By Jason McKeown
Looking back on Paul Jewell’s time managing Bradford City is akin to sitting back in a comfortable recliner chair, sipping a glass of cold beer whilst listening to your favourite album. It is comfort food for the soul, a warm collection of memories that you never tire or re-living.
The two-and-a-half years that Jewell was in charge for saw astonishing growth both on and off the pitch. Unless you were well into your 80s at that moment, they were unprecedented times where perceptions about City’s limitations were smashed.
Even the timing of Jewell’s departure – a departure that we will come back to later – gives the whole era an even more spectacular feel. Usually, football managers who are successful stay around long enough to lose their shine and popularity. Witness City’s regular sparring partner of that time, Sunderland, under Peter Reid. Two promotions in four seasons, followed by a seventh place Premier League finish in 1999/00, should have guaranteed Reid a statue on Wearside. But two years later, Sunderland were slipping and Reid was sacked. No such undignified ending for Jewell at Valley Parade.
The story of Jewell’s time at City is inspirational, heart-warming, gratifying. Taking over the reins from Chris Kamara in January 1998, initially as a caretaker, there was initially an identity crisis surrounding the club that looked certain to see Jewell quickly spat out.
Kamara had taken City forward in an impressive manner, yet after a run of poor results he was dismissed by Geoffrey Richmond with the Bantams 11th in Division One (now the Championship). Less than a year earlier, Kamara – who in 1996 guided City to promotion from Division Two – had successfully kept the club up with a 21st-placed finish. We were moving forwards, but still Richmond sacked Kamara.
It was an enormous upping of the stakes. Up until then talk of getting to the Premier League was more fanciful than realistic. Now Richmond was demanding it. Jewell, initially appointed for three matches that resulted in a win, a defeat and a draw, was made caretaker for the rest of the 1997/98 season. Faint play off hopes remained just that, before fizzling out altogether. Players were sold on transfer deadline day to balance the books. We are all expected Jewell to leave in the summer and a big name appointed, armed with a big transfer war chest.
The season’s dismal ending under Jewell emphasised this further. A loyal club man who had been at City for almost a decade, it was difficult to dislike Jewell and you wanted him to succeed. But just one point from the final five games – including an abysmal 5-0 loss at Crewe, that I still consider the worst City performance I have ever seen – seemingly sealed his fate. At half time at Gresty Road we argued over who should be next manager.
To everyone’s surprise, Jewell was appointed permanent manager during the summer. Reaction ranged from being underwhelmed to outraged. There was fear, too, as the big transfer budget was entrusted upon this rookie. Seven new faces rocked up: most notably the return of Stuart McCall and the club’s transfer record being smashed twice in the space of six days. Some said Jewell was just keeping the seat warm for McCall.
It didn’t look clever at first, as a painfully slow start gave rise to credible relegation concerns. Jewell was under pressure, Richmond’s strategy loudly questioned. But it did come together, and September 1998 changed everything. A slow start to the month saw momentum build and build. A 2-0 win at West Brom – two goals from £1 million signing Lee Mills – and a 2-1 victory over Barnsley – Gordon Watson’s late, late double sending Valley Parade into euphoria – the turning points.
From relegation candidates, in little over two months City were in the play offs. The football was immensely enjoyable. McCall quickly forging a superb partnership with fellow summer recruit Gareth Whalley. Darren Moore, John Dreyer, Andrew O’Brien and Ashley Westwood offering strong options in central defence. Peter Beagrie rediscovering his best form on the left wing, Gary Walsh outstanding in goal. Stephen Wright, Wayne Jacobs, Jamie Lawrence.
It all really clicked after a couple of set backs in November; a 2-1 loss to Huddersfield and shock 3-0 hammering at home to QPR. Jewell dropped record signing Isaiah Rankin and partnered the underachieving Robbie Blake up front with Mills, and suddenly there was no stopping us. Mills and Blake remain the best striker partnership I have ever seen – comparisons with the way James Hanson and Nahki Wells link up are credible – and victory followed victory followed victory.
By January City were not play off hopefuls, but automatic promotion contenders. Beyond our wildest dreams.
The battle with Ipswich for second spot was incredibly nail-biting. So many twists and turns, so many sleepless nights. Richmond delivered for Jewell where Tordoff had not for Terry Dolan 10 years earlier: making further transfer funds available, so Dean Windass and Lee Sharpe could be added. Promotion was achieved in exhilarating fashion on the final day at Wolves. I never thought anything in football could top being at Molineux that day; although Villa Park last January does rival it.
Jewell celebrated with his children on the Molineux pitch. He deserved every plaudit going for him. For the signings he made, for the way he got the best out of players like Beagrie, Lawrence, Blake and Moore – but most of all for the strategy deployed. The levels of organisation were incredible. Every player went on to the pitch knowing exactly what their job was, and week in week out they did it. It was an exciting side full of attacking flair that left you enthralled, but it was also a tough and gritty team that stood up to physical bullying and always defended brilliantly.
What a team.
As amazing as it was to be in the Premier League with all its exposure and glamorous opposition, there was a heightened level of expectation and pressure on Jewell which presented a different challenge. Our aim was to finish at least 17th – thereby avoiding relegation – but we were always going to lose more often than we won, which required a different mindset from all. City stayed up of course, but losing over 50% of the 38 games underlined that it wasn’t always fun.
Jewell struggled to find the balance between defence and attack. At first City were too defensive, which meant they didn’t score nearly enough goals. Then they went too attacking, with an increasing number of goals conceded. It was especially a problem away from home, where City won just three and drew only one of their 19 trips. Jewell would later admit that the failure to pick up more draws on the road was costly.
Recruitment was good if not mind-blowing. David Wetherall, Gunnar Halle and Matt Clarke were fantastic acquisitions whilst Dean Saunders did a decent job, but other arrivals were less impressive. There were strong rumours of Richmond interference. Terry Yorath – recruited as a coach the summer before – revealed in his autobiography that Jorge Cadete was not a signing Jewell had wanted. At one stage Richmond ordered Jewell to start the Portuguese striker in a match against Manchester United. Cadete was a big flop. Who also remembers Bruno Rodrigeuz?
Yet there were plenty of positives too. Our Valley Parade record was outstanding, with just five home losses all season. Arsenal, Newcastle and – on the last day – Liverpool were sent home empty handed. The organisation and workrate that had underpinned City’s promotion-winning side was still evident. McCall, Beagrie, O’Brien and Jacobs still big, big players. Windass recovered from a slow start to become our talisman.
It was a team you could identify with and feel proud of; Jewell successfully bridging the gap between the lack of quality in his squad compared to others. Without spending a fortune, City survived.
Staying up in the first season was, at the time, considered the hard part. No such phrase as ‘second season syndrome’ back then. So we spent the early part of the summer waiting to see Jewell add to the squad and we prepared to revise our expectation bar even higher. We’ve made it.
Alas, Jewell walked out. He’d started to receive some stick from fans towards the end of the season – the packing off of Lee Mills, who he fell out with, on loan to Man City and deploying Wetherall up front in a home game against Derby causing despair – and Richmond had put the pressure on. During a lunch between the two a week after the season ended, Richmond declared he would not have renewed Jewell’s contract if it was due to expire and stated his view that he had not done a good job. Apparently Jewell brought along a list of transfer targets which Richmond poo-pooed, and then proceeded to reveal a list of his own. No wonder Jewell took exception.
The parting of ways remains sad, but you suspect it’s felt on both sides. Richmond turned to Chris Hutchings – someone more willing to put up with the Chairman’s alleged interfering and less likely to block the big-name signings he craved. Benito Carbone rocked up after Jewell had previously turned down the chance to sign him on the basis he didn’t fit in with the team ethic. It was the same story with Stan Collymore.
Everything that Jewell argued against, he was in time proven to be right for doing so. City lost the plot, and we have paid the price for over a decade.
Yet for Jewell too, it has not been an easy ride. A poor spell at Sheffield Wednesday followed, before he replicated his Bradford City magic with two promotions at another of his former clubs, Wigan. He even took them to the League Cup Final, before leaving in equally abrupt circumstances. A year or so later he was appointed Derby manager and then two years ago he took over at Ipswich – both jobs did not go very well. Jewell’s reputation has diminished considerably.
Now out of work, the question – a bit like with Peter Taylor – is why his methods work at some clubs but fail miserably at others. There are two common denominators at City and Wigan: he had a previous affinity with supporters, and he had sizeable transfer funds to spend. The question was raised last season – as Phil Parkinson’s contract talks remained unresolved – would you take Jewell back? No I wouldn’t have. Mainly because I didn’t want to have those great memories of his time in charge diminished, but partly because I have doubts whether he could succeed without a sizeable transfer budget.
It will be interesting to see what happens next for Jewell. You’d like to think he’d be able to get another job, should he want one, although he might find the media work he regularly undertakes a more comfortable option. He could one day return to Valley Parade as manager, talking about unfinished business, and the circumstances of his arrival might make it seem more attractive than it would this summer were we needing to replace Parkinson.
Yet regardless of the future, Jewell’s place in our past is assured. For a generation of us City fans, he is the best manager we have ever seen. We have grown older, wiser and probably more cynical since Jewell walked away from Valley Parade, but the mere mention of his name takes us back to a halcyon two year-period that we will treasure until the day we die.
Categories: He managed Bradford City