By Gareth Walker (images by Kieran Wilkinson)
It was dream come true for me on Sunday to see the majority of the 1999 promotion winning team back together. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the question and answer session in the McCall Suite after the charity game. Rather than answering the questions, most of the players used it as an opportunity to reminisce and share stories. It was a hugely enjoyable experience with Peter Beagrie and Stuart McCall in particular being in their element.
Here is a brief rundown of what we discovered about each player.
Paul Jewell – Now doing media work for Sky Sports amongst others
Spoke in depth about the love that he and all the players from that era have for the club, the City and the supporters. Mentioned how there were some egos in the team and that Robbie Blake could be a nightmare at times, but that the team spirit and togetherness in the group was better than any other that he ever experienced elsewhere and that the players made his job easy because they “dug each other out” if anyone let standards slip.
Interestingly, Jewell revealed how hard he found City’s first Premiership season and that he had already decided to leave the club long before we beat Liverpool to stay in the Premier League because he had “come to the end of his tether with Geoffrey Richmond”.
Stuart McCall – now manager at Motherwell
Clearly along with Beagrie, McCall was one of the jokers in the team. He recalled the story of coming back and signing for City after ten years away and how he couldn’t believe that he was older than his then-manager.
McCall was predictably asked if he would ever come back to the club for a fourth time, which, even after much pressure from his former team mates on stage, he gave a “no comment” answer to after initially joking that he would only return if the club were in the Premier League.
Peter Beagrie – now working for Sky Sports
Beagrie revealed that Gazza was the best player that he shared a pitch with. Said that the lad culture, antics and camaraderie might make it sound like the 1998/99 side were a pub team, but the proof was in the results and that each player gave absolutely everything because the supporters gave them everything.
He recalled stories about Lee Mills and Darren Moore that he prompted them to divulge. I asked him how he thought City would do this year and he said he thought that as long as we avoided too many injuries we would be fine. (Brilliant that he still refers to the club as “we”!)
Jamie Lawrence – still playing at Tooting and Mitcham
Anyone who follows Jamie on Twitter or who has read his autobiography knows what a character he is and how much he loves Bradford City. He walked onto stage carrying two pints of Guinness!
Jewell described him as one of the hardest trainers that he has ever known and numerous others said how he would run through brick walls for the team. Beagrie joked how he was always going down injured and that he would knock all the cones over on any skill drills in training because his ability was running rather than footwork.
Darren Moore – now working with one of the youth teams at West Brom
Moore spoke about how he broke the dressing room door after being sent off in the last minute of a game at Norwich after Iwan Roberts dived to win a penalty. Bruce Rioch called him off the team coach and demanded he apologise, informing him the bill was £1,800. But Richmond paid it for Moore because he thought that his actions had shown passion.
Beagrie revealed that despite Moore’s size the other players used to guess whether it would be him or Lawrence who would go down injured first in a game.
John Dreyer – now a coach at Preston
Dreyer described his time at City as the happiest of his career. He discussed how he was very close to staying in the North when he left because he loved the area and the people.
Lee Mills – now doing his coaching badges
The 1998/99 top scorer got quite emotional on stage as he recalled his time at City. Described by McCall as being the most miserable member of the squad, apparently Mills once thought he couldn’t score when it rained and that his career would be over if City got promoted.
Numerous players spoke about what a talented player they thought Mills was. Two great feet, brilliant in the air and pretty much unplayable on his day. Like us supporters, they thought that we were never out of a game when we had him and Robbie Blake up front.
Dean Windass – now doing various pieces of media work
Windass was in attendance with his son Josh (now himself a footballer at Accrington Stanley) and former Birmingham and Hull midfielder Bryan Hughes, who he runs an academy with. He didn’t actually speak on stage but Jewell was asked what he was like to manage to which he replied “no problem at all”.
Gareth Whalley – now working in Man City’s academy
The cultured midfielder apparently has a major cartilage problem with his knee which meant he couldn’t play a full part in the game. Whalley was described as being one of the quiet men of the team but with a very dry sense of humour.
Other players spoke about how highly they rated Whalley and how he won players player of the year in the promotion year. He told us how he was devastated to learn that Benito Carbone had taken his number 10 shirt when he saw his signing announced by Geoffrey Richmond on Sky Sports News.
Stephen Wright – now working as a coach under Jim Jefferies at Dunfermline
It was revealed that Wright was brought to the club on the recommendation of Stuart McCall. Described as another quiet man of the team, but Wright’s importance was never underestimated by his team mates.
Jewell said in the charity game programme notes that he could have gone on to be a Premier League right back for many years if it wasn’t for his knee injury. He already had the knee injury when he arrived at City and often played through the pain.
Wright revealed he was on holiday when he discovered that Richmond had signed a right back to replace him. He was nevertheless held up as an example of the bond that the squad have because he had travelled all the way down from Scotland for this occasion even though he couldn’t play a significant part in the game.
Isaiah Rankin – still playing (for Hendon FC)
Rankin was asked what it was like leaving Arsenal to come to City. He said that it was very hard but that everyone was brilliant in helping him settle in as a young lad, particularly Jamie Lawrence, who introduced him to The Park pub!
He said he was disappointed that his City career didn’t turn out as he would have wished but that he wouldn’t change it. Jewell made it clear what an important contribution he thought that Rankin had made in the promotion season.
Gary Walsh – now a goalkeeping coach at Hull City
Didn’t speak on stage at all, but Jewell mentioned in the match programme how brilliant he was for us that season when he didn’t miss a single game. Walshy for England!
Gordon Watson – about to undertake media work in Qatar
Watson spoke about how he left City when he was “asked to pay for his own contract”. Laughed about how he was known as the complainer in the squad and once moaned to a hotel that “half his room was missing” on an overnight stop for an away game in Watford, because he thought the room was far too small.
Gordon was asked about his goals in his comeback game against Barnsley in September 1998, which he recalled with great fondness.
Wayne Jacobs – now part owner of an architects and doing various pieces of media work
Jacobs’ One In a Million Charity was the reason for the day happening. He told the story of a post season club holiday abroad, when the squad would visit a karaoke bar every night. On the final evening, the DJ wanted them to leave; but Darren Moore, who had a reputation for being the quiet, sensible organiser in the group proceeded to lead the lads in a chorus of “City til I die”.
Wayne also said that Beagrie had been a huge help to him in making the day happen. He was spoken very highly of as a player by Jewell. Thanks must go to this man for making the day possible.
The whole day on Sunday was a fantastic experience. As a 15-16 year old back in 1999, I was old enough to attend many of the games and the whole season was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Every single member of that side is a hero of mine and their names are now etched in Valley Parade folklore. The memories that came flooding back during the reunion brought with them a wealth of emotions and a tear to my eye. They will forever be my favourite City team.
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