By Jason McKeown
The phone inside Hamilton Bower estate agents rings every five minutes, keeping one of the joint owners – Mark Bower – occupied as he juggles queries about house viewings, surveys and letting rates.
This is business as usual, and you’re left wondering how many Bradford City fans unassumingly call the Shipley-based business and are confused by the familiarity of the voice from the person who answers. Is that really Mark Bower? The guy who wore claret and amber for over 10 years? Who we crowned our Player of the Year in 2004/05?
Jason McKeown went to visit Mark on Wednesday, after recently swapping emails with him about City matters. Bower had discovered Width of a Post after we wrote an article about him, and it turned out he used to enjoy boyfrombrazil.co.uk too. But then Mark Bower is no ordinary Bradford City player, and his association with Valley Parade began long before his first team debut in 1998. When the current Guiseley player eventually hangs up his boots, he’ll also be joining the rest of us in growing old at Valley Parade.
Only he will have a few more interesting stories to tell the grandchildren…
WOAP: Tell us about your background – how did you come to join Bradford City and did you grow up supporting the club?
When I first started going to watch Bradford, I think I was about seven-years-old. I’m sure it was against Brighton, and we either won 2-0 or 2-1. I’ve got vague memories of the day. But then started going more often the next season, which was 1987/88 and the season we got in the play offs. McCall, Hendrie, etc. That kind of spoilt me really – I was expecting that standard from City from then on!
It became a case of going to every home game. I didn’t go to many away games, but every other Saturday I went down and watched from the Midland Road Stand. I was also in the Junior Bantams.
From that point on, playing for Bradford City was the only thing I ever wanted to do. So I first started training with the club from 12-years-old. We never really had any matches, so I also went and played for Queensbury and Bradford Boys on a Saturday. Back then there was no funding for a youth set up at City, and it seemed like a lot of the best lads in the area were going to Oldham – who were a Premier League team then – Everton, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday.
It was only when I got to 15 that I started to play proper for City, as a school boy and then YTS. Then at 16, I joined the club full time just after the Wembley game.
WOAP: I was at Carrow Road in April 1998 when you made your debut at 18. What are your memories of the occasion?
Yeah I remember that I was sub, alongside Paul Bolland and Mark Prudhoe. There was an injury in the first half and Paul Bolland came on, and then early in the second half Wayne Jacobs went down injured – and I remember thinking ‘Is he going to put me on or Mark Prudhoe?!’.
Paul Jewell put me on at left back. I think we were 3-0 up at the time and we ended up winning 3-2, but I don’t think I was to blame for any of the goals! It was an amazing experience, considering I was used to either playing reserve games at an empty stadium or junior games on a Saturday morning. There was probably about 20,000 people at Carrow Road that day, and they had the likes of Craig Bellamy and Darren Eadie playing for them.
It was very special. I will never forget that day.
WOAP: It was a difficult time to come in the team, the end of that season, as results weren’t great, but you made a couple of further appearances…
When Paul Jewell first took over, a lot of players left and there was no money being invested into the team really. I remember making my full debut a week after at Bury, on an Easter Monday – left back again – and we got beat 2-0, quite comfortably really. Then we actually had a Northern Intermediary Cup Final against Leeds on the Monday, and I played in that but got injured – so I missed a couple of weeks when I might have been involved in the first team as well. I came on as sub for the last game against Portsmouth.
It gave me a taste and I was keen to push on. I signed a pro contract that summer. I was joining in with the first team squad quite a lot and I was looking forward to the next season. I don’t know if that’s fortunate or unfortunate for me, but that’s the point where all the money started getting spent, and it was obvious I wasn’t going to be involved too much for the foreseeable future.
WOAP: What are your memories of the promotion season?
I think I was sub a couple of times through that season but never actually got on. I did travel on away games a lot as part of the 18-man squad, but I was mainly playing in the youth team/reserve team still.
But just being a part of the roller coaster of emotions was brilliant. You felt almost as if they were destined to do it. I was watching it every week from the stands and then I was in the changing rooms and being part of the squad. I felt properly involved. I couldn’t believe I was actually there being a part of it and it was special being around players I had watched from the stands, like Stuart McCall, Wayne Jacobs, people like that. It was fantastic.
WOTP: When City had two years in the Premiership, you had two loan spells at York. How did this help your career?
The first Premiership season Paul Jewell wouldn’t let me go anywhere. At the start of the season I could have gone off to a couple of places. But I think it was better for me to stay and be around some of the players that were there, great pros like David Wetherall.
Then I went out to York in February of the first season. It was a real learning curve. The bottom tier which City find themselves in now. In that league there were some big old tough centre forwards and I think it stood me in good stead.
The year after Chris Hutchings wouldn’t let me go on loan, but then Jim Jefferies came in and, before he’d even seen me kick a ball, he’d let me go on loan back to York for the rest of that season. I probably played about 40 games for York altogether and it was definitely beneficial for me. It was what I needed at that time.
WOAP: Did you fear that you might never make it at City?
Yeah, it was funny because they’re in the Premier League and stayed up the first year and I finished the season at York thinking that I might be staying there full time, because York had said they’d like me to stay there. But Paul Jewell said no and signed me on a two-year contract. Then he left and Chris Hutchings took over. He was my youth team manager and said he wanted me to push on and be involved.
I think deep down I knew that I was never going to get a game in the Premier League unless silly things happened like lots of injuries. But as a young lad, playing for your home town team on your doorstep, getting paid for training, and with these players that were coming in, it was fantastic.
WOAP: Back in Division One, you finally got to become a regular. I think that it was Norwich away again that was the turning point…
Yeah I think I came on in the Norwich game when someone got injured, I think it was Peter Atherton. Iwan Roberts was playing up front for Norwich at the time, so Jim Jefferies decided he wanted more presence at the back and slotted big Andy Tod into defence. I went and played up front, and ended up scoring and setting one up for Robbie Blake!
But it was more when Jim Jefferies left and Nicky Law took over and gave me a chance that I then became a regular, and I think I played 15 games between then and the end of the season. And I played quite well and was quite pleased how it went for me. That was the first time I played a proper spell of games. I remember a match at home against Crewe. We won 2-0, and just being involved in starting made you feel you’d properly contributed to a win in front of 12-13,000 fans. That always sticks in my memory.
WOAP: Would you say Nicky Law was a good manager for you?
He seemed to like me. I think he saw something in me and he would really push me and get me involved. He gave me a chance and I think on the whole – through his time, playing at Championship level – I repaid that because at the time there were some good players. The like of Robert Moleannar and Andy Myers, he was picking me in front of them. It gave you a lot of confidence.
You feel like the manager’s got faith in you. I think he did like to have a few young players in the team. Although he could very often come down very hard on youth players compared to the older players, but he did give me a chance and I will always be grateful for that.
WOAP: Then came administration. You were one of the few players they didn’t attempt to sack, but it must have been a difficult period?
I remember we’d finished the season. Geoffrey Richmond had been keen to tie me down on a new contract, although I thought it strange that he was getting involved. So I signed a three year contract and with that I thought, oh, I will treat myself to a new car. Nothing too flash, a BMW. I went on holiday and received a text message from Nicky Law saying there’s an announcement going to be made today, don’t worry it doesn’t affect you.
Then I read in the paper the next day that Bradford City had sacked all their players. Like I said, Nicky had stated don’t worry it doesn’t affect you. The club had not sacked myself, Michael Standing, Lewis Emanuel and Tom Kearney. So we went back for pre-season training and eventually all the sacked players came back to train as well. But of course I had this new car. And I thought the players are going to give me loads of stick: they’ve not been paid for over two months, and I’m turning up in a new car! I hid it around the corner for a few weeks, but in the end I got found out and I got some real stick off the old pros.
But yeah that was a horrible time. I remember a pre-season friendly at Hull with just the lads that were signed and a couple of trialists. And on the bus there was this feeling was that this was going to be the last game that Bradford City was going to play. It was a strange, strange game to play in and a strange, strange feeling coming back. But the club going under was genuinely what people thought was going to happen.
Thankfully it wasn’t the end and we actually did quite well the following season. It was certainly one of my best seasons. We comfortably stayed up when a lot of people had written us off. I really did enjoy that season. A lot of people did take wage referrals. I remember, relatively, I wasn’t earning much compared to the other players but I was being paid half of my money. It was a horrible time. Especially when I’d taken on some financial commitments. But everyone stuck together and it probably did help us the siege mentality thing.
Even though it was a difficult season, I did enjoy it.
WOAP: Typically that season you would play alongside Robert Moleannar or Andy Myers, with Wetherall injured. What were those two like to play with?
I played with Moleannar a few times, but I don’t think we were really that compatible. I liked Rob and I think he was a good player, but I think that I’ve proven over my career that I play better alongside certain centre backs compared to others. I never struck up a great understanding with Rob, but I think we did okay together and we did get some good results.
Andy Myers was another one who was good to play with. A very steady player really, not too spectacular, but not many wingers got past him. He gave you a presence at set pieces too.
They were both good players who had both played at a higher level, and I learned a lot from them.
WOAP: The year after Jason Gavin came in and you were back up. As supporters this was mystifying…
At the start of that season I got quite a bad ankle injury in a friendly against Aberdeen, which kept me out until October. Although I don’t think I was going to be first choice for that season anyway.
When I came back fit, I played in Nicky Law’s last three games, and then after that he was sacked and Bryan Robson arrived. And I just don’t think I was Bryan Robson’s cup of tea! So that was basically a written off season for me. Bryan had worked with Jason Gavin before and David Wetherall was his usual consistent self, so they were always the first choice and I was back up.
That was a difficult season with the budget being slashed, and I don’t think we stood much chance of staying up. So I’d gladly forget about that one. But it ended with administration again. With that one, when we went into administration, Bryan Robson kind of disappeared really and Colin Todd came to the fore. That summer he was speaking to players even though he’d not been appointed as manager and before anything had been said about Bryan Robson.
At that point I could have gone, I had a few offers from lower down. Bristol Rovers were dead keen and they put an offer on the table which I rejected. Because I didn’t want to leave, I had a contract for another year and there was still some good players that were left. The Bristol Rovers manager though I was mad turning it down and staying, he kept saying how Bradford was going bust. But I just couldn’t bring myself to leave at that point.
WOAP: It was well worth staying in the end, because you came back so gloriously in 2004/05, winning player of the season. What are your memories of that season?
I don’t know if Colin would have started the season with me and Wethers, but this time Jason Gavin got injured in pre-season. And so I started the season, where we played Hartlepool and lost 2-1, but I played well. And from that I just seemed to get on a roll in terms of playing regularly and feeling confident, striking up a good partnership with Wethers. It’s probably the best football I’ve played in my career, that season.
At the time I think everyone was looking for us to get promoted again, and I thought that I could be a part of that and then play at the next level again, because I felt confident in what I was doing and how I was playing.
It was a really enjoyable season. A lot of people in that team that year I still speak to – Wetherall, Peter Atherton, Wayne Jacobs, and Steve Schumacher, who I got on really well with.
WOAP: What was Colin Todd like to work under? He seemed to get you playing the best football of your career…
To be honest, I don’t think he did anything special. He wasn’t someone who coached you, he’d just manage. But I think that I knew that, with Colin, once I had got in the team and shown what I could do he had confidence in me and just left me to do my job.
I think with some managers, you feel that if you make one mistake they will not forget about it. But with Colin I knew that, if I made a mistake, but bounced back from it and put it behind me, I’d be forgiven. And I think that probably brought the best out of me really. He put a lot of trust in me, and I think I repaid him to a decent extent.
I know myself when I have done well. I don’t need someone to big me up and tell me how well I have done. Equally I don’t need someone to tell me how rubbish I had played. I’m honest in myself and I know how I’ve done and what I need to improve.
Part two of our interview with Mark Bower will be published shortly, including his thoughts on playing with David Wetherall, his relationship with Stuart McCall and his career post-City.