this is where the feel good factor is challenged. If the 2012/13 heroes are made to look mortal by a higher standard of opposition, expect individuals to be turned upon by the crowd. It’s happened before, so many times. Parkinson may have attracted a lot of goodwill last season, but City supporter sentiment towards whoever is manager has rarely being led by the long-term outlook. No one can take away what was achieved in 2012/13, but history has a habit of re-writing itself and the phrase “we only finished 7th last season and were lucky to go up” is likely to appear on many a message board posting if we struggle.

So what would class as a good season? Well, in my view, avoiding relegation has to be the main priority. That 50-point mark needs to be achieved as quickly as possible, and then we can see where we are from there.

Let us split the 24 League One final placings into four groups (I write about stocks and shares for a living, and we call this measurement approach quartile ranking). If City were to finish 3rd quartile (13-18) I’d be very satisfied; were they to end up 2nd quartile (7-12) I’d be ecstatic. Anything above 7th (1st quartile) would of course be incredible and, to me, anything below 18th (4th quartile) a disappointment (especially if it’s below 20!)

That’s my personal expectations, but I’d like to think others would share it too.

What that means is I will be happy with a season where we probably lose as often as we win. Where we hopefully have some memorable scalps to savour, but also endure a few moments where we despair at the dismalness. That will set the tone of my articles over the coming months: if City are stuck in mid-table, you won’t find calls for a change of manager from this writer.

Ultimately, for all the heroics of last season, the club is still not where we want it to be. The Championship is the Holy Grail and is a very laudable objective. A place in the second tier would be an end to the financial difficulties of recent years and it would mean playing a standard of opposition that we feel we belong amongst.

League One lacks the prestige, the glamour and the rewards – but also the fear factor. We are not particularly grateful to be here; just relieved we are no longer where we were. This division is correctly considered to be a stepping stone towards where our ambitions want to take us, but that doesn’t mean we are simply making a flying visit. The realities of League One’s difficulty level could mean that we need to unpack for a little while at least.

Zavon Hines departs Bradford City having helped to take it forwards

2 Jul

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By Jason McKeown

As if yet another indication were needed of the feel-good factor that abounds around Valley Parade, it can be found in the news that Zavon Hines has left Bradford City after Phil Parkinson opted against offering him a new contract.

It’s not unusual for players to be released from the club during the close season, but typically they do so under varying levels of supporter criticism for their performances in claret and amber. There may be a debate to be had on Hines’ short-comings – he would not be leaving, of course, had he been considered good enough for the heightened challenges of next season – but you’d need to have a heart of stone to wish him anything but the best for the future and he departs under a flood of good luck sentiments from supporters.

One of our own through being part of one of the club’s greatest-ever seasons, for his contribution Hines will be fondly remembered.

It was at Park Avenue’s Horsfall Stadium that City supporters got their first glimpse of former West Ham winger Hines. Part of a Bradford City XI in the club’s final pre-season friendly, last August, the keenness to keep his potential signing under wraps necessitated his name appearing on the team sheet as ‘A Trialist’. WOAP’s own Joe Cockburn reported of Hines that, “The class of playing at a higher level was evident, and he stood out amongst many average performances. He played with the pace and flair of Omar Daley, but with an end product and very little waste. He would be a coup if we managed to sign him.”

Hines was the final piece in a wideman jigsaw that Phil Parkinson had built to evolve from the previous season’s over-reliance on Kyel Reid. For the first time since the days of an on-song Omar Daley and Joe Colbeck causing havoc under Stuart McCall, we had two genuine out-and-out wingers. In the first few games Hines and Reid occupied each side of the pitch and some brave attacking football resulted in some impressive early season victories. Parkinson’s reputation for being Peter Taylor Mk II was being erased.

A 4-0 thrashing at Rotherham – City far too open in still deploying Reid and Hines in a tough away fixture – offered the first doubts over whether it could work. But it was only a part of that wideman jigsaw anyway, and it led to the increased involvement of Garry Thompson and Will Atkinson. It was soon clear that in these four players Parkinson basically had two sets of pairings. Thompson and Atkinson lacked the pace and directness of Reid and Hines, but offered greater defensive ability that meant City could effectively play with three in the middle when not in possession.

The right-sided Thompson and left-sided Reid, or the right-sided Hines and left-sided Atkinson (though Atkinson could also play on the right just as effectively), these were the partnerships. Although Reid and Hines could play on each side of each other and the same was true of Thompson and Atkinson, the balance was never quite the same. So it was Thompson with Reid or Atkinson with Hines. By and large, the game-time of one wideman was dependent not just on their own form, but their partner’s.

When Reid got a bad injury in early October at Rochdale, Hines had the chance to press home his advantage. He came on as sub for Reid that night and struggled badly, but he was playing on his less comfortable side, the left wing. Parkinson moved Atkinson to the left from then on and Hines enjoyed a run of games on the right. Quickly, he began to produce his best form.

In fact Hines at times looked a better player than Reid. He spent less time dribbling down blind alleys or shooting wildly wide – that is Reid on a bad day – and more time tracking back and helping team mates. One of his most memorable traits was his slide tackling, which often succeeded in not just winning back possession but leaving the tackled opponent on the floor dumbfounded. They clearly weren’t expecting such work-rate and desire.

Reid returned in mid-December but was not able to stamp down a place in the side. He seemed slow rediscovering his mojo, and though Thompson – the autumn victim of Reid’s injury in the sense Atkinson was given much more game time – was improving, Hines returned at Christmas, after a month out injured, to enjoy another strong run in the side. This period included the two semi final legs against Aston Villa. In both games, Hines absolutely terrorised his full back. The first City goal in both ties coming from set pieces that his brilliant work had earned.

For Hines, alas, this high watermark was the beginning of the decline. As City struggled for league form before and after the Wembley match with Swansea, Hines’ performances were equally up and down. The penny finally dropped with Reid after a woeful performance at Plymouth, and he came roaring back to earn his place as the team’s out-and-out winger – a decision made easier for Parkinson by the outstanding performances of Thompson on the other side. Hines and Atkinson got used to the bench.

There was at least one more big contribution from Hines. A dismal first half team performance against Southend on Good Friday saw much of the anger fall upon Hines. Parkinson later admitted he merited being substituted, but Hines to his credit kept going and scored a goal that put the Bantams back into the match. James Hanson netting a late equaliser. Amazingly Hines only started one more game for City – Cheltenham on the final day of the regular season. Yet that 2-2 draw against Southend was the spark that saw City hit top form and reach the play offs. Without Hines’ goal that day, promotion might never have happened.

But Reid and Thompson were two of the best performers of the run-in, and Hines was left waiting for chances from the bench. He was there for the celebrations in the play offs at Burton and then at Wembley when promotion was sealed, but his role had been marginalised to that of a supporting cast member rather than one of the stars. The club was already leaving him behind.

I really enjoyed watching Hines in a City shirt. There was always such a stark honesty to his performances, and whatever his failings they were not a lack of effort. When on form he tormented opponents and had us on the edge of our seat. His departure is sad, but there should be no feeling of him letting anyone down.

Ultimately, Hines helped to take the club forwards and for that he will always be appreciated. It’s just unfortunate, for him, that the club moving forwards means that we have to leave him behind.

He managed Bradford City #4: Stuart McCall

26 Jun

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By Katie Whyatt

To Bradford City fans, Stuart McCall needs no introduction. He is hailed by many as the Bantams’ greatest ever player; the prolific, heart-on-his-sleeve midfield dynamo bound to the club by emotion, tragedy and triumph, and who boasts a love for this team that transcends beyond anything ever seen before or since. Being likened to McCall is the ultimate accolade that City fans can bestow on a player. The fact that no one but Gary Jones has since been comparable to the flame-haired midfielder just about sums up Stuart.

McCall’s return to Valley Parade in 2007 marked the beginning of a new dawn: a City legend ready to take the club to the heights enjoyed when he was lining up for them. Stuart was back where he belonged and the world was at peace once more – his side just needed the season to commence so that they could win promotion.

McCall played for City over two spells, before signing for Sheffield United in 2002 as the Bantams began their freefall to the basement division. In 2007, City slid down the League One table and were eventually relegated after a weak display at Chesterfield. During this time, McCall, fresh from helping Sheffield win promotion to the Premier League, became the conflicted high-flyer, peeking in from his vantage point with the Blades and wishing that he could do something to reverse his old team’s fortunes. He was the passionate exile; not directly involved, but every bit as invested as those who were. Not exactly envious of the club’s plight, but angered that he could not be at the centre to help. Not there physically, but there after every single City defeat, when Bradford fans would reminisce about the days of McCall, Ormondroyd and Hendrie and wonder where it all went wrong.

As the Blades succumbed to relegation and fell back into the Championship, McCall parted company with United and was installed as the manager of the team for whom he had made over 300 appearances: Bradford City.

With his insuppressible love for the club and his desire to achieve success, McCall was the kind of appointment that Bradford, a team deflated after tumbling to the bottom tier the previous season, were in dire need of, especially as his strong affiliation with the Bantams ensured that a seemingly perfect formula for success was provided. It was the return of the Messiah, the golden boy coming back to his spiritual home of Valley Parade. Stuart’s homecoming captured the hearts of City fans everywhere and supporters took advantage of the cheap season ticket initiative to flock to games in their numbers. For all of us, fruition seemed imminent because the impassioned McCall, the man with claret and amber coursing through his veins, would be at the helm of the cause. Promotion? Piece of cake.

It was a match made in Heaven.

And it was because of those cheap season tickets, incidentally, that I found myself travelling down to Valley Parade on 11th August 2007 to witness McCall’s first game in charge. That’s right – it was my mum and auntie’s idea of a ‘cheap afternoon out for the kids’ that helped to form my huge love for the Bantams. My auntie, who had witnessed City’s Premier League heyday and McCall’s glory days, gave me a brief history of the Bradford legend.

A cult hero in midfield, she said. There on the day of the fire. His father seriously injured. He talked to the City fans in the hospital as he paid visits to his dad. He departed for Everton and Rangers, but came back to help the Bantams end their 77 year absence from the top-flight. Now, he was here for a third time, as a club great putting his legend status on the line to catapult City back into League One.

Only, it didn’t quite read as we’d hoped.

The Macclesfield match had all the makings of the perfect season opener. As Stuart stepped out, fans climbed to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Roars rang out everywhere. Chants of “Stuart, Stuart!” emitted from the Bradford stands. The stage was set for an upset. It was the ideal platform from which Stuart could begin to pursue promotion.

However, the party atmosphere crumbled in the ninth minute, when the visitors snatched the lead after Francis Green swooped in to beat Donovan Ricketts. Their goal was almost like an early warning sign of what was to come, and, to many, it’s the defining moment that sums up McCall’s tenure to a tee.

It simply wasn’t to be.

The Bantams broke the home duck 14 days later. Young Luke Medley scored late against Wrexham to send Valley Parade – and Stuart McCall – into raptures. The feel-good factor remained, stronger now that the team had registered their first home win, and the fans and players began to believe that we would be toasting promotion soon.

That old curse: it simply wasn’t to be.

From September to October, Bradford endured five straight defeats, including a 0-3 thumping to Accrington ‘who are they?’ Stanley. The aforementioned result may have offered little to cheer about, but that didn’t stop the City supporters from singing anyway, and, after the game, McCall made his feelings clear by telling the fans, “All I can do is apologise.”

After failing to record a single win in eight, Bradford began to turn a corner, gradually finding form and showing promise. The Boxing Day game against Lincoln City marked the first time that the sides had met at Valley Parade since that fateful day in 1985, and the Bantams clocked up an emotional victory after Barry Conlon scored an added-time winner. Stuart was euphoric, screaming wildly as he looked into the skies above. It was such a poignant win, and one that McCall later cited as one of his best moments of the season.

City managed to salvage the remainder of the season to finish the campaign in tenth. But it was going to take a lot more than missing out on the play offs to knock this man from his pedestal.

It was around this time that I was paying a visit to Bradford City’s Positive Lifestyle Centre with my school, which traditionally ended with a lap around the Valley Parade pitch. And who was already finishing his run as we settled into the stands?

“IT’S STUART McCALL!”

The City chief came over to join our class, sitting himself down next to me as he signed programmes and fixture lists for us.

Being only ten years old at the time, the idea of ‘think before you speak’ wasn’t exactly on my radar, and I ended up grilling Stuart about season ticket sales, signings and the time he was sent to the stands. And he responded perfectly, answering as many of my questions as he could while talking to me about his favourite chants and the wider world of football. I explained how I listened to the commentary on the radio if I couldn’t make an away game and suggested he sign the then-Carlisle goalkeeper, Kieren Westwood, to which he replied, “You know your football!” I was over the Moon, and got McCall, 4 printed on my next shirt.

Back to City’s second season in League Two, which they would be entering into as the Bookie’s favourites for promotion – again. And why not? We were going to do it this year. Last time was the practice run, the dress rehearsal, the chance to iron out the creases and overcome any teething problems. This was the real thing. Untold glory awaited.

McCall’s side started the season well, and won five of their first six league matches to top the table. City, though, couldn’t maintain their form, with results turning against us to kick-start our descent out of the top seven. Unbridled joy in victory swam alongside the huge blows of defeat, with McCall blaming himself for the team’s failings on the pitch. A woeful 4-1 away defeat to Barnet signalled the decline of City’s season, and, as the Bantams fell behind the pack’s leaders and failed to capitalise on others’ mishaps, their fate for next year was slowly, painfully, agonisingly confirmed.

Stuart had promised to resign if Bradford City missed out on their target of a play off place, but decided to continue his reign after the Bradford fans spent the final home game of the season holding “Save Our Stuart” cards aloft and pinning bed sheets across the railings of the Kop. We loved him and he loved us. He wasn’t going to go. He couldn’t turn his back on us.

As the club slashed their budget for the following season, McCall took a voluntary pay cut. Several of the higher-profile players – including the skipper, Graeme Lee – left. Finances were no longer on Stuart’s side and other teams didn’t view us the big fish in the small pond anymore; rather, we were just another team in the league, the club who had taken on a slightly longer stay than originally anticipated because we – ahem – enjoyed the view. For Stuart, the odds were stacked higher than ever before. It was now or never.

A dismal start to the season set the alarm bells ringing right from the off. The Bantams picked up a five-goal deficit after being given a lesson in football by a rampant Notts County, and City racked up a total of four games without scoring before narrowly beating Cheltenham. Although the side, in parts, seemed to show some potential, they never genuinely acquired form, and promotion dreams rapidly faded as teams dashed off to leave the Bantams struggling in their wake. We condemned ourselves to another year in the division. Four years in League Two? How did that happen?

We began to feel the strain, but it was nothing compared to the insurmountable pressure that Stuart put himself under. Desperate for it to work, he tried everything, but the evasive promotion remained the stuff of fantasy as minutes, games and seasons slipped by.

A sluggish 0-1 loss to Bury was McCall’s last game in charge. One could argue that there was an air of inevitability about his resignation, but it was nevertheless a shock, as a part of all of us still believed, and still hoped, that Stuart McCall would get Bradford promoted next season. But that was the point: it was always next season.

“It’s time for somebody else to come in and take up the reins and hopefully do well,” McCall said.

And with his blessing, Peter Taylor came in, laden with the task of stopping the slide so that the Bantams could begin to move on up again. Bradford subsequently finished 15th and a year later 18th. What McCall had deemed “not good enough” started to seem rather impressive indeed. That 10th place finish of 2007/08 suddenly appeared quite fanciful.

Whatever happened whilst Stuart McCall was the manager, the bottom line is this: we will always have a place in our hearts for him, just as he holds a special affection for this club and its fans. No amount of failed promotion bids, crushing defeats and goals conceded will ever, ever, ever change that fact.

And that, I think, just about sums up this incredible man.

The Width of a Post – a best of 2012/13

15 Jun

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By Jason McKeown

Bradford City’s marathon 2012/13 season was the subject of in-depth coverage from Width of a Post at every step of the way. A special section, with links to all match reports and other articles, had now being completed, if you want to look up something from our archive.

In addition, here is a best of The Width of a Post 2012/13:

Pre-season

August

September

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October

November

December

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January

February

March

April

May

Click on the image below for access to all of WOAP’s articles in 2012/13.

12

The best is yet to come?

11 Jun

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By Andrew Baxter

I kid you not; someone called me a “glory hunter” a couple of weeks ago, for following my beloved Bradford City to Wembley. How times have changed!

Being 17-years-old, I only vaguely remember the “glory years” of Molineux 1999 and the Premiership era. My first ever City game was Aston Villa at home, on 3 February, 2001. I was just five years old, so my recollections are sparse at best. Although I can’t remember much about the game, I have been reliably informed that season that City lost 3-0. Typical, you might say! 11 years on, I was sat in nearly the exact same seat to see the Bradford City crop of 2013 take on Aston Villa in the League Cup semi final.

It was during that Villa game that I realised how much the club had changed in the 11 years I have been going to see them. I’ve seen three relegations, two administrations, nine managers and numerous defeats, in exotic locations such as Macclesfield and Accrington. My generation is one which has mainly associated City with decline (we almost went out of the Football League altogether last season!) with defeats, and general negativity.

I’ve had several taunts of “why support Bradford? They never win!”, but in my view, that’s not the point of supporting a team. I could never gain as much satisfaction from watching Manchester United pick up another trophy than I did when Garry Thompson scored “that” goal against Arsenal.

But this season has showed a complete reversal of the fortunes of the club. Gone are the dull, dreary home defeats against footballing giants such as Stockport and Barnet, these have been replaced by demolitions of teams, even some at the very top, to the stage where James Hanson (who used to work in the Co-op, as the song goes) outplayed Per Mertesacker (two World Cup semi-finals, and a Euro 2008 runner’s up medal). Gary Jones (a 36-year-old from Birkenhead) outclassing Santi Cazorla (World Cup and European Championship winner). It is the stuff that dreams are made of!

My Dad used to (and still does) tell me of cup runs of the past – Southampton at home, Everton away – but these are merely a selection of YouTube clips to a youngster like me. This season will live long in the memory, and could have long-term benefits for the club in general.

Apart from the obvious financial rewards for the club, the cup run has inspired the next generation of youngsters to support Bradford, rather than one of the “big” teams, like Chelsea. This is evident from the 31,000 we took to Wembley for the League Cup final (and the 25,000 we took again for the play off final). This can only be good for the club, as perhaps these youngsters could persuade their friends and families to come watch The Bantams in action.

Another possible positive is the amount of under-16s playing football in the region, as a result of City’s rise and success this season. More children supporting the club and playing regularly surely will result in a greater chance of a hidden gem being unearthed. The Bradford Schools’ under-15 side won the National Schools Cup the other week. And, with five of the team in the Bradford City youth system, this can only be beneficial for the club.

With more children playing regularly, comes more talent, and a possible chance of a future first-team player that supports the club through and through.

It has been proven before that success for Bradford can provide future positives for the club. For example, after the Premiership years, youngsters like Clayton Donaldson (who we released, incidentally, but has still forged a successful career) and Luke O’Brien have come through the youth system.

Hopefully in five years’ time there will be another crop of promising youngsters proudly wearing the claret and amber of Bradford City. And if this is the case, then (as Frank Sinatra sang), the best is yet to come!

Andrew Baxter’s own blog, The Field of Play, can be found here.

Andrew Davies extends Bradford City stay after finding stability

8 Jun

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By Jason McKeown

For a long time it seemed as though the relationship between Andrew Davies and Bradford City was one of short-term convenience that could never last.

Signed on loan from Stoke City in September 2011, the 27-year-old was reportedly earning £15,000 a week yet had made just two appearances in three seasons for the Premier League outfit. With his lucrative Potteries’ contract due to expire at the end of the 2011/12 campaign, Davies rocked up at Valley Parade seemingly to place himself in the shop window for bigger and better things.

He quickly showed himself to be far, far too good for the humble surroundings of League Two. Not surprising given that reputed wage package that we could never hope to match. So we had a player we could not afford normally, looking to impress potential suitors by impressing with us. Very convenient.

Yet almost two years on, Davies remains a key part of City’s plans and – a year after agreeing a one-year permanent deal – has this week committed for a further two years. He will be 30-years-old by the time his freshly signed contract expires. These are the peak years of his professional career, and he is choosing to spend them in West Yorkshire.

The reasons for doing so are numerous. The struggling League Two outfit that Davies first joined has progressed into one that many are talking up as being capable of being promoted to the Championship next season. That appears to be Davies’ natural level and, although he has talked of receiving offers to move this summer, it is doubtful that he would have attracted interest beyond a League One outfit. Any transfer move now would probably have been sideways.

And, more importantly, Davies’ unsettled career may have emphasised the virtues of the stability offered at Bradford City. This is Davies’ 11th different club, after numerous short-term loan moves fizzled out and he struggled to make the first team of his two previous parent clubs – Middlesbrough and Stoke. When available, Davies has been Phil Parkinson’s first choice. The risk of moving on would be a discontinuation of that. He has spent far too much of his career sitting on various substitute benches.

So a short-term relationship of convenience has grown into one where both parties are willing to make a more serious commitment. And, perhaps for the first time, City can look at Davies as not someone far too good to be here, always destined to depart sooner than later, but as part of the furniture.

As such, there will now be even greater demands and responsibility entrusted upon him. Since signing on loan during the early days of Parkinson’s reign, Davies has appeared in only 63 of the 106 games City have subsequently played. Four red cards (three in his first season) have been a contributory factor to this lack of game time, as was a bad injury picked up at Burton Albion last October which ruled him out for three-and-a-half-months. This robbed Davies of any hope of being considered for player of the season, despite the fact he barely put a foot wrong when he did play.

Such lack of availability may have been unavoidable at times (two of the four red cards were highly questionable, in my view), but City need Davies’ appearance record to improve over the duration of his new contract. Evidently the best centre back City have had since David Wetherall, Davies is the next Bradford City captain in waiting. He will also be entrusted with helping to develop the promising young centre half Carl McHugh (who Parkinson is a big fan of).

In relationship terms, City and Davies have moved on from a few tentative dates and updating their Facebook statuses so they say ‘in a relationship’, to moving in together. A relationship of convenience could now develop into a full blown, happy marriage that lasts for many years.

Here’s hoping.

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