By Jason McKeown
Following part one, our interview with Mark Bower on his career continues by reflecting on the 2005-2012 period.
WOAP: What was David Wetherall like to play with? He must have been a big influence on your career…
Massive really, Wethers is probably the one stand out player from my career. We were quite different, I guess. He was the big domineering player, an old-fashioned centre half really. I would sweep up around him.
I think that we just complemented each other really well. I think that we both knew where the other person would be, who should be going for the ball, that kind of thing. We communicated well together, held the line and pushed reasonably well up the pitch; managing to catch people offside quite a lot!
It was just communication, a good understanding. We had this thing where we would just look at each other, and that would mean we were staying, and we had another look for dropping off. And it worked. It’s stuff that doesn’t really get seen by supporters, but it certainly helped the team through that time.
Wetherall is certainly the biggest influence and most enjoyable partner of my career.
WOAP: Does it take time to build up that level of understanding?
A little bit, yes. But I think a lot of it just clicks. Your personalities maybe, and if the qualities you’ve got as players are compatible. It certainly helped that I was friends and close to him off the pitch.
WOAP: A year later things were going wrong at City and Wetherall ended up being made caretaker and you captain. That must have been an honour, but what a difficult time. Why do you think the club were relegated that season?
That season is my biggest regret as a player. The way we started that season off, with the likes of Wethers in the team, Dean Windass up front, Jermaine Johnson tearing down the wing, Nathan Doyle and Lee Holmes playing really well. That was the first time that I looked at a team that I was playing in and thought that ‘we can get promoted this year’.
To end it relegated. You just never would have believed it. Obviously things happened where we lost players for whatever reason, Colin went and Wethers took over. At the start of the season I thought I was playing some of my best ever football, but by the end of the season I was probably playing the worst football of my career. It ended up with me scoring the own goal at Chesterfield, which was the final nail in the relegation coffin. It was devastating, especially from being on such a high earlier in the season.
People say that if Colin had of stayed we might have stayed up, but the fact was we had some good players leave from under our feet.
WOAP: As players in the dressing room, what was it like seeing the likes of Windass and Johnson depart?
It was disappointing, but as footballers you see people coming and going all of the time. Dean Windass told us all every day for about three years that he was off to Hull! When it finally happened it was a real shock, because Deano was a massive player for us. For me someone you could look for when you had the ball who would always make himself available and hold it up. Really clever player, probably the cleverest footballer I’ve ever played with. And he went on to prove that at Hull by getting back to the Premiership. So to lose someone like that was massive. JJ was also such an outlet for us.
It’s just football and you’ve got to deal with it, but unfortunately as a group of players we didn’t deal well enough with it at the time. But I don’t think relegation that season was down solely to one player leaving or the manager going, I just think that as players we played really poorly. That was certainly the case with me, and unfortunately that carried on into next season.
WOAP: Stuart McCall came in as manager, and we didn’t start life in League Two well. I was at Blundell Park in 2007 when you played in goal and Matt Clarke came in and played really well alongside Wetherall. I always thought your willingness to go in goal that day ultimately counted against you…
Everyone was really buzzing when Stuart came in. They’d also done the season ticket deal for the first time that year, and we were expecting big crowds. As for me and Stuart, I never fell out with him once, always got on really well with him and have done since. But I just thought that he wasn’t really a fan of me as a player. I sensed that early on.
So I could feel (losing my place) coming, but I also wasn’t playing very well either. At that point I should have stood up and made it impossible for him to leave me out, but I didn’t do that. So he probably quite rightly left me out.
I thought I’d have to do something pretty special to get my place back, but I knew that the writing was probably on the wall from that point, even though I had another year left on my contract. I did play a few games towards the end of that season, including against Morecambe at home when it was 10 years since I made my debut. Stuart made me captain that day, and that was a special day that I will always be grateful to Stuart for.
WOAP: A year later you were loaned to Luton Town. What was this period of your career like?
I remember getting a phone call from Stuart on the Monday after we’d played Luton, to say that he was bringing in a left back/defender in (Zesh Rehman). We had a game at Bury on the Tuesday, and Stuart said you’re probably not going to make the bench for it. I’d spent all that season sat on the bench waiting for an opportunity to play football again, so I ended up at Luton on loan.
I was living in a hotel down there, on my own, away from family for about three months. I enjoyed it, but I did find that – compared to playing for City – when we won it didn’t feel as good, and when we lost it didn’t feel as bad. It was strange to be playing for a team I didn’t support.
But I did enjoy it. We had a good side and started playing well, although we were stuck at the bottom because of the 30 points deduction. I played quite well for them, and I was aware back at City they were shipping a few goals and struggling, so I was hoping that I would get that shout to come back. But it never happened. I only came back after Luton’s relegation was confirmed. Once they went down I told Luton I wanted to come back to Bradford. There was no point in me travelling down and being away from my family.
I was involved in a couple of our final games. I came on as sub against Rotherham, probably about 10 minutes before the end, and I knew that Stuart was bringing me on because this was to be my last ever appearance at Valley Parade. I got a really good reception that day as well. I will always remember the cheer I got when I came on. I will hold that memory dearly, because it was pretty special – and a bit unexpected as well, really.
WOAP: How did it feel to leave City?
Well I knew it was coming. I had probably been preparing for it for 18 months really. But still it was not nice when Stuart told me he couldn’t offer me another contract, and I was really disappointed. But I had to look back and think well I’ve been here for 13 years, from leaving school, and not many people have done that. I’d played a lot of games and met loads of brilliant people. Now I had to draw a line under it really.
At the time people were saying that me and Stuart had fallen out, but the honest truth is I have never once had an argument with Stuart. I just think he wasn’t my biggest fan as a player, and I didn’t play well when he was manager. So no hard feelings.
WOAP: Sadly your move to Darlington didn’t work out too well despite reuniting with Todd. From the outside it looked like a desperate situation as Darlo were in freefall…
It was a funny summer, because I’d never been in that situation before of having to find a new club. I had a few offers from clubs down South but I didn’t want to move away with my family, I wanted to stay local.
Colin Todd had got the Darlington job and said he would be in a position to offer me something. I was keen to go back and play for him. But the move didn’t materialise at first and I went to a few other places before Colin came back and offered me something concrete.
It didn’t quite work out. We were a poor team. Colin asked me to play left back at first. I played 19 games, but then injured my ankle in September on Accrington’s pitch. Colin left a couple of weeks after that. I came back from the ankle injury two months later, against Bradford up at Darlington. Steve Staunton (now manager) made me captain – I was the oldest player! I remember playing quite well, and again City fans gave me a great reception and chanted my name, which is something I will always, always remember. The Darlington lads couldn’t believe it!
We played Torquay away the next week and I did my ankle again. It needed an operation, which did me for the season. In the meantime, Steve Staunton has come and gone, and another manager came in who had never seen me play. So I was not going to stay there that summer.
WOAP: Why did you decide to move to part-time football and Halifax?
Knowing what I had gone through the previous summer, and the fact that we were setting up this Estate Agents – originally I was planning to be a silent investor – meant I felt it was the right route. I had a couple of offers from Conference clubs, to play full time, but they weren’t really something that excited me.
Then Halifax came in with an offer, which just fitted in really well with what I wanted to do with this business. I didn’t want to drop to as low a level as I did, but I guess football is not what it was and people have smaller squads these days. At another time I might have got an offer from another League Two club, but it just wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to effectively finish playing football full time and concentrate on something else.
WOAP: How have you found that adaption with FC Halifax and Guiseley?
The first thing I always say when people ask that, is that I don’t know what I used to do with my time before I had this business! You work 9-5, and a lot of days more hours than that, and then Tuesday and Thursdays you’re off to training. Then you have games at the weekend. It’s hard work, and the lads who have been playing football part time for a number of years I take my hat off to. It is a hard grind.
At the same it is enjoyable. The standard of football is decent, and there are a lot of players who have turned down full time football offers to have a part time career, as they see it as a way of earning good money and doing something else, after football. I’m really impressed with the standard of it.
I enjoy playing football. We get well looked after at Guiseley. It is a well-run little club. City were there last pre-season and saw that we had a decent side. They’re there again this pre-season, and I’m sure they will see that we have a good side this time as well.
WOAP: Why do you think the last decade has been so bad for City? Can you put your finger on why we can’t seem to get going upwards?
I don’t know. It’s really, really difficult to put your finger on. Especially in this league when you see the likes of Dagenham and Morecambe getting in the play offs on minuscule budgets. But to play in front of the Valley Parade crowd, with them behind you, for people who have been playing this level of football their careers must be fantastic for them.
But maybe that’s also part of the problem. The pressure on the players is something that maybe they can’t handle. Because everything else is in place. You get well looked after. We’ve tried every kind of manager from the first-timer in Stuart to the experience of Peter Taylor, and Phil Parkinson. If I could put my finger on it, maybe I would be the manager!
It’s hard to say, because when I was playing I never felt more under pressure at home than I did away, but I probably played nearly all my best games away. Don’t know how you can explain why we are in the position we are, getting there was probably down to the financial side meaning we couldn’t compete at a higher level. But at this level now we should be competing better certainly.
Hopefully this can be the year. We need to experience the down times to appreciate the good. So there will certainly be some appreciation going on in the next few years if they can get it right. Or maybe they will just wait until I finish football, so I can come back and watch from the stands!
WOAP: Finally, you obviously still have a big affinity for City. Do you have much contact or follow the club?
I’ve been watching City since I was seven-years-old and the last three years have been the first in my life since when I have not regularly been at Bradford City – either watching, being involved in squads or playing in matches. I have missed it. It’s strange going back now, because since 16 I was literally there every day.
I get plenty of people in the shop here that are City fans. I keep in touch with all the websites on my dinner hour and know plenty of people who go to games – so I always know what’s going on. I miss it, and I will be back watching one day; taking my little boy down to watch, to see if he’ll carry the baton on!