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.
Chelsea 2 Bradford City 4, 24 January, 2015
By Tim Penfold
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.
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.