By Jason McKeown
Stephen Darby will be remembered at Valley Parade not just as the best right back since the Premier League days but as a leader who pioneered change. Signed from Liverpool in the summer of 2012, the then-23-year-old joined Gary Jones, Rory McArdle, James Meredith, Nathan Doyle and Garry Thompson in transforming the dressing room culture and, with it, the club. They helped Phil Parkinson to eliminate the losing mentality that had weighed down Bradford City for more than a decade. They raised the standards not only in terms of ability but in the effort and dedication required. These values live on at the club and remain a crucial part of the ongoing progression.
Darby, and others, redefined just what it is to be a Bradford City player.
He began life at Valley Parade slowly, sitting on the bench for the first few weeks as Rory McArdle nabbed the right back slot. A long-term injury to Luke Oliver in October 2012 forced a reshuffle that Darby especially profited from. It seems strange now to think that, when City stunned Premier League Wigan by defeating them on penalties in the League Cup, Darby was considered an understudy.
The Liverpudlian played and impressed that night, becoming a permanent, fully reliable fixture for the next four years. Every single major Bradford City triumph since Wigan has featured Darby’s calm and assured presence at the back. He was there against Arsenal, Villa, Swansea, Burton, Northampton, Leeds, Chelsea, Sunderland and more. When Gary Jones was moved on in the summer, Darby assumed the captain’s armband. Not only did that mean leading a group of solid senior pros, but making sure all new arrivals bought into the Bradford City culture and way of doing things.
In total he made 239 appearances for City and remained one of the first names on Parkinson’s team sheets. Player of the season in 2013/14 and amongst the best of the best in almost every season. In 20 years supporting Bradford City, he is the only right back I can recall who had his own chant. Half the fun in singing it was in knowing it was a pretty cringeworthy effort at that.
The change of manager last summer, and the shift of attacking emphasis, has ultimately done for Darby. He played well over the first half of the season, with Tony McMahon injured, but the emphasis Stuart McCall placed on his full backs getting forwards meant the balance of the team was lacking. McMahon’s return to fitness was quickly followed by regaining his place in the side ahead of Darby. McMahon gets forward better for sure although can’t defend as well as Darby. If only we had a hybrid player who had both players’ strengths. Tony Darby or Stephen McMahon.
Losing his place must have hurt Darby, but he remained the ultimate professional throughout. His rare start at Spotland on the final day of the season was clearly his send off, and thank goodness he didn’t try to bow out like John Terry. Darby is massively respected by City supporters for all that he has done for the club. He will have absolutely no problems finding a club this summer – whoever he chooses will be incredibly lucky to have him.
We’ll miss you Stephen, but we’ll never forget what you did for Bradford City. Whenever we hear the Human League’s ‘Don’t you want me’, we’ll sing your name to the chorus. Your character, mentality and vision lives on in the Valley Parade dressing room. Your legacy is as strong as any footballer can leave behind.
This time of the year can be gut-wrenching, as City release their released list. I’ll miss Darby for all the reasons you mention, and I think it’s a shame because he still has plenty to offer, obviously as a person, but as a player too. I expect everyone involved in the decision recognised his need and desire for regular football though. It was not exactly a chant as such, but there was ‘Guuuuuuuuuuuusss’ Uhlenbeek.
I must have missed that Gus chant!
There’s also a joke somewhere about Darren Holloway getting a regular chant that went “boo!” but I’m far too sensible and mature to make it.
Not sure he was captain material but what a damn fine right back. Always in the right place at the right time.
Someone will get a proper professional probably Bolton but good luck to the guy where ever he ends up
A top professional in every way, I’m sad to see him go but it’s the right thing to do.
His attitude is his greatest quality and whichever club he goes to can consider themselves very lucky.
Might not have been as good as others going forward but defending (a skill that is increasingly overlooked), I think everyone will agree, that he is up there with the best we’ve had. I was never worried he would be found wanting when our backs were against the wall and its a shame that he is now leaving. At true professional, great defender and a leader through his actions. I for one will miss his presence in the team. Good luck to him and hope that where ever he ends up they appreciate him for the class player he is.
Sad to see him go. Model pro, fantastic captain. Been with us in heady times.
Amen to all of the above. Whilst I understand he wouldn’t want to play second fiddle to McMahon we are undoubtdly weaker for him leaving Bradford City.
Thanks Stephen – and good luck for the future. Whoever signs you is getting a great professional.
Bloody love you Darbs. Thank you for everything. You’ll forever be remembered at City as one of the best pros and best right backs that we’ve had. So sad to see you go and I just hope that wherever you end up they realise just how lucky they are.
It’s not very often a Club can genuinely claim to releasing a player for ‘footballing reasons’ – but this is surely one of those, in Darbys case. BCAFC could not replace Darby with ‘better’ without spending some serious cash on a Championship player. The sad truth is that City are not looking to improve, merely seek a player better suited to our style of football. And for that reason alone, Darby can leave VP with his head held high, and not one supporter would begrudge him that. His career is far from over, in fact he’s possibly approaching his peak, so he’ll be a fantastic capture for his next employer.
Loved watching Stephen Darby for all the reasons said above. Very sad to see him go, no more goal line clearances, well-timed slide tackles or drunken singing no supporters buses.
Can’t believe you didn’t mention his only goal, a crucial one too.
Amazing player, amazing man, and worth so much more than being on the bench. He will be missed.
A lot of experience just walked out the door, good luck to him, good role model for kids.
Dare I say it? I’d much rather we had kept Darby and let McMahon go if it’s down to a choice between the 2.