By John Wade
Supporting Bradford City for the past 65 years has not been a happy life. There have been a few ups, such as cup-tie wins in the late 1950s and early 1960s, promotions, watching Stuart McCall, McCole, Waddle and Beagrie, the early Richmond years, the Premier League, and NOW THIS. But the rest of the lifetime has been misery, sadness, let-downs and disappointments.
I know that when your dad takes you, at the age of seven, to watch his team, you are hooked for life. You cannot do anything about it. This happened to me. You often try to break the shackles, but you can’t. I know the game was in the 1947/8 season, and think it was against Chester. But my first real memory is of the famous game against Hull City in 1948/9. 27,000+ packed inside Valley Parade. We stood where “Norman” Corner now is, and I think I was put on a crush barrier so I could see. City, who finished bottom of the 3rd Division North that season, won 4-2 against a Hull side who lost only once away from home. Raich Carter was the Hull Player-Manager, and my dad said he was one of the greats.
After that initial introduction, there is really nothing you can do about it. You support that club, even if you live far away and never watch them. I knew a chap in Australia in 1970 who got up at 5am every Sunday morning to hear Celtic’s result, because he couldn’t bear to wait.
I have, in my life, only twice gone to sleep at night after a City match without knowing the result. I have tried to stop supporting them, as when they sold McCole, Stokes, McCall, sacked Dolan and Todd, went into administration…but I cannot. I always come back for more. Is this season worth the years of pain? Maybe the joy of this cup run makes up for all that has gone before…
We saw most home matches until I went to University in 1960, and my dad’s failing health meant he rarely went. There were, in truth, not many high points, and the club seemed never to have any ambition, selling any player who attracted attention. The names of Derek Hawksworth, John McCole, Derek Stokes, Rodney Green and Bronco Layne come to mind.
There was hope of better things when Peter Jackson became manager in the late 1950s, taking over from the late Ivor Powell. Powell, I remember, looked a class footballer even at the end of his career, but he had no support. Jackson introduced his twins, Peter and David, who played as amateurs, not being paid but having another job and training part-time. They were never popular with the fans, but I always thought they were cultured players. I assume the unpopularity was because they were the boss’s sons.
City always had a good defence in those days. Smith, Whyte (then Tommy Flockett), Mulholland, Williamson, Lawlor, Robb and Peter Jackson (no connection with the recent manager). Mulholland was an amazing footballer, about 300 appearances, yet never scored, or even looked like scoring a goal. I also must mention, although he played much later, Ces Podd, who, like Wayne Jacobs, is a credit not just to football but to the whole human race.
Towards the end of the 1950s, City signed John McCole from, I think, Falkirk. He would be on my all-time City player list. Yet, typically, we read that he could have been signed the year before, and might have made the difference between promotion and a near-miss. Shades of 1987/8! My dad always said that the directors had no ambition, and did not want promotion. As soon as a decent offer came in, McCole was sold. Sadly, although he returned to City later, his was a wasted career, and I think he died very young. His record was exceptional, scoring 32 in 42 games for City, 53 in 85 for Leeds.
We supported City, and watched Burnley and Huddersfield Town, both top division clubs, very often. My dad passed on to me his dislike of Bradford Park Avenue and Leeds United. My dad always supported City, and had certainly been taken by his father before 1914, it being easy to get to Valley Parade from Silsden by train. My dad watched City in the promotion year of 1928/9, and said that the promotion was gained because of the signing of Tommy Cairns, an ex Scottish international, who was far too good for the 3rd Division. His hero was Dickie Bond, who missed the cup win in 1911 due to suspension.
I remember the “derbies” with Avenue in the 1950s. There were always crowds about 20,000, and the home team seemed to win most often. There was no crowd trouble at all, the fans mingling, and – this is true – one policeman on each corner of the ground.
City’s ground in the 1950s was dreadful. There were no toilets on the Kop or Midland Road, and people actually “went” up against the boundary wall. The teams used to change in a house at the bottom of Burlington Terrace, and run out through a tunnel on the corner.
In the late 1950s I went to a lot of away matches with a group including David Markham. Again, there was no crowd segregation, and we just stood where we wanted. City always took a big following to the northern away matches.
My greatest memories are of the great cup runs of 1958/9 and 1959/60. They weren’t a bad 3rd Division team, and played very well in the cup in each season. The win at Brighton in 1959, third round, must have been brilliant. Brighton were in the league above, Smith the goalkeeper was injured very early on, there were in those days no substitutes, and the inimitable McCole went in goal. The ten men won 2-0. It was said that McCole could actually have played as a goalkeeper, and I think he did the same at Millwall when he later returned to City.
The fourth round was at Preston, who then were very high in the top division. We went, and the packed crowd was about 35,000. City went two down, equalised, then lost in the last minute, when Currie the full-back slipped, allowing a corner from which they scored. The pitch was icy, and I think Smith also slipped.
McCole scored six in four games, including Brighton, so City sold him.
The next year, with Derek Stokes scoring 10 in eight cup-ties, City did even better. They beat Everton of the top division 3-0 in the third round. Again, I remember it well. They then beat Bournemouth 3-1 on a snow-covered Valley Parade, with Stokes scoring from about 25 yards, in snow with the leather ball. Burnley won the title that year, and I, living in Silsden, watched them a lot. They were a superb side, led by the great James McIlroy, who must have been one of the best British players of all time, but City matched them on a mud-bath. City went two up, and Burnley equalised deep into added time. I will always swear that the referee added too much time, and that the equaliser was from a wrongly-awarded free-kick. City were robbed and deserved to win.
Unlike at Villa Park, lightning did not strike twice, and we were thrashed 5-0 in the replay. This game was memorable for the crowd, over 52,000, and many failed, due to traffic, to even reach Burnley. It was said that the traffic queue reached as far back as Saltaire roundabout. Probably an exaggeration. We got there by going round the back of Skipton.
After that, Stokes was quickly sold, and the doldrums of the 1960s began. Notable players were Rodney Green and the infamous Bronco Layne, both sold.
I moved to London, then Australia. When in London, I watched them at grounds such as Aldershot, Brighton, Orient, Brentford and in a replay at Tottenham in 1970. City had been unlucky to draw at home, but were hammered at White Hart Lane. Since returning north in 1974, I have watched regularly, introducing my sons and grandsons to them.
Probably, getting your family to support a football team is cruel, because you are introducing them to a life of misery. But I did it, just as my dad did it to me. We used to take a small stool so my sons, and before that my nephew, could see.
The 1976 cup run was memorable, as City were such a poor team. I remember a wonder goal from Don Hutchins, which set up a win over Tooting. I did not see the game at Norwich, but a fan told me that City were dead lucky, attacking twice and scoring two. One amusing thing about the game was that it was postponed due to ‘flu in the City team. Norwich’s big mouth manager, John Bond, said teams like City should not be in the Cup. We had the last laugh. The quarter-final against Southampton was a let-down, as City were outplayed, yet the winner came from a free-kick move which was soon afterwards outlawed.
Supporting City has not been a happy story, and the fire comes into any story of a City fan. I was not there, because I was playing cricket. Like all City fans, I object to people calling them “Bradford” – they are not, they are “City”, and it was pleasing to hear Martin Tyler of Sky Sports reminding viewers of that. I am proud of the fact that the memory of the 56 never dies, and the 56 empty seats are a wonderful tribute.
I have to say that I resented the missed opportunities of the 1950s, because the directors could, I think, have done better, and I think we were let down. I do not really resent Richmond, probably because he gave us the best four seasons of my life. I have always thought that the relentless sneering at City in the Premier League, particularly from Sky and Rodney Marsh, got to Richmond, and he gambled recklessly. We were not a bad team in that second season, as witness the outplaying of Chelsea in the second game. I always feel a better manager than Jim Jefferies could have saved us.
One memory is the Liverpool match. I had to be in Zurich that weekend, and had to ring a friend to find out the result. He said he “thought” City had won, so I had to endure 15 minutes of misery before knowing for certain. Robert worked in Zurich, and, amazing as it may seem, he was playing cricket that afternoon. Never has a cricketer concentrated less on a game. Our thoughts were at Valley Parade. We were not absolutely certain of the results until Robert rang a friend in Southampton to confirm the scores. Swiss people must have been amazed to see two men jumping up and down and hugging each other at an unimportant point of a cricket match!
You cannot talk about City without mentioning Bobby Campbell. Even his initials were right. No one could ever understand why, but he was simply a talisman, a good-luck charm. Of course, City sold him.
Obviously, Richmond made terrible mistakes, and must be severely criticised. I also believe the failure to strengthen in the 1987/8 season was a bad mistake, and the sacking of Colin Todd in 2007 even worse. The latter, I believe, led directly to a relegation which Todd would have avoided.
My greatest game, apart from three this season, was not Liverpool or even Burnley in 1960, but the defeat of Charlton in 1997. City had to win their last two games to stay in Division One (now the Championship). Charlton, on the night that Tony Blair swept to power, had nothing to play for, but played as if their lives depended on it. City scored, Charlton attacked incessantly, but could not score. It was desperate, but we hung on, and beat QPR in the last match the following Sunday.
Funnily enough, one of the happiest games was a pre-season friendly at Harrogate Town just after administration. I never thought City would ever play again, but the Rhodes family and the supporters saved us. So I went to watch. City won, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they played. David Markham was there, Wayne Jacobs played, it was a nice evening, there were a lot of City fans, and it was really emotional.
The worst game was the penultimate one in 1964, at home to Workington, when victory in the last two games would have put us in Division Three. In front of 17,000+, City played awful and lost 2-0.That was very sad, as Rodney Green scored 39 goals that season. He was, of course, sold after the season.
Stanley Matthews played at Valley Parade in a testimonial match in the early 1950s, and I saw that as I saw the first league game under floodlights against, I think, Mansfield. My all-time City favourites have been McCole, McCall (obviously the number one), Beagrie, Waddle, Carbone. The worst players – no, I won’t go there. Probably, Waddle was City’s best player since the Second War.
Apart from Matthews, a great memory was watching David Beckham torment City on the Midland Road End. I hate losing, but to actually see one of the all-time greats at Valley Parade was an abiding memory.
I shall leave it to others to write about the most recent past, but will simply say that the Villa result last month was the highlight of my football career, and one of the greatest moments of my life. Watching on television was torture, but the pleasure of the week that followed was without compare.
Wembley will be an emotional experience, and I shall, I think, be one of many City supporters who may shed the odd tear. Anyone who decries what has happened, or mocks the small club, does not understand football, does not understand sport, indeed, does not understand life. This means more to a City fan than winning European Cups and Premierships means to the foreign billionaire-backed “big clubs”.
Even at my advanced age, I still worry about City, am sad when they lose, and, when games are called off, Saturday is empty. Last season really got to me, because I became sure that we would go down to the Conference. Reprieved murderers must have understood the feelings when we won at Northampton. This season promised to be comfortable: mid-table, no stress. And NOW THIS!
Wembley tomorrow will be the absolute tops, the culmination of 65 mainly unhappy years supporting my beloved Bradford City.
Cup Final: Width of a Post build-up
- Wembley is not just about the devoted by Jason McKeown
- City aim to emulate legend Jamie Lawrence by Jason McKeown
- My son used to work at the Co-op by Michael Hanson
- Special magazine charts City and Swans stories by Mahesh Johal
- The last time we went to Wembley by Gareth Walker
- So long as a round ball is kicked…dreaming of immortality by David Pendleton
- A fan’s guide to Wembley by Mark Danylczuk
- The Swansea City perspective by Mark Scully
- Doing everything we can by Rob Craven
- Phil Parkinson’s crowning moment by Luke Lockwood
- Re-defining Bradford City’s true identity by Jason McKeown