The 10 best ever Bradford City debuts

Image copyright Bradford City

Image copyright Bradford City

By Jason McKeown

There’s nothing like the excitement of a big signing making their debut. And after Thursday’s announcement Bradford City have bought young Birmingham City striker Alex Jones for an undisclosed fee, anticipation is building ahead of Saturday’s home game with Chesterfield.

Jones – who netted 10 goals from 21 games whilst on loan at Port Vale this season – is expected to have some involvement against the Spirites. He’ll be given time to settle in, but on Saturday we’re hoping to see the first signs that he is the goalscorer the club badly needs to boost promotion hopes.

Over the years we’ve seen some dreadful Bradford City debuts – Brad Jones, Matt Clarke the defender, Lee Todd – but plenty of excellent ones too. Here, from a list of plenty of options, is WOAP’s 10 best Bradford City debuts. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section.

1) Stan Collymore

vs Leeds United, Premier League, October 2000

Having been sacked by Leicester for fighting Trevor Benjamin in the middle of a reserve team game, Stan Collymore’s arrival at Valley Parade saw him enter the last, last chance saloon. A career of such potential had gone wayward over recent years, with on and off the field problems turning him into an unwanted tabloid star.

Collymore was signed by Geoffrey Richmond – rather than manager Chris Hutchings – as panic had set in over City’s dreadful start to the season. It sparked huge headlines and plenty of derision aimed at the club and player. A local derby with Leeds United, live on Sky, was anything but a low key start.

But any misgivings City fans held towards Stan were put to one side in the 21st minute, when Collymore connected to Benito Carbone’s high hanging cross and produced a spectacular bicycle kick. The blew flew past Leeds keeper Paul Robinson to spark joyous scenes. Collymore marched up to the away fans who had been goading him from kick off and gestured to them 1-0.

A stunning debut goal, against your new team’s biggest rivals, and upsetting the opposition fans – it doesn’t get more memorable than this. Collymore didn’t do much else in a Bradford City shirt, but will always be loved for this moment of inspiration. You never tire of watching this goal.

2) Danny Forrest

vs Ipswich Town, Division One, February 2003

The first season after Administration One was incredibly difficult for the club. With high earners running their contracts down and budgets slashed, manager Nicky Law had to hunt in bargain bins for players to make up numbers. A thinbare squad was continually stretched to breaking point.

None more so than in February, where injuries and suspensions left him with only one senior striker, Ashley Ward. Law thought he’d found the solution by bringing in out of contract Adrian Littlejohn to play one game, against Ipswich, for £350. But on the eve of the match, Littlejohn changed his mind. Law had no alternatives.

So he turned to 18-year-old Danny Forrest, who made the most of the unexpected opportunity by netting City’s second goal in a surprise 2-0 win. The look of joy on Forrest’s face was more memorable than the close range finish. In front of the Kop where he had grown up watching the same Bradford City heroes as the rest of us, Forrest was living the ultimate dream. The friends he regularly sat with were even in their usual seats that day, no doubt in disbelief.

A few weeks later Forrest scored a wonder goal and for a brief moment earned comparisons to an emerging Everton striker named Wayne Rooney. His career wasn’t to prove anywhere near as successful, but Forrest’s  Roy of the Rovers-style debut was one of the best moments of a challenging period in the club’s history.

3) Luke Medley

vs Wrexham, League Two, August 2007

76 minutes into a hard-fought encounter with Wrexham – the game tied at 1-1 – the relatively unknown Luke Medley was thrown into the action by Stuart McCall. By the 78th minute, his name was on everybody’s lips.

It was the former Spurs trainee’s first ever game of senior professional football, and his very first touch was something special. Kyle Nix had sent him away down the left hand channel, and with no one in the box to find, Medley elected to volley it towards goal. The touch, the power and the accuracy was spot on. The ball flew past Wrexham stopper Andy Williams and into the corner of the net.

The wonder goal proved enough to earn McCall his first victory as Bradford City manager – and a first Bantams home success in more than nine months. It was one of the best goals Valley Parade has ever seen. Unfortunately Medley couldn’t live up to such impossibly high standards as his first-ever touch, and he was released at the end of that season.

4) Sean McCarthy

vs Tranmere Rovers, Third Division (Old), August 1990

John Docherty’s place as the most unpopular manager in Bradford City’s history is in no doubt. But amongst a succession of dreadful signings, primarily from his old club Millwall, he delivered a shrewd bit of business by buying Sean McCarthy from Plymouth for £250k.

McCarthy went on to score 79 goals in 160 games – a true 1 in 2 striker – but few games were as dramatic as his debut. On the opening day of the 1990/91 season Tranmere Rovers came to Valley Parade.

It all began well enough with a McCarthy goal, but later on in the game he had a penalty saved by Eric Nixon. McCarthy’s involvement in the big moments didn’t end there, as he lashed out at a Tranmere player to earn a red card.

A goal, a missed penalty and an early bath. Some debut!

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk) - copyright Bradford City FC

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk) – copyright Bradford City FC

5) Kyel Reid

vs Rochdale, League One, October 2015

Kyel Reid’s second debut for Bradford City was an exhilarating affair. The Bantams were winless in four games and struggling to score goals, so when Paul Anderson broke his leg the SOS call went out. Reid, who had left City for Preston in the summer of 2014 but was now well out of the picture at Deepdale, made an emotional return to Valley Parade. His first game back was classic Reid.

It had been a quiet first half at Spotland, with the score tied 1-1. In the second 45, Reid was playing in front of the away section that takes up a side of the pitch, and came alive. The Rochdale full back couldn’t live with him as he charged up and down the field. All of his tricks were on display.

His best moment came on the hour, after he picked up the ball on the edge of the City box and accelerated to the opposite penalty area. A trail of defenders lay in his wake, before one finally got a foot in to concede a corner. It didn’t stop City, who from that corner scored an all-important third goal to win the match. Reid was the star man, setting the tone for a generally successful second spell at the club.

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6) John Dreyer

vs Huddersfield, Division One, November 1996

A John Dreyer goal didn’t happen very often but when it did it was memorable. The season-changing winner at Sunderland for City in the Premier League, and the opener of the Bantams 1997 FA Cup giant killing at Everton, stand out. His debut also saw him get on the score sheet.

And it was part of a classic derby match, albeit one not remembered quite so fondly in this corner of West Yorkshire. City went 1-0 up early doors when Chris Waddle’s corner flew into the net without anyone touching it, and the former England man’s next corner was just as dangerous. This time it was met by the head of debutant centre half Dreyer, who joyfully headed home for 2-0. City grabbed a third soon after, and a 3-0 lead should have been enough.

Yet City, who only just survived relegation that season, had a dreadful away record. When Huddersfield pulled one back, panic set in. It was 2-3 before half time, and three minutes after the break 3-3. It was a pulsating Friday night contest, live on Sky. Quite a start for Dreyer.

Although part of a defence that struggled that night, Dreyer went onto become a true City Gent over the next four seasons, helping take the Bantams to the Premier League and helping them to survive that first year.

7) Devante Cole

vs Port Vale, League One, August 2015

Phil Parkinson’s charges made a wretched start to last season. Thrashed on the opening day, knocked out of the League Cup by a League Two side, and then going another three winless matches, hopes of a promotion bid began to look forlorn before August was even out.

But late moves in the transfer window helped to turn it around, and no one was initially more important than 20-year-old Devante Cole. He was signed from Man City after impressing during different League One loan spells. It was viewed at the time as a major coup to get Cole, and the moneybags Premier League club even insisted on a sell on clause so they could profit from a future Cole transfer.

Cole began on the bench for what became a war of attrition with Port Vale. It looked set to be another game without a win, and a second blank in front of goal. But with 20 minutes to go Cole’s introduction lifted the mood around Valley Parade, and he provided the missing spark.

Cole did miss a sitter in the closing minutes, but there was still time for one last attack. A ball was sent long by Rory McArdle, it evaded everyone in the box, and Cole was on hand to stick out a knee, guide it into the net and win the game. Cue manic scenes of celebration, and seemingly the birth of a new City hero.

Despite his bright start continuing for a few weeks, Cole was unable to adapt to City’s style and lost his place before being sold to Fleetwood. His time at Highbury has been underwhelming and you worry for his long-term prospects, but at least his City debut will be long remembered.

8) Joe Brown

vs Morecambe, Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, November 2005

Johnstone’s Paint Trophy games are rarely edge-of-your-seat thrillers and this one was certainly no exception. An understrength City side were at non-league Morecambe on a biting cold night, with both teams cancelling each other out.

But just as everyone braced themselves for extra time and another 30 minutes of tedium, an unknown 17-year-old stepped off the bench to replace a player more than twice his age – Steve Claridge – and netted a 90th minute winner. Only a few hundred City fans were at Christie Park to see his powerful header, but during a period where senior pros were putting in average displays for City, the potential of the young striker excited everyone.

Brown went onto score two more goals that season – including another 90th minute winner, at home to Blackpool – but never managed to establish himself. These days he is a season ticket holder in the Kop.

9) Dean Saunders

vs Middlesbrough, Premier League, August 1999

City’s pre-season preparations for their first top flight campaign in 77 years were far from smooth. They were routinely mocked and written off in the media, lost nearly every game in pre-season, and three players – including star striker Robbie Blake – had contract disputes with the club.

Against this backdrop, the recruiting of ageing players like Dean Saunders hardly set pulses racing, especially as it added to the media nicknaming the team “Dad’s Army”.

City travelled to the Riverside Stadium on the opening day with most of us fearing a hiding. The Bantams did a superb marshalling job at the back to frustrate a talented Middlesbrough stikeforce. A dogged 0-0 draw was on the cards, which would have been a promising start.

And then, with a minute to go, City were able to break with Lee Mills. He turned in space, saw Saunders charging down the middle unmarked, and sent over a through ball that Paul Gascoigne couldn’t cut out. Saunders took a touch to steady himself, before finishing coolly.

Amazing scenes amongst the City fans behind the goal, while Saunders made fun of the media criticisms the squad was too old by pretending to hobble with a walking stick.

10) Mark Schwarzer

vs Charlton Athletic, Division One, November 1996

When struggling Bradford City travelled to Charlton in November – still winless on the road that season – no one expected anything but a home win. Even the arrival of Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer for a £350,000 fee, a defence that had conceded 11 goals in the last four games was unlikely to keep out a decent Charlton attack.

But Schwarzer was a revelation. He produced a string of outstanding saves, laying on the platform for a shock 2-0 City win. It was only the Bantams fourth clean sheet in 22 matches, and offered real hope they could survive the drop.

Schwarzer only played 16 games for Bradford City. He was so impressive, playing far below his natural level, that other clubs came calling. Middlesbrough signed him for £1.5 million in March – a £1.15 million profit for City – and he has gone onto enjoy a fine career in the Premier League that only came to an end last summer.


The WOAP podcast – episode 5

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Categories: Opinion

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14 replies

  1. I’d forgotten about Schwarzer I was there and he was brilliant that day. Nobody had heard. Of him but what a signing. Waddle scored a belter that day

  2. Other suggestions via Twitter so far have included Lee Power, Tony Adcock, Zema Abbey and Ronnie Wallwork.

  3. Probably a bit before your time Jason but you’ve got to have Tony Adcock & Lee Power on the list, just a shame their debuts were as good as it got!

    • To be fair to Lee Power, he was great in the first few games he played in until he was struck down by the mystery virus, which hit him on the way back from an away game. Prior to that he showed why we’d splashed the cash for him. If he hadn’t have been hit with the virus, he could have been another claret and amber legend. Instead, when he eventually returned, he was not the same player and failed to recapture the form which he showed on first arriving at VP

  4. Aidey Thorpe, first league match after the fire, 2-1 win at Carlisle. Fantastic support and atmosphere. He was on fire supporting Campbell. That was as good as he got. Eugene Martinez, first league match of 77-78 after promotion to Div 3. Beat Cambridge 4-0 but relegated. He was a cult figure but more style than substance. Memories.

  5. There were two strikers from the early 90s who had good debuts but didn’t do much after that. I remember Lee Power scoring for us on his debut – he was looking decent and then not long after he contracted a mystery virus and that was pretty much that for his City career. Then there was Tony Adcock who’d been bought to replace Jimmy Quinn I think, scored on his debut, looked great, and was utter rubbish thereafter. Hopefully Alex Jones fares better in his City career!

  6. Robbie Threlfall vs Rochdale. Looked like a Premier League left back. Scored a worldy of a free kick and set up 1 maybe both the others.

  7. 8/10

    John McCole v. Southampton 20/9/1958 Division 3 (League 1)
    Bobby Campbell v. Peterborough United 12/1/1980 Division 4 (League 2).

    Take out Joe Brown, who should have been sent off prior to scoring,having crippled the Morecambe regular ‘keeper and Devante Cole – enough said.

  8. Bobby Campell v Peterbourgh 79/80 season debut goal. Ist of many.

  9. Mention of McCole, one of my teenage heroes, reminds me that in early 1957 City signed a centre forward from Rutherglen in Scotland by name of Willie Marshall. I think he scored 2 against Carlisle in the first 10 minutes of his debut. We thought he would be the real deal, but he never quite made it.

    • John,
      Willie Marshall left late 50s/early 60s; to Swindon Town I believe. Wikipaedia will confirm or not. At that time, Ron Liversidge was also thought of as a potential goakscorer, but didn’t cut the mustard either. Hence the search culminating in John ‘King’ McCole’s signing. 12 months later he went off to Elland Road as we know for 10 grand I believe(?). Next hero, Derek Stokes, off he went to Town then of course Dave Layne and Rodney Green. They soon left for Sheff Wed and Gillingham respectively. Happy days.

    • John,
      I omitted to mention Alan Devanney from Guiseley. Had a sorry ending to his life from memory.

  10. Marco Sas. For the first few months it was like we had an international player on the books, then it suddenly just stopped

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