By Gareth Walker
When the Bantams take to the field at Wembley on Saturday, Phil Parkinson and his men will be aiming to become the first City side since 1999 to win promotion.
Having followed the club since 1991, I am fortunate enough to remember the side that won promotion to the top flight 14 years ago and the previous promotion-winning team some three years before them, in 1996.Whilst it would be wrong to try to compare the respective abilities of the individual players in these teams to those of today’s players, there are elements within the make up of the sides that are similar.
I am sure that I’m not the only one who would say that the 1998/99 team are my favourite City side from my time watching the club. They are certainly amongst the best players to have worn the City shirt in the modern era, and they were also possibly the most loveable.
The affinity that the team of 14 years ago shared with the fans is still evident today as people talk fondly of most members of that squad. Wayne Jacobs, Jamie Lawrence and Gordon Watson are key examples of this, as they interact with the fans regularly via Twitter and are often seen in attendance at City games. A couple of months ago, I was also fortunate enough to meet John ‘Tumble’ Dreyer and his affection for Bradford City shone through clearly, as we had a long chat about all things Bantams.
Meanwhile, the time and respect that this season’s players have for the fans was also evident at last week’s player of the year awards as they mingled and chatted freely and openly with supporters. James Meredith and Garry Thompson were even willing to help us out by playing a prank on fellow Width of a Post Writer, Mark Scully, that worked perfectly.
Although today’s team are yet to reach the same legend status as their 1999 peers, the League Cup run puts them well on the road to achieving that goal. And if they were to seal promotion at Wembley, it would be very plausible to imagine them being talked about in the same vein as the team of 1999, and that we will be still be looking back on their achievements 14 years from now.
The middle of the park is often described as the engine room of a football team and it is in that area that we find the captain of both the 1999 and 2013 sides. It is impossible to say any more about Stuart McCall that hasn’t already been said. The man is arguably the biggest Bradford City legend of the all, and the 1999 team were one that clearly played in his spirit.
And the same can be said about today’s players and Gary Jones. The man who we like to call magic is the closest thing that we have had to McGod since the man himself. Jones’ energy levels and spirit evidently inspires his team mates, as witnessed during countless games this season. It was hardly a surprise that Jones completed a clean sweep at last week’s awards ceremony.
On Tuesday night, Parkinson revealed that, in the summer when he spoke to Steve Parkin about signing Jones, he was told that the Magic Man is only ever happy at 5pm on a Saturday when his team have won. This has been clear in the way that he has celebrated every goal and every point this season, with his clenched fist pump and applause of the supporters. Even in pre-season this was evidently rubbing off on his team mates. I can recall Stephen Darby enthusiastically celebrating the friendly victory at Guiseley.
Speaking of Darby, he is someone who a couple of months ago was being described as an unsung hero of the team. The fact that City’s right back was voted into second place in the POTY awards – and that he won the Player’s Player of the Year – shows how we came to recognise his importance to the side. All successful sides seem to have an unsung hero in their midst and our last promotion winning team was no different, with Gareth Whalley often described by people as the player who allowed McCall to go and imprint his influence on games. His range of passing too was immense. Similar, some might say, to the role that Nathan Doyle plays in this season’s team.
Other than central midfield, the other area of the two teams that it is easy to draw comparisons between is the strike force. City’s lack of success in recent years has been at least partly put due to the failure of various managers to find two strikers who can play together and complement each other in such a way that allows both of them to play to their full potential. All too often have we relied on the goals of just one key man throughout a campaign; whether that be Dean Windass or Peter Thorne. This has led to supporters often sitting around wishfully reminiscing about the halcyon days of Lee Mills and Robbie Blake.
For the first time since those two stars adorned the claret and amber shirt, we now seem to have found a pairing in James Hanson and Nahki Wells who we can compare to them.
Wells’ pace and unpredictability have worked well alongside Hanson’s height and awkwardness to play against. They have been vital to the success that we have achieved so far this season. And Wells’ claim. after the play off victory over Burton, that both have ambitions to play at a higher level left me wondering if they will stick around to hopefully achieve this aim at City.
One key figure who I haven’t mentioned yet is the manager. It is hardly surprising that in our most successful season for 14 years, we have possibly our most popular manager in that time, barring of course the aforementioned Legend McCall.
Many supporters talk about Paul Jewell being their favourite City manager of all time and why wouldn’t he be? For the first time since his tenure, however, Jagger has a challenger for this title, as fans are desperate to see Parkinson put pen to paper and commit himself to the club for the next season at least.
The biggest thing to remember about any promotion-winning side is that they perform on the big occasion when it really matters. Jewell’s men did it at Molineux in 1999. Let’s pray that Parkinson’s class of 2013 can do it at Wembley, in order to cement their own place in City Folklore.
Play off final: Width of a Post build-up
- Exorcising the Swansea City demons by Jason McKeown
- Song one – Wembley Twice, it’s Alright by Martin Keighley
- Since our last visit…by Mahesh Johal
- Song two – Please Mr Parkinson by Mark Heslop
- The Northampton perspective by Jason McKeown
- Divided family loyalties by Jeremy Casey