Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
Middlesbrough 0 City 1
7 August 1999
As Bradford City returned to League Two this season, it’s exactly 20 years since they were adjusting to life in a very different division. In May 1999, the Bantams were promoted to the Premier League, achieving top flight football for the first time in 77 years.
Huge underdogs battling against considerable odds, there was an expectation that City would be welcomed with open arms and become the nation’s second team. But instead there was hostility from the national media, who mocked and patronised. With more than a hint of anti-Northern bias, the subtext was clear that City were a club who shouldn’t really be dining at the top table. The Times was the fiercest, declaring the Bantams to be “the unacceptable face of the Premier League”.
City’s summer recruitment only provided further scorn. Manager Paul Jewell took the sensible route of signing players with proven Premier League experience, but most were the wrong side of 30. Most notable was the 35-year-old Dean Saunders and 34-year-old Neil Redfearn. With the likes of Stuart McCall (then 35) and Peter Beagrie (33) already at the club, the media quickly dubbed City ‘Dad’s Army’, with all the “Don’t panic” connotations. Most pundits predicted swift relegation.
Such antagonism was hurtful, but ultimately did City a favour. It strengthened the resolve of everyone connected with the club that survival could be achieved. It was us-against-the-world. That siege mentality would prove vital in the battles ahead.
And besides, the Bantams laid down an early marker of intent. They began life in the Premier League at a Middlesbrough side packed full of international talent, tipped by many to challenge for Europe. Jewell took City to the Riverside with a plan to contain, whilst giving promising young defender Andrew O’Brien (then only 19) the special task of man-marking the influential Paul Gascoigne.
The rear-guard action worked well. City soaked up pressure, with Gary Walsh making some key saves and Gunnar Halle – a summer signing from Leeds – clearing one effort off the line. By the closing stages of the game, Boro had run out of ideas. City, cheered on by more than 5,000 fans, closed in on a useful point.
And then in the final minute came a moment that will never be forgotten. With Middlesbrough piling players forward, Halle was able to clear his lines and find Lee Mills, who held up the ball well. After turning inside, Mills spotted the run of substitute Saunders and delivered a superb through ball that Gascoigne failed to cut out. Saunders took a touch, before firing past former Bantam keeper Mark Schwarzer. Cue pandemonium in the away end.
Saunders famously celebrated by having a dig at the national media. He pretended he was an old man using a walking stick. A point had been proven, and City were joint top of the Premier League!
City: Walsh, Halle, Dreyer, Wetherall, O’Brien, Jacobs, Whalley, Redfearn, Beagrie, Windass (Saunders 78), Mills
Categories: Premier League Years