The modern day story of Bradford City

Image by Thomas Gadd (

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Next Wednesday is a very special anniversary in Bradford City’s modern history – for it will be exactly 30 years since they returned to Valley Parade, following the fire disaster in May 1985. The club had been in exile at Odsal for 18 months, which proved a trying experience. 

City’s first game back was a friendly against an England XI managed by the late Sir Bobby Robson and including Kevin Keegan, with the Bantams winning 2-1. There has been the odd threat to move City away from Valley Parade since, but we supporters remain deeply attached to our wonderful home.

The story of City’s return to Valley Parade, and the remarkable ups and downs since 1985, is told in a book published earlier this year – Reinventing Bradford City – which is still available to buy. With Christmas just around the corner, this book is a great present for City supporters old and young. 

Here, by bringing together quotes from people who were interviewed for the book, is a whistle-stop tour of just how remarkable the last 30 years have proven.

“Even though football should be irrelevant, to a lot of people it wasn’t. They just wanted to get back to watching City and especially watching them in the Second Division, as it was the first time we’d been in that league for a long time.”

“The positives of Odsal were the club continued to exist and were playing within the city of Bradford itself, but that was about it. The list of negatives was much lengthier. There was the inconvenience of the change of routine, the awful pitch, poor atmosphere and horrible weather that seemed unique in Odsal.”

“That day took a lot away of that love away from me; it took a lot of my feelings for Leeds away – because of what they had done. It was only a few people who caused the trouble, but even so. In years to come I had four opportunities to join Leeds, but out of loyalty I just couldn’t do it.”

“It was a special team. It’s more about money these days. I remember my first two years at Bradford, and I would have played for nowt – I nearly did anyway! It wasn’t about money then, it was all about playing for the club.”

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

Image by Kieran Wilkinson

“The last game at home to Ipswich is one I would have loved to have played again. It was as if we had let everyone down. If we had have won we would have gone up. The expectation level was so high. John Hendrie was a big miss. We still went into the game confident, but during the game we were edgy. It was a sore one to come off to.

“To the best of my knowledge, the Doc has the ignominy of being the only City manager to have a pie thrown at him by a City fan.”

“I don’t like judging people, because he was successful at Millwall beforehand, so there must have been something there. But it didn’t happen at Valley Parade. His strengths, I can’t put my finger on them. I didn’t see it really! There were a lot of factors, such as the style of play. It just wasn’t right. I don’t know who brought him in and why.”

wembley 96

“I definitely thought it was all over after the first leg. They had a strong team and they had a really good home record. For the second leg, you were thinking we had nowt to lose. Let’s just go there and at least compete this time.”

“It was just an amazing feeling to think that we were going to go to Wembley for the first ever time. It hadn’t happened to City fans before, and so the whole feeling in that away end was incredible. Everyone was so excited, not so much at the thought of promotion, but the simple fact we were going to Wembley. It was such a big thing.”

“It was the first time that we got that feeling. We’ve since gone into big games with expectation, but back then we had nothing. So to have something like that happen to us was just amazing.”

“When Paul Jewell got the job he was completely untried and inexperienced. He’d been given until the end of the season and he hadn’t done particularly well, so there was an expectation that he’d be replaced with a bigger name, so to speak. Supporters really struggled to understand why he was given a two year contract. It didn’t really smack of the ambition that Geoffrey Richmond had been talking about.”

“I was travelling down to meet Danny Wilson at Barnsley, when I got a phone call out of the blue. Someone had tipped off Geoffrey Richmond that I was heading to Barnsley. I think they had said to him ‘look McCall is coming back to Yorkshire; if you don’t try to get him you’ll regret it’. With no disrespect to Barnsley, or any of the other clubs interested in me at the time, I really wanted to come back to Bradford, but nothing had been mentioned. So I got this call out of the blue and diverted the car to Bradford instead.”

“I can remember saying ‘I’ll do anything lord, I’ll go to church, but please don’t let them score’. Paul Simpson steps up and we knew what he was capable of. His shot hits the inside the post and we scrambled it away. My missus couldn’t bear to watch the last ten minutes. She went down to the concourse and there must have been at least a hundred City fans who had done the same, as they couldn’t watch the game. They sat on steps, biting their nails.”

“It was an absolutely tremendous day. I went out for about three days! I said to the Telegraph & Argus that, later that night, you’ll probably find me drunk in a gutter somewhere. I was true to my words!”

Premiership days 1

“What Paul Jewell did with building that team was absolutely phenomenal. The club felt vibrant during the first season in the Premier League, it felt like we were building something and that we were going places.”

“We all loved the club, we loved the fans; we gave everything and didn’t earn a lot. And then these players were just coming in for the money. I believe that we stayed up that first season because everyone gave 100%. We couldn’t have carried anyone. We weren’t good enough to carry anyone. Now we were carrying the likes of Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu. I think that Chris Hutchings was out of his depth.”

“He explained there was a book inside the bottom draw of my desk, listing every player’s wage. So I opened it up and saw what money everybody was on – it was the worst thing I could have done!”

“The final straw was I saw some cash flows that showed the club was going to be haemorrhaging £1 million a month. But when I looked more closely, that assumed that we were receiving all of the ITV Digital money, which we weren’t, and it also assumed we were getting rid of Mr Carbone, which we weren’t. So the game was up.”

“I was on holiday in Ayia Napa with Barry Hayles and Kevin Betsy. I was watching Sky Sports, drinking a Guinness, and looked at the TV and saw the announcement that my contract had been terminated. I thought, ‘what’s going on there? I’d better tighten the purse strings for the rest of my holiday!’”


“It was a horrible time. I remember a pre-season friendly at Hull with just the lads that were signed and a couple of trialists. And on the bus there was this feeling was that this was going to be the last game that Bradford City was going to play.”

“Let’s be fair, Richmond didn’t deliberately set out to ruin the club. But he was a gambler, and like many gamblers he didn’t think about the downside of the risks he was taking.”

“I don’t think there was any way he could have stayed on. Or, even if he had have stayed on, I don’t think there was any way he could have rebuilt it the way that he would have liked to.”

“As a professional, I had to assess that this business is simply not viable. As a fan, I desperately wanted the Rhodes family to put more money in. The hardest thing was wondering what I’d tell my five-year-old daughter if we no longer had a Bradford City to support.”

“All I will say is thank god we did go back into admin when we did. Had we not, we would have ended up going back in at some point in the future having blown a load more money and the club would probably have been in a much weaker position.”

“I remember speaking to their solicitor and assuring him that, if we got out of administration, we had a great chance of surviving and paying the rent. That we did and we have done ever since.”


“I used to have regular meetings with the Bradford City Supporters Trust, and I remember telling them ‘you do realise we are far more likely to be relegated from League One than we are promoted?’”

“As far as Julian was concerned, Stuart was the only person he wanted, to lift the place. There was no other candidate. I remember driving home one day and Julian rang me. I missed his call but he left an answerphone message and it was just one word long. ‘Yes!’ So I went home and put it on the website that Stuart McCall would be taking over.”

“Instead of inspiring our players, Valley Parade used to inspire the opposition.”

“I don’t think he could believe how people could be so unprofessional at such a crucial stage in the season. They have a chance of promotion and then the players go and do that. I think he took it very personally.”

“If I had my time again, I wish I had come into this job at a different time. I wish it had happened at a different time. But it was what it was.”

Stuart McCall Dagenham

“There was a feeling that City could go up on a series of 1-0 wins, like Wycombe did under Taylor. That Wycombe team were dreadful to watch, and hardly scored any goals, but they got promoted. So you thought that you could put up with a season of dour wins just to get out of the division.”

“I don’t think the younger players appreciated really what kind of experience he had and what kind of manager Peter Taylor was.”

“I was seriously concerned we were going out of the league and that win turned it round.”

“We approached Peter Jackson about what we were going to do – and to be honest we were quite prepared to continuing working with him – and he said that he wanted to leave.”

“Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Gary Jones, James Meredith – those type of people were brilliant for us, because they helped us to progress the club. They were winners. They want to give their best every week. And they set the tone for new players coming in for years after.”

“Walking out at Villa Park that night with the flags waving from the Aston Villa fans, it was awesome really. You could see how much they were up for the game.”

“I think it’s the best goal of my career. I’ve been fortunate over the last few years to play in some really important games and score goals in them, but I think that that one was the one.”

“It was one of those Playstation moments. Bradford City in a cup final – even to this day it doesn’t sound right!”


“That team was everything we’ve ever wanted a football team to be: fearless, invincible, battling until the very end. They seemed like superheroes, capable of achieving the impossible because of the bond that existed between them.”

“We used the Swansea experience to get us promoted, simple as that.”

“All the big game players turned up. The Northampton reporter said to me at half time ‘I just want to go home’.”

“It was all about the occasion, all about enjoying a day out. Seeing what Chelsea was like. Seeing what hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds of talent was like. Seeing a glimpse of Jose Mourinho. We all bought into the fact that it was just a day out.”

“He had a feeling of what the Chelsea team was going to be that day, so he gambled on the young Danish lad playing right back.”

“I’ve played Roma and Stuttgart in the UEFA Cup for my hometown club, but I still feel that they are no Chelsea. For them to get beat on their own patch after being 2-0 up, I don’t think that will happen ever again for a League One club. That’s why it was so big. So I put that as the best memory of my career so far.”

Image by Alex Scott

Image by Alex Scott

“Over the years it will get better and better. And poor old Ronnie Radford won’t get wheeled out anymore, it will be the likes of Mark Yeates, Andy Halliday, Filipe Morais and Jon Stead getting wheeled out on Match of the Day and to pull out the balls for the third round!”

“I think we are actually now in a better position as a football club now than back in the Premier League, because we now have the right mentality, and the way that the fans and the players are. Now, you know what you’re going to get from Bradford City.”

For the full inside story of the last 30 years, Reinventing Bradford City can now be bought at the following outlets:

(Snippets above are from Stuart McCall, John Dewhirst, Mark Ellis, Terry Dolan, Lee Duxbury, Kieran Wilkinson, Joanne Golton, Gareth Walker, Jamie Lawrence, Mark Douglas, Julian Rhodes, Mark Bower, Simon Parker, Michael Flynn, Phil Parkinson, James Hanson, Andrew Davies and James Mason – many other people star in the book.)


The full BantamsPast History Revisited series is available from the same places, and is made up of:

Vol. 1  A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects by John Dewhirst, pub Oct-14 (limited copies only, now £20)

Vol2 Reinventing Bradford City by Jason McKeown, pub Mar-16 £20 – including p&p (a small number of hardback copies available, £30)

Vol3 Room at the Top by John Dewhirst, pub Jul-16 £20 (softback) / £30 (hardback) – including p&p

Vol4 Life at the Top by John Dewhirst, pub Jul-16 £20 (softback) / £30 (hardback) – including p&p

Categories: Opinion

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1 reply

  1. Jason’s book is a great read and highly recommended. Congratulations also to Bantamspast for producing these books. Last week two of them were featured by The Guardian among the best sports books of the year:

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