Last night, former Bradford City Chief Scout and Head of Football Development, Archie Christie, passed away. Width of a Post editor Jason McKeown pays tribute to the Scot.
It was the greatest competition prize that I could ever think of for any Bradford City supporter. Out of the blue late one evening, my former writing partner, Michael Wood, rang to excitedly tell me that he just got off the phone from the club’s recently-installed Head of Football Development, Archie Christie. Having read the website boyfrombrazil.co.uk, which was a rare voice of support for the Scot and his intentions for the club, Archie issued a once-in-a-lifetime invitation that we gleefully snapped up.
“Come and spend the day at Bradford City Football Club. Take a look at what I am trying to implement.”
So it was, at the end of September 2011, that myself and Michael found ourselves at the Cedar Court Hotel at the top of the M606 on the edge of Bradford, meeting Archie and shadowing him for some nine hours. We had breakfast with Development Squad players Terry Dixon, Scott Brown and Andrew Burns, first teamers Kyel Reid, Liam Moore and Adam Reed, plus the wonderful Peter Horne. We went down to the training ground and saw Steve Parkin drilling the players ahead of a game against Burton Albion. We spent 15 minutes chatting to Phil Parkinson about his philosophy for the club, and to chief scout Nigel Brown about the opposition prep he produces. Then it was over to Valley Parade, where we spent time with the club’s board members and office staff.
It was a scorching hot day – unseasonably for September – and whenever I think back to it, the sunshine instantly comes to mind. A riveting, happy day that we were very fortunate to experience.
What we were treated to that day was a front row viewing of the plan Archie was implementing to improve the club. A plan that he had been asked to devise by the club’s joint-Chairmen, Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. By complete coincidence, Archie was in the process of selling gifted teenager George Green to Everton for a considerable £2 million fee (including add-ons). We saw and heard him field numerous phone calls from chairmen and managers famous in the world of football, chasing Green’s signature. Holding a print out of a transfer offer made by a club – one that Everton later bettered – we witnessed first hand the shock in Rhodes’ eyes as Archie handed it to him. Archie knew how to drive a deal.
The three-part article we subsequently wrote involved working into the early hours for two straight days, but was hugely enjoyable. We expected a big reaction and we got one, with huge amounts of praise for what Archie was doing (unpaid) for the club. We heard that some national newspaper journalists were impressed by our efforts, and the Sky Sports and TeamTalk websites even ran a snippet of our articles.
There was also, of course, negativity from others who were deeply suspicious of Archie’s background and motives. Somewhere along the way, an idea was formed that Archie was a liar pulling the wool over the eyes of the club. Such heat was turned on myself and Michael, for which Archie apologised to us for, but overall we were proud that our article had changed the focus of the debate and helped him to get on with his work; at least until the day he abruptly walked out of Valley Parade.
It is over two years since Archie left the club, yet his influence – good and bad – has continued to hover over the club. The plusses certainly outweighed the negatives, especially given how briefly he was actually at the club.
The Development Squad idea might have been quietly scrapped post-Archie, deemed too expensive and unsuitable, but without it Nahki Wells would not have become a Bradford City player. Peter Jackson has wrongly claimed the credit for this signing when everyone else (Archie, and those within the club) state it was otherwise. Scott Brown – who recently signed a contract extension for Scottish Premier League side St. Johnstone – would potentially have played a few games for City this season had he not been let go during the summer. Other members of that Development Squad have faded into obscurity for sure, but the Development Squad was never going to be an exact science.
Then there was the appointment of Phil Parkinson – which happened because the Board acted on Archie’s recommendation – and the aforementioned Green sale. The scouting revamp continues to benefit the club to this day, with Brown still an employee. Archie even got Manchester United to cough up over Tom Cleverley.
The other side of the coin – Mark Stewart and all that – was of course a big disappointment. But adding up the money generated from Wells, Green and Cleverley – plus the superb job Parkinson has done – results in a net gain, no matter the ruling on Stewart that is due shortly. He had been offered the Chief Executive’s job at City before he quit, demonstrating how highly valued his work was.
I sighed at the people who wanted to drive Archie away with pitchforks and who continued to belittle his efforts, which were all about improving the club for us. I believed in what Archie did, not simply because he told me his plans, but because of the warm words others had for him. On that day at the club, everyone spoke passionately to us about the job he was doing (Mark Lawn included), and even after leaving Julian Rhodes has remained in close contact with him. Several players from that era who have since left the club turned to Archie for help (and not just players he had brought to City).
There was a suggestion that he had lied about his background, and that he was merely a failed pub landlord with no football experience. Yet I heard first hand from John Still about the number of years Archie had worked for him, which went beyond his Dagenham days and to when he was Barnet manager. We also wrote to one his discoveries at Dagenham – a player who is currently in the Championship – who confirmed what a big help Archie had been in his career. There was a large difference between the way that people in football spoke and thought of Archie and the way he was painted on message boards. It saddened me, because Archie was a friend.
We kept in touch after he left City, and he would help me out on several occasions. It was he who arranged for me to interview Julian Rhodes last August, who asked Scott Brown if I could interview him on his Valley Parade exit. “Anything you want, just ask” he’d always say at the end of a phone call. The claims made in Peter Jackson’s autobiography prompted a chuckle from him, but also anger at what he said were untruths. He worked for managers of a number of different clubs, including for Harry at QPR (and, for a brief spell, Spurs). Nothing like the role he had done at City, but he told me it was enjoyable nonetheless.
The last time I saw Archie was the day of the League Cup Final at Wembley. He had invited me to stay at his house that weekend, but with an entourage of eight other people travelling down with me, I didn’t want to be so intrusive so politely declined.
We were staying in Hemel Hempstead, not far from his home, so on the morning of the game he invited us all to a posh hotel and treated us to a champagne breakfast. I wish my nerves about the big game hadn’t prevented me from eating so little, but everyone had a wonderful time in his company and the breakfast was really special. We said goodbyes at the door and headed to the train station – Archie himself was going to the game later. I’d joked that we’d come and stay at his house for the play off final.
I’m absolutely gutted that Archie has gone. His health deteriorated very suddenly, I am told, and my thoughts are with his family. I’m proud to have known him, proud that he referred to me as “mate” and proud to have seen first-hand the valuable work he performed on behalf of the club.
Rest in peace Archie, and thank you for everything.
My friend Archie who died last night by Michael Wood