By Jason McKeown
In 2012/13, James Meredith enjoyed a memorable debut season for Bradford City with a string of hugely impressive performances. But it wasn’t enough to make the Width of a Post top five players of the season.
In 2016/17, Colin Doyle kept 15 clean sheets in 44 appearances, helping the Bantams have the joint-second best defensive record in League One. He wasn’t even close in the vote for our top five players of the season.
In recent seasons, the depth of strong performances at Valley Parade has meant the bar has been set incredibly high when it comes to judging the best players of the season. It’s fair to say that the standards have not been anywhere near as high this time around. After such a turgid season, the temptation for us to follow the club’s lead in not having a player of the season award is very high. But for future prosperity of WOAP having an annual top five award every year we exist, we’ve reluctantly decided to show appreciation to the best of the worst.
So I approached the WOAP writer team for their views. Many were unwilling to properly vote for a top five or even top three, instead putting forward the likes of Billy Bantam, Charlie in the Kop, the tea lady and ‘anyone who headed the ball when it went into the crowd’ as their winner.
Here is the serious top five.
In 5th place…Eliot Goldthorp
Home wins were hard to come by over the 2018/19 season, so you had to celebrate even the smallest of victories. That included defeating Everton Under 21s, on penalties, in the CheckaTrade trophy. Especially given the winning spot kick was converted by a teenager on his debut.
The 16-year-old Eliot Goldthorp was an early second half substitute and impressed with his calmness and confidence in the middle of the park. And with the penalty shootout reaching sudden death, Goldthorp stepped up to coolly convert and seal a 6-5 success.
David Hopkin liked what he saw, giving the youngster a full 90 minutes of the next CheckaTrade game, against Oldham. And during that fleeting Christmas period moment when City were winning matches with a swagger, Hopkin even awarded Goldthorp substitute run-outs in the victories over Scunthorpe and Accrington.
Goldthorp was born after Bradford City’s relegation from the Premier League in 2001. It’s enough to make you feel very old, but proud too at seeing a local lad get his chance.
In 4th place…Jack Payne
Over the first half of the 2018/19 season, Jack Payne was one of the best players in League One. All of City’s best moments featured Payne at the centre. It wasn’t until December that the Bantams won a game of football without Payne amongst the scorers.
Across December especially, Payne’s form was outstanding. He became the focal point of a team that temporarily clicked into gear, with his performance against Rochdale at Spotland standing out as the best individual display of the campaign by any City player. It was no wonder there was interest from other clubs in January. City’s desire to do what was necessary to keep Payne at Valley Parade was understandable.
But since agreeing a deal with Huddersfield to contribute more towards Payne’s overall wage, it’s gone downhill for player and club. Payne simply hasn’t produced the goods over the second half of the season. A marked man, but someone with the ability to ensure he was a bigger threat.
Gary Bowyer is plainly not a fan, and Payne will depart this summer with the feeling it was a missed opportunity. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from here. The Championship interest in January is unlikely to be repeated this summer.
In 3rd place…David Ball
It took him a little time to get going, but David Ball proved to be an astute loan signing by Michael Collins just before he was sacked. Ball rocked up from Rotherham in the midst of the Rahic storm, and it was easy to forget he was around. But once he settled down and earned Hopkin’s trust, Ball really shone.
With Payne playing well as a number 10, finding a role for Ball was a challenge. He was played out wide for a time, with limited effect. He wasn’t an out and out striker, so didn’t really sit well up top. But in autumn Hopkin would evolve the team shape to have two number 10s, and Ball flourished.
Like Payne and most of the team, Ball’s best form came over the December period. Most memorably of all was a brace in the rain-sodden 4-0 victory over Walsall. Unlike Payne, Ball has continued to prove of value post-January, albeit not hitting the same heights. His best moment in a Bradford City shirt was undoubtedly his stoppage time winner against Shrewsbury.
Ball deserves respect for his bravery and for being one of the few players to keep his head up in difficult times. He hasn’t always played well over the past few weeks, but he’s never let the club down for effort. He leaves with warm wishes.
In 2nd place…Lewis O’Brien
At times Lewis O’Brien has stuck out like a sore thumb at Valley Parade – a player who actually doesn’t hide. Who wants the ball. Who will recover from mistakes by showing steel and fight. Who gives a damn. Oh for a team of Lewis O’Briens.
In the September and October low points of the campaign, O’Brien’s drive and spirit was a rare beacon of hope. It was in some ways uplifting to witness a young player run himself into the ground for the cause. It was infuriating that no one in the team at the time was following his example.
O’Brien continued to play well as the team eventually improved. For a 20-year-old he has commendable levels of self-assurance and a promising football intelligence. He is tidy in possession and works hard off it. He can carry the ball forwards and has a powerful shot. Huddersfield return to the Football League with a real talent on their hands, and they would be wise to keep developing O’Brien.
Of course, like everyone else in the Bradford City team it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for O’Brien. His form in recent months has tailed off a little. Again, you can’t fault the work-rate and effort. In truth, he needed to be given a breather and time out of the team for his own development. But such has been the dismal state of affairs at Valley Parade, it hasn’t really been a viable option.
Nevertheless, O’Brien has had a breakthrough season he deserves to feel proud of. He has the makings of becoming a very good footballer. That one-in-a-hundred young academy kid who actually forges a career in the game.
And the winner is… Paul Caddis
Paul Caddis began the 2018/19 season playing in the League Cup for Blackburn. But with no opportunities in the league, Tony Mowbury agreed to terminate his contract at the end of August. Caddis spent the next two months in limbo, struggling to find a club. He trained with the Bantams for several weeks, but the Edin Rahic impasse held up David Hopkin from sorting a deal.
It’s fair to say Caddis made up for lost time. He made his Bantams debut at Peterborough in November, helping the team gain a surprise 1-1 draw at high-flying opponents. Right back had been a major issue for the club up until then – Joe Riley was clearly not up to it, Kelvin Mellor kept getting injured, and Ryan McGowan and Thomas Isherwood struggled when asked to play out of position.
Caddis changed all that. He never looked back from his debut, playing in an accomplished manner. He is an excellent defender, not afraid to make a strong tackle which typically sees him cleanly win the ball. The 31-year-old also has great energy and is very effective charging up the pitch. His arrival coincided with a big improvement from City. They only lost 2 of his first 11 matches.
Even when the club’s form has slumped over the past few months, Caddis’ performances have remained at a high standard. He has leadership qualities that Gary Bowyer recognised with the captaincy. You can see him demanding greater effort from those around him. His bravery has been widely appreciated by fans. Caddis is that typical Bradford City player we supporters love: not blessed with the greatest ability, but he puts his heart and soul into everything.
Maybe City could have made a better fist of things by having signed Caddis sooner. More definite is that City just haven’t had enough characters as strong as the Scot. Bowyer clearly fancies Kelvin Mellor as his first choice right back next season, and that’s why Caddis was not offered a deal for next season. With Joe Riley in contract and on large wages, understandably Bowyer can’t really afford to have two senior right backs. Still, i’s a shame because Caddis is the sort of tough-minded professional that is needed in a strong dressing room.
In a season where few players have done themselves justice, Caddis has produced consistently strong displays. A seven out of ten rating, week in week out. It’s just a shame that – this season – a seven out of ten player made for a standout performer.
The 2018/19 Width of a Post player of the season was voted for by Jason McKeown, Adam Raj, Kieran Wilkinson, Tim Penfold, Ian Sheard, Nick Beanland, Phil Abbott, Gareth Walker, Andrew Baxter Mark Scully, Alex Scott, Mike Holdsworth, James Pieslak, Mahesh Johal and Mark Danylczuk.
Past WOAP Player of the Season winners
2011/12: Luke Oliver
2012/13: Gary Jones
2013/14: Stephen Darby
2014/15: Rory McArdle
2015/16: Reece Burke
2016/17: Mark Marshall
2017/18: Matt Kilgallon