In the final part of Width of a Post’s mini-series celebrating Dean Windass the player – parts one and two here – Tim Roche shares his personal memories of how Deano eventually became a Bradford City legend.
When Dean Windass first joined Bradford City in March 1999, I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled. At that time City were playing the best football I had seen during my years as a fan and I worried that any new signings could upset the balance and sprit of our promotion-chasing team. Despite his impressive goals tally for relegation-bound Oxford United, I couldn’t really see where he would fit into our team.
Even after an impressive brace in a 2-0 win at Bury in his first month at the club, I still really hadn’t been won over by him. I didn’t believe he brought anything extra to the team and I certainly didn’t feel he would cut it should we be promoted to the Premier League. He sank even lower in my estimations following his missed penalty in the crushing defeat by Huddersfield Town. I was sure we had blown our promotion chance that day and I blamed Windass as much as anybody.
At the final whistle on that unforgettable afternoon at Molineux, Windass threw himself into the celebrations and from his on-pitch interview it was clear he was overjoyed at the prospect at playing in the Premier League. While part of me thought he didn’t deserve the adulation as much as the players who had been there all season, I couldn’t argue with the statistics; his three goals in the closing weeks had helped us over the finish line.
During the close-season Windass forsook a holiday in order to get himself fit for the rigours of the Premier League. While his attitude was impressive, I still wasn’t sure about him in the early weeks of the season. I felt he often tried too hard to play a complicated ball when something simple would do. I was convinced he would be out of the Valley Parade door before long and Paul Jewell would bring in a ‘Premier League’ replacement.
However, during that season something clicked with Windass and Bradford City. He put together a string of impressive performances and became renowned for his battling qualities. He won over the Valley Parade crowd, myself included. By the time he scored a first half hat-trick in the 4-4 draw with Derby, he was up there with Stuart McCall and Jamie Lawrence as my favourite City players of that era.
I don’t think there has been any player in my two decades of watching City who has managed to change my opinion to such a degree. After being an integral part of the ‘Great Escape’ Windass continued to impress in the 2000-2001 season, despite high profile signings such as Benito Carbone and David Hopkin threatening his place in the team. He would play wherever he was asked to, often more effective from midfield.
I was gutted when he was sold to Middlesbrough in March of 2001, although I could understand exactly why he moved on. City were sinking fast under the questionable management of Jim Jefferies, and Deano was by now an established Premier League footballer. When he returned to Valley Parade as a Middlesbrough player that May it felt strange seeing him play for the opposition, especially as it was our last home game in the top flight. It was clear he was already making an impression on the fans at The Riverside; after the game one of their travelling supporters in Forster Square proudly showed me the shirt he had taken off Deano’s back following their good-natured pitch invasion. I was incredibly jealous!
I was excited when Windass returned to City in 2003, however I didn’t believe he could make such an impression for a second time. Especially following his goal-celebration antics while playing for Sheffield United in their 5-0 victory at Valley Parade a year earlier!
How wrong I was. A further 142 appearances and 60 goals later, Deano had well and truly been carved into Bradford City folklore. Despite being subject of incredible bids from Paul Jewell at Wigan, Dean opted to stay with the Bantams which endeared him to me even more. The way he left still rankles to this day and, although I understand there were financial reasons from City’s point of view involved, I believe we would have avoided relegation to League Two with Deano still in the side.
I was delighted to see him score that incredible goal for Hull City at Wembley as I knew just how much that would have meant to him. Seeing him back in the Premier League held mixed feelings for me; I was pleased for Deano to be back amongst the elite, playing for his hometown team – but slightly envious that it wasn’t with us.
A couple of months ago I was driving home from Bramall Lane following our penalty shootout win over Sheffield United in the JPT feeling absolutely ecstatic about what I had just witnessed. I pulled up at a junction and happened to glance across to the driver of car next to me. It was Dean Windass.
Still on a high from the evening I wound down my window and shouted ‘Deano!’ He gave a smile and a wave and drove off. Afterwards, I was thinking how much he would have loved to have been in the City team that night as he thrived on pressure situations such as the shootout we just witnessed. Little did I know that he missed playing football so much it had driven him into a deep depression which could have had dire consequences.
I was incredibly saddened to read the newspaper interview revealing Dean’s problems, however I was also relieved that he had shown the courage to speak out and get help. I sincerely hope he gets better soon and we primarily remember Dean Windass as the Bradford City legend he is.