By Luke Lockwood, Tim Roche and Jason McKeown
Last week’s confession from Dean Windass that he is suffering from depression and has tried to kill himself twice came as a huge shock. Although there have been one or two murmurings from Bradford City fans of “get over yourself” and his family are rightly upset with him, there has been widespread sympathy and acknowledgement over just how serious an illness Windass is afflicted by. This is echoed around the football world, with figures ranging from Paul Gascoigne to Mark Lawn getting in touch with Windass to offer support.
Windass should be considered one of Bradford City’s all-time greatest players – 3rd highest ever goalscorer and all that – but the way in which he left the club in 2007 left a slightly sour taste, meaning Deano is not as widely revered as he probably deserves to be. Yet when you look back over his two spells at Valley Parade – a total of 216 appearances and 75 goals – great memories instantly come flooding back.
To help celebrate Dean Windass the player, three Width of a Post writers have got together to share their opinions on the contribution he made to Bradford City and – later this week – compile our top 10 Deano moments. We’d love to hear your views and memories too, so please do leave comments at the foot of the articles or email Widthofapost@gmail.com.
For part one of our mini-series, Luke explains how Windass became his all-time favourite City player.
Zero to hero
My father and I were fairly new converts to Valley Parade when Windass signed. As a sports reporter Dad had never really pledged his allegiance to one team as his weekends would be spent covering the side he was reporting on. However, after I broke the news to him that I had decided to support Manchester United he refused to accept my choice and eventually decided enough was enough.
One week he looked at the fixture list to see which of our local sides was at home. Living in Skipton and because, like every football fan, my father had the generic hatred for the Dark Forces at Elland Road, the choice was between Burnley who were away and Bradford at home to Wycombe Wanderers. It was the 1995/96 season, Kamara was leading the charge for promotion and I was visiting Valley Parade for the first time.
I remember my dad sitting me on one of the metal barriers in the Kop so I could see as the other men were stood on the terraces, and I watched as Bradford were hammered 4-0. You would think this would be enough to put anyone off but it had just the opposite effect. I had tasted live football and had a thirst for more.
We started attending Valley Parade more often from then. And, at the beginning of the promotion season of 1998/99, I made a deal with my dad that if City were to get promoted he would get us season tickets for the Premiership. The potential season ticket that came with promotion made the run in all the more important to me, because I was desperate to spend as much time in Valley Parade as I possibly could.
There was a lot of pressure on Dean Windass when he signed for Bradford and not just because of my season ticket was at stake! He had cost just less than one million pounds and had scored 18 goals for relegation threatened Oxford, and City manager Paul Jewell had obviously seen him as the man to help see us over the line. Windass being Windass he was never one to hide from the spotlight and – just a few games into his City career – Deano became the first Bradford player I had felt a real passionate anger towards.
We were 3-2 down to our local rivals Huddersfield and Windass missed a penalty to equalise. At that moment it didn’t matter that minutes earlier he had scored a goal that had got us back into the game, or that Nico Vaesen, who saved the penalty, shouldn’t have been on the pitch. It didn’t even matter that Deano’s brace just a couple of games before had helped us beat Bury. In my 11-year-old head, this newcomer may have just cost us promotion and cost me my season ticket. And anyway, who did he think he was deciding that he should be on penalty duty when he had only just joined?
Of course looking back now it wasn’t his fault we were 3-1 down in that game and – had he not been confident and cocksure enough to put himself forward to take that penalty, despite being the new man in town – he would not be the man who would become my hero over the next two years.
My Stuart McCall.
Ask Bradford City fans who their favourite player to wear claret and amber is and most will respond without hesitation ‘Stuart McCall’. Obviously Stuart still comes close for me, but he is only number three on my list behind Peter Beagrie and, at the top, Dean Windass.
I never experienced Stuart’s first spell at Bradford – he left for Everton the year I was born – but I remember feeling excited when he came back as I either read or heard about all the stories and memories from his first spell. I even used to watch Stuart more closely than anyone on a Saturday and tried to model the way I played football myself on his style. But that first year I had a season ticket at Valley Parade, the player I was most excited to see was Dean Windass.
He was also the first Bradford player’s name I ever got on the back of my shirt. I would never take that white away kit off and I even have photo of me on my uncle’s wedding day wearing my top hat and that kit, with my back to the camera both thumbs pointing at the name ‘Windass’. Coincidentally my uncle is a Hull fan and when Deano joined Hull years later my uncle got him to sign the Hull City white away strip for me. Deano’s message on the shirt says:
‘To Luke, There is only one City for me… The Tigers, All the best Deano’
That’s Windass, despite being a pro for 20 years he was still a fan in the truest meaning of the word, and if he hadn’t of been playing you know he would have been in the stands at Boothery Park and the KC Stadium. He was a character and there aren’t enough of them about in the media conscious, football world anymore.
Bradford City has become a real bond between my father and I. My mother often jokes about how she may as well not be at the dinner table because conversation is dominated by the Bantams. In fact tonight – due to writing this – Windass was the topic. Windass has been a huge part of the last 12 years following Bradford and it would be hard to argue that any player, other than David Wetherall, has contributed more in that time. Therefore, Windass has been a big part of the memories I share with my dad.
For my 21st birthday my dad got a photo of Windass blown up into a life sized poster, which was displayed in my final year at university opposite my bed (needless to say my girlfriend wasn’t too keen!). And just a year ago we adopted a Lakeland-Border Terrier puppy and despite our best efforts to convince my mother and sister to let us call it Windass they refused. Instead we compromised on Beagrie!
The day Windass signed for Middlesbrough I was on holiday and read it in the paper, I was 12 years old and the thought of saying goodbye to my hero was hard to take; I remember having a tear in my eye. The sadness that I felt that day was matched in equal measure by the happiness I felt on his return. I realised how so many other City fans felt when McCall returned in 98 and, although Deano didn’t inspire City back to the Promised Land like McCall, some of his best moments were still yet to come…