Part two of our poll to find the greatest Bradford City goalkeeper of the modern era – voted for by WOAP readers – sees us reach your top three. (See part one here)
3) Matt Clarke
Played for City: 1999-01 Appearances: 45
His Bradford City debut could not have been more high profile. Liverpool away, live on Sky’s Monday Night Football. City lost, but Clarke scooped the man of the match award. The start of something special.
From that point on Clarke – a summer signing from Sheffield Wednesday, where he had been third choice – became a huge star in City’s improbable Premier League survival bid. The Bantams’ first top flight campaign in 77 years was a tough battle, but the fact City didn’t lose at home for the first four months with Clarke in the side – and even then, it was a loss to Manchester United – showed what a positive effect he was having.
Clarke was sensational. Week in week out he was making huge saves that won the acclaim of Valley Parade and quickly made him nationally known through Match of the Day. As his strong form continued into City’s second Premier League season, talk of a big money move to Arsenal grew and we fans routinely chanted “Clarkey for England”.
Had he carried on in that vein a few more months, his career would surely have gone a very different route. But after one minor mistake, new City boss Jim Jefferies dropped the City stopper – and he threw his toys out of the pram. Clarke slapped in a transfer request and was cast into the shadows, ending the season playing in the second tier on loan at Bolton.
He eventually moved to First Division Crystal Palace, and was desperately unfortunate to endure a career-ending injury. But for that fall out with Jefferies, Clarke just might have made it to the top. He had the ability to.
The inglorious ending to his City career tainted his standing amongst fans, but the memories of his heroics out-lasted any lingering resentment. It was a pleasure to watch Matt Clarke play for Bradford City. He proved one hell of a signing.
“The performances he had for us in the Premiership were immense and even though England had some great keepers at that time I don’t know how he never managed to get in the squad.”
2) Mark Schwarzer
Played for City: 1996-97 Appearances: 16
After conceding 11 goals in the last four games, something had to be done to about the fact neither Eric Nixon nor Jonathan Gould were convincing in-between the sticks. But when £350,000 was splashed out on signing an unknown Australian goalkeeper from FC Kaiserslautern, eyebrows were raised.
That Mark Schwarzer justified his outlay is an understatement. A hugely impressive debut away to Charlton helped City unexpectedly win 2-0 and record a first away victory of the season. Schwarzer would only play 12 more league matches for the Bantams, before his outstanding ability was recognised by Premier League Middlesbrough, who snapped him up. City made a profit of around £1 million on a player who only played 16 times for them, league and cup.
Schwarzer was outstanding for City, giving them a fighting chance in a desperate battle to avoid the drop. He also featured in City’s memorable FA Cup run that saw them defeat Premier League Everton at Goodison; Chris Waddle’s chip hogging the headlines.
Having unearthed a gem City were always going to struggle to keep the Australian international for long, and the fact he had such a short stay arguably cost him a few votes in our survey.
But after enjoying an exceptional Premier League career at Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea and Leicester City (the latter two including winning Premier League medals), his ability is unquestionable. Mark Schwarzer is one of the most talented players ever to play for Bradford City.
“I know he wasn’t with us for long but it was clear the reason for that he was too good for us at that time. I remember being at his debut at Charlton when I recall we won 2-0 (Waddle was brilliant as well). After the final whistle he came over and threw his gloves into the away end and I thought we have some player on our hands here.”
1) Gary Walsh
Played for City: 1997-03 Appearances: 145
Three years is a long, long time in football. Back in November 1994, Gary Walsh was lining up in goal for Manchester United in front of 120,000 fans at the Nou Camp, Barcelona. Champions League rules at the time limited how many foreign players could be picked, so the English-born Walsh took the Dane Peter Schmeichel’s place. Barcelona won 4-0, with the greats Romario and Hristo Stoichkov on the scoresheet. Humiliation for club and player.
That proved the beginnings of a three-year downwards spiral for Walsh. He left Manchester United that summer – unable to dislodge Schmeichel – and a move to Middlesbrough turned sour, ironically accelerated by Mark Schwarzer’s move from Bradford City to Teeside. Out of favour and unloved, Walsh rocked up at Valley Parade on loan in September 1997. His debut was away at Oxford’s ramshackle Manor Ground, a world away from the Nou Camp.
But seven appearances and six clean sheets later, and the beginnings of a special period for Gary Walsh were formed. The club and player fitted so well together, and the loan was quickly made permanent by Chris Kamara. The £500,000 fee was big money for the Bantams at the time – but Walsh proved exceptional value.
He ended that first campaign the runaway winner of the player of the season award. City had stuttered around in mid-table, costing Kamara his job, but for all the problems holding back the team no one was questioning the goalkeeper. Walsh was outstanding week in week out. After a period of a high turnover of shot stoppers at Valley Parade, City had finally found their man.
Paul Jewell unsurprisingly kept faith with Walsh as number one, and in the player’s second season something incredible happened. Helped by a healthy war chest, Jewell built a team that would take Bradford City to the Premier League.
Walsh was an ever present in that glorious 1998/99 season. When the team started slowly he was one of several senior pros who stood up to be counted, leading the dressing room through an uncertain period to finding their verve. By the autumn of that campaign, City were pushing for the play offs and producing their best football in a decade.
While Lee Mills, Robbie Blake, Stuart McCall and Peter Beagrie hogged the headlines, Walsh was vital in goal. The 2-1 victory over Barnsley has gone down in folklore for Gordon Watson scoring two late, late goals. But victory was only assured after Walsh pulled off a miracle point blank save from Ashley Ward, as Barnsley pressed for an equaliser in stoppage time.
Walsh was similarly outstanding in key games against Sunderland, Bury, Oxford, Tranmere, Crystal Palace and Watford. At the very top of his game, as play off talk gave way to growing automatic promotion hopes.
Walsh continued to be influential in the run-in with big saves helping the team to collect big points. At Wolves away in that final game, a stunning save from a Paul Simpson drive lingers in the memory. Walsh, as modest ever, took time out of the giddy full time celebrations to point out that City’s fortuitous injury record helped them over the line. Goodness knows what Jewell would have done had Walsh endured an injury.
It was now nearly five years on from the Barcelona nightmare, and Walsh was once again a Premier League goalkeeper. Unsurprisingly kept busier than he had been in Division One, Walsh caught the eye over the early months and delivered a string of impressive saves.
When City went to Arsenal on a Tuesday, Walsh’s one-man show helped to keep a ludicrously one-sided game to 2-0 to the home side. Without his resistance, Arsenal would have hit double figures. My favourite Walsh save came in a home game against Tottenham, where a fabulous curling David Ginola effort was thwarted by a fabulous Walsh finger tip save.
Walsh succumbed to an injury in October, causing Jewell to bring in Matt Clarke, whose form kept him out the side for over a year. Jim Jefferies was in charge the next time Walsh played for City, and over the second half of that campaign he was once again first choice. Alas, City were doomed for relegation.
Over Walsh’s final two seasons at the club, a string of injuries helped him back and limited his game time. Still excellent when fit and available, Walsh’s time was coming to an end. In 2002 the club endured administration and although Walsh stayed initially, his high wages meant he was ripe to be moved on eventually.
He ended his career at his hometown club Wigan, under his old City boss Jewell. There was even another promotion to the Premier League, and survival in the first season in the top flight. Yet Walsh was more of a spectator to these heady events, as he was permanently second choice to John Filan. He announced his retirement in 2006.
Walsh was capable of the odd howler – most memorably his air kick against his former club Manchester United, which allowed Teddy Sheringham to score at Valley Parade – but his brilliance in goal over some of City’s greatest ever moments means he is fondly remembered for all the right reasons. He played a massive part in the club’s scaling of new heights.
Gary Walsh is the greatest Bradford City goalkeeper of the modern era.
“Was Number 1 at the time the club was at his highest ever point and was always assured reliable and capable of a top save or 2.” Chris Taylor
“At the club during its greatest times in the modern era. Dependable, reliable organisational skills.” Ian Hemmens