Do it for Stuart


Image by Thomas Gadd

By Jason McKeown

2,647 days have passed since Stuart McCall fell on his sword as Bradford City manager. On Saturday 6 February 2010, a 1-0 home defeat to Bury was the trigger for the Bantams legend to call time on his first spell in charge. Downbeat, crushed and empty, at the final whistle McCall embarked on a lap around the pitch applauding supporters. He was saying goodbye.

There have been some truly wretched, utterly miserable days supporting Bradford City over the last couple of decades; but watching a heartbroken Stuart McCall call it quits as manager, seven years ago, was as painful as it gets. A player who had served the club with such incredible distinction over two periods in the 80s and 90s; no City fan wanted to see him fail in the hotseat. To bow out in such an un-Stuart McCall like way.

And now this. McCall’s shock return a year ago has proven inspired, and the club stands on the brink of reaching Wembley for only the fourth time in history. They go into the second leg of the play off semi final encounter with Fleetwood clutching a narrow but nevertheless important one-goal advantage. If they don’t lose at Highbury, City are off to the national stadium a week on Saturday. Where they will have a real shot at earning promotion to the Championship.

That McCall is so intertwined with the modern history of Bradford City makes it so fitting that he could be the man to lead us back into the top two divisions. It’s 29 years ago to the exact day since the Bantams lost at home to Ipswich on the final day of the 1987/88 season, when a victory would have taken them up to the top flight. McCall was one of the star players of that terrific City team. And when they lost to Middlesbrough in the play offs, he made a tear-filled exit for Everton.

McCall had made his debut for City back in 1982 after emerging through the ranks, and he represented the club wonderfully over the next six years. This included being present on that awful day of 11 May 1985, with his own dad injured in the fire. His ability ultimately outgrew the club, but the leadership and drive he gave was fondly remembered.

After a decade away at Goodison and then Rangers, McCall’s return to Valley Parade was timed perfectly. He captained City to the Premier League, laying to rest the ghosts of ’88. Throughout the Bantams’ two-year stay in the top flight, McCall was an inspirational figure who gave absolutely everything to the cause. He might have been 37-years-old when City were relegated, but that didn’t stop Everton from trying to buy him back in the summer of 2001.

McCall ultimately left before the storm of administration hit the club, but his third coming – this time as manager, in 2007 – revived rock bottom morale following a third relegation in six seasons. The excitement prompted by his return was the springboard for getting affordable season tickets off the ground. He couldn’t bring success on the field, and that hurt all of us. Yet until Phil Parkinson came along, no one could revive this football club.

But history could be repeating itself. McCall’s sad departure in 1988 following the play off defeat was an unfitting low note to end his first spell – one that was put right at Wolves in 1999. His 2010 exit as manager was a difficult one for everyone to take, but the opportunity to create more happy memories to overwrite those sad times is there to be taken once again. As Stuart said in understated fashion last summer, “People say never go back, but I came back as a player and had a little bit of success.”

Dark times, Stuart McCall apologising City fans at Dagenham in 2009 – “I’m sorry lads, I’m not good enough and I’m sorry.”

Stuart was, by all accounts, a broken man when he resigned seven years ago. The stress of the job, the pressure he put himself under, and the high expectation we all had that he would surely succeed, simply because of who he is. It all took its toll. He couldn’t bring back the good times, and by the end looked out of ideas. But no one who has held the Valley Parade hotseat worked harder or wanted it more than McCall. Just like he did as a player, he gave it everything. And that was why it was so sad when it wasn’t enough.

Such depths of pain and misery feel like a world away now, as the club stands on the cusp of making more history. But the memories of those difficulties from McCall’s first spell would add extra perspective and meaning to any success he delivers this season.

Whatever emotions there are to be had in football, McCall has experienced them with Bradford City. For everything he has done for the club, McCall deserves to succeed tonight. And if in a fortnight’s time he is leading Bradford City out at Wembley, there surely wouldn’t be a single dry eye in the claret and amber end.

Categories: Previews, The 2016/17 play offs

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7 replies

  1. In some ways it is hard to comprehend that today marks the 29th anniversary of me attending my first Bradford City game. At the time I didn’t appreciate the fantastic opportunity we had of gaining promotion to the First Division. Simon Milton, I believe, was the Ipswich Town player who broke our dreams in May 1988.

    Fast forward to today and I have some wonderful memories to treasure from the past 29 years, in relation to supporting Bradford City. Some of these involve a certain Stuart McCall which include obtaining his signature at Molineux after our famous 3-2 victory.

    Due to work commitments, I unfortunately won’t be at the Highbury Stadium this evening and I won’t be able to watch it on television either. However, I hope that the team and the supporters create another special occasion in our football club’s history this evening and return from the Fylde coast feeling like I did in May 1996. To all of the Bradford City supporters attending the game at Fleetwood Town tonight, enjoy yourselves, be loud and proud and hopefully I can join you at that large stadium in North London on 20 May 2017 for another amazing day. Come on City.

  2. Interesting to read the quotes in the Fylde press about tonight’s game and the one thing that strikes you are the clever mind games being played by Rossler. There are some powerful barbs… ‘BCAFC is the one with something to lose, not us…’; ‘City fans have over-celebrated’; ‘We knew the BCAFC game plan and they were predictable’; ‘BCAFC were unsuccessful in making domination count’; ‘City didn’t create many problems’. These will be motivating messages in the Fleetwood dressing room and ensure that Rossler’s team rise to the occasion.

    It is clever spin, the sort that would make Rossler a successful politician and it probably demonstrates how he has transformed Fleetwood from an ordinary team that just escaped relegation to an ordinary team that has displayed a great work ethic to challenge for promotion.

    I saw Stuart make his debut in 1982 and have been fortunate to witness his impact on the re-invention of BCAFC from the original era of Bantam Progressivism until today. Stuart has been a fan’s player and a fan’s manager, a man who gave his all andwhose commitment is legendary. Crucially, Stuart has always been a leader, a man capable of showing the way and motivating. In the face of Rossler’s mind-games and tactical nous, this is Stuart’s big test as manager.

    Stuart knows the limitations of our team, just as he knows our strengths. However the biggest weakness is the possibility of self-doubt. Rossler knows that his team was ordinary on Thursday and that our players should rightly derive self-confidence from the display. Rossler also knows that there is unfinished business from the last game at Fleetwood. We have nothing to fear but tonight’s game will depend upon Stuart playing to his strength, to provide the leadership and motivation to overcome the possibility of self-doubt. I have no doubt that we will overcome.

    I can’t resist the WW2 analogy that this is our Al Alamein – Monty versus Rommel, our own Stuart against the sly fox!

    Go for it City.

    • Seen those quotes and to be fair Rosler has done miracles at Fleetwood and is clearly a master at mind games. However, the bottom line is the fact that we have the better team and a one nil lead. Take that Uwe and make of it what you can 👊🏻

  3. Brought a tear to my eye. If anyone deserves to bring success for our club it has to be Stuart McCall.
    I was one of those who welcomed his return, but little did I know how much he had matured in to a top manager and motivator.
    I’m so pleased for him, but as he says it’s only half time, however I feel strongly that we are most certainly on our way!!

  4. Let’s not be guilty of over complicating things. Let’s do what we do well and get at them whilst keeping it simple at the back.
    “Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war”

  5. When Stuart was manger of Motherwell, I recall him saying in a BBC interview that if he had one ambition, it wouldn’t be to manage in the Premier League, it would be to gain a promotion with Bradford City!
    I hope and pray that this is the time. No one deserves this more than Stuart!

  6. I wrote a letter a couple of weeks back to Stuart McCall, copied to Edin Rehic, thanking him for his contribution, and what he represented. For me, success on the pitch is only one dimension. I like that he has continued the tradition i saw under Phil Parkinson. A passion and determination across the team, a total effort. Team work and selfless play on the pitch. Encouragement from the players not selected, off it. Encouragement by the manager of his team, win or lose. Fair football, with invariably less cards than the team we play. In short, role models for my kids, that I can be happy with. A real link between team and its fans on the terrace, the twelth man.

    Long may all of that continue, win or lose today.

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