He managed Bradford City #1: Terry Dolan

2013-04-20 16.42.12

To get us through the summer months waiting for the 2013/14 season to begin, Width of a Post will be featuring a series of articles about former Bradford City managers and their legacy. To kick us off, Mike Holdsworth looks back at Terry Dolan and the infamous ‘nearly season’ of 1987/88.

Play off dreams don’t always come true.  Just as City’s players and fans were celebrating madly in the immediate aftermath of our stunning victory at Wembley on 18 May 2013, I spotted Jack Tordoff right there in the next block. Jack Tordoff, new shirt sponsor, Rich List inhabitant.

Rewind 25 years of thick and thin and find him, then Chairman, centre stage aiming even higher for Bradford City… or was he? 1987/88 was the culmination of a great period for fans, the era of Bantam Progressivism which began in 1981/82 after the record low crowd at the end of the previous season.  Seven years of upward mobility – how often can fans of a team enjoy that? – and we came oh so close to the Promised Land of Division One (then the top flight). We left Leeds and Huddersfield in our wake, which made it all the sweeter.

But perhaps Terry Dolan, true Bradfordian and City manager all those years ago, knew his play off dreams were not to be when our Jack held onto the cheque book in early ’88, as Andy Townsend, who brought more quality to the pitch than he will ever bring to our TV screens, and Keith Curle, a fine defender and a cut above the incumbent centre backs Sinnott, Oliver and Evans, sat in our Terry’s office.

The story has grown with each telling. Too expensive, said Jack. Ready to sign, said Terry. An even longer queue of players ready to join our march on the top flight says the 2013 Internet….. Maradona anyone?

Whatever, the 2013 football-mad Terry was probably looking on somewhere at the City celebrations on the Wembley turf, perhaps dreaming of what might have been way back when. I think it may just have been a seminal moment in his sporting life. Sign a couple of proven players and I’m a top flight manager with my home town club. Miss out on promotion, McCall and Hendrie will leave and it’s downhill from there…hell I could end up at Rochdale, York or Guiseley. I’m not surprised he was so thoughtful in 2013…

Oh Jack it was such a no brainer, as 87/88 failure was always going to bring in a fortune from the sale of Stuart and John! Success in the shape of automatic promotion that season, and it’s onwards and upwards. But no, it was left for another City team, another day, another decade.

I grew up in East Bowling just around the corner from Terry. In a time when many lads made good with the local professional team, I was a bit more interested in John Hall, a City star who occasionally showed up in his parents’ New Hey Road corner shop. A star, that is, in a struggling Division Four side. My old man would take me to odd local matches, Leeds-Everton top of the table clash in the snow, a City-Rochdale match fogged off at half-time. I think my first City game was a draw with Luton.

All this circa 69/70, and so I also saw Avenue-Scunthorpe – the last Bradford Park Avenue home league match. Kevin Keegan buzzed around impressively for Scunthorpe and I remember Terry taking all the free kicks and generally looking busy. The two of them very much their team’s star men, Terry still only 19. It finished 0-5.

Terry had been rejected a few years’ earlier by City, but he was destined not to go out of the league and soon joined Huddersfield, newly promoted to Division One. He had a good six-year spell there, and I recall him occasionally popping up on Sunday afternoon TV, once memorably starring and scoring against West Ham (records show this was in a FA Cup 5th round match in 1971/72). Those were the days of two matches on MotD on a Saturday night and one Yorkshire match, often Leeds, Hull or a Sheffield team, on a Sunday afternoon.

Three relegations in four seasons for Town, but Terry was a popular constant presence there and player of the season in the last of those relegations in 1975. He attracted the interest of Arsenal, but supposedly did not fancy the bright lights of London. Alan Ball or Charlie George he was not and, at the age of 26, and nearing his peak…he joined 4th Division City. Clearly a relegation specialist, but actually a very welcome signing in early 76/77, as City looked to build on the previous season’s run to the FA Cup Quarter Final and a good start to the new season. (My regular City watching starts here!)

As a player Terry was all about grit, determination and hard work. An eye for a shot, getting stuck in, putting himself about. Box-to-box, before the term was invented, perhaps. A Ricky Ravenhill with extra yards in him, but no Gary Jones. I recall his unerring penalty taking. He would smash them into the top right corner, 17 in a row I think. I also remember him being a bit too busy in a 0-0 draw with Hereford; two yellows within a few minutes and off he went.

Watch his 1980 shot against Liverpool on YouTube and Campbell’s tap-in, see the shameful all-white kit, but don’t miss Peter Jackson’s celebration, or the feint Bradford end chants of “I love City, City I love”. In his City playing era, I think Terry’s and City’s standard was top end Division 4, no better. He played a strong role in a deserved but narrow 1977 promotion. After immediate relegation, it was 1979/80 when the emergence of Peter Jackson. The signings of McNiven, Staniforth and the legend that is Bobby Campbell put us back in play.

The last day of that season, my only trip to London Road, Peterborough, remains such a disappointment. I remember Terry trying his heart out, pushing us on. Results didn’t go our way, we lost, we stayed down. For Terry, the writing was on the wall. He left in ’81, spent a year at Rochdale, then retired with the immortal words “when you get a free transfer from Rochdale, you have to seriously consider your future”.

Dolan was succeeded by better players with greater skill as that City era of Bantam Progressivism began. Perhaps his playing career was ultimately unfulfilled. Perhaps his playing in the top flight and on all 92 league grounds means he lived the dream.

Terry Dolan was lucky to have the City manager role at the peak of a great era. Roy MacFarland laid the foundations and Trevor Cherry did the spadework, his role as a player as well as manager crucial in the 1985 promotion after taking the job on in troubled financial times (it was ever thus).

But Cherry committed the cardinal sin of not winning in eight league games at the end of 1986 – after 18 months without a home pitch to play on – and we sank to the bottom of the league. He had promoted our Terry from youth team to first team coach and in the usual ‘caretaker manager from within’ scenario, Terry had his chance.

Since retiring from playing, Terry had shown his usual determination to progress up the coaching ladder. He started by helping out his brother and some mates who were East Bowling Unity (that same East Bowling) in the Bradford Sunday League and was essentially inexperienced given the Division Two challenge that awaited him. But the truth is the Cherry sacking was not unpopular, despite coming within weeks of the reopening of Valley Parade.

Dolan was the obvious caretaker choice and he remained a popular figure in the club’s recent history, helped by ‘local lad’ as well as ‘ex-player’ sentiment.

His first game in charge was a stunning 5-1 cup win against Oldham, the skill of Ian Ormondroyd to the fore – all five came in the first half, a feat not to be repeated until 12/13 against AFC Wimbledon.

The job was soon Terry’s permanently. An early poor patch of two wins in 11 and Trevor Cherry must have wondered how the fates can conspire; he never managed again. But Terry did two things: he lined up the players he wanted, the misfiring Don Goodman sold to West Brom, Ormondroyd loaned out and swapped for Ron Futcher at Oldham. And he gave the fans a truly exciting 86-87 run-in, ending 8-1-1.

This period was a joy to watch. Belief flowed through the team and we stormed up the league; the support was tremendous especially away from home. Top memories were the two April wins against Sunderland. The last match at West Brom had a real feelgood factor. A well earned draw with nine men, and the scary West Midlands police doing their best to unnerve the joyous City fans. We were mixing it with big clubs and there was a sense that we had arrived.

I think we punched above our weight in the nearly season of 1987/88, and Dolan must take credit for that. McCall and Hendrie were star second flight players, making the PFA team for the second time. but Ormondroyd was the only other player to go on to a meaningful spell in the top flight, to the surprise of many.

We led the league at the end of November but a poor spell followed. Mick Kennedy helped steady the ship and, after a shocking home defeat to relegated Huddersfield in early March, we went on a 10 match unbeaten run, needing a win at Aston Villa in the penultimate game to go up. Hendrie had been harshly sent off at Man City and missed the last two games. How we missed him.

We were well beaten at Villa – 1-0, but lacking belief; and lost a real topsy-turvy match at home to Ipswich in the last game. A fantastic, memorable atmosphere but it was that sort of season – nearly but not quite. We went into the play offs perhaps thinking of chances missed.

2013 it was not, when I still felt a 1-3 Burton deficit was not too much to worry about. A 2-1 home lead to Middlesbrough in the first leg didn’t feel good enough and so it proved. I recall Sinnott errors and Ormondroyd missed chances and a sense of real disappointment again leaving Ayresome Park, following a 2-0 second leg defeat.

Did Terry inspire confidence when the going got tough? Maybe not, but he took us on a fantastic rollercoaster ride. The League Cup Quarter Final at Luton quite typical. Unchartered territory, and again parallels with 12/13. Only the bizarre walkabout antics of keeper Paul Tomlinson stopped us in our tracks. A bizarre night for fans too. Away supporters were banned from league matches at Luton following their infamous Millwall clash. But we were there that night in two different parts of the ground and then marshalled together onto the pitch at the end.

We also fared well in the FA Cup and the Simod Cup which brought a young Paul Gascoigne to Valley Parade for the first time, after a 5-0 win at Aston Villa.

Typical of Terry’s approach, which often featured three centre backs, was his usual preference for the workmanlike Greg Abbott over the silky Leigh Palin. Few City players are as pleasing on the eye as Palin could be and he featured too infrequently for me. But a team is only as strong as its weakest parts, and overall Terry did a great job with an over-performing group.

He just needed the cobwebs blowing off of your wallet, Jack!

I always felt the only way was down after the inevitable departures of McCall and Hendrie. We didn’t have great squad strength. Terry bought reasonably well in Andy Thomas and Ian Banks, who both had good pedigree. But they failed to spark playing only 23 and 30 games respectively. Paul Jewell proved the sounder investment, but he only really found his feet under later managers and how ironic that he was the man who was to lead us to the top where Terry had ultimately failed.

We made a fair start to 88/89. Stirring and historic televised cup wins over Everton, with McCall, and Spurs were features and eight losses in the first 32 league and cup matches meant spirits remained high. But in hindsight we were competing in Division Two against Leeds, Chelsea, Man City, Sunderland, Blackburn, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Palace, Stoke, Leicester and West Brom. Relative giants of English football and we had lost our star men.

Four successive defeats in late January sealed Terry’s fate, three of them at home. Amongst those a League Cup Quarter Final 0-1 reversal to Bristol City which was was, for me, one of the most depressing City results ever. That downhill slide began there and didn’t really end until our other Wembley visit in 1996.

So Terry’s brief two-year spell at the helm had everything. League and cup ups and downs, players who will forever live in the memory and a manager who had always given his all to the City cause. But oh for what might have been in 1988…

Terry had a fine spell as Rochdale manager. I ventured across the Pennines just once, to watch his team in a 4th round FA Cup match. They won, wait for it, 3-0 against Northampton, in a stirring atmosphere. But his management career never hit the same heights again. Keeping the wolf from the door seemed a common theme at Hull, where he tried to revive the career of a Leigh Palin who was fast en route to taking those silky skills to the Bradford Sunday League, York and Guiseley.

Terry has more recently worked as a Premier League referees’ assessor and a League Manager’s Association Manager Representative. He won’t be short of clients there and he seems like the kind of guy you might want in your corner.

Categories: He managed Bradford City

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9 replies

  1. The nearly season was a couple of years before my time but it is talked about so fondly that it has become the stuff of legend and folklore.

    Beat ‘Boro 3 times that season and they still knocked us out of the playoffs.
    Also know people who have never forgiven that cheating Man City goalkeeper for getting Hendrie sent off.

  2. I’ll never forget that season – especially the last game against Ipswich.

    The really cruel thing was that all other results went our way but we just couldn’t get over the finishing line. I remember the Kop trying to almost suck the ball into the net and Ron Futcher desperately handling the ball into the net hoping that the goal would be allowed.

    We went on to greater heights under Jewel but for me this season was the best (until 2013). It was me and my mates going to the games home and away and having real fun. In an era when football hooliganism was rife I’m very glad and grateful that my parents allowed me to go to live matches.

    I did a Sunday paper round back then which paid £2 per week. My mind might be playing tricks but I’m pretty sure entrance to City was £1.50 for juniors with 15p each way on the bus which meant a couple of hours graft on a Sunday morning paid for a afternoon at VP. I wonder how much a paperboy would have to be paid today to go see a Championship game..!

    I’m going to stop now. I’m sounding like my dad.

  3. Oh jack..why didn’t you spend some money ? We could have enjoyed so many more years of McCall and Hendrie rather than cheering them on from afar…One of the saddest football moments I’ve had watching city..

  4. In the excellent David Markham book The pain and the glory ,Jack Tordoff gives his own explanation for the failure to sign Townsend and Curle. He states that Townsend was never interested in signing for City as we were not glamorous enough for him. As for Curle ,Reading were skint at the time and Jack had a cheque written for £250,000 only for Wimbledon to offer £400,000 and it was decided that he was not worth that amount. However going back to Terry Dolan,he was never given the credit he deserved for a memorable couple of years. Bottom of what is now the championship when he took over he guided us to 10th place and the following season we just missed out in the semi final play offs as well as league cup quater final and FA cup 5th round. The following season we were mid table in the league ,again reached the quater final of the league cup,knocked Spurs out of FA cup but was then sacked after cup defeats in the next round as Jack Tordoff was desperate to bring Terry Yorath in as manager who turned out to be not a success. Had Brian Robson had the same success as Terry Dolan did when he was appointed manager of City I am sure Robson would have been appointed England manager however all Terry got was the Rochdale and struggling Hull jobs.

  5. Great article bringing back memories of the joyful and tearful kind in equal measure. For me, as a bantam since 1985 and aged 14 at the time, this was my team. I could recount the inside leg measurement of every player (no really, it was a very small squad!). I was there at all the games recounted, except the boro away game, midweek, a school night and from my old man’s point of view, bound to end in disappointment. Better to protect his impressionable son from the pain. I never forgave Tordoff, I did buy a car from his lot once though, but it was a nice car. It was just so typical of provincial chairman at the time, better to be a big fish in a small pond etc.

    How things could have been so so different if we had gone up. My hero then and now, John Hendrie left, eventually to end up at Leeds. Oh the pain.

    Mentioned in the article is the away draw at the Baggies. I was there, we had to be moved for our own safety as there was as element determined to end the season at her majesty’s pleasure. So they put us in the WBA stand on the side, level with the touch line, just in time to see Hendrie score a remarkable goal from the right hand side into the top right hand corner. Love to see that on YouTube as people tell me it was meant to be a cross…. Never, not king John.

  6. Getting a free transfer from Rochdale at an advanced age isn’t always a bad thing – step forward Gary Jones.

    The Man City keeper who play acted to get John Hendrie sent off (he was suspended for one match – Ipswich – the only game he missed in his time at City) was Mike Stowell. The same Mike Stowell who was in goal for Wolves the day we clinched promotion in 1999…

  7. Glad you mentioned the Bristol city game in your article. These were my teenage and formative years following city and this game is one of two that handed me the biggest disappointment and impact whilst watching city. The other being the loss to villa away. The Bristol city game is one that never seems to get mentioned much but I will never forget a toothless Joe Jordan and his team turning up and doing a number on us. Since then i have I always thought city were destined to be like England and a quarter-final was going to be as good as it gets in a major cup. I feel I had some redemption at long last this year though especially with that memorable night at villa park.

  8. From what i remember the sacking of Trevor Cherry was extremely unpopular. Since the fire he had led the team manfully at various grounds and the dump that is Odsal to establish us in the higher league. We just got back to VP and the dirty was done on him. Such was the shock and dismay and disillusionment at this decision, he never managed again. I recall thousands of complaints and even a petition to reinstate him.

  9. There were a lot of people against the sacking of Trevor Cherry but as the late great Stafford Heginbotham said ,time will decide if sacking him was correct. The massive resurgence under Terry Dolan would indeed prove Stafford to be correct.

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