By Katie Whyatt
There was something unfitting about the way I found out. Sunday morning, freezing in a caravan 85 miles away from Bradford, glancing up wearily from a magazine, my dad pointing at the ‘news in brief’ section of a national newspaper.
Gary Jones. Released. End of story.
There was something devastatingly disparaging about seeing him reduced to ‘news in brief’. Gary Jones isn’t ‘news in brief’. A year ago, he was on the front page of that same newspaper, kissing the head of brave Jake Turton as he sobbed tears of disbelief into the cold Birmingham night. A year ago next week, in fact, he was at the centre of all the newspaper sport supplements, dancing on the podium at Wembley. And now, ‘news in brief’? That’s just not right.
And just ‘released’? Just like that? It breaks my heart. I get you can’t be sentimental here; I get that the budget isn’t bottomless; I get that this window had to be about revolution, not evolution; I get that ruthless saying that no one owes anyone anything in football. But just gone? Just, “Thanks, Gary, but bye.” That really stings.
He was in the programme for the final home game, telling us how much he loves it at Bradford, saying he wants to be here next year – “hang around here for a couple more years yet”, those were his words. I’d steadied myself for Connell’s exit, prepared for Nahki’s departure, steeled myself for Thompson’s swansong – but this? Gary Jones, just ‘released’? It’s that word I can’t stand. Released. It doesn’t do him justice.
Gary Jones is my joint-favourite ever player. These exit wounds won’t heal quickly.
You close your eyes and it plays like a montage in your mind.
The first kick until the last, everything else between.
The Arsenal goal: raising his arm to the sky at the corner flag, slinking in, spinning his boot – the ball falling perfectly, Atkinson, Thompson. Jones’ penalty and the celebrations – the frantic fist pumping, the manic screaming peppered with “come ons” and “’ave its”, our captain doing everything we wanted to but didn’t dare to: believe.
Aston Villa: goals 2, 3 and 4.
Hoisting that trophy.
The opening day against Carlisle – charging forwards, overrunning the United midfield with Nathan Doyle, blasting home to open his League One account.
The fist pump.
The spirit, the pride, the ability, the passion – the heartbeat of this generation, the pulse of this team.
Sheffield United and Crewe Alexandra. A heartbroken Gary Jones yelling, shouting, screaming, at his team mates, screaming at them to play, the hurt leaking from his face: show me it matters to you. Show me you care as much as I do. Gary Jones, single-handedly refusing to give up, refusing to surrender, refusing to hand over his spirit. Gary Jones hauling City to two points. Gary Jones, digging that inch deeper when the chips were down to drag Bradford through that winless run. The mark of a true winner.
The mark of Gary Jones.
Perhaps it was fitting his last Valley Parade outing came as it did. The delivery the same as always, curling in perfectly from the same corner flag at which he stamped his name into Bantams folklore. The Midland Road chant merging into his chant, his song, sung passionately enough to send every hair on his neck pricking upwards, his magical tune searing straight into his magical heart. The fan in the Kop throwing down a Gary Jones banner, Jones signing it, Jones weeping into Darby’s arms – an ending written months before, an ending perfect to the last note.
Every tear, every fist-pump, every crunching tackle, encapsulated in that emotional moment.
But none of those are my favourite memories of Gary Jones. Vaingloriously, my favourite memory of Gary Jones is the night I got to interview him.
It was the week of the final game of the season at Cheltenham, two weeks before the Burton home leg of the play-off semi-finals. Shelf Bantams were hosting a ‘Darby and Jones’ night, a meet-and-greet type-thing at the Shoulder of Mutton pub with, obviously, Stephen Darby and Gary Jones. On the off chance I’d be able to speak to them for my blog, I stuffed my voice recorder and a set of questions into my back pocket, hoping that they’d say yes to me, that they wouldn’t be too busy, that you didn’t need some sort of magical media pass to interview two Bradford City players.
You didn’t. Mum asked Gary Jones for me (I was too shy to ask for anything other than his autograph on my Wembley poster) and he said he’d find me after the presentation – he even roped in Darby for me, too.
And so we sat, Jones and me, on a bench in the darkening pub car park together, me shivering in my City hoodie and hanging onto his every word as he talked about the cup run, the impending play-offs and the special sense of camaraderie in the squad. He was absolutely perfect: patient, serious, truthful, professional, humorous – he went above and beyond that night.
He and Darby asked for my blog address, asked when the post would be uploaded, asked about writing the blog, whether I wanted to be a journalist, said they’d have a look over the next few days. For them, it was probably quite a menial thing – they’ll do scores of interviews over a season, so my awkwardly rudimentary one ahead of the final few weeks was just another of many – but it meant the world to me. Though I cringe at that piece now, I was proud of the 800 hits it received.
I was prouder, still, of the fact Gary Jones was one of those 800.
We were standing behind the goals at Guiseley for the annual pre-season friendly, applauding the City side as we basked in the searing July sun. As the players left towards the tunnel, Gary Jones came over to the gate and stopped by my brother and me.
“Hiya! Y’alright?” he beamed. “I really enjoyed that! It was really good. I read your interview and it was really good.”
For an introverted and unconfident 15 year old who’d spent the last few months watching Jones’ every move in stunned admiration, genuinely struggling to believe we’d managed to acquire such a player, it was a dream come true to think that the skipper had even remembered me, let alone read my blog and, um, liked it.
But, by January, we all knew a cull was coming. I waited outside the players’ entrance on the last home game of this season (I’m coming across as such a huge fangirl here, but meh) for final pictures with the History Makers ahead of the anticipated departures, and my mum unashamedly asked Jones if he recognised me.
“Of course I do!” he grinned. “We did that interview together, didn’t we? It was good, wasn’t it? You’re a good interviewer.”
“Will you be here next season, Jones?” asked my mum.
“Oh, I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the gaffer about that,” he laughed.
To me, Gary Jones will always be magic.
I trust Phil Parkinson. Deep down, I know this is probably for the best, and there will be some reason why Jones isn’t here next season. Sentiment aside, I still would have kept him – for me, he’s never really looked out of his depth at this level, and the 4-5-1, with Doyle in the holding role, and the 4-3-1-2 deployed against Peterborough, were so excitingly effective, it was difficult to work out why we’d never tried them earlier. I would have retained Gary as a player-coach, at least, even if he’d only figured in a fraction of the games, but the consensus seems to be that the warchest couldn’t feasibly stretch that far. That’s a shame. You can’t teach passion; you can only instil it. Imagine a Gary Jones team talk before kick-off – motivational can’t even come close, surely.
I trust Phil Parkinson. I trust he’s got this right. I hope he has – this would be too costly, too expensive, too condemning a mistake to make. There will be something too wrenching about Gary Jones not being there at all, not even stood on the sidelines. In many ways, I’m really dreading August – I don’t want to watch a City team without that man in it.
I hope he stays in football. I hope he finds another club. I hope he can change their fortunes the way he changed ours, dragging a different team out of a rut with the same spirit and endeavour with which he set himself forever in our hearts.
But there’s only one thing I can really say. Only one thing could ever come close to what I want to say, yet, at the same time, remain so heartbreakingly far away from everything he absolutely deserves to hear. I’m not articulate enough to write a piece that sums up my hero well enough. Nothing I can write will even scratch the surface of what he’s given to this club, how his goals made me feel, how he made our dreams come true.
But I can try. Here goes.
Gary Jones: thank you for everything.
Katie — What a brilliant tribute to Gary “Magic” Jones, and definitely not written by a 15 year old girl lacking in confidence. As a 55 year old bloke (Chris who sits behind you in the Sunwin stand) I must say that I and thousands of others (young and old) share your admiration for him. And I am sure many of us wish we could put into words our feelings and gratitude to Gary.
It sounds like you have many memories of meeting and speaking to Gary which will remain with you forever.
I have been fortunate to meet him twice.
The first occasion was towards the end of 2013 season on a match day about two hours before kick off. I was walking out of the 1911 Suite having picked up some tickets, only to be confronted face to face with Gary Jones walking towards me. As Gary acknowledged me first with an ” Awright mate “, I acted like a dumbstruck teenager lost for words and not knowing what to say to my hero. My reflex reaction was to plant a smacking kiss on his head and say “we bloody love you Gary Jones” – and this from a 55 year old who has been happily married for 30 years !!! – to which Gary replied ” I ‘ve not been kissed like that for a while “. It was only then that I noticed his wife stood behind him, and she added ” Yes I am sure he has nt “.
The second occasion was at the same ” Darby and Jones night” which you attended at the Shelf Bantams. Having met him there, it confirmed to me, that apart from a footballing legend for Bradford City, what a true professional and top bloke he really is.
On our last away trip to Tranmere with a coach trip from the Corn Dolly pub, we stopped at a country pub in the Wirral, and we were talking there to some ex Liverpool players including the “Scouse Dane” Jan Molby, who informed us that he originally brought Gary to Swansea when he was playing non League football in North Wales. He said that even at that age he was impressed by his professional attitude and desire to win which rubbed of onto his team mates
During my 47 years of following City, I have watched many heroes turn out in Claret and Amber, but I can honestly say that Gary Jones ranks in my top four alongside Bruce Bannister, Bobby Campbell and Stuart McCall – and over the years I have been fortunate to meet and talk to all four of them.
Just dont ask me to rank the four in order.
Thanks for the memories Gary – you are and always will be MAGIC !!!
( Hope to see Gary back as City Manager some time in the future !! )
Jason, your piece on Jones was good, very good infact…
This however is so much better. The passion that Katie writes with is brilliant!!! great words and has put a right smile on my face!!!
keep it up Katie
Totally agree Chris. I’m really proud to publish this piece. Katie is a tremendously talented writer and we are very lucky to have her.
Katie this is a fab article and mirrors my own feelings when it comes to Gary ‘he’s magic you know’ Jones.
I too have had the pleasure of meeting & chatting with the great man alongside his father.
What a true professional, what a truly great player, what a true legend, but most importantly what a true gentleman.
Gary, we will miss you and thanks for the memories.
Katie. What fitting tribute to the magic man. As I was getting to the end of reading your article, and Chris’ reply, my wife walked in… Let’s just say I had to pretend I had grit in my eye and we’ll leave it at that.
I hope Gary has the time to read your article, the replies and gets informed of all the many many tweets paying tribute to him.
Katie… You’re in fine company as someone who considers GJ as not only one of the great all time city players (in the top two with McCall for me) but as a general life hero. He (along with PP) has been the heartbeat that’s dragged us from L2 18th to L1 11th with the small matter of premiership scalps and 2 wembley appearances along the way.
I’m sorry to see him go and, like you will be sad to see the 1st team sheet next season without his name on it. Fingers crossed he’ll be back some day… God knows he’ll get a hero’s welcome. A future manager when Parky has moved on?… I’d be happy with that.
In the meantime I hope he goes to a club that deserves him…
Thanks to you and Jason for putting into words what we’re all thinking.
Katie without wanting to sound patronising your writing is fantastic for one so young, I still class myself as young at 36 by the way! I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.
Utterly,utterly brilliant. Katie I am not articulate enough. …..brilliant
I just want to echo not only your brilliant words Katie, but those of the people who have commented on your article. A brilliant and superbly articulate piece of writing, which fully sums up all of our feelings on the great man. Never had the opportunity to meet Gary, but in some strange way, always felt like I did and that I knew what kind of character he would be. Even above his footballing ability, what stood out most was his character and passion, which quite fittingly sums up your writing too, brilliant stuff.
Well said Katie, you have managed to put into words what all City fans think about Gary.
I have to admit, throughout the hundreds of truly excellent articles I’ve read on WOAP, this is my favorite. So good I’ve read it twice. Really looking forward to reading more Katie.
And in regards to Gary Jones, I’ve been watching BCAFC for 20 odd years and GJ is in my top 5 all time City Players along with McCall, Beagrie, Kennedy and Goddard. He will be sadly missed by me, and I look forward (in hope) to see him in some role at City in the future.
A superb piece about a superb player. Putting such feelings into words is a skill very few can grasp and you have got it spot on. We all have special memories and special players – as you get older they keep mounting up but they never leave you – and Gary’s “magic” will never fade. I look forward to reading more of your pieces.
It is difficult to add to what people have already said Katie, but what a brilliant piece of writing. As my good friend Mr Welbourne (hi Chris!) has said above it is an incredibly engaging tribute to Gary and whilst it is obviously very personal to your feelings it has a way of involving and encapsulating the feelings of all of us (judging by the comments on here).
I showed it to my 16 year old son last night and after reading it he simply said ‘wow’, quickly followed by ‘dad don’t expect this kind of thing in my GCSE’s!’ 😉
I hope the coming season will provide a new hero(s) but when talking about Gary Jones I will not use the description ‘replacement for’ – no one could directly replace GJ.
Great article, Katie. I’ve been watching City since 1970 and I first felt bereft when Bruce Bannister left for Bristol Rovers and Peter Middleton joined Plymouth Argyle. Over 40 years later, I read the headline Gary Jones leaves City and I felt the same sadness. A couple of days later I was driving along in the car with my wife and son listening to Bonnie Tyler singing Goodbye Little Superstar. Tears began rolling down my face and my wife asked quietly “Gary Jones?” I simply nodded, lost in my thoughts.
Extremely well written article that sums up Jones perfectly. Well done Katie, I look forward to reading more from you.
I went to the same night in Shelf. I collared him and got him to pose for the now obligatory ‘fist pump’ photo. Told him how ace I thought he was. Scared him a little probably.
He makes my top 3 all time city greats. An inspirational footballer and man.
And as above, don’t worry about your inhibitions. I’m 37 and catching the ball away at Tranmere towards the end of the game and tossing it back to the waiting Jones, arms outstretched, in front of me, waiting to take a corner, was one of my life highlights. And yes, I’d have claimed the assist.
Spot on article. Just to add if Lionel Messi and Gary Jones were walking thru the concourse at VP. I’d brush past Lionel just to get a closer glimpse of Gary. Feel privileged that Gary captained us for 2 remarkable years. He definitely walks into my City ‘Hall of Fame’.
Agreat piece, I think you’ve said what a lot of us feel in a more effective way than most of us could. There’s something very very special between the club and Mr Jones, I really hope to see him back here again someday in some capacity.
An excellent article Katie and a fitting tribute to Gary Jones an alltime great Bradford City FC player.
A wonderful piece from a talented young lady.Your passion shines Katie.Its always sad when we have to say goodbye.Particularly when the subject has been so fundamentally important.At 37 its a tough call in the role Gary plays.Even Stevie G at Liverpool is been groomed for a less dynamic role.Gary will be Ok and we will always have our special memory.you will experience many more dissapointments as this over the seasons Katie.I still miss Leigh Palin 25 years on and Mark Ellis and Brian Mitchell, and and and…..Its the same when an old cricketer leaves he crease.We mourn.Be ready for August.With hope and pride that you can say….I knew him and am proud of it
Brilliant, just brilliant! Up to reading this article I have tried to hold in my thoughts about Jones leaving, thinking it is for the best, and trying not to get too upset about it, but upon reading this article, it has brought back so many memories. Holding his hand up, proud, when he is about to take a corner or a free kick, and especially his trademark fist pump to name just a few. It’s hard to understand how much one man can go from a player, to a captain, to a club legend in just a few years, but I am sure after reading this, people will understand why, and what he meant to us as a club. Gary Jones is, and always will be ‘my’ captain. I can’t believe how well written this article is, especially as it toys with my emotions in ways which hardly any other article has. I am sure that you will have a great career in sports reporting. You certainly have the talent!
Fantastic article Katie! This should be in that national newspaper, and im sure you will be one day. Looking forward to reading your next one! /S
Brilliant. Don’t need to say anything else. Hope the magic man gets to read it.
Mike Stead said it all for me Kats , Paul Aimson broke my 12 year old heart . great piece of work . Well done . proud uncle Jim