Looking back on Bradford City’s Premier League adventure, 20 years ago.
By Jason McKeown
Arsenal 2 City 0
25 August, 1999
When Paul Jewell led Bradford City into the Premier League, he was only 34-years-old. He was the youngest manager in the top flight – and also the least experienced. So when it came to plotting City’s survival bid, the manager sounded out his peers for advice.
That included Danny Wilson, who two years earlier was in charge of Barnsley during the Tykes’ one-season Premier League adventure. One of the biggest lessons Wilson could offer was the importance of avoiding heavy defeats to the top clubs. During the first three months of Barnsley’s doomed Premier League campaign, they lost 6-0 at home to Chelsea, 5-0 at Arsenal and 7-0 at Manchester United. Games against the top sides won’t define your season, but thrashings can badly hurt morale and rip apart confidence.
So on Bradford City’s first Premier League game against a big club – a Tuesday night trip to Arsenal – Jewell took a damage limitation approach to the daunting task. Up against the mighty front three of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu, with Patrick Viera, Freddie Ljungberg and Ray Parlour to supply them. Jewell went for a 5-4-1. Dean Saunders was up front on his own, with Dean Windass just behind to support when he could. Try to contain and frustrate Arsenal – and, at the very least, avoid a hiding.
It didn’t bode well for City when they went a goal behind after only eight minutes, when Viera got free of his marker to head home from a corner. In the 17th minute, Parlour was brought down in the box and Kanu converted the resultant penalty. 2-0, and it felt like a long night lay in store.
To City’s credit, it proved to be the end of the scoring. Arsenal continued to pour forward with menace, and in total recorded 29 shots on goal. 13 of those efforts were on target, and the Bantams were indebted to goalkeeper Gary Walsh, who produced a string of important saves.
The gulf between the two sides was huge, but City successfully avoided a heavy defeat. As Jewell would reflect at the end of the season, “I’ve never been so pleased to lose 2-0 in my life…Their performance was the best against us all season – they were awesome.”
It is the great irony for newly promoted Premier League clubs that the games which supporters are most excited about – Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool – are the ones which matter least in the fight for survival. Earning a famous victory would have been great for confidence, but the reality is almost everyone else lost their trip to Highbury that season – Arsenal would finish second, losing only two home games.
It paid to be cautious, knowing it would be other games that truly define City’s season. And so they happily moved on from this one-sided contest, settling for a respectable defeat.
City: Walsh, Halle (McCall 45), Wetherall, Dreyer, O’Brien, Jacobs, Lawrence, Whalley, Beagrie (Blake 63), Windass, Saunders
Categories: Premier League Years