By Ian Hemmens
Whilst we’re all chomping at the bit waiting for the new season to start, I thought I’d pass the time by telling you all a tale from years gone by.
Now Bradford City have always had a great history of diversity in their side stretching back to the multitude of Scots, Welsh and Irish players, but what about the even more exotic early pioneers? We had the first mixed race player in the first division in Willie Clarke in 1907, we had Lithuanian Jew Louis Bookman, a naturalised Irishman in 1912 – so diversity is nothing new to City.
Jump to the early 70s and City had two legends in their ranks in Ces Podd and Joe Cooke. Two giants of the club’s history, who served the Bantams with distinction for many years.
In the mid 2000s, Colin Todd appeared to have some sort of connection with Jamaican football, and we saw the arrival of four very decent players in Jermaine Johnson, Omar Daley, Donovan Ricketts and Damion Stewart. All are fondly remembered to varying degrees.
I’d like to mention another phase in the mid 90s which was pretty odd to say the least. In 1994, we brought over a very young Russell Latapy from Trinidad on trial. I think Ces recommended him and, despite being very highly talented, he was a bit lightweight. We also had problems trying to gain a work permit due to the poor standing of Trinidad internationally at that point and the fact he was still technically a junior.
Latapy went on to play nearly 500 games, mainly in Scotland and Portugal (most notably playing for FC Porto and Rangers). He scored over 100 goals and, during his international career of 79 caps, he appeared at the 2006 World Cup before eventually becoming team manager of his nation. One that got away, possibly.
We also had another Trinidadian on trial: the forceful winger Tony Rougier. We wanted to sign him, but yet again work permit problems meant he ended up at Raith Rovers. Another who made over 300 appearances in his career got away from us.
The most bizarre episode of this Trinidad experiment came on the night of Thursday 11th April in a Central League match at Valley Parade with City entertaining a Sunderland side. I picked up the printed teamsheet to be met by a plethora of names unheard of in the City squad. Upon further investigation, I found the Trinidadian side were touring Europe and we had somehow co-opted five of their number into our side to play alongside the likes of Richard Huxford, Paul Jewell and Craig Midgley.
There was the giant Ross Russell in goal. Ansil Elcock, the cousin of Stern John, at centre back, followed by the wonderfully named Richard Theodore, Marvin Faustain and Alvin Thomas.
It just seemed a totally surreal experience to see these guys lining up en masse in Claret and Amber. I can’t even remember the score! (Anyone else there that night?) Nothing ever came of these trials due to the eternal problems gaining work permits, but it was an experience I’ll never forget. Possibly one of the more bizarre episodes in City’s long history.