By Jason McKeown
Mark Stewart has today had his contract terminated by Bradford City following an unsuccessful spell at Valley Parade.
The 23-year-old striker – signed from Falkirk last summer alongside Chris Mitchell and Jack Compton – made 15 appearances for the Bantams but failed to find the net. He had scored 17 goals for the Scottish Division One club the year before – and even allowing for a difficult 2011/12 campaign, he has netted 30 career goals from 127 appearances (one in four).
Stewart arrived with big expectations and talk from then-manager Peter Jackson of him being one of the division’s top scorers, but despite plenty of effort and endeavour, during the early season matches he rarely looked like troubling the opposition goalkeeper. By the time Phil Parkinson was installed as manager, new arrivals pushed Stewart onto the fringes and he never got back into contention.
Last September I had the pleasure of speaking with Parkinson for 15 minutes on the training ground, and asked him specifically about Stewart’s prospects. The City manager, who spoke very highly of Ross Hannah that day, said he liked Stewart and admired his workrate, but so far his best work came outside the box and he needed to be more of a goal threat.
That was a very fair summary, and has echoes of Danny Cadamarteri and Jake Speight (but Stewart produced far greater effort). No one could fault how hard Stewart tried in claret and amber; but for a team that was struggling for goals, more was needed from the centre forwards. In the end Stewart was lined up more as a wide player, before injury disrupted his first team chances and he ended up finishing the campaign back in Scotland, at Hamilton.
In the fast revolving door at Valley Parade that increased in speed last season, Stewart probably won’t live long in the memory beyond his outstanding solo run and assist that helped Compton give City the lead at Leeds in the Carling Cup. However, when he was on the field there was little doubting how much we supporters appreciated his efforts. “Stewart, Stewart” was a regular chant during the first three months of the season; more prolific forwards than Stewart have received no such positive backing.
It will be interesting to see where he ends up and what sort of career he goes on to enjoy. He can leave with his head held high as a victim of circumstances, with the question over how good he really is still to be answered.