The greatest Bradford City comebacks of all time

Image by Thomas Gadd

Last week’s thrilling late victory over Swindon Town is not the first time Bradford City have picked themselves off the canvas, and recovered from losing to win or draw. WOAP writers reflect on the greatest all time Bradford City comebacks. Please feel free to share your own in the reader comments.

There’s only one Gordon Watson

Bradford City 2 Barnsley 1, 26 September, 1998

By Gareth Walker

This game has gone down in Bradford City folklore probably because it provided one of the last great atmospheres experienced on the old Kop, but also because of the significance that it had on the rest of that glorious season.

The stage was set, a Yorkshire derby. Barnsley, back in the second tier after their own brief flirtation with the Premier League, and City, with grand ambitions despite an inauspicious start to the campaign.

The ground was packed with a large away following and the noise was deafening.

Barnsley took the lead early in the second half through future City target man Ashley Ward but then they had a man sent off and from that point onwards siege after siege was laid to their goal at the Kop end.

City had already gone from two to three up front with the introduction of record signing Isaiah Rankin but Barnsley’s ten men stood firm as Lars Leese produced save after save from Rankin and Darren Moore amongst others.

As the clock ticked down Paul Jewell had one last throw of the dice. On came Gordon Watson as we went four up front. It was only Watson’s fifth appearance following 18 months out with that sickening leg break.

Suddenly Stuart McCall picked up the ball and surged forward. He tried to play a one two with Lee Mills but the return ball was over hit, it fell to Watson who hit a first time shot. Leese made a hash if it and it rebounded off his legs into the back of the net. The place erupted. As a 15 year old I’d never experienced goal celebrations like that before. 87 minutes 1-1.

But there was still time for more. City continued to attack. Robbie Blake picked up the ball and jinked past a couple of players before unleashing a rocket from the edge of the box. Leese could only parry and in popped Watson to smash the ball gleefully into the back of the net. Scenes of absolutely delirium followed. I think the crowd surge moved me from one side of the Kop to the other.

Supporters to this day both old and young still talk about those celebrations. Pure emotion. I’m sure the journey that Watson had been on played some part in how special it felt but something amazing was happening at Valley Parade that season and this was arguably the kick start that was needed to set us up for the triumphs that followed.

“Game over”

Chelsea 2 Bradford City 4, 24 January, 2015

By Tim Penfold

“Game over”

It was a fairly succinct text from my manager.  We’d been winding each other up for weeks about which of our teams would win the cup tie, but we both knew that for City to stand a chance we had to take the lead, and when Gary Cahill made it 1-0 it was enough for a bragging text.  At 2-0 there wasn’t even a text – the game was done, and he’d be celebrating on Monday.

When Jon Stead made it 2-1 my manager sounded a bit nervy, but it surely still wasn’t going to happen.  The bookies had us at 500-1 to win it, and the Stead goal was simply giving the travelling fans their big moment.  Still, it was enough for me to send a reply to the initial text – “Not yet.”

When Filipe Morais equalised I was too busy jumping around and screaming to bother with texts, but as Andy Halliday made it 3-2 I got another one – it was a bit panicked this time.  And after Mark Yeates clipped in the fourth my phone lit up with messages explaining that he suddenly wasn’t feeling well and would have to avoid work on Monday.  And possibly for the next month as well.

We were the lead game on Match of the Day, the “Greatest Cup shock in history”, on every back page and I had bragging rights at work (and possibly still do!).  A reminder that, no matter the gulf between the teams, it’s not over until the whistle goes.

Managerial marvel

Bradford City 3 Millwall 2, 29 November, 2003

By Jason McKeown

Bryan Robson was one of the greatest England captains of all time. A leader, a warrior, Captain Marvel. As a manager he was patchy. Still, when Bradford City made a dreadful start to their centenary season and were worryingly sliding towards relegation to the third tier, Robson was brought in to replace the sacked Nicky Law with the Bantams looking for a huge dose of his magic.

His first game in charge certainly suggested a blockbuster of a partnership. Like all the best action films, it looked bleak for a time as a confident Millwall side raced into a 2-0 half time lead, thanks to Tim Cahill and Nick Chadwick. City were as poor as they had been all season, but Robson’s half time team talk clearly did wonders. In front of the Sky cameras, City served up a 45-minute TV treat.

First substitute Danny Cadamarteri reduced the arrears with a well struck shot from distance. The former Everton man was in inspired form, and played a role in Andy Gray netting the equaliser with 20 minutes to go. Cadamarteri had to go off injured with 12 minutes left – a familiar story – but there was a second super sub waiting to steal the headlines.

Step forward Michael Branch, who in stoppage time latched onto Gareth Farrelly’s pass and chipped the ball over the onrushing Millwall keeper Tony Warner. It seemed to take an age, but eventually the ball bounced into the net, and Valley Parade erupted. I was stood at the back of the Kop, and a group of people on the row behind hugged me as we all celebrated wildly.

For one night only Bryan Robson was a managerial genius. He sadly couldn’t prevent an administration-hit City from falling to relegation, but his debut game was a huge bright spot in an otherwise miserable campaign.

“It comes out to Billy Knott”

Bradford City 2 Leeds 1, 29 August, 2014

By Katie Whyatt

Sport loves narrative, and Bradford City’s first win over Leeds United for 28 years was brimming with possibilities. This was ‘the game that cost David Hockaday his job’ at the same time as it was ‘the Billy Knott game’, and ‘the James Meredith game’, and ‘a further affirmation of Phil Parkinson’s genius’.  

This isn’t a game I can profess to remember every detail of. If anything, Billy Knott’s leveler looks more sublime today than it did back then, Knott cushioning the favourably-directed second ball perfectly, stepping into position and slamming release. Watching it in slow motion, the way the strike arrows menacingly beyond Leeds players wishing they could grow extra heads to thwart it as it tears through the pack of white shirts clustered in the box, underlines its sheer technical quality – an appreciation of which was likely lost amidst the significance of the ensuing celebrations, first time round.

I was startled, seeing it today, having not watched it for about a year. I knew it was good, but that good – it may be the best finish I’ve ever seen from a City player, bar some of the ones from January 24th.

I think the reason why I’d never fully appreciated that finish until now was because that game was filed in my mind alongside everything else that period symbolised. It wasn’t just an isolated win over Leeds United, meaningful as that was. That game was the apex of a particularly golden period for Bradford City, as they hurtled into the next facet of the Parkinson era.

The anxiety that had accompanied the slashed budget and the dismantling of the waning History Makers side began to feel increasingly misplaced. Jason Kennedy looked rejuvenated. Gary Liddle was anchoring the midfield with striking dynamism. Billy Clarke’s vision was a source of constant danger in a game of hairpin twists.

Back from the brink

Bradford City 3 Stockport County 2, 26 February, 2011

By Tim Penfold

This was always going to be a bit of a strange game.  It was going to be Peter Taylor’s last, with his promotion push in tatters and City hovering a couple of places above the drop zone.  Bizarrely, having left by mutual consent he requested to take one more game at Valley Parade.  It was also in front of a bumper crowd, the numbers swelled by £1 tickets.  We were hosting bottom of the table Stockport, and would surely have enough about us to get three points.

Apparently not.  Despite an early goal from Steve Williams, the same player was at fault for both that Stockport scored, showing why he never quite made it as a league player.  James Hanson missed a penalty, given for a handball on the goal-line that reduced Stockport to 10 men, while an elbow on Luke Oliver made it 11 against 9, but still we couldn’t break through.

Then suddenly, everything changed.  A corner swung in, not cleared, headed back across by Dave Syers and buried by Williams.  The atmosphere changed in an instant, and City piled forward, but without success as the clock ticked past 90 minutes.  One last chance maybe?  The ball came across the box to Gareth Evans, who’s shot crept inside the far corner and led to scenes of sheer delirium and relief.

Who knows what would’ve happened to the club if we’d lost?  We barely scraped survival that season, and followed it up with a summer of budget cuts and the spectre of a move to Odsal hanging over our heads.  Relegation would surely have meant administration again, and potentially worse.  No Phil Parkinson revival, no German takeover, maybe even no Valley Parade.  And it all changed with one comeback.

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Categories: Opinion

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12 replies

  1. Both play off instances against Blackpool and Burton? Over 2 games yes but still behind 2 down in both.

    Also the 3-2 win at Accrington, from 2-0 down to scoring 3 in the last 12 minutes or whatever it was?

  2. Awesome list Tim! For the sheer unbridled release, I’d also throw in Proctor’s double to rescue a point at home to Burnley in Sep 2002 during the infamous Mike Dean red cards meltdown… hard to remember overcoming a bigger sense of injustice as well as a likely defeat.

    *the film quality is awful, but worth a watch just for ‘the scenes’ at the end!

  3. One I remember fondly but not too many details is the 3-2 win over Accrington Stanley in the bottom division.

    Im sure we were 2-0 down and even though we filled the ground im sure by the time their 2nd went in the City fans left in droves, which was a shame as it was one of the greatest comebacks I remember

  4. One which is the reverse is West Ham 5-4 another classic unfortunately didn’t go our way

  5. So many close second places, but only one winner, IMHO …………………….
    Chelsea 2 – 4 City

    Just for the Magnitude of the whole thing, and City destroyed both Chelsea and Mourinho in more ways than one, as records from the day will prove.

  6. I’ve been fortunate to have been in attendance at, what I consider, Bradford’s greatest comebacks. The Chelsea one was the greatest game I’ve been to in terms of entertainment. However, that 2-1 vs Barnsley is so nostalgic in my mind that it as to top my personal list!!

  7. The list is incomplete without the 5-4 from 3 down v Brentford 1984-5 season !

  8. I remember one, I think we were 3-0 down at half time at home to Brentford, (??), and won 4-3.

    Did Bannister get the winner, (or more)??

    It was that long ago, (so may have some memory lapse), but I seem to remember “Banny” saying to me after that it was some match to play in when I was collecting autographs as a kid.

  9. After a late Manchester United comeback a few months ago, Alex Ferguson shrewdly pointed to what he saw as the characteristics of a great captain, when he highlighted Wayne Rooney, after an equaliser had been scored, not stopping to celebrate, but rushing to grab the ball and take it back to centre circle; the sheer determination to push for the win, to the last.

    If you watch last Saturday’s highlights, you’ll see Romain Vincelot doing exactly the same, And in the post match interview, he remarked that this win could mean a lot more than just another 3 points. Pschologically, he said, it would inspire them to never give up and to play to the last whistle. Fergie time in action.

  10. Showing my age here but I’ll never forget a Friday night match against Southend at VP towards the end of the 68/69 season when pushing for promotion from the old Division 4. We played well in the first half but somehow were 2-0 down at half time but came back to win 3-2. Seem to recall Tony Leighton getting at least 1 goal. We then went on to win promotion, the following week I think, by winning away at Darlington!

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