James Hanson was a massive figurehead in Bradford City’s resurgence; he’ll be fondly remembered for a long time

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

Image by Thomas Gadd (thomasgadd.co.uk)

By Jason McKeown

Football, just like life, is full of people who squander their natural gifts, and others who thrive through endeavour. James Hanson is the embodiment of the latter type of person. He is a player who has earned everything the hard way.

You would never describe Hanson as the most natural of footballers. He didn’t enjoy a pampered background at a Premier League academy. He didn’t benefit from top youth coaches educating him on the finer points of the game. His career path didn’t run smoothly. Bombed out of Huddersfield Town at 14, after being used in junior teams as a left back, and rejected by Colin Todd’s Bradford City, Hanson was destined for a very different life. Recovering from such discouraging events was the first of many heroic battles he has won.

For years and years Bradford City fans have debated his worth. Firstly when the club was on the decline and he was viewed by some as part of the problem, and then more recently when City have been on the up and he was supposedly holding us back. The argument put forward was that we needed to discard Hanson to move on.

Yet the more disparaging views there were directed towards Hanson, the more credit he deserved. If the player really was as limited and ineffectual as his detractors suggested, he was doing a hell of a job maximising such a lack of talent.

For him to keep going when judged so harshly, so often, was incredible. Players with much more natural ability have failed to enjoy anything like the career of Hanson, simply because they lack his mental strength.

Managers came and went, City eventually climbed the ladder, and Hanson became one of the few constants. Progress has its casualties, and the last four years have seen many players left behind by the club’s rise and rise. Hanson’s turn to leave was always debated, but very few expected him to move onto a club in a better league position than City.

In four months’ time James Hanson could be a Championship player. That would be some story.

James Hanson

The first memories of Hanson remain vivid. A pre-season friendly at home to Premier League Burnley, with Hanson introduced as a second half trialist. He bullied a Burnley back line looking suspiciously short of Premier League quality, and after a few more impressive cameos earned a deal at Bradford City.

He worked in the Co-op; his trial period punctured by still having to complete shifts in the Idle shop. Combined with part-time earnings from Guiseley, and the contact offered by Stuart McCall actually represented a pay cut. Hanson waived and nearly turned it down. His wise-talking dad persuaded him to gamble on the opportunity of becoming a professional footballer. It was a punt that paid out.

I remember his first start, a League Cup defeat at Notts Forest. Hanson played on the wing and didn’t pull up any trees. City lost 3-0, three days after getting walloped 5-0 at Notts County. This was a summer of heavy cost-cutting that led to a move towards cheaper, non-league players like Hanson, whose £7,500 transfer fee was covered by a Bradford City supporter rather than the club. The early signs were alarmingly bad.

But Hanson settled in quickly, and City’s season eventually got going. McCall – in his third season in charge, and worn down by the pressure – left in February, but Hanson continued to thrive when Peter Taylor took over. His debut season saw 13 goals and the lifting of the player of the season award. A wonderful start.

That first year was Hanson’s peak in general popularity. A more trying second season for player and club dampened expectations over what he could achieve.

Taylor struggled to build a winning football team and left. Peter Jackson’s ego saw him put his own popularity ahead of Hanson’s best interests. His last action as manager was to placate Hanson’s critics by substituting him midway through the second half of a home defeat to Dagenham. Jackson sent Nialle Rodney on in Hanson’s place, and the team forlornly launched long balls up to the medium-height striker. No one was cheering.

Picture by

image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Hanson was absolutely central to the reversal in the club’s fortunes. Once Nahki Wells burst onto the scene and the pair were picked together in December 2011, Phil Parkinson finally had something to work with. Hanson and Wells helped to keep City in the Football League, before memorably leading the line in the history makers season, netting more than 40 goals as a pair.

That was a season full of the very best of James Hanson, and where most of the stories of his Bradford City
achievements will be gleaned from. His famous, famous goal at Aston Villa sent his home town club to Wembley and made him nationally famous for a period. When the chips were down in the play off semi finals, Hanson had the game of his life at Burton and City were back at the national stadium. Hanson opened the scoring on that marvellous Wembley afternoon where the Bantams sealed a first promotion for 14 years.

Amazing times for the club, and great personal achievements for the player.

In League One, Hanson has had good days and bad. On top form he can bully the best defenders in the league, and he has continued to net vital goals to keep the club moving forwards. After scoring the winner against arch rivals Leeds in September 2014, he surely shouldn’t ever need to buy another drink in Bradford.

But he has struggled at times after City sold Nahki Wells in January 2014. A failure to strike up a good partnership with anyone since Wells has limited City’s progress. Although in Hanson’s defence, the number of genuinely successful City strike partnerships over the last three decades is thin. Perhaps the Hanson and Wells pairing set the bar too high.

Phil Parkinson was huge for Hanson’s career, but over his final two seasons he didn’t exactly deploy a style of play that enabled Hanson to flourish. Last season was a graveyard for strikers. Playing in a side that created few chances, Hanson deserved credit for still reaching double figures.

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

You always expect more goals from your strikers, and Hanson had to live with that criticism over his time at Valley Parade. He did miss chances, he didn’t always impose himself on defenders – but he always gave absolutely everything. There was always an integrity and honesty to his play. And many of us found it impossible to dislike that.

He has been accused of not fitting into City’s new style, even though the man who chooses the playing strategy rates him so highly. That Hanson’s City career went full circle with McCall’s return could have ultimately led to another seminal moment for the player. McCall has barely been able to select his favoured front two of Hanson and Billy Clarke this season, but on the occasions where he could they looked promising together. We will never know if it could have fired City to the Championship.

No one player is ever bigger than the club, but the longevity and impact Hanson has made at City will leave a hole off the pitch. Younger generations of Bradford people can read a book based on his life. His story is full of lessons about the virtues of always trying your best, having the courage to recover from set backs and to never give up on your dreams.

On the field, the joy he generated against Aston Villa Park, Burton, Northampton and Leeds will live with us for decades to come. Hanson deserves to leave with nothing but the warmest wishes of every single Bradford City supporter.

Where we’d be now, without him, does not bear thinking about.

The debate that never should be by Katie Whyatt


Categories: Opinion

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25 replies

  1. The more I think about this … it’s clear we again have come out of this transfer worse off.
    175k plus Guiseley get sell on fee ?
    Now where do you go with 100k to find proven lge1 level striker that game after game you know what you are getting ? Big game player.
    Unless our German Superstars are going to stump up another 300k out there pockets.. we will be shopping in the bargain basement category taking chance on potential.
    We are going for the play offs and yet again we seeing players move on . Don’t be surprised to see James Meredith go next .

  2. good article as usual but one point failed to get a mention…..his height and our now lack of any at all up front. the Millwall game was a prime illustration, where there big back line got everything in the air into the box. are we to expect every cross from now on to be a low cross? opposition teams will soon catch on and expect just that as well.

  3. I can understand the various footballing views regarding JH, the contract situation, also that it is the nature of the game that players move. What I cannot understand is the vitriolic comments aimed at JH that have grown over the last couple of seasons – from posters on sites (including WOAP) who apparently class themselves as supporters of our club.

    • It’s a running theme in society at the moment. For the saddos out there which I include myself in, read up on confirmation bias. People seek comments or articles which confirms their viewpoint but actively dismiss reasoned debate or contradictory statements. They are then convinced they are right. I’m not saying I am right in liking Hanson and seeing what he could add to the squad but some of the negative comments were shocking, especially from people who class themselves as supporters of Bradford City

  4. Why are we not offering contracts to player’s that have 6month to run ?
    Meredith is another I’m worried will get offer and go .
    At least Mark Lawn came out more and told supporters what was going on … even if you didn’t like what was said.

  5. Excellent tribute to JH – thanks Jason.
    I am very disappointed to see him go and even more disappointed to read in press that the plan appears to be to replace him with a German dwarf. The club is beginning to take backward steps.

  6. Excellent article. Sad to see James depart but good luck with the move. The change will be the making of him. James’s situation reminds me of Steve Bull at Wolves. Steve never quite achieved his full potential because he stayed at his home town club all his playing career.

  7. James Hanson has made an immense contribution to Bradford City, a contribution that his many detractors seem to fail to appreciate and the fact he has risen above the bile and vitriol directed towards him tells you a lot about the man. Thanks for the great memories, James; you will be missed.

  8. A very sad day for Bradford City Football Club. The two words that stand out in Jason’s excellent article are “honesty” and “integrity”. I will say it again, I am a massive supporter of James Hanson and whatever you think of him as a player, you can’t question his effort when he wore that Bradford City shirt.
    Please be patient dear reader, why I tell this little story. Last autumn, I got talking with the person who rents the premises above the property where I work. I informed him that I am a Bradford City season ticket holder and that’s when he told me that he works with James Hanson’s Dad and if he could do anything for me in the future, I need only ask him. So fast forward a few months and I’d bought the 2017 Bradford City calendar for my Godson’s Christmas present. Who features on the month of June? Yes, you know, James Hanson. I asked the person who works with James Hanson’s Dad if he would mind getting the calendar signed by Hanson for my Godson. So, I gave the calendar along with a letter addressed to Hanson, to the tenant above the work premises. A few weeks later, I got the calendar back, signed by Hanson along with a short message for my Godson. A great gesture by the big man.
    Who remembers when Huddersfield Town sold Marcus Stewart to Ipswich Town? Hanson’s transfer feels like that to me. However, it is extremely worrying not just that we have sold Hanson to a league rival, but the fact that McCall apparently wanted to keep Hanson unlike our club owners. Is this why Parkinson left our club, because he couldn’t have the final say on all transfers? If the answer is yes, the future of our football club looks bleak.
    The club statement on the club’s official website is of concern too. It states that Hanson was a part of our future plans. If so, why wasn’t his contract extended earlier on this season? Also, a photograph of Hanson celebrating his goal in the League One Play Off final or against Leeds United in the League Cup? Oh no, just an image of the club’s crest! Shocking!
    I wish James Hanson all the best for the future and I am confident that he will be playing in the Championship next season, unfortunately not in a claret and amber shirt.

  9. Sorry that should say League Two Play Off final! Wishful thinking by me!

  10. Brilliantly written, Jason.

    Like others, I’ve never been able to understand the Hanson bashing. Here was a guy who got his home town side to Wembley (twice!), scored in a play off final, got the winning goal against Leeds, played in a team that beat Arsenal, that beat Chelsea etc. How brilliant is that? Roy of the Rovers stuff. And for a Bradfordian to do it all? And yet a sizeable section of our fans couldn’t wait to slag him off. It seems to be a strange phenomenon in recent times that local players seem to be scrutinised much more than others (see Colbeck, Joe) and given less of a chance. I suspect he’d have been seen as much more worthy of laudation had he had an unusual name and been from outside of this parish.

    I had to chuckle at the comment about Mark Lawn above. I cannot recall praise being lavished on the chairmen as to how they dealt with Nahki’s sale! How soon we forget.

    There seems to be a slight undercurrent of criticism against our current owners. Way too soon in my opinion. Surely the club has been run on short-termism (our of financial necessity at times so not particularly a criticism of the previous regime) for too long? The owners have said that they are in it for the long-haul and so they should be given the patience to put that into play. There’s bound to be ups and downs and unpopular decisions but I can’t see any advantage to knee-jerk reactions.

    • Mark lawn told supporter’s they were told off Wells only club he would go was Huddersfield… as we couldn’t alllow Wells to walk away for nothing in Summer only offer they could accept was 1.2 million from Huddersfield.
      We got peanuts in that deal too .
      This is concerning that Mr Simon Parker isn’t trying to find out the full facts about the Hanson transfer .
      Why not offer of contract ?

    • It’s something we need to address, as the club has stated it wants to bring through youth, however as you quite rightly state, youth or local players seem to have a hard time of it, exactly at the time where they need support and patience. Not good

  11. Excellent article about a local lad who always tried his best. He achieved more than might have been expected when he arrived from Guiseley but perhaps had now reached his pinnacle – I wish him well & hope he can prove his many critics wrong & go on to further his career in South Yorkshire

  12. Thanks Jason, a fitting tribute to a benchmark of a player in a football world which grows more bizarre by the day.His work ethic, utter honesty and sheer brute strength will be badly missed. Nevertheless he is just one piece in our every changing jigsaw, and I’m sure the jigsaw will look a little more complete this time next week.

  13. I hope the Minority of so called True Bradford City Fans are Happy now, ( You know the one’s who need someone to blame for results who don’t see the other stuff like defensive headers that are as good as a goal ) My heart goes out to Big Jim and His Family for all the social media abuse they have had to endure over the last few years, and Good Luck James to your future, maybe now you can put it all behind You, and have a Great few years in the Championship, because let’s face it, that is where you’re heading Big Fella, Billy Sharpe feeding from Hanson, No Brainer. I just hope Meredith does not miss kick a Ball in our next game, because He may become the next victim. I just wonder if these fans go week in week out, I personally have been going since 2007 when we dropped into league 2, taking my 7 year old son, who is now 16 and gutted Hanson has gone, I remember when, I was watching most games through my fingers and my lad said, we are never going to get any where, then this skinny centre forward signed from Guiseley, started to learn His trade, got fitter, put some beef on and started to time His jumps to perfection, causing defenders a right handful, along came another development kid, Mr Wells, oh wait a minute maybe some of you who did not like Hanson may not know, Nahki Wells was a great player who we sold to Huddersfield, and Yes He became a Great Player and scored so many because of YES Hanson. Anyway then the magic started from nothing all of a sudden we were on a great cup run, once again maybe some of you can’t remember, let me tell you we get to the Semi – Final of the Capital One Cup after beating Arsenal in a shoot out, Yes Arsenal. Then we beat Aston Villa 3 – 1 in the 1st leg, to go to Villa Park only needing to lose by 1 goal to get to a History Wembley Final, the game starts and Benteke is hitting balls like His life depended on it, and eventually scores, then as the game goes on we get a corner Gary Jones He was the captain for us, floats a great cross in and goes out again for another, same again straight to the height line of the Big Fella flying in from nowhere, bang into the roof of the net 1-1 pressure back on the Home side chasing the game in vain, yes they did score and won 2-1 but Hansons Header got us to the Final, a league 2 side. Then came the late rattling wins to gate crash the league 2 play-offs, losing 2-3 on the 1st leg to going to Burton and Nahki latching on to a lose ball to open the scoring to Burton getting a pen 1-1, then early into the second half Nahki is stumbling on a ball knocks it onto Hanson, and I think this was is best goal ever, because before He hit it you knew it was going in for where He aimed it, and Nakhi wrapped it up 1-3. We were there again Wembley, and who else started the Big Day off Yes Hanson with a perfect header, and we got promoted that day, so in mine & my Lad’s view He will always be a City Legend, and gave this club a Big Lift to where we are now and I will never forget that. Sheffield will probably buy Nahki Wells at the end of the season? I will stay anonymous, due to the fact I don’t bother with social media and idiot’s. Good Luck James.

  14. I’m very grateful to Hanson. He gave me some of my best memories of watching city in recent years and I wish him all the best at the blades.

    However am I the only one who thinks 150k for a league 1 forward who is out of contract in the summer is actually quite good business ?

    It is very rare that anyone in league 1 commands a fee when moving to another side in the same division and James is the centre forward in a team which doesn’t score enough goals…

  15. Worth watching the link below to remember some of the big man’s goals, some stunning strikes over the years that some people may have forgotten about and not just from the big occasions.

  16. Great link Ryan, this is what we will Miss, Anon again here forgot to mention from above, but after the Chelsea game John Terry said that No 9 Hanson caused us a few problems they are few on treatment tables after that game, makes you wonder, is that why we had so much time on the ball to score 4 past Chelsea, for the work the Big Fella did. That Once again Yes another History Day, but maybe not hey, because He did not score ( I don’t think so ). LEGEND……..

  17. Excellent article Jason, sums up everything about the bloke, I was a big fan of his, and am really sorry to see him go.

    Ryan, thanks for the goals clip, some happy memories there.

    James, if you read this column, all the best for the future.

  18. Great piece of writing, fitting tribute to a great player. No one seems to mention how great he was at defending.

  19. Today is a sad day for all City fans, regardless of how you rate Hanson as a player.

    He’s a local lad (the only one in our team?) who has been with the club through some of its darkest day and certainly some of its best days. He’s been a constant while the team has changed around him.

    The clip posted by Ryan shows it all. He personally provided some of my best memories as a City supporter (his header against Villa will never be bettered), and I think his reputation and status will only grow at City as time passes. I very much agree with the ‘Lampard’ comment you made in an earlier post; the pressure and criticism of Hanson is intensified because he’s a local lad and because we brought him up from non-league. No idea why, but it seems to be.

    It’s a good move for him and he’s earnt it. City are unlikely to go up this year, but Sheffield United probably will, and that is incentive enough for him to move at 29. He gets a shot at the Championship at a reasonable age, which might not come with us. He’s repaid our investment in him many times over and probably thinks ‘If now, then when’. Does he want to spend his whole professional career playing for one club, or does he want to try his hand elsewhere, stretch himself and see what his potential is?

    Thanks James, you’ve been a talisman for us over some historic years. Good luck at Sheffield United and good luck in the Championship.

  20. What no one knows is what James himself wanted. Perhaps he felt it was time to move, one last big contract for his career.Most likely bigger than the would have been offered by City in the next few months.

    How many of us would turn down a pay increase from a bigger organisation (let’s not kid ourselves), in a location where you don’t have to move house (unlike the Millwall speculation lat year).and a chance of working at a higher level next year.

    Now I know that’s all speculation – but so are the comments above about the owners.

    Let’s just enjoy the great times we had with James.

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