The top 10 Bradford City goalkeepers (in modern history) – part one

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By Jason McKeown and Ian Hemmens

Last month we asked you to vote for your top 3 goalkeepers from your time supporting Bradford City. We had a brilliant reader response, with 24 different shot-stoppers receiving votes.

Here is part one of our countdown of your top 10 Bradford City goalkeepers.

10) Paul Henderson

Played for City: 2004-05 Appearances: 43

The summer of 2004 was an incredibly difficult one for Bradford City, as they seemingly came within minutes of going out of business forever. Surviving but limping on, manager Colin Todd was forced to hunt in bargain bins for new signings, and so not a lot was expected of Aussie trailist Paul Henderson.

But after winning a one-year deal, seemingly as back-up to Donovan Ricketts, Henderson made a solid home debut at home to Doncaster and never looked back. He quickly impressed with his excellent shot-stopping ability and handling of crosses. The-then 28-year-old was part of a solid back line that laid the platform for a surprise play off push.

Henderson’s excellent form caught the attention of other clubs, and for a time Notts Forest showed strong interest. Before the end of the season he turned down a new deal at City and lost his place so Todd could try out Ricketts. In the summer he signed for Leicester. Henderson never quite scaled the career heights he threatened to reach when on top form; but for that season at least he proved to be a reliable pair of hands.

Henderson spent four years at Leicester City before finishing his career in Australia.

“A complete unknown when signed as a number 2 but came in a did a terrific job, can’t remember him ever putting a foot wrong.”

Chris Taylor

9) Pat Liney

Played for City: 1967-72 Appearances: 147

An experienced keeper who made his name in his home country of Scotland, most famously winning the Championship at Dundee, Pat Liney rocked up at Valley Parade after a short spell across town with Bradford Park Avenue; going on to play almost 150 times for the Paraders.

Liney’s shot-stopping ability helped to turn City from mid-table mediocrity in the Fourth Division, to the achievement of a first promotion in 30 years. In that 1968/69 campaign – the year City went up – Liney shared goalkeeping duties with Aussie John Roberts, eventually wrestling hold of the number one jersey and keeping it for another three seasons, as City initially adapted well to life in the Third tier. He retired at 39-years-old, during an era where most goalkeepers hung up their gloves at 30.

The popular Liney also made his name off the pitch. On Saturday nights he used to get up and sing in the Edwardian Club owned by Chairman Stafford Heginbotham. Liney was such a success he was booked to sing in other clubs around Bradford.

“I seem to recall a unique refrain from the City End in late 60’s to Pat Liney: ‘We’ve the only singing goalie in the land’.”
Trevor Graveson

8) Eric McManus

Played for City: 1982-86 Appearances: 113

Another experienced keeper whose latter years were at Valley Parade, Eric McManus arrived from Stoke on a free in 1982 – he was best known for his seven years and 200+ games for Notts County.

Signed by Trevor Cherry, McManus hailed from Northern Ireland and was a wise head for the young team the manager was building – one that had just been promoted to the Third Division.

McManus was still first choice keeper for the historic 1984/85 championship-winning season, where he featured 40 games in goal. This included playing on the day of tragedy against Lincoln City.

City’s rise into the Second Division saw Cherry bring in Peter Litchfield, and McManus lost his place in the team. He eventually left for Tranmere Rovers in 1986, before finishing his career at non-league Boston. McManus was called up to the Northern Ireland squad on a few occasions, but he never received a cap.

“The Irishman was hugely popular with the fans as I recall and after playing in the fateful match against Lincoln City in 1985 he did his fair share of visiting injured fans and attending funerals.”

John Dunn

Picture by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Picture by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

7) Jordan Pickford

Played for City: 2014-15 Appearances: 34

His debut was best forgotten. A poor individual display at home to Coventry did nothing to dispel fears about the logic of City’s close season decision to release the long-serving Jon McLaughlin and trust a Premier League academy with no experience.

Three years on and Jordan Pickford is currently enjoying a stunning first half to the season for Sunderland, even earning an England call up. An injury put on hold talk of Pickford transferring from Sunderland to Manchester United or Arsenal for millions in the January window, but it looks inevitable he will soon make such a move.

And at Valley Parade, we can take great pride in Pickford’s meteoric rise. After recovering from that shaky debut against Coventry, Pickford very quickly demonstrated his ability over 2014/15. He was dominant on crosses, technically adept making saves, and his distribution was exceptional.

As City mounted a play off push, Pickford was at the heart of a typically excellent Phil Parkinson back line. A couple of rash red cards aside, Pickford didn’t make mistakes and showed great consistency. It didn’t take long for us all to realise we were witnessing the beginnings of a very successful career.

Indeed, the only surprise has been just how quickly he has progressed at Sunderland. He made his debut last season and became first choice stopper this campaign. On Sky’s Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher recently selected Pickford in his Premier League team of the season so far. The first of what you suspect will be many honours the young stopper receives over the coming years.

“Pickford is probably the technically best goalkeeper I’ve seen play for us, his shot stopping was unbelievable and his distribution was brilliant, akin to Pepe Reina at Liverpool. His maturity with Bradford was great too, at first he seemed uncertain in some aspects of his game, but his form improved greatly, leading him to become a good overall keeper. It was a shame to see his loan terminated early by Sunderland.”

Thomas Whitford-Bartle

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6) Matt Duke

Played for City: 2011-13 Appearances: 52

It was hardly the greatest of beginnings. Signed within a day of Phil Parkinson’s arrival as manager, Matt Duke endured a torrid couple of months in goal. It ended with an overdue demotion and eventual shunting out on loan to Northampton. Duke didn’t look likely to be on any Bradford City goalkeeper list, beyond one listing the worst-ever stoppers.

But when a struggling City created worldwide headlines for brawling on the pitch with Crawley – Jon McLaughlin one of three Bantams red-carded – Duke was brought back in from the cold, and helped keep City in the Football League. This was the beginning of a vast turnaround.

In the history makers season, Duke excelled and was one of several stars in the astonishing cup run. He emerged a penalty shootout hero in victories over Premier League Wigan and Arsenal, before having the game of his life in the home leg of the semi final against Aston Villa. It was cruel to see him red carded in the Wembley final loss to Swansea.

Fighting hard with McLaughlin, Duke wasn’t always a starter in the league but played his part over the marathon campaign. He conceded more goals than his goalkeeping rival, but commanded his box better. From unloved to cult figure in a year, Duuuuuuke’s time at Valley Parade was certainly eventful.

“Though he was never the most consistent keeper and seemed to have a constant fight with McLaughlin, I think Duke deserves a place on this list for his part in the run to the league cup final; through this heroic shot stopping, when at times, it seemed he was a one man wall batting away shot after shot!

“Perhaps,my favourite Duke moment was in Extra time against Burton in the third round of league cup, with the score 2-2 a Burton player (Billy Kee?) broke through on goal 1 on 1, Duke stood up well and then dived down to grab the shot! If that had gone in, it could have been game over, but I remember thinking to myself after they save “We will win this now” and then about five minutes later Darby somehow sent a bouncing shot into the net.”

Thomas Whitford-Bartle

5) Paul Tomlinson

Played for City: 1987-95 Appearances: 293

From a frustrated reserve team player at Sheffield United, to record goalkeeper appearance holder at Bradford City, Paul Tomlinson’s 1987 move from South to West Yorkshire proved to be a huge success.

Terry Dolan splashed out £47,500 on bringing in Tomlinson to Valley Parade on the eve of the memorable Nearly Season, and the shot-stopper was a big part of the team that came so agonisingly close to achieving top flight football. Although the 1988 play off defeat to Middlesbrough sent the club on the decline for nearly a decade, Tomlinson remained one of the few bright spots as the 80s gave way to the early 90s.

He survived the spells of Yorath, Docherty and Stapleton. It wasn’t the greatest era for the club, but there were still big moments such as the cup victories over Everton and Tottenham, which Tomlinson played in.

In total Tomlinson played 293 times for City, beating a record previously held by Jock Ewart for 67 years. He eventually left in 1995 after a dispute over a contract offer. On the verge of joining Chesterfield, a back injury forced him into retirement at just 30. An unfitting career ending for a keeper who was hugely popular at Valley Parade.

“A complete hero of mine in late 80s, a brilliant shot stopper in the Nigel Spink “glory save” mode, and commanded his box well for a relatively short keeper.”

Mark Davis

4) Peter Downsborough

Played for City: 1974-78 Appearances: 225

WOAP reader John Dunn takes up the story:

“As a youth he was a superb all round sportsman, shining at rugby union, cricket, boxing, football and swimming (he won junior honours in swimming and boxing).  A centre forward for Halifax Boys, he was asked to play in goal when the ‘keeper was injured during a match.  As fate would have it a Halifax Town scout was watching and was so impressed that he was signed almost on the spot (just think, had substitutes been allowed in those days this guy would never have had the career he ultimately enjoyed and City wouldn’t have been promoted in 1977!)

“After 5 years at ‘fax he was transferred to Swindon Town where he enjoyed the best years of his career, culminating in the defeat of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup Final during which as I recall, it was himself versus the Arsenal strikers for most of the match until Don Rogers took a hand in the proceedings during extra time.

“Signing for City in 1974 (I could hardly believe it! City signing such a great ‘keeper with a top pedigree) he continued in the same vein, becoming a specialist at saving penalties (including a remarkable sequence of 4 consecutive saves), standing firm away against Norwich in a 1976 FA Cup match where he faced an onslaught from the Ted McDougall/Martin Peters led home side, before Billy ‘Goalden Boots’ McGinley scored 3 minutes before the end to secure a 2-1 victory for the Bantams.

“It took a controversial free kick from Southampton’s Jim McCalliog (later outlawed) in the quarter final for the eventual cup winners to put one past Downsborough, and even his final match for City had a touch of ‘Roy Of The Rovers’ about it – a 6-0 defeat of Crew Alex on the 28 April 1979, the very same team against whom he had made his debut for City in 1973.

“With a City career of 225 games played between December 1973 and April 1979 including 70 clean sheets, my nomination for ‘greatest ever goalkeeper’ just has to be the remarkable Peter Downsborough – local boy done good!”

Coming soon on WOAP – your top three Bradford City goalkeepers (in modern history)

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Categories: Opinion

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1 reply

  1. A great read thank you.
    However there’s no need for part two.
    The best keeper ever to don a City shirt is Peter Downsborough by far.

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